Post "the sixties" everyone likes to be called an iconoclast. Irreverence for this or that convention (let alone for the "establishment") is considered a requirement for being cool. Almost none of the people who are thus described deserve the outsider label. They may be radicals to their enemies but in their own groups -- say the left, the right, amongst atheists or amongst religious believers -- they are still predicable squares "on our side." What a shock then to read a brilliant book by a true iconoclast: Divinity of Doubt: The God Question by Vincent Bugliosi (#1 New York Times best selling author of Helter Skelter and many other books).
This book will have no friends of the kind who want to be comfortable in a group, no ready-made groups looking to be further validated by the one-way bias that passes for communication these days, where we all talk to people like us and distrust and even despise the "other."
That's because in attacking both atheism and religious faith, Bugliosi not only makes a passionate (and wildly amusing) argument for agnosticism, but also takes down the preening self satisfied so-called new atheists while also launching an attack on organized religion that can only make people like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris drool with "wish-I'd-said-that" envy.
I happen to be a Christian (I'm progressive politically and I go to a Greek Orthodox church) but I'm not the sort of believer who pretends that he (or she) has a corner on the truth. Face it, regarding religion: It's all about community and a longing for meaning. Theology is just people making excuses for a failed god or gods, while tap dancing to cover a multitude of sins.
In Divinity of Doubt, Bugliosi rightly points out that the new atheists haven't done more than attack religion while fobbing those attacks off as somehow proving this or that about the existence or lack of existence of God. Of course all they have done is show that religion mostly sucks.
True enough. But what did you expect? Religion was made by people.
On the other hand, as Bugliosi proves, religion -- say the Roman Catholic Church -- does more than fail some logic do-you-believe-in-a-virgin-birth test, it is doing wicked things -- say covering up pedophilia and protecting the institution rather than people. For instance, Irish church authorities in league with government enablers were placing children in horribly abusive camps until the 1980s. Physical and emotional abuse was a built-in deliberate feature of these "homes" for young men and women. The state-ordered investigation into cover-ups by the Dublin Archdiocese revealed that church officials had shielded scores of priests from criminal investigation over several decades and did not report any crimes to the police until the mid-1990s.
This was much the same behavior as happened in the United States: The Church's leaders spent much more time protecting their institution than their flock, let alone children.
The new atheists' arguments make sense only as attacks on religion. There's plenty to attack. But who says religion as practiced today, let alone as "revealed" in holy books, has anything to do with any actual creator? As Bugliosi writes, "Harris (like Hitchens) seems to believe something that is so wrong it is startling that someone of his intellect wouldn't see it immediately -- that gutting religion (as Harris tries to do by his technique of decimating faith that fosters religion) -- does not, ipso facto, topple God." (p 47) And with "friends" like the people running the religious groups these days, who needs enemies?
Bugliosi offers a resounding "I don't know" to the Big Questions and to the false certainties that sell books, not to mention stroke groups of "like minded" people. This book is as refreshing as it is honest. Maybe that's because unlike the churches and the new atheists Bugliosi isn't turning his views into a cottage industry.
If you're someone who doesn't buy into overly pat answers and knows that there is no knowing, Divinity of Doubt is for you.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway