Book Review: The Atheist Manifesto

The Case against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, 2005, 2011, by Michel Onfray, translated French by Jeremy Leggatt. Arcade Publishing, N.Y. 246 pp.

By William Olkowski, Ph. D. -11/2012.

Wow, what a blast against religious thinking by a detailed examination of the history and writings of the Big Three monotheistic western religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.  Lest you forget, by the way, these three are still locked in their thousands-of-years fight for the human belief system.  We in the US even elected a theocrat, G. W. Bush whom we will be recovering from for decades, if ever.  Onfray clears away these centuries of indoctrination using the written records that survived the terror campaigns and book burnings promulgated to keep the religions pure.  Starting with the quote by Nietzsche (see below) the salvos by Onfray penetrate the fog created by these anti-life religious systems of Judaism, and its derivatives, Islam, and Christianity.  The quote below encapsulates Onfray’s blast using the written records mostly produced by those who gave their lives to expose these belief insanities including many “lapsed” theologians and priests who suffered death by torture.

“The concept of ‘God’ invented as a counter-concept of life – everything harmful, poisonous, slanderous, the whole hostility unto death against life synthesized in this concept in a gruesome unity!  The concept of the ‘beyond,’ the ‘true world’ invented in order to devaluate the only world there is – in order to retain no goal, no reason, and no task for our earthly reality!  The concept of the ‘soul’, the ‘spirit’ finally even ‘immortal soul,’ invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick – ‘holy’, to oppose with a ghastly levity everything that deserves to be taken seriously in life, the abode, the questions of nourishment, spiritual diet, treatment of the sick, cleanliness, and weather!  In place of health, the ‘salvation of the soul’ – that is a folie circulaire [manic-depressive insanity] between penitential convulsions and hysteria about redemption! The concept of ‘sin’ invented along with the torture instrument that belongs with it, the concept of ‘free will,’ in order to confuse the instinct, to make mistrust of the instincts second nature!”

— Nietzsche, Ecco Homo

I never knew Nietzsche was so clear headed as I always associated his beliefs with Nazism.  But the better association is with the Catholic Church as Onfray shows with his brief history of the collusion of Hitler with Pope Pius XII (fully documented in the bibliography).  And Onfray points out that the collusion continues with the churches unwillingness to acknowledge the error implicit in the Vatican’s support for Nazism.  Did you ever wonder why Hitler hated the Jews so much?  Well Hitler was a Christian, probably a catholic too.  Rather than follow the 6th commandment, though shall not kill, he elevated it to a catechism never to be forgotten.  And even though the Romans killed their hero, Jesus, the Christian mythology says it was the Jews who did it.  And that bubble is not the only one burst by this important book.

Onfray pulls no punches compared to Alfred Russell’s rather logical and gentle objections in “Why I am not a Christian”, for example.

Here’s another quote – this time from Onfray (p.125):

Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John did not knowingly deceive.  Neither did Paul.  They were deceived, for they said that what they believed was true and believed that what they said was true.  None of them had encountered Jesus physically, but all credited this fiction with a real existence, in no way symbolic or metaphorical.  Clearly they believed what they wrote.  Intellectual self-intoxication, ontological blindness.  All of them credited a fiction with reality.  By believing in the fable they told, they infused it with more and more substance, Proof of the existence of a truth is often reducible to the sum of errors repeated until they become received truth.

Does this ring true for modern times?  Consider the whole fiasco about Weapons of Mass Destruction, which justified G. W. Bush invading Iraq; our most wasteful, costly and longest war to date.  Repeating untruths enough times makes it true.  This is an example of performance utterances; a class of statements that perform an action rather then describe or report on it.

In the section (p. 83) summarizing religious hatred of science he points out the fallacy of believing that one book has all anyone ever needs to live the good life

Monotheism does not really like the rational work of scientists.  Clearly Islam embraces astronomy, algebra, mathematics, geometry, optics, but only to calculate the direction of Mecca more accurately by means of the stars, to establish religious calendars, to decree prayer hours.  Clearly Islam values geography, but only to facilitate the convergence on the Kaaba when pilgrims from all over the world flock to Mecca.  Clearly it prizes medicine, but only to avoid the impurity that mars one’s relation with Allah.  Clearly it esteems grammar, philosophy, and law, but only to enrich commentary on the Koran and the Hadith.  This religious instrumentalization of science subjects’ reason to domestic and theocratic uses.

