Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College, Phil Zuckerman, will publish Faith no More: Why People Reject Religion, in October. This text illuminates some of the suppositions I posited about atheism, atheists, and atheists’ discontent in the first part of my recent commentary on the New York Times’ profile of outspoken anti-religionist, Richard Dawkins. Faith No More, based on interviews and other studies of persons who have left their faith or otherwise opted against observance, finds that, far from being a uniform bloc, atheists in America are a group with varied and complex reasons for their lifestyle choice.
But perhaps most compelling and relevant is Zuckerman’s revelation that atheists are not the amoral nihilists that politicians have so often found it convenient to portray; rather, as I posited in my first Dawkins post, they are, on a whole, people deeply concerned with morality—perhaps, I suggested, persons who have encountered, and been deeply troubled by, religiosity in one of its more immoral incarnations. I suggested that for many atheists, their choice of non-religion stems from a deep sense of moral conviction—a belief that atheism is more moral than the religion they have encountered in history books and in their lives.
This conclusion only supports the legitimacy of nonreligious persons’ defensive stance in contemporary society, a stance that could easily lead to Dawkinsesque anti-religiosity and contribute to Dawkins’ widespread popularity among the reading public. (Note, in particular, the sharp difference between the mention of the non-religious in President Obama’s inaugural speech [see the reference after the jump] and Mitt Romney’s complete avoidance of the constituency in his 2007 Faith in America Speech.)
The publisher’s description of Faith no More follows:
[Update (DRS, 12/26/11): See Louise M. Antony’s discussion of atheism and morality in her recent NYT.com post, Good Minus God (Dec. 18, 2011). Antony—who teaches philosophy at UMass Amherst—argues that atheism usually has nothing to do with nihilism, but is an alternative moral perspective. For atheists, she says, morality does not depend on the existence of God; rather, morality and the good are “immanent in the natural world”—right and wrong are inherent in the interactions and reactions between rational, feeling beings.]