Book Review: Grace Without God

Grace-Without-God-cover-198x300About Grace Without God

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (June 21, 2016)

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.

Review

I was initially attracted to this book because, #1, it was written by a journalist, and I am regularly amazed by the work of journalists and 2, because the subject of this book— raising children and embarking on family-hood in a secular age, is something I’ve struggled with in my own life.

My school-age years were spent in the midst of the Catholic faith. My maternal grandmother is a devout Catholic. I attended Catholic grade and high school, and we went to church regularly with my grandparents. That was, until I turned 15. At that time, my mother left the church in search of something else, and what she found was a non-denominational, albeit Christian-based, church. In those years, I learned about the faith rituals from all corners of the earth. The church taught tolerance, love and peace of all differences and religious ideas.

I clung to this new faith through my teenage years, but when I left home to attend college, my connection to this church fell by the wayside as a clumsily navigated adulthood. I find my way back periodically, but consistency is something I can no longer sustain for whatever reason. I have a young son who has been introduced to a number of faiths because my husband’s family and mine participate in quite a few different religious practices, but in our house, the regular practice of faith goes largely unnoticed.

The correlation between the author’s experience and my own immediately drew me to the book. In the preface, she tells a personal story as to why this topic became so important to her, and I related. Her young son, inquisitive and wondering is much like my own 9-year-old son.

I was eager to read more, and I wasn’t disappointed. Like a true journalist, Ozment is able to take a subject she’s personally attached to, and research and present it in a unique, objective way. Her research leads her to religious traditions she’s not accustomed to. Her research brings her to atheism and Buddhism and fundamental Christian faith practices, and she stays objective, giving readers the insight and facts she uncovers. Still, she adds in her own personal experience, as this book reads part memoir and part researched nonfiction, which enriches her research and findings.

She’s able to capture and articulate the answers to the questions she posed in the beginning of the book well. What does the falling away from traditional faith practices mean to society at large–to the family unit– mean? How are families affected? Am I the only one experiencing this angst and questioning? Each answer is backed by research and her personal stories. She truly illuminates how the information age has led to a separation of American people and the traditional faiths they practice. She shows the reader how faith is practiced now and what that means for the future.

This book, because of the timely subject matter and the manner in which it was written, kept me intrigued until the last page. Well-researched, easily understandable, and relateable, poignant personal experience make Grace Without God a great read.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Katherine Ozment AP photo by Chris KirzederAbout Katherine Ozment

Katherine Ozment is an award-winning journalist and former senior editor at National Geographic. Her essays and articles have been widely published in such venues as the New York Times, National Geographic, and Salon. She lives in Chicago with her husband and children.

Find out more about Katherine at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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