We atheists have produced a lot of literature, especially in recent years. From the heavy philosophical tomes of Christopher Hitchens, the ruthless criticisms of Sam Harris, and the scientifically focused works of Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins to the more personal journeys of Dan Barker and Jerry DeWitt, and even the biting satire of the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The bookstore is one place where there’s no lack of atheist representation. You can find deconversion stories, historical arguments, debating tools, and countless tips for getting a leg up the next time you run into a theist. What’s harder to find, though, is art. Author and artist Jeff Stilwell is trying to change that with his book Here and Now.
The book is touted as a whimsical take on God featuring Stilwell’s skateboarding alter-ego, Thrashin’ Jack. Using simplistic, minimalist illustrations and uncomplicated language, Stilwell spends the first half of the book telling the story of the rise of religion. He describes early Mesopotamian gods, and the rise of monotheism, eventually culminating in the three Abrahamic religions. While this book’s history is accurate, it’s never intended to be academic in nature. Stilwell writes in very broad strokes, but does so in a way that keeps his themes clear.
My first instinct when reading this book was to dismiss it. I will admit that the artwork doesn’t really work for me. It had neither the clean simplicity of an xkcd comic, nor whimsy of Dr. Seuss. Instead it falls somewhere in-between that just seems messy to me. And the history lacked enough detail to keep me interested. At best, I was just going to say that I clearly wasn’t the intended audience for this book. But then I got to the second half of the book.
The first half of the book set the stage. The second half of the book uses that set up to explore themes like religions place in today’s society, the intersection of morals and death, and our place in the universe. While the elementary level language and comic-strip style artwork makes it easy to miss the complex ideas just under the surface, there are deep currents hiding beneath what at first glance seems like a very shallow experience.
Stilwell has deftly put together a great primer for understanding an atheist worldview. Where Hitchens and Dawkins put believers on the defensive with brutal attacks on religious thinking, this book takes a different approach. It manages to build a foundation to explain atheist ideas without being threatening. I could see a lot of people using this book as a tool to help friends and family members understand why they think how they do. Also, because it’s so accessible, it would be valuable for introducing atheist ideas to kids.
However it might be used, Here and Now is a valuable addition to the body of atheist literature.
Here and Now is available for Kindle right here.
I got the chance to sit in on an interview with Jeff Stilwell on an episode of Ask an Atheist. You can listen to it here.