Atheist Memes on Facebook: Atheists Oppose Discrimination

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Most atheists passionately support believers’ right to believe and practice whatever religion they like, and we oppose anti-religious discrimination as vehemently as anti-atheist discrimination. We may disagree with what people believe — sometimes passionately and vocally — but we will defend with equal passion their right to believe it. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

When Anyone Is Watching: Metaphors and the Slipperiness of Religion

There’s a trope going around among progressive religious believers and theologians. It goes something like this:

Miss smith's incredible storybook“Religious beliefs don’t have to be literally true. They’re just useful metaphors: stories that give shape and meaning to our lives.”

I’ve been hearing this trope for a while. And something recently occurred to me about it: something so blindingly obvious that I’m smacking myself in the head for not having thought of it earlier.

It’s this:

If religion is just a story, then why does it upset people so much when atheists say that it isn’t true?

If religion is simply a story, a personal perspective, a way of framing experience and giving it meaning… then why are people troubled when someone says, “Actually, that probably isn’t true”? Any more than they’d be troubled if someone said, “Actually, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ probably isn’t true”?

Alice in Wonderland “Alice in Wonderland” is a story with deep personal importance for me. It is a story that has given me a framework for understanding myself and the world, a story that has woven its threads throughout my life, a story that has imbued my experience with great meaning. (Seriously. I even have the Jabberwock tattooed on my arm.)

But if someone said to me, “Actually, according to our best understanding of the world, there are no rabbits who carry pocket watches and speak English, and no potions that can make you shrink to three inches tall,” I wouldn’t be troubled. I’d actually be puzzled as to why they felt a need to explain that to me.

So if religion really is simply a story, why does it upset people when someone says, “Actually, that probably isn’t true”?

If a belief in an immaterial spiritual realm really is simply a story, why does it upset people when someone says, “Actually, the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that the universe is entirely physical — every attempt to gather evidence for an immaterial world affecting the physical one has failed, and the arguments in favor of this hypothesis are self-contradictory and weak”? If the idea of a non-corporeal soul animating our consciousness is just a story, why does it upset people when someone says, “Actually, the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that consciousness is entirely a biological product of the brain”? If the idea of the universe being sentient is just a story, why does it upset people when someone says,” Actually… well, see above, re consciousness being a biological product of the brain, it isn’t physically possible for the universe to be sentient”?

If religion really is simply a story, why does it upset people when someone says, “Actually, that probably isn’t true”?

Why?

Because they don’t really think that.

They only think that when anyone is watching.

Case for god I am stealing this idea outright from John the drunkard, who posted it in a recent comment here on this blog. We were talking about the extremely vague, “so abstract it’s indistinguishable from non-existent” God believed in by Karen Armstrong and other modern theologians; the God of the gaps that’s been squeezed into nothingness as the gaps in our knowledge are closing; the God that’s been scrubbed so hard by the scouring pad of evidence that he’s effectively disappeared.

And John the drunkard summarized Armstrong’s theology thus:

“We don’t really believe anything that you have demonstrated to be absurd…while anyone is watching.”

While anyone is watching.

When explaining their theology in public, when debating their theology with skeptics, they don’t admit to believing anything that contradicts evidence or logic. But in the company of other believers, and in the privacy of their own minds… it’s another story entirely.

Aleister_Crowley_Thoth_Tarot_Deck I remember this vividly from my own days as a woo believer. If I was talking with a skeptic, I’d say things like, “No, you don’t need to think of the Tarot as a mystical force to think that it works — it’s designed to work, the cards are designed to be about human experience, it’s just a useful hook to hang a conversation on.” But if I was talking with a fellow believer, I’d say things like, “The cards don’t lie.” I’d assume that the cards were being moved by some unexplained mystical force in response to the question on the table… and I’d do my readings, and carry on my conversations with the people I was reading for, based on that assumption.

