Leaving the Quiet Room: My Rise from Religious Slavery to Atheism by Joe Zamecki
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
BOOK DESCRIPTION: One of "5 Awesome Atheists Under the Radar." (Steven Olsen, Patheos.com) Leaving the Quiet Room chronicles the formative years of veteran atheist activist Joe Zamecki at a Catholic primary school. Insightful and often humorous, the memoir is a unique glimpse into the making of a champion for freedom of conscience. Having endured the abuse and absurdity of a religious education, Zamecki evolved from true believer to self-described "loudmouth for the Freethought movement." Joe Zamecki has since dedicated his life to countering the negative consequences of theism, with eight years as a full time employee of American Atheists, Inc and a stint as Texas State Director. His pioneering work includes helping to found Atheist Helping the Homeless, The Atheist Experience television show, and countless hours campaigning for the rights of atheists and the freedom of those shackled by religion.
MY REVIEW: From what the book description says, Joe Zamecki has done some good work campaigning for rights and being involved in humanitarian work. But the book description exaggerates the significance of Zamecki’s story. It reads more like a cathartic rant than a calm and rational telling of his story. There are some good insights. But reading through a detailed description of every single grade in his schooling was laborious and boring. The purpose of the book is to describe what Zanecki calls his “rise from religious slavery” to Atheism (with a capital ‘A’).
His story is from the perspective of a rigid and abusive Catholic education (he was not sexually abused) in the United States — a narrow perspective if there ever was one. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a story shared by many others. And no doubt they will relate to his story. But his capital letter ‘A’ Atheism is about getting rid of all religion claiming that there is nothing of worth in religion and indeed, is detrimental to society.
I became very uncomfortable when I arrived at the parts of the book where he blames his parents for his religious abuse without any sign of compassion or empathy for them. Most parents, I assume, make what they consider to be the best decisions for their children. Perhaps Zamecki’s parents didn’t — we don’t get enough information to make that judgment. But looking back from mature adulthood and blaming your parents for everything you consider to have been wrong with your upbringing, particularly in a culture which itself supported the type of religious upbringing he had, seems harsh and unforgiving.
Zamecki’s atheism seems as ideologically fundamentalist as the religion he grew up in. His understanding of the cultural role of religion in violence is simplistic and he believes that ‘[t]here are few violent conflicts in the world that cannot be traced back to the irrational thinking of theists.’ Really? When someone reduces a problem down to one cause then you can pretty much guarantee they haven’t thought about the issue in much depth.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Zamecki’s perspective is incredibly biased (despite the few nuggets of truth to be found in the book) and ideologically driven. Those features are bad enough but adding them to what is a laborious description of his education (I’m not interested in knowing the name of every teacher he ever had!) and religious rituals in Catholicism throughout his childhood made me glad when I arrived at the final paragraph which, by the way, reads in part: ‘I thank whoever first said these things: “May the last priest be crushed to death by the last falling stone from last crumbling church.”…’ Great sentiments!
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