“EVERYONE HAS A BOOK inside them,” the late, great Christopher Hitchens averred, “which is exactly where I think it should, in most cases, remain.”
As an editor, one gets to know her contributors and may even form opinions as to which harbor books that very likely should stay put, and which have books that deserve to be let out. I’m happy to report that David Niose, a lawyer by trade and a humanist leader at heart, has proven my suspicions of him correct with Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans (Palgrave Macmillan). It’s a book humanists and all secularists can be proud of for the way they’re represented therein, but it’s also a book that will make you shudder to consider the long, concerted, and successful effort the U.S. religious right has waged in forcing its brand of Christianity into the lives of everyday Americans. But the book is something else—it’s entertaining. (Niose’s litany of religious leaders’ moral shortcomings is quite fun, and he provides a unique analysis of mega churches, for example.) Finally, the book is inspiring: in chapters like “Better Late than Never,” it surveys how much the secular movement has grown in the last decade. The excerpt we feature here on the rise of young secular Americans—college-age and even those in high school—is certainly cause to celebrate.
These days secularism is spun by the religious right not as a safeguard against governmental preference for any one religion or as a protector of religious freedom, but as a threat to solid Christian values. No doubt Niose’s book will get the same treatment. But as he stresses again and again, secular Americans aren’t trying to argue superiority and don’t want favoritism—“only equality and government neutrality.”
The forequoted Hitchens certainly saw the theocratic origins of totalitarian attempts to control people’s thoughts and activities. Even humanists who refuse a connection with the famed polemicist on foreign policy grounds will appreciate Anthony Lock’s case for Hitchens as “the most important Orwellian thinker since Orwell.” (And, the piece even includes fine art, which humanists are often knocked for ignoring.)
On the subject of trying to control Americans’ thoughts and activities, did someone mention sex? The playwright Noel Coward (an agnostic) had a great line: “Anything adults do in private is acceptable as long as it doesn’t scare the horses.” I’ll leave it to you to ascertain how that bears upon Marty Klein’s careful dismantling of what he calls the sex addiction myth, and how comfortable religious crusaders are playing the role of the horses.
Rounding out our features is the fascinating interview Ryan Shaffer conducted with paleoanthropologist and humanist Richard Leakey, a man whose life, and that of his family, has been full of adventure and peril, all in the pursuit of answers to some of our most fundamental questions. “I believe in honesty, integrity, compassion, love, and care of others in the world,” Leakey declares. “It is a rationalist approach to life that isn’t dictated by a super power or super being, or a deity or a mystic. It is dictated by our common sense, and to label that as humanism has helped a lot of people.” Let’s all keep calling it as we see it.
Jennifer Bardi is the editor of the Humanist.