Monday, October 14, 2013

Being a Pastor

I just finished my first week of work in over a year. Since I moved to London last November I have spent a majority of my time filling out forms and going through various avenues in order to get my marriage visa, which would allow me to work here in the UK. I finally got it all worked out about 3 months ago and then began searching for work only to just find a job last week. During this long search it has been hard not to look back and wonder where I might be if things had gone a little differently. When one examines my resume, particularly my education it’s easy to see that what I was really trained to be was a Christian pastor or minister. The truth is getting a master’s degree in theology from an evangelical seminary really does not provide you a lot of opportunities for work outside of a church.  University level teaching could be a possibility but to do that I would have to continue in my education and get a doctorate, which at this time is not possible so currently I’m kind of stuck in the middle. 

When I look at the role of a pastor I can’t help but think that despite that fact that I am no longer a Christian I would still be really good at the job. I know the bible, I know the proper doctrine/dogma of the church (multiple ones) and I know what the Christian god(s) wants from his followers. Further I know I can present these things to congregants in a way to interest/challenge them. Beyond just Sunday sermons I believe I would be a good leader, counselor, delegator, budgeter and friend. Perhaps most strangely I think that despite my lack of faith I would still have fun being a pastor and work always seems to go better when it is something you enjoy doing. Not to mention I could make quite a bit of money doing it, certainly far more than in any of the other jobs I seem qualified for at this point in my life.

The teaching a pastor does must be challenging because the pastor has to teach the congregation the proper doctrines, which they as believers have already accepted as true and make them seem new or fresh. Of course this isn't true for all pastors and congregants. Some people like coming to church both to hear the same things over and over again and to know that they are hearing the same things over and over again. But most of the newer evangelical types of churches are led by pastors who are trying to make Christianity seem new and modern. They are trying to take old doctrines and put a new spin on them in order to show people how these things can relate to their modern life. I know this because I did this for most of my life and as I said before I think I would still be quite good at it. In a way pastors are trying to make things that most people find boring more interesting. The pastor must provide the shorthand version of the church’s biblical and theological teachings and do it in such a way that none of the congregants walk away questioning why they believe such things. Now don’t get me wrong the congregants should walk away from a sermon with questions but those questions should surround how they can change their lives to better match the church’s teachings not whether those teachings are true. Similarly the congregants should not walk away with any reason to doubt their beliefs but rather they should walk away only doubting themselves, their lifestyle and their lack of faith.

One of the key ways to accomplish all this is through guilt. The pastor must make their congregants feel guilty so that they can than provide the “good news” and bring a sense of comfort to their congregation. This use of guilt provides the pastor a way to hold the listeners’ attention, to stir their emotions and to peak their interest all while staying within the tight framework of their doctrine. Also by creating and sustaining a need that only the church can fill it ensures people will constantly come back for more. Still a pastor cannot focus solely on the bad or they might lose members of their church. No, the pastor must balance the good and bad in their message very carefully and remember that people usually want to feel better in the end.

The pastor must also function like the church’s blanket and insulate its members from other beliefs that might challenge their own. Now some pastors are better at this than others. Usually the ones that are better are the ones who don’t insulate themselves from conflicting beliefs but rather study things that oppose what they already believe and preach. But those types of pastors are difficult to find. I think most pastors are like their congregations in that any time they actually spend in study is used to study books or ideas that they already agree with, which at best will provide them new ways to say the same things. Now this is understandable because people only have so much time in their life and most people want to use it to do things they already like doing not looking around to see if there is something they are missing from their life.

I believe most pastors are quite genuine with what they do. They truly believe what they are teaching and think that they are doing their god’s will. They are seeking out their god and trying to hear that god’s voice and teach others what they find. The problem is that they restrict what they can find from the outset by already deciding what their god can and can’t tell them. If they hear a voice telling them to study and obey the Qur'an well that clearly isn't their god whereas if they hear a voice telling them they must raise money for a new church building than it must be their god or at least it can be. Granted any voice they hear will likely only tell them things that already fit within their framework of belief since the voice is really coming from their own mind. One of the hardest things for me to realize as I grew up was that when you limit what you study and where you search for answers you predetermine what you can learn in your spiritual journey and the journey becomes quite limited even hollow.

