Some interesting comments on JT’s “Happy Ask an Atheist Day!” post got me to pondering that question. Do we need a book about atheism which we can comfortably hand to believers?
I’ve not really thought about it before. I’ve got close friends who are believers, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable recommending books like The God Delusion to them when they express interest in learning more about atheism. The conversations we’ve had haven’t swerved into completely uncomfortable directions, like the whole “But you’re going to hell!” trope. We’ve had sticking points, and we’ve had to talk things over, but they’re strong people who can handle strong ideas. Their faith doesn’t leave them flummoxed when confronted by the fact that someone they love is godless.
I’ve been lucky. But others haven’t. Chantalwallace says,
I recently deconverted (yay!) but my family is not taking it well. They think i’m being influenced by the devil. How do I explain to them that freethought is a good thing, atheism isn’t evil and that i’m not turning my back on them, just their belief system?
That can be tough. And when the people you need to explain this to are family members or close friends, that conversation can get very, very uncomfortable. But still, it’s a conversation that can be had. You don’t necessarily need a book or several for it.
Then I came across this comment by Wren, a Tru Hoppist:
My mom is Catholic. However, we’ve done a lot of talking since I came out as an atheist to her. She says she doesn’t understand, but loves me anyway. I don’t feel like I’m good at explaining myself in regards to my atheism. Do you know of any books that aren’t confrontational (like the God Delusion) that I could give her?
I’m in the same boat actually. I don’t know that I have any book I’d want to hand to my mom.
In the few conversations I’ve had with my parents about my atheism, it’s not that explaining atheism was difficult, rather it’s helping her know I’m the same child she’s always known and loved.
The question’s been bothering me ever since: do we need the kind of book you could hand to your mom? JT says it’s more important to read the books and put the arguments into our own words, and that’s true – to an extent. But it could also be quite helpful to have a handy little tome to hand to a family member who genuinely wants and needs to understand their loved one’s atheism. Sometimes, these conversations are most fruitful after people have had a chance to ponder in solitude. It can be hard to speak extensively face-to-face. Just to take an example from science: I’m perfectly comfortable talking to people about geology. I could do it until they pass out from sheer exhaustion. But it’s easier for both of us when I can tell someone who’s vaguely interested but overwhelmed by the difficulty of concepts they may be encountering for the first time, “Here’s this wonderful book. It’s an easy read, and the concepts are clearly explained in non-scientist language. Read it at your leisure, if you’d like, now I’ve got you interested. And feel free to come to me with any questions, confusions or concerns.”
A lot of times, people want that book. Books can do things conversations can’t do. It gives folks a chance to go at their own pace. They can re-read the stuff that they’re not quite absorbing on the first go. They can put the things in the book together with the conversations they’re having, and possibly understand more than they would with either just a book or a talk alone. And in this case, it gives some much-needed distance. There are some things that are too emotional at first to discuss face-to-face.
So I think we may just need that sort of book about atheism, one we can hand to the believers in our lives, that will help facilitate the conversation. My question is, what do you atheists who need such a book need it to do? Because it’s just possible I could write such a book. Not one that soft-sells atheism so much, of course – I’m Gnu – but at least does the job of explaining some things about atheists, freethought, and what it’s like to live a life without gods. Maybe there are common tropes you’re running in to that you need to have addressed, gently but firmly. Maybe you need a way of saying, “I’m an atheist, but I’m still me, and it’s a grand old life.”
I’ve actually got a book written that I think could be retasked to do the job. But before I rip it apart and rebuild, I want to know what you’re looking for, so I can make sure it would meet your needs, and I’m not just wasting everybody’s time. With two blogs (and occasionally a third and fourth), a busy field season ahead, and other writing jobs to do, I haven’t got any of my time to waste, much less yours! But if this is a necessary thing, and you’d like me to give it a whirl, tell me what you’d like. What’s in that book you wish you could hand to your loved ones? What about it is different from books like The God Delusion?
And in case there are any believers in the audience, what sorts of things help you understand and accept where atheists are coming from, even if you don’t agree with us? What helped you make peace with the heathens in your life?
Let me know.