Before we get started, let me congratulate author Louise Erdrich for winning the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction for her novel, “The Round House.” You can see my blog post on this book if you search for the entry for Oct. 23.

We now return to our usual programming.

Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans

By David Niose

(Palgrave Macmillan, $27, 272 pages)

Who is this author?

David Niose, who was born in Concord, Mass., is an attorney and spokesperson for secular Americans in court cases and in the media and has appeared on networks as diverse as Fox and MSNBC. He also writes the “Our Humanity, Naturally“ blog for Psychology Today. He is president of the Washington-based American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a Washington-based lobbying group.

What is this book about?

You may think the conservative Religious Right is a permanent powerhouse in political America, but David Niose begs to differ. In “Nonbeliever Nation,” he cites polls and studies that show that in the U.S., un-churched, non-observant, lapsed, secular and humanist citizens are a growing force and are also more and more willing to state their own belief in non-belief. Current estimates have this group at more than 20 percent of the population, and thinkers like Niose assume it is larger, because many are still unwilling to acknowledge their views, even in anonymous surveys. To be sure, church v. state battles, with all their hot-button hysteria, are still common: look at the ongoing controversies over contraception, abortion, Christmas trees on public property, high school graduations held in churches and many more. While these battles are not likely to be resolved any time soon, Niose’s book gives an in-depth analysis of where we are now and where we may be going in this regard.

Why you’ll like it:

While some reviews, notably one by Kirkus, say Niose didn’t give religious Americans a fair shake in this book, it also calls the book “A thorough examination of modern secular movements in America,” and most reviewers expressed similar sentiments.  Whether you find the rise of non-believers an appealing or an appalling development, you will find the history of the movement, as painstakingly described in this book, to be a valuable look at the way American culture is changing and how it affects our politics. Niose says non-believers should take a lesson from the gay and lesbian community, which has continued to increase its acceptance as its members became more willing to come out. We don’t kinow whether speaking out encourages more members of a suppressed minority to identify themselves or whether growing ranks naturally lead to more speaking out, but either way, secular views are growing more common – as shown by the recent election – and this books helps us to understand why that is so.

What others are saying:

“America’s secular demographic—those who report “none” when asked for religious identity—is growing faster than any other religious identification, especially among 18-to-29-year-olds. …Niose explores secularism’s extraordinary rise and shows how it offers hope for more rational, inquiry-based public policy and discussion….he notes that the U.S. has never been a Christian nation, though modern secular activism only emerged in the last 10 years in opposition to the Religious Right, whose rise, over the past three decades, remained virtually unchecked. Careful to note that it’s not Christianity that’s problematic, but the alliance of Christian and political conservatism that has attacked climate science, evolution, contraception, and the separation of church and state, he highlights the ways secularism is gaining traction against the fundamentalist agenda ….he makes a passionately strong, though at times repetitive, case for why secularism is so beneficial for the U.S.,” says Publishers Weekly.

“Covering a wide range of territory in a reasonably condensed space, attorney Niose looks at the culture wars from the perspective of secular America. While confronting numerous commonly held misconceptions by believers about secularism (e.g., the religious Right implying that religious faith is part of patriotism), Niose admirably refrains from antireligious hostility, striving for equality rather than proving the superiority of his perspective. . . . This is a calm, informative, and positive portrait of the rapidly growing secular segment of the American population. Highly recommended for politically oriented readers of all religious persuasions,” says Library Journal.

“Using solid research, David Niose reminds  us that the United States is by no means a religious nation let alone a Christian one— nor was it ever intended to be. Citing dozens of compelling examples, he lays bare the stunning hypocrisy of religious leaders in the United States. …He shows that saying you’re religious– and claiming to know absolutely what is good and what is not– is bad for all of us,” says Bill Nye, The Science Guy®, CEO of the The Planetary Society, and Humanist of the Year 2010.

“An excellent overview…Niose communicates a sizable amount of complex information without overloading readers…The good news: secular Americans are emerging. Activism is on the rise, people are identifying and organizing in order to influence sound policy, and student activism especially is growing by leaps and bounds,” says Skeptic magazine.

When is it available?

Believe it when I tell you this book is available at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

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