Book Review – The Atheist’s Guide to Religion

by William Harper, self published

This book is a mix of brief but informative facts, coupled with light hearted quips which makes for an easy read.

There are quite a few ‘facts’ quoted in this book but unfortunately no bibliography or references at the end. There are also several hypothesis to which there are no references, but in the most part, IMHO, they are quite feasible.

Bill’s writing style can be quite laconic in parts and he likes to use stories to demonstrate arguments. For instance, he invents Gorak the caveman to demonstrate the development of government and religion in early society. Whilst Bill obviously has no facts to back up Goraks story, the hypothesis is sound.

Sections of the book reminded me of shows like ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ where they extrapolate known facts and develop a ‘what might of happened’ scenario. Some people may find this a more entertaining way of learning, I did.

The book covers the invention of god(s), evolution and the brain, the rise of various religions, the growth of Theology, philosophy and the Church, where religion is today, ethics and morality, and what to replace God with.

Highlights from the book:

The new found skills of logic, art and speech would take religion from a purely instinctive pastime into an organised one.

Indeed, one might say that from that point on, all religious history has been a process of mere tinkering.

  • Plug in god (A),
  • Select sacrifices (B),
  • Offer prayer set (C), and
  • Embellish with rituals (D).

How true is that?

I liked Bill’s take on all those sports stars that pray for God’s help, his theory:

For every winner, there must be a loser that God prevented from winning. … Think of the Headlines!

God arraigned on match-fixing charges!

I had quite a chuckle at that one.

When discussing the historical Jesus, I think Bill missed one possibility. He states there is “a contradiction between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the Christian faith.” What about a third possibility; the Jesus of Myth?

I found the Philosophy chapters most interesting. Again only a brief outline but gives an idea how some modern day thinking originated – both in and out of the church. His discussions on altruism, selfishness, racism, self-sacrifice, humility and self-worth are quite though provoking (students of philosophy and ethics may not get as much out of these chapters as I did).

The next section where Bill discusses alternatives to ethics, morality and the State are, for me, the best sections in the book. His new virtues:

  • Rationality
  • Pride
  • Justice
  • Integrity
  • Benevolence

are well argued, as are the criteria he uses to justify them. I’d like to expand on this but fear I’d breach copyright. The book puts a big, and probably justified, emphasis on self-worth.

Bill surmises that an alternative to God and religion is vital as the religious instinct is too strong to merely cast it off. His answer:

to replace religion with Objectivist Agnosticism

He argues that the need for spirituality and religion is an instinctive need. A need which can be deflected by teaching a new set of ethics “based on the logical analysis of the human condition” and without any organised religious dogmas.

The idea that ethics and philosophy should be taught in schools from a very early age has excellent merit. For too long ethical instruction has come from the parents and churches who bring their own agendas and warped sense of moralities. A common ethical background that espouses self-worth and rationality and eschews religious overtones may well provide a new era of enlightenment.

Summary

Whilst reading this (or any) book I try to understand the motive and audience. I think Bill may have done himself a disservice by targeting this book strictly at atheists (eg. the title and cover picture, and some of the anti-religious quips). With a different title, and taking out the sarcastic digs at religion, this book could also be an excellent reference to religious people. Especially ones that are doubting their faith or questioning religion. The explanations of why we are like we are and why religion exists, as well as viable alternatives to religion, is of importance to atheists and theists alike.

Overall a good read and a worthwhile addition to my atheist book collection. I would have preferred some references and bibliographies, but I guess Google and Wikipedia are always available.

When I get a chance I intend to research Bill’s ethics concepts further and maybe post on the subject. I certainly agree with him that ethics and philosophy should be taught in schools in a non-judgmental, non-religious manner and from an early age.

If you are interested in getting a copy of this book it’s available on-line from Bills web site (make sure you send him an email if you do order a printed copy as there is/was a problem with the ordering system). The book can be purchased as a printed copy or as an eBook download.


On the book theme, I see Richard Dawkins has got a new book out. It’s called: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing and is a collection of almost 100 essays by leading scientists covering all sorts of scientific fields.

Also as you can see in my library list I have a copy of The Portable Atheist, which I’m yet to read. Well Breaking Spells has already read it and posted a great reference to all the essays, with links.

(Note: the Australian version of this book has an all blue cover)

Last but not least, I’m currently reading Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? by Morgan Spurlock (the guy who did Super Size Me). An excellent read, quite humorous at times, but also providing a good insight on the mind-set of Islam and how and why Osama and Islam became so dangerous.

(Note: the Australian paperback version of this book has a completely different cover – Morgan riding a camel with warfare in the background)

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5 Comments

Filed under atheism, atheist, book review, books, ethics, morals, religion

5 responses to “Book Review – The Atheist’s Guide to Religion

  1. Pingback: On Critical Thinking « Oz Atheist’s Weblog

  2. Pingback: God Replacement Therapy « Oz Atheist’s Weblog

  3. You have got to be kidding me…

    Should you wish to review the original (real) version of this book, please contact me at author@heathensguide.com.

    William Hopper, author, “The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions”

  4. How interesting, thanks for the heads up William, will look into it.

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