Reader(s), I Need Your Help

Today, I was walking by a table set up by a Christian student group, and noticed their sign advertising free candy if you take their survey. Free candy! On Halloween, no less. Well, I’ve been thinking, for the past year or so, every time I walk by a table like this, that maybe I should try talking to them. So, after I finished eating lunch, I walked back by their table and asked them about their candy, I mean, survey.

It was a pretty open ended survey with verbal questions and answers. It didn’t take long for them to figure out I’m an atheist. They asked me questions like how I became an atheist and why I don’t believe in their god. It was hard for me to pin down one thing to answer questions like this. There are just so many things. So I told them that, and I tried to give them a vague overview of why I don’t believe in any gods. The main thing I said was that, several years back, when I started thinking for myself more and asking questions, I started looking for a better reason to believe than “Mommy and Daddy said so”, but I never did find one. Instead, I found reasons not to believe.

After a little while of talking, they asked me if I would read a book they gave me. I was all set to refuse and walk off into the sunset when the “of course, I’ll also read a book you want me to” bit came out. That was a rather pleasant surprise, and, sadly, there’s no “of course” about it. It’s nice to see a proselytizer who actually understands the sort of reciprocity necessary to having a real discussion (my Dear Christian letter was a response to having run into a lack of such reciprocity too many times).

They ended up giving me their email. Neither of us has firmly decided what book the other shall read, yet, although they said they were thinking of having me read “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist“, unless there was some particular specific reason for why I don’t believe in their god, in which case they might have a different suggestion. I can already tell from the title that I have major disagreements with the premise of the book, and that it probably uses weird definitions of “faith” and/or “atheist”. Still, it will be interesting to see what a Christian finds to be a convincing argument against atheism.

I, on the other hand, really have no idea what book I am going to have them read. And that is where you, dear reader(s), come in. I’d really like some suggestions of what to recommend! I have a few thoughts myself, but I’m nowhere near settled on anything. I’m hesitant to recommend anything that I haven’t read myself, but I also want to pick the best, most convincing book I can find. There’s always “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, but I don’t know if I want to recommend anything of Dawkins right now, and I’m not sure I’d be confident calling that the best I can find, anyway. I’m in the middle of reading one of Victor J Stenger’s books at the moment, and I’m thinking of suggesting his “God:The Failed Hypothesis“, except that I haven’t actually read that one yet. I was poking through my public library’s online catalog a bit for atheist books, and I’ve put Stenger’s book on hold, as well as PZ Myers new book, “The Happy Atheist“.

Another book I thought of was “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God“, but if their reasons for believing aren’t among the 50 discussed in the book, it’s not exactly going to be very convincing. Another idea is that, perhaps, I should recommend a book that focuses more on talking about what atheists are like (e.g. how atheists can live ethical, happy lives) and less on putting forwards arguments against the existence of any gods. It depends on what I want to accomplish with this. If the title of the book they recommended to me is any indication, though, they may have a lot of misconceptions about atheists.

To take a completely different track, I could also recommend Abul A’la Maududi’s “Towards Understanding Islam“. I blogged a bit about my response to reading this book here. At the time, I was looking for books that explain what Islam is all about, what the main beliefs/practices/etc. are, and what sort of divides there are in Islam (e.g. Shi’a, Sunni). Well, this book did explain some of these things, but it was also a very persuasive bit of writing. It was a difficult, highly thought provoking book to read. It was a short book, but I spent quite a lot of time on it. I’d need to take breaks every now and again, because it was not even remotely light reading. A lot of the arguments in it were very emotional in nature, e.g. talking about how the unbeliever is willful/foolish/malicious/will go to Hell (keep in mind I’m talking about a book I read over a year ago, here–I’m not going to remember things precisely). Describing an outgroup as being bad/stupid/foolish/deluded can certainly be a very effective emotional argument, though it is not a logical argument at all.

In any case, there are a few reasons that recommending this book on Islam crossed my mind. For one thing, it might make them rethink some of the arguments they use or hear about Christianity, if they see the same sorts of arguments being used for Islam. For another, one of the most convincing arguments for atheism that I can think of, is the number and variety of religions in the world, many of which claim very similar things (prophets, miracles, god(s) interacting with the physical world, spiritual experiences, etc.), and none of which have notably better arguments/evidence than the others. Many arguments that can be used to support one religion (e.g. “my god does miracles” or “the universe was clearly intelligently designed”), apply equally as well (or equally as badly) to others. Which is to say, the argument about whether or not any gods exist is completely reframed once you take into account the many different religions/gods of the world.

