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I first saw the cover when it appeared on Amazon in January, then helped myself to a massive coronary. It looked like praying hands, oh my gourd, oh my gourd, they put a pair of praying hands on my book. Well of course they did, it’s about parenting without religion, why wouldn’t they put an overtly religious symbol on the cover?

I gaped at the screen, paralyzed, for a good ten minutes. At last I shook myself to consciousness and clicked to enlarge the image…


…at which point the hands of two different people, a parent and a child, became clear. It evokes prayer, sure, but it isn’t prayer. Once you see the two different hands, it can’t be. I was suddenly flooded with meanings: tenderness, humility, love, two people turning to each other in the absence of a god, with meaning and mystery undiminished, empathy for the religious impulse — even a high five! It becomes a Rorschach test, a reflection of our own assumptions. It is thought-provoking and complex. It’s brilliant. And I would never, ever have chosen it. I’d have chosen something weaker, paler, less rich. I’m glad I was kept out of the room.

But I knew there’d be a mixed reaction, and boy howdy. I immediately contacted ten contributors for their reactions. The very first one called it “a disastrous mistake” and said “please, please get it changed.” A second message came in as I was finishing the first: “I dislike the image of hands intensely,” s/he said, “It is very misleading.”

I took a generous second helping of heart attack. I was apparently alone in my opinion that the image was brilliant.

But then the rest started coming in. Powerful and thought-provoking, said one. I love it — the meaning changes as you look, and best of all, as you THINK, said another. Inspired, filled with multiple meanings, said another.

Two more came in solidly against. One was concerned that Christians would think they were being satirized. Hmm. I sent the image to 45 people, including several Christian friends, and the response was encouraging: better than 3-to-1 in favor of the image, across the board.

Most important of all: those who opposed it almost always did so (in a pattern becoming quite familiar now) out of concern about the reactions of others.

I screwed up my courage and sent the image to Richard Dawkins. His reply, twenty minutes later, was simply this: I can’t see what the fuss over the cover is about. I think it is quite a nice cover. What is the problem with it?

I breathed an enormous sigh of relief, knowing that Richard’s approval would calm the concerns of many others. It is rather hilarious to see how often we freethinkers are just as prone to follow our own herd or sit in thrall of our more prominent fellows. And don’t think for a moment I’m excluding myself from this critique. I too saw my own doubts about the cover melt away once Sir Richard weighed in. Silly species.

As usual, Python gets it just right:

Yes. We are all individuals.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.