Published by Harper Wave on June 21, 2016
Genres: Memoir, Religion
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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Meet “the Nones”—In this thought-provoking exploration of secular America, celebrated journalist Katherine Ozment takes readers on a quest to understand the trends and ramifications of a nation in flight from organized religion.
Studies show that religion makes us happier, healthier and more giving, connecting us to our past and creating tight communal bonds. Most Americans are raised in a religious tradition, but in recent decades many have begun to leave religion, and with it their ancient rituals, mythic narratives, and sense of belonging.
So how do the nonreligious fill the need for ritual, story, community, and, above all, purpose and meaning without the one-stop shop of religion? What do they do with the space left after religion? With Nones swelling to one-fourth of American adults, and more than one-third of those under thirty, these questions have never been more urgent.
Writer, journalist, and secular mother of three Katherine Ozment came face-to-face with the fundamental issue of the Nones when her son asked her the simplest of questions: “what are we?” Unsettled by her reply—“Nothing”—she set out on a journey to find a better answer. She traversed the frontier of American secular life, sought guidance in science and the humanities, talked with noted scholars, and wrestled with her own family’s attempts to find meaning and connection after religion.
Insightful, surprising, and compelling, Grace Without God is both a personal and critical exploration of the many ways nonreligious Americans create their own meaning and purpose in an increasingly secular age.
I don’t normally start off a review by comparing it to another book, but I can’t help myself here. Grace Without God reminded me so much of Rachel Held Evans and Searching for Sunday [review]. When you become disillusioned with religion, you end up thinking at an uncomfortably deep level about what it is you actually believe. Which leads to a whole lot of searching. It was easy for me to see myself in RHE’s memoir. Like RHE, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I do believe in God, but I needed to find a place that encouraged thinking through questions that many others find “blasphemous.” Katherine Ozment, on the other hand, can’t deny that she doesn’t believe in God…but found she needed to find a way to answer her children’s tough questions. Although I’m a Christian, I found Ozment’s memoir just as relatable as I found RHE’s, probably because Ozment makes it obvious that fleshing out “where do I belong?” is a fundamental journey common to us all.
My only complaint—and it’s tiny when thinking about the book as a whole—is I felt “religion” was indirectly defined by conservative or fundamentalist beliefs. When I think about it, though, especially its context in this kind of memoir, it makes sense why.
Ozment’s approach and tone throughout Grace Without God is one that encourages peace and fosters harmony. She’s respectful and nonjudgmental. She doesn’t knock religion or faith; she simply explores options for those who don’t believe. Ozment points out that you can leave religion without rejecting that identity as an important part of your heritage.
I got a lot out of this memoir, and couldn’t stop taking notes [proof!]. It’s intelligent and inspiring. Faith communities of all kinds could learn a lot from Ozment about authentic community, belonging, and radical acceptance. I learned a lot about those things.
If we strip away the layers of religion, most of what we all value most — family, friends, laughter, food — is the same.