I wish I could better explain this particular form of compartmentalization and self-deception. (It is, after all, the crux of my thesis here.) It’s hard to explain, since it now seems very alien to me, and I don’t really understand it fully myself. It’s not that I was consciously lying, either to the skeptics or to my fellow believers. It’s more that my fundamental agnosticism — my belief that the answers to these questions could never be fully known — was slippery. It shifted up and down the “levels of belief/ non-belief” scale, between “I don’t know if the Tarot cards have mystical properties, but they don’t have to in order to be useful”… and, “I don’t know if the Tarot cards have mystical properties, but it sure seems like they do.”

Slip n slide I wish I could better explain it. The best I can do is describe it. And the best way I can describe it is to say that my beliefs were slippery; and my justifications for them shifted around depending on what was convenient, and what allowed me to hang onto my beliefs and enjoy them. I didn’t really believe anything that had been demonstrated to be absurd…while anyone was watching. When nobody was watching, I believed some seriously crazy bullshit.

And I think that’s exactly what’s going on for the modern, “religion is just a useful story,” “it doesn’t have to be literally true to be useful” crowd.

Jesus storybook bible If Karen Armstrong really believes in a God who’s essentially defined as “whatever it is that really exists,” a God about whom nothing at all can be said regarding his actions and attributes… then why does it bug her so much when atheists say that God doesn’t exist? If she thinks that the Bible story is “psychologically true”… then why does it bug her so much when people say that it isn’t literally true? If Julia Sweeney’s priest really thought that it wasn’t important whether the Bible was literally true, because people believe it and shape their culture based on it and “this is the story that God wants us to know”… then why did it bug him so much when she continued to ask questions about the book’s errors and contradictions? If Wiccans and other New Agers really think that the sentient universe is just a useful metaphor, a way of feeling connected with the world and being responsible towards it… then why does it bug them so much when atheists say that the universe isn’t really sentient, and that the story isn’t really true?

Because they don’t really think that.

They really think that the story is true.

They really think that God exists, and is true, and has an observable and important effect on the world. They don’t really think that religion is simply a beautiful story, or a useful metaphor, or psychologically true. The metaphor stuff is just a cover story, to keep skeptics — and themselves — from questioning their beliefs too hard.

They only think that when someone is watching.

New Fishnet Story: “Waiting for a Train”

Fishnet logo Fishnet has a new story up! The online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing, Fishnet, has a new story up for you to enjoy. It’s titled Waiting for a Train, by Lauren P. Burka, and here’s the teaser:

He held out his hand. We left our luggage on the platform and found a grassy spot behind the station. I was painfully conscious of how much more I knew than the last time I’d had him, and how little it was going to matter. He took me on my back, wrapping a hand tight around my mouth, letting me chew on the flesh. I absorbed his heat into me. He made no sound when he came. He never did. I couldn’t even tell.

To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Pattern and Intention

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Our minds are wired by evolution to see intention and patterns, even where none exists. So we have to be careful about assuming that a pattern or intention is really there, just because it seems like it. And that holds for God and religion as much anything else. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Are We Having Sex Now… And Why Should We Care?

Consistency I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. In it, I explore the question of how we define what is and isn’t sex… and ask whether having a consistent definition of sex is even all that important. I take a recent letter to Dan Savage, in which a couple was debating whether a particular act in the woman’s past counted as sex (and asked Dan to referee); and I look at (a) whether the woman’s answer was a rationalization, and (b) whether it matters.

It’s called Are We Having Sex Now… And Why Should We Care?, and here’s the teaser:

Savage didn’t just reply, “Yes, that was sex.” He replied, “Imagine if someone else engaged in this activity. Imagine if, say, your boyfriend engaged in this activity. Would you call it sex then? Would your ‘He didn’t take his clothes off or his cock out, so it wasn’t sex’ definition hold up then?”

And that, I think, points to an important principle in this fuzzy topic.

That principle being:

“However you define sex — whatever you think of as Definitely Sex, Definitely Not Sex, and Gray Area — it’s important to be consistent. It’s important to apply those definitions the same way to yourself as you do to other people. And it’s important to not be completely self-serving in your definitions of sex: to not have those definitions be solely based on convenience, on what allows you to think of yourself, and other people, the way you want to.”

But why?

Why is the Consistency Principle important?

