The likes of Carl Sagan, Bart Ehrman, and Sikivu Hutchinson are among the authors on this top ten list of secular books.
Our world, and our minds, are always changing. Secular people often claim to be freethinkers, which is great. But part of being a freethinker is keeping your mind open to new ideas, new stories, and new perspectives.
The good part is that the solution is remarkably simple: read more books.
There is a literally overwhelming amount of secular books to choose from, but my favorites are the ones that really expand my worldview and force me to think in a way I hadn’t considered before. Isn’t that a freethinker’s favorite thing?
I’ve read a lot of books on atheism, religion, science, and social justice. A lot of them ended up in the DNF (did-not-finish) pile, so I thought I’d make it easier for my fellow readers to find the best secular reads that warrant a full read-through, marginalia and all. You might even find yourself reading some again and again.
The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American by Andrew Seidel
Has anyone ever told you that America is a Christian nation? Have you ever wondered that yourself? After reading The Founding Myth, you never will again. In this book, Andrew Seidel debunks our myths from God being in the Constitution to George Washington praying at Valley Forge, then goes onto contrast the Bill of Rights with the Ten Commandments in painstaking detail. Spoiler alert: the Ten Commandments doesn’t come out of it looking good. And America is not a Christian nation.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes du Mez
When you learn just how deeply American is not a Christian nation, your first question is likely, “Well, then, how did we get here!?” Jesus and John Wayne tells the story of how white evangelicals transformed Jesus from a radical socialist to the pinnacle of rugged masculinity in only 75 years. And scariest of all, these evangelicals have decided that Donald Trump is right there next to him, like a character from a Western nightmare where we ride horseback into a Christian Nationalist sunset.
Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh
This book is so fun to read that you might not even notice how well Singh’s storytelling is tackling two quintessential tasks: exploring how we know the Universe began with the Big Bang, and explaining how science works, point blank. The riveting story builds as each piece of evidence adds up, the Big Bang theory gets stronger, and the steady state theory gets weaker. The book may look long, but it’s a page-turner that you won’t want to put down!
Of Popes & Unicorns: Science, Christianity, and How the Conflict Thesis Fooled the World by David Hutchings and James C. Ungureanu
Navigating the world of secular thought is tricky because, like religion, we aren’t without our myths and our not-as-true-as-we-wish-they-were historical “facts.” (The classic Dark Ages trope even shows up in Big Bang, unfortunately.) Of Popes and Unicorns will keep you from falling into the trap of thinking that Catholics threw Galileo in jail for being an atheist, that medieval thinkers thought the world was flat, and more. Published in fall of 2021, Of Popes & Unicorns reads like an intriguing detective story and hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves.
Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson
Another vice of most secular communities is that they tend to have too much testosterone and not enough melanin. These imbalances are especially hard to remedy since they can be hard to see if you aren’t in the secular minority of Black feminist women. Hutchinson’s Moral Combat is essential reading to make sure that you can help keep secular spaces as open-minded and welcoming as they strive to be.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
While the scientific method is the basis of any good secular worldview, The Demon-Haunted World details how that actually applies in our world—or at least in the UFO-crazed era of the 90’s. Sagan’s timeless Baloney Detection Kit, and yes, his famous “I have a foreboding…” quote are more relevant today than they’ve ever been.
For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in our Unlikely World by Sasha Sagan
I don’t re-read books. And I don’t listen to audiobooks. But when it comes to For Small Creatures Such as We, I break all those rules. When I’m in a long car ride, when I’m having a bad day, or when I don’t know what there even is to celebrate anymore, I turn to For Small Creatures Such as We. This is that book. Great writing and cosmic wonder are in Sasha Sagan’s DNA, and I only hope she writes more.
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible, and Why by Bart Ehrman
Besides being a fascinating deep dive into the Middle Ages and the arrival of the printing press in Europe, Misquoting Jesus is the result of Ehrman’s honest reporting on how the New Testament was actually made. The Bible was written by imperfect people just like everyone else… along with scores of scribes and translators who had their own biases. When C.S. Lewis asked if Jesus was Lord, a lunatic, or a liar, he forgot the fourth option: he was just misquoted.
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan
One review of this book that I can’t forget reads, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors puts the Bible to shame.” This Sagan-Druyan masterpiece is a journey through time, exposing why we are human and how similar we are from our animal relatives. An explanation of humanity as a baby left on a stoop, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is an unforgettable classic.
Why I Left / Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son by Tony Campolo and Bart Campolo
When I left the church, I immediately started my quest for the perfect book to explain to religious and friends and family why I left. The quest wasn’t just for me, either; my readers have always asked me what book I recommend they share with their loved ones. The God Delusion? Too aggressive. Breaking the Spell? Better, but too long. Why I Left / Why I Stayed is a short and incredibly moving collection of letters between, as the subtitle explains, an evangelical father and his humanist son. It’s disarming and revelatory for everyone who reads it.
What favorite secular books would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter or Instagram at @onlyskymedia