This blog post is an open letter to Katherine Ozment, author of "Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age". I'm attending your book signing tonight, read your book and have some thoughts to share. All good. No worries. There is nothing angry or hostile. It is all good.
First let me say I really enjoyed the book. Especially the first half that details personal experiences in your life. The first half of this book is a much needed story for any and all into a modern life grappling with being non-religious all the while valuing religion and questioning missing out on those religious benefits. We need a lot more of these stories. Hopefully your book will encourage others to do so.
Second, the second half was not as compelling for me. Well met! with the second half as well but personally the survey of secular institutions is covered ground as I have studied these on my own.
One thing I did note as a gap in secular religious experience is something I call "the one shot", or retreat. I was expecting to find included one of the most highly touted retreats in all of Northern California: Esalen. I've read quite a few secular personal narratives here in California regarding doing the one-week of silence retreat. It is quite the common narrative in secular society to have a religious experience going on such a retreat. Other such retreats are an African safari and travel in general. Perhaps if you come out with a second edition you can include such a section. I know I would appreciate it.
The Title?Who picked your title? Was it the publisher? I found "Grace Without God" a puzzling choice. First, I doubt most non-religious and religious readers have a definition of grace that is meaningful as to the intent of the title. If it were not for today's book signing in San Jose I would have passed on this book assuming grace was hostile to the secular community.
The use of the word god is also a puzzling choice. First, it smacks of an attitude of dismissive towards polytheists. Second, it equates or defines god and religion as synonymous. Now there are some rather archaic dictionaries that define religion to be god, but then that excludes Buddism among others and is generally no longer accepted.
Personally I would encourage a more enticing title such as "Culture Without Religion." The main thrust of your book is that religion has a fundamental history with respect to community; making religion synonymous with culture. What happens when religion is no longer synonymous with culture? weddings? funerals? births? I think you'd sell more books with the title "Culture Without Religion".
Finally, I am someone who passingly studies modern anthropology and cognitive sciences. It is common in modern anthropology to equate culture with religion because so much of culture is religion: art, food, dance, tradition, morals, norms and mores. So, to me "Culture Without Religion" is much more compelling.
The Role of TechnologyI'm in the one-tenth of non-religious population looked over in your book: I am a self-proclaimed atheist as well as self-proclaimed anti-theist.
In the words of Spock channelling eons of philosophers in history, "Each according to their own gifts." I have no religious experience. None. I have never had any of the profound questions that you grapple with in the book in regards to religion versus non-religion. Christopher Hitchens is a personal hero of mine, even if he was completely wrong about the war in Iraq.
But, I have no desire to regale you from the anti-theist perspective such as humans existed 200,000 years before the advent of monotheism. That is not my gig.
Daniel Dennet and Steven Pinker?
Something profoundly missing from your book is the role technology has played in the demise of religion. You included Daniel Dennet but not his treatise on the Internet's undermining of religion? I found that odd and striking?
I also found it odd that with your Harvard pedigree and the number of Harvard professors surveyed in your book that you did not include the Canuck? You got something against Canadians? Ha! Just kidding. So where was Steven Pinker? There was no mention of his seminal book, "The Blank Slate, The Modern Denial of Human Nature"?
There is a reason I bring this up. Your entire book smacks of being very religious in its framing: you promote only a single model of human nature in culture. That is now known to be totally inadequate. The very reason religion is on the ropes today is precisely because religion claims the mantle of community with only a single model of humanity; large swaths of the community are left out and even rejected. This fact also undermines all claims about any ongoing efficacy of religion as a desired required mechanism at all.
But then I'm an anti-theist. <3
Automobiles, Telephones, Televisions and Indoor PlumbingI first started my foray into modern anthropology by taking a class of the same said name at community college. Modern anthropology is a broad discipline that ties together other disciplines such as sociology and cognitive sciences.
One of the first papers that I read is about the role cars, telephones, televisions and indoor plumbing played in ripping asunder the modern community, the modern family. Did you know that the concept of the stranger is one of the most common and important concepts in all of culture everywhere and every time? And yet by the 1960s the concept of a stranger in America had all but been wiped out. Why?
One reason why is that cars allowed men to leave their families. Prior to 1910 the "no fault" divorce did not exist. After 1950 the "no fault" divorce began to be implemented in all the states. Studies showed that men could up and leave their families, typically crossing state lines, and start a new family overnight. This phenomena became so pervasive that judges had to come up with a remedy for the wives left behind: the no fault divorce.
This is just one affect automobiles have had on families.
Telephones and television allowed women to compare notes, it empowered women. Studies showed that men regularly lied to their wives about their subservient duties being common place in every household. The advent of the telephone allowed women to compare notes. The advent of the television allowed for community standards and expectations of the women's role to be established.
There is an absolutely fascinating study done about marriages during and after WWII. Turns out that by the 1940s women in America had already fundamentally begin to shift their expectations to what we think of today. Soldiers were marrying Japanese women with the expectation that the Japanese women would properly behave as bio-slaves, doing chores and things without question. What the study discovered is that on average after seven years of exposure to western culture, telephones and television, then Asian women no longer were so content to be the compliant bio-slaves.
The technology genie is out of the bottle. Many, many studies have been done to show such things as home appliances enabled women to work, freeing them from hours of home duties. This completely erases all religious models of family. Another study showed that the microwave oven contributed greatly to the demise of the family meal and consequently put a huge nail in the family unit coffin in America.
I do not understand how this was all missing from your book? We can never go back. The technology genie is out of the bottle. Religion and its culture of pre-technology is dead, but not because of any argument that gods may or may not exist, but because religious culture pre-dates technology.
This is another reason why a title, "Culture Without Religion", is so important. The modern culture with all its technology is upon us. Fundamental rifts have been created in the very fabric of culture such as the elimination of the concept of stranger. There is no going back. There is no holding us back. Wishful thinking about maintaining archaic religious cultures is just that: wishful. Pornography is a phenomena previously unknown to religion and one that religion cannot answer. We need to upgrade. So much of our culture today is unique to our time and unprecedented in human experience that we need to wipe the culture slate clean and have a complete do over.
Politics as Science!
Demand Irreni World Scale!
Anti-theism is feminism!
Empathy for all!
Moral relativity: think it, breath it!
Prove it or lose it!
Conversations equal consensus!
Welcome to the 21st century!
Scale your empathy, scale the world!
Find your tribe!
Be sexy people!
The future is coming!
Innovate at a rapid pace!
Slow speed ahead!
Well come! and well met!