You Can Always Learn More About Non-Belief
I have often told people that I don’t read books on atheism because being a non-believer for a long time now it’s not necessary; it would be like asking me to read a book on how to ride a bike. But, now that I have conducted several interviews of non-believing authors in the past year for my weekly atheist-themed radio program I am beginning to see the value in it.
Last week I conducted an interview with psychologist Dr. Valerie Tarico, the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light. The interview will air on Christmas and not only covers her book, but some of her tips for how non-believers can deal with religious holidays.
(The program is called “Appreciate Your Mind” and airs on KNDS, a commercial-free “community” radio station. I and my co-host(s) are volunteers, like everyone else at the station, so we get no money for the effort. Podcasts of each show are available after-the-fact as a free download from iTunes, Blubrry and Podomatic.)
While reading Dr. Tarico’s book in preparing for the interview I was exposed to some insights that drove home the idea that I can still learn a lotfrom books on non-belief. For example, when she discusses bibliolatry–treating the Bible like the book itself is an idol–she presents the possibility that the printing press could be the cause of fundamentalism by having stopped the “flexibility” of religious traditions when it replaced oral transmission.
Ironically, the invention of the printing press, a world changing wonder insomuch as it accelerated the growth and spread of human knowledge, made even worse the opportunities for developmental arrest in the field of theology. By making a static set of sacred texts widely available, religions removed yet another form of flexibility and spiritual/moral growth. Clergy could no longer selectively emphasize those texts that fit the moral consciousness of a given time period (thereby omitting the rest). By failing to recognize all canonized scripture, a clergyman might lose his authority in the minds of many adherents. Some scholars have suggested that fundamentalism had its birth in the invention of the printing press, and that its spread across the planet – region by region, religion by religion – has paralleled the growth of literacy.
I hadn’t heard of this idea before. In another ironically twisted insight, without the invention of printing I would likely still not know about it–not only because I wouldn’t have the book to read but the phenomenon wouldn’t have happened!
In another example, she talks about the distraction believers create for themselves when concentrating on an afterlife. I knew about this idea, but hadn’t read it put quite this way before:
Historically, Christians tend to fall into two camps: those who strive to embody mercy and love in order to create heaven here on earth, and those who prioritize salvation and the world to come. A focus on the afterlife and getting people there displaces work on issues – here-and-now issues like child welfare, social justice, health care, judicial fairness, education, and peacemaking. In other words, the promise of heaven can actually increase Christian tolerance for hell on earth.
If you can’t tell, I really like this book.
The other books I’ve been “forced” to read because of the interviews I’ve conducted have all had passages or whole chapters that have contained ideas about which I didn’t know or phrased things in a way that has given me new insights and strengthened my understanding. I’ve been missing out!
Being the organizer of a local atheist Meetup.com group, I sometimes get new members (or people just making an inquiry) who want to discuss a specific book, one that finally gave them the information and/or point-of-view that brought them out of their former belief system. Usually it’s a book from one of the popular authors like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. I have always had to embarrassingly admit I’ve not read any of their books; I became a non-believer before they became famous. (I haven’t read those from Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris either.) This admission has always made me feel a little guilty because I’m not able to talk to others about the book that is so important to them.
Being somewhat active online I’ve read passages and references there of these best sellers. I’ve also watched several videos, movies and documentaries featuring these authors. While these exposures have given me a taste of their insights, it obviously doesn’t give the full effect of the more detailed information contained within their books.
I guess I’m going to have to start reading some of the atheist “classics” to try and experience the path so many others have taken in order to better communicate with them. While I’m at the book store, maybe I’ll check out the bike section, too.