Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics

Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics

Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics

Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics


"Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics" is the first anthology to provide comprehensive, annotated readings on atheism and unbelief expressly for high school and college students. This diverse compilation brings together letters, essays, diary entries, book excerpts, blogs, monologues, and other writings by atheists and agnostics, both through the centuries and across continents and cultures.

Unlike most other anthologies of atheist writings, the collection goes beyond public proclamations of well-known individuals to include the personal voices of unbelievers from many walks of life. While readers will certainly find excerpts from the published canon here, they will also discover personal documents that testify to the experience of living outside of the religious mainstream. The book presents each document in its historical context, enriched with an introduction, key questions, and activities that will help readers understand the past and navigate current controversies revolving around religious belief.



Belief in the existence of a supernatural deity is found in every human culture, time, and place. Archaeological evidence over 130,000 years old testifies to the presence of the compelling idea that an unseen force—usually in the form of a god or gods—is responsible for the creation, operation, and ultimate fate of the world around us.

Over the course of 10,000 human generations, this hypothesis has fractured into countless distinct religious traditions. Any attempt to map these diverse beliefs geographically—labeling this country “Christian,” another “Islamic,” and yet another “Hindu,” for example—gives the false impression that all individuals in a given place and time answer the big questions in the same way, something that is never fully accurate.

If instead we listen carefully to the disparate voices in any culture, a much more interesting picture emerges. In addition to orthodox believers in the majority religion, there will always be dissenting voices within that religion (sometimes called heretics), adherents of minority religions, religious doubters, those who say the answers are simply unknowable (agnostics), and some who reject belief in gods entirely (atheists).

Though atheism and agnosticism are most evident in modern times, every religious hypothesis advanced in history and prehistory, back to the earliest evidence of religious observance in Neanderthal sites over 130,000 years old, was almost certainly met with doubt or outright unbelief in at least some listeners. Whether these dissenting opinions were then voiced aloud, recorded in some form, and passed down to subsequent generations is a question that will recur throughout this book. Fortunately, there are enough whispers, even from corners of history dominated by religious perspectives, to allow us to hear voices of unbelief in every era for which written records are available. It is the purpose of this book to draw out those voices, presenting as full as possible a picture of this fascinating thread of human thought—the rejection of supernatural explanations for the world around us.


In the broadest terms, atheism (from the Greek atheos, “without god”) is the lack of belief in the existence of a supernatural deity or deities. As will become evident throughout this book, it is difficult to make further generalizations beyond this single characteristic. Some atheists are strictly secular, for example, avoiding not only belief in the supernatural but all spiritual . . .

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