chris stedman

Books Project Helps Atheists Make the Case For Unbelief Behind Bars

Volunteers Bill Boulden, left, and Jim Oliver, write letters to prisoners. Photo: Sarah Kaiser, Center for Inquiry Via RNS

Leslie Zukor was a 19-year-old student at Reed College studying prison rehabilitation programs when something jumped out at her.


“Not all prisoners are religious, and I wanted them to know that to turn your life around and be a good and productive member of society does not require a belief in God,” she said. “I just thought, wow, it is time to see about getting other perspectives in there.” While there were programs tackling drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse, technical training, and more, all of them were offered by faith-based organizations. Where were the options for those behind bars who are atheists, like her?

So Zukor launched the Freethought Books Project, collecting books about atheism, humanism, and science and sending them to interested prisoners. She estimates that since her first book drive in 2005, she has given out 2,300 books, magazines, and newspapers to perhaps hundreds of prisoners across the country.

Oprah Interview Stirs Debate: What is an Atheist?

Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. Photo courtesy Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com/ RNS

What was supposed to be a touchy-feely, one-on-one interview by Oprah Winfrey with long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad has morphed into a broader, sometimes angry exchange about what it means to be an atheist.

Earlier this month Winfrey, 59, hosted Nyad on “Super Soul Sunday,” her weekly talk program on cable’s Oprah Winfrey Network. Nyad, 64, recently completed a 53-hour solo swim from Cuba to Florida.

During the hourlong segment, Nyad declared herself an atheist. 

The Free Ticket: Traveling With An Atheist to the 2012 Wild Goose Festival

Wild Goose 2012 weekend, Photo by Cathleen Falsani / Sojourners

Wild Goose 2012 weekend, Photo by Cathleen Falsani / Sojourners

Chris is an atheist and a humanist chaplain at Harvard University. He is the only explicitly nonreligious speaker invited to the 2012 Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, N.C.—a festival that is generally (and with exception) aimed at the liberal, often-invisible fringe members of the Christian community. Being that I theoretically fall into this group, Chris offered me his plus-one free ticket.  

While it generally takes an act of God (or, “a series of convergences” Chris might say) for me to make a decision, I told him I’d go. After all, I’d been experiencing my own dark night of the soul where almost every conversation I’ve had about religion/ Christianity over the last year has been doubt-ridden and cynical. In my best mood, I hoped my attendance would put me in touch with some other cynics, believing it might relieve my cosmic guilt. What I secretly feared, however, was that I was going to Wild Goose to break up with the Christian faith I’d grown up under.

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