Finally, beyond the teaching, the study and the guiding comes the money. The fact is while most pastors won’t or can’t admit it one of the most important measures of success for their job, like most other jobs, is the money. If the coffers are full than they are doing their job well whereas if they coffers are empty than they are not doing their job well. Now I certainly don’t think most pastors are in it for the money, I know I wouldn't have been. But the fact is that they need the money and whether people choose to notice it or not after every sermon the collection plates are passed around for the congregation to donate and thus validate the pastor’s message with money. This is one of the reasons why a pastor must be careful what they preach because even though it is really their job to say the same things over and over each week they must not say it in a way that bores their congregation because the money will stop coming in. Conversely the pastor can’t be too wild or controversial because they don’t want to push anyone away nor do they want to produce questions or doubts that may lead to a divergence from their set doctrines and thus a decrease in church attendance also leading to less money.

So would I be a good pastor? There really is no way to know but I believe I would be. I'm surprised how often I find myself thinking even dreaming about being a pastor because it’s a job that involves things I like doing and things that I believe I would be good at. Also sometimes I just miss being in church and having that community to share things with. Plus I can’t lie it would be nice to make more money, which also happens to be tax free. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Return to Writing

It has been over two years since my last post. During this time I have moved from California (Sacramento) to China (Shenzhen) and from China to the UK (London).  I also had a few stops in Colorado (Denver) while waiting for various visas to clear.

I stopped writing this blog in part because I became busy with other things as I’m sure anyone who tries to keep up a blog can relate with. But I also stopped writing because in a way I stopped caring enough about what I was writing to keep doing it. This blog began as a blog about my time in Korea but soon morphed into a blog dealing with issues about religion, faith, philosophy and the like. I wrote from the perspective of a person who used to be a bible believing, Christ following, Evangelical Christian. I believed almost everything my churches had taught me and thought it was my mission to carry that message to the rest of the world. After years of dedicating my entire life to the Christian faith (one version of it) and seeking ‘God’ everywhere I could, particularly in the study of history, philosophy and the bible I had to give up my faith as I discovered the beliefs of my youth simply were not true.

Leaving the church and my faith was difficult. My entire life had revolved around these things since I was a child and everything I had done and studied up to that point had been for and about these things. As I left my faith I found myself drowning in school debts for degrees that prepared me for nothing except work in the church. I was also lonely as I lost most of my social life and my Christian friends just couldn't be my friends in the same way anymore. In many ways I felt I had been robbed of much of my life and so I began blogging about my experiences hoping to engage with others who had had similar experiences as well as those who were still Christians in hopes of “helping” them escape their faith as I had. This led to many interesting blogs some of which were fairly harsh in criticizing Christianity. But after a year of writing about these things I became less passionate about what I was writing and thus found it difficult to keep writing. In a way I think up until now this blog has served as a source of release and healing for me. It allowed me to express my frustrations with my past and many of the beliefs I had held. Then as my frustrations began to wane so too did my desire to write about Christianity, religion or other faith based topics. In a way I was tired of “fighting” about these things.

But in the past few years I have found that while much of my anger about my past has dissipated my interest in these topics has not. I still enjoy reading about religion, church/biblical history, philosophy and modern science.  And while there are times I still feel a bit annoyed with believers I don’t have the same need to compete/fight with them over these issues. Now perhaps the one time I still want to “fight” is when religion crosses paths with politics and those of faith try and impose their beliefs on others. When that happens I can get quite riled up again. But for the most part I find I am much more relaxed about these issues than I was a few years ago.

So I come back to this blog with the intention of once again writing about issues of religion, faith, history and so on but I hope to write about them with less hostility than I previously did. Now I’m sure there will be times when things may get heated with various readers just due to the personal nature of these topics but for the most part I hope this blog will just be a place to encourage critical thinking, open dialogue and humor. I will be offering my own thoughts on various topics and share other people’s ideas that I find worth examining whether I agree with them or not.

