Review of Your Religion is False, by Joel Grus

I just finished reading Your Religion is False by Joel Grus. This is a light-hearted, very humorous book that pokes fun at just about every religion and belief systems that you can think of and tries to explain why they are false.

He takes on each religion, one at a time, as well as covering general dogmas that most religions have in common, using humor to point out the logical premisses they all have in common. Here are a few examples:

The existence of God: God exists because there’s no evidence he exists.
Perfection: People say god is perfect, so he must exist, otherwise he wouldn’t be perfect.
Divine revelation: Except for great-aunt Geraldine there’s no history of schizophrenia in the family, so those voices in my head must be god talking to me.

At times the humor borders on the blatantly absurd, but this works well as it reinforces the tone of the book, which is that all religions are absurd at their base.

He covers all the major and minor religions as well as cults and pseudo-religions like Hooliganism, Environmentalism, and Chopraism. The consistent theme that runs through the book is that, whatever your religion/belief system/deeply held belief is, it is false, and he bolsters this by satirically lampooning the convoluted and circuitous illogic that underpins all faith based belief systems.

For example, when giving a brief history of the Jewish religion, he takes the passages as they are in the bible and modifies them so that they become laser guided missiles of satire such as this gem:

The Jews complained about being hungry and water-thirsty and blood-thirsty, until Moses found them manna (nutritious psychoactive mushrooms), produced water by hitting a rock, and ordered eternal war against the Amalekites, who today are known as “atheists” or “freethinkers” or “the sensible.”

Or when commenting on the Ten Commandments he gives us this commentary:

I am god
No other gods
No making idols
Don’t use god’s name wrongfully
Celebrate the sabbath

These first five are what Biblical scholars often call the “domestic violence” commandments, as they are eerily similar to the hyper-controlling restrictions used by abusers in dysfunctional relationships: “Don’t look at other men!” “Did I say you could talk to your friends?!” “It’s after sunset on a Friday! Why the hell isn’t dinner ready?”

He is equally adept at skewing Christianity in his discussion of the concept of the trinity and how people who try to defend it give a mumbo-jumbo of mystical nonsense:

…they might offer the uncompelling analogy that an egg is three distinct persons (a yolk, a white, and a shell) combined in one “egghead,” ignoring the fact that the shell never claimed to be the yolk’s father and yet also a yolk, and also the fact that the white has never been claimed to dwell inside people who believe in eggs.

He can take something as supposedly secular as Environmentalism and use it as a metaphor of all faith-based beliefs when he says:

The most important Environmentalist holiday is Earth Day, celebrated each April 22 to commemorate the birthday of Vladimir Lenin. (Although Lenin was not himself a Gaiaist, he nonetheless embodied Gaiaist values like anti-capitalism, persecuting and demonizing one’s ideological opponents, and not tolerating dissent.)

At times he seems to veer of course to says something just to get a laugh, but that still has a bit of sarcasm in it:

While most people from India speak incomprehensibly (if you attended college you probably had such a person as a teaching assistant for your math courses), occasionally you will find one who speaks with a rich, beautiful, British-style accent. For reasons that are unclear but that probably have to do with the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, many people find these well-spoken Indians unrealistically credible. This, as far as I can tell, is the only explanation for the popularity of Deepak Chopra.

There are points, mainly in the last quarter of the book where, even though he is being humorous, the overall impact is one of deep seriousness. The following three quotes are examples of this and are quite sobering and really bring home the absolute ridiculousness of faith-bases beliefs:

Imagine that some television star … begins hearing voices in her head, commanding her to kill her fans. You and your moderate friends can argue over what the voices in her head “really” want her to do, but it would be much more practical (not to mention much less delusional) to point out that these voices are obviously hallucinations and to demand that she get medical help. Don’t we owe our “talks-to-Jesus” acquaintances the same type of concerned honesty?

Some people argue that religion is a necessary source of morality, and that if people all realized their religions were false, they would no longer have any incentives to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, to chop off the tips of their babies’ penises, to restrict poor people’s access to contraception, to censor cartoons, to make it difficult to purchase liquor on Sundays, to stone homosexuals, or to murder apostates and heathens. Society, they argue, would subsequently break down.

Overall, Your Religion is False is a wonderfully fun, satirical look at religious belief that pervades our society. Like all great satire, it uses humor and absurdity to highlight important truths about its subject. I would recommend this book to anyone was is at all interested in religion’s place in our society, especially those who are believers themselves, for perhaps while laughing at the author’s take on all the other religions, maybe it will make them step back and take a look at their own.

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