“Atheists in America” by Dr. Melanie Brewster

Atheists in AmericaAtheists in America by Melanie E. Brewster

Dr. Brewster’s book is an interesting collection of “testimonies” from non-believers of all walks of life in America. This book isn’t essential reading for an atheist or seeker to understand the relevant philosophical arguments, but it’s good for seeing how non-belief manifests in many aspects of life, with sections focusing on leaving faith, queer atheists, romantic relationships with theists, family and parenting, community, work, and aging.

As a white cishet male, I was able to relate more directly with some of the testimonies better than to others, but that’s largely the point of the book. My demographic is extremely well represented in atheist culture (see the recent special on Atheism on CNN, where all but one atheist interviewed was a white man, as a representative sample), so stories of atheists I can relate with are already all over my bookshelf. Bringing the perspectives of the elderly, gays, African Americans, and other minority groups to the attention of the atheist world was a big part of Melanie Brewster’s goal in editing this collection.

As a contributor to a blog on secular parenting, I paid special attention the chapters on relationships and parenting. The testimonies in those chapters gave a good sample of the joys and troubles of those parts of life, specifically as affected by the contributor’s atheism. I found Brewster’s introduction to the chapter on relationships to be interesting because she highlighted some worrisome statistics and previous research about the success of relationships between believers and non-believers. Dale McGowan covered some of the same territory in his recent book, In Faith and in Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families, but McGowan attacked the previous pessimistic conclusions as reflecting a bias by religious authors with a vested interest in discouraging mixed relationships. However, Brewster did not share McGowan’s interest in reassessing the earlier research. I look forward to further investigation of these relationships to see which interpretation holds up.

In general, I think Brewster and the authors did well, though one of the chapters seemed poorly written to me (though that was labelled as “A Contrarian Life Story,” so maybe the contrarian resisted editing advice). That chapter aside, I thought this was an easy read showing the variety of experience of Atheists in America today.

For more from Dr. Brewster and her research on atheism, I recommend viewing her talk from Skepticon 7: Why is Psychology Silent When it Comes to Atheism?

Statements in this review do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.