Saturday, May 24, 2014

REVIEW: "Anti-Theist: And This is Why" by Christopher Mallard - (Virtual Book Tour Cafe)

"Anti-Theist: And This Is Why is an introductory look into atheism/anti-theism and uses quotes, scriptures and a dash of humor to help the nonbeliever and believer alike understand what it is to be a person who is against religion. I give the reader a clear understanding of the differences between a theist, deist, atheist, agnostic, and an anti-theist then I discuss numerous topics including the treatment of women in religion, the sheer ridiculousness of the ancient text these belief systems are based on and the charlatans who use it as a weapon to prey on the weak and helpless. 

I realize the term 'Anti-Theist' and the idea of forbidding someone from practicing and teaching a religion sounds so very horrible but you've got to ask yourself the question why. Why would all of us atheist nutbags, and our numbers are growing, want to take God out of your courthouses, off your money, ban it from public practice or display and, heaven forbid, ban you from teaching it to your children? Why would someone want to do that? Read the book and find out. 

If you're a religious person you could see this as a 'Know thy enemy' moment. Study up on us devil worshiping, baby eating anti-theists and see why we think you're the crazy ones. Mmmm baby.
Thank you and enjoy. 

Caution: Grown up concepts and there is a bit of adult language."


ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Christopher Mallard
The majority of my adult life was spent working in the oilfields of west Texas. In my spare time I taught myself how to work on computers and eventually turned it into a small business which I work from home. What does any of this have to do with religion? Nothing. Where are my degrees in theology, biology, astronomy and philosophy? I don’t have any. I am your common average Joe and that’s exactly the type of reader I’m trying to reach. Does it take a degree in theology to open the bible and see the stories told within as being immoral and violent? Can the common man not see how the religions of the world have done and are still doing immeasurable harm to society?


*I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review, which follows.*

Flip through the channels of every-day television, and you are bound to come across a few things: a televangelist, news reports about what someone has done in the name of their "god", reports about the division between church and state, etc.  Religion divides humanity like nothing else on this planet...sadly.   Atheists and anti-theists are at the throats of those who claim a faith in God, and vice versa.  But why?  Do both sides of the argument really understand each other?  Do they want to?

This nonfiction book is an interesting historical, sociological, theological, and comedic-al (yes, I just made up a word) look into the belief structure, implications, and impact of religion and its followers.  Mallard brings readers on a rather funny journey of examining this thing called religion that raises incredibly valid and valuable points, shines a glaring spotlight on atrocities committed (and apparently sanctioned???) in the name of the Abrahamic god, and is something that every Christian/Muslim/Jew should read.  It is challenging, forthright, and honest in its critiques of religion, holding followers - and God, for that matter - to task for those things that happen that are contradictory to the image of a benevolent God.  Among other things, Mallard explores women's issues, social events as influenced by religion, social issues, etc.  Interspersed throughout the work are quotes from the religious texts with which Mallard is wrassling, as well as valuable insights from such individuals as US founding fathers, authors, scientists, etc.  There are some major issues with it, however, that do not stem from the argument itself but rather with style, fact checking, and editing.  

Overall, I give this book a 3 on a 5-point ascending scale.

In the interest of being completely forthright, let me say this upfront - my job title right now is "Qualified Lay Minister".  In my context right now, this means that I'm serving as a pastor at a church in Minnesota.  There, now that this is out of the way, let's get to this book. 

When the email reached my inbox asking me to review this book, it came at a time that I was already swamped with other reviews.  I asked the person in charge if I could have it, and that I would post a review at a later date.  This person graciously agreed, and I just finally read it.  I could not wait to write this review. 

