A guest post by Nica Lalli.
I wrote a book about non-belief, and so my book falls into the category of atheist writing. In fact, in some book stores you can find my book in the atheist section (the ones that actually have an â€œatheist sectionâ€ and donâ€™t lump it onto philosophy).
Earlier this month I was invited to be on a panel at the Book Expo America (publishing worldâ€™s trade show which was held at The Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York this year) with other atheist writers to discuss the â€œrise of atheism as a religious subcategory in publishingâ€.
The other members of the panel were: Victor Stenger, quantum physicist, university professor and author of â€œGod the Failed Hypothesisâ€ and Christopher Hitchens, journalist, provocateur and most recently author of â€œGod is Not Great, Why Religion Poisons Everythingâ€ which reached the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller list June 3rd. Publishing heavyweight Sarah Crichton (whose book with Marianne Pearl â€œA Mighty Heartâ€ has also graced the bestseller list and is now movie starring Angelina Joilie) was the moderator.
And then there was me.
I was nervous about being on the stage with the â€œrealâ€ writers, with the big thinkers, with the â€œboyzâ€â€¦but I figured that I did have a different voice to add to the discussion, the womanâ€™s voice, sure, but also the voice of someone who wrote a book about being an atheist, rather than a book about atheism.
I may not be able to quote Spinoza, or tell you what a quark is and why god can be disproved by physics or biology, or shamed by examining history, but I can tell you what it is like to want to live my life as I see fit, outside of religion and away from the tendrils of â€œbeliefâ€ in the supernatural.
So that is what I did. I did it in my book, and I did it on the panel. At first the other two looked at me a bit sideways, the â€œlightweightâ€ label emanated from their eyes. But then I think they realized that the voice of a PTA mom, a regular gal-on-the-street, can only help the â€œcauseâ€ â€“ because most of us are not tenured at multiple universities and authors of seven books, most of us are not journalists with a flair for stirring the pot, characters who loom larger than life and say whatever it takes to get a BIG rise out of the audience. Most of us just out there, struggling at times to find our voices.
I loved meeting Hitchens and Stenger. And I am honored to be a part of this new trend of books that are storming the bestseller lists. I feel it is a great time to be an atheist.
Oh, sure â€“ with Hitchens in the conversation it gets nasty. He makes no apologies and takes no care to avoid saying hurtful things. That is his role. He plays it well. I cannot do that. I cannot tell people the things he can. I am too afraid to piss people off and hurt their feelings, and I fear that, in turn, they will hurt mine.
My role is more about dialogue and bridge building. And what I found out last weekend was that the two voices, the provocateur and the bridge builder, (three, actually â€“ with the science voice provided by Stenger) can not only co-exist, they can compliment one and other.