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Book Review: The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas November 28, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Religion.
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Fear not, religious nuts.  Atheists have not yet taken over the world.  Not yet, anyway.

Remember the infamous Atheist Bus Campaign that stirred up all that controversy at the end of 2008?  You know, the posters on the side of UK buses that said: ‘There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”?  Well, Ariane Sherine, the creator of that campaign, has come up with yet another brilliant idea.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a clever collection of 42 mini-essays about the birth date of Jesus Christ contributed by an assortment of well-known people from all walks of life.  Stand-up comedians, scientists, writers, journalists, filmmakers, cartoonists and bloggers.  And the one thing all of them have in common?  None of them believe in God.  Any God.

Now, I use the term ‘well-known’ loosely, as there are many names in the list that I’m sure many are not familiar with.  The ones people should at least recognise include Derren Brown (the illusionist who does all that freaky mind control stuff), Zoe Margolis (blog author of Girl with a One-Track Mind), Brian Cox (the physicist – though I erroneously thought it was the Scottish actor from X-Men 2), and of course, the most famous atheist of them all, Mr God Delusion himself, Richard Dawkins.

As for the names you don’t recognise, there is a helpful biographies section at the end.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this section until I got there.  A shame, because if I had read about who the authors are and what they do before reading their respective essays it would have put their words in the proper perspective  (potential readers take note).

The various essays are separated into categories: Stories, Science, How To, Philosophy, Arts and Events.  However, I think this was just to make things more manageable for the reader, as each essay is written so differently and touch on such a wide array of issues and themes that it would have been impossible to classify them with any degree of specificity.  The essays range from personal stories and experiences about how they lost their faith, to opinions on what Christmas means to them as an atheist; from complex scientific explanations to discussions on Christmas shopping, gifts, parties, music, film and literature.  You really do get a broad spectrum of views, as some authors were brought up as Catholics, some are Jews, while others were raised by atheist or agnostic parents.

While you may not find all the essays appealing or interesting, the good thing with having 42 different entries is that you can pick and choose what you want to read, and skip, skim or come back (or not) to the others.  The entries range from just a couple of pages up to 10 pages at the very most, so even if you skip a few completely, you won’t feel as though you’re wasting the book.

My favourite essay of the lot is by comedian Catie Wilkins, who wrote a hilarious yet heart-felt little piece called ‘110 Love Street’.  As a film lover, I also liked ‘An Atheist at the Movies’ by David Baddiel and Arvind Ethan David, who discuss everything from The Golden Compass to The Passion of the Christ to Contact.  Of course, the big names don’t disappoint either.  Derren Brown’s piece ‘On Kindness’ and Richard Dawkins’ original Christmas story ‘The Great Bus Mystery’ are both fabulously written and exceptionally well thought out.  Even if you don’t agree with where they are coming from you can at least marvel at their intellect.

I know many religious people will scoff at such a book (especially one with this title), but it is honestly quite harmless.  There is nothing grossly offensive to be found between the covers (unless you are a nutjob).  It can definitely be enjoyed by agnostics (referred to by Sherine as ‘eggnostics’) and non-self-righteous, open-minded religious folk (who aren’t crazy).  At the end of the day, The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a funny, eye-opening read that turned out to be more educational than I could have imagined.  It would make a great gift for Christmas, especially since 50% of the overall total profit from the book goes to the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity.  For religious fanatics who ‘refuse to read such nonsense’ (or are just too lazy to turn the page), the book is also available in audio format on iTunes.
4 out of 5 stars!

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