I encourage anyone who chooses to read this blog to offer their own thoughts on anything and everything because I have found that I tend to learn the most by interacting with other people. I had made some good friends through this blog as well as some good competitors and hope they will return. Further I hope many new people will show up and help me once again have a fun blog about hard issues. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Taslima Nasrin - A Simple Truth

"If any religion allows the persecution of the people of different faiths, if any religion keeps women in slavery, if any religion keeps people in ignorance, then I can't accept that religion.”
                        -Taslima Nasrin, Bangladeshi Author

I have to agree with Taslima and so I say, “so much for the god of Abraham.” Those are all things that the Abrahamic god both supports and commands. Sometimes I look back and can’t believe how long it took for me to reject Christianity. When one simply steps back and examines the fruit of religion, monotheism in particular, it is just so painfully obvious what a moral pit it is and what a monster the god of Abraham truly is.  The Abrahamic god fails almost all tests of reason but it is his huge moral failings that led me to reject him and that I hope will led others to do likewise so that we may focus on making the world a better place here and now for all of us rather than waiting for some person of faith to destroy the world as the god of Abraham so eagerly awaits to do.  

Taslima Nasrin is an author who rose to global fame by the end of the 20th century owing to her feminist views and her criticism of religion in general and of Islam in particular. She currently lives in Sweden after expulsion from India where she was denounced by the Muslim clergy and received death threats from Islamic fundamentalists. She works to build support for secular humanism, freedom of thought, equality for women, and human rights by publishing, lecturing, and campaigning. 

Mother Teresa: Not as Good as She Would Have Us Believe - An Excerpt from God and His Demons a book by Michael Parenti

This blog is about Mother Teresa and how her image as a saintly woman sacrificing herself for the good of others is not well-rounded and requires a true blindness to all of Mother Teresa's words and actions. Mother Teresa has a much darker side that did not gain the public attention it deserved. This writing is by Michael Parenti and comes straight out of his book "God and His Demons" It can be found in Chapter 8 titled Mother Teresa, John Paul, and the Fast-Track Saints. It provides more examples of the danger of blind faith and how it makes it so easy to not do what is actually best for people here and now in this life and leads to needless pain and suffering. 

