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.)

Atheists are good too

The Chicago Sun Times reported last week on a study which concluded that non-religious medical personnel were just as likely to care for those without insurance as religious doctors (actually, the non-religious doctors were slightly more willing: 35 to 31 percent, respectively). In the puerile spirit of this study, I would like say: see? I told you you didn't need the Bible to be good.

The Parable of Jesux

Introducing Jesux. The first ever Christian friendly Operating System for your computer. Building off Red Hat's distribution of open source software, Jesux has adapted the Linux kernel to create "an environment that is pleasant for Christians to work in, with all the amenities a Christian might expect, and when possible, free from worldly influences."

And what sorts of "amenities" might a Christian expect?
  • A Fortune File with quotes from the scriptures, Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Chuck Swindoll, etc.
  • Icons with "Christian Enlightenment themes"
  • Login screen has full text to Lord's Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, with Christian and American symbols (The website also remains open to providing "alternate screens for non-Americans")
  • "Pre-screened Christian web sites and newsgroups" will automatically be added to Netscape
  • The calender includes Christian holidays
Of course, all of these additions could be made without the need to create a separate OS. Adding a fortune cookie file, modifying the calender, adjusting the favorites on the web browser, and tossing in more Christian symbols is easy enough to do (even on Microsoft). But in this Age of Bottle water, who am I to question convenience of an OS that comes with anti-Christian guards? Guards such as the removal of Red Hat's games (some of which, the website points out, are "clearly inappropriate"), optional disable for Sundays (when self-control just isn't enough), and no encryption (because "Christians have nothing to hide"). And how great is it that they promise "Optional technical support and basic counseling services provided by Christian hackers

I must admit, I would love to see what this OS looks like. Perhaps the search engine will display a "seek and ye shall find." Or when the computer shuts down, it can say "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." PowerPoint users can finally be called what they are "Preachers" while Word Processor can be "the Scribe" and Netscape can simply be "the Wilderness." But while I could spend hours musing over all the Bible Bending opportunities available to Jesux, an open source software just
for Christians raises an alarm.

The Internet has allowed us to live our lives in the narrow parameters of our tastes and beliefs. You can read the news with the bias you prefer and you can forgo the radio to listen only to music based on what you already know you like. So while open source software may very well be precisely the vehicle that drives us into the next wave of technological advancement, could it also mean the further fragmenting of a society where individuals surround themselves only with their opinions?

I am not alone. Jesux was never going to be anything more than a clever "what if." But the fictional OS proposed in 1999 struck a cord. Ubuntu Christian Edition, has been available since 2006 and features almost everything that Jesux proposed including Bible Fox, What Would Jesus Download Toolbar, the Virtual Rosary, and a number of Bible study applications. One Ubuntu user summed it up this way, "'Ubuntu' stands for community, and making a version aimed at specific people goes against this philosophy." And this is exactly my point. Bible bending in general--using the Bible to argue a political or social position--goes against the philosophy of functioning as one community. We may choose to listen to different music, but we need to be willing to think outside The Book.

Lastly, I apologize for the spotty Bible Bending summer time coverage. The Bible continues to bend in the direction of its user despite the fact that I have been traveling. I will try to make amends in the coming days.