Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: Grace Without God by Katherine Ozment

One night five years ago, I heard a strange noise outside the window of our brick row house near Boston. ~ Opening of Grace Without God





Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age 
by Katherine Ozment
Harper Wave, 2016
Nonfiction; 320 pgs

Goodreads Summary:

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.

Just when I thought my daughter was finally drifting off to sleep, she asked me who our first parents were. I wasn't sure what she was asking, although I kind of had an idea. I clarified with her she wasn't talking about my parents. She said, "Everyone's first parents. Who made all of us?"

As an agnostic who grew up in the Protestant Christian faith now unsure exactly what I believe and with a husband who is a former Christian turned non-believer, raising our daughter outside the conventions of religion or a church, I wasn't sure what to say. Fall back on my religious upbringing like I did when she was three and asked about death? Try to explain evolution to her? Tell her the truth, that I didn't really know? All the while wondering how to explain any of this to such a young child.

It was soon after that conversation that I received an e-mail with a list of upcoming book tours. Normally I would dismiss a title like Grace Without God without second thought, but this time I took a closer look. Whether it be fate or chance, I don't know. The timing couldn't be better. This is not my typical read. Nor is my faith something I talk about a lot here on my blog, although faith and religion are subjects that fascinate me from historical, psychological and anthropological perspectives.

I felt an instant connection with the author as I began reading Grace Without God. Her own journey and reason for researching and writing this book was because of her son asking questions she did not know how to answer. While I did not go into Grace Without God seeking answers to my own spiritual struggles or even expect answers to my daughter's questions, I was hoping to get some direction and guidance, if only to know I was not alone. I was curious to see what Katherine Ozment discovered in her research.

This is not a book attacking religion nor proselytizing secularism or even atheism. The author remains objective and thoughtful in her analysis of both. Ozment looks at ways in which religion has had to adapt over the years to try to keep up its membership and adjust to the changing times. At the same time, she also explores an even bigger growing trend, that of people leaving the church and religion behind all together. One cannot help but wonder why that is and how it impacts the individual as well as their children.

Along with its weaknesses and faults, religion comes with many strengths, and there can be a definite sense of loss for some who have left their religious organizations behind. They find themselves searching or seeking out ways to replace what we feel is missing. Whether it be the ritual, community, the sense of awe and inspiration, the story, or even the meaning and purpose of life, for example. There are also medical advantages to being a part of a religious group. Ozment explores whether or not secular organizations or rituals are able to provide the same. She goes on to explore several different secular communities and individual practices--from the more spiritual Universal Unitarian Church to much more secular organizations like the Sunday Assembly, Death Cafe, and the Gift Circles, for example--providing a glimpse into their practices and the reasons behind it.

I could relate to many of the issues Ozment raises, including the concern of raising my daughter outside the church and her possibly losing out on the importance of its history, both our personal histories as well as a general knowledge of religion in all its forms, in a society where it is a part of its very fabric. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way.

I appreciated Ozment taking a look into each of these areas, sharing her own experience as well as those of others. Maybe I have to work harder than someone whose child has the framework of religion to teach my daughter values, the importance of community service, and the role religion plays in our society and throughout history, but there's nothing to say that it cannot be--that it hasn't been--done. A person does not need religion, organized or otherwise, to lead a moral and purposeful life.

I know Ozment's book will not appeal to everyone, but I think it does present an interesting perspective. Ozment's insights came as a relief to me in many respects. Suddenly I do not feel so alone.

A couple of days after the "who made us" question was asked, my daughter told me, "I know who the first people were, Mommy." I was mentally preparing myself for another deep conversation, when she said quite adamantly, "They were giants." Of course they were. The wisdom of a five year old.


To learn more about Katherine Ozment and her work, please visit the author's websiteShe can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

I hope you will check out what others had to say about Grace Without God on the TLC Book Tours route!


Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.  Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review.




© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

18 comments:

  1. Religion is the root of a lot of good and a lot of evil, isn't it? This sounds like a thought provoking book.

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    1. Kathy - Yes, it certainly is. I am glad this book came to my attention when it did.

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  2. I would have passed this book over as well so I'm glad for my sake that you didn't! This is a struggle we have at home. I grew up Catholic and my husband grew up Presbyterian though as an adult I've very lapsed and J leans more towards Atheist. The Tornado goes to a religious school and even though the religious aspect is super low key it's still there and sometimes he can ask some very tough questions! I'll have to check this one out.

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    1. Katherine - While I can't say it was eye-opener of a book, it was nice to find someone else asking and seeking answers to some of the same questions I have.

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  3. Knowing about other people's (singular and regional) backgrounds, and the history of their religious and cultural identity, or a purposeful lack of religious identity, is so important for us as a world society.

    Being tolerant, accepting, and non-judgemental is the only way we can all get along, in answer to Rodney King's question.

    Thanks for pointing out this title. I like to delve into historical non-fiction and memoirs that deal on some level with belief systems, a carry-over from my college Sociology days. It fascinates me. Also, thank you for being so open about yourself and your family!

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    1. Rita - I agree with everything you've said. I don't think I could have said it better.

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  4. Giants, huh? Kids are cute. This really does sound like a thought provoking read. I like books that really look at a subject and are still able to remain objective. Great review!

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    1. Carole - She has this idea that we will all be giants one day because we keep growing and growing and growing. It's cute and funny. :-) I thought the author did a great job remaining objective.

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  5. I so appreciate when a book comes along at just the right time to really impact my life or my thinking. I'm glad that this particular book helped you to see that you are not alone in your parenting struggles.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

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    1. Heather - This one definitely came around at the right time. :-)

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  6. My old church in Montana was huge- so many people went to it, a lot of the sense of belonging was lost. However, because my mom and I volunteered at the church's nursery, it was the sort of church within the church for us. I also did a stint at an animal shelter, with the same sense of community. So really, I think volunteering is the best solution if you don't feel like you have a sense of purpose (speaking in general). There are so many great causes out there, and I think pretty much anyone can find their niche (and people with similar beliefs) that way.
    I love your daughter's answer!
    ~Litha Nelle

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    1. Litha Nelle - The author actually talks about volunteering and such in the book. It's definitely a great way to give back to the community and instill a sense of service and purpose in the young.

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  7. Sounds like this book came at the perfect time for you. I’m not a religious person, but this sounds like an interesting read.
    LOL!! Loved your daughters ‘giants’ answer!!

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    1. Maureen - I think the book provides a good look into what is out there for those of us who are not religious, whether agnostic or nonbelievers.

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  8. I am sure I will want to read this one. Your position of religion sounds a lot like mine so one day, I need to know how to answer these questions too. This book sounds like it will help people like us have some idea of what we want to say to our kids.

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    1. Athira - While the book doesn't specifically answer those types of questions, it does offer some idea of the nonreligious options out there and directions parents can go.

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  9. I might like this one. I'm a little uneasy with organized religious topics myself, but find objective opinions about different versions of spiritual life fascinating.

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    1. Jenclair - This is definitely aimed at those seeking nonreligious possiblities. It really was fascinating.

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