So, yea. Thoughts? Suggestions? What sort of book should I recommend? What specific book(s) would you recommend?

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8 thoughts on “Reader(s), I Need Your Help

  1. The End of Faith by Sam Harris may be a good book to offer. God is Not Great by the great Christopher Hitchens is another, but like Dawkins, he may not be the name to parade to them as he is perhaps too popular with an opinion not popular enough to be received generously. Sam Harris is one of the best communicators that I have ever read. I highly reccomend his book.

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  2. Thanks for the suggestions. I think that Cristopher Hitchens book is the one book of his I’ve read, but I don’t remember that much about it. I definitely haven’t read the Sam Harris one.

    I think I’m going to try to get all the books I’m considering (including ones others suggest) at the library, and then poke through all of them to try to get a better feel for what I want to recommend.

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  3. I would avoid any of the so called four horsemen. In fact, I would avoid trying to send them a convincing arguement for atheism all together. I’d probably send them Greta Christina’s Why Are You Atheists So Angry 99 Things that Piss off the Godless. It’s just as condecending at times, but it explains the gnu atheist position on things rather well. And you don’t have to deal with all the atheist patriarchy like you do with the horseman. But I’m not interested in having these types of arguements any more. I have bigger concerns. Being an out trans woman kinda trumps everything at this point, and one of my biggest supports is a cis woman who is a pretty hard core muslim. I really don’t take to kindly to all the islamiphobia spouted by the big name atheists. I mean the racism and sexism are just inexcusable. Atheism, replicating christian patriarchy without the God.

    Or you could have them read the Tao te Ching.

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  4. I’m not really familiar with the “four hoursemen” thing. Which ones are they? I’m aware of some of the douchey things Dawkins has been saying–that’s why I don’t want to recommend one of his books.

    “Atheism, replicating christian patriarchy without the God.”
    Yea. Totally facepalmworthy. It’s like they think “Religion causes sexism. I’m not religious. Therefore I’m not sexist!” without bothering to actually look at how their actions are affecting women.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish with this, and I think simply education about what atheists are actually like is a pretty big priority. If I can also get them to think, and to look at their faith in a way they might not have before, that would be good, too.

    I’ll have to poke through Greta’s book again, see what I think about recommending it. *reaches over to bookshelf*

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  5. The four horseman: Dawkins, Dennit, Harris, and Hitchens. Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins all specifically have huge racism and sexism problems.

    Greta Christina: at least is trying.

    Not that that means I trust her anymore than any other high profile white cis atheist.

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  6. I’d say “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer (yeah, I know, Shermer, but it’s a worthwhile book), or Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”. Books that go after the root idea of faith without evidence, rather than rebutting any particular religion.

    Or Greta’s book is terrific, that’s a good one to recommend. She writes with both passion and compassion, a good combination.

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  7. Yea, “The Demon Haunted World” is a good one. I was actually thinking of that one at some point.

    The thing I’m having the hardest time with is that I have to pick just one book. I’m leaning towards Greta’s book at the moment just because I think it does more than one of the things that I want to do. It shows things from an atheist point of view and tackles some of the common misconceptions (e.g. the angry atheist stereotype) while painting a picture of what atheists are actually like, and it provides arguments arguments against religion (mostly from a practical perspective, e.g. “religion is harmful”, although there’s one chapter which concisely, but effectively, lays out the case for “there probably aren’t any gods”). It also does a really nice job of bringing attention to the wide variety of religions which exist in the world, which can be a good argument against religion all by itself (for example, Pascal’s Wager falls apart as soon as you point out the wide variety of gods to choose from).

    If I could choose four books, I’d pick one that lays out the case for atheism, one that debunks common misconceptions and shows what atheists are actually like, one that lays out the case for skepticism and critical thinking (Sagan’s book), one that provides exposure to another religion (Maududi’s “Towards Understanding Islam”), and also the Bible, to give them exposure to what their own holy book actually says (much of which is actually pretty awful). Er, five books. If I could choose five books…

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