♦ Atheist book sales overtake Christian books

The national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), reports a rapid increase in sales of atheist books over recent months. Over the same time there was a sharp drop of religious book sales (by 10.2% in 2006).

Some Christians claim the rise in atheist literature is only a reaction to the rise of religious influence. However, others attribute it to a reaction against religiously inspired terrorism and the attacks of fundamentalist religious organisations on education and science.

There has been a religious backlash against the popularity of the new atheist books like “The God Delusion” (by Richard Dawkins), “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” (by Sam Harris) and “God is not Great” (by Christopher Hitchens). Christian opponents have rushed into print with titles such as “The Dawkins Delusion” and “Letter from a Christian Nation”. And the comment Why is Christopher Hitchens foisting his atheism on me? from a local blogger reveals a resentment that some Christians seem to feel against atheists for daring to discuss and promulgate their views in public.

Of course, this intolerance towards non-religious belief is not new. It is a reason why the Human Rights Commission refused non-religious representation on the working group that formulated the National Statement on Religious Diversity. The non-religious are also being ignored in discussions on teaching religion in schools and on similar issues.

The new atheist books have been welcome by large numbers of non-religious people because they see them as legitimising their beliefs. Many have seen them as an opportunity to assert their beliefs – to “come out” in a climate which is often intolerant or even hostile to atheists. This is particularly true in parts of the USA. The Forum on the Richard Dawkins website has grown rapidly and is very active. This website is also a great source of up-to-date information about religion, atheism and science.

I welcome the publication of these new atheist book. There has been a real dearth of such literature. You only have to look in your local library to see how insignificant their holdings of atheist books are compared with religious ones. We have a long way to go the redress this imbalance. Readers who are interested in reading any of these new books could get some ideas from the Books page I have added (click Books at top right). You might even suggest some of these books to your local library for purchase. My experience is that New Zealand libraries are welcoming such suggestions because of the inadequacy of their holdings and requests from their readers.

See the article Atheist Books Overtaking Christian Titles in Best-Sellers Lists for more information on sales of atheist books in the USA.

12 responses to “♦ Atheist book sales overtake Christian books

  1. Why is the speaking out against these atheist writings “intolerance towards non-religious belief” while the speaking out against “religious belief” is portrayed as the only honorable and upright, intellectually honest thing to do? Where do you live that the “climate [which] is often intolerant or even hostile to atheists”? Surely not Northern America, where Christianity-bashing is all the rage! Those of us who consider ourselves “Christian opponents” of these atheist writings are, in fact, NOT resentful of atheists, but actually flabbergasted at the weakness of the “arguments” presented and “resentful” that these guys can pass polemic off as well-reasoned argument and get away with it! Christians are portrayed as ignorant fools by people who prove themselves ignorant and illogical. Sam Harris’ book is a notable example of this. Christians are not the ones trying to marginalize atheists and materialists by disallowing their participation in the public discourse, quite the opposite. Look who is lobbying to PREVENT a dialog between creationism and evolution? It’s not people like Doug Wilson, JP Moreland, Nick Woltersdorff, Alvin Plantings… Perhaps when secular humanists inform themselves sufficiently to understand that religious conviction is NOT synonymous homicidal jihaad, they might be more reasonable to talk with.



  2. Thanks for your comments Jon. I guess we are on different sides here, and I can appreciate your feelings.
    I live in New Zealand where anti-atheist propaganda is less hostile than in the US, but still quite prevalent in a more subtle way. I mentioned some of these in my post but actually many of the reviews of Richard Dawkins Book The God Delusion are another example.
    I personally see no need for this hostility – my reason for setting up this blog was to win support the idea that non-religious beliefs are legitimate, should be accepted as such, and are part of our country’s religious diversity. I am trying to promote this in an atmosphere of understanding, respect and tolerance (although the immediate response I got from some Christians by email to the blog was hostile).
    Have a look at Richard Dawkins’ Interview of the Bishop of Oxford (A Servant’s Thoughts). This is an example of how discussion between theists and non-theists needn’t be hostile.


