A Torrent of Atheism-Related Books Is About to Be Unleashed

I said yesterday that the “New Atheists” helped revive a movement that has since grown in both size and scope.

Here’s even more evidence of that: The number of books being written about atheism are coming out of the fire hose at full blast. And far from being more “arguments against faith,” they’re covering a wider range of material than ever before. Kimberly Winston wrote about the trend in Publishers Weekly:

Today books by and about nonbelievers — atheists, humanists, “brights” and other “freethinkers” — have taken a new turn. Books on the topic have matured, growing beyond the angry disdain of the New Atheists to include more moderate voices…

What’s changed? For one thing, in part due to the books of the New Atheists, nonbelief has become less stigmatized

At the same time, there’s been some backlash against the stridency of the New Atheists, and not only from the religious authors who wrote books responding to the New Atheists’ core tenet that religion is “evil.” Many new titles on atheism and nonbelief take a more middle way. “There’s been a recognition that the New Atheists had an aggressiveness that was off-putting to a lot of people,” says Kathleen Mulhern, managing editor at Patheos Press, which last year published The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thrive by Hemant Mehta, its second title on atheism in two years. “But that aggressiveness seems to be moving into a more subtle confidence,” Mulhern says. “There just seems to be more of a comfort level with talking about atheism than there was earlier.”

My book was far from a knock on strident atheism — it wasn’t about tone at all — but there’s a lot of truth to the idea that people are looking for more entryways into discussing atheism, and if Richard Dawkins is too “aggressive” for you, another author might be more palatable to your tastes.

Bring it all on. The more books about atheism, the better off we all are. It doesn’t matter to me which lane to reason you choose to drive in as long as we’re all on the same highway.

There’s one thing that really stands out among the new crop of authors, though:

Just as the New Atheists were all white, male, and, with the exception of Harris, middle-aged, the current crop of authors is mostly white and almost exclusively male.

Of the nearly 30 books mentioned in Winston’s article, only three were written by women. And Susan Jacoby‘s was more of a profile of Robert Ingersoll than an argument for atheism. There are other books by women coming out soon that weren’t mentioned in the piece, but the overall charge is the same.

So how do we get more voices into the mix? It starts with publishers who seek them out. Kurt Volkan of Pitchstone Publishing (Disclosure: Pitchstone put out my two audiobooks) said in the article that he’s seeking out writers who cater to ethnic/gender niches in the atheist world. In fact, the two other books written by women in the article are both published by Volkan.

But it also requires more women and minorities to tell their stories and make their arguments and simply get them out there, even if that means self-publishing the books. We’re getting to the point where, once your book is online, how it got there is almost irrelevant.

That issue aside, though, it’s great to see all these new books still being published nearly a decade after Sam Harris got the ball rolling. There are so many areas that have yet to be explored in depth — dating and dying, to name two — and many more people able to write about them than ever before.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    I saw the word torrent and got excited, then I realized what you meant.

    • http://www.facebook.com/tony.jiang.37 Tony Jiang

      ahhh i see what u did there

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    Good article! I’m especially looking forward to the ex-Jehovah’s Witness memoir that was mentioned.

  • Sean lissemore

    The new atheist movement that at times has been both sexist and islamophobic is almost entirely white and male? You don’t say…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=184703849 Matt Keto

      Look, someone desperately trying to be intelligent and witty. How cute!

    • guest

      Is there something wrong with being white and male?

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Being male is OK, but being almost entirely male is a bit odd.

      • RobMcCune

        For a demographic other than the one called “white males,” yes.

      • baal

        There is a bit of a language and fallacy problem (a group of nasty people are old white men so all old white men are nasty people; all dogs are mammals so all mammals are dogs). If you look at say the republicans in elective office in DC, they are largely old white men. They also have a set of views that are freakishly awful. Some of the commentariat then use “old white men” or “white men” to mean those guys, the nasty awful ones. The problem arises when they aren’t clear and sweep up me (old and white and man) in that group. It’s usually just linguistic sloppiness but sometime I’m supposed to be wearing magical intent glasses that absolve the sterotyper.

        Now, consider the next issue over. Atheism (well, me, lots of the commentariat here as well as posters) would like to be a diverse movement that’s welcoming to demographics that are not white (old) men. One of the best ways to meet that goal is to have books by folks who are not old white men (given the OP context). Conversely, if I looked into a group of people and there were -0- books by old white men, I might think twice about joining. I’d like at least to have someone explain why there is a selection bias on the book publication side.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      “Islamophobia” is imprecise. There’s a sociological distinction that can be made between Islamoprejudice and secular critique of Islam; see (doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00911.x). There’s not much data supporting islamoprejudice being widespread among the new Atheists. (Anecdata? Hitchens looks to have exhibited both… and been criticized by other atheists over the former.)

      Contrariwise, islamoprejudice has some correlation to social dominance orientation, there’s some data suggesting that atheist groups may tend high-SDO, and high-SDO correlates to derogatory prejudices including sexism. Nohow, secular critique has strong reverse correlation to religiosity and RWA, which are somewhere between endemic and epidemic among atheists.

