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BOOK REVIEW: "Anarchy Evolution" by Greg Graffin and Steve Olson

Harper Perennial
"Anarchy Evolution" by Greg Graffin and Steve Olson
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Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science & Bad Religion in a World Without God  by Greg Graffin & Steve Olson (Harper Perennial) 2010

As I write this in my semi-darkened office, a CD called The Empire Strikes First by the punk band Bad Religion plays. And right now the track playing is “Atheist Peace.”

Sings Bad Religion vocalist and songwriter Greg Graffin: “From the faith that you release comes an atheist peace.”

Peace in believing there is no God? No higher power? For many in the U.S., such a thought is frightening.

And yet I mention Graffin and that punchy punk song in particular because I just finished a very informative, honest and interesting book by Graffin titled Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science & Bad Religion in a World Without God, which he co-wrote with science writer Steve Olson. And yes, Graffin does not believe in a deity, primarily placing his faith in science.

This book, which covers Graffin’s life in the punk-rock world, his long-held interest in and study of the natural world and how the two actually have a lot in common. And while the book tends to bounce around, chapter by chapter, Graffin does get around to making some very salient points about why a person can live without religion and remain a moral person. In fact he says that he (and others who do not believe in God) are typically offended by religious believers who suggest that atheistic people would “do terrible things – steal, rape, murder …” if they did not believe in God.

With a long-held anti-authoritarian streak and raised in a rather secular household in Wisconsin before moving to California where he would – raised on 70’s pop and the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, ironically enough – founded the influential Southern California band Bad Religion in the 1979, and enjoyed the company of other punk bands like the Circle Jerks and Social Distortion. At the same time his introduction to science, the theory of evolution and Charles Darwin set him on a path from which he would never waver.

Graffin insists that he is a “naturalist” and not an “atheist.” This is because the term “atheist” implies one does not believe in something. Rather, he explains, calling oneself a “naturalist” and being close to the natural world is what he does believe in. His depth of knowledge on evolution and geology and so forth is quite expansive and he spends many a chapter discussing these scientific topics at great length.

Graffin’s book comes at a time when the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) have enjoyed best-sellers that destroy the idea of religious belief. And yet reading Anarchy Evolution, Graffin’s tone is far more thoughtful and personal and, frankly, more well-rounded. Reading about Graffin’s adventures as an undergrad collecting specimens deep in the Bolivian rain forest is thrilling, while reading about him share the loneliness he felt while he was there, bring this punk-rock celebrity down to earth. He may have been in a band, but he was still a lowly undergrad, collecting rodent carcasses.

“(T)he number if people who are willing to call themselves ‘atheists’ in the United States is very low,” Graffin notes. One gets the impression this fact thoroughly depresses him.

Nevertheless, continuing, Graffin writes: “Countries with a high percentage of nonbelievers are among the freest, most stable, best-educated, and healthiest nations on earth. When nations are ranked according to a human-development index, which measures such factors as life expectancy, literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest-ranked countries – Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands – all have high degrees of nonbelief. Of the 50 countries at the bottom of the index, all are intensely religious.”

He then concludes, “But the idea that atheists are somehow less moral, honest, or trustworthy has been disproven by study after study.”

Graffin and Bad Religion continue to tour and record. The band’s newest album, True North, was just released and contains some great songs with thought-provoking lyrics. For a guy pushing 50, Graffin sounds as energetic (or even more so) than punk rockers half his age.

And when you read this book, you understand that Graffin – who has been through divorce, band break-ups-and-reformations, crazy adventures and much more – loves life. In fact he encourages his readers to embrace life and creativity.

He writes: “By abandoning the idea that an intelligent designer created us, we can wake with each dawn and say, ‘What’s done is done. Now how can I make the best of the here and now?’ Life is never static.”

Many of you reading this review are likely religious in one way or another. Don’t let Graffin’s position and philosophy scare you off. He has a lot to say that any thoughtful, well-meaning human being can take to heart.

Copyright 2013 Red Dirt Report

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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