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TOP 500 REVIEWERon July 19, 2012
Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans by David Niose

"Nonbeliever Nation" is a plea for Secular Americans to drive America to a better future by embracing its Enlightenment principles and breaking away from the restrictive chains of the Religious Right. This book is about the resistance to the Religious Right and an emerging and often overlooked segment of Secular Americans who reject religiosity as a prerequisite to patriotism and sound public policy. It's about the rise and hope of a movement.
This well written 272-page book is composed of the following chapters: 1. The Wedding Invitation, 2. A Religious People?, 3. A Secular Heritage, 4. Secularity and Morality, 5. The Disaster of the Religious Right, 6. Better Late than Never: Secular Americans Emerge, 7. Reason for Hope and Hope for Reason, 8. When "Happy Holidays" Is an Act of Hostility, 9. A New Plan of Action and 10. A Secular Future.

Positives:
1. An important topic in the hands of a subject-matter expert.
2. Well researched and accessible book for the masses.
3. Fair and even-handed treatment of the topic and respectful tone used.
4. Good use of reason and sound logic.
5. A great defender of secular humanistic views. Does a wonderful job of differentiating between secular and religious worldviews. Touches on all the popular cultural wars.
6. Great quotes abound, "That doesn't mean that a secular government must be antireligion, but only that government should be neutral on religion and not controlled by clerics or based on religious law".
7. A great job of describing how the Religious Right emerged and their tactics.
8. The reality of religion and secularity around the globe. Homicides, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, abortions, social dysfunction, etc...
9. Great chapter on Secular Heritage, the founders would be proud. Debunks many myths.
10. Setting the record straight about how the Holocaust and communist Russia relates to secularity.
11. Great quote from Alan Dershowitz regarding rights, "Rights are not divine or naturally existing but are invented by societies through experience, often by learning from mistakes".
12. The negative impact of the Religious Right. Taxpayers of Kentucky's $40 million proselytizing theme park, denying separation of Church and State, in bed with corporate interests (environmental concerns, global warming), tax-payer funded faith-based initiatives, overpopulation denial, denying evolution, etc...
13. What Secular Americans want...the emergence of Secular Americans.
14. The impact of conservation religion and women's rights.
15. The rise of the Secular Movement and reason for hope. New concepts of community.
16. Legal setbacks and successes. Many great examples.
17. A wonderful job of laying out a new plan of action. Provides a model that is copied from...I won't spoil it.
18. The future of the Secular Movement. Education and politics.

Negatives:
1. Going through the book I had a sense of déjà vu. As an avid reader and a supporter of secular values, I am very familiar with a lot of what is in this book, so many times it felt more like a refresher. Be that as it may, this book is well organized and well thought out and will serve as a personal reference. Furthermore, Niose does provide new ideas and a sound approach to advancing secular issues.
2. No formal bibliography.
3. More charts and illustrations would have added value.
4. Table of contents not linkable.

In summary, I really enjoyed this book, so why not give it 5 stars? Because if you are an avid reader and familiar with the secular movement as I am you will find very little new here. That being said, the book is very sound and reference quality. Niose does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the secular movement and provides sound advice for its future and how it relates to the welfare of our society. I highly recommend it!

Further suggestions: "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism" by Susan Jacoby, "Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment" by Phil Zuckerman, "Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless" Great Christina, "Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson" by Jennifer Hecht, "Can We Be Good Without God?" by Robert Buckman, "Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars" by Sikivu Hutchinson, "The Religion Virus" by Craig A. James, "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "Man Made God: A Collection of Essays" by Barbara G. Walker, "Godless" by Dan Barker, "God's Defenders" by S.T. Joshi, "God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion" by Victor Stenger, "Atheist Universe" by David Mills, "The Conservative Assault on the Constitution" by Erwin Chemerinsky, "Attack of the Theocrats!" by Sean Faircloth, "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality" by Chris Mooney, "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party" by Max Blumenthal, "Merchants of Doubt" Erik m. Conway, "Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State" by Rob Boston and "American Fascists" by Chris Hedges. I have reviewed all the aforementioned books; look for the tag "Book Shark Review".
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on August 6, 2012
As a former Fundamentalist cult member, now one of the many nonbelievers, I had passionate interest in this book. Rarely have I read any book on any topic so well-presented, clear and informative. Niose makes a powerful case for why those of us who are nonbelievers (living with a 'post-theological worldview' as he so brightly describes it) need to assert our equality and oppose the oppressive millions who by force or by herding make up the Religious Right.

The most important thing I learned when I was a Fundamentalist cult member (a bona fide extremist group in which I was ensconced from early childhood until I woke up at 26 years old, married to a lay minister) is that every single word uttered by our senior pastor was the literal word of god coming through man. Questioning his edicts was questioning the deity and thus forbidden.

