A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

The More the Merrier


Journalist Christopher Hitchens’ new book god is not Great (which I will soon be reviewing) is the latest in a series of high profile atheistic publications we have seen in the last few years, joining Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation) and Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), among others. I have heard many atheists criticise this trend, saying that they all say the same thing and that they are simply written for non-believers who agree with them anyway.

I disagree, for a number of reasons. First of all, these books are not just read by atheists (although it’s natural that they will be read by atheists), and the fact that they are bestsellers proves this. The God Delusion is still in the top thirty of the New York Times Hardcover Non-fiction Best Seller list after nearly a year – if everyone who’d bought it and read it were already an atheist, there would have been no need for the book!

Aside from this, although I agree that there is an inevitable overlap in some of the ideas discussed in these books, there is also considerable variation. Breaking the Spell, for example, deals more with the origins of religion. Dennett points out that there are two central, distinct questions to address: the truth of the claims of religions, and whether or not religion itself is a good thing. He sums these two issues up as ‘belief’ and ‘belief in belief’. The God Delusion looks at both of these questions, but focuses heavily on the former. Hitchens also examines both issues, but devotes far more time to the latter. Even where there is duplication between books, and therefore nothing actually new to learn for the reader, I always find it beneficial to hear someone else’s view on a matter – particularly someone who is a great thinker, a great writer or both.

Even if these books are preaching to the choir, the choir will sing that much louder as a result. In America, atheists are positively oppressed, and it is important to encourage them to speak out and be recognised. These books help create an environment where it is safe to do so, although there is still a long way to go.

It is also the believers who benefit from hearing more than one voice singing the same song. The major atheist publications of the last few years have all received scathing reviews from people who are threatened by their message, who either haven’t read the book or sincerely hope that their readers haven’t, and who utterly refuse to engage the arguments made while they cry in outrage at the temerity these atheists show in actually criticising their beliefs. But I am confident that many of the believers who actually read these books for themselves will realise that there is a case to be made. They may not put The End of Faith down and proudly announce their new found atheism, deconversion rarely happens like that. It is a far more gradual process, caused by a number of incidents over time that pick out bricks in the protective wall of faith, until eventually it comes tumbling down. These books may just be one of those incidents that, accumulated with others, could lead to deconversion. If this is the case, we can’t have too many books on the market. Different people respond to different authors, who have different voices and different approaches. The more variety available, the better.

There is also a huge section of society to appeal to, those who are either liberal theists, or who are non-religious but take no interest in the debate. These are people who probably can be rationally persuaded if we can only gain access to them. Again, high profile atheist best sellers are one way of doing that.

I don’t think we are going to see mass deconversion any time soon. There will be no armies of newly awakened atheists marching out of the churches, synagogues and mosques. For the foreseeable future, it is going to be a case of finding the odd one here or there, but make no mistake, they are happening. It seems a frustratingly slow rate to us, but we must be persistent. I believe that one day, many years after my life is over and I have returned whence I came, a critical mass point will be reached. The numbers of non-believers will grow to a point where the evidence that people can be happy and moral without religion will be undeniable to those who still believe. As with evolution, the progress is slow but the drive and direction are undoubtedly present. The atheist publications we are seeing are playing a vital role in that progress. The more the merrier.

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26 Responses to “The More the Merrier”

  1. Hear, hear!

    Than can not be such a thing as too many. Have you ever looked at the religion section of your local Borders or Barnes and Noble,( or is it Waterstones in the UK)? My local Borders has two entire aisles dedicated solely to religious books, and not just Bibles. Prior to The God Delusion, there was one book on atheism. Since Dawkins and Hitchens, it has grown to one shelf, but compared to two aisles (both sides), that’s still a drop in the bucket.

    Looking forward to your review. I’m interested in what you thought of it.

  2. @ Span

    Yeah, it’s Waterstones over here. Horrible name, sounds like something you’d need surgery for. Horrible company too, extortionate prices and they don’t even give a student discount (not that I’m a student, but I used to be).

    You’re absolutely right about the mismatch in the bookshops. Evanescent and I were in a book shop where the atheist books were kept on the philosophy shelf, which was in the religion section! If anything, religion should be in the philosophy section.

  3. If anything, religion should be in the philosophy section

    That’s just funny. It will never happen even though you are exactly right.

  4. Actually, it should be in the romance section, which is where I always thought they put the trashy fiction.

  5. I agree about the bookshops.
    But it’s the same with public libraries. And when books like God is not Great or the The God Delusion are present there is always a waiting list.
    So there is a real need for the books – let’s have more of them I say.
    And so what if they are preaching to the converted – we need to have access to this material as we have been denied for too long.
    And some of it does get through to religious believers anyway.

  6. If anything, religion should be in the philosophy section.

    If anything, religion should be in the “lack of philosophy” section, unless it’s a creationist book (in which case it should be in the “lack of science” section) or a so-called Christian novel (which belongs in the humor section).

    I don’t think you can subscribe to just any old metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and dignify it by calling it “philosophy.” (Well, of course you can, but if you do you’re an idiot.) Philosophy seeks to find answers; religious books already have the answers. (Spoiler alert: They’re all “true.”)

  7. Oops, I forgot to close those italics. Or maybe my head just slants.

  8. @ The Exterminator

    Looks fine to me – must be your head slanting! ;)

  9. Amen, brother! ;) We need to get that choir singing as loudly as possible. Even if it achieves nothing else, it will convince closeted nonbelievers that they don’t have to be afraid to speak out, and it will convince the media that we’re worth listening to and taking seriously.

    As others have pointed out, there are literally shelves and shelves of new Christian books published each month, and no one seems to think that market is tapped out. And they only have one book and one story to write all that commentary on. We have a whole universe of thought and imagination to explore. I don’t know if the potential for atheist thought will ever be tapped out, but we definitely haven’t even come close so far.

  10. We have a whole universe of thought and imagination to explore. I don’t know if the potential for atheist thought will ever be tapped out, but we definitely haven’t even come close so far.

    So true. And we do have the science section to fall back on too. :)

  11. “These are people who probably can be rationally persuaded if we can only gain access to them.”

    hmmm…taken out of context that almost sounds like a back-alley conspiracy by atheists to take over the world! :-)

  12. @ Liza

    There is a back-alley conspiracy by atheists to take over the world. Don’t tell anyone, though. ;)

  13. You do realize that if you’re going to be The Atheist Illuminati then you’ll have to come up with secret handshakes, code words, a vast underground headquarters and some really spiffy clothes.

    You should get to work on that.

    Unrelated…I just switched to Mozilla Firefox for my browser and it totatlly helps when typing in your comment box. It turns the dark grey color into a dazzling white with black letters…much easier to find the cursor now.

  14. oops…totally

  15. On that note, I’ll mention that for the past few weeks when I’m on my work PC, the WordPress screens (yours and EverydayAtheism’s) are plain white – no graphic background. When I’m at home, it’s back to the black and orange, with the gray text box for commenting.

  16. “positively oppressed” – interesting juxtaposition. Actively oppressed, sure, but I’m not sure these two words belong together.

    I’m that breed of atheist that has always been so. I came from an “apatheist” position all the way across to anti-theist, and when I read the God Delusion it was one as if I’d written it myself. It resonated fantastically, and so did Harris and Hitchens, in a more direct, unapologetic manner (I think that’s the correct order to read those three authors). Dennett has a different approach, so I agree there are many ways to deliver the message to different audiences. No doubt some would prefer Dennett’s milder manner to Hitchens’.

  17. Couldn’t agree more about the lack of atheist liturature. It’s something of a truism that atheists tend to be free thinkers and individualists (or maybe I just flatter myself), but one consequence of this is that we never really know how many there are of us out there, we don’t “congregate” the way religious people do. The recent liturature has encouraged sites like this (thanks by the way Tobe, I just stumbled on this one and the quality of debate is excellent) and gives us all a common reference point to explore the arguments. The more variety of styles and viewpoints there are on atheism the more people will (at least) start to question.

  18. @ Liza

    You do realize that if you’re going to be The Atheist Illuminati then you’ll have to come up with secret handshakes, code words, a vast underground headquarters and some really spiffy clothes.

    Uncanny! How much do you know?

    Unrelated…I just switched to Mozilla Firefox for my browser and it totatlly helps when typing in your comment box. It turns the dark grey color into a dazzling white with black letters…much easier to find the cursor now.

    My site appears much better in Firefox – I keep meaning to add a notice to the side bar saying so.

    @ Polly

    On that note, I’ll mention that for the past few weeks when I’m on my work PC, the WordPress screens (yours and EverydayAtheism’s) are plain white – no graphic background. When I’m at home, it’s back to the black and orange, with the gray text box for commenting.

    This goes way over my head in computing terms, but I’m very flattered that you read my blog at work! :)

    @ Darren

    “positively oppressed” – interesting juxtaposition. Actively oppressed, sure, but I’m not sure these two words belong together.

    Well spotted, awful phrasing on my part.

    @ Steve Bowen

    Very good points, and thank you for your kind words :)

  19. “How much do you know?”

    Well, any covert operation must have it’s obligatory mole surveilling it. We can’t just let you take over. Besides I want to have my own conspiritorial group with cool gadgets. hehe :-)

  20. “Unrelated…I just switched to Mozilla Firefox for my browser and it totatlly helps when typing in your comment box.”

    True on Safari too. OK OK I was blogging at work as well which is the only time I use Windoze, I’m a Mac addict usually.

