The Non-Believer’s Bible
The Non-Believers Bible was passed along to me for review by a colleague who found the writing style to be painful, thereby foreclosing the possibility of her writing a deliberate review. Rather than headache-inducing, I found the text to be perplexing. Both while in the midst of reading it and after finishing it, one question continuously echoed in my mind: How to read this text? The question posed is both one of style and of method, since the method makes or is materialized in the style just as the style manifests in the method.
Perhaps, then, it is more appropriate to say that a growing sense of perplexing grew within my mind as a result of the motley combination of methods (which varied according to the “facts, research, history and common-sense view” culled by St. John) and styles at work in the text. The primary method and style is critique. The five purposes outlined in the preface articulate the overarching aim of the text: a critique of prominent world religions, a critique of the effects of religious beliefs, and a concluding section that describes the ethics of a non-believer.
It is the mode of critique—both as style and as method—that proves indigestible, as if the text were so chewy that it renders it impossible to swallow with understanding. Critique is art—to be able to write a critique, then, is an acquired artistic skill. It seems that St. John recognizes the mode of critique as the art form par excellence of writing. The text’s generic blending is reciprocated by the stylistic blending—the effects, however, for this reader, are confusing. The text, in its blatant, rhetorical, mockery of religion, sometimes reads as thoughtful provocation, while at other times reads as solipsistic and uncritical.
Particularly problematic is the author’s egregious oversight in claiming “facticity” for his project while simultaneously criticizing various world religions for asserting the same claim. “The book is factual, non-fiction, and absolutely true.” On the other hand, religious texts “are not based on fact, only hearsay,” he emphasizes, “I cannot stress enough the concept that religions are based totally on hearsay, no facts, nothing measurable.” Herein lies the problem: What is fact? St. John reiterates that his book is factual, but the assertion that his text is completely factual is predicated upon the melding of these following “facts”: as he says, “concepts [that] come from my own head. I have about twenty years of formal education, public school, college, and postgraduate work in Biology and Education. I am over sixty years old. I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a cousin. I read a lot and I think a lot.”
What is “fact,” St. John? Not only is the author hypocritical, more important, he fails to distinguish how his facts are different—or, more “true”—than religion’s facts. The concept of “the fact” is a nebulous one; for those of us with “formal education,” and, in particular, training in philosophy and critical thinking, we know that the concept of the fact is predicated upon the institution in power that determines what is fact; we know that quantitative systems of measurement are arbitrary and artificial, such that measured facts exist within determinate, closed, systems; and we know that all thought and language inherently emerges from perspective, from individual or collective perspective(s), such that any claim of objectivity is fundamentally rendered moot.
St. John’s text is inspiring for its discussion of how one can make meaning of life outside of religion, but, otherwise, the text is undermined by its own logic and therefore lacks the necessary rigor and critical acumen to present an effective critique of religion in general.