Help an atheist make a reading list.
November 6, 2007 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Help me find some good atheist reading materials for my birthday.

I'm a strong (but not particularly militaristic) atheist that attends a very conservative and religious public university. In fact, I am the only atheist in my dorm. To stave off feeling like an island of atheism, I attend the local atheist/agnostic club meetings (along with my fervently catholic roommate, funnily enough), but lately I've been feeling a worn out by all the sheer amount of overt Christianity I face every day (for instance, I sit through a good two or three unavoidable prayers a day). To help combat this, I'd like to buy myself some good atheist or atheism-related books for my birthday next week.

I'm not too sure where to start, though--I liked The Stranger in high school, as well as Sartre's plays, but I don't know where to go from there. I wouldn't mind getting into some essay works and some books on philosophy, but I have little philosophical background. I'm also not interested in those "Religion is the source of all ills" books--if I subscribed to that belief I wouldn't have lasted a week at this school.

So really, the question is, do you have any good recommendations for me? All suggestions are welcome, from any genre.

(As a point of interest, I've read the Bible and the Qu'ran, and am very solidly versed in Christian theology, so I'm not going to shy away from anything that involves religion from an atheist perspective.)
posted by internet!Hannah to Religion & Philosophy (31 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not A Christian was one that fed my brain a bit when I was a teenager (but is not book length).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:52 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Atheism: A Reader - "excerpts from world history's great nonbelievers"
posted by lucia__is__dada at 6:55 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Well, Dawkins is a very talented writer with a good sense of humor. "the God Delusion" is a lovely book that does, in fact, state that religion is the root of most, but not all, evil. Having said that, it's a very astute work that picks apart the folly of religion patiently and competently, but it does so with good grace.
posted by Capostrophe at 6:56 PM on November 6, 2007

Oh man, I loved The End of Faith.
posted by schustafa at 6:59 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Letter to a Christian Nation
posted by milarepa at 7:00 PM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, and recommendations for a good atheist blog to read wouldn't go amiss either.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:00 PM on November 6, 2007

Mikhail Bakunin's God and the State is a snarky book of atheist anarchist philsophy that I thoroughly enjoyed back in the day.
posted by streetdreams at 7:03 PM on November 6, 2007

God is Not Great, The God Delusion, and Breaking the Spell are the three heavy-hitters this year.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 7:20 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Not exactly athiest, but How to Read the Bible is great. It is an excellent overview of current thinking about the text, basically along the lines of not quite what you learned in Sunday School.

Impress your roommate by reading a book with that title!

Also, sorry about the whole college station thing. Austin is the home of the American Atheist Press!
posted by Pants! at 7:21 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: I think Pharyngula is the indispensable atheist blog.

And I'm hoping you're not opposed to reading The God Delusion just because of its image as a tirade. It is a very well thought out book, and well worth the read. You say you don't "subscribe to those beliefs", but discounting it because of what you already think is, well, intellectually lazy. I do think you would enjoy it.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:24 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Atheism: The Case Against God
posted by bradbane at 7:29 PM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: Pants!, that's a funny recommendation, as my roommate has that book. Our bookshelves are actually half covered in Catholic guides and such. One more motivation for me to get my own collection going...

And College Station isn't so bad, you just have to have a good sense of humor about it all. 95% of the Christians here are great, and the other 5% I can out-Bible, which takes the wind out of their sails.

Thanks for pointing me at the Atheist Press, though, I will check it out.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:30 PM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: kiltedtaco, I will look at it. But that's my limit on Dawkins, I think.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:36 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: She doesn't write only about atheism, but it's a main theme and she has lots of links to other bloggers who write about atheism: Greta Christina (as seen on MeFi, but don't just read that one post/rant of hers - she's written a lot of other stuff about atheism as well).
posted by rtha at 7:39 PM on November 6, 2007

The following are books I have read and enjoyed that were subsequently referenced in Dawkins' The God DelusionThe last on that list has a companion three-part documentary available on Google Video. (link to BoingBoing post that points to all three parts) The book is funnier.
posted by krisjohn at 7:51 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Now.
posted by sourwookie at 8:17 PM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

