Sunday, December 6, 2009

America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction

Don't get me wrong: there's some very funny stuff here. But I had expected more.The book is formatted like a high school textbook, and even has the rubber stamp "issued to" on the inside cover with at least one zinger in it. We are therefore forewarned to read everything, including marginal notes, footnotes, photo credits, to see if they are serious or not. Mostly, they are not. Among my favorites are the marginal "Were you aware?" comments, including such gems as "During the average president's first four-year term, he spends 1,241 days figuring out how to get a second four-year term." Do the math.Nothing, absolutely nothing, is sacred here. There is a foreword by Thomas Jefferson, charts and diagrams of all sorts, most of which do make a point, although not always the one the title suggests. But there's also a picture of what is purported to be the Supreme Court naked, and a collection of gowns with which to "restore the dignity of the court." The "senior correspondents" make their contribution, including Stephen Colbert, who now has his own show, and Samantha Bee who does her self-effacing comments from the Canadian perspective. The first two-thirds or so of the book would rate at least four stars. But it falls off by the time we get to the chapter on America of the future, goes even further down hill through "the rest of the world" segment, and is largely bitter irony by the time you get to the part about the 2004 election. When it was new, this might have been funny; I couldn't say. I was rooting for the Libertarians that year.Yes, it's funny, and there are some valuable insights and zingers here. But much of it is also pretty adolescent in style. I think the Daily Show has matured significantly since this book was written.

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Godless:How An Evanlegical Preacher Became One Of America's Leading Atheists

For a biography of the author, go here:

Barker is a major force in the Freedom From Religion Foundation precisely because he has an insider's knowledge of Christianity, and especially of the clergy. But he is also very well educated and well read, and very, very intelligent. There's no question in my mind that his atheism is a result of that intelligence. He learned how to use the mind control techniques in common usage among evangelicals, and he learned to despise them as unfair. Rather than try to characterize this book, I'm just going to provide a few appropriate quotes."Between the summer and Christmas of 1983 I went through an awful period of hypocrisy. . . . I was still preaching, and I hated myself. I was living with the momentum of a lifetime of Christian service, still receiving invitations to minister, still feeding my family with honoraria from ministry and singing engagements in churches and Christian schools."[A woman told him that she "felt the spirit of God" in his sermon.] "I realized that the whole sermon/worship setup is a huge drama that we are all acting out, not just the person in the pulpit, but the audience as self-selected participants without whom there could be no preaching. We were all playing along with the illusionary meaningfulness of it all.""If someone tells me I am going to hell, I say, 'Thank you! All the great people are in hell. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mark Twain . . . I was afraid you were going to tell me to "go to heaven" and spend eternity with Jerry Falwell.'""When ministers who are untrained to science make cosmological pronouncements that contradict science, why are they granted more credibility than professional physicists, mathematiians or biologists? . . . because, like quacks, they are believed qualified."

OK, I'm not having much luck finding the quotes I want, and the screen saver keeps kicking in while I look for them.]One of my favorite chapters is "Dear Theologian," a letter from God to a theologian. He has a lot of questions . . . and not much hope of getting sensible answers. It's as amusing as it is enlightening.In Part Three, "What's Wrong With Christianity," most of it involves either moral issues or historical issues. In a chapter entitled "The Bible and Morality," Barker makes all the usual arguments about the moral example set by a ruthless Old Testament god, but also makes the point that there are some pretty heartless events in the New Testament, too.Two chapters that are very valuable to me are "Did Jesus Exist?" [probably not], and "Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? [just plain no.] His arguments are very well documented, including various interpretations of the same bible passages.The last segment deals with Barker's life since becoming an "activist" atheist, including his role in the Freedom From Religion Foundation (of which I am a member) and their involvement in First Amendment issues in the courts. It's all fascinating reading, possibly even for a Christian.

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