Grace without God is one woman’s search for meaning, belonging, and purpose without religion. The author, Katherine Ozment, interviews expert after expert in an attempt to answer some of life’s big questions. The reader follows her along to these interviews as a proverbial fly on the wall.
About halfway in, I struggled to finish reading, for I became increasingly frustrated by the rose-colored religious glasses through which the book is written. Although dozens of experts were interviewed, there was no examination of the underbelly of religion, no balanced analysis of *why* religion and belief can also be a problem. Sure, in modern America, religion can offer a warm, fuzzy place to hang your hat. But there is no mention of the harm that religion has also brought into the world, of the terrible damage and fear it brings daily. There’s no mention of the shame many believers feel nor of the exclusion and loneliness people feel who are different, even though they sit in the pews week after week.
The premise for Grace without God is that living without religion makes us no more than driftwood afloat in an indifferent world. (Which is true regardless of what you believe.) “Could my family and I find valid alternatives to all the good that religion gives?” Ozment asks. The entire book is a long yearning for “…a religious moral grounding, timeworn rituals, and a community… “ Even in the last two pages of the book, the author writes, “Occasionally, I take myself to church…..Beneath the cavernous vaulted ceiling, only the sound of our voices lifting up, I feel at once infinitesimal and valuable beyond measure.”
For Ozment, living without religion is a problem. For me, living without religion is a solution.
Perhaps the most frustrating sentiment was expressed here: “The truth is that belief in a supernatural god or gods works exceedingly well when it comes to cultivating morals within a group. We act better when we feel we are being watched, as by a God.” All I could think was: suicide bombers, Catholic priests, hate crimes, a truck in Nice, France. These folks all thought god was watching them.
There is no mention that the morality created by religion is a superficial, selfish structure, one in which believers do “good” only because someone is watching and only because they are promised with the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. In some religions, believers don’t even “do good;” they “do bad” over and over and just ask for god’s forgiveness. Or, worse, they “do bad” under their god’s supposed direction. What kind of morality is that? Western religion tells us that we are born sinful as the offspring of parents who disobeyed God. So much for a loving, forgiving God. It also tells us that all we have to do is ask for God’s forgiveness when we’ve had impure thoughts or committed crimes, no matter how many times. All these points are overlooked in the book, with the idea being that the loss of a religious community is unnatural and problematic. Yet from where I’m standing, it is not unnatural and problematic to take religion and belief out of our lives, it is unnatural and problematic to force them in.
Having said all this, we all realize this is just one person’s opinion (mine). Maybe I don’t “get” this book. Maybe I have no love left for the institution of religion. There are folks out there who might really enjoy, Grace without God. There are folks who might love it. The prose is well-written, and it could be a good read for someone on the fence about whether to leave religion or not, someone who is not quite sure what they believe or if they have the fortitude to go it alone. However, it might also help some of those believers remain in their religion.
*This review was not paid, although I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for giving my feedback. I am a full-time employee of a technology company and do not work in the publishing industry.