Book Review: Nothing: Something to Believe in by Nica Lalli April 11, 2007

Book Review: Nothing: Something to Believe in by Nica Lalli


The shorter review:

Go read Nica Lalli‘s new book Nothing: Something to Believe in! You’ll love it.

The longer review:

There are a lot of books out there written by academics who can give you a philosophical explanation of why we shouldn’t believe in God. There are an increasing number of books out there (mine included) that discuss becoming an atheist after having been raised with religion.

But I had yet to read an autobiography from the perspective of someone who was never raised with religion in the first place. That is, until I read this one. Here’s little Nica, talking to her parents:

“Look,” I repeated, “it’s like this: all my friends are something. Stephanie is a Unitarian, Suzy is Jewish, Michelle is a Catholic, and Lucy is a Presbyterian. So I just want to know, what am I?”

I smiled at them to make them feel better, But I was getting pretty nervous too.

“We’re nothing.” My father was looking right at me; he had a pleasant, friendly kind of expression. “Nothing,” he said again.

“What about God?” I asked as tears streamed down my cheeks.

“Well,” the uncomfortable looks returned, “we don’t believe in God, either.”

I responded with more tears. If God had given me a blood blister for pretending to be sick, what could he do to me if I said I didn’t believe in him at all? I feared the wrath of God, and now my parents were telling me they didn’t think there was such a person, such a thing. The more they said, the harder I cried. They couldn’t make me feel better. Hadn’t they been the ones to tell me to watch out or God would get me? No, as I sat there, I realized it had been my friends who had told me that. I was so confused. I felt sick.

What follows are a series of vignettes dealing with Nica’s growing up without religion.

There’s the bit where Nica, at home by herself, lets door-to-door missionaries into her house:

Not only had I broken a cardinal, staying-home-alone rule, I had also let religion into the house.

There’s the bit where Nica tries to reconcile the death of a bird with the idea of God:

If God is so nice and kind, how could he let a cute thing just die? Well, I reasoned, maybe he isn’t so nice and kind after all. Maybe he is cruel and mean. I had seen boys who would kill things just to watch how it went. They would pull the wings off flies or the legs off daddy longlegs and then watch the insect suffer… Maybe God was like that; maybe he killed things to watch what happened.

There’s also material about growing up as a girl in general. One part, dealing with body image and being a “late-bloomer,” had me laughing in a plane so hard that the woman next to me started to stare uncomfortably. It didn’t help me on that flight when, later on, I read about when Nica was interested in a Christian boy:

“Try to open your heart,” Fritz leaned in a little closer to me and smiled. “Don’t be so harsh and so closed to the love of Christ.”

I smiled back at him. I wished that we were somewhere else, that he wasn’t trying to convert me. Maybe he could just have a crush on me instead.

Throughout the book, you see how a girl raised without religion faces people who are intent on changing her mind. Whether going on a church ski trip, receiving religious literature from friends, or speaking to her religious in-laws, I kept wanting to scream, “Nica, don’t back down! You can do it!” For Christians, this books contains some prime examples of how not to speak to atheists.

Toward the end, Nica writes about not knowing there were books about atheism out there when she needed them the most:

So even after four years of a well-rounded, liberal arts education, I had never taken any religion classes. I also wanted to know more about alternatives to religion, like atheism, but I figured that atheists just were what they were. How could there be books about believing in nothing?

Thankfully, there are plenty of them now, they’re well known, and this is a fine addition to that collection.

Other reviews of the book can be found at Publishers Weekly and the Daily Harold.

Nica was also a guest on the Point of Inquiry podcast recently and you can download her episode for free by going here.

(This review was solicited by a publisher; however, the opinions expressed are my own.)

[tags]atheist, atheism, Nica Lalli, Nothing: Something to Believe in, God, religion, Unitarian, Jewish, Catholic, Presbyterian, Jesus, Christ, Christian, Publishers Weekly, Daily Harold, Point of Inquiry[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I heard about this book from the PoI podcast interview, it sounded quite appealing when compared to some of the more sober fare also recently on offer.

  • Should people be afraid to talk to missionaries? Is it wrong to let religion into the house? I can’t wait for Mormons to stop by. Not to show them they are wrong, and I’m right, but to have them explain how they feel, what they believe. I don’t think enough people do that, really know why they believe what they do enough to explain it to someone.

    You can’t spell belief without L-I-E.

  • I was also raised atheist, but I haven’t written a book about it yet 😉

  • Should people be afraid to talk to missionaries? Is it wrong to let religion into the house?

    The answer to both questions is no. But when you’re a little girl and two adults come to your door, I’d have to say the right thing to do is not answer the door.

  • But when you’re a little girl and two adults come to your door, I’d have to say the right thing to do is not answer the door.

    That is true. I remember Richard Dawkins’ stance on the dangers of religion to children and how he thought that sexual abuse wasn’t as damaging as religion. I don’t tend to agree, but, I wasn’t abused as a child, and didn’t feel abused by religion, because I just didn’t believe, despite going to church, being confirmed, and the like. It is interesting how someone who wasn’t raised religious, still had anxiety over god.

  • This is a great book if you’ve ever been curious what one person’s life was like growing up without being presented with religion. Her parents are a bit anti-religious, but not so much that they tell her it’s evil. They just kind of laugh it off like it’s silly. This is a refreshing break from the history and science books I’ve been diving into. It’s a very fast read, clever, and interesting. I do enjoy reading books that are told as a story, rather then an essay, because I feel it presents one person’s point of view. An essay can too, but then there’s this long list of books in the back I want to read for myself.

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