    Hmm… Atheist conspiracy? I wish! But to refer you to my earlier comment; atheists are not natural “clubbers”. A loose alliance of intellectual anarchists we could be, but we’d make a poor cabal. People come to atheism in different ways and for different reasons, and consequently have different agendas. For example I have “always” had an antipathy to organised religion, not exactly drummed out but made very unwelcome in the Cub Scouts for refusing to pray at the age of nine. However I have had my flirtations with Budhism and various “spiritual” ideologies in my teens and twenties before finally calling myself an atheist in my thirties. It is the rise of Christian fundementalism and (in particular) creationism that has made me more of an activist, why? because it offends my scientific sensibilities and scares the hell out of me politically. We live in a world where for a politician to declare themselves atheist would be career suicide and world leaders abandon climate change science but endorse intelligent design. To stay at least vaguely on topic…Dawkins, from “the selfish gene ” onwards, Dennett, Hitchens et al and all who follow them can seed ???s in open (“not so open their brains drop out”) minds. So can we; in forums like this and in open conversation. Do Atheists need to organise? I don’t think so, the arguments should speak for themselves.
    Hope I’ve said enough to throw the mole off the scent :)

  21. Hey hey! Deconversion CAN happen, and these books CAN help! Yes, I proudly call myself one of Richard Dawkins’s deconverts. Sure it was a long process, and the book was released during a time of turmoil for me in which I was actively questioning my faith. I saw him on the Colbert Report and said to myself… if my faith is really justified, then I have to prove to myself that I believe for reasons other than a) mommy said so and b) it feels snuggly. I subjected myself to this test and found a new world of happiness for myself. Yes happiness! I am in debt to the good professor. No doubt this is why everyone accuses him of being angry and belligerent… because he actually has an effect.

    When I made the decision, I actually ran myself a special version of Pascal’s Wager. That is, I realized that if the God of the Bible really were real… the one I had devoted myself to… I realized that I could not serve him because he is fundamentally immoral. I would happily spend an eternity in hell (well maybe not so happy, but just) in order to defy that God. But if God really is just, then I have nothing to worry about.

  22. @ ssjessiechan

    Thank you for your comment, it was wonderful to read, and truly proves my point. I don’t know if you have a blog of your own, but if you don’t and you ever want to write your deconversion story, I’d be happy to publish it here for you. :)

  23. I would happily spend an eternity in hell (well maybe not so happy, but just) in order to defy that God.

    Hooray! Well, okay, not hooray if we end up having to do it. But I agree wholeheartedly.

  24. For me a problem in atheism is that one tends to actively disbelieve in something that doesn’t exist. If there was no religeon there would be no definition of atheist (god-less-ist). See Athiest tv- and they’re more fundamentalist than your average evangelist. But one must adopt a position from which to argue. The position of free thought is well and good, but also applies to one who determines “God’s will” independantly and accepts no definition of a deity. My imaginary omnipotent friend! would still be a definition, but maybe not too far off the mark. You can’t realy look at religeon in a definitive sense: just religous practise; which is generaly used to cultivate cultural identity and social inclusion. Prayer, hymns, meditation- partaking in these practises effect brain wave patterns [decrease brain activity in area responsible for sense of self]and alow people to lose their sense of individuality for a while(New Scientist). Which makes many people feel very good. I strongly suspect this area of the brain is rather inactive in a corps. I think a sense of self is on the way out at point of death or at least a huge change in parameters. But then again I’ve never died, that I can remember, and if you’re reading this neither have you- because I don’t believe in gohsts. A friend of mine (self proclaimed atheist) sees himself as a biological organism that’s going to rott. And this perplexes him. He’s not going to experience rotting. Which does bring me to a point. Life is experiencial and we have full jurisdiction over our own actions. Religious practice can help people accept death when it comes and live according to their principles. It’s not necessary to adopt religeon but it’s also not necessary that I take the bus to work. I don’t have an agenda and I can’t tell the difference between athiests and religious people- even when I speak to them about religoen or philosophy. They are imaginary lines in the sand. Subatomic physics is a great substitute for religeon if anyones pineing. Ha ha. What is of great interest to me is the huge amount of editing that the New Testament underwent and reading into the agendas of those who doctored it. For me religeon and atheisim don’t realy exist (a bit 1984 of me I know) “ungood”. It’s just material; the same as this is, or what anyone else says. And practise; like what I or anyone else does. Listen to who you want and not who you don’t. The only question for me is one of polotics. To chalenge people in positions of influence. And to chalenge your own views. Do people have position and influence over others? Yes. And because others give position and influence, over themselves. This is the case because people want it to be. And people do what they want. Everyone self governs and the state of things is and always has been anarchy and it works out pritty well. There’s no need for revolution or to agknowlege what I’ve said or what anyone else does. I recomend “Penn and Teller Bullshit” religeon and banning H2O petition. “Dance Monkeys Dance” And why did the Bible give Peter Cook the horn? Answers in book and verse only! thankyou.
    Anyway thanks for reading my rant, especialy since I’m dislecsic

    Unrelated… Steve Bowen. I know you man. Osric Tentacled Spiritualised Hippy Kibbutznic that you are! were! 94/95
    You can contact me at uuhoi@hotmail.co.uk (it will probably close in a month)

  25. I’ll have what he’s having.

  26. It is always lonely to be in a small minority, and therefore it certainly helps to read from others of similar bent. this not only stimulates our belief in non-belief, but always adds new ideas and strengths.


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