A particularly amusing book came across my desk recently. It’s Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans by David Niose, a “secular activist” in Washington. This is not a book to turn to for nuance. Here’s a sample:
Anti-intellectualism, the disappearing middle class, the sorry state of participatory democracy, the low level of public dialogue — all these problems (and many others) trace back, directly or indirectly, to the exaltation of religion and marginalization of non-believers.
The “indirectly” is magnanimous, isn’t it?
Basically, Niose thinks the Religious Right is the root of all evil (directly or indirectly). But for religious believers butting into politics and speaking up in the public square, we could have a pretty good country. We’d be solving the problems of poverty, injustice, global warming (and many others!) in the mornings, and going to yoga classes in the afternoons.
What’s pathetic about this book is the pious posturing that punctuates the bitter denunciations. Here’s a sample: “Secular activism is not about bashing religion but about defending the rights of those who choose secularity as a personal identity and worldview.” We can all get along nicely if the rights of secularists are respected. Sounds very friendly and peaceful and tolerant, but like liberal tolerance more generally, it’s very fake. Niose presumes one very important “right” that secularists enjoy, which is to define what counts as reasonable, mainstream, and true. Funny how that might lead to conflict with religious people.
Nonbeliever Nation is one of those books that’s so bad that it’s useful. It exhibits a simple-minded mentality that would make any self-respecting fundamentalist blush. Is there anyone more comically parochial than a confident secular cosmopolitan who after watching Fox News can’t contain his outrage?