I Could Use Some Input on the New Book…

I’m about halfway through writing the book about high school atheism, and I would love to get your input on a couple of things…

First, I should mention that the audience isn’t only young atheists; it’s anyone who supports them or wants to know about that particular demographic. So that means talking about who they are, the challenges they face, ways to overcome those challenges, etc.

So here are a few questions I could use feedback on:

1) What else would be helpful to include in the book? (I have my own outline, but I want to make sure I’m not leaving anything important out…)

2) Knowing the intended audience, what should the title of the book be? (I had one in mind, but I’m liking it less and less…)

3) What part of the book process would you all like to know about down the line? The “ebook” part of it? The financial aspect? The writing process? (I can answer that last part now. It involves staying up late at night when all the emails have died down, my RSS feed comes to a halt, and I’ve read everything else on the Internet that day.)

Thanks!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Mary

    I’d like to know some stats on high school atheists. How many there are, how firm they are in their beliefs, what kind of treatment they experience from their classmates and teachers, etc. As for a title, here are a few thoughts: Young and Atheist. The Next Generation of Atheism. Non-believers in High School. 

    Good luck with your writing! I can’t wait to read it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    I suppose in keeping with the “Friendly” moniker, you might note the variety of reactions from the religious — frankly hostile, openly opposed, gently bewildered, simply indifferent, or cordially supportive. Obviously, as reactions can vary extensively, so would appropriate responses.

  • Icaarus

    I would like to know about the editing and revising process.

  • Kathryn

    1. It would be very helpful to see information for parents and teachers about what they can do to help out with starting groups, fundraising, general support, etc. A list of resources for these demographics at least. Additionally it would be helpful to include a section about what atheists DO believe in, for we all know what it’s like to get that stupid reaction of “well if you’re a non-believer, you don’t believe in anything.” Basic definitions of things like secularism, rationalism, skepticism etc. and lists of organizations that support them.

    2. I second the play on The Next Generation (though personally I’d lean for the more traditional Atheism: The Next Generation). Or a play on common, relatable experiences in high school (e.g. Prom, Braces, and Atheism: The Rise of Non-Believers in High School).

    3. The outreach and financial aspects.

    • David McNerney

      Gonna break one of my personal favourite “don’t be a dick” rules, and criticize someone with an idea when I don’t have one, but ‘Next Generation’ is a little 90s.

      • Kathryn

        I’m not sure how old you are, but I’m pretty close in age to being a high schooler, and the whole Next Generation thing is actually relatively popular (maybe it was the reboot of Star Trek, or Degrassi, or something – who knows!). 

        • David McNerney

          I defer to your youth. 
          I saw the original series when it came out first.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      While I like the idea of discussing what atheists believe, that has to be handled very carefully, since there is no single thing that atheists universally believe- and that in itself is an important point.

      When I explain atheism, I start by making clear that it’s a fundamentally simple concept- not a belief at all, but the simple absence of a belief. Of course, comparing it to a lack of belief in things most people consider fictional, like unicorns and leprechauns, is a useful tool for making this point.

      I then explain the connection between theism and religion, and the role that religion plays in many people’s lives. That is, it isn’t really the theism itself that affects people, but the social structures of the religion it engenders. When people ask “what do you believe in, then?”, I can explain the parallels between their religious beliefs and other philosophical approaches to the same things: the value and meaning of life, an afterlife, morals and ethics, etc. I explain the idea of humanism (both secular and religious) and how this- in various types- is a popular philosophical framework for many, but not all, atheists. This all serves to demonstrate (hopefully!) that both theists and atheists are asking many of the same questions, which is much more important that the fact that we’re arriving at different answers.

    • Namie244

       I like the “Next Generation” name

  • Tom_Nightingale

    1)  Hmm, infographics?  I love them, and can help break up page after page of text!

    2)  I feel the title should point out that this is a book about atheists standing up and being recognized.  So maybe “Standing Up.”  I like “Raising a Hand”, like you’re asking a question in school, and also identifying yourself or questioning authority (maybe “Raising our Hands”, makes it plural).

    3) Yes.  :)  I always think “making of” stories are great insights into the author’s experience of creating their book.  A short story/diary about your process would be a great read

    • dearestlouise

      Infographics is a really great idea!

  • David McNerney

    What about “One Nation … Indivisible” – you still do the pledge in high school don’t you? And it is one of the most significant forms of protest at the moment.