To find out why I think the Consistency Principle is important, read the rest of the piece. (And if you’re inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Atheism is Not Close-Minded

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheism doesn’t mean having a closed mind. Atheism simply means concluding that God probably doesn’t exist. It means we’ve considered the idea of God and rejected it as implausible, but will reconsider if we see new evidence. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

How Dare You Atheists Make Your Case, Round 2: Persuasion Equals Intolerance

Persuasion Where does this idea come from that persuasion is a mean and bad thing to do?

Where does this idea come from that debate, expressing disagreement, saying “I really think you’re mistaken about this,” and making a case for why you think you’re right, are somehow acts of disrespect, and intolerance, and even violation?

We’re not talking about expressing disagreement at Thanksgiving dinner here; or ranting about it to people you’ve buttonholed at parties; or screaming it into bullhorns on the street. We’re talking about expressing it in legitimate public forums of discussion and debate: forums that people are free to listen to or not, as they choose. Where did the idea come from that this is an act of ugly, dogmatic bigotry, a flatly unacceptable part of modern civilized conversation?

I’ve been in a number of debates on Facebook lately (btw, if you’re on Facebook, friend me!), with several Wiccans, neo-pagans, New Age Christians, and other practitioners of woo spirituality. And I’ve been running into a baffling new version of the “Shut up, that’s why” argument — one that basically says that any attempt to persuade someone that you’re probably right and they’re probably mistaken is a form of bigoted intolerance, and a slippery slope to violent oppression.

When it comes to religion, anyway.

It’s a trope that says, “All experience is subjective, and therefore all experiences are equal and have to be treated with equal respect.” Or, rather, “All religious experience is subjective, and therefore all religious experiences are equal and have to be treated with equal respect.” It’s a trope that says, “It’s okay to share your thoughts on religion… as long as you don’t disagree with anyone else’s, or try to persuade them that they’re wrong.”

And it’s driving me up a tree.

Armor I’ll give the devil its due: Of all the pieces of armor in religion’s armory, this one is uniquely effective. How do you debate someone who doesn’t value debate? How do you present evidence to someone who doesn’t value evidence, who values personal subjective experience over rigorously tested reality? How do you persuade someone who thinks that persuading people is horribly ill-mannered at best and abusive at worst? How do you engage with someone who thinks it’s okay for people to express their opinions… as long as they don’t commit the appalling faux pas of backing up those opinions with arguments and evidence? How do you make a case with someone who thinks that the very act of making a case makes you a bad person?

I’m not sure who I’m talking to in this piece, as anyone who holds this view is by definition not going to be interested in my arguments, and probably won’t have even gotten this far. But… well, I have this idea in my head, and it’s going to keep buzzing around there until I get it out. So here goes.

First of all: There’s a niggling little problem with the “All religious beliefs are subjective, and we have to treat them all with equal respect” trope. And that’s that it’s simply not true.

I don’t mean it’s not true that “all religious beliefs have to be treated with equal respect.” (Although it’s not.) I mean that the people espousing this view do not actually and consistently hold it.

God adam eve Of course the New Agers and progressive Christians think some religious beliefs are better than others. They think the belief that the Sun orbits the Earth is wrong. They think the belief that humanity and the universe were created 6,000 years ago by a jealous and vengeful God is wrong. The think the belief that homosexuality is a disgusting sin that will send the sinners straight to hell if they don’t repent is wrong.

And they definitely think their idea that conflict over religion is bad, and that all subjective experiences of religion are equal, is right. Every time one of these supposedly “accepting of all world views” folks tries to convince me — I repeat for emphasis, convince me — that the attempt to convince other people of things is disrespectful, I want to bash my head against the wall. What part of “self-contradiction” don’t they understand?

More importantly: There’s a fundamental logical problem with the “You can share your ideas… but you can’t disagree with anyone else’s” trope. That problem is this: What if your idea is, “I think this idea is mistaken”? What if your idea is, “This idea is directly contradicted by the evidence”? How are you supposed to express that idea? Why is it okay to express any and all ideas and experiences — except for that one? Why do all experiences have to be respected… except for my experience that the universe is almost certainly an entirely physical entity, and that said view is the one that’s best supported by the available evidence?

