Divinity of Doubt, by Vincent Bugliosi (Hardcover, 2011)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
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
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
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.