09 March 2016

Why won't atheists review Randal Rauser's book?

Randal Rauser wrote a book last year called Is the Atheist My Neighbor?, and he hasn't been particularly pleased with the reaction. Well... the reaction from atheists, anyway. It's not that atheists are bashing the book; it's really just that atheists seem pretty indifferent to it — so much so that despite sending out review copies to several atheist bloggers, not one of them has produced a review.

Randal himself seems a bit frustrated with the state of the book. He's not divulging sales numbers (why would he?), but he seems to be implying that it's not done particularly well, despite being well-received by a handful of academics. He noted in a post last year that there are two potential audiences: Christians and atheists. He describes that as "limited", but I dunno... that seems kind of broad, actually. But I think he nailed it (religious pun!) when he said,
My primary target was Christians. But how many Christians want to read a book that charges the Christian community with a deep and ultimately indefensible prejudice against a minority group?
I suspected the answer would be: not many.
Okay, so people don't generally like to read books critical of their behavior. But what about atheists? Isn't Randal kind of building a bridge here?

Well... yeah, sort of, but just looking at the table of contents it's obvious to me why atheists would be indifferent (from the Amazon preview):

I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I really have a hard time seeing how atheists are a target audience here. Most of this is stuff we've been saying for years. It's not going to be a revelation that we take exception to caricatures like Kevin Sorbo's professor in the pandering religious flick God's Not Dead. We already know we don't have an axe to grind (well... most of us), and we don't really care if the Bible says we're fools because, y'know, we don't believe the Bible is a divinely-inspired sacred text. Since the rest of the chapters seem geared more toward Christians (judging strictly by their titles), it's understandable to me that atheists are indifferent to the book. Perhaps Randal just hoped for some recognition in trying to build a bridge and combat those negative attitudes from inside the Christian community; honestly, it's hard to tell exactly what kind of response he wanted to elicit from non-believers — only that indifference isn't it.

Now, here's the deal. Randal said that several atheist bloggers agreed to review the book, and he cordially sent out review copies. And to date, not a single atheist has reviewed his book as they'd agreed. I don't care what side of the pew you're on, that's a dick move. Distributing books isn't free, and the least the atheists in question could do is send the book back with an apology: "Sorry, it's not of interest to me, I don't have time, I don't like you damn Canucks, etc."

So here's what I'm gonna do. Nevermind Randal's misgivings about me, or that I think he could have done a better job of leading by example in his calls for irenic dialogue between believers and doubters. Hell, nevermind the shitstorm that followed when I dissected select parts of his book on Heaven. I'm gonna review Is the Atheist My Neighbor?. I purchased a Kindle copy this evening, and it looks like a brisk read.

And let me be perfectly clear: I don't have an axe to grind with Randal, who summarily banned me from his blog last year precisely when I was criticizing him for, in my view, failing to set the example of the congeniality he wished to elicit between atheists and Christians. I think his view of me is, much like Kevin Sorbo in God's Not Dead, a caricature that scarcely represents my real ideas or temperament. But regardless of whether he can be persuaded to reconsider his view of me, I will do my very best to give the book a fair and honest review.

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