Since then, in my keen research into the principles of logic, evolution and scientific thought that I was formerly taught to eschew, I've learned that it is the default laziness of the "true believers" that enables them to just accept someone else's direction for their lives. I've come to see that it is the pig-headed volitional blindness of my former brethren and the millions like them that are destroying our country's democratic process. The very MINUTE one abdicates rational thought and empirical truth to anyone else, one is biting holes in the fabric of America.

Niose may be "preaching to the choir", as I am in complete agreement with his well-researched volume, but "the scales have fallen off my eyes". I now understand that belief without activism is folly. Because of his rallying cry, I will invest time and money in helping my beloved country achieve a healthy separation of church and state; fostering those who make compelling arguments counter to the superstitious ramblings of the Religious Wrong; and certainly make sure I continue to vote for those candidates who support a more humanistic, life-and-rights encompassing worldview.
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on July 19, 2012
In this new book, David Niose outlines the history of secular thought in America, the relatively recent rise of the Religious Right, and a resulting re-emergence of secular forces that is still in its early stages. He then urges secular people (whom he broadly defines) to step forward and reclaim their longstanding right to be recognized and allowed to participate in the political life of the United States.

His first several chapters are a quick survey and short history of secularism in America. He points out that secularism is a long cherished American point of view. By secularism he means not just atheism and agnosticism, (a rapidly growing force in itself, which he does address) but also religious people who believe that religion should be their private domain, and should not be supported or imposed by the government. He outlines the history of secular support, a narrative that may seem obvious to many, but that has become the subject of attack by the Religious Right in what can only be termed an audacious attempt to rewrite history.

He argues that there was a sea change in the broad support of secularism, first in the 1950's as a result of opposition to communism, and again in the 1980's with the rise of the Religious Right. It is a change that has been brought about in large part by the assumption by many that secular values were too entrenched in the American character to really be the subject of such obvious assaults. But by not engaging the Religious Right's arguments earlier, the Silent Secular Center (my own term) allowed the Right to begin to dominate the political debate, in part by demonizing the very idea of a "secular society" which for so long had been the accepted American ideal.

Niose calls for secular Americans to re-engage in the national debate, to step forward and announce themselves for what they are -and refuse the Religious Right's attempts to marginalize them. He does so in straight forward, well argued writing that is eminently readable.

The book is not aimed primarily aimed at changing minds on these subjects, but at raising the alarm to just what is happening in political and cultural America to people who quite frankly, might not have given the matter much thought. But it is the very public coming out of the Religious Right in this last Presidential election, with serious candidates such as Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, and Herman Cain, that has awakened many people to just what the Right is now trying to impose, and how it goes against the very fabric of America. In that way, this may be one of the most timely books published in the last few years.
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on October 8, 2013
If, as Bertrand Russell said, religion was something `left over from the infancy of our intelligence' and will fade as we `adopt reason and science as our guidelines', why has this not taken place - at least in America? That religion sustains the poorer and less developed nations might be understandable, but what accounts for its growth in America? Part of Niose's book explains the phenomenon. Much of it had to do with politics. The clever strategy of using religion to gain and galvanize supporters of the Bible-wielding politicians, starting with Jerry Falwell's `The Moral Majority' (which Norman Lear said was `neither moral nor the majority') to `The Christian Coalition', ensnared their secular opponents into speaking `the God language'. The result was the pervasive thinking that `only fringe characters reject religion and theism outright'.

Niose's book seeks to advance the position of secular America and halt the advance of the Religious Right. He acknowledges the strength of the strategies and tactics that worked for the Religious Right, and explains why secular America failed to appreciate the movement until the hitherto fringe group grew to be the behemoth it is today. He points out that it is incorrect to assume that secular activism equates religion bashing. That assumption, he believes, has caused many religious Americans as well as those who are religious skeptics from opposing the Religious Right. Noise writes: `The vast majority of Americans, religious and secular, have great distaste for anyone who engages in attacking the deeply held personal convictions of others, particularly when those convictions are not infringing on anyone's rights. Most of us realize that life is hard, and if you have found a religious view that brings you personal peace of mind and helps you maintain a healthy outlook, that's probably a good thing. Whether you worship Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, or no god at all, and whether you pray all the time, once a week, or never, few of your neighbors, religious or secular, are going to care. Your religious views only become relevant to me when they encroach into my life, and vice versa. When you insist that government should be used as a means of promoting your religious views, then of course I become concerned and your religion becomes relevant to me.'

