A mild, witty memoir by an activist atheist and founder of the Secular Coalition for America.
Retired professor of mathematics at the College of Charleston, in South Carolina, a native Philadelphian and a nonpracticing Jew, Silverman delights in contradictions and provocation, such as debating the existence of God with fundamentalists in the Deep South. The author has advocated for years to help empower the non-theistic constituency, most of whom believe morality should be dictated by tried-and-true “human judgments” rather than biblical judgments—which, while fashioning the Golden Rule, he notes, have also been used to condone slavery, anti-Semitism, misogyny and horrendous violence. The only child of “cultural Jews,” Silverman chronicles the not-so-small hypocrisies that he witnessed in adults around him, such as their conviction that the execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953 was “good for Jews” and that the games their beloved Philadelphia Phillies played against the Brooklyn Dodgers weren’t worthy of their attendance because “of undesirable people (blacks) who came to watch [Jackie] Robinson play.” Once he mastered biblical readings as part of his bar mitzvah training, Silverman debated two thoughts with his young self: “either the God of the Bible didn’t exist, or he could be as bad as and more powerful than Adolph Hitler.” God and sex were forbidden topics in his childhood home, and his early years learning about girls and how to care for himself make for charming reading. Enmeshed in his teaching career, he became radicalized during the incendiary ’60s and ’70s and later ran for numerous offices, such as governor of South Carolina in 1990 (he lost). The book skips around erratically, somewhat thematically, and dwells at length on his atheist beliefs.
A Woody Allen–esque tale of an uneasy conscience in Christian America.