Star Map: A Journey of Faith, Doubt, and Meaning, by Lewis Vaughn (Farmington, Minn.: Freethought Books, 2017, ISBN 978-0-988-49384-1) 238 pp. Softcover, $20.00.
Full disclosure: Lewis Vaughn was my immediate predecessor as editor of Free Inquiry. Much that defines this magazine took shape on his watch, notably the celebrity op-ed columns. One of my own additions to the magazine is the department “The Faith I Left Behind," in which FI readers who grew up traditionally religious share often-painful tales of their journeys toward secular humanism. Star Map is what Lewis Vaughn might have written for “The Faith I Left Behind," albeit at book length. It’s vividly written—and harrowing.
Vaughn was born into a deeply traditional, back-country fundamentalist Baptist family. He grew up literally believing that a preacher “spoke for God—that he was the dummy through which God, the great ventriloquist, spoke. And proof that God was doing the talking was that the dummy would get really excited." The final sentence of that quotation displays the wry humor that Vaughn peppers throughout this memoir. It’s needed, because young Vaughn grew up terrified: of sin, of hell, of God’s vengeance, of television and movies, of dancing, of sex, of thinking for himself—most of all, of his creeping doubts. He ably documents the progression of those doubts as he moved from passionate fundamentalism through a somewhat bitter agnosticism to his end point, a poised atheism in which he realizes that his search for values will be his responsibility alone.