  • advancedatheist

    the current crop of authors is mostly white and almost exclusively male.

    That wouldn’t surprise anyone who reads “Dark Enlightenment” blogs which explore human nature empirically and without regard to political correctness. White men, and often East Asians, tend to wind up over-represented in meritocratic situations where they take the initiative and have to have the goods to succeed, as we can see in Silicon Valley, a sector of California’s economy which doesn’t look like the state’s demographics at all. .

    • Y

      That’s because America is still very much a racist country. Empirical studies have shown racism exists and that it makes it harder for non-whites to get ahead in life. Why don’t you go read up on it instead of just believing shit you read on blogs?

  • Sean lissemore

    Odd that a nut like sam harris who thinks mysticism and the paranormal are valid scientific pursuits is a leader in an atheist movement

    • Randomfactor

      Does he believe in gods?

    • DavidMHart

      As far as I can tell, what Harris is interested in is the set of cognitive phenomena that people have traditionally classed as ‘mystical’, not the supernatural claims that tend to accompany them. The effect of, say, Buddhist meditation on your conscious experience is a perfectly valid thing to be interested in studying, even if the supernatural claims of Buddhism aren’t.

      • Tobias2772

        What kind of supernatural claims exist in Buddhism ??

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

          Reincarnation. Cosmologies based around a number of non-existent parallel universes (the “ten spiritual realms”). Devas that supposedly inhabit some of those non-existent places. And quite a few others, with the specific claims varying widely between different Buddhist groups.

          Although it happens to be more common in English-speaking countries, secular Buddhism is a minority worldwide.

        • DavidMHart

          What Michael W Busch said. And also, karma – the idea that the universe is somehow ‘aware’ of your good and bad deeds and can return that good or evil to you.

          At the risk of starting to look like a Richard Carrier Shill (because I just linked to it a few seconds ago in another Friendly Atheist comment thread), I’m going to link you to his excellent article attempting to precisely define the supernatural
          because anyone that’s going to talk about the supernatural really ought to have a precise definition of it in mind, and his is the best that I’ve come across. You’ll see that his definition of it as having ‘ontologically basic mental elements’ covers both the reincarnation claims – that the human personality can survive the physical destruction of the brain, and also the claims of karma.

    • Rain

      Odd that a nut like sam harris who thinks mysticism and the paranormal are valid scientific pursuits is a leader in an atheist movement

      Yeah he doesn’t even know how to make stickman youtube videos! How the heck did he get to be atheist without youtube poop videos! Someone must have autotuned him or something.

    • InvisibleDeity

      Someone who calls criticizing a violent religion a phobia calls other people nuts!!

      What DavidMHart said was correct anyway. He was talking about “cognitive phenomena that people have traditionally classed as ‘mystical’” There is a lot we do not know about the human mind. There is nothing nutty about wanting to investigate and understand it to see what benefits it may offer.

  • WallofSleep

    Off topic, but could someone tell who came up with the term “brights” as a reference to us atheists? I’d like to pee in their Wheaties.

    • Kengi

      Paul Geisert. Although the term is not specifically intended to mean the same thing as “atheists”.

      • WallofSleep

        Ah, thanks. I thought it was meant to be synonymous. If you don’t mind my asking, what is the term specifically intended to mean?

        • TheAnti-Coconut

          My problem with the term is that it comes off as elitist. Even if you tell me what it ‘means’ in it’s new context I already have such a strong association of the word with the meaning ‘above average intelligence’ that the original meaning remains dominant in my mind.

          • dan davis

            Being more intelligent doesn’t make you elitist, It means you’re smarter, which may be due to upbringing and luck, and/or genetic factors.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ben.dreidel Ben J. Dreidel
        • Librepensadora

          There is a complete explanation and information on Brights’ goals at their website http://www.the-brights.net

  • Jane

    I don’t like the implication that women are a niche market. We’re 50% of the population. I own several books written by male atheists. If female atheists write books, I hope they’ll be read by people of both sexes and not just put in a mental corner labelled ‘women’s problems’.

    • ORAXX

      About 53% actually.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Łukasz-Jezierski/791365757 Łukasz Jezierski

    If you look for women atheists – check out Helena Eilstein and Barbara Stanosz (I’m not sure if the latter published anything in English)

  • http://twitter.com/yjmbobllns Yojimbo Billions

    Way to humblebrag in the first quote.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The number of books being written about atheism are coming out of the fire hose at full blast.

    It’s a good thing you’re a math teacher and not an English teacher.

  • ORAXX

    I think that much of what may be labeled as “strident” by believers amounts to no more than non-believers failing to give religion the deference to which believers think their religion is entitled.

  • EvidenceBasedDecisions

    If Dawkins is too aggressive for you, you dont know enough about the effects of religion.

  • Goliath Field

    Good, maybe some will enjoy my kindle book, A Kinder, Gentler Atheism, by Goliath Field.


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