How is it respectful of all religious viewpoints to shut down this one?

How is it respectful of all religious opinions to shut down the opinion that religion is mistaken?

Finally:

Joined hands The people who use this trope often say that they want to foster communication and connection. “Connection” is almost a sacred word for them. Connection with other people, with nature, with the universe, with the Great Animating Spirit or whatever immaterial entities they believe in, is supposedly one of their highest priorities.

And I’m sure they’re sincere. They sincerely think that that’s what they want.

But that’s not what they’re doing.

Galaxy For one thing, they’re shutting out basic realities about the universe. They claim to want connection with all reality… but in practice, what they’re doing is placing their own subjective experience of reality over reality itself. They claim to want connection with the universe… but when presented with evidence about that universe that contradicts their beliefs, they cover their ears and call the people presenting the evidence “intolerant bigots.” They treat the world inside their own head, their own beliefs about the universe, as primary… and shut out what the actual universe, through evidence, is saying about itself.

And, of course, they’re not just shutting out the universe. They’re also shutting out anyone who disagrees with them.

Which, of course, is exactly the point of the exercise. The point of the “Disagreeing with religious beliefs is intolerant” trope is to shut out people who disagree with their particular beliefs.

I mean… if your idea is strong and good, why would you be so vehemently opposed to debate about it? If your idea is strong and good, why would you treat the very notion of debate and disagreement as ill-mannered at best and a brutal violation at worst? If your idea is strong and good, why would your response to someone trying to convince you otherwise be to shut that person down as fast as you can?

Grass As Ursula K. LeGuin said in The Dispossessed, “The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.” Ideas that demand to be treated like delicate hothouse flowers are ideas that make me immediately suspicious.

Now, I get that there’s more going on here than just your standard, “I don’t want my religion to be criticized because I know it can’t stand up.” I do think that’s a lot of it… but I also think it’s more complex than that.

Jerry_Falwell_portraitFor starters: I think that within this circle of ecumenical, “all religions are getting at the truth in their own way,” “we’re fine with people of different faiths as long as they’re fine with our faith” believers, the main context they have for people outside that circle is intolerant fundamentalism and theocracy. The main context they have for people who criticize other people’s religions and argue that they’re mistaken is the religious right in America, and Islamic extremists in the Muslim world, and so on. They just don’t have a context for people who think that other people’s religions are mistaken… and are nevertheless passionate about the right to religious freedom. They just don’t have a context for people who spend a significant amount of time and energy trying to convince others to change their religious beliefs… and are trying to do it, not by law, not by force, not by bribery or intimidation, but by reason and evidence and persuasion, in public forums devoted to debate, and in private conversations with people who have expressed an interest.

So atheists — or at least atheist activists, atheists who make arguments against religion and try to persuade people that it’s mistaken — automatically get slotted into the “intolerant fundamentalists who want to force everyone to be just like them” camp. That’s the only context the ecumenical New Agers have for people who strongly disagree with other people’s religions. So that’s the context we get stuck in.

Slip-n-slide Closely related to this is the “slippery slope” argument. Humanity has an ugly history of religious bigotry and oppression, the argument goes; so that makes religion off-limits for criticism, since criticizing religion is a slippery slope leading to hatred, brutality, and tyranny. And while I disagree strongly with this conclusion, I can certainly understand the reflex. Again, if your only context for “people disagreeing with other people’s religion” is warfare and theocracy and concentration camps and so on, I can see how you might have a powerful revulsion towards anyone criticizing religion.

The-Atheist-e Of course, the problem with this “slippery slope” argument is that humanity also has an ugly history of bigotry against atheists and silencing atheists. And nobody making this argument has yet explained to me why that particular slippery slope isn’t worth worrying about. Nobody has yet explained to me why my attempts to persuade people that religion is mistaken are a slippery slope towards violent and bigoted religious oppression… but their attempts to persuade me that it’s wrong to criticize religion are not a slippery slope towards the violent and bigoted silencing of atheists. Nobody has yet explained to me why religious beliefs — alone among all ideas in the world, alone among the many types of ideas that have traditionally been subject to bigotry and suppression — should be immune from criticism, because that criticism will inevitably lead to the bad place. The thing about “slippery slope” arguments is that they’re notoriously poor: people tend to argue “X will lead to Y” when they agree that Y is bad but disagree over X… and can’t make a good argument against X.

