The Western Tradition

Two related items today. Florida’s idea of a Christian, Western tradition that students should be tested to, instead of SAT; and a professor’s debunking of a “grand narrative of Western Civilization”, via a book review at PW.

Hemant Mehta, Friendly Atheist, 20 Feb 2023: Florida’s “Christian” alternative to the SAT won’t help students, subtitled “The Classic Learning Test offers no real value to students”

This is his take on an item I mentioned yesterday, how Florida wants to replace the SAT (apparently now referred to simply as “SAT” without the ‘the’) with tests about Christianity and the “western tradition.”

It’s not that the exam uses Bible passages or gives students a “God did it” option on every multiple-choice question. Instead, it focuses on the “centrality of the Western tradition,” buzzwords meant to suggest hyper-patriotism and a dismissal of ideas that challenge the conservative outlook on the world. It’s no surprise that the test’s media page highlights the company’s positive coverage—”CLT in the News”—in a slew of right-wing outlets known for promoting misinformation. Also not surprising? 85% of the students who currently take it are white. These people know their target demographic.

Because if it’s not their idea of the “Western tradition,” it’s woke indoctrination, and they claim this with a straight face, seemingly.

Mehta concludes,

If the CLT becomes commonplace in the state, though, it’s possible some colleges will decide it’s just easier to ignore applicants from Florida given their inability to see how they stack up against seniors from other states. If AP classes are tossed out as well, Florida students would have a much harder time leaving the state to pursue higher education. It would be a disaster for them, which could also be exactly what DeSantis wants.


I’m catching up with Hemant Mehta, previously my favorite columnist on the site (well, along with Adam Lee) until that site deprecated all the “non-religious” blogs there (so as not to upset the religious, apparently). He now has his own site on Substack, an aggregate site where content can be read for free but which readers are encouraged to support directly. (His legacy URL,, points here.) I’ve signed up for regular emails from this new version of Mehta’s Friendly Atheist, but not yet subscribed; still I think I can link his items here, and readers here can see his posts, even without subscribing. (If I link his pieces more than once in a blue moon, I’ll subscribe; it’s $6/month. Well, OK, I will do it anyway.)


Quite by coincidence is a review this morning on the Publishers Weekly site. PW, to reverse the usual comparison, is the Locus of the general publishing industry. (It’s usually said that Locus is the PW of the science fiction publishing field.) PW runs news, reviews, and interviews. The reviews are short, like this one here — and they’re unsigned — but there are lots of them, a new batch every Monday, across a dozen categories, at least three of which I skim looking for any forthcoming nonfiction, or even the occasional literary fiction, I might want to read when they come out. (I generally know about forthcoming SF/F/H titles from Locus.) I check out PW every Monday as part of my compilation of the Weekly Bestsellers page for Locus Online, e.g. today’s.

Here’s the entire review of a book due out in May, in the nonfiction category.

PW Review: The West: A New History in Fourteen Lives, by Naoíse Mac Sweeney

The idea of a coherent Western tradition is “both morally repugnant and factually wrong,” according to this pugnacious and erudite historiography. University of Vienna archaeology professor Mac Sweeney (Troy) debunks the “grand narrative of Western Civilization”—a distinctive European culture evolving from Greco-Roman antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment to modernity, and tending toward democracy, capitalism, and individualism—through biographical sketches of historical figures. The multicultural worldview of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, she argues, shows that the Greeks had no notion of a Western civilization distinct from Asian and African cultures, while ninth-century Muslim scholar al-Kindī considered Greek philosophy the intellectual foundation of Islamic, not European, culture. The idea of Western civilization, Mac Sweeney contends, was a 17th-century innovation that served mainly to justify racism and colonialism, as demonstrated in her profiles of enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley, whose “erudite allusions to classical and biblical literature” clashed with assumptions that nonwhites could not master Western learning, and 19th-century British statesman William Gladstone, who imagined an exclusively white, Western tradition to rationalize British imperialism. Though Mac Sweeney sometimes overreaches in her eagerness to skewer the idea of the West, as when she suggests that medieval Europe recognized no continuity with ancient Greece, she skillfully synthesizes a wealth of scholarship and draws vibrant character sketches. It’s a case to be reckoned with. Illus. (May)

As in all things, history included, culture and human nature tend to water-down and simplify things; simplex over complex. And conservatives, almost by definition, prefer simplicity.


Other recent Hemant Mehta posts:

Most Republicans want the government to declare America a “Christian Nation”, subtitled “A new survey sheds light on a frightening phenomenon”

Did a pastor really die attempting a 40-day Jesus fast?, subtitled “Take that story with a giant grain of salt”

This second item is interesting because…

At the risk of sounding heartless, this is the sort of story atheists love. We have a pastor doing something completely reckless, due to his faith, only to suffer the predictable consequences. Common sense should’ve told him not to fast for 40 days, but Christianity told him to put critical thinking aside. Someone give the man a Darwin Award!


You should take the entire story with a giant grain of salt because the red flags are all over the place.

Applying elementary journalistic hygiene.

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