Michael Parenti writes the following:
During his twenty-six year papacy, Pope John Paul II elevated 483 individuals to sainthood, more saints than any previous pope. Just as he packed the College of Cardinals with ultraconservatives, so did he attempt to populate heaven’s pantheon itself.
One personage John Paul beatified but did not live long enough to canonize was Mother Teresa, the media-hyped Roman Catholic nun of Albanian origin who was courted by the world’s rich and famous and showered with kudos for her “humanitarian work” with the poor. What usually went unreported were the vast sums she received from sometimes tainted sources, including a million dollars from convicted Wall Street swindler Charles Keating, on whose behalf she sent a personal plea for clemency to the presiding judge. When asked by the prosecutor to return Keating’s gift because it was money he had stolen from small investors and depositors, she never did. (1) Teresa also accepted rich offerings from a Duvalier dictatorship whose wealth was siphoned from the Haitian public treasury. (2)
Her “homes” for the indigent in India and elsewhere, usually described in the media as “hospitals” and “clinics,” were actually hospices in which seriously ill indigents were afforded a place to die. (3) One young doctor, Marcus Fernandes, was taken aback by the substandard conditions. He pointed out that many of the inmates were not dying from fatal diseases but suffering from malnutrition and could be saved if fed a modestly improved diet that included vitamin supplements. But he could not persuade Teresa, who showed no interest in medicine or in treating patients with vitamins. Dr. Fernandes also unhappily discovered that expensive medical equipment donated to Teresa was left to rust, completely unused. (4)
A disillusioned British volunteer at Teresa’s Calcutta center concluded that the “standard of health care was atrocious.” Jack Preger, a Catholic doctor who had worked with Teresa, reported that “needles for injections are simply rinsed in cold water after use and passed from one patient to the next. And patients with TB are not isolated, despite the highly contagious nature of the disease.” (5) Wendy Bainbridge, a British nursing nun who had worked at mainstream hospices, was stunned by the squalor and lack of minimal amenitites at Teresa’s establishment. There were no aids to mobility, no toilet paper. “The toilet was an open gutter running behind the washroom and waste was washed away with a bucket of water.” (6)
Dr. Robin Fox, later the editor of the prestigious medical journal the Lancet, wrote a sharp criticism of the medical practices at Teresa’s Home for the Dying in Calcutta. He complained that suffering inmates were denied strong analgesics. Nuns and volunteers lacked basic tests to distinguish the curable from the incurable. Their lack of medical training encouraged potentially fatal errors. The failed to provide minimum comforts and did little pain management. They sometimes overmedicated to a dangerous level while missing opportunities to offer simple but effective treatments. (7)
Other visitors testified that Teresa’s hospices were “unsafe” and provided “neither proper nursing nor loving compassion.” Suggestions for improvement regularly went unheeded by Teresa. When one of her nuns was asked, “What do you do for [patients’] pain?” she replied, “We pray for them.” (8)
On one occasion, when staff members asked Teresa to try saving a teenager on the verge of death, she blessed the boy and said, “Never mind, it’s a lovely day to go to Heaven.” (9) One young volunteer recalls that on the infrequent occasions when surgery actually was performed at the hospice, anesthesia was not provided, it being considered too costly. Instead attendants told patients, “Pain is Christ kissing you.” (10)
When tending to her own ailments, however, Teresa preferred anesthetics over Christ’s kisses. She checked into some of the costliest hospitals and recovery care units in the world for state-of-the-art treatment, including angioplasties, CT scans, pacemaker implants, a personally designed spinal brace, and lifesaving heart surgery. (11)
When a Union Carbide plant spewed lethal pesticides over Bhopal, India, in what was history’s worst industrial accident, killing over twenty thousand (at last count) and seriously injuring an additional hundred thousand, Teresa made a brief media-saturated appearance, walking among those who suffered agonizing burns in their eyes and lungs, saying “forgive, forgive.” The luckless victims and their families were being asked to harbor no ill feeling toward the criminally negligent corporation. Teresa then swiftly departed Bhopal, never sending in her order, the Missionaries of Charity, to assist. (12)
Teresa journeyed the globe to wage campaigns against divorce, abortion, and birth control. When visiting Egypt she urged housewives to “have lots and lots of children”—at a time when the Egyptian government was trying to promote family planning to counter the nation’s population explosion. On numerious occasions she said she would never allow families that practiced contraception to adopt any children from her orphanages. (13) At her Nobel award ceremony in 1979, she announced that “the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.” And she once suggested that AIDS might be a just retribution for improper sexual conduct. (14)
Her concern for the unborn child was matched only by an indifference toward the living child. What social conditions caused hundreds of thousands of children to die of malnutrition and disease in Asia and elsewhere was a question that failed to win her attention.   
Teresa gave no accounting of the many millions of dollars she gathered from donations across the world. One nun who handled funds in New York estimated that there must have been $50 million in one Manhattan bank account alone. Additional bank deposits were reportedly kept in London and the Vatican. The bulk of her money was believed not to be in India because Indian law required auditing of accounts. (15)
In 1993 the Co-Workers, an organization of lay helpers who raised substantial sums for her, were required as a registered charity in the United Kingdom to produce accounts of their finances. Teresa suddenly and swiftly closed down the entire organization and announced that all future donations were to be funneled and announced that all future donations were to be funneled directly to her Missionaries of Charity. This decision, she assured everyone, reflected “the will of God for the Co-Workers.” (16)
Teresa produced a continual flow of promotional misinformation about herself. She claimed that her mission in Calcutta fed over a thousand people daily. On other occasions she jumped the number to four thousand, seven thousand, and nine thousand. Actually her soup kitchens fed not more than a hundred and fifty people, six days a week. She said her school in the Calcutta slum contained five thousand children when actually it enrolled fewer than one hundred.
As one of her devotees explained, “Mother Teresa is among those who least worry about statistics. She has repeatedly expressed that what matters in not how much work is accomplished but how much love is put into that work.” (17) Was Teresa really unworried about statistics? Quite the contrary, she consistently produced numbers that inflated her accomplishments. All her statistical “errors” went in a direction favorable to her.
Teresa claimed to have 102 family assistance and nutritional centers in India, but longtime Calcutta resident Aroup Chatterjee, who did a highly critical investigation of her mission, could not find a single such center. Rather than building new hospitals, orphanages, and schools, or upgrading the ones she had, Teresa spent many millions on convents all over the world and on training priests for missionary work. According to Chatterjee, shiploads of clothing and food donated to Teresa from abroad were often expropriated by the nuns and their families in India or sold off to local merchants for income rather than distributed to the needy. (18)
Over the years there were numerous floods and cholera epidemics in or near Calcutta, with thousands perishing. Various relief agencies responded to these disasters, but Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity were nowhere in sight except briefly on one occasion. (19)
When someone asked Teresa how people without money or power can make the world a better place, she replied, “The should smile more.” She herself was rarely seen smiling. During a press conference in Washington, DC, when asked, “Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?” she indicated that poverty was a soul-cleansing experience for the poor: “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion [suffering] of Christi. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” (20)
Mother Teresa is a paramount example of a “saint” who supposedly assisted the poor but without every bothering to ask why they were forced to live as they do. She caressed poverty rather than opposed it. The poor were her pets and her props. She uttered not a critical word against social injustice or against those in power. One of her former nuns describes her as “colluding with wealth.” (21)
Teresa spent as much as eight months a year traveling abroad, quartering at luxurious accommodations in Europe and the United States, jetting from Rome to London to New York in private planes. (22) While counseling victims to suffer patiently, she herself was known to have been impatient and unforgiving with her staff over petty matters. The two times I saw her on television, she sounded more like a crabby scold than a loving saint.
When Teresa died in 1997, the denizens of Calcutta did not turn out in any visible numbers to attend her funeral. Her burial procession rolled through empty streets. The impoverished population apparently felt they owed her nothing and most and never even heard of her.
After Teresa’s demise Pope John Paul II waived the five-year waiting period usually observed before beginning the beatification process leading to sainthood. The five-year delay is intended to ensure a sober evaluation, after which any claims made on behalf of a candidate are subjected to critical challenge by an advocatus diabolic, a “devil’s advocate.” John Paul brushed aside this entire procedure. In 2003, in record time Teresa was beatified, the final step before canonization.
A few years later, her canonization hit a bump in the firmament when it was disclosed by Catholic authorities who investigated Teresa’s diaries that she had been continually racked with disbelief: “I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist,” she wrote. “People think my faith, my hope and my love are overflowing and that my intimacy with God will fill my heart. If only they knew.” She goes on: “Haven means nothing” and “I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul…I have no Faith.” Rome’s popular daily newspaper, Il Messaggero, commented: “The real Mother Teresa was one who for one year had visions and who for the next fifty had doubts—up until her death.” (23)

