By George B. Kauffman
Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt. By Herb Silverman. Pitchstone Publishing, Charlottesville, VA. 2012, $22.95. ISBN 978-098449328-9.
Herb Silverman, a Jewish, Yankee, atheist mathematics professor, in 1990 ran for governor of South Carolina, a state that then required religious belief to hold public office. He later founded the national Secular Coalition for America. He lives in Charleston, S.C., with his wife Sharon Fratepietro.
In his five-page foreword to Silverman’s book, Richard Dawkins, an atheist ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion (Bantam Books, 2006), praised Silverman: “He is the founder and president of the Secular Coalition of America: a union of 10 member organizations… The Secular Coalition runs the only lobby in Washington dedicated to secular causes, and its officers coordinate activities countrywide.
“But the driving force and guiding spirit of the Secular Coalition is the gentleman—in the best sense of the word—who is the author of this splendid and idiosyncratic book. Let me end with one of his most characteristic aphorisms: ‘Changing minds is one of my favorite things, including my own when the evidence warrants it.’”
Here is a summary of the 21 chapters:
Chapter 1: In the Beginning: Family exclusionism and how I was affected by it.
Chapter 2: God Thoughts: Becoming an atheist and how a confession from a teacher changed my life.
Chapter 3: An Easy College Choice: Learning about different people and developing some strange leadership skills.
Chapter 4: Leaving Home, at Last: Graduate school and beginning to grow up.
Chapter 5: Teaching and Protesting: Skepticism and civil disobedience.
Chapter 6: Southern Exposure: Culture shocks galore, for me and for the South.
Chapter 7: The Candidate without a Prayer: Running for governor and falling in love.
Chapter 8: Local Secular Activism: How my modest fame changed me into an activist for atheism.
Chapter 9: National Secular Activism: How some local successes took me to the national scene.
Chapter 10: Discussions on Religion: From Billy Graham to Bible school.
Chapter 11: Debates on Religion: From formal debates in the Carolinas to Oxford University.
Chapter 12: Essays on Religion: Freethought writings.
Chapter 13: Blogging for the Washington Post: Excerpts from my “On Faith” column.
Chapter 14: Mathematics and Teaching: You don’t have to know math to appreciate what mathematicians do.
Chapter 15: Mathematics and God: Yes, there is a connection.
Chapter 17: Religious Travels: From India to Mount Sinai.
Chapter 18: Jewish Studies Atheist Brunch Talk: Jewish atheist is not an oxymoron.
Chapter 19: Family Revisited: Still dysfunctional, but I handle it better and begin to understand my childhood.
Chapter 20: Can This Marriage Be Saved? Marital advice from an expert like me.
Chapter 21: Last Words: Ending a cliché.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.