Looking for a good atheist book

25 Mar

Note: I’m going to get into religion in this blog post. It’s still fitting because I’m essentially talking about books, which I’ve done plenty of here on “Snap, Crackle, Pop.” However, if you are uncomfortable by this kind of thing, please don’t continue reading. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable; this is instead to share some thoughts about two very different books I have read/am reading.

Thanks much!

Saturday evening, I was planning to finish a book I purchased on my trip to San Diego a few months ago: “Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places.” I bought the book on Coronado Island, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in real life, because the cover got to me. Then the plot did. “Found Art” is a memoir by a woman who gets married and follows her husband to Bahrain, where he is stationed. She tells her story through bits and pieces of beauty she finds throughout the country — a Persian rug, some basting thread, a poem.

The problem with “Found Art” was not obvious at first. The story and method is creative and interesting, and author Leeana Tankersley has a simple, conversational writing style.

The problem is in what’s left out. Consider the entire section about the poem: She does not include the poem in the book. Three or four chapters describing why this poem is important to her, and the reader does not get to read it? Other details left me struggling to connect with Tankersley, such as the fact that after she returned home from Bahrain, she was asked to speak of her experience at a woman’s group. She accepted, then proceeded to describe how she literally hoped she’d get in a car accident so she wouldn’t have to go; she was that nervous. I felt no pity for this sobbing woman; instead, I wanted to shake her a little and say, “Sweetie, if you don’t want to talk to the woman’s group, don’t.”

What I loved about Tankersley’s story was how she was able to connect to her Christian God through Muslim traditions. Various calls to prayer in Bahrain touched her; a mosque touched her; the Persian gulf touched her. It is not uncommon to find a Christian who would be appalled by this ability to double-dip in religious traditions; however, the way I feel —  and the way I suspect Tankersley feels — is that God is God, and however one can connect to him is perfectly fine.

The problems were too much, though, and I put down the book with only a few chapters left. I turned to the beau’s bookshelf and picked up instead “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens.

Atheists fascinate me. I am so confident of God’s existence that when I find out someone is equally confidence that God doesn’t exist, all I want to do is figure out why. I pick his brain if he lets me and assuming this person does not yell at me, the conversation usually ends with me smiling, saying, “Huh. You’re wrong. But tell me more!”

I’ve yet to find an argument that is logical regarding atheism. Most of the arguments I find are instead about organized religion, and for the most part, I agree with those whole-heartedly.

I’ve toyed with reading Richard Dawkins in the past, but frankly, he scares me. I started to browse through the Hitchens book and quickly realized that I enjoyed his writing style. So I started to read.

I’m only two chapters into it, but I enjoy it, even though I can already tell it’s not what I’m looking for;  Hitchens’s book is a manifesto against organized religion. He’s not telling me much of anything I haven’t already thought. I’m hoping this changes.

Consider this:

In mid-2001, Hitchens says, he was on a panel with a religious broadcaster, who asked him to answer the following question: “Imagine (yourself) in a strange city as the evening was coming on. … Imagine that (you) see a large group of men approaching. Now — would (you) feel safer, or less safe, if (you were) to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting?”

Hitchens’s response: “Just to stay within the letter ‘B,’ I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case, I can say absolutely, and give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk, were coming from a religious observance.”

Again, that doesn’t tell me that there is no God. That tells me that humans stink and can ruin just about anything, even something as seemingly “innocent” as a prayer group.

Now, I need to ask you a question: Suggest a book to me that will try to disprove God. I’m of the thought-process that the stronger one is in her belief, the better able she is to study and understand different beliefs. I don’t find these differences threatening; instead, I find they solidify what I know.

Also, if you’ve read “Found Art” or “God is Not Great,” please share your thoughts!

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3 Responses to “Looking for a good atheist book”

  1. Tom Huxley July 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Your question–asking for a book to “try” to disprove God–is impossible for the simple reason that your question presupposes the existence of a Creator. When you say you are “so confident of God’s existence,” there isn’t much disproving of god that can be done at that point for the following simple reason: belief in god (and I assume we are talking the good ol’ fashioned biblical sort) rests on a set of ideas that have been honed into amalgam that can’t be disproved. Consequently, you could read a million books on atheism and not have god disproved (which by the way is pretty easy to do).