1.      Christopher Hitchens, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (London/New York: Verso, 1995), pp. 64-71.
2.      Christopher Hitchens, “Teresa, Bright and Dark,” Newsweek, August 29, 2007.
3.      For a sharply critical view of Teresa’s hospitals, see Aroup Chatterjee, Mother Teresa: The final Verdict (Kolkata, India: Meteor Books, 2003), pp. 196-97, 224, and passim.
4.      Anne Sebba, Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997), pp. 59-61.
5.      Both the volunteer and the doctor are quoted in Chatterjee, Mother Teresa, pp. 188-97.
6.      Sebba, Mother Teresa, p. 142.
7.      Ibid., pp. 127, 135-36.
8.      Ibid., pp. 141-42, 148, 152.
9.      Observer (UK), August 26, 1990.
10.  The remark of the student, Ajanta Ghosh, was reported to me by the writer Heather Cottin, October 30, 2007.
11.  Chatterjee, Mother Teresa, pp. 189, 209. 385.
12.  Washington Post, December 11, 1984; Deepak Goyal, “Bhopal: 20 Years Later, the Misery Continues,” Siliconeer, December 2004.
13.  Sebba, Mother Teresa, pp. 227, 231.
14.  Mother Teresa, Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1979,, and Hitchens, The Missionary Position, pp. 88-89.
15.  Sebba, Mother Teresa, pp. 227, 231.
16.  Ibid., pp. 106-107
17.  Chatterjee, Mother Teresa, pp. 19-22.
18.  All the information in the above paragraph is from Chatterjee, Mother Teresa, pp. 23, 32-33, 92, 106-107, 157, 170, 179-80.
19.  Ibid., pp. 332-33
20.  Hitchens, The Missionary Position, pp. 11, 95.
21.  Sebba, Mother Teresa, pp. 218
22.  Chatterjee, Mother Teresa, pp. 2-14, 95.
23.  Serena Sartini, The Night of Silence,” Inside the Vatican, November 2007; Bruce Johnston, “Mother Teresa’s Diary Reveals Her Crisis of Faith,”; and Hitchens, “Teresa, Bright and Dark.”
24., and Curtis Bill Pepper, “Opus Dei, Advocatus Papae,” Nation, August 3-10, 1992.
25.  Edmond Paris, Genocide in Satellite Croatia, 1941-1945 (Chicago: American Institute for Balkan Affairs, 1961), pp. 201-205, passim; also How the Catholic Church United with Local Nazis to Run Croatia during World War II: The Case of Archbishop Stepinac (Washington, DC: Embassy of the Federal Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia, 1947), posted August 2, 2004,
26.  Eamonn McCann, “The Other Side of Miraculous Monk Padre Pio,” Belfast Telegraph, October 25, 2007.
27.  Ibid.
28.  Barry Healy, “Pope John Paul II, a Reactionary in Shepherd’s Clothing,” Green left Weekly, April 6, 2005.
29.  As reported to me, October 29, 2007, by political scientist James Petras, who interviewed civil war survivors.
30.  Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2007.
31.  RAI report, “Rissa a Roma tra giovani dei centri sociale e fedeli dell’Opus Dei,” October 28, 2007.
32.  Gordon Zahn, In Solitary Witness, the Life & Death of Franz Jagerstatter (Austin: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964).
33.  New York Times, May 14, 2005.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Richard Dawkins - The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution - Book Review

