If you ever try to get a book published, one of the first questions a commissioning editor will ask you is “Who is your target audience?” That is, who is going to buy your book? After all, publishers don’t publish books so that they can sit on a shelf unsold.
When I wrote Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I had no expectation that it would be flying off the shelves. After all, the market appeal to the two possible audiences — Christians and atheists — is limited, and understandably so.
My primary target was Christians. But how many Christians want to read a book that charges the Christian community with a deep and ultimately indefensible prejudice against a minority group?
I suspected the answer would be: not many. But I was hopeful! (Psychologists call that the optimism bias.) And it can be said that in the last three months the handful of reviews I’ve had from Christians have all been very positive. I haven’t read a negative review yet. Even better, I’ve done multiple interviews on media ranging from podcasts to nationally syndicated radio shows. Those interviews have covered a range of diverse topics related to the book, and they’ve all been very positive.
But save that handful of reviews, the response from the Christian community has been silence.
Even more interesting, and perhaps disappointing, has been the response from the atheist community. Back in June-July I had approximately 10-12 requests for review copies of the book from various atheist bloggers and podcasters. Some of them appeared to be very excited about the book’s thesis. And yet, 2-3 months later, not a single review has appeared. Yet again, silence.
Perhaps more surprising has been the degree of hostility I’ve received from some atheists. Thankfully, this response is very much in the minority, but it is there. And it seems to express itself in two primary ways.
Dismissiveness. In this case, the attitude seems to be that the Rebellion Thesis (the thesis I critique in my book) is so patently absurd that a book like mine is merely stating opinions which are already obvious to any reasonable person. As one atheist wrote, “The rebellion theory strikes me as being without any merit. I don’t see wasting time with it.”
By analogy, it is as if you were trying to sell people on a book that argued “Science is a valuable tool for understanding the world.” Of course it is! Which rational person needs to read a book arguing for the obvious?
Ridicule. The second brand of hostility is expressed in straight up ridicule. For example, in one instance I contacted an atheist podcast to let them know about the book and offer a review copy. In their response email they declined the offer and suggested I donate a book to their town library!
In that case, I don’t know the source of the ridicule, but in other cases, it seems to be sourced in the assumption that I’m distorting the meaning of the Bible to try and make Christianity more defensible. (In the book I show how several biblical verses which are commonly invoked in favor of the Rebellion Thesis do not in fact support it.) Here is how one atheist put it:
“This is a common ploy among current Christians forced to face the fact that scriptures views are completely stupid. Just reinterpret the words to mean something they really don’t say.”
So three months on, the response has been largely apathetic punctuated with instances of dismissive or ridiculing hostility.
The silver lining, as I noted above, is that those who actually read the book seem to like it.