By George B. Kauffman
Despite the dramatic increase in the number of Americans who don’t affiliate with any religion (21% in 2014 General Social Survey), there is still a general perception that people can only be truly moral if they have a worldview that includes a belief in an invisible supernatural deity. Pew Research Center studies have shown that Americans would refuse to vote for an atheistic presidential candidate and that they regard atheists as less trustworthy than rapists.
Outside of our country atheists are often jailed or even killed for voicing their convictions. In March 2015 two Bangladeshi atheist bloggers were murdered. Therefore the publication of Godless Grace, a book dedicated to the memory of Bertrand Russell that addresses these negative attitudes with moving, powerful stories of real people who are making a positive difference in the lives of those around them, is especially timely and necessary.
The conventional belief that atheists and nonbelievers, especially among fundamentalist Christians, is completely false according to David Orenstein, Anthropology Department chairman and chief librarian at the City University of New York Medgar Evers College, American Humanist Association (AHA) representative to the United Nations, and a national and international speaker on free thought movement issues, and Linda Ford Blaikie, a psychologist and leader of the New York City atheist support group, “Living Without Religion.”
Their book includes a foreword by Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology at Pitzer College, Claremont, California, and an afterword by AHA President David Silverstein. It also includes three helpful appendices: (1) Critical Thinking & Discussion Questions; (2) Resources for Humanists, Freethinkers and Humanitarian Activists (three pages listing organizations with websites); and (3) Interview Questionnaire.
Godless Grace offers the reader an intimate view of some of the leaders of the atheist and humanist movements from the United States as well as from around the world. Interviews with them reveal not only their commitment to combatting the prejudice faced by nonbelievers but also their passion for humanitarianism.
Among those interviewed are a nonbeliever soldier, who joined the army to fight religious fanaticism at age 40, after the September 11, 2001 attacks; a crusader against sexual harassment in Panama; a former Lutheran who took a cut in salary to work as a paramedic so that he could help others; a Filipina nurse practitioner who builds bridges between her humanist and religious groups to fight violence against LGBTQ individuals; a crusader against sexual harassment in Panama; a British survivor of priest abuse who now devotes her time to aiding other victims; a Hungarian who fights against the billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade in southeast Asia; an Argentinian mechanical engineer who develops medical joint replacements during his daytime job and organizes nonbelievers in the land of Pope Francis in his spare time; and a Canadian who developed an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous for fellow nonbelievers.
I heartily recommend Godless Grace to general readers with an interest in humanism, sociology, and religion or to anyone seeking definitive proof that people can be “good without a god.” It presents a comprehensive picture of global nonbelief and predicts where the movement is headed. It describes not only what nonbelievers do but why. And fear of hell has nothing to do with it.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and 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, as well as 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. You can obtain Godless Grace by David L. Orenstein and Linda Ford Blaikie from Humanist Press: Washington, DC, 2015; $18.99; ISBN 978-0-931779- 63-3 (paperback)