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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a thought-provoking discussion with just a few flaws, June 11, 2010
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This review is from: Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace (Hardcover)
I read this book after hearing an article about it on NPR sometime last year. And it didn't disappoint. It seems to be a rather uncommon type of book, one in which the author expresses all the reasons - based on personal experiences, some deeply heartfelt - why he goes against the pro-religious belief forces within society, his upbringing, his friends, his church, etc. There are, of course, other pro-agnostic or pro-atheism books out there, but this one reads less like a philosophical or intellectual treatise, and instead is more emotional and based on experiences, gut feelings, and perceptions of common sense. And admittedly, one's heart cannot help but be moved at least a bit by some of the author's accounts, such as the clergy sex-abuse scandals. The author is a good writer - his journalism background shows clearly here - and his writing style is engaging, interesting, and draws the reader in for a prolonged stay.

Though the author's movement toward non-belief appears genuine and rather convincing, I wonder if certain aspects of it were arrived at too hastily, or without considering other key points. For example, large majorities of humans throughout every age and walk of life - from the early Egyptians onward, if not before - have believed in some version of God and/or spiritual beings, and an afterlife. If there is no God, then why is this? The author should explain. Perhaps it is something biologically rooted in humans - a "spirituality gene" built into us for a selective advantage. However, the "wisdom of crowds" argument suggests that anyone with atheistic beliefs should at least consider why the instincts of most human beings (both ancient and modern) have largely been in the other direction. Even if there is a "spirituality gene", that by itself would not negate the possibility of God.

Another issue is the author's conclusion that, based on his new non-belief, death must mean the end of all consciousness and existence (p. 250 of the book). To be more convincing on this point, the author should address the numerous near-death-experience reports which abound in the medical literature and, of course, in popular books. As most readers may know, these reports suggest (but do not prove) something strongly contradictory to the author's conclusion. Perhaps an atheist or agnostic would dismiss the near-death-experience reports with an organic or scientific explanation, but such theories are addressed in the literature and have generally been unsatisfactory in explaining the phenomenon.

Also, I think the author is on a bit of shaky ground in ascribing some of his non-belief to his having witnessed various abuses within various organized religious practices. These things are indeed reprehensible, and churches indeed sometimes do bad things and/or fail to live up to our expectations. However, for some reason I am not able to make the intellectual leap that, because churches and their members often are fallible, that must mean that God does not exist, or probably does not.

I'm not saying the overall conclusion of the book should necessarily have been different - these are just some points to consider. Regardless, this is a thought-provoking read, and despite my counterpoints above, I would be willing to recommend it.
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Location: St. Louis, MO

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