Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Prometheus Books (March 14, 2007)
“A recent study by University of Minnesota sociology professors on the tolerance of ‘others’ in America showed that the group most hated and feared, the group seen as the greatest threat to our country, is atheists. The study also said that nonbelievers are the one group that Americans would least like to have marry into their family.”
Nothing is the autobiography of a nonbeliever that reveals her experiences in life and how her lack of religion influenced her experiences. This book really stood out to me because there are so many books out these days about all of the different religions, but it is very difficult to find one about a complete lack of one. As an atheist, it is sometimes frustrating for me to read really good books but become unable to really relate to them because of the deeply religious roots. It was nice to read a book for once about someone who faces some of the same things as I do, and I could easily relate to many of her emotions. It is an excellent read, for believers and nonbelievers alike.
Nica lives her life surrounded by good friends, but she feels left out when they mention their religious experiences (i.e. church, confirmation, etc.). She approaches her parents with the hopes of having them suddenly remember that they are Christians so that she can go to her confirmation in a much longed-after white dress. She is devastated when her parents instead tell her they believe in nothing. She wonders how this can be possible, how, instead of being Christian, she is “nothing.” Because of her mother’s side of the family, she is technically Jewish, but her family doesn’t really celebrate any Jewish holidays, and they don’t follow and of the Jewish rules.
Determined to not be a “nothing”, Nica makes deals with God, vowing to believe in him if he performs favors for her, and she goes along with friends to their churches and synagogues in order to truly experience religion. She doesn’t find these experiences to her taste, and God doesn’t perform any of the favors she requests, but she continues trying to believe.
While in college, Nica goes to Italy for a semester to study the art and the language, but finds herself at a disadvantage when she discovers that most of the best art is in the churches. She is uncomfortable in churches, something I found I could really relate to out of everything else mentioned in the book, so she doesn’t visit any. When her final consists of questions about which pieces of art are in what church, she finds herself in a dilemma that she finds difficult to talk herself out of, but she succeeds and barely passes the class.
Back in America, she meets Greg, a fellow nonbeliever, and they fall in love. When she visits his extremely Christian family, she finds it kind of awkward, but is relieved that they don’t ever bring up her lack of belief in God and Jesus Christ. It doesn’t last long, because Greg’s sister and boyfriend are extremely religious and are determined to convert Nica in order to save her soul.
Things don’t get any better after Greg and Nica marry and have children, and the animosity between Nica and her in-laws increases as they tell her that she is wrong for not believing and refuse to tell her that they are sorry because they truly believe that she is wrong.
When September 11, 2001, rolls around, Nica is devastated, though none of her close friends or family members are harmed. She does find it awkward, though, when she is forced to stand and take off her hat during the singing of “God Bless America,” during baseball games and other situations, even though it is not the national anthem.
Despite these problems Nica faces, she is able to become proud of her belief in “nothing”, saying, “We may not have a church, but we have a community, and we work hard to help our neighbors and strengthen our neighborhood. I want my children to feel good about who they are and what they believe in; I do not want them to fear the absence of religion, feel that they are wrong, or be ashamed of being nothing.”
It is overall an excellently written book that both believers and nonbelievers would find interesting, although it is sometimes confusing when she is talking about one event, switches over to a future one and then returns to the original topic.