#FSYALit Book Review (and more): What If I’m an Atheist?
What If I’m an Atheist?: A Teen’s Guide to Exploring Life Without Religion by David Seidman
REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 3/10/2015
When I saw this title pop up on Edelweiss, asking for it was a no-brainer. As an atheist currently writing a novel that centers around an atheist main character, as a person who spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about atheism (and religion) when I was a teenager, I wanted to check it out.
This book is packed with a lot of information. It tackles “this sometimes-secret world” of atheists. The author often uses the term “unbelievers” and briefly looks at agnostics, freethinkers, rationalists, humanists, objectivists, materialists, and naturalists in addition to atheists. Much of the book is coming from the angle of “how to survive being an atheist in a world that hates or fears atheists.” Siedman considers many intriguing questions, like if atheism is a religion (do atheists have a messiah, prophets, a bible, and so on). He asks if we need God to live a moral life (and notes that 1/3 of Americans associate atheists “with illegality, such as drug use and prostitution”). He examines why one might become an atheist, how to handle talking about atheism, and why a person might leave atheism behind. Seidman talks about people being threatened by atheists. He focuses a lot on the negative comments or ideas atheists can expect to encounter. Seidman notes that 15-20% of all adult Americans have no religion (so 36 million plus people), but self-declared atheists only make up less than 3% of the American population.
Seidman sprinkles quotes liberally throughout his book, with most of the quotes coming from websites and blogs. Many of the people he quotes from are teenagers sharing their experiences as atheists. To an extent, the quotes are useful in sharing the views of actual teens and representing many different experiences, but they also severely bog down the book, making it feel less like an examination and analysis of atheism and more (at times and more so in certain sections) like just a collection of quotes.
Lists are included, like 7 celebrity unbelievers, the 10 most atheistic states and countries, 5 historical figures described as atheists, the 10 atheist commandments, and more. He looks at atheist-friendly religions and the parts of religions that unbelievers might take on (being spiritual, ocassionally attending church, celebrating religious holidays, and so on). He asks if you can be a Christian atheist, an atheist Jew, a Unitarian, a Buddhist… even Pastafarianism gets a shout-out. He also discusses some atheist churches that exist.
Part two of the book looks at life as an atheist and acknowledges how hard it might be as a teen to transition from a belief he or she was raised in to an atheist. He examines the reasons a teen might consider and choose atheism. There is also a brief discussion of those who never had a belief, who were raised without religion. Only 17% of those who identify as godless have nontheistic parents. The book also covers what reactions one might get when they share that they are an atheist—confusion, hostility, attempts at understanding, a desire to “save” you, and more. A section about knowing your rights regarding religion in schools looks at prayer, evolution/creationism teachings, clubs, and religion in classes. Positive experiences and reactions are included in this book, but for the most part it looks at the many negative things that may occur if you decide to become an atheist and share that decision with others.
Part three addresses comments atheists often get (they’re too young to decide, they’re just rebelling, they’re immoral, and so on) and what possible responses are. Additionally, a section looks at what if a person is an atheist and wants to become religious. Seidman offers tips for how to tell your parents and others you are an atheist and how to handle possible hostility. He also talks briefly about what dating can be like if you’re an atheist dating someone who is not. There are also a few very interesting examples of atheists and (in some cases) their families fighting religion in schools.
A lengthy appendix offers information on websites, organizations, and resources for more information. There are listings for how to meet other unbelievers online as well as scholarships available for atheists and agnostics. Copious endnotes citing sources make up most of the back matter, and a glossary is also included.
Here’s the thing: my husband and I are atheists. We are raising our child as an atheist in the sense that he knows what we believe/do not believe and why. We tell him all the time that he does not have to believe what we believe now or ever. He can make his own choices. We are happy to teach him about any religion he’s interested in. If he wants to ever go to church, we can do that. We are raising him to be compassionate, open-minded, respectful, and moral. We are ethical vegetarians, support civic causes, identify as feminists, give to charities we believe in, and volunteer our time.
While I identify as an atheist, it’s not something that comes up a whole lot. We don’t spend much time talking about not being religious. I don’t like being defined by what I don’t believe. I have been an atheist for so long now, and am surrounded by so many other atheists or people who could care less if I’m an atheist that I’ve had the luxury of generally forgetting that this attitude of fear/anger/hate exists. But if you’re a teen and just coming out as an atheist, it can be very scary, or at the very least can seem uncertain or delicate. Though why should it? Declaring yourself an atheist should be no more interesting, noteworthy, or delicate than proclaiming you are a person of faith.
I would have snatched this book up in a hot second when I was a teenager, for a variety of really complicated and personal reasons. Being able to hear the voices and experiences of other teens would have felt invaluable to me and made me feel less alone. The looks at possible conversations an atheist might have with people who are believers and how to handle some of the big topics that get brought up would have been sections I would have memorized. I did have most of those conversations, at some point. I have had to defend my views endlessly over the years, especially as an outspoken teenager. Now, if religion somehow comes up in conversations with someone I don’t know well, I generally say we’re not religious and leave it at that. But I recognized and related to the impassioned teenage voices in What If I’m an Atheist?. Seidman’s book is an easy-to-use and in-depth resources for atheists or those seeking to understand atheism better and should be included in all collections.
ATHEISM IN YA:
I searched for blog posts or articles that look at atheism in YA and didn’t come up with a whole lot. The ones I did come up with mention the small handful of titles that address atheism or unbelievers in some way. Know of other books or posts? Share them with us!
The New York Times Sunday Book Review “Ali Berman’s ‘Misdirected,’ and More” by Mark Oppenheimer.
YALSA’s The Hub, “The Big Five (+1) in YA: Atheism and Agnosticism” by Whitney Etchison.
Gabrielle Prendergast’s “Books for Atheist Teens.”
DiversifYA interview with Nicole Wolverton.
Additional #FSYALit Posts:
- Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit: A Discussion (Introductory Post)
- YA Librarians Ally Watkins and Karen Jensen Discuss Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit, part 1
- Because you gotta have faith
- Top 10 Titles: ‘Cause You Gotta Have Faith
- A discussion of faith and science in Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
- GLBTQ YA and Issues of Faith, a guest post by Robert Bittner
- The Distance Between Lost and Found, part 1: Wilderness Survival and Youth Group Culture (Ally Watkins)
- The Distance Between Lost and Found, part 2: Sex, Power, Politics and The Church(Karen Jensen)
- Catholicism in YA (Katie Behrens)
- #FSYALit Discussion: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
- We Can’t Be Afraid of Honest Questions, a guest post by Bryan Bliss about his debut novel No Parking at the End Times
- Girls Like Me Don’t: Thoughts on Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally, a guest post by Katelyn Browne
If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment, tweet us (Amanda MacGregor @CiteSomething or Karen Jensen @TLT16), or email us at the addresses provided on the About TLT page. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.
Filed under: #FSYALit, Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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