When Katherine Ozment’s eight-year-old son asked her what religion they were, she told him they were “nothing.” Unsatisfied with her answer, Ozment began a quest to find a better response to the question of religious identity. Putting her experience as a journalist and former senior editor at National Geographic to use, Ozment traveled the country exploring several secular communities, including Sunday Assemblies, Ethical Culture groups, and both small and large humanist groups. Her travels form the basis of the book Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age (HarperWave, June).
With the number of secular families on the rise, more and more publishers are trying to attract “nones,” also known as religiously unaffiliated people. Contributing to this trend, Ozment's Grace Without God draws on her own experiences in an attempt to guide other secular parents in their search for community. “One of the issues for me and my husband has been to really have a group of people to raise our children with who share our values,” she said.
While living in Boston, Ozment became active with the Harvard Humanist community where she and her children participated in service events and other activities. She admits that it isn’t for everyone—her husband, who was raised Jewish but is also secular, doesn’t have the same desire to be part of a secular community. “I think we never really found that place where we would want to go to together,” she said. “I think that is a challenge for families like mine.”
Among her discoveries was the wide variety of experiences offered by secular groups. “One of the smaller groups met in a park and that was fun for the kids, and then I found a story-telling group in Oregon where people can come up on stage and tell a story,” said Ozment.
Sometimes events were boring, while others were incredibly moving. “I met a very interesting group out in San Diego called Parents Beyond Religion who have created a safe place for parents and their kids to interact with other kids whose parents don’t believe in God,” said Ozment. “It’s really a wonderful thing because many of their children have been told that they would be going to hell if they didn’t believe in God.”
Although Grace Without God serves as a resource for secular families in search of community and meaning, there is something for religious believers as well. In the book, Ozment recounts conversations she had with religious leaders about their thoughts and feelings concerning the rise of secularism, and she reveals how churches are trying to reach the growing number of Americans who are losing their religion. For example, Pope Francis’ popularity is bringing attention and relevance to Catholicism, creating pathways for Catholic leaders to reconnect with their otherwise shrinking congregations. “[Pope Francis] is trying to get at the essence of something that a lot of Catholics have been missing for a while,” Ozment told PW.
Five years after her son’s question, Ozment still does not have all the answers; but she hopes to share the many ways in which she discovered how to fulfill the need for ritual, story, community and more—minus religion. "I would like readers to learn that they are not alone if they left religion for whatever reason [and they] miss part of that, if they miss community or they are looking for their purpose," said Ozment. "There are so many other people who are walking that same path who want to come together."
Grace Without God will be marketed to family, parenting, and humanist blogs as well as consumer galley giveaways and promotions on Goodreads and Bookperk.