AUGUST 24, 2012 8:31PM

Wow, this reviewer hates my book

Rate: 21 Flag


Not many authors are eager to publicize bad reviews, but that’s exactly what I want to do. It seems my new book, Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans, has caught the attention of some religious conservatives.

And at least one of them doesn’t like what he sees.

Check out this commentary from R. R. Reno, who describes himself as a Christian and edits a religious conservative magazine and web site.  I say “describes himself” as a Christian because, despite Reno's proud Christian self-identity, his writing reflects none of the humble, peace-loving teachings of the Nazarene whom he deifies.  

In the review, Reno manages to mischaracterize the book’s message and launch reckless attacks at secular activists in general and this author in particular, some nothing but ad hominem. Nonbeliever Nation (and/or its author), he tells his readers, is “pathetic” and “simple-minded” and “comically parochial,” although not surprisingly Reno never really explains why, except to say that seculars like myself want to claim the right to “define what counts as reasonable, mainstream, and true.” 

The only problem, however, is that the book does not claim such a right. Nonbeliever Nation instead points out that the marginalization of the secular demographic – and the simultaneous undue exaltation of religion in the public sphere – has been harmful to public dialogue and public policy.

What is fascinating is that Reno, though dismissive in his tone, seems genuinely threatened by the unthreatening message of the book, reflexively inclined to attack any thesis that dares to promote acceptance of secularity. This fearful reaction to secularism is common among the hardliners on the Christian right, coming from both those within the Catholic church (to which Reno is a recent convert) and fundamentalist Protestantism. "Look out, here comes modernity!" they cry in chorus as they circle their wagons in defense of the oncoming secular threat.

Nonbeliever Nation expressly states that its intent is not to try to convert believers, but instead argues that those who are openly secular should be accepted as full citizens and welcomed at the table as part of the American tapestry. Reno, who studied religion at Yale and presumably qualifies as a representative of the modern Christian intelligentsia, sadly demonstrates that this pool of scholars has a shallow end. To the disservice of both his intellectual circle and his claimed theology, Reno dishonestly represents the book.

He alleges, for example, that Nonbeliever Nation claims that the “Religious Right is the root of all evil,” when in fact the book takes pains to say just the opposite.  In the Introduction I write: “It would be an oversimplification to suggest that all of America’s woes since the late 1970s are due to the rise of the Religious Right . . .”

Unable to cite any particularly egregious language in Nonbeliever Nation, Reno takes the hilarious step of quoting benign language ("Secular activism is not about bashing religion . . .") and then warning his readers that I am deceiving them. "Sounds very friendly and peaceful and tolerant," Reno tells readers, "but like liberal tolerance more generally, it's very fake."  

I guess I just can't win with this guy! No matter what I say, I'm just dangerous, dishonest, and  subversive!  

What is most apparent from Reno's review is that, despite his claimed affection for Jesus, he exhibits a rather mean-spirited, angry streak that Christian theology has not managed to subdue. Maybe he should try Buddhism? We can only be thankful that, unlike his Inquisitor forbearers, his power is limited to ranting on an obscure web site. 

Christian blogger hates the book, but did he read it?

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Amazing how one can critique a book without actually reading it....
Hey, the critiques from Boston Globe and Kirkus were very nice. I wouldn't worry about the other one. Kirkus fried my book. I quit writing for a very long time because of Kirkus. So really, you did well. Be happy.
Never let a bad review stand in your way of promoting your book. I self published, and paid $500 to some reviewer and I got back a stinkeroo of a review because he/she didn't like my politics. Any review of your book is a good review because someone paid attention.

Actually in the art world, there are two types of fabulous reviews -- the one where you're the best thing since the invention of sliced bread, and the other where the reviewer says it's the worst piece of trash ever seen on earth. Both are good, as it means you actually made a difference in the reviewer's life.
Honestly, these types of reviews say more about the reviewer than the author - just hold your high and be proud.

And on a lighter note, the book looks like something I would interested in - I'll have to check it out!
I haven't read your book (sorry, I'll try to correct that), but from this review, it sounds like you probably made a lot of sense to get Reno so riled up.
You're taking the right approach by airing it here and countering its content. When my book got a bad review on Amazon, I posted it on Facebook and had my friends make fun of it. It defused whatever sting there may have been. And since your book is partisan, you can be sure that the criticism is not about the quality of the writing or the logic, but simply because your politics doesn't appeal to him.
Hey, it free publicity for your book!! Woo!! :)
I'm with Tink. To paraphrase somebody; "Don't worry about what they say about your book as long as they get the title right"!

