An Infidel Manifesto: Why sincere believers lose faith - Gary Lenaire
A long time ago, Ben was a fairly devout Baptist. While he has long since recovered from this, it does mean that our record collection contains many albums by Christian Rock bands. Such a one (posh prose) is Tourniquet, whose speed-metal repertoire eschews the usual cheesy paeons to Jee-zus in favour of some particularly dire warnings about what awaits the unbelievers when the Rapture comes:
"All of sudden
God's grace will be torn
Billions of hell bound
Will wish they never were born
Let us pray
None of your excuses
Or shattering yells
Will turn the head of God
Who once called for your help"
- You Get What You Pray For
Lenaire, Tourniquet's former axe-wielder, has evidently had a change of heart regarding the whole God business, and has penned this book to explain how he came to reject his faith. It's self-published, which doesn't augur well for the quality, but it's still a fairly interesting read.
It's immediately clear that this book was not intended for the likes of me. Lenaire's target audience is his erstwhile co-religionists, the Christian fundamentalists of Middle America, which makes for a bizarre reading experience - for example, the argument against the literal truth of Noah's Ark takes up about three pages, and is prefaced by a warning that it "may shock some people"... For someone whose own Christian indoctrination consisted of little more than some half-arsed Sunday School lessons, it gives the uncanny feeling of being in a parallel universe where the normal laws of science and logic do not apply.
Lenaire's case is particularly interesting, as it looks like it was the Bible itself that caused him to lose his faith. With his background as a lay preacher, his Bible knowledge is extensive, and most of his arguments centre on its inherent contradictions and atrocities - he mocks his own previous literal belief with disarming self-deprecation. However, his research outside the Bible has been rather sparse in comparison, and the book is littered with embarrassing factual errors. He frequently refers to the "flat earth" belief as an example of the Church hampering science; he thinks the genocide in Rwanda was a religious conflict; he has the American War of Independence down as a noble stand against religious oppression, and he states that the Holocaust was carried out by "Nazi communists"(?). Where the facts are more complicated, he often ducks the argument with an emotive outburst - for example, regarding the source of morality, he makes no mention of the anthropological evidence, and instead just tells all Christians to stop being hypocrites.
While Lenaire is clearly intelligent and articulate, and can string a coherent sentence together, the overall style is bloody awful. His arguments are clumsy and confused; he way overdoes the emotive language, and his pages are peppered with bold text and italics and CAPITALS. These are all the unfortunate hallmarks of a self-published book (the poor guy is a PublishAmerica victim) which could have been fixed by a bit (or quite a lot) of editing; at the moment it still looks distinctly amateur. This is a shame, as he has some good points to make, but it can be hard to tease them out from the morass of Biblical cross-referencing and opaque argument structure.
The main problems come back again and again to the facts of Lenaire's background and his audience, which is all the more ironic as I can't imagine many fundamentalists ever daring to read this. It may be quite funny to read about how Christian philosophy irretrievably contradicts itself, but for non-Christians the point is fairly irrelevant. Lenaire's fundamentalist background also rears its ugly head on occasion, showing that while he's shaken off most of the brainwashing, he's still a right-wing Middle American at heart. He goes to great lengths to assure us he's not a Liberal (yeah, I know that's a much dirtier word over there than it is here, but even so) or, God forbid, a Feminist, and the best he can say about homosexuality is "well, it's OK as long as I don't have to hear about it, and keep it away from my children". Still, this is an honest and heartfelt account of what was obviously a difficult de-conversion, and if that's something you can relate to, you'll probably get more out of this than I could.