You see, it is a book written by not only an atheist, but an "anti-theist".  In honesty, I'd never heard the term before, but Mallard explains that as an anti-theist, he is someone who doesn't believe in a god and is vehemently opposed to anyone else believing in god/religion either.  Oh boy, I was chomping at the bit to read this!  Why?  Why, as a pastor, would I want to read this book?  Because so many atheists I know (and those I'd probably plunk into the anti-theist category) are so careful around me when I try to engage them in conversations about religion that I never get to the meat of why they do not think God is real.  There is this nervousness around offending a pastor (*gasp!*ohemgee) that has quelched many conversations that I've tried to have.  Not conversations where I was trying to convert anyone, mind you, but conversations trying to understand.  

The blurb of this book assured me that Mallard wasn't going to pull any punches - he'd be completely upfront about what he thinks/believes and why....and I couldn't wait.  

This is a nonfiction book.  In it, Mallard explores such things as miracles, prophets, women's issues, slavery, sex and God, evolution....and much, much more.  He defines many terms that he uses so that little room is left for misunderstanding how he is using politically and socially charged words (which is helpful), and he writes in a way that is approachable by practically anyone (unless, of course, you can't read....but then you wouldn't be reading this post either....unless someone is reading to you).  He pokes fun at religion, and downright shreds the Bible & Quran while showing how the followers of religion have used their god to justify terrible deeds committed against other human beings.  

One of the things I really appreciated about this book is that it is incredibly clear that Mallard has spent time on this.  He isn't just tossing together a hastily drawn document based on snap judgments that are not thought through.  It is exquisitely clear that he has done his research, compiled everything in his head based on what he has read, heard, and experienced, and has come to the conclusion that he thinks is the most true given the evidence presented to him: religion is itself an atrocity against humanity.  

To support this, Mallard looks at how religion has been used against women, slaves, people of other nationalities, neighbors, family members, etc.  He critiques how those who report to be part of a religion treat those around them in their every-day lives. Did that guy really just screw over that other person like that?  But he says he's a Christian...  He also dares to rip into sacred texts and expose contradictions and things that just don't make sense or reconcile well with a god of peace/love.

I'm glad he did. 

Frankly, I wish that more people who believe in God would read this book.  I really, really do.  What Mallard has to say here is hard, but it is not untrue.  Well, most of it.  Of course, what I have read, heard, and experienced tells me that God is real, loving, and just as sick over how people act towards one another in his name as I am every time I watch the news (sorry, Westborough, but you're doing it wrong).  So I disagree with Mallard about that.  What I cannot disagree with him about is how religion has been used as a tool of oppression throughout history.  I cannot disagree with him that the Bible (I'm not familiar with the Quran at all) has gruesome, bloody stories in it that don't make sense, or that the Bible contradicts itself in places (in one Gospel, Jesus heals 1 leper.  In another he heals 10 in apparently the same instance based on timing, geography, who was with him, etc.  WHAT?!).  I cannot disagree with him about how certain stories seem remarkably similar to stories found within the cultures surrounding the Israelites at the time certain texts were written (Enuma Elish, anyone?....seriously - Google the creation story found in the Enuma Elish (a Babylonian document).).  I cannot disagree with him that God and his followers need to be held to task about what has happened in God's name.  

I am not one who supports blind faith.  Mallard isn't either - but he doesn't support faith in God at all.  In fact, he says many times that it should be eradicated, likening such to a disease.  I definitely do not agree with this, but can understand where Mallard is coming from.  I do agree with Mallard, however, that blind faith is often detrimental to not only the one holding it, but also those around that person.  Frankly, I have more respect for an atheist who clearly understands why he or she is an atheist in a way that can be explained logically than for someone who blindly recites words that have little meaning to them other than they learned those words in Sunday School.  I wish more people who adhere to an Abrahamic religion understood their faith as well as Mallard understands his anti-theism.  He knows exactly why he is an anti-theist, and he is passionate about being so.  I may disagree with him completely, but I respect his passion and knowledge about the topic.  And quite frankly, he is right - religion has been use to bully entire peoples into submission and wielded as a power tool since before Christ was born.  I think there is a reason that Jesus railed against the "religious authorities" of his time more so than almost anyone else.  Jesus despises fake, pompous religion as much as Mallard does.  

