Freethinking Friday: Atheists in America

Posted 28 February, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Atheists in America by Melanie E. Brewster

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This collection features more than two dozen narratives by atheists from different backgrounds across the United States. Ranging in age, race, sexual orientation, and religious upbringing, these individuals address deconversion, community building, parenting, and romantic relationships, providing a nuanced look at living without a god in a predominantly Christian nation.

These narratives illuminate the complexities and consequences for nonbelievers in the United States. Stepping away from religious belief can have serious social and existential ramifications, forcing atheists to discover new ways to live meaningfully without a religious community. Yet shedding the constraints of a formal belief system can also be a freeing experience. Ultimately, this volume shows that claiming an atheist identity is anything but an act isolated from the other dimensions of the self. Upending common social, political, and psychological assumptions about atheists, this collection helps carve out a more accepted space for this minority within American society.

The writing in the forward and introduction to the chapters is a little clunky. That being said, most of the essays were well written and thoughtful. This would be an excellent read for all American theists who wish to understand their atheistic neighbors and friends that are hiding in plain sight. 

I would hope that a volume like this would be widely read by evangelicals and theists wanting to gain a greater understanding of who the atheist community is and maybe, just maybe, we could all learn to get along. I would recommend this book to atheists as well. There are essays by minorities and other marginalized groups that are often discounted by ‘mainstream’ atheists. It is these sections that I would guide the atheist and humanist to.

Each section consists of three or four short essays from atheists, often describing their ‘de-conversion’ experience, sometimes telling of their childhood, and too often describing heartbreaking loss that ‘coming out’ as atheists had caused them in their personal, professional, and social lives. The essays at the beginning are the weakest in the collection. This book does not have to be read in order and a reader might feel more comfortable spreading out the collection over time.  

Each narrative is different but most describe a sense of freedom upon recognizing that they no longer ‘bought into’ whatever myths they had been raised with. There are a few stories from people who were raised without religion and their stories are compelling as well. While they never risked the loss of love and respect from family members or close-knit church groups there were other hurdles to be overcome. In the essay ‘It’s Complicated’ by Ethan Sahker, who was raised without religion he had to overcome his own prejudices and rigidity to find a compatible partner. 

There are some essays that come across as smug or pedantic, but I didn’t find the tone in any of the essays to be up to par with Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. May I even go as far to say that many of the essays were more sincere and less legalistic than many recent apologetics? (Yes, it’s my blog, I’m going that far.) There were essays that echo my own feelings about being an atheist, though none of the stories were exactly like my own. 

Ultimately this is a book about what it is to be an individual, theistic or not our worldview shapes a part of who all humans are. 

If you’re an atheist, you definitely should read this. If you’re a theist looking for a better understanding of those of us with a different worldview, or just looking to get out of your comfort zone, this is a decent choice. (Spoiler: No one is mad at god or particularly rebellious.)

April @ The Steadfast Reader


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