Tag Archives: book review

Guest Post: Women Beyond Belief

Friends,

Below is a guest post about an upcoming book on women and atheism. I look forward to reading the book after its release.

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“High school was difficult for me—I was so uncomfortable when people would ask me what church I attended or which denomination I was in. When I would tell them I was an atheist, they looked at me as if I’d committed an atrocity. “You don’t believe in god? Why?” I was constantly asked in school. When I told them my reason, they judged me. They questioned my morals and said they wouldn’t trust me, all because I didn’t believe in this transparent being called god. It was crazy, the questions they would ask me. If anything, I thought, I should be asking the questions. Why are they believing in a being that they can’t see, feel, or hear?

Not only was it tough as a teenager being an atheist, but being a black one made my life even tougher. The community I come from is very religious, and my sister and I were the only atheists on our block. They weren’t open-minded, so it was uncomfortable for me when they would talk about Jesus or god. Being a black atheist is like being an African elephant almost. I can count how many black atheists I know personally: me and my sister.” Taressa Straughter

Taressa Straughter was raised Pentacostal but gave up her religion as a teenager. She speaks openly about her atheism and was the recipient of a scholarship from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2015. She is one of 22 women who have written essays about their journeys away from religion in “Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion” edited by Karen L. Garst. This book can be pre-ordered on Amazon and will be available in bookstores October 1.

Dr. Garst became incensed when the U. S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Burwell v.Hobby Lobby in 2014. This decision said that because of its religious views, Hobby Lobby, a craft store, would not be obligated to follow the dictates of the Affordable Care Act and provide certain forms of birth control to its employees. “Will we never end the fight for women’s reproductive rights?” Garst stated. Once again, religion has influenced the laws of our land. Politicians cite their religion in supporting restrictions on abortion, banning funding for Planned Parenthood, and a host of other issues that are against women.

The first leaders of the New Atheism movement that arose after 9/11 were men: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. They came with backgrounds of science and philosophy. They launched a renewed effort to show people how destructive religion can be and how all Abrahamic religions are based upon an Iron Age mythology, borrowing from other mythologies of the time.

Dr. Garst wants to add a focus on women and the role this mythology has played in the culture of many countries to denigrate and subordinate women. She states that “Religion is the last cultural barrier to gender equality.” And she is right. More and more women atheists are speaking out. And as we all know, if women leave the churches, they will collapse. As more women leave religion, more children will not suffer the shame and guilt associated with most major religions.

She has received support with reviews by Richard Dawkins, Valerie Tarico, Peter Boghossian, Sikivu Hutchinson and other atheist authors.

We encourage you to check out Dr. Garst’s blog at http://www.faithlessfeminist.com and to pre-order this excellent book.

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Book Review: Grace without God by Katherine Ozment

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 Grace without GodI 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.