Then, of course, some people are just very conflict-averse. There are some people who don’t like debating their ideas… simply because they don’t like debating. (Although if that’s what’s going on here, I don’t understand why they don’t simply ignore the debates, instead of trying to stop other people from having them. And when people get seriously aggro and combative, to the point of being outright venomous and nasty, all in defense of respect and tolerance and a “live and let live” philosophy… well, that definitely makes you wonder.)

Silence So yes. All that is going on. But it really is beginning to seem like the main motivation behind “It’s always disrespectful to say a religious belief is mistaken’” is the same motivation behind all “Shut up, that’s why” arguments. It’s because on some level, the people making the argument know that they don’t have a case. They embrace subjective experience, and reject the presentation of reason and evidence as bigoted dogmatism, because, on some level, they know that reason and evidence aren’t on their side. They define religious debate as inherently intolerant because, on some level, they know that if they accepted the idea of debate and engaged in it, they’d lose.

So if they’re going to hang on to the beliefs they’re so attached to, they have to try to stop atheists from making our case in the first place. Or, if they can’t stop us from making our case, they have to find a good reason not to listen to us. They have to mentally slot our criticisms into the category of “disrespectful intolerant dogma”… which they therefore don’t have to think about.

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Comforting /= True

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

“People find religion comforting” is not a good argument for why religion is true. Wanting something to be so doesn’t make it so. Plus, many believers don’t find religion comforting — they find it upsetting, confusing, guilt-tripping, and demoralizing. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Atheists Face Discrimination

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

There is real discrimination against atheists, in the U.S. and around the world. Atheists have been fired, denied custody of their kids, threatened and denied promotion in the military, vandalized by neighbors, expelled from school, and more… because of their atheism. And in some countries, atheism is against the law, punishable by death. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb: A Review

Crumb genesis cover It’s true what they say. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Especially when those pictures are drawn by Robert Crumb.

And especially when those words come from the Bible.

For those who haven’t heard yet: Legendary comics artist Robert Crumb has just come out with his new book: The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb, a magnum opus, five years in the making, telling the complete, unedited book of Genesis in graphic novel form. And I’m finding it fascinating. It’s masterfully illustrated, of course, Crumb being among the very best creators in this burgeoning literary form. And it’s getting Genesis across to me, deep into my brain and my imagination, in a way that it had never quite gotten there before.

Crumb genesis abraham Of course I’ve read Genesis. More than once. It’s been a little while since I’ve read the whole thing all the way through, but it’s not like it’s unfamiliar. But there’s something about seeing the story fleshed out in images to make some of its more striking narrative turns leap out and grab your brain by the root. There’s nothing quite like seeing the two different creation stories enacted on the page to make you go, “Hey! That’s right! Two completely different creation stories!” There’s nothing quite like seeing Lot offer his daughters to be gang-raped to make you recoil in shock and moral horror. There’s nothing quite like seeing the crazed dread and burning determination in Abraham’s eyes as he prepares the sacrifice of his own son to make you feel the enormity of this act. Reading these stories in words conveys the ideas; seeing them in images conveys the visceral impact. It makes it all seem vividly, immediately, humanly real.

Crumb genesis god eve Now, that is something of a mixed blessing. Spending a few days with the characters in Genesis isn’t the most relaxing literary vacation you’ll ever take. Richard Dawkins wasn’t kidding when he said, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” The God character in Genesis is cruel, violent, callous, insecure, power-hungry, paranoid, hot-tempered, morally fickle… I could go on and on. And God’s followers aren’t much better. They lie, they scheme, they cheat one another, they conquer other villages with bloodthirsty imperialist glee, they kill at the drop of a hat. This isn’t Beatrix Potter here. It’s more like Dangerous Liaisons by way of Quentin Tarantino. With tents, sand, and sheep.