The Federalist Papers. Reading them will give you a new found respect for the secular foundation of our society.
posted by wfrgms at 8:24 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Ha. I went to a few Athiest and Agnostics Club (proud originators of the "TOP TEN REASONS WHY BEER IS BETTER THAN JESUS" shirts) meetings when I was at A&M. Seems like every time they were invaded by Christian kids doing "research". Anyway, I got a kick out of Pale Blue Dot by Sagan, as well as anything by Dawkins, Russell, or Mencken. Good luck, you're not alone.

for instance, I sit through a good two or three unavoidable prayers a day

At A&M? I don't remember anything like that when I was there.
posted by erikgrande at 9:05 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Second everyone else who recommended Dawkins. My atheism sprung mostly from my love of science (more than my dislike of religion's evils etc). So I believe that reading about how elegant and fascinating science is as effective as reading the more atheist-centric books (like Sam Harris, Hitchens and the rest).

So here's my recommendation: books on scepticism & the scientific method such as:
  • Sagan's Demon Haunted World and Broca's Brain
  • Gamow's 1,2,3...Infinity
  • Dawkin's Unweaving the Rainbow (and all his older books like The Devil's Chaplain and The Blind Watchmaker)
  • Pinker's How the Mind Works
Randi, a hardened sceptic, gives his take on religion here. Browsing through his commentary archives is a very nice past time too.
posted by arungoodboy at 10:47 PM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Gilles Deleuze - Essays Critical and Clinical (particularly "To Have Done With Judgement")
Frederich Nietzsche - Beyond Good And Evil & Thus Spake Zarathustra
Baruch Spinoza - The Ethics
posted by rhizome at 12:04 AM on November 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend Dan Dennett (someone already mentioned Breaking the Spell) but Consciousness Explained is my favourite. Might need to read a philosophy primer first.

Also have you considered reading some Buddhist works - it's not theistic (or doesn't have to be anyway) and if you're in an environment of "Christians vs Atheists", it's helpful to remember there are systems of thought in which it's largely irrelevant whether there are any gods or not.
posted by crocomancer at 12:55 AM on November 7, 2007

Best answer: For a different slant on religion, try The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. Not at all an attack on religion, but a psychological and physiological explanation of its origins. Also a great book, even if you don't have an agenda...
posted by RussHy at 3:26 AM on November 7, 2007

Response by poster: erikgrande--I'm in the Corps of Cadets down here. Prayers at chow, prayers at drill, prayers at outfit get the idea.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:40 AM on November 7, 2007

Charles Darwin - Origin of Species
Phillip Pullman - His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, the Amber Spyglass)
posted by matildaben at 8:57 AM on November 7, 2007

Best answer: Not an exact match per se, but I've heard good things about Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.
posted by metabrilliant at 12:48 PM on November 7, 2007

Best answer: 2nding:
Bertrand Russell's Why I am Not a Christian

Paine's The Age of Reason (Deist, not atheist, but great).
Nietzsche's The Antichrist
Freud's Civilization and its Discontents
Rorty's Philosophy and Social Hope, especially for the essay "Religion as Conversation Stopper"

(Rorty abdicated somewhat from atheism in his final years, reverting into some sort of agnosticism, perhaps. But he's still a first class doubter.)
posted by wheat at 2:14 PM on November 7, 2007

I've always been curious about Doubt: A History but haven't read it yet.
posted by matildaben at 5:17 PM on November 7, 2007

Oops. Here's the link I meant to put in for Freethinkers. FWIW.
posted by metabrilliant at 5:31 PM on November 7, 2007

erikgrande--I'm in the Corps of Cadets down here. Prayers at chow, prayers at drill, prayers at outfit get the idea.

Ouch. My interaction with the Corps was minimal; I had no idea that was the case. I really enjoyed A&M, and it's disappointing to hear that.
posted by erikgrande at 10:43 AM on November 8, 2007

Hey, Hannah? As another atheist floating in A&M's sea of invisible friends, I'd be kind of interested in those meetings as well if they're open to staff. Let me know.
posted by SpecialK at 10:48 PM on November 10, 2007

I second Neitzsche as several of the people above have, but if you want to understand any of it, I suggest you try 'On the genealogy of morality' instead which (unlike most of his books) is reasonably lucid and totally devasting.
posted by leibniz at 1:46 PM on November 25, 2007

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