Niose writes about the meaning of `a religious people' and the fact of America being more secular than many other countries (though not the developed countries), the secular heritage of America - the building of `a wall of separation between church and state' as Thomas Jefferson described it. He draws attention to the intolerance of the Religious Right exemplified by people such as David Barton who wrote against having a Muslim (Keith Ellison) serving in Congress. Worse, Barton objects to secular Americans serving too: `Members of Congress who refuse to swear an oath on any religious book represent a greater threat to American faith and culture than those who swear on the Koran.'

`Nonbeliever Nation' is not just an historical account of the rise of the Religious Right but it sets out in some detail the reason for hope for a secular America and the action plan that can be implemented. The aim and the hope expressed by Niose are that secular Americans will no longer be marginalized by having patriotism being equated with religion as the Religious Right had been doing for some time. The greater scope of that is the breaking down of tribalism.
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on July 10, 2013
I am a secular American aided and governed by the U.S. Constitution, a secular set of laws created over 200 years ago, with amendments, by authors who were secular in their thinking and actions. This book calls for an increasingly secular America to stand up and be noticed. It highlights the evangelical fundamentalist turn by politicians and voters who mostly represent the GOP (God's Own Party?) and makes its readers aware of the damage they have caused by being biblically intolerant, sexist, racist, insensitive and politically power hungry with aid and abetting from multinational corporations.

I highly recommend Tanya Melich's "The Republican War Against Women; An Insider's Report From Behind The Lines" and Reverend Barry Lynn's "Piety and Politics; The Right Wing Assault on Relligious Freedom" for more "inside information" about the right wing's assault on American freedoms. All 3 of these books should be a must read for all Americans whether they be sectarian or secular.
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Book Basics

Nonbeliever Nation is an historical account of secularism in America with an emphasis on the last several decades. As a result of considerable growth, Secular Americans now account for at least 15% of the population. Secular Americans have shifted from a default position of keeping their views to themselves to one of sharing their views more openly especially through the use of new technology. With the recent shifts in religious affiliation and increased openness within the larger culture to choosing no affiliation ("nones" account for 15% in recent polling and "don't know" for another 5%), Niose confidently proposes a bright future for Secular Americans. This future includes an improved national intellectual atmosphere, restored emphasis on education, and a decrease in tribalism.

Notable Chapter

One of Niose's longer chapters focuses on the creation and expansion of the Religious Right, including many of the movement's shortcomings: uniformed engagement, over-involvement with corporate interests, denial of scientifically valid and widely accepted truths, denial or intentional abuse of the separation of church and state, and creation of a "curious Christian ethics." (p.97-123). Regarding the Religious Right's so-called Christian ethics, Niose writes:

"Indeed, from the standpoint of many Secular Americans, the problem with the Religious Right is not that it is too Christian, but that it is insufficiently so. If all of those who called themselves Christian lived even remotely in accord with the teachings of the Nazarene, the culture wars as we know them would not exist (p.103)."
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on April 6, 2013
This has been called a book that could serve to nominate Niose as secular ambassador to religious America. That's probably a fair statement. The text is pretty thorough, and the author goes out of his way to say he isn't criticizing religion in general, only the politically hyperactive fundamentalism that began to hijack conservatism (and the Republican party) around 1980. The criticisms in the text are all very well qualified, so most religious readers will probably be able to say, "oh, yeah. That type of extremism is bad, but that's not me."

I think this is valuable, especially toward Niose's goal of talking to (recruiting) people who identify as uninterested in religion, but similarly uninterested in movement atheism. If this group can be convinced that a secular state is important, then we gain a buffer for all the wingnuts proposing established state religions, regulating consensual sex, etc. And this would be VERY valuable!

Personally, I think there's an argument to be made that mainstream, non-extremist religious folks in America enable the wingnuts. But that's an argument for a different book.
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on November 12, 2014
One of the things most discouraging is knowing that before the ascension of the Religious Right in the late 1970s and early 80s, our country had more respect for critical-thinking and science and believed religion should be kept at an arm's distance. Most politicians from the 1960s running back all the way to our Founding Fathers would be stunned at the large majority of citizens rejecting evolution and being so cozy with Christian advocates when making public policy. Mr. Niose skims over some of the important bases into why and how delusional Jerry Falwell and his ilk gained political power and reached its apex (hopefully) with the election of President George W. Bush. He also correctly explains such religious fallacies as our nation being founded on Judeo-Christian values; the myth of Hitler being an atheist which caused the Holocaust; the farce of atheists being the same thing as socialist or communists; the efforts to insert Creationism and Christian prayer into public schools; and most importantly, religious people incorrectly believing they have a higher moral authority than nonbelievers.

