For the past several years, we’ve seen a large number of atheism-related books hit the market. Unlike the books written by the “New Atheists,” however, the more recent releases aren’t just about why you should stop believing in God or how religion is bad. They cover different aspects of atheism and cater to a variety of audiences.
Last year, I put together a list of my favorite books of the year and I’m excited to do it again now. These are the books I’ll be referencing for years to come and the ones I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to explore faith with a critical eye.
I should mention this right now: I’ve covered many of these books on the site, I’ve been asked to write back-cover blurbs for some of them, my name appears in a few of the pages, and I know some of the authors personally. That’s inevitable when you do the sort of work I do. None of that, however, has any bearing on this list. I picked these books because I found them both fascinating and useful. You don’t have to believe me, but I just wanted to put that disclaimer right up front. So there you go.
#13) Life Beyond Belief: A Preacher’s Deconversion by Bob Ripley (Binea Press, 2014)
Rev. Bob Ripley was a minister for more than three decades, including 15 years spent as Senior Minister at Metropolitan United Church, a major Canadian congregation. He also wrote a syndicated column discussing religion for the past 25 years. And then, in September, he announced that he no longer believed in God. If it can happen to a former religious leader, it can happen to a religious person who reads this book.
#12) Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails edited by John W. Loftus (Prometheus Books, 2014)
In this book, Loftus and a panel of experts (including Peter Boghossian, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and the late Victor J. Stenger) write about why the problem with religion isn’t limited to the beliefs of some fringe groups of people, but faith itself. The essays, while academic in nature, are very readable and span a wide variety of topics.
#11) Atheists in America edited by Dr. Melanie E. Brewster (Columbia University Press, 2014)
What makes this collection of essays unique is that the authors vary so much when it comes to race, age, sexual orientation, and background — and their pieces reflect that. Far from the “white male ex-pastor” biographies, which are interesting but almost a genre of their own at this point, you find out what atheism looks like to a lot of different people and how they handle the difficulties of coming out, creating communities, and navigating relationships.
#10) Awkward Moments (Not Found In Your Average) Children’s Bible — Vol. 2 by Horus Gilgamesh and illustrated by Agnes Tickheathen (Awkward Bible, 2014)
This one’s just plain fun. It offers clever, whimsical illustrations to oft-overlooked Bible verses. After the runaway success of their first book, the authors decided to spawn a series. (Turns out there’s plenty of material for future books.) The best part is that if readers find anything offensive, they can take it up with the people who wrote the Bible.
#9) Parenting Without God: How to Raise Moral, Ethical and Intelligent Children, Free from Religious Dogma by Dan Arel (Dangerous Little Books, 2014)
It’s wonderful to see more books about atheist parenting and Dan Arel’s book is a welcome addition to the bunch. It goes beyond how to deal with baptisms, extended family members, and other typical controversies. He also discusses equality, homosexuality, race, and other ways religion manifests itself in our society.
#8) Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World by Mitchell Stephens (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
Just about any history course you’ve ever taken will include discussion about how religious believers and their ideas and inventions shaped modern history, but this book discusses how atheists — with their persistent questioning and challenging of orthodoxy — influenced our world. Forget “New Atheism.” This is “Old Atheism” and it’s compelling in its own right.
#7) Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist by Dr. Anthony Pinn (Prometheus Books, 2014).
Dr. Pinn is a professor of religious studies at Rice University. His memoir touches on the intersection of faith and race, all the way from the sermon he delivered before he was even a teenager, to becoming a youth pastor, to tossing that faith aside entirely. We could use more voices like his.
#6) Growing Up Godless by Deborah Mitchell (Sterling Ethos, 2014)
What?! Another parenting book? Damn right it is. What began as a one-off article for CNN turned into a viral sensation and led to this book. It consists of nearly 100 short essays on how to tackle all the various obstacles atheist parents face in a predominantly religious world.
#5) Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason by David Niose (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
Niose is the author of the fantastic book Nonbeliever Nation and his latest work picks up where that one left off. We know Secular Americans are a growing demographic, but can we harness those numbers to change public policy? How do we undo the damage the Religious Right has caused over the past several decades? Niose explains the problems we face and offers a variety of solutions. It’s almost like he thinks there’s hope for the future… (An excerpt from the book will be published on this site soon.)
#4) A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God by Chris Johnson (Cosmic Teapot, Inc, 2014)
There’s simply no other book like this out there. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Johnson’s Kickstarter campaign for this book was incredibly successful, allowing him to travel around the country, speak to atheists (myself included), and capture them through his photographs and brief write-ups. (A feature length documentary is in the works.) It’s the sort of book that makes you want to meet the people you’re reading about because they’re just so darn welcoming and happy. No one will ever accuse Johnson of being an angry atheist, and his subjects do as much to dispel that nasty stereotype as any campaign I’ve ever seen.
#3) Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why by Greta Christina (Pitchstone Publishing, 2014)
The most surprising thing about this book is that it hadn’t already been written by anyone. Given that telling other people that you’re an atheist is one of the biggest obstacles many of us face, it’s a tremendously helpful resource. The book, as with all of Greta’s writing, reads like you’re talking to a friend. It brings together and synthesizes advice from countless individuals who were willing to share their own experiences with the author. It also reminds us that coming out as an atheist is one of the most powerful things we can do to advance our cause.
#2) Living the Secular Life by Phil Zuckerman (Penguin Press, 2014)
Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, has written an excellent book exploring who the hell we are. As we speak, there’s a major demographic shift taking place away from religion. But until now, no one has really written a book talking about why that change is happening and what it means for the future of our country. More importantly, this book isn’t aimed at atheists; it’s geared toward those in the general population looking to get insight into the “Nones.” I haven’t learned so much new information in a book about atheism since Daniel Dennett‘s Breaking the Spell. (An excerpt from the book will be published on this site soon.)
#1) In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families by Dale McGowan (AMACOM, 2014)
This book came out in August and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve recommended it to people. Having a religious partner when you’re an atheist is one of the controversies I get emailed about the most, and Dale’s book is a wonderful guide to help you get through the tough times. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, either, admitting that there are indeed times when an atheist and theist are better off breaking up. But for those willing to make some compromises and work through their differences, this book could literally save your relationship. It’s my favorite atheist book of the year.