Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bible Bashing Bestsellers?

Steven D. Levitt, author of the widely popular book Freakonomics, asked his blog readers a few days ago why all these "anti-God" books have been selling so well. In the last two years, Atheists have made a dent in the bestseller list with books such as Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Victor Stanger's God the Failed Hypothesis ,Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, David Mill's Atheist Universe and John Allen Paulos' Irreligion (coming out Boxing Day 2007).

But Levitt, who is after all an economist, cannot grasp the motivations behind people who buy "anti-God books." Since he doubts that religious people would spend time or money reading why they are wrong, he wonders, "Do the people who despise the notion of God have an insatiable demand for books that remind them of why? Are there that many people out there who haven’t made up their mind on the subject and are open to persuasion?"

Levitt received dozens of responses (178 at last count). Most readers gently pointed out that people care about God. A lot. In the words of one blogger, "'apatheism' is much less common than you imagine." Others went on to say that Atheism is a belief-system and requires nurturing and mulling over details like any other "faith." This is especially true since Atheists are the most hated minority in America. But all this talk of where the "anti-God" market comes from got me to thinking if this is more about an "anti-Bible" market. After all, as many responders noted, this deluge of books declaring that God is Not Great is more a reaction to Judeo-Christian religion than the esoteric spiritualism trumpeted by authors such as Deepak Chopra and Karen Armstrong.

Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens each include numerous mentions of the Bible's inconsistency and inapplicability to 21st century life (I have not read Stangers' or Mill's book, though I would be willing to bet that they could not avoid mention of the Bible either). Dawkins, for example, responds to Stephen Jay Gould's suggestion that religion has a different sort of truth then science does by asking: "To which chapter, then, of which book of the Bible should we turn--for they are far from unanimous and some of them are odious by any reasonable standard?"

Dawkins and others seem to be under the impression that the Bible is the infallible foundation of faith. But many people these days are "freelance monotheists" (as Armstrong calls herself) who considers the Bible to be more a poetry of the sacred than a history of the profane. This crowd can "Amen" to much of these books, only pausing to add that where these authors looked at the evidence and said "no," they have decided to say "yes."

Perhaps we can say these books are more about "To Hell with the Bible" than declaring that God is Dead. Aren't people more enraged when Bible creeps into science textbooks, political debates, and social policy than when people gather to pray after a disaster? I may be accused of pointing out the obvious on these posts, but isn't Bible bending what is really on people's minds?

(The above picture is from the website of the James Randi Foundation.)

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