Elevate Difference

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.

Written by: Marcie Bianco, June 24th 2009

The term 'fact' is defined in chapter one. In order to be a scientific fact it must be something that can be measured. The book is quite simple to read. The references are very clear. This critique is almost unreadable and most certainly confusing. It appears to be an attempt at something intellectual but missed the mark.

I agree with the comment of Anonymous above, Ms. Bianco, but I have read and reread your review, and I still am not very clear what the book is about or how his claims are argued or what his style reads like. I can accept that the book is perhaps a perplexing read to you, but why and how, that is, could you cite a passage or example or problem or two to help we readers of your review figure out whether or not to get the book? Is it part of the growing "doubt" literature (from Richard Dawkins to Karen Armstrong to Bill Maher)? How many parts or sections or chapters are there? What does the bibliography look like, that is to say, who has St. John been reading? What is his method? What is his style? Which major world religions does he critique, and on what basis? Is he arguing from the basis of contradictions internal to major religious texts (of which, of course, there are thousands), or rather, on the basis of what "religious" people have done in raping and pillaging others, or on the basis of the patriarchy and heteronormativity inherent to most of them most of the time?

I hope I don't come off sounding snotty, and I say this with all due respect, but you might not be very familiar with the etymology of the word "fact," and that's probably true about the word "belief," which didn't/doesn't mean what you might think it meant/means. There are many meanings thereof, they only recently came to have much to do with truth claims, and the more meaningful and probably useful definition here is "completed acts," or as the first definition in the OED has it, "a thing done or performed." Think of "manufactured," eh?: "made by hand," not "truthful of hand."

Again, I apologize if I come off assholish in saying so, but perhaps some of the difficulties have to do with the meanings of these important words. I notice, for example, that the cover of the book depicts Adam's second wife?

Lawrence Hammar

Believers and non-believers alike should explore each side of the conversation. But not at the expense of being tedious and difficult to understand.