  • Randomfactor

    Atheists With Class:  Organizing and Encouraging High-School Freethought.

    • Kathryn K.

      I don’t know, I’m rather partial to “The Care and Feeding of a High-School Atheist,” but maybe that’s just me.

      Also, Kathryn, you stole my name!

  • Kalafarski

    Definitely include stories about Damon Fowler, Jessica Ahlquist, and other secular high school students who’ve defended the First. Just don’t make it sound like only atheist students want to keep high schools secular.

  • littlejohn

    My wife teaches high school, and there is no doubt in my mind that the title should include the word “awesome” at least three times. Maybe “Awesome Book of Awesome High School Awesome Atheism: It’s Awesome.”

  • TC

    Here’s my input (as a high school atheist):

    1. What causes/has caused the young to stray away from religion; I’m sure many, or most, atheists were raised in religious families. How families react to one of their children coming out as atheist, as teenagers are still dependent on their families for everything. How atheists can show that they’re not evil and that they do have morals. How the internet has been spreading atheism (right?). Why many atheists choose not to declare their atheism, and how they can. Finally, I agree with Kathryn about resources for parents and teachers, but also students, about how they can spread awareness and such about atheism.

    2. The Young are Changing? Dunno.

    3. As much as you can tell us … personally, I find that process to be very interesting but I don’t know much about it. If I had to be specific, probably publishing as an ebook  and how it’s different from traditional books. 

  • Armadillo

    I’d be interested in knowing if anyone from the community can help, or if you need a student in school, or need to be a faculty member.  What if they don’t know anyone in high school, or any atheist teachers who would be interested in this sort of thing.  Is there something we could do to spread the word, help getting groups started, etc.?  Or is donating to SSA and the like the only thing we can do?

  • BigEvil

    While such people as Damon Fowler and Jessica Ahlquist should be in the book, there should definitely be an emphasis that one can be a regular high school atheist student and just have fun.  Not everyone has to change the world.

    • Kathryn

      Agreed! Maybe including spotlights on a balance of “big names” and regular students so it’s easier to identify and relate. 

  • dearestlouise

    1.) I’ll second what Kathryn said about listing resources. This can include everything from great books for young or new atheists, organizations (a state-by-state breakdown of these would be fantastic), websites, etc.

    2.) I’ll have to think on this one!

    3.) I really think a series on the entire process from taking an idea for a book and making it a reality would be really interesting. 

    • Earl G.

      Totally agree on #3.  I’d love to see a whole series on this!

  • http://twitter.com/TruthByTrial TruthByTrial

    1.  It may be helpful to include strategies for coping with being outnumbered by large groups of vocal theist peers.  Any shouting match of: “There is no god” – “YES there is!” will not be productive for anyone.  Teens are quick to polarize into competing factions, especially theist vs atheist.  Maybe also suggest preemptively taking the sting out of forming a club: suggest that a pre-atheist club reach out to any theist clubs and explain they are not forming a club to convert people to atheism, but rather,
    a place for young atheists to participate in their community and
    promote critical thinking. Further, high school students are also dealing with another level of flushing out their identity vs their parents identity – this could be a whole book itself. 

    2.  Titles!

    A Show of Hands: Godless in High School.

    A Thinking Person’s Guide To Student Atheism.

    School of Thought

    eh? title gold, yes?  :)

    • dearestlouise

      I really like the “A Show of Hands: Godless in High School” suggestion!

    • rlrose328

      A second for “A Show of Hands: Godless in High School”!  Inspired title.

  • The Captain

    Other than the pressure some atheist athletes may have, how about some perspective on how the college application process goes for some of them? Pressure from parents to attend a religious schools? stuff like that.The help structure (financial aid and emotional) in place for religious kids versus atheist? 

    As a life long atheist who went to a really secular public school system I never had to deal with any of that so I would be interested to know if thats the norm or not (I suspect it’s not).

  • Mazoku

    As a recent high school graduate and previous only one of two known atheists at my school, I’d like a message as well that it’s okay if you’re scared about being a “known” atheist and are not sure about coming out. Especially when your friends/family/everyone that you possibly know is a Christian. In fact, it was only this year that I managed to get the courage to “come out” to my entire school as an atheist.

  • MegaZeusThor

    1. Please make sure to include a page or two about WHY we don’t believe. People hear the term “Godless” and they think evil. Explain that’s just that we don’t actively believe in gods or a deity. Show them that it’s not silly to reject this concept – what would be silly is to still believe that Apollo is responsible for the sun. Using the supernatural to explain things gets us nowhere.

