A levelheaded look at belief and nonbelief in modern America.
In his introduction, Mates writes, “The main reason I’m writing is to add a moderate nonbelieving voice to the chorus of adversarial, anti-religious nonbelievers we’ve been hearing from lately, who often display attitudes as militant as those of the least attractive believers.” In a country increasingly less religious—where extremists on both sides often dominate discourse—voices like Mates’ are valuable and necessary. His thesis? People create their God rather than vice versa. The work takes its title from a quotation from Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason: “My own mind is my own church.” He also references Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous proclamation “God is dead.” These perspectives are not meant as an attack on believers but rather as indications of Mates’ own conclusions about faith. He believes that “true” belief is exceptionally rare and that God no longer has an active, terrifying presence in the life of the believer. Instead, he sees Christianity in the United States as a sort of political shibboleth and a personal comfort. Mates has no objections to the latter function of religion, but he believes that the first function should end. He writes that the Gospel “is a collection of writings that have no ready application outside the context of imminent apocalypse, but one to which the West still imagines itself culturally attached” and argues strongly that God should stay out of politics, particularly as few if any political figures could be said to display deep religious commitment. Mates’ words for nonbelievers of the New Atheist stripe are no less harsh. He believes that they neglect the human element of religion because they do not understand it, and they intend to make war on such eternal human qualities as irrationality and love. No one comes out looking superior in this treatment of the modern religious landscape, much to the credit of the author.
A readable, enjoyable book that suggests a path for understanding between the faithful and nonbelievers.