“Mark Vandebrake has created a one of a kind work. This is a book to explore, think about, read pieces here and there, learn new methods and explore Ideas. I cannot imagine the effort that went into this project. It is monumental. The Freethought Resource Guide is a deep mine in which you will find many gold nuggets. You could spend a lifetime, exploring the resources compiled here. The Freethought Movement now has a single source for all things secular.”
-Dr. Darrel W. Ray, author of Sex and God, and The God Virus, founder and Chairman of the board for Recovering from Religion
Mark Vandebrake has clearly put in a lot of hours and energy sorting through countless resources for the freethought community in this recently released book. Despite the fact that he calls this compilation “not an exhaustive collection,” it represents more than enough to cover the areas of freethought that are most commonly discussed, and some areas I had not actually even considered.
The general structure of the volume consists of sections that begin with introductory essays, in which the author expresses his perspectives, interweaving passages from the writings of famous and historic freethinkers, relevant to the subject matter. These introductory essays are then followed by a breakdown of resources that cover the topics under consideration, often broken down further into subcategories. These resources take the form of annotated bibliographies, and occasionally simple lists. Vandebrake has inserted personal notes and recommendations in areas where he felt further information or clarification might be useful to the reader.
The categories included are as follows:
Introduction: The Introduction presents the author’s personal thoughts on why skepticism is important and when and how different people apply it to various claims. He also takes a moment to explain why the book was produced, “I began exploring the world of freethought and soon realized there was not a single work which brought the various threads of this perspective together. Furthermore, there are so many resources dedicated to various aspects of freethought that it is easy to get bogged down and confused. What I wanted was a single book which had filtered through this mass of information and presented the very best of what freethought has to offer.”
In a nutshell, such a guide would have been useful to him in his research, but did not exist. And so he took the initiative to make it so.
Also contained in the introduction are many definitions for common terms, such as “atheism,” “agnosticism,” “naturalism,” “pantheism,” “secularism” and even “science.”
To wrap the Introduction, Vandebrake uses personal perspectives and passages from freethought works to address FAQs that include “how do freethinkers find meaning in life?,” and “do freethinkers have a basis for morality?”
Brief History of Freethought: Provides a review of the progression of freethought, globally. Keeping it concise, the author still manages to not only include Western freethinkers, but freethinkers in other areas and cultures through history, including parts of Asia and the Muslim world.
Studies and Statistics: Presents compiled facts and figures, as well as they can be represented, for breakdowns and comparisons with levels of belief, religious affiliation, and social metrics such as education, crime, end-of-life care, abortion and much more.
Activism: Explores different models of what has caused modern secular societies to become more secular, and also reviews proposed strategies employed by activists (not just in freethought)—such as visibility, organizing, engaging in public debate and dialog. This section also examines the concepts of Religious Freedom and Separation of Church and State—what they mean and how they function to protect citizen’s rights.
Education and Parenting: The opening essay for this section is brief and followed by lists of Humanist values that are beneficial to people, families, and societies; it still contains a substantial bibliography, and resources broken down by age, topic, and parent and child subcategories.
Science: Unpredictably, the essay in this section is possibly the most brief. However, it contains a robust list of resources on general science, astronomy and physics, and biology, psychology and anthropology.
Religion and Pseudoscience: Addresses benefits of religion including extending the human imagination, in order to frame elusive psychological, human experiences into meaningful, and often powerful mythologies and symbols. The bibliography includes religious history and analysis, counter apologetics, additional resources categorized by specific religion, and even includes a listing of pseudoscience watchdog groups.
Life passages: Celebration and Reflection: This unanticipated section includes a calendar of secular milestones honoring famous freethinkers, scientists, social justice initiatives and technological advances. It also supplies a listing of secular holiday music, and secular perspectives and resources to cope with grief and loss.
Arts and Entertainment: Considering the number of people who complain about the scant representation of freethought in entertainment media, this section is unexpectedly thick—comprising over 100 pages of this approximately 500-page volume. The resources include secular film, visual arts, literature and poetry. It also provides listings of magazines, newspapers, journals and even freethought publishers. The second half of this section contains a breakdown of music by genre with secular themes. The bibliographical section on film and documentary is also quite comprehensive. Another subsection I would not have considered is devoted to secular comedy and comic strips.
The book rounds out with a directory of freethought organizations, beginning with international groups, and filtering down by country, and by state in the U.S. section. The back section also contains a directory of Internet resources, including communities, informational sites, blogs, and podcasts, which would be most useful to people who are not in close proximity to areas where regular, live meet-ups occur. The resources represented would prove useful to both secular people and people leaving religion, including recovery and support sites for people leaving specific denominations.
Vandebrake includes a final essay entitled, “Beyond Non-Belief.” It is a collective of visionary perspectives from freethinkers and secularists woven together with the author’s personal commentaries regarding what the future may hold for secularism, and ways we might successfully integrate positive aspects of religion into the secular world moving forward. In essence, it suggests how to proceed into new social constructs by advancing, informing, and expanding what is currently “religion,” into a more secular model.
At the end, there is another extensive “References” section, followed by useful appendices that include Humanist perspectives, a list of common logical fallacies, with examples and explanations of each, and another list of apologetic arguments for the existence of god, with explanations, criticisms and commentary.
The final appendix is nothing short of an appeal to readers, by the author, to learn to appreciate the world as it is. Vandebrake summarizes it nicely, “Why dwell beyond, when we have yet to grasp what is so very near?”