The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions: A Secular History of the “One True Faiths” by William Hopper

Right off the bat, this book is not a scholarly work on comparative religion; not by a long shot. It was never meant to be such. If you’re looking for a serious [and quite frankly, tedious] history of the world’s major religions, look elsewhere.

The light-hearted, often highly hilarious approach to the heavy subject matter earns this book my recommendation. Even the sub-title is ingenious.

As I mentioned earlier, the book is pretty hilarious, especially the treatment of Judaism and Christianity. Be warned though, that some of the humour will offend, maybe not the atheists [who no doubt will find a great deal to enthuse over], but those who still harbour delusions about religion, and off course the mother grundies.

I was a tad disappointed though that Hopper did not give Islam in particular, a good what-for, but tended to approach it with a good deal of circumspection. To be fair to him though, he did declare upfront that he did not have the budget for personal protection that author Salman Rushdie has at his disposal. And to be fairer still, perhaps this declaration in itself tells us all we need to know about the religion of Islam.

I also felt that he rushed through the history of Hinduism and Buddhism, but again, to be honest, I really did not want to read too deeply about the 330 million gods of Hinduism and the non-religious status of Buddhism.

Overall though, the book presents enough information to satisfy both the casual reader and those curious about the other major religions, enough crude humour for the atheist, and a lot to think about for the religious.

My favorite passages from the book:

In the beginning, we humans lived in the wild and ate whatever was slower or stupider than we were. At this time, we invented a thing called a “god.” The god was made from the mightiest elements mankind could see: fire, thunder, lightning… all the big scary stuff we didn’t understand but knew was powerful.

Abraham did indeed have seven sons. At least that’s what his wife Sarah, told him. The fact that he was way too old to be fathering children at the time didn’t seem to hinder him. I figure he was either naive as hell about his wife’s activities or he had something in his diet that the Ovaltine people would love to get their hands on.

The thing is, the Ark’s not lost. Never has been. About the only people who ever thought it lost were those that only looked to the Bible for information, ignoring the fact that there’s a whole planet full of books out there that also recorded history.

The idea of kosher foods had existed before this, but Jabna was where the Rabbis set it in stone and made for damned sure that every generation of Jews from then to now were subjected to boiled dough and potato pancakes. (it’s amazing what people will eat when you tell them it’ll get them into Heaven.)

History shows quite clearly that wealth sustains a people a hell of a lot better than a god does. The Intifida.

So, for those Christian readers who have not yet thrown this book into the garbage, here we go: the Gospel According to Will. The absolutely non-authoritative, non-inspired account of the life of JC. (Gospel, by the way, is Greek for “good news.” The original gospels were the “good news” given by the disciples to the Christians in places like Rome, Carthage, etc. My gospel is good news too. It’s just not good news for the Christians.)

And the power of Yahweh did go into her and did make her pregnant outside of wedlock. Her fiancée at the time did see this and did think “She did screw around on me, the stupid little trollop.” But then an angel of God did come to him, saying “Joseph, don’t worry about it. It was God who made her pregnant.” And Joseph accepted this, thinking “Oh great, I get to marry this women and for the rest of our lives I have to live with the fact that her first lover was Yahweh. Even if I do really well in bed and I think she’s really enjoying it, she’s going to be screaming “Oh God, Oh God! and I’ll never know if it’s me of Him that she’s yelling about.”

Martin Luther was born in 1483. He graduated from Erfurt University in 1505 with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. He had no major, and his education ran the gamut of courses: math, philosophy, languages, that sort of thing. He was raised, like the rest of Europe at the time, as a good Catholic. This meant he never saw the Bible.

Now, as near as we can figure, these original Indus Valley folks were an easy-going lot that farmed and honored all things. They weren’t war-like, and had no ideas of conquest or domination. Instead, they lived quiet lives that genuinely reflected a willingness to get along and care for the people and land around them. Naturally then, they were slaughtered mercilessly and wiped off the face of the Earth.

Here we get around to the Bhagavad Gita. It’s a really long, drawn out poetic epic that I highly recommend you never read. The plot sucks and frankly so do the characters, Krishna included.

The Dali Lama was born in Tibet. And China. And Korea. Before that he was born in India and, some think, Atlantis. The guy gets around.

In the end, despite the books flaws, I enjoyed it so much so that I’m going to get Hopper’s other book in this series “The Heathen’s Guide to Christmas,” just in time for the silly season.

Thou shalt not burn the book

I’ve been following with increasing annoyance, the furore surrounding Florida clergyman, Rev Terry Jones’ hypocritical threat to burn a pile of the Islamic holy book, the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy this Saturday.

The whole sordid episode raises some rather perplexing and disquieting questions about people and religion in particular:

  • Has it not occurred to the Reverend that burning of books, even one masquerading as the ultimate word of some cosmic father-figure, went out of fashion with the dark ages? Has it not struck him as hypocritical, not to mention childish for two religions, which are equally complicit in causing human suffering and misery, to have a go at each other.
  • Why would a person who supposedly preaches about love and understanding, ignore the pleas of practically the entire world (discounting the 50-odd congregants of his church and those irresponsible morons who donated what they think are 200-odd fire-bound Qurans), and insist on going ahead with this mad scheme?
  • What are the limits to free speech and expression? Should there be any in a free world?
  • Why is religion allowed to hold the world to ransom, every time some pathetically  insecure fool thinks that his all-powerful maker, prophet or clergyman is being denigrated? And more importantly, why doesn’t any all-powerful entity stand up for himself rather than allow puny, irrational, hot-headed humans to skirt up for him (or her, or it)?
  • Would the burning of the Bible or Bhagavad-Gita, or Torah or even the Scientology Handbook, elicit the same feverish response from competing faiths, as this incident did? What does that say about the evolution of some religions as opposed to others? What indeed does it say about the dangers of religious fervour?

Already, the response from the Muslim world is not good; burning of effigy’s and flags has commenced in predominantly Islamic countries, and protestors flock the streets spewing hatred for the Rev Jones, Christians in general and off course, the despised Western world. No doubt, the hatred is being reciprocated in equal measure by individuals and groups in the Western world.

Meanwhile the Rev Jones is still praying for guidance to his course of action. Somehow, I have this knowing feeling that he will get an answer from his god before Saturday dawns; which I am pretty sure will be to stall his foolhardy quest. He will off course claim the moral high ground. It’s the expected outcome in these crazy religious matters. Anyway, it’s highly likely that this was all just an elaborate stunt to create publicity for his poorly attended church.

Off course, I could be totally off the mark, and Jones could go ahead with the book-burning; he looks crazy enough to emulate all those suicide bombers before him.