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Godless Grace: How Nonbelievers Are Making…
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Godless Grace: How Nonbelievers Are Making the World Safer, Richer and…

by David I. Orenstein, Linda Ford Blaikie

Other authors: David Silverman (Afterword), Dr. Phil Zuckerman (Foreword)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I don't think I have ever read the notes for a doctoral thesis, but I imagine that "Godless Grace" is what that would look like. David Orenstein and Linda Blaikie have collected an impressive amount of data here about nonreligious do-gooders and activists around the world and they have presented it in a logical, thorough manner. This does not, however, make for light reading. Some of the anecdotes about activists around the world are interesting (and there are many of those in this book), but the pages of statistics (while also interesting) are going to lose a lot of readers.

This book would be a great resource for someone looking to write an op-ed about nonbelievers in the world, or someone who wants to write a paper about religious trends (particularly in the United States), but it is not does not appear to be intended for the casual reader. ( )
  roadkill6 | Sep 15, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A note about these newly posted non-link reviews.

This is yet another book that came my way via the LibraryThing.com “Early Reviewer” program. I was hardly surprised that I got matched to this having a bunch of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc., in my library, but I was quite surprised when I got into it.

It is generally considered “bad form” to use the ARC (advance review copy) as a measure of the book as far as basic editing goes … but this was a bit of a doozy on that level – to the extent that I wrote to the contact on the promotional materials that came out with the ARC to ask if she could please reassure me that this was going to have a substantial editorial work-over done to it before the actual book hit the shelves. She noted that the not inconsequential delay in publication was due, in large part, to the publisher (Humanist Press) wanting to address those issues. So, I am not going to be detailing any of the typographical, editorial, or lay-out issues that were screaming off of the pages in the ARC (especially since she told me that the editorial team was seriously considering implementing one major lay-out change that I'd suggested – see, that decade of running my own publishing house is good for something).

However, this book has been an “outlier” on a lot of levels … when I first got it from LTER there was virtually NO trace of it online … not only was it not on Amazon, it wasn't even on the publisher's site (the latter has at least been rectified) … with the only thing I could dig up at the time being a Google Books entry. This blew my mind, as getting books out to the Amazon (etc.) pipeline is pretty much a “first task” these days … and with its nominal release date being under two months away, it's still not out there! Amazing.

Anyway, Godless Grace: How Nonbelievers Are Making the World Safer, Richer and Kinder by David Orenstein, Ph.D. & Linda Ford Blaikie, LC.S.W. Is also an odd duck for the atheist reader … one of my main “take aways” with this was the question “Who is this book for?”, as it is hardly in the realm of the above name-checked authors, nor is it a particularly “evangelical” voice for the movement. Frankly, the main subjects of this book reminded me nothing so much as what Michael Ironside's character in the original “V” series (back in the mid-80s – dating myself) called Marc Singer's character – “Gooder”, as in “do-gooder” – a telling jab by a black-ops specialist (whose one quote on the character's IMDB page is the rather awesome “Faith is for nuns and amateurs.”!) to a TV producer of bleeding-heart features (the two of them just happening to find themselves on the same side of an alien invasion). If Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are Ironside's character, the people profiled here are in the model of Singer's character … and if you find social crusaders as irritating as I do, this is going to be a bit of an aggravating read – especially as most of those profiled here aren't just activists on Atheist issues, but are also agitators for a whole melange of popular leftist causes, from LGBTQ (yeah, try that under Sharia Law), to vegan diets.

Unfortunately, this means that the over-all thrust of the book appears to be to show that there are as many “do-gooders” among the Atheist ranks as there are in the “imaginary friend” ranks. One can only hope that the day will come when there are more folks out there like Dale McGowan (whose Parenting Beyond Belief I reviewed a number of years ago) representing the Atheist cause. His Foundation Beyond Belief is exactly the sort of organization that can be held up against the faith-based institutions (albeit funded at a tiny fraction of these larger groups), and serve as a model for more rational action.

About 1/3rd of Godless Grace consists of profiles of “activists” around the world, from deeply Moslem Bangladesh to largely secular Holland, with stops on every continent except Antarctica. Another 20% or so of the book is based on the results of a series of interviews done with “Former Clergy and Nonbelieving Student Activists”, which walks though a number of topics and projects. Here again, the book has an unfortunate enthusiasm for ex-Clergy, as though these were particularly valuable acquisitions for the cause … I suspect toasting the “de-frocked” smacks (for most folks) of being something off on the LaVey side of the “religious” mix – a neighborhood that most “rational humanists” would likely not want to find themselves sorted into.

