Why Friday? Because I have 20% off coupons at Borders. Sure, I’d rather shop at an indy bookstore, but there’s none in town. So what are the 2 books I’m getting?
1) Jesus Land by Julia Sheeres. It’s just come out in paperback, and I am so proud of myself for waiting! I am not very good at waiting for paperbacks to come out because when I want to read a book, I want to read it now. This is a memoir by a woman who was sent to a fundamentalist reform school with her adopted brother when she was a girl. She tells the story of the physical and mental abuse that occurred there, as well in their home at the hands of their parents. This book is a loook into the worst of the worst of Christian fundamentalism from the people who can be damanged the most from it, children. I was raised fundamentalist also, but fortunately never experienced anything near this kind of extreme treatment from my mother. But in skimming through this book, I saw many phrases and sayings that I remember from my own youth. I actually was a fairly happy child and the moodiness I experienced in my teen years does was caused more by hormones than by anything else. But I still feel like I was abused (or perhaps neglected is a better word) by my parents during my time in the fundie fantasy land. Even though I dove in head first by choice, my parents should have known something was wrong. Alas, my mother was in the fundie waters even deeper than I was, and my father was an alcoholic. So I was lef to fend for myself. My behavior mirrored the warnings that are so prevalent today in ads to help parents tell when their kids are on drugs. I misssed school alot (becuase I was tired from going to church 7 nights a week), then I quit in my senior year of hs, I changed my wardrobe, got all new friends and dropped my old friends, my personality changed, I quit all involvement in extra-cirricular activities, and I buried myself completely in church activities (my drug of choice, as I see it in retrospect). It took me until I was almost 30 to escape the walls I’d built around myself, and can’t help but be curious about others who had the same (and much worse) experiences that I did.
2) Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief by Lewis Wolpert. This seems to be a briefer and less hedging version of Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. I felt like Dennett was a little too easy on religion, saying maybe we don’t know for sure that the world would be better without it. I just can’t buy that, based on the above personal experiences, for the most part, but also on the historical evidence that to me shows that religion does much more harm than good for society and for individuals. Wolpert falls into the trap of seeing nonexistent benefits of religion (in the intro, he says that joining fundamentalism helped his son, but there was not enough detail for me to really know if I agree. From my own experience, I know that fundamentalism can appear to outsiders to be helping someone when it is really stunting their emotional, intellectual, and even spiritual growth.) Wolpert’s book, however, does not appear to be pro or anti religion, it’s just a look at the nature of belief and an attempt to explain the origin of belief. And it’s much shorter than Dennett’s book, which I never finished, and according to the info on Amazon, it’s even funny. Understanding the nature and origin of belief is, in my opinion, a crucial step in seeing the demise of religion. Fundamentalists won’t care what writers like Wolfert and Dennett have to say (except to claim that their books constitute persecution, but they should rejoice, not complain about that according to Jesus!), but perhaps moderate and liberal believers will be enabled to take a look at their own belief with a fresh eye. I happen to agree with Sam Harris that moderate religious followers are in a very real sense providing cover to fundamentalism by claiming that faith is a virtue and that belief is a force for good in the world. Even though it’s not his goal, I hope that Wolfert’s book causes some of these people to evaluate their own religious habits with an objective eye, and perhaps to realize that faith is not as wonderful as they have been led to believe.