    Continuing, it doesn’t have to be the focus of the book (it isn’t), but a page or two could do some good for those hostile or misinformed about atheism. It’s a lack of belief. Imagine some church going Mom picks up the book. What could you say in a minute that puts what atheism is perspective?

    If you’re still looking for pages to fill, touch on History of Atheism and some external resources – books, websites, things and people to Google. (Again, half the battle is getting people up to speed. You can’t have chapters about counter-apologetics, but you can point them in the right direction.)

    2.

    Student atheists: How you can make a positive difference

    The future of atheism: a helpful guide on high school atheism

    The no gods club: What you need to know about atheism in high school.

    Secular Students: What you can do and how you can do it.

    Billy and the Cloneasaurus.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EODM45N2R75PI57HLZQIF5C3XA Mark

    As one teacher to another, I am hoping that you will balance the believing aspects of this issue with the free thinking aspects.  One of the things that I find most damaging about religion is its indoctrination of an anti-thinking acceptance.  It is disheartening to have to deal with so many capable young people who refuse to think about things rationally and critically.  These kids lives are dramatically limited because of a mind-set that was forced on them before they were old enough to defend themselves against it.  I don’t see enough written about the damages and limitations put on these kids specificaly and our society in general.  High schools should teach kids to examine and challenge ides that don’t make sense (regardless of what the GOP in Teaxas has to say about it).  That’s the way the clubs can best grow – out of thinking like we are supposed to do in education.

    We have a free-thinkers club in my high school but several kids of faith come to the meetings.  They are all welcome as long as we are thinkng freely.  I know that sounds odd and contradictory, but we are in our first year and I am trying to allow the kids to see the rationality rather than force it on them, plus we have to go a litlle slower here in SC.

    I look forward to the book.  Keep up the good work,

    Mark Welch
    mdwelch27@att.net

  • rlrose328

    How to handle peer pressure.  I’m not at all worried about my son facing drug peer pressure… he’s very much a geeky nerd and is terrified of drugs.  But handling the peer pressure of the bigoted, antiscience mindset of his peers is tough for him.  He wants to fit in and be able to socialize with his peers but without the god delusion.  It’s a psychosocial nightmare for him.  Drugs, he can avoid.  Opinions and classroom discussion, not so much.  And he’s not strong enough to stand up to them.

    I wouldn’t say he’s been an outcast in middle school… he was in the inaugural kindergarten for this charter school and has gone all the way through with the same kids, give or take a few.  They know our family is atheist and for the most part, they accept that.  But when discussion science or politics (and occasionally, religion when it rears its ugly head), he ends up the odd man out.  We’ve told him to just walk away, but that’s not always possible.

    Because I never had to handle anything like that and haven’t witnessed it first hand, I’m at a loss how to advise him.  Perhaps those in the contemporary classroom can advise.

  • Tinker

    Around here every new high school gets a Morman church built on the lot next to it. I would like to know about atheist in those schools.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    Somewhere there has to be a photo of a letterman jacket with the A symbol on it.

    • Randomfactor

      “Straight-A” Students (and Gay Ones Too!)

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    I recall a young man who considered himself an atheist back when I was teaching at an Orthodox Jewish school. He would have just graduated. Anyway, if you’re looking for more extended input, I could try to find him.

  • Tony

    PLEASE inform these young people that, while exhilarating in many ways, a transition out of faith/into reason can be accompanied by real and legitimate GRIEF. It can encompass the entire grief arc – from denial all the way through to anger, and hopefully to acceptance. The losses of your God, Savior, protector, friend, Heavenly Father, cosmic purpose and significance,  afterlife, etc are *thoroughly* traumatic.  It’s also possible to get bogged down in different stages of the grief arc, and as such these students may need counseling to get them through to acceptance. Encourage them to seek out the necessary counseling, especially if they are being raised in a Fundamentalist home! Marlene Winell’s book “Leaving the Fold” is a wonderful resource. I encourage them to buy a copy for themselves AND for their counselors, so they’re on the same page, so to speak, and so their counselor can learn that what their patients are  dealing with is real, and something other than  “mommy/daddy issues”.

    • Tony

       Also, the transition may cause them a great deal of anxiety which can result depression, anger, impulsiveness (which can be destructive to relationships), defensiveness, etc. Once they’ve identified their triggers (issues of justice, dignity, freedom, etc) through counseling they will be better able to recognize, understand and moderate their behavior.