There certainly is a good deal of interesting material here … once one dis-engages from the “gooder” elements … but it's somewhat randomly distributed, and requires a bit of cherry-picking. Lucky for you, I was sticking little bookmarks in this while going through it. Here's one thing that I found worth considering (which had a big blatant editorial “fail” smack in the middle of it, which I have corrected, although perhaps not in the form present in the eventually published version):

In terms of potential atheist characteristics related to personality, 2013 saw new published research by sociologist Christopher F. Silver of The University of Tennessee. His research suggests that there is a spectrum of six fundamental personality groupings of those who claim to be nonbelievers.
  • Intellectual/Agnostics – who enjoy discussing their atheism;

  • Activist Atheists – the category of people profiled in this book;

  • Seeker-Agnostics – those who do not believe and do not challenge the faithful;

  • Anti-Theists – do not believe and do seek out and challenge the faithful;

  • Non-Theists – have no belief and do not think about believers much; and

  • Ritual Atheists – who do not believe but still participate in religious ritual on occasion and may even belong to a house of worship.

Of course, to me that hardly seems like a “spectrum”, or the Anti-Theists would be at the top of the list. Tellingly, there's another list in here, in a fascinating section titled “Non-God Belief in History – Some of the Major Players and Ideas”, which presents what the authors consider some of the leading lights in Atheism today … and I'm flabbergasted that they include Sarah Silverman, but don't have the always amazing Pat Condell there. Again, the bias for “gooders” and/or mainstream leftist activism is showing itself here.

This is not to say that the book is without hard-line “Anti-Theist” verbiage altogether, it just doesn't seem to come from the actual authors. Here's a choice bit from Sociology professor Dr. Phil Zuckerman's Foreword:

… Religious people project onto and see in secular people what is actually occurring in themselves: a lack of moral rectitude, a dearth or moral surety, an absence of a solid moral foundation. The fact is, religious morality is an extremely shaky thing: it all boils down to nothing more than obedience to an invisible, magic deity. That's it. Whatever this invisible, magic deity says concerning right or wrong or good or bad, one obeys, or suffers the consequences.
An extremely shaky thing, indeed. And thus, I suspect that religious people, feeling insecure about their own frail construction of morality, turn around and – in order to alleviate their own insecurity – accuse nonbelievers of having no morals or no moral foundation. …


Another piece I found of interest was on the other end of the book, in the Afterword by the President of American Atheists, David Silverman (which I've selectively trimmed a bit for use here):

Business, like politics and entertainment, is reflexive, not active. Business (unlike businesspeople) has no bigotry – it seeks money. In 1977, nobody though atheism had any money, because nobody thought atheists existed. Now, after the explosive growth of the movement … and the incredible increase in exposure we've received over the past few years, all that has changed, and we are being recognized as the influential and sizeable movement we are. For anyone wondering about the efficacy of our movement, you need only look at the change in the number of people who solicit our {he's largely referring to conventions here} business over the past few years …
… Nationwide, poll after poll shows that not only is atheism rising, it is rising faster than all religions, in all 50 states. Moreover, atheism as it is correlated to youth in most polls, shows that the younger you are, the more likely it is that you're an atheist. … And this means that the growth of atheism is being helped by both the increase of information, and time itself. …


Oh, and speaking of polls, there's a chapter in here on demographics, with some tables that indicate how Atheism ranks around the world … some of this is just what you'd expect (not much of it in Pakistan, for example), but some of it does come across as counter-intuitive. Also, there's an appendix which has nine pages of tables featuring info on organizations around the world, from things as mainstream as the ACLU to obscurities like the Trinidad-Tobago Humanist Association (sure, you were just looking for their contact info).

Assuming that Godless Grace is going to be getting the editorial attention it so desperately needs between now and its release date, it's not a horrible book … but it's not one that, say, big fans of Dawkins & Co. will find particularly engaging. If your tastes go towards “social activism” in general, you might find the slant of the material to your liking … if you're not in that camp, you will likely find this (or at least its main parts of profiles and interviews) a bit irritating.

