If Oprah can have a book club, well, why can’t I? Here you’ll see a (hopefully) regularly updated list of religiously themed books that I’ve read along with my review, for what it’s worth.
Arguments Against Religions
Let’s face it, there are more and more of these books coming out all the time. Some are written more gently than others, while some authors are downright antitheist and definitely not shy about letting the world know. I’ll list these from Mild to Spicy according to no external source but my own interpretations.
Losing Faith in Faith – Dan Barker
This is the first truly atheist inspired writing that I read during my deconversion. Dan Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He is still a very active and recognizable voice in the atheist community.
He started out as a hardcore evangelical tongues-speaking, head smacking, jesus-praising pastor, and slowly realized there was no man in the sky. This book documents his rise towards rationalism.
This is an excellent book for those who have come from a religious background, especially fundamentalist and evangelicals who are beginning to question their spirituality. When I read this book, I was enthralled to see so many parallels between my journey and his – granted, I wasn’t nearly as evangelically crazy as him in his heyday.
During his times of doubt and eventual atheism, he was still active in the Christian community preaching and writing Christian-themed music. He didn’t know what to do next. This book helped me through some hard times where I felt the same, as if I were posing in a Christian world while not believing any of it.
The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
This book is probably one of the better known of its genre. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist who is now the forerunner of the Out Campaign, a campaign which encourages atheists to be open about their spiritual beliefs with friends and families.
Dawkins uses scientifically guided principles to make observations about all religions. Logic and evidence are key concepts that must underly all important aspects of life, and he tears down the precepts behind the major world religions.
In terms of its offensiveness, this book may be startling to those who are still religious or are beginning to question. However, it is a great read for those in all aspects of their journey, because it helps to open one’s mind to critical thinking about even the most taboo religious subjects.
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything – Christopher Hitchens
I’ve got a special place in my heart for Christopher Hitchens. He’s just so damned blunt about everything that makes his works enjoyable to read, regardless of how bitter he may seem. He is a man seldom seen without a glass of scotch and an axe to grind.
If you get this book, I’d recommend by far to get the audiobook version, read by the author. His dry, scathing wit is much more enjoyable when coming from his lips, though the impression is not entirely lost in the hardcover edition.
Hitchens can be better described as antitheist. Where other authors seem to offer a more calm way of ending dependence on religion, Hitchens is outright against any notion of gods, and makes that point again and again. I didn’t know it was possible to unrelentingly bash such “saints” as Mother Theresa and Mahat Magandi with as much force as Hitchens, and all the while make it sound so undeniably reasonable.
This author is not for the feint of heart. If you need a kick-in-the-nuts type of book to get you out of that religious slump, this book is for you. Likewise, if you’re of the opinion that all atheists are unhappy, bitter souls who smoke, drink, and swear too much, you can get all the anti-atheist ammunition you need by reading just a chapter or two.
As harsh as Hitchens is towards religion, he is a very skilled writer and extremely knowledgable. He has travelled the world and writes of personal experiences in wartorn countries which validate the truth that all religions are manmade. I’d have to say this is one of my favorite books so far, and can’t help but smile as he lays out the evils of religion with such unfettered bluntness.
Having been raised in a fundamentalist christian church, we were taught that the bible is the infallible word of the living god. No proof was needed, because we all knew the bible to be true. Bart Ehrman was raised with such a notion. He attended Moody Bible Institute and became enthralled in Textual Criticism – the art of analyzing and comparing ancient texts and manuscripts.
Inevitably, inconsistencies in the bible cropped up. Ehrman discusses several classes which were designed to deal with these errors in the texts, and a variety of logical acrobatics was applied to coerce the text and somehow make it true.
I found this book after I was well into denying the inerrancy of the bible, but how I wish I had seen this in my earlier Christian days. The book goes very deep and analytical into all sorts of biblical errors. More often than not, overzealous scribes would change wording or concepts, or even add and remove large portions of text in order to make it fit their view.
Some of the gems that I’ve obtained from this book include the fact that the book of Mark, which is accepted by theologians to be the basis for the later gospels of Mathew and Luke, does not include the resurrection of Jesus. The book of Mark in the earliest transcripts ended with a rolled back stone, a young man saying that Jesus was risen, and the women afraid to tell anyone. The rest of mark (16:9-20) was a later addition by scribes to make it look authentic.
This book really opened my eyes and undoubtedly points out the fact that the bible is a manmade book with no holy inspiration. He mentions several times the known number of differences between early translations, and how there are more discrepancies between various manuscripts in the new testament than there are words in the new testament.
I’m somewhat of an armchair scientist. That is, I read the dumbed-down versions of sciency books and pretend that I know what they’re talking about. Approach these reviews with caution.
The Origin of Species – Charles Darwin
I am no scientist, but I had to see what all the fuss was about. Armed with admittedly feeble evolutionary knowledge, I decided to read The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect. What was it about Mr. Darwin that got the Christian panties all in a ruffle? Having shed my previous burden of religion, I was intrigued by this book and wondered what scathing blasphemy would be contained therein.
What I found was a book of science filled with long and tedious explanations and examples. I didn’t actually read, read the book, I listened to it on audiobook. I didn’t think that I would have the gusto to make it through a full text-book, but knew that I’d be able to force myself to listen to it while driving and working out (Yes, I do listen to nerdy books about evolutionary biology while lifting weights, I’m just that cool).
I didn’t really see anything controversial about the book. From what I had heard about it back in my religious days, I would have expected serpents to jump out of the mp3 player as soon as I turned it on. In reality, it is very dry. It builds up the evidence towards the theory of natural selection, explaining how we have selectively bred species of all types of domesticated animals for all of our existence. The Origin of Species only mentions the word Evolution once that I can recall, and that was in the last word of the end of the book.
I find it ironic that almost every non-religious argument towards evolution was brought up by Darwin in the book with his explanation. He stated that he had fought long and hard with his own theory with similar hard questions – such as the seemingly small amount of intermediate forms in the fossil record, or the long time necessary for his theory.
Darwin never outright attacked any religion as your Sunday School teacher would have you believe. Instead, his statements were, for the most part, neutral and limited to the facts, along with fact-driven speculations. Every once and a while he would mention that those who believed in distinct creation of species had a lot of explaining to do about how and when and where certain species were found in proximity to others in nearby habitats. There was never any outright attack or mention of any gods. It was simply a very focussed work on his theory of natural selection.
Perhaps Darwin had more controversial works later in his life which demonized the man. If he did, I think I’ll read the cliff notes. It was hard to focus on such a dry, scientific book. But it had to be done, although I’m glad I don’t have to take a test on it. I could never be a biologist, with all those crazy species names and genres. It’s truly mindboggling. I’ll stick to writing software.
Here are a few books that I’m either in the process of reading, or haven’t yet gotten around to adding a review.
The End of Faith – Sam Harris
At the time of me writing this, I’ve heard that Sam Harris was recently in the blogosphere for some remarks he made regarding the use of the word Atheist as a label for the movement away from religion and superstition towards rationality. He would rather not use the term since it should really not be needed at all as religion dies out. This has prompted somewhat of a backlash among those who cling to the label of Atheist to set them apart from the religious counterpart. I can see both sides of the argument right now, though I’m more in favor of the use of the term Atheist, to bring it out in the open and bring about its acceptance. Although I do like the term rationalist, I think that Atheist has enough negative connotation to cause a little biting response from the world, and I kind of like that. It forces people to rethink their assumptions.
I heard that this book is written without any reference to the term Atheist, and I’m interested to see how he sees things.