BOOK BY KATE COHEN
DAVID R. GODINE, PUBLISHER, 2023
While reading Kate Cohen’s We of Little Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (And Maybe You Should Too), I found myself nodding. A lot.
I also caught myself chuckling, smiling, and on more than one occasion, I had to put the book down after reading certain passages. Not out of contempt or objection, but because what Cohen has managed to do with We of Little Faith is create a work that is so honest and relatable, it begged me to quietly close the book, place it in my lap, kick my head back and stare up at the ceiling in reflection.
Somebody gets it, I found myself thinking quite often.
Cohen is masterful in her ability to write in the expository sense. She takes the reader on various journeys throughout her past where she has wrestled with some type of cultural, moral or ethical dilemma, always with a religious undertone.
Some examples include: How do you explain death to children? How do you separate the ritual from religion, or create your own rituals that are free from religion? How do you navigate familial pressure to perform religious rites of passage on a newborn?
You get a front-row seat into the mind of somebody who values attributes such as logic, honesty and truth—and doesn’t attribute them to an imaginary friend in the sky—and you get to see how she expertly wields those traits as she maneuvers through situations many of us have faced in our own lives.
Cohen is keenly aware that labeling oneself as an ‘atheist’ can be an unwinnable proposition in our culture. Being an atheist can feel isolating at the best of times, but embracing your atheism is an entirely other ordeal.
“…when I mustered the courage to call myself an atheist, I was often gently invited to recant. ‘Now are you an atheist or an agnostic?’ they might say. (Now are you a lesbian or have you just not met the right boy?)
Obviously, they wanted to give me, a person who seems nice, a nicer word. ‘Atheist’ evokes a sneering cynic who thinks believers (and possibly love and puppies too) are beneath him (yes, him). That’s the stereotype. He scoffs at a well-meaning ‘God bless you.’ His eye-rolling muscles are the most developed ones in his pale, bookworm body.”
With We of Little Faith, embracing atheism is something Cohen wants us to do, and she showcases firsthand how liberating and rewarding it can be to live a life detangled from religion.
Can we have meaningful celebrations without God? Can we create our own traditions that are devoid of religion? Can we partake in events or activities for their cultural benefits without ascribing them to some divine power?
Yes. We can.
Cohen credits her children for helping her to embrace her atheism. Throughout We of Little Faith, you get to peer inside how she has helped all three of her children to answer the questions that many of us have in our formative years.
From a Q&A with Cohen:
“Before I had children, I was perfectly content not to think much about whether God existed. I didn’t believe in him as a real entity, but I mostly kept that to myself … But when I became a parent, I felt profoundly responsible for my children’s education. When your children are young, you are the information portal for everything—how you use soap, what that animal is called, whether rain is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s wild. In that position, there was no way I was going to say a thing was true that I did not think was true. So I told them that God was made up—that he was how people explained the world to themselves. And the more I talked about it with them the more I realized that I was an atheist—I began to think of myself that way.”
What Cohen accomplishes with We of Little Faith is creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts. The book is primarily composed of essays where Cohen grapples with scenarios in which her own values are confronted. On their own, each essay is relatable, accessible and beautifully written. But for me, the greatest feat of We of Little Faith isn’t its radical honesty or Cohen’s ability to translate her voice into words (and believe me, she is an expert technician of words); it was the time I spent away from the book. How it made me think and feel afterward.
For me, We of Little Faith provided multiple opportunities to set the book aside and reflect. As much as I wanted to plow through and consume every last bit of the book, I found so much value in allowing Cohen’s words to sit with me, to let the words steep and give my mind freedom to revisit my own scenarios from the past. If for nothing else than to remind myself, “Hey, fellow atheist. You’re not alone.”
We of Little Faith is an exquisite work that cements itself into your thoughts. It gives you access to your own experiences in which you might have been confronted with a situation colored by religion, and I would recommend it to anybody who values logic and honesty. It’s an inspiring book that will—hopefully—push us toward a larger cultural conversation in which ‘atheism’ isn’t seen as a dirty word.
Editor’s Note: If you’re in the DC area, join us for an AHA-hosted conversation and book signing with the author of We of Little Faith, Kate Cohen. The event will be on Thursday, Dec. 7, at 6:30 p.m. ET at Washington Ethical Society, 7750 16th St NW, Washington, DC.
If you’re not in the DC area and would like to participate and view the event on Zoom, you can join us at 7 p.m. ET.