For much of the past year I hoped to find the time to read and review UK science teacher Alom Shaha’s The Young Atheist’s Handbook, which had great buzz among softer atheist voices. Finally I found a moment last year to dig into the book. And loved it. It’s a brisk, wonderful read—and every bit as moving, and as laudably pluralistic, as its reputation suggested. It was an experience I really enjoyed. I wanted to tell people about it.
The question was, where?
As many readers know, I am an atheist in my personal life. At the same time, in my professional life I am an advocate for old school “scientific” skepticism (PDF). I regularly argue that the distinct and valuable tradition of scientific skepticism should be clearly distinguished from other parallel rationalist movements, and from the religious and political beliefs of individual skeptics—including my own. Skepticism is not an atheists only club.
But I’m not a machine. I have my own personal, extra-scientific beliefs beyond my work in skepticism. I don’t think most readers judge too harshly if I mention those beliefs from time to time as a personal aside. With that in mind, I’ve occasionally put on my atheist’s hat here at Skepticblog, as I did in 2012 to review another pluralistic atheist memoir: Chris Stedman’s Faitheist. I generally just hang a little flag on those instances—a disclaimer explaining that I’m bending or suspending my own policy as a special case—and figure that about covers it.
But as my review of The Young Atheist’s Handbook grew to 2,700 words of pure atheism and personal opinion about atheism, I started to feel uncomfortable about the convenient option of publishing it here, or from any of the Skeptics Society‘s platforms. It felt like a bend too often, and too far. A bend into hypocrisy.
I sat on the piece for a few weeks. Then I consulted with my publisher Michael Shermer about options. Then I sat on it some more.
Finally I reached out to Chris Stedman, whose book Faitheist makes such a fine companion to Alom Shaha’s The Young Atheist’s Handbook. Stedman graciously proposed that he submit an excerpt from the review as a guest post for his Religion News Service “Fatheist” blog, and then also post the entire piece separately a few hours later.
And so, that’s what we did. The full version is live now at the at the NonProphet Status blog. The excerpt version, drawn from the end of the review, is also live now over at RNS (where it appears under the headline, “Should atheists proselytize? Thoughts on ‘The Young Atheist’s Handbook’”).
I hope you enjoy the review—and because I loved Shaha’s memoir, I hope you buy the The Young Atheist’s Handbook.
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