CMP.Ly/1

A link to my "real" review:
BTRIPP's review of David I. Orenstein & Linda Ford Blaikie 's Godless Grace: How Nonbelievers Are Making the World Safer, Richer and Kinder (1642 words)


1 vote BTRIPP | Sep 3, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Godless Grace: How Nonbelievers Are
by David Orenstein, Ph.D.
and Linda Ford Blaikie, L.C.S.W.
Humanist Press, 2015; 165 pp.
Reviewed by Kathy Woodall

A number of books and articles have appeared in recent years focusing on the phrase “Good without God (or a god).” Humanists and atheists have placed the slogan “You can be good without God” on billboards and in ads, much to the annoyance of the faithful, to raise public awareness that personal morals and good deeds do not require a religious motivation. Godless Grace takes this theme an important step further: Not only can people be ethical, responsible, caring, and compassionate without faith, but nonreligious organizers, activists, students, aid workers, and humanitarians of every kind have long been at work doing good around the world as living proof. What makes this publication unique is its detailed profiles of those who are serving in their respective fields to put humanist principles into practice. Their personal stories make the latest statistics published on the growth of secularism worldwide come alive (approximately 1.1 billion people living without institutional religion).
In addition to interviews with individual humanists providing humanitarian aid and promoting peace and social justice in dozens of countries (many openly hostile toward atheists), there is an enlightening chapter on the experiences and convictions of former clergy and nonbelieving student activists. Those serving with the Clergy Project (nearly 600 members strong)—Dan Barker, David Madison, and Jerry DeWitt—themselves former ministers, help fellow clergy members come out with their atheism and support them in their struggle toward new lives and careers. Lyz Liddell of the Secular Student Alliance organizes teens and college students across the country as they serve their communities through food banks, fund raisers, and blood drives. The SSA also provides support for students coming out as atheists and safe house organizations for gay youth. Amanda Metskas serves as Executive Director of Camp Quest, a network of summer camps for children from freethinking families. Once a student activist, she is currently working to bring up a new generation of critical thinkers and empathetic humanists.
A strong emphasis of the authors and many of the interviewees is on the future prospects of the secular humanist movement. “In the United States, where approximately fifteen percent of the population claims to be nonbelieving and religiously unaffiliated, the number of 18-29 year-olds who define themselves to be atheist or agnostic stands at 22 percent.” The fields appear ripe for harvest. A thoroughly researched combination of humanist principles, demographics, statistics, and biographical sketches, this volume is a worthwhile resource for study—and for encouragement for the faithless who strive to be graceful or good. ( )
  KathyWoodall | Sep 1, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The subtitle gives the core of what the authors were striving for when they wrote Godless Grace: How Non-Believers are Making the World Safer, Richer and Kinder. It’s an important topic and could have been an interesting story, if the authors had delivered on their promise.

Godless Grace has two core chapters that address the heart of the matter, Chapters 3 and 6. Chapter 3 includes 28 short essays, some very short, about people around the world who are atheists and who are doing wonderful humanitarian work. Chapter 6 focuses on two categories of non-believers, young people and former clergy. Neither chapter does justice to the people who are featured. And the remainder of the chapters are, in my opinion, redundant fluff that have little to do with the topic at hand. Lot of facts, interesting enough, but not in any context.

There are so many things wrong with Godless Grace that to list them all would be piling on. I would categorize the book’s interest to readers as being somewhere between a barely acceptable senior thesis and a spread sheet.

Chapter 3 was a particular disappointment. The interviews were obviously not “in-depth.” The resulting short essays (all of which could have been scintillating personality features) were simply page after page of dull, dull, dull litanies of facts. I wish the authors would have picked four or five of their interviewees and then spent considerable time with them to write STORIES. Let the readers get to know them.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. It was hard to slog through, dry as dust and didn’t accomplish what the authors say they set out to do. The topic in more capable hands could have yielded a wonderful book. ( )
1 vote NewsieQ | Aug 24, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm really disappointed with this work, because I had high expectations for it. The question of morality and atheism is an old one. However, a group of atheists have almost nothing in common but an unbelief in a supernatural being. So there is no common cultural or religious morality to bring them together, no creed or mutual belief. So one atheist can accept Protestant Christian morals. Another atheist can accept Sunni Islamic morals. A third can chose none at all, or morals of their own unique construction. Any religious group will have a common set of beliefs, based on the revelations of a supernatural being, that will define good and evil, virtue and sin, and the punishment for evil and the rewards for virtue. But deciding to be an atheist means a disbelief in the original morality coda that came from such a supernatural being.