    Hitchens’s book is mostly against organized religion–and that’s his point! If belief in god is all about killing, brainwashing, and acting like fools, then god must not be that great. And if he ain’t that great, why bother?

    Dawkins book, of which you should not be scared–boils it all down to this issue of belief. Those who believe, at some point or another, have to accept some crackpot story or the authority of some other person who claims special insight.

    Dawkins suggests the alternative is to always question and to always challenge so-called authorities. Furthermore, Dawkins attacks all religion, then, on the basis that really passive belief fosters an environment that supports extremists. A non-religious example: let’s say someone reads a book (holy book) by a so-called expert on abuse, decides they are abused, and proceeds to get a divorce (hears the word and becomes a believer to the point of acting on it). Then the belief is so strong that person feels entitled/justified to steal, lie, and cheat throughout the divorce (believes so much becomes an extremist and engages in terrorist acts). So, when that person’s friends meets them for drinks or has them over for a party, they are, through their unwillingness to rock the boat or change the status quo, implicitly endorse that worldview of abuse and indirectly encourage and perpetuate that belief (average church goers whose donations and attendance and general participation in the belief foster the whole system and keep it running). That’s where Dawkins sees the problem–the network of just regular folk whose very existence permits the extremists to thrive. So, in his opinion, the fencesitters and wafflers are as much a part of the problem as the true believers as in the end they believe the same things, it’s simply a matter of degree in enthusiasm.

    Which gets to your final point–the stronger you have a belief, the better able to study and understand others. That doesn’t make any sense, as the more you believe, the more you should accept everything that goes along with that belief. It should read: the stronger your belief, the more bizarre and alien other beliefs should seem. It would seem according to your logic, the more jewish or islamic you become, the more you can see how a big plate of bacon would taste really good.

    So, for an atheist book recommendation, it is hard to see where any such book would even come close to making you question your belief as you have strongly insulated yourself. You’ve already mentioned two of the big ones: Hitchens and Dawkins. I would add Sam Harris to the list. I would actually recommend any of Dawkin’s evolution books, which, in a way, are atheist, because it becomes harder to believe any creation stories (and if those fall apart, then what?). Any good history of the early church or writing of the bible would go a long way to giving the atheist view since it really shows how made up it all is. But again, I would think strong belief makes the beliefs themselves immune to criticism. I mean, the question is: what could you read in a book that would really challenge your belief and I think the answer would have to be nothing.

    So, perhaps instead of going to the beau’s bookshelf for another atheist book, you should just grab the first season of Sex and the City, make yourself a Cosmopolitan, and hit the play button. That’s something to believe in.

    You say so confident of God’s existence.

    • Snap, Crackle, Pop July 29, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

      I didn’t say I was looking for someone to change my mind. I said I was looking for someone to explain his atheism to me logically. I don’t see the world in black and white, and I tend to be pretty empathetic to the other side.

      I know Hitchens’ book is against organized religion — that’s what I said, and that was the issue I took with it. Belief in God is no more tied into organized religion than morality is tied into being a Christian. One does not at all require the other.

      “… the stronger your belief, the more bizarre and alien other beliefs should seem.” — I disagree with this statement. The idea behind this is sad to me.

      And I’m unsure what on earth “Sex and the City” has to do with atheism, but if that’s your sitcom of choice, more power to you.

  2. Ty Wittkamper August 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    I am finding this thread fascinating for the very reasons you supposed might happen by simply bringing up the subject to begin with.

    It seems so difficult in today’s fast-paced, I-don’t-have-time-to-have-a-real-conversation world to bring up any subject that you would simply be interested in exploring and delving into for the sake of understanding without someone telling you that it is a waste of time to even try to understand something on that deep a level if you are not planning on subscribing to the idea yourself.

    It seems the graceful art of conversation and peeking into the deep dark corners of a “risky” subject for the pure joy of academic enlightenment is truly lost.

    I applaud your bravery in asking others for input on such a subject, and your willingness to learn the other side of an argument for understanding.

    I agree that in order to do this type of mental exploration, one must first be steadfast in his or her own beliefs so as to not be taken in by the argument, but to simply explore the ideas behind the argument.

    The previous commenter appears to be dismissive of your intellectual honesty and supposes that you are not being truthful in your motives.

    I believe the fact that you have not only sought out two books, but also the input of others is proof of the purity of your motives, and as I struggle to prepare my own blog for entry into the world wide web, I hope that I can be as brave and honest.

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