  • sinistr

    I’ve been an atheist for over 50 years.  I arrived at atheism without really knowing it had a name.  I was about 14 when I came to the conclusion there were no gods.  I had no mentor or even another atheist to talk to and to this day i have yet to meet another atheist face to face.  I’m not moaning and groaning about this… in fact I became stronger as a result.  I never came out as it were because I was raised in a catholic family, went to a catholic high school, went to a catholic university and worked as a civil servant in a christian environment.  It wasn’t a question of not being brave, it was a question of survival but I made my choice and lived with it without regret.  On the other hand I can’t count the number of times I was kicked out of theology class for my embarressing questions both in high school and university.  I even became an alter boy as a young teen and enjoyed dumping a lot of water into the priest’s wine during mass… he had warned me to only add one drop. 

    Humor was my way out.  I learned at an early age that words can only hurt you if you give them that power.

    I doubt I am the only one to be an atheist in this fashion so perhaps your book could encourage loners like me although looking back I really was alright with how I was.

    My name sinistr comes from being left handed… something the nuns tried to change by tying my left hand behind my back.   I’m still a lefty and proud.

    Thank you

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    One thing I’ve noticed in stories about atheists in high school is that depending on the school and community, the sources of pressure can be very different. How do kids respond to backlash from other kids, versus teachers, counselors, coaches, or the broader community? For instance, we hear about cases where the student body is generally fine with an atheist club, but the administration opposes it. Or where a community rises up against a student when an issue moves outside the school. All these possibilities should be considered if you want young atheists to see themselves in the book.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    When we hear the stories behind adults gaining their rationality and giving up theism, we often hear about a painful process of searching that they went through- many starting with a deeply felt sense of theism and taking a long time to ultimately give that up, along with the strong community of their church.

    This is quite different from my impression of student atheists. Most seem to report having never been theists at all, or at most very casual ones. As they grow older and more reflective, they seem most often to simply outgrow any residual theism in the way they outgrow a belief in Santa Claus. That is, it doesn’t seem to involve the same sort of soul searching and even trauma experienced by many adults.

    I’m curious how true these observations are. Certainly, they could result from some sort of observation bias based on the sort of stories that ultimately get published. But if there is any truth in this, how one approaches a young atheist might be very different from how one approaches an adult. Kids face social pressures that are often greater than those faced by adults, but internally, I think they have much less doubt about their beliefs.

  • Tainda

    It’s just not easy being a young atheist.  I grew up in a smallish town in Missouri (in the 80s) and not believing in a god was the worst thing any of my peers could imagine.  I didn’t know what to call it when I was younger but I knew believing in an invisible man in the sky just sounded idiotic.  I had a lot of friends and most of them didn’t care a bit though I only told really close friends until I was out of high school.  My family isn’t religious but my mom does believe in a higher power so they aren’t critical of me.

    The biggest problem I have had is with co-workers.  I refuse to act like I’m a religious person now and they just can’t understand my views.  I was told by one person that she couldn’t associate with me anymore because I wasn’t a Christian.  I said “Thank you” lol

  • mk919973

    I think you should add a chapter on the pressures that are put on students that were raised going to church.

  • Annie

    I think tips for how to locate supportive faculty members could be helpful.  I think most school clubs need an adult moderator of sorts, and that might be hard to find in some schools.

  • ellie

    i would love to see a section on atheists at religious schools. i went to a catholic high school. there was one out atheist, a closeted agnostic leaning atheist (me… well agnostic at the time) and at least one deist. this is what i knew of at least. it can be difficult, especially when religious services/ classes are required. but i actually left there with a better understanding as to why i don’t believe. 

  • http://www.MinefieldsAndMiracles.com/ Rabsharone

    Dear Hemant: I  just published a book called Minefields & Miracles: Why God and Allah Need to Talk and I  am currently working on a project in Los Angeles involving collaboration between the interfaith and freethinkers communities.  I’ll be in Chicago in September and would welcome an opportunity to meet you and speak more about your book and our mutual interests, etc.
    Best wishes
    Ruth Broyde Sharone
    http://www.MinefieldsAndMiracles.Comm rabsharone@gmail.com

  • viaten

    ‘Being an “A” Student’, or ‘How to be an “A” Student’ with the atheist “A” style and then a more descriptive subtitle.