Mr. Niose's work is not a rant against religion. If anything, his book is a hopeful pitch to nonbelievers. It is an argument encouraging the many secularists out there to step boldly into the public eye and fight the stigma associated with being an atheist, agnostic, humanist or religious person who believes in the separation of church and state. Granted, Mr. Niose does take potshots at some of the low-hanging fruitcakes such as Newt "Hypocrite Troll" Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Texas Governor Rick "Let's pray for rain" Perry. I live in Maine which is known as the least religious state in the nation. I love it here. It is also easier to take such a stand, I'd imagine, compared to atheists living in the Bible Belt. My entire adult life from the election of Ronald Reagan until today has been under the anti-intellectual, anti-pragmatic, anti-empirical BS spewed out by especially Evangelicals. As the author correctly states, "Religiosity is not a prerequisite to patriotism." Not only do the many other more civilized and secular Western countries laugh at us, they fear our child-like good-vs-evil attitude is darned-right dangerous considering we are the world's current superpower.

I came away from the book hopeful that secularism may finally begin reclaiming the high ground in the political arena if the thirty-year stigma can be removed from politicians openly admitting to be an atheist, agnostic or whatnot. Guess what, your congressman or congresswoman may even secretly be one. Oooooooooooooooo! As Mr. Niose correctly stresses, atheism is not out to destroy religion. People's personal spiritual beliefs are just that; their personal beliefs. But they shouldn't dictate public policy by ignoring science and basing it on faith or a book written two-thousand years ago when magic was used as an excuse to explain all kinds of stuff. Trying to shove the radical born-again Christian mindset down the rest of the nation's throat is not a democracy but a theocracy. Come on, people. Read the book, be encouraged, and step into the Enlightenment.
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on May 23, 2014
Mr. Noise has written a book which provides some useful information, indulges in wishful thinking which leads to a fanciful ending. He quite effectively makes the case for the use of religion, particularly Christianity, by the political right to advance its agenda by co-opting a particular segment of the American electorate. He also correctly cites statistics indicating that the number of people who apparently no longer hold to traditional religion has increase. However, throughout the book he slants these data to support the proposal that this entails a concomitant rise in non-believers who will abandon a belief in God to the extent that they will be open to the positions espoused by groups like the American Humanist Association and adopt a truly secular world view. For example, he writes "Although one could argue that some who reported “none” might nevertheless be devout believers, it can simultaneously be argued that many who report religious identity are essentially secular in their views and practices. The most obvious indicator in this regard is church attendance, which shows that less than half the population attends religious services on a regular basis." Further, Noise holds out the hope that cultural pressure leads to over-reporting on various indices of religiosity, just as it leads many atheists to "lie low" and not proclaim their lack of belief. However, other studies done during the same time period as those used by Noise, most notably the 2006 report "American Piety in the 21st Century" issued by Baylor University researchers find that when survey questions are worded in a way that captures attendance at non-denominational churches only 10.8% of Americans were unaffiliated. This figure is 24% lower than that used by Noise. The results of the Baylor study and others leads me to be less optimistic concerning the ability to de-convert any significant proportion of the American population any time soon.

One strength of Noise's book is his presentation in Chapters 2 and 4 of a number of well-done studies indicating that lower crime rates, less divorce, less violence against persons and other social problems do not correlate with religiosity and may in some cases actual be higher in places where Christianity has a firmer hold on the populace. Further, being religious does not necessarily equal having a more accurate moral compass. These are important arguments to be heard as Christian apologists often hold up the higher rate of charitable giving among church goers as evidence for the positive social benefit of religion.

Noise makes a good case for why America is indeed a secular nation in Chapter 3. One of his concluding remarks in this chapter strikes me as especially accurate: "What we find with the Religious Right is that it sees neutrality as hostility, because anything less than overt favoritism toward conservative Christianity is interpreted as adversarial."

Chapter 5, 6 and 7 combine arguments against the religious right with reasons why there is hope for the rise of secularism in America. To be honest I didn't find much new in the criticisms of the religious right and was not convinced by the rhetoric concerning the rise of secularism in the US. This view extends to Chapters 9 and 10 although Noise's concerns about lack of victory for secularism are valid and well expressed. Chapter 8 is probably the most powerful of the chapters detailing the negative aspects of uncritical acceptance of the right wing Christian world view. The details of the circumstances surrounding the investigation of the "friendly fire" death of Pat Tillman are chilling.

On the whole this is a readable, if less than scholarly, book that is worth the investment for those of us who hold a secular world-view.
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on March 18, 2013
Niose gives a compendium of non believer material, including many references to old and recent writings regarding concepts of the super natural and nature. He dscusses anti-intellectual ideologies and some of the forces that perpetuate faith based ideas that have no basis in the real or rational world.
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