So, is there a common set of morals that all atheists believe? Certainly not, although this idea was not explored in this book. What was demonstrated was that many atheists do "good" things for the community, without defining why they are considered good at all, or who is to judge that what they do is even good at all. Without a common definition of terms, any argument is sterile, and this book is one of them.

Several times in the book, the atheists examined try to explain their virtuous work. But as atheism destroys the concept of sin as defined by a supernatural being, they also destroy the concept of virtue. To live for others is a moral belief of religious people and some atheists. But to live "for me and mine only" is also just as valid a set of morals as anything away from a religious premise. And the books is simply filled with unintended examples of this.

The most prominent one is the biography of an atheist woman who was molested by a priest when she was a minor, and this is what turned her away from the church and religion. Yet this priest was obviously not a Christian who believed the Christian faith and expected a Godly judgement in the after life. The logical result is that this man was probably an atheist using a priest's office as a camouflage to hide and protect his predatory nature, a wolf in sheep's clothing, so to speak. Later in the book, much time is devoted to explaining the number of clergy who are "coming out of the closet" and admitting that they are atheists, and the number of atheist organizations that support and assist them in doing so. Evidently there are a number of atheists who are also clergy, and yet no examination of the moral dichotomy of being both a religious leader and an atheist at the same time are not discussed.

Also, although tolerance is frequently promoted as being an universal atheist moral belief (Ha! Ha! Ha!), the authors describe a confrontation between religious leaders promoting abstinence and the atheist charitable group handing out condoms, there was no recognition that both sides were moral, only that the atheist's belief was not respected, even though the authors expected it to be the superior moral stance. Indeed, the whole concept of different morality is dismissed, and only the moral belief of the authors and some of the contributors are lauded. It also makes you wonder what was edited out of the book as well.

The concept of a "Golden Contract" or a secular morality between the citizen and the state is also overlooked. This has nothing to do with religion, but the with the implied agreement between the citizens and the government to protect and defend each other. The state protects against alien invasion and criminals, and the citizens obey the rules, pay their taxes and submit to the military draft. Punishment of the individual for not upholding the golden contract is secular- fines, imprisonment or even death. The punishment for the state in not upholding the golden contract with the citizens is rebellion. The logical examination of these morals (absent nationalism, "Motherland" and spiritual citizenship) as being acceptable to atheists because they are not religiously based, is not even looked at. This is a sizable overlook.

Finally, with all the moral beliefs in the world to choose from, it is not surprising that some atheists would continue with the religious morality they were taught as children. But with no supernatural being to judge, and with no afterlife of eternal reward or punishment, it is also not surprising that some atheists will put self interest before anything else. Thus, the atheist who lies, steals, cheats, rapes and murders, but all this isn't discovered until after their death, wins. With no spirit to suffer torment, why worry about what is to come later? Or as Jonathan Swift wrote in a different context, why not raise your own children as a source of food? Or of sexual comfort? Or as cheap and expendable slave labor? Some religious moral beliefs forbid this, others do not, and atheists are free to choose not only what to believe, but also what they can get by with. And as the atheist posing as a clergyman, questions of oaths, integrity and godly beliefs can be scrapped when they come between the man and his prey. If he gets away with it until the day he dies, he wins. And one atheist can judge him after his death as being an immoral beast; another can praise his cleverness and ability to use religious office as camouflage to obtain his desires. In neither case does the perpetrator have to worry about a celestial judgement and afterlife, and after his death, will have no worries about who does or does not judge him.

The entire book is, in many ways, simply a defense against the attack that atheists don't have morals. The book is an attempt to show that many atheists, too many to mention, are virtuous. But as atheism gets rid of sin, it also gets rid of virtue. And in the end, there is nothing to bring atheists together except their mutual disbelief in a supernatural being. There is nothing sinful in that. There is also nothing virtuous in that, either.

I don't recommend this book. ( )
  hadden | Aug 10, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Orenstein, David I.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blaikie, Linda Fordmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Silverman, DavidAfterwordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Zuckerman, Dr. PhilForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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The authors wish to dedicate this book to the memory of Bertrand Russell; a man whose ideas so many have relied on, both past and present, to inform their humanism, support their honest inquiry and feed their freethought and skepticism.
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