Books

Q&A with ‘Nonbeliever Nation’ Author David Niose

[Editor's Note: David Niose is president of the American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a group that lobbies on behalf of nontheist and secular Americans. In his new book, “Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans,” he charts the development and growth of the religious right and what he sees as the increasingly organized response from Americans who are committed to the separation of church and state. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.]

Q: You write about the 1912 presidential election as one in which all four candidates were sympathetic to evolution, science and religious skepticism. Today, a presidential candidate favors evolution at his or her peril. What’s changed?

A: What has changed is the environment of politics, particularly the level of political discourse. Thanks to the rise of the religious right, many candidates today actually emphasize their anti-intellectualism as a selling point to voters. Conservative Christians have always been part of the voter pool, of course, but only in recent decades have they been organizing and flexing their muscle as a voting bloc. Many candidates get mileage by pandering to conservative religion, by openly rejecting science and emphasizing their biblical literalist views.

From Shame to Grace

PASTOR T.C. RYAN spent 40 years haunted by the shadow life of compulsive sexual behavior. Despite the challenges, Ryan never gave up hope of trying to reach the fullest recovery. He tells his story in Ashamed No More.

Compulsive sexual behavior put Tiger Woods into the headlines and made him an object of ridicule, as it has for so many others. In telling his own story, Ryan tears back the curtain to reveal the fuller story of painful realities, challenges, and hopes for those faced with the daunting task of recovery from similar compulsions.

“Those who are not addicted to sex understandably assume that the addict at least experiences enjoyment from the sexual activity, but this is not the case,” Ryan writes.

As Ryan describes it, he was living a divided life. In one arena he was a capable and gifted pastor. In the other he was plagued by shame, self-loathing, and an inability to stop destructive behavior. His extensive explanation of the cycle of addiction, the lies he had come to believe from childhood, the role that therapy and other supportive measures played in his recovery, and his hopes for how the church can become the ultimate 12-step program make every chapter of this book essential.

Ryan explains the cycle of addiction, with each stage setting up the next: faulty core beliefs lead to impaired thinking, which then triggers the addiction cycle of preoccupation (being obsessed with escape), ritualization (routines for acting out), compulsive sexual behavior, and despair. This feeling of being “despicable,” where “the compulsive person [is] awash in despair, shame, and pain,” is unmanageable. It reinforces the starting point of faulty core beliefs and the cycle runs its course again in a slow downward spiral.

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New & Noteworthy

Across Sacred Fences
More than 50 contributors offer moving, insightful personal essays about interfaith experiences in My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation. Edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley. Orbis Books

Women Rising
On Oct. 1 and 2, PBS will air the two-part special Half the Sky. Inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s best-selling book of the same name, the film follows the authors through 10 countries to meet people challenging extreme gender inequality and the poverty, trafficking, and violence it perpetuates. pbs.org/independentlens

Caring for Creation
Katharine K. Wilkinson explores the growing movement of evangelicals engaged in environmental activism in Between God & Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change. Oxford

Rebuking the Gun Empire
James E. Atwood is a pastor, avid hunter, and longtime activist against gun violence. In America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé, he writes thoughtfully about how American gun culture has become a kind of idolatry and how people of faith can—and must—challenge it. Cascade Books

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In the Stacks: August 28, 2012

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here is my pick of this week’s books.

In the Stacks, August 22, 2012

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks of this week’s books.

Book Review — The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith

The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith, via jonathanwilsonhartgro
The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith, via jonathanwilsonhartgrove.com

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a modern-day sage. A leader in the New Monastic movement, Hartgrove offers New Monastics and the church at-large profound lessons revealed through the practices of catechism — the spiritual disciplines of Christian faith. 

Tempted by the powers of isolation, consumerism, pride, and violence this generation is drawn to the calls to community and simple living for reasons it hardly knows. Wilson-Hartgrove explains the “why." 

Through the stories of well-established intentional Christian communities, Wilson-Hartgrove offers windows into the catechisms of the Christian faith. Communion and the Eucharist, fasting, integrity, community, non-violence, and public witness each serve as windows into much deeper philosophical and theological discussions.

In the Stacks, August 14, 2012

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here is my pick of this week’s books.

In the Stacks, August 7, 2012

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest.

Good Men and the Secret of Happiness

Sargent Shriver in 1961.
Sargent Shriver in 1961.

In June my husband, who gets lots of review copies unbidden, asked me if I wanted to read Mark Shriver's memoir about his father, Sargent Shriver, who passed away in 2011 at age 95.

"Since you're a fan of all things Kennedy," he said, "I thought you might want to see it."

I didn't.

True, a high point in my adolescent life was standing in back of St. Matthew's Cathedral one December morning in 1963 waiting for mass to begin when suddenly a very tall, very disheveled, very pregnant Eunice Kennedy Shriver pushed past me, wearing smudged red lipstick and a full-length fur coat. But sons are not necessarily good biographers, and anyway, I had a stack of mysteries awaiting my attention.

But then in July, a Facebook friend pointed me to Reeve Lindbergh's review of A Good Man in the Washington Post, suggesting that this was a book I might want to read. Lindbergh — herself the daughter of two famous parents, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh — called it "a moving and thoughtful book." Maybe I'll read this after all, I said to myself. And then a week or two later, my friend Estelle sent me a copy of the book as an early birthday present, telling me she thought I'd connect with it on many levels.

I must be supposed to read this one, I thought.

A Way Out of No Way

AFRICAN-AMERICAN women’s wisdom emerges from an experience of triple (or more) oppression. Denied the dignity of womanhood, condemned for their skin color, whether too dark or too light, and often imprisoned by mis-education, demeaning and meaningless work, and a denial of their very humanity, African-American women have yet managed to forge a spirituality of hope and survival that has sustained them for centuries.

As Alice Walker noted, they dreamed dreams and had visions; they imagined a time and place when the pain and indignity of their lives would be transcended, not in some far-off heaven but right here in the future of their children and their children’s children. Somehow our foremothers persisted in their faith. They made rosaries out of beads and knotted string and learned scripture by rote memory. They resisted as best they could anything and anyone who attempted to keep them from living their faith on a daily basis.

Once freedom, so-called, came, they struggled, despite the callous disregard of their fellow Christians, to remain faithful. When their children were forbidden entry into diocesan or public schools, when they were required to sit in upper galleries and back pews, when they had to wait until last to partake of the sacraments, they did not suffer these indignities quietly but often walked out and with their meager resources built their own schools and church buildings.

African-American women wove a tapestry of love, faith, and hope that they wrapped around any and all who came into their lives, much as Harriet Tubman, the general of the Underground Railroad, did. Harriet “created” family wherever she was, as many other slaves did. They re-created communities to replace those from which they were torn through the Middle Passage; the sale of their husbands, parents, and/or children; and the willful destruction of their culture and traditions by those threatened by and fearful of it.

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