Yet at the same time, there’s an unexpected side effect to reading this story in images as well as words. And that’s that the story becomes more… well, more of a story. Reading it in comics form made it easier for me to set aside, just for a moment, the relentless hammering on the text that I typically engage in when I read the Bible: the theological debates, the treasure hunt for inaccuracies and inconsistencies, the incessant “How did this pissy, jealous, temperamental warrior god get shoehorned into the All-Knowing All-Powerful All-Good ideal again?” bafflement. It made it easier to set all that aside… and just read it as a story. A story about some very human, very fallible characters: strong and interesting, but not moral paragons by any stretch of the imagination… and not really intended to be.

Including the God character. Who, in many ways, is the most human and the most fallible of them all.

Crumb Genesis adam eve A big part of that comes from Crumb’s art style. His drawing is not photorealistic, but his portraits — fleshy, emotional, idiosyncratic, expressive — emphasize, above all else, the humanity of his characters. The deeply familiar characters in this story — Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Adam and Eve — seem less like iconic figures from a fairy tale, and more like human beings: just some Bronze Age sheepherders, squabbling and screwing and struggling for survival.

But a big part of the “story, not theology” aspect of this book comes from the choices Crumb made as an illustrator. Crumb’s Genesis emphasizes biblical accuracy — he’s a non-believer, but he has a deep respect for the book’s historical and cultural importance. So he created this graphic novel as a straight, word- for- word illustration job.

And so, when it came to illustrating the freakier and more unsettling aspects of the narrative, he pulled no punches. The multiple marriages, the concubines, the brutal wars, the enslavements, Jacob extorting Esau out of his birthright, Abraham lying to the Pharaoh and saying that his wife was his sister, Noah’s Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and screwing him, the deliberate deception and massacre of an entire town, Joseph taking advantage of famine and drought to seize the wealth of an entire region… it’s all here, fleshed out in blood and sweat and tears, in vivid, unforgettable, often nightmarish detail. It’s really hard to see all that, and still see this book as a divinely inspired guide to living an ethical life. It’s really hard to see all that, and see this book as anything other than a story of survival and conquest in a brutal and bloody period of human history.

(I’d like to take a moment here to point out that I’m not going out of my way to find the ugly and unpleasant stories in Genesis. Ugly and unpleasant is all over Genesis like a cheap suit. If anything, the opposite is true: it’s a bit of a challenge to find a story in Genesis that’s purely uplifting and inspiring, with no nasty aspects at all.)

Crumb_Genesis rain of fire And I haven’t even gotten to the God character. God’s actions aren’t bowdlerized or treated with kid gloves in Crumb’s Genesis, any more than any other character’s. The capricious changing of whims, the inexplicable inconsistency of his moral judgments, the torturing to death of an entire town by fire, the drowning of almost every living creature in the Flood, the paranoid vengefulness anytime humanity gets a scrap of power that threatens his own… again, it’s really hard to see these stories fleshed out in unignorable visual imagery, and still see God as bearing any resemblance whatsoever to the rather abstract Greek ideal of all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good perfection. It’s really hard to see the God character fleshed out, and see him as anything other than another more or less human character in the story. With somewhat more power than most, and a somewhat greater tendency to abuse that power.

All of which makes this book a must-read — for any atheist, and for any Christian or Jew or Muslim who wants to honestly examine the origins of their religion.

Crumb genesis cover Many formerly- Christian atheists say that one of the most important steps on their journey to atheism was actually reading the Bible, and seeing that (a) it’s a horror show, and (b) it makes no sense. And we atheists are always asking believers to actually read the sacred texts of their beliefs, to find out if they actually believe that stuff. This vivid, unforgettable, beautifully delineated, sometimes touching, often horrifying, intensely human, word- for- word graphic depiction of the seminal book of the Bible is right up our alley. I recommend it heartily.

Conflict of interest alert: This book is carried by a company I work for, Last Gasp.

The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN-13: 9780393061024. Hardcover. $24.95.