What “Dummies” need to know about atheism

Dale McGowan, author of “Atheism for Dummer,” boils down the basics.

Dale McGowan is an author and executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a nontheistic charitable organization. He was recently enlisted to write “Atheism for Dummies,” the first book about nontheists from the “Dummies” series of books.

He spoke recently with Religion News Service about religious doubt, what religious believers and atheists have in common, and what “dummies” need to know about atheism. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: There hasn’t been an “atheist” book in the “Dummies” line yet. Why?

A: It’s only been about eight to 10 years since the freethought movement (atheists, agnostics, humanists and skeptics) began to move off the cultural margin in a significant way, and fewer since most of the public has become aware of atheism as an organized presence in the United States. Between the explosive growth of nonreligious self-identity and the more regular presence of the organized religious voice, people naturally have questions about what atheism is and what this growing presence means for them.

“Atheist” is one of those words that people first hear as a whispered accusation, like “communist” was when I was growing up. It was, and often still is, a label that captures their darkest fears. Knowledge is the antidote for fears of all kinds, and a book that sheds light on what atheism is (and what it isn’t) is likely to diminish the fear of it. Everybody wins when we’re less fearful of each other.

Q: What are the most important things “dummies” need to know about atheism?

A: That religious doubt has a long and thoughtful pedigree, and that many of the most intelligent and ethical people in every generation have been religious nonbelievers. But the most important single message is that atheists differ from religious believers in fewer ways than either generally realizes.

Q: What things do religious believers and atheists have in common?

A: They all love their children, they all laugh and cry, they all want a better future. Most atheists, like most theists, feel compassion for those less fortunate and want to help. Most want to coexist with people who believe differently. Most think it is better to be actively involved in changing the world than to be passive or indifferent. In many ways, both sides are more accurately represented by their quiet majorities than by their loudest advocates.

Q: How does Foundation Beyond Belief fit into that?

A: Foundation Beyond Belief is an organization through which over 1,000 humanist members contribute to a rotating slate of charities. The idea was to give the nonreligious a collective means of expressing the compassionate values inherent in their worldview. We are driven to care for others and for this world because there’s no supernatural power to do it for us. In the 30 months since our launch, our contributing members have donated over $300,000 to 110 charities working to alleviate poverty, improve health and education, and protect and defend the natural world.

Q: Why does the freethought community need its own charitable organizations?

A: There’s something especially powerful and motivating about coming together with others who share your worldview in compassionate action as an expression of those shared values. It’s also helpful to have a regular, systematic means of giving, so our members sign up for automatic monthly donations in the amount of their choice and distribute among our cause areas as they wish.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Skeptical Deb

  • Lary9

    “No Christian is exempted from being human by believing in God. Conversely, no non-believer is ever banished from the human family for not believing either.” —L.E.A.


    “Atheism for Dummies” would be one of the skinniest books on your shelf.

    “There has never been any proof of any such thing as gods or the supernatural. You’re on your own now.”

  • mustang4me

    “Atheism for Christians”. Hope there aren’t any big words in it.

Read More Articles

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

The End of Surveillance for New York Muslims — For Now

How American Muslims modeled the right response to systematic injustice.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.