Some of us atheists have actually become very popular as a result of the unrelenting antagonism religionists! They just make people soooooo curious!

Actually this sort of thing is endemic. I remember seeing a expose' on the new right and how they run workshops on doing this sort of thing. One example given by the seminar speaker was anything by Michael Moore...his advice ran something like...go to Amazon search Michael Moore and virtually rubbish everything he's done...

But please don't was the vitriolic and negative reviews that led me to Rachel Maddow's book "The Drift". Which I thought was a very important book and terrific read. Looks like your's might meet the same high standards.
It's too late now, but I think your sub-title (even if it is above the actual title - who made that decision) should read, "The Fall of Secular America," because the United States was very specifically founded as a secular nation. Most of the Founders, despite nominal attendance at one house of worship or another, were either theists or deists or outright atheists, if you consider Tom Paine a Founder, which for one do.)

The words "Jesus Christ","Christian"."Christianity", and "God" do not appear in the Declaration, the Constitution or the Federalist Papers. The First Amendment is even more explicit, since it specifically prohibits the establishment of ANY religion while simultaneously protecting the right to practice a religion, which also implies the right not to practice any religion at all.

My point is that, when you sub-title your book, "The Rise of Secular Americans," you reinforce the suggestion that secularism is a new phenomenon in the United States when, in fact, is is religiosity that is the new phenomenon.

Washington attended church until his wife passed away, then never set foot in a church again. He never took communion. Adams, a Church deacon, wrote about how much he detested the scourge of religious intolerance, and expressed the fervent hope that religious animosity would never raise its ugly head in America. Franklin was a notorious free-thinker, despite his membership in the Masons. The list goes on and on, down through the past two centuries. It is not until the late 19th century that religiosity began to emerge in America, and it emerged first in the South, where fundamentalism became the last refuge of the Confederacy.

We all know that the Klu Klux Klan was founded by returning Confederate War Veterans for the express purpose of terrorizing newly freed black people and preventing them from exercising the rights conferred upon them by the federal government. Allegations that the Klan died out and resurged on two separate occasions are purely speculative and lack factual support. What is known is that Klan chapters were contiguous with the congregations of certain Protestant sects, and that their primary symbol - a burning cross - was a specifically Christian symbol.

There's significant documentary evidence cross-linking the KKK and certain Protestant denominations, and that relationship continues today in the Republican Party, which comes closer and closer to embracing the KKK philosophy.

The cross-linkage between religious and political fundamentalism has has resulted in the promulgation of fraudulent "historical" facts supporting the allegation that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, when it most decidedly was not.

The United States was founded, for the most part, by Christians, but their Christianity was coincidental and circumstantial, but it was neither the motivation force nor the motivating objective of the Founders or their followers.

The Christian Right has succeeded in promoting the concept that the United States is a Christian nation to the extent that we now see resurgent secularism as a new phenomenon rather than as a return to the real roots of our nation's philosophy.

Aside from that, I have no issues with your book yet. Once I have read it, I will get back to you.
Exactly right, what sagemerlin said. I was raised here in the South, and I saw it and experienced it.
Kudos for annoying a wilfully ignorant fundie.
The fact is you are never going to win with this guy or any like him. The cover alone would turn most christians off. He was ready to hate it and give it bad reviews before he read the first word I'm sure. Negative feedback is tough, but I believe you have handled it perfectly with this piece. I didn't know about your book, now I do. So look what this guy did....he spent more time spreading his words about your book, than the actual "word" his religion tells him to spread. Funny how that happens.
Although, in a vague and fuzzy sense, I identify as a 'believer,' I look forward to reading your book, and I applaud both your effort to include secular Americans more fully in our country's discourse, and your criticism of the "undue exaltation of religion." Good luck with your book, and take comfort in the words of Kingsley Amis--"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing...R
This critic is an idiot. Glad to hear about your book. I think it sounds really interesting.
Go to and read some of his hate mail. Should make you feel better. Being decried by some kind of religious authority is a badge of honor.
Bad ink, good ink, its all good PR. Howard Stern had more listeners who hated him than liked him, and those hating listeners listened to Stern longer that the ones who liked him. Enjoy the free publicity. You should invite him to a talk show radio where the both of you battle it out.
I've read from the 'learned apologetics'. They like to impress themselves with how much of the bible they know, and then its all Thomas Aquinas from there. Boils down to a lot of wiz-bang and hooey - hooey, because all they have when the smoke clears is that their religion is right because they say so.