Even though I’m not an atheist, I enjoy reading their books. I began my readings in atheism with The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. From there I moved on to The God Delusion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. For several years I’ve been wanting to read Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenonsince it’s been sitting ignored on my shelf. Yes, one of these days I’ll finally get off my duff and read it.
So, when I spotted The Homemade Atheist: A Former Evangelical Woman’s Freethought Journey to Happiness at the library a few weeks ago I almost didn’t grab it. With me trying to finish up a bunch of books before the end of the year I figured the last thing I needed was another library book. But Brogaard’s short book looked promising. Thinking I had nothing to lose I snapped it up. Just as expected, with it being the short book I moved through it quickly and was done before I knew it.
The author Betty Brogaard has led an interesting life. For years her and her husband were members of a Christian-like cult known as the Worldwide Church of God. Blending elements of evangelical Christianity, Seventh Day Adventism, and Judaism, the sect was run by its dictatorial president and founder Herbert W. Armstrong. After leaving the cult. the two of them joined the Lutheran Church. But over the years, while her husband remained a Lutheran Brogaard became disillusioned with religion. By the time her husband died Betty had long since embraced an atheistic view of things.
What makes Brogaard different from other atheists, especially the “New Atheists” like Harris and Dawkins is she’s a layperson. She’s not a scientist like Dawkins, Dennett or Harris. Neither is she a philosopher like Onfray or a professional pundit like Hitchens. Brogaard’s beliefs were shaped by her particular religious experience and not academia or the laboratory.
As one might expect from something titled The Homemade Atheist her book is modest, yet direct and heartfelt. In her book she raised more than a few valid criticisms of Christianity. By examining how so many Christian denominations differ from each other when it comes to fundamental sacraments like communion and baptism, she finds it hard to believe there’s one God-ordained version of Christianity. She also blasts Biblical inerrancy and most believers’ sense of selective morality.
But as Steven Prothero points out in his excellent 2008 book God is Not One, while all atheists deny the existence of God, there seems to be some question of which God they deny. Since most atheists we’re familiar with are from the West, the God they tend to deny is a Western monotheistic God. So it is with her. While her points are valid, nonetheless they are the product of her own personal experience.
While her book didn’t blow me away, it made me think. Because she spent time in the Worldwide Church of God, I want to read her memoir Think for Yourself: A Journey from Faith to Reason. Who knows, maybe sometime soon I’ll finally read Breaking the Spell too.