  3. Just a quick observation here, Ken, but the word ‘overtake’ in the title here is at best sensationalistic and at worst… well… maybe dishonest?

    …not that popular book sales have anything at all to do with the strength of a worldview, though…

    (by that last comment, I am suggesting that even if my suspicion that ‘christian’ books still by far out-sell Athiest ones is factual, it has very little to do with Christianity’s strength/truthfulness… …and of course, the changes in book sales also has little or nothing to do with this either…



  4. At the individual book level both Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Hitchens’ “God is not Great” have been outselling any Cjhrsitian book in that class. Harpers Magazine ranked “The God Delusion” first and “God Is Not Great” second in Amazon.co.uk’s top-selling “Religion and Spirituality” books this year. Both those books have been in the NT Times bestseller list for about 20 and 52 weeks respectively.

    Of course, as a class atheist books have fewer examples so the figures will be stacked against them. That is probably why they are selling so well – there is just such a shortage of this sort of book (compare the numbers with religious books in your local library). Maybe authors like Harris,, Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens have been lucky to publish during a shortage. There may also be a recent increase of interest – one could speculate about how concerns with religious violence since 2001 are influencing interest in the subject.


  5. Association of American Publishers (6/8/2007):
    Religious Books posted a small dip of 0.3 percent for the month with sales of $44.2 million; however sales were up by 4.8 percent for the year.


  6. Little late to add, but do you think religious thinkers may make up any significant number of people buying Dawkins or Harris? In all likelihood it is a minority, but I can easily imagine a fair number of faithful are keeping an eye on outspoken atheists the way liberal or conservative commentators will read works published by those on the other side of the aisle.


  7. Bil Hartman

    What is a good book promoting atheism? Who published it? I have atheist material I’d like to get published


  8. It seems pretty fruitless really bickering about whether books by authors who believe in the existence of God have sold more or less than books by atheists, doesn’t it? lots of the stuff I’ve read here seems to be splitting very small hairs. Surely a more lively and interesting debate would be: ‘does God exist or not? and why /why not?’. I prefer to call myself ‘Agnostic’ personally,verging on the atheist, although Catholic indoctrination as a child sometimes gets in the way of my thought processes. Evolutionism seems perfectly logical to me, and not an argument based on ‘polemic’ as someone here suggested. could the person in question be prepared to discuss what beef he actually has with evolutionism and why he disagrees so vehemently with it? Also be interested to know why evolutionism is so at odds with creationism. surely the ‘7 days- Adam and Eve’ thing shouldn’t be taken too literally. the bible like any other literature might use symbolism, simplification and the language of metaphor to get its point across.


  9. @ #6.

    If there is a number of religious thinkers buying Dawkins or Harris then surely there is also a number of Athiests buying Christian books and attributing to their sales. It works both ways.

    I don’t see why Christians are so worried anyway. If their god is so powerful I would doubt he would let himself be thrown to the dark.


  10. Pingback: Personal Inquisition « Atheist Mom

  11. I agree with Dale. You imply much but prove nothing. Your implications are fallacious and misleading, giving the appearance of propaganda rather than news. The title of your article claims that atheist book sales are “overtaking” sales of religious books, yet the article falls far short of the claim. You do not cite the rate of increase for atheist books and you do not compare total atheist book sales to total religious book sales. You comment above that Dawkins and Hitchens books sold well. That is two examples. It is a misleading fallacy to imply by these two examples (as you seem to do) that total sales of atheist books are actually “overtaking” religious book sales. I’m not concerned at all about theology, here. Ethics is a concern for all people, regardless of their theological positions. You only give yourself a black eye and pollute your reputation by what appears to be dishonesty driven by an agenda. If you intend to write propaganda in the future, I suggest you study how to make it less transparent.


  12. David, this post is 5 years old. It has a link to the data – unfortunately that no longer works. However, the post was just noting what the industry was reporting about changes is sales in relative terms.


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