A Review of David Niose’s Nonbeliever Nation
Regular readers of my blog will know that the interplay between politics and religion is quite important to me. In fact, I would have to say that roughly 90% of my posts deal with politics and religion. When I saw that David Niose had written a new book titled “Nonbeliever Nation”, I knew that I had to read it. Today’s post will be my review of that book.
Review Summary: Niose does an excellent job describing the rise of both the Religious Right and of Secular Americans. The former are pulling the strings of power, the latter is growing quickly. This is a book that all Americans should read—regardless of their religious views. The religious will learn something about us secular Americans, and we should all learn about the rise of the Religious Right. I believe, as does Niose, that religion, the “culture wars” that stem from it, and the wave of anti-science/intellectualism will be defining moments of this century. Niose does an excellent job of chronicling how we got to where are today and why secular Americans will be instrumental in getting to where we need to be tomorrow.
Niose begins the book by pointing out that the number of Americans identifying has secular has doubled since 1990. In fact, he shows that somewhere between 12-18% of Americans identify as secular today—choosing “none”, when it comes to religion. That is a large number of people. To put it in perspective, only 25.1% of Americans are Catholic. Niose seeks to explore why the number of secular Americans has grown, while at the same time, he explains the rise of the Religious Right in both terms of numbers and power. He succeeds on both counts and readers unfamiliar with these topics will find the book quite informative and fair. Niose writes in a professional and well calculated tone, but does not shy from criticizing when called for.
One of the most important chapters of the book (at least in my opinion) deals with our religious heritage and the idea that we are in fact most certainly not a Christian nation. As many of you know, the belief that the Founders intended that we become a nation founded on the principles of Christianity is a common statement from the Religious Right. Niose does an excellent job of eviscerating that belief, pseudo-historian David Barton, and numerous other fallacies regarding atheists and religious periods in our history as well. In fact, he points out (in detail) that at no time in our history has religion played as large a role in politics as it does today.
Niose writes that the Religious Right came to life in the 1970’s. Over the last three decades it has changed it shape and name at times, but has always been on the march for power and theocratic control. He points out that to the Religious Right government neutrality towards religion is now being seen as overt hostility. Niose argues that not all secular Americans are hostile towards religion and that neutrality is just that: neutral. He illustrates quite well how the Religious Right is defining the terms of various social and political discussions, and why that needs to change.
One of the key themes throughout the book, that Niose documents well, is the feeling of marginalization that many secular Americans feel when it comes to politics. He illustrates that this is not by accident, and in fact, is quite calculated on the behalf of the various groups that constitute the Religious Right. Niose argues, that what most secular Americans want is to end that marginalization and to have our proper place at the political table.
Niose points out that most secular Americans live “in the closet” regarding their secularity. The reason for this is the fact that we are often discriminated against and can have some pretty harsh real world problems in parts of the country if we are known as “nonbelievers”. Niose points out that this has had a catastrophic effect on the politics of this country over the last 30 years. The Religious Right is running rampant, promoting insane policies, and the group that is best able to oppose them find themselves on the sidelines. Niose promotes the idea of learning the lessons that the LGBT community has to teach secular Americans about re-branding, “coming-out”, and changing the perception that others have towards us.
Niose treats the rise of the Religious Right fairly, accurately, and harshly—all of which it deserves. The casual reader will walk away from this book having learned a great deal about what is going on “behind the scenes” on the political right. It is not a pretty picture, and Niose does not hesitate to criticize when necessary. Another key theme of the book is a criticism of the Religious Right’s anti- science/intellectual/education stances. I can think of no greater offense being committed by the Religious Right at this moment. The ignorance they promote can be found at the center of most of our social, educational, and political problems. Niose does a great job of pointing that out, and explaining why secular Americans are the group that is the most qualified to combat that ignorance.
Readers will find a detailed explanation of the rise of secular Americans and various groups such as the American Humanist Association, The Secular Coalition, The Secular Student Alliance, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, and others. He points out three very important things about the various groups: a) why they arose in the first place and b) why they are needed and c) why they are growing. I would argue that point (b) is the most important, and Niose treats it quite well.
In closing, as I pointed out in my brief summary above, this is a book that all Americans should read. The role that religion plays now, seeks to play in the future, and fight against it may very well be the defining political and social battles of this century. Niose does a great job preparing everybody for that struggle. As I so often say at the end of my blog posts, it is time for secular Americans and religious liberals to speak up. It would seem that Niose and I are very much in agreement on that. In short: Read the book, you will not regret it—it is well worth your time.
Thanks for Reading. I look forward to your comments.
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