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Book Review of: Divinity of Doubt
The God Question
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Divinity of Doubt, by Vincent Bugliosi (Hardcover, 2011)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book will make you think about long-held, seldom-challenged beliefs. We are often admonished to not discuss politics or religion. In this book, Bugliosi takes religion head-on. But rather than trot out the typical lame "arguments" or engage in emotional rants, Bugliosi examines religious doctrines, statements, beliefs, and dogma the way a prosecuting attorney would examine the statements and evidence brought before a court.
Bugliosi, in case you don't know, was the prosecuting attorney on the Charles Manson case. He is also the author of Helter Skelter and some other books.
Much of what passes for "discussion" on religion is mere posturing and absurdity. Most who "discuss" religious matters spew forth someone else's poor arguments and (knowingly or not) use classic propaganda techniques in an effort to defend a particular position rather to arrive at the truth (that's also true in politics). That is not to say most people are deliberate liars. The problem is they aren't deliberately seeking the truth. Bugliosi, in this book, is.
Some of the "arguments" that Bugliosi shreds bring the reader to the dilemma of trying to decide if those "arguments" are comical or pathetic. These "arguments" are rendered by influential people and widely accepted. If you look at the consequences throughout history, you'll see why this matters. Not sure of what consequences I'm talking about? Bugliosi will help you with that, when you read this book.
What he doesn't go into, though, is the positive side of being a believer (in whatever religion). Belonging to a group wherein people support and respect each other is advantageous. Membership has its privileges. Without the shared beliefs (fictional or not), would they be better off? In many cases, the answer is a resounding no.
Of course, that is not a defining argument that justifies religions or believing. Nor do the positives, in net, balance out the negatives he mentions. I'm merely pointing out that there are benefits and positives, and for some people these are profound. Then again, this book isn't about whether people should en masse quit their religions. It's about examining what religions tell us.
Bugliosi and I are both of Italian heritage, but neither of us is Catholic. Does the idea of a non-Catholic Italian seem odd? But why is it that so many Italians are Catholic in the first place?
Is it because they embarked on an exhaustive examination of various religions and decided on that one, or because being Catholic is what's expected due to geography and/or heritage? If you've answered that question correctly, you have insight into why most people happen to be of one particular religious persuasion or another. It has nothing to do with actually weighing the evidence, though people who convert from one religion to another may think they are the exception.
In Divinity of Doubt, Bugliosi weighs the evidence for several major religions. All of the religions catastrophically fail to be supported by the evidence that they claim supports them. And all fail to make coherent, logical arguments showing they are anything other than fiction. Bugliosi does not, however, engage in the nonsequitor that the lack of verity in religion equals evidence that there is no God. He also examines atheism and finds it does not make a case either.
So what is Bugliosi's point? Is he saying there is a God or not? To answer that, we must go back to the court room. If the question of "Is God a fiction?" is on trial, Bugliosi establishes a reasonable doubt on that score. He's not saying there isn't a God. He's saying nobody has proven there isn't a God and nobody has proven there is. Exactly how he says these things is what makes this book such a compelling read.
I was surprised at some of the things Bugliosi said, however. For example, early in the book he says he has never used a computer (at least, I recall that--but cannot find where he said it as I write this review). By this, I assume he means a desktop or laptop computer. For a man who can ask such intelligent questions, this failure to use what has, for more than a decade, been a standard tool of information and communication strikes me as incongruent (at best).
This issue recurred to me later in my reading. It helps explain the anomalies that cropped up occasionally. A revised edition would edit those anomalies out. I won't mention what they are; those of us who have joined the information age can spot them easily enough. Note to Vince: it's not too late to get with the program. Your age group is among the most ardent of computer users.
Bugliosi doesn't take a disinterested, academic approach to his writing. He's quite engaging, as if he's talking directly to the reader instead of to some abstract someone. It may be a detraction that he uses sarcasm and scorn to underline many of his points, though it seems to me that the victims of these abuses had it coming due to their own lack of respect for their readers/listeners.
Overall, this book provides an excellent analysis of widely accepted delusions, lies, and absurdities that most people simply refuse to examine. It's not that people are too stupid to do this. When you're taught from an early age that you'll burn in hell for doubting (not having faith), then you get in the habit of just accepting the propaganda. There's not much penalty for accepting and you don't run the risk that the threats will be manifest upon you. But is this how we really want to live? I hope you'll join Bugliosi in exploring this question.
This book is 326 pages long and consists of 19 chapters plus two chapters called "Bookends" (two epilogues) and a Notes section (not references but further discussion).
I think the book easily justifies its cover price.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.