Sunday, June 29, 2014

Generation Atheist: Shifting Tides

Millenials are leaving religious affiliation in droves. Some of those young people are coming out as atheists. The causes for this increase in lack of religiosity are varied; each atheist can give a different reason or set of reasons why they abandoned faith. Generation Atheist by Dan Riley sets out to humanize a segment of the population generally mistrusted by the public at large. The stories presented in this book discuss the why, the how, and the effect of living without religion in a world soaked in religion.

Riley edits the chapters expertly, allowing each person chosen for the book the opportunity to open up about their life. For some, the experience is a jarring, painful transition. Others had always been atheists but encountered the religiosity of others and the animosity that often follows. Since these people are situated in the United States, the majority of the stories deal with deconversion from Christianity. Other religions such as Jainism, Hinduism, and Islam are discussed as well. Different forms of Christianity are also represented in the stories provided, including the Mormon and Baptist faiths. There are familiar arcs each story takes but each is told in such a personal way that the familiarity is never trite.
One of the common themes is technology. The Millennial Generation (of which I’m a member) came of age with the explosion of information technology. This unfettered access to information, to YouTube and wiki pages devoted to critical thinking (as well as sites that spoke out about religious abuses) is often cited by the people in Generation Atheist as a key factor in the deconversion process. Prior generations had to do immense amounts of legwork to get skeptical literature. Now, all one needs is to enter “atheism” in Google or Bing to receive countless avenues to explore non-religious ideas. Technology also provided a saving grace for some of the subjects of this book. The Internet provided a support network of fellow unbelievers. It also gave many of the subjects in the book the means to express their atheism to an audience.
Not all of the stories are happy ones. There are incidents of families losing touch or of local communities exhibiting inexcusable behavior. Some of the subjects do take on a more polemical stance in their stories. Believers reading this book might find such passages confrontational, even disrespectful, which would be missing the overall point of the book.
The point of Generation Atheist is to provide a venue for expression in an accessible medium. Thousands of testimonial books for religious faiths are published each year. Each of those serves the purpose of expressing and reaffirming a given faith. Generation Atheist seeks to do the same thing and does so effectively. It gives nonbelievers a chance to read about others who have gone through similar circumstances.

Regardless of one’s religious preference, one should be able to empathize with another human struggling to discover truth. The hardship and sacrifice of pursuing personal truth is part of each story in Generation Atheist. If you’re a believer, read the book and hopefully gain a little insight into the minds of your atheist brothers and sisters. If you’re in doubt or already irreligious, read the book and know that you’re not alone. 

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