I recently finished reading one of Richard Dawkins’ books called “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.” The book was great for offering a clear presentation of what evolution actually is and the verified position it holds in the realm of scientific knowledge. Before this book the only other book I had read by Richard Dawkins was “The God Delusion.” I was assigned to read “The God Delusion” in a philosophy course I took while at Fuller Theological Seminary. Out of curiosity I looked back and found a short book review I wrote about “The God Delusion” for the class. I wrote:

Reading Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” has been of great interest for me. Dawkins writes very clearly and with conviction about his thoughts making his book easy and fun to read. His expertise in biology cannot be ignored and he brought to light many things I had previously misunderstood about natural selection and he uses this knowledge and his experiences to move into analyzing questions outside of the realm of biology and he does well. His use of and understanding of history is for the most part laughable and I admit makes it harder for me to take him seriously but when it comes to science I know I would come across as awkwardly has he does when discussing the humanities. So it is Dawkins arguments from science that I take most seriously.

Dawkins addresses Cosmological, Ontological, and Teleological arguments about the existence of God. He spends most of his energy upon the teleological arguments seeing them as truly the only valid ones worth refuting. This is another point where Dawkins spurns chances to gain a wider audience. He so clearly writes off cosmological and ontological arguments that he comes across as if he doesn’t understand them himself. Throughout the book he belittles theists who argue against natural selection or atheism whose arguments prove they lack an understanding of the issue. And when Dawkins speaks of these arguments of the existence of God, in particular the ontological argument, he comes across in exactly the same way. The temptation is then to write off everything he says the way he has clearly done with the numerous philosophers and theologians who have discussed these issues. But this cannot be done for again he offers important insights that must be addressed and valued.