 Ask questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Challenge church leaders when their "god" looks an awful lot like them in prejudices and attitudes.  Ask.  Ask.  Ask.  I believe there is a Biblical model for this, but that's a topic for a different post.  

Anyways, Mallard is hard, challenging, and calls people in religions to task for the reality of how religion has been misused.  More people need to hear this and be challenged to be different.

And for the record - the divorce between science and religion irritates the living daylights out of me as well, Mr. Mallard.  That religion has been, and continues to be in places, used to halt scientific advancement is an atrocity.  But I do not think that science negates God.  I'd argue that point, but that would be for a different blog post.  I could write an entire book responding to this one, and just may if enough people ask me to do so.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
You may have noticed that I've been raving about the book, but I only gave it a 3 of 5.  There are three major reasons for this:

1.  Tone: Mallard raises really good questions and such, but does so in a tone that is so confrontational that I fear those who need to read it the most won't give it the time of day.  I'm afraid he'll end up "preaching to the choir" - most of those who aren't so damn offended by the first 10 pages that they actually continue reading are likely to be anti-theists/atheists as well.  I'll be honest, after I read the first 10-20 pages, I was so infuriated and offended at being called a "nutbag" (among many other things) that I told my husband "I'm not finishing that fu***** book.  He is so damn angry that I can't take it."  Hubby asked if the anger was totally unjustified.  After a huge sigh, my response had to be "No, but he doesn't have to be so flibberting insulting about it."  Now, let's remember that those who are in a faith don't tend to care much if they offend an atheist, so I suppose in a way the confrontational tone is eye-for-an-eye, so to speak.  I just worry that it will prevent people from reading this and taking Mallard seriously.

2.  Fact-checking: While it is clear that Mallard is well-read, and well-researched, there is still a disturbing lack of facts throughout the book.  Example: he says that Jesus goes on and on about slaves in Ephesians.  The problem is that the authorship of Ephesians, including the portion that Mallard references, is usually attributed to Paul (that said, it is one of the contested books that may or may not have been written by Paul).  Jesus didn't say anything about slavery in Ephesians...Paul, or someone writing in Paul's name, did.  Example: Mallard says that no religious texts talk about angels having wings.  The Bible does. At least twice that I can think of off the top of my head (Isaiah 6, Exodus 25).  /grumblegrumble  For someone so interested in truth, I'd think all facts would have been double-checked here, especially since Mallard shows such a good knowledge of the Bible elsewhere.  Also, this entire book needs citations, if for no other reason than Mallard's readers should be able to look at the same source documents that inform's Mallard's work.  If this is going to be taken seriously as credible, it needs a references list.  Perhaps my desire to see this here is an indication of the fact that I'm a bit of a perpetual scholar, but I wanted to look at his sources....and none were listed. 

3.  Editing & Organization:  These might seem like two problems, but they are related.  First, I truly hope that the fact I have a PDF of this book means I got a copy that wasn't fully edited.  There are typos, missing words, run-on sentences, etc peppering this book.  Now, I'm obviously not a grammatical expert (they're found in my work too), but this is a blog.  In a book, these errors need to be weeded out no matter the type of book.  Second, this book is repetitive. repetitive. repetitive.  The same ideas are rehashed in one chapter, and then again in another chapter, then again in another chapter.  It needs to be reorganized in a way that is well-edited and not quite so full of grammatical issues. I'm not saying it should be any less humorous - I love the humor present - but it should be well-crafted.  

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Nora,
    Thank you for the review. It is very well written and quite accurate if you ask me. You elegantly point out the good and the bad with equal measure. I did post a rebuttal comment on the review you left on the book's amazon page that you might wish to read.
    Thank you again for the time and effort you put into reading and reviewing my book.
    Chris Mallard