Welcome to my blog. I am Miriam Downey, the Cyberlibrarian. I am a retired librarian and a lifelong reader. I read and review books in four major genres: fiction, non-fiction, memoir and spiritual. My goal is to relate what I read to my life experience. I read books culled from reviews in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Bookmarks, and The New Yorker. I also accept books from authors and publicists. I am having a great time.
Hope you will join me on the journey.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Imagine There's No Heaven: How Atheism helped create the modern world
by Mitchell Stephens
It is all a mystery, and the longer I live the more I live
in the Mystery. The book Imagine There's No Heaven by Mitchell Stephens
contributes to the mystery. My husband and I read it aloud over several months
and found it fascinating read.
First it must be said that it is not a polemic against
religion, but the book is a history of the fascinating figures who contributed to the
atheistic thinking of the last many centuries and certainly contributed to the
current lack of religious enthusiasm in Western culture. He begins with the
Greeks and ends with Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, and explains how each
generation of disbelievers helped move society and science forward.
This is a history that most of us haven't read because it
has been relatively under the radar. One reviewer says that it has
"usually been downplayed or outright denied by conventional
histories." Certainly I didn't read about any of these people in all the
courses I took on religious history. Quite frankly, my only exposure to modern
atheism was a woman at my small country church who would stand up at church
with a petition against Madalyn Murray O'Hair. She'd wave the petition in her
hand and announce "Madalyn Murray O'Hair is at it again!" My husband
and I would chuckle, because we were all for free speech and freedom of (or
There are many fascinating characters in the book (and one
has to imagine these were all "characters" as they bucked the system)
including Voltaire, Diderot, Marx, and Camus, among many others. They all
reflect the five types of disbelief that Stephens outlines. The first is skepticism—"how could that
possibly be?" The second is just the mandate to live joyously and
concentrate on living in the now. The third type of disbelief comes from
knowledge of a better answer. The fourth is that religion is often a tool of
repression and thought control. And the fifth is that when the mind is open to
all sorts of ideas, it is difficult to concentrate on one set religious
Life is frankly a lot easier when there is a set religious
doctrine to believe in and to provide comfort and answers to questions.
Although this is not my personal concern, I understand the concept of
"just tell me what to believe." I was very intrigued about a movement
in the Catholic church to ordain women. This is a dissident Catholic movement,
and a woman in Kalamazoo was ordained over the weekend. The Bishop of West
Michigan issued a warning that anyone who attended the ordination service
risked ex-communication. Other than the obvious, the interesting thing to me
was that the decision of the bishop was questioned by the press.They asked questions like "What difference does it make if Catholics went to the
ordination?" These kinds of questions are indicative of the kind of
intellectual indifference to religion that is permeating society.
Because Stephens is writing an historical look at Atheism,
he leaves the readers with no conclusions—which I guess in itself is a
free-thinking style of ending. He mentions that "we have just begun to
tackle the question of how to find meaning without relying upon some external
dispenser of meaning." Individuals who throw off their religious identities
are free create their own lives.
There is much more that I could write. My spiritual faith wasn't threatened in any way, although I do have to say that I have long been dealing with issues about organized religion. At any rate, my husband
and I had a great experience reading the book. Sometimes we had to force
ourselves up from the breakfast table to begin our day.
Imagine there's no
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
You may say I'm a
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
The review in The Humanist: http://thehumanist.com/arts_entertainment/books/book-review-imagine-theres-no-heaven-how-atheism-helped-create-the-modern-world