These religions never learned from the Enlightenment.  They turned their back on learning preferring “mental night for the nurturing of their fables”.

My fear is that this religious filter can dominate our cultural future.

An example may help: My gift of a painting to my mother before she died explains many things about religious belief: I asked her if she liked the painting (of what I thought was a good representation of one of the beautiful desert scenes we were traveling in.  Here is what she said:

“Isn’t God wonderful (for creating such a beautiful place).  From the get go her and me were on opposite sides of this fence.  But this is the take home message: she never saw the painting.  She only saw God.  That’s a classic result of religious indoctrination: an obliteration of perception with an illusion.  Oh well, “she went to her reward”, but did live a good life.

More Hatred

Among the hatreds fostered by the Big Three (and many other illusory belief systems) is hatred of women, of sex, and pleasure.  I remember a critical experience I had to endure upon entering and leaving our Polish Catholic Church in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.  Leaving was most difficult because we had to pass by a full-scale replica of Jesus dying (or more accurately dead) on the cross.  Gads, such a picture of the hero of our belief system.  Surely this speaks volumes about the goal of life – to give oneself up to torture.  Don’t worry there’s a reward for your avoidance of sin (an impossible activity, by-the-way); there’s a better life ahead after this life.  Of course the original sin is Knowledge, and this sin was derived from Eve who gave the apple to Adam and caused the expulsion by a crazy god.  So sin and woman are a big problem for these male dominated religions.

Onfray cites the daily prayer of Jewish men: “Praised be God that he has not created me a woman (from Talmud, Menahot 43b).  The Koran is similar: God prefers men to women (4:34), e.g., the prohibition on exposing the hair out of doors, use of the veil, or exposing bare arms and legs, no sexuality outside legitimate relatives with a member of the community, who may himself possess several spouses, prohibition of polyandry for women, and praise of chastity, prohibition on marrying a non Muslim, probation on wearing men’s clothing, no mingling of the sexes at the mosque, no question of shaking hands with a man unless wearing gloves, marriage mandatory with no tolerance for celibacy even in the name of religion, passion and love advised against in marriage, only celebrated in the interest of family, tribe and community, recommendation that the wife submit to all the sexual desire of the husband, who “plow his wife whenever likes, for she is his tillage – the metaphoric is Koranic, permission to beat one’s spouse on mere suspicion, the same ease of repudiation, the same existential minor status, the same legal inferiority, a woman’s courtroom testimony worth half that of a man, while a barren woman, a woman deflowered before marriage posses exactly the same value; none at all.

More Hatreds

And then there is praise of castration.  And there is more anti-pleasure to contemplate.  Jews for example, have to submit to circumcision, which certainly reduces the nervous sensation of the penis.  So do Muslims (but note that Muhammad was born circumcised!).  The legal definition of mutilation is an act of removing a healthy part of a non-consenting child on nonmedical grounds.  60% of Americans are circumcised, 20% Canadians, 15% Australians are circumcised – but on medical grounds

And then there are the commensurate tortures of females; Three types: 1) “gentle sunna” which means tradition or way of the Prophet – removal of the head of the clitoris, 2) moderate sunna, or clitoridectomy, or removal of the clitoris and all or parts of the labia minor, and 3) infibulation, or total removal of the clitoris, labia minor, and labia majora, followed by sewing together of the remaining tissue, often with thorns, leaving a matchstick caliber opening for urination and menstruation.  All of these mutilations are done without anesthesia, and constitute means to establishing community membership and identity, and preventing erotic inclinations from eroding energy better employed in celebration of God by sapping lust and facilitating mastery of desire.  By carving into the flesh it supports a hatred of desire, libido and life in the very place where life originates, thus supporting a victory of the death-fixated passions at the very spot where the life force is located.  This is a way to turn the life force against itself “for our own good”. “With the advent of Christianity the death fixation was ready to poison the whole planet”.

Concluding Remarks

Lest you think this whole book is full of such revelatory expulsions read the book for it also lays out the idea of Atheism as much more than rejection of religion.  It affirms reason and recommends fighting such silly, stupid, and dangerous beliefs from thousands of years ago.  There is no index but the last section is a detailed bibliography showing how deep the atheistic sources are even given the relentless terror campaigns, book burnings and lists of banned books, and deaths of critical scholars over the centuries.  The section on religious opposition to democracy should be mandatory reading instead of intelligent design.  How about that for a campaign: teaching the real history of religious persecution, but it’s not science.

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