Former columnist for the Canadian Freethinker magazine and author of Disproving Christianity (Hypatia, 2019) David G. McAfee is focusing on helping atheists articulate their non-belief in his new book, Hi, I’m An Atheist! What That Means, and How to Talk About It with Others (St. Martin's Essentials, Nov.). McAfee, who grew up in a conservative Christian family and studied religion at the University of California, Santa Barbara, addresses common misunderstandings of atheism and other challenges that can come with non-belief.
Who is the target audience for Hi, I’m an Atheist?
It was written with the general idea of speaking out publicly about atheism. It’s important for younger people growing up in religious families, but the book also goes beyond family life. It talks about school, business, work life, and everyday life. There are also people who have been atheists for a long time who are looking to remind themselves about the finer points of the questions we get asked. In a world where religion heavily influences everything in life, it seems like there are more and more instances where we need to be more open about our non-belief.
Why is it so difficult to tell people that you are an atheist?
I think it is difficult because in our society, it is assumed that you are not an atheist. When people meet you, the questioning is what church do you go to? As opposed to whether you believe in the first place. Atheism is an inherently controversial subject. You are telling somebody that something they believed their entire lives, something that their parents believe, their grand-parents, and so on… you are telling them that you think they are wrong.
Can you describe a negative experience you’ve had due to your lack of belief?
When I thought about applying for a Master’s program in Religious Studies at a public university and met with the dean of admissions, she Googled my name and pulled up an image of my first book, Disproving Christianity. She said, “I have to word this carefully. You wouldn’t fit in with our department’s milieu because you are an atheist activist with an axe to grind.” This was just her finding out that I’m not a Christian and instantly I’m declined from a program I haven’t even officially applied to. That’s just one example of what happened to me, but this type of reaction and discrimination happens to many atheists.
What is the core purpose of this book?
It is more of a clarification [of atheism] because the book isn’t argumentative by nature. It’s very friendly. It’s about having a discussion about faith, and the lack of faith, or non-belief. It is about trying to explain what atheists believe and why. But there are also those aspects of defending those positions because that comes inherently with this type of work.