I would be like to have a meal with Richard Dawkins. I would want to begin by thanking him for explaining the subject of Darwinism, in particular, natural selection to me in a clear and understandable way. I would desire to discuss the specific arguments he makes to better understand his line of thinking. In many cases I agreed with his process and his conclusions. It is his ultimate conclusion that there is no God, which I clearly disagree with. I do not believe it is possible to ‘prove’ the existence of God and if we did find something that we could measure and quantify and point to as God it would no longer be God. Similarly I agree with Dawkins that even if we could ‘prove’ God existed we would have no way of knowing which god existed. I would challenge Dawkins presentation of his material because his condescending tone often distracts from the arguments he is making and he often doesn’t give conflicting arguments the attention they deserve. I would definitely contest Dawkins understanding or lack of understanding of history. His use of history to forward his arguments is shaky at best and for the most part just plain wrong. He often quoted authors who said something that he liked but never legitimates their authority on the subject or demonstrates the complexity of the claims and issues being dealt with. At times the authors don’t even make the point he thinks they do. Unlike with science, the simplest answer is not usually the correct one when it comes to history; people are just too complicated for that. It would be a fun meal from which I would certainly be frustrated, challenged, and confused, but I would be better for having had it. 

I wrote this in January of 2008, which was about a year before I myself stopped believing in God, specifically the Christian version I was raised on so it was interesting for me to see how I was approaching the issue of God’s existence when I read Dawkins book.

The significant difference between “The God Delusion” and this book “The Greatest Show on Earth” is that “The God Delusion” focused on issues of philosophy, theology, history and science to deal specifically with the issue of God’s existence whereas this new book is solely a science book meant to introduce the facts of evolution that, sadly, are more often than not unknown or outright denied by a majority a people in America. So Dawkins potential weaknesses as a historian or even a philosopher do not show themselves in this book rather his mastery of biology and understanding of anthropology, geology, physics and astronomy are displayed.

Now even back when I was a Christian I came to accept the validity of evolution because the simple fact is it just cannot be denied by any educated person. At this point it is like denying that the earth revolves around the sun or claiming that the earth is the center of the universe. And while experts still debate the particulars of evolution the theory itself is an established fact. But despite my acceptance of evolution I can’t pretend to say that I understood it very well. My understanding of evolution was on par with my “understanding” of Einstein’s theory of relativity or DNA or black holes. I know these things exist and I know they are true but if one asked me to explain them I would not be able to. So too with evolution I have known for a while that it was true without knowing many of the particulars about it. This book was a great introduction into that topic and provided wonderful material for those seeking to better understand what evolution is and how it works.
With that said it is sad that this type of book still needs to be written. The facts it presents are things regular high schoolers should be learning in class but many of them, particularly in America, are not. Dawkins gave a great analogy at the beginning of the book to explain what biologists and anthropologist and other scientists have to go through when dealing with deniers of evolution. He compared the biologists fight to prove the validity of evolution before they can actually do their job (teaching or research) to a Latin teacher who faces the constant burden of having to prove the Roman Empire existed before she is allowed to teach or study Latin. Despite all the obvious evidence surrounding these people they continue to deny the existence of the Roman Empire and thus continue to hinder the Latin teacher from actually dealing with important issues in her field. This analogy made Dawkins perspective very clear to me. I could fully understand the frustration and general weariness that would come from continuing to deal with people who remain unwilling to acknowledge the truths of evolution that are so obvious and thus encumbering your actual work.

So I would recommend this book to anyone seeking a better understanding of evolution and the process of natural selection. I would of course encourage those who do not accept the fact of evolution to read this book so they at least have a better understanding of what they are rejecting and then perhaps ask themselves why they believe the earth is round, or that the earth revolves around the sun? My guess would be it is because they were taught that. The Copernican revolution took place early in the 14th century and yet there were people who denied it for over a hundred years afterwards. Eventually truth wins out and so too in the future evolution will simply be accepted by everyone and taught the way it already should be but that does not make it any easier right now for those of us left dealing with evolution deniers who might as well still claim that the earth is flat. I am grateful that scientists like Dawkins are writing books like this but I do hope they will not need to much longer and that they will be able to devote more of their time to more important issues then “proving” what has already been proven.