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Thursday, February 10, 2011

And now for something completely different

by Jamie Lutton:

God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens came out in 2007. I read it last year. I had a friend who it infuriated, not because it was atheistic, but that he did not like the kind of atheism Hitchens propounded.  I saw his point: I thought that the book could be better written; it seemed to be written in a slapdash fashion, not addressing historical questions in atheism, or naming earlier atheists or the source of atheism in Western thought.  For one thing, he went around knocking down some pretty obvious straw men.

I tried to get people to read, or at least look up other famous atheists who had written long and fluently on the the subject, that linked their atheism or agnosticism with their politics. For example, the American Robert Ingersoll,. He was a speechwriter and ardent Republican from the Civil War era, an orator with great charisma and wit. He considered himself to be an agnostic, a philosophical position that differs from strict atheism in that by doubting, and preaching the wisdom of doubting, he was a great recruiter into free-thought of all types.   I will come back and write more about him another time.

There are more comical atheists whose fame should not stay in the shade. One of the wittier, more angry, funny little books that has ever crossed my desk was The Bible Unmasked by Joesph Lewis, first published in 1926 by The Freethought Press, and then on to many, many reprintings.

This book goes through the Old Testament,  book by book, examining each story in turn, for sexual immorality.  The charming ink illustrations in the book, which show scantily dressed women, (sometimes nude women!), in vaguely Middle Eastern clothing,  with (dressed) men in shocking vignettes from the story of Lot, Joesph and Potiphar's wife, Judah and Tamar, etc, etc.

The book has been carefully researched, and does not overly exaggerate. It  prods the reader to examine the stories according to modern  morality of 1926, and whether these stories, are 'fit for children'. The New Testament gets the same treatment, including the words of Jesus. The author  clucks over the awful, terrible goings on of the people in each book of the Bible, and their selfish, perverse and immoral behavior.

There is some fun scholarship in this little book, but also some pretty obvious heavy breathing. This book is meant for prurient use; so I can recommend it, if only for that reason.   I is a find for the literate cynic who only wants to finds the dirty or immoral stories in the Bible, and is ignorant of the text of the Bible in general,  or someone who wants a really howling good curiosity..

If it takes a 75 year old handbook from this dirty-minded atheist to get you to read the Bible, pick up this book from online (it will run you about $12) and have a go. Not to be missed by any atheist, agnostic,or free-thinking Christian with a sense of humor.

This book is a product of its day, the days before World War Two. It used to be O.K. in this country to be an atheist, and to announce so loudly, just  as it used to be O.K. to be a Leftist or a Socialist,  or some other strain of humanism. There were a lot more 'open' atheists in this country  before we went to war against Hitler. His anti-religious stance and notorious behavior gave Godlessness a bad name. And  Stalin's was even worse; he was proclaiming the Church in Russia to be the enemy of the state

After, say, 1948 being an American atheist was pretty difficult to defend politically.  Athiesm began was associated with Stalin and Communism, and was therefor Un-American, and not a good thing. That sort of belief could get you fired from your job or even blacklisted, so people flocked to churches, and kept their doubts to themselves.  That was more or less the story, until the 1960's, when young people, discovering the East and Eastern religions, rediscovered atheism as if they had invented it themselves.  Also, the rediscovery of Nietzsche led people down the Great Man path of atheism, but that is another story.

 There had been a long era in this country, starting with the early Republicans in the 19th century, where being an agnostic was the thing to be, or an atheist, to be considered an advanced thinker, a humanist. Nowadays, atheism has come back, but not the humanism.  We have forgotten the struggles of the mid-19th century, which liberated us from a great deal of hyprocracy associated with cant worship; where you could be God-fearing, church going, but say, hold slaves and defend slavery. This is what reading the bible literally was associated with; the Confederacy and the chains of slavery and entrenched thinking. Mark Twain points that out in Huckleberry Finn, when the hero notices that the church-going, God fearing guardians would mistreat slaves so Huckleberry sees clearly the hypocritical behavior of the "good" townsfolk.

It would be see again questioning spirit that flourished in 19th century humanism that existed along with that agnosticism,  that looked for the good in man, cherished education and learning, and sought the light. 

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