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Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans (edition 2012)

by David Niose

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641186,178 (4.13)1
Member:polutropon
Title:Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans
Authors:David Niose
Info:Palgrave Macmillan (2012), Hardcover, 272 pages
Collections:Your library, Read - 2012, Reviewed
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Tags:Religion, Politics, Law, Constitutional Law, History, American History

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Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans by David Niose

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On the strength of this book, I nominate David Niose as secular America’s ambassador to religious America. Nonbeliever Nation seals a crucial gap in the recently trendy genre of secularist literature, in that it might actually be read with empathy and enjoyment by our religious fellow citizens. What’s more, it has a hope of winning at least some over to its relatively modest thesis: that the growing and increasingly self-identifying population of American secularists is a net-positive development for the U.S.

Nonbeliever Nation is not in the least concerned with establishing the secularist viewpoint. Niose’s tone is almost never “militant” or “strident,” which epithets are habitually slung at atheist writers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Niose’s project, accomplished with aplomb, is only to argue that the marginalization of secular viewpoints in the U.S. has needlessly undercut the ability of liberal and moderate America to effectively rebut the arguments of its antagonists on the political and religious right. As such, the emerging group-identity of secular Americans should be welcomed by liberal and moderate religious groups. (An equally important corollary, unmentioned by Niose, is that secular Americans ought to view moderate and liberal religionists as potential political allies, and so ought not to needlessly antagonize them).

Niose sets forth a valuable history of religion and secularism in America, from the founding generation through the present, arguing convincingly that secularism has been an ever-present, but seldom acknowledged, feature of American public life. The centerpiece of this history is the emergence of the Religious Right in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which Niose treats as a watershed, after which American secularism was forced above ground. Niose documents example after example of the ignorance, greed, corruption, and hypocrisy of the Religious Right, but worst of all, its terrifying and ubiquitous influence, at all levels of authority—both public and private; local, state and federal; legislative, executive, and judicial; both military and civilian. He then documents, with specificity, how the public has been injured by this influence: our schools have been turned against science, our tax dollars have been unconstitutionally diverted to religious establishments, we’ve been coerced to acquiesce in theistic propaganda, our military moonlights as an evangelizing organization, and the rhetoric of both major parties is calculated to appease these zealots. And if all of this weren’t enough to provoke a secular backlash, the radicals comprising the Religious Right have had the audacity, during the whole of their decades-long offensive against the U.S. Constitution, to insist that they are the ones under attack. You don’t need to be secular to acknowledge and bemoan the constitutional fallout of the Religious Right’s pernicious influence. And you don’t need to be secular to push back. This is Niose’s thesis in a nutshell. (I’ve given in to the temptation to rhapsodize here—Niose studiously resists it, much to his credit).

On that parenthetical note, it has to be admitted that the prose of Nonbeliever Nation lacks the vigor and dexterity found in the writings of Dawkins, et al. But Niose doesn’t want to set the world on fire; he’s attempting to leverage a formidable and boisterous—and still coalescing—group-identity into real political capital. That project demands the sometimes ponderous prose of the diplomat, not the dynamic (but divisive) invective of the polemicist. Niose hits his stylistic mark.

This is a book that I can recommend without reservation to all Americans. In a just world, Nonbeliever Nation would make a much bigger splash in the publishing world than I fear it is destined to make. Rather than divide us over our expectations about the next world, Niose attempts to unite us over our hopes for this one.
1 vote polutropon | Dec 9, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 023033895X, Hardcover)

A new group of Americans is challenging the reign of the Religious Right

 

Today, nearly one in five Americans are nonbelievers - a rapidly growing group at a time when traditional Christian churches are dwindling in numbers - and they are flexing their muscles like never before. Yet we still see almost none of them openly serving in elected office, while Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and many others continue to loudly proclaim the myth of America as a Christian nation.

 

In Nonbeliever Nation, leading secular advocate David Niose explores what this new force in politics means for the unchallenged dominance of the Religious Right. Hitting on all the hot-button issues that divide the country – from gay marriage to education policy to contentious church-state battles – he shows how this movement is gaining traction, and fighting for its rights. Now, Secular Americans—a group comprised not just of atheists and agnostics, but lapsed Catholics, secular Jews, and millions of others who have walked away from religion—are mobilizing and forming groups all over the country (even atheist clubs in Bible-belt high schools) to challenge the exaltation of religion in American politics and public life.

 

This is a timely and important look at how growing numbers of nonbelievers, disenchanted at how far America has wandered from its secular roots, are emerging to fight for equality and rational public policy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:52 -0400)

"Today's culture wars are more heated than ever. Education, public policy, and the separation between church and state have become a battlefield, and many are frustrated with the success the Religious Right has had in shaping the national agenda, from putting the brakes on gay marriage in California to stripping textbooks in Texas of references to Thomas Jefferson. But today, a growing nonreligious minority, nearly 20 percent of Americans, are finally organizing and taking explicit political positions. In Nonbeliever Nation, David Niose argues that America was never in fact a Christian nation and shows how the Religious Right successfully took control of the social and political narrative. He takes us across the country to meet the secular groups now forming in opposition to that force--from humanist gatherings to the rise of the New Atheists to the explosion of secular groups on college and even high school campuses. Niose discusses their political goals, including lobbying efforts, legal strategies, and outreach through advertising and education, and what still needs to be done to make the secular voice a gamechanger in American politics"--… (more)

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