  • https://getinhangon.wordpress.com/ Meg

    Speaking of other atheist students, what about something about atheist homeschoolers who are doing high school?  I homeschooled my son all the way through (he’s now a college graduate) and my daughter through 9th grade (she’s about to enter college).  And I know others that have as well. 

    The population of homeschoolers that attempt high school is fairly small (even when compared to the rest of the homeschooling population) and throw in not believing in god and it becomes a pin in a haystack. 

    OTH, we are thrown in with some of the most rabid fundamentalists and with some of their peers there is no middle ground or responsible outside party setting the ground rules. 

  • http://twitter.com/moother moother

    1) you should impress upon the fact that atheism is growing fast so get on the band-wagon early for the best seats….. also, the only real challenge that can be made to islam is through atheism as the “my god is bigger than your god” argument will not work against the caliphate.

    2)”Paper Planes and Jesus” or something equally insidious so that your book will get into christian households where it belongs… atheists will know where to find it but if little johnny finds one under the xmas tree after mommy only read the title it’s all WIN.

    3)just let me know when i can come over for drinks to celebrate.

    best of luck!

  • Katelynn B.

    1) The three main things I would want would be resources, tips for how to deal with the ones who just won’t let it go, and coping. Lots and lots of coping ideas. I know that this has caused me anxiety, I’m sure it would help others too.

    2) I’m not that creative, so I’ll support Kathryn’s one about Prom, Braces, and Atheism.
     
    3) Does all of the above count? :) I’m for financial, no one ever talks about that.

  • Dave Morgan

    It might be nice to have a section devoted to the history (U.S. at least) of religion in schools. There is a lot of interesting back story there, and the same laws created/used to get evangelicals groups into schools are what atheist groups are able to use to be in schools as well. Discussion about that is good to have as background when talking about.

    As for titles? A title that turns heads is probably the approach to take. Don’t go P.C. with it, make it controversial. 

  • Rick Dean

    There are a couple of things I would like to see if you have the data to support it.  
    1. Some personal stories from students.  Depending on the area of the country they live in they will have very different stories to tell.  A student living in Boston will enjoy a little more freedom  in communicating their beliefs than someone in a more restrictive, religious-minded community.   I would expect completely different and poignant stories to emerge.2. How have some of the students come to the conclusion that they no longer believe.  Most believed in Santa Claus at one point and that belief departed with maturity and knowledge.  Losing one’s faith is also a progression, and a much harder one in some instances.  How did they get there at such a young age.  What were the contributing factors?I hope this helps.  Looking forward to reading it when it’s ready!Rickhttp://nogodsallowed.com

  • Guest

    It would be nice to hear the psychology behind it. It seems to me a lot people come to the realization that there’s no gods during the teenage years. Assuming this observation has a basis in reality, are there some underlying developmental changes that make one more predisposed to realization during or post puberty? Is it, instead, environmental?  Both?

  • Doug Philips

    My kids are still in elementary school, but, especially in a state like Florida, they are surrounded by christians–most of which are very nice but, obviously, almost dumbstruck by the idea that their are people that don’t believe in their god.

    Not many kids like to be in the out-group, so dealing with being in this out group seems to be a big deal.

    I’m sure you, and other commenters (I have read the other comments) have this covered.

  • Anna Lindberg

    I would like to know the curriculum of the literature they are asked to read.  When I was in high school I had a teacher who was fond of the existentialists; Satre, Camus, et al.  We read this tripe and discussed all the brilliance and ironies.  What I was unaware of at the time was the slow, incremental drip of atheism I was being spoon-fed.

    As for titles:  How about “Separation of Church and Sanity”

    Work on it.

  • Waltz707

    I personally would love a collection of stories about high school atheists- i.e. what they have to deal with day to day.

  • Jim

    If you don’t already have it in there. I would love to see a good attempt at opposing some of the major theistic arguments such as the Cosmological, Teleological, and Axiological arguments.

  • Brian P.

    1.  I think an awesome outline would be the school day.  First period–the high school atheist in home room.  Second period–the high school atheist in social science.  Third period–the high school in English and literature.  Could go from there addressing the lunch room, the hall way, science class (obviously…), sports, and hanging out with friends and dating and of course the elements of drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll.  Would think a day-in-the-life would make for a great overall outline.

    2.  Would make the title “Unsaved by the Bell: Being Free and Thinking in High School.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Brilliant :)


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