Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category


Corrupted Science front cover

We’ve been running a NetGalley promo, and just changed some of the available books. Corrupted Science will be down soon, replaced by another title, so if you review books and are interested in Corrupted Science, it’d be a good idea to sign on with NetGalley now.

The titles we archived were The American Heretic’s Dictionary, by Chaz Bufe (the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary); Disbelief 101: A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism, by S.C. Hitchcock; and Nicolas Oakley’s far-future coming of age social/political sci-fi novel The Watcher.

Here’s a brief description of NetGalley followed by a list of currently available titles.

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If you read e-books and even occasionally review them on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, etc., or your blog (if you have one), you might want to check out NetGalley. It’s a service that provides free e-books to those who review at least some of the free books they download. This differs from the unrestricted book-giveaway sites. While anyone can create a NetGalley reader account, prior to okaying a book download publishers can check to see how many of the books a particular reviewer downloaded he or she reviewed. So, publishers are free to turn down “reviewers” who have downloaded say 20 or 30 books and haven’t reviewed any of them.

But if you like to read e-books and at least occasionally review some of them, it’s great. It couldn’t be easier to sign up for this free service at NetGalley’s web site, and even very short, one- or two-sentence reviews count.

We currently have the following e-books available for download by reviewers:

  • Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded), by two-time Hugo Award winner John Grant. This brand new book (pub date June 15) covers the historical period from the days of Galileo to the present, and covers a very wide range of topics including fraud by scientists themselves, the vast array of corporate misuse and misrepresentation of science, and the misuse and misrepresentation of science by authoritarian regimes, notably Nazi Germany under Hitler, the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the USA under Trump, with a special focus on climate change denial under Trump.
  • Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber. This cyberpunk thriller deals with an even more overtly repressive near-future America and the struggle against that repression by a multicultural crew of hackers and political activists attempting to wake the USA from its “sleep state.” Sleep State Interrupt received a Compton Crook Award nomination in 2017 for Best First Science Fiction Novel and has received dozens of favorable reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.
  • Anarchist Cookbook front coverThe Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, introduction by Chris Hedges. Anarchists have talked for decades about producing an anarchist cookbook, a book whose contents accurately reflect its title. A book written by anarchists that delivers recipes for social change, recipes for tasty food, and accurate information about anarchism. There have been several false starts on such a book, but no one has ever published one. Until now.Topics covered include the nature of anarchism, approaches to social and political change—what works and what doesn’t, avoiding entrapment by the FBI, food politics, and vegan recipes and cooking for both large and small groups. Popmatters says that this book “features a lively tone and inspiring argument. . . . [It’s an] affordable and handsomely produced compendium.”
  • Cover for Stage Fright:40 Stars Tell You How You Can Beat America's #1 FearStage Fright: 40 Stars Tell You How They Beat America’s #1 Fear, by Mick Berry and Michael Edelstein, PhD. This groundbreaking book contains 40 interviews with highly accomplished public figures on dealing with stage fright, offering tips from their own experiences in overcoming it. Jason Alexander, Mose Allison, Maya Angelou, David Brenner, Peter Coyote, Olympia Dukakis, Melissa Etheridge, Richard Lewis, Ron Paul, Robin Williams, and 30 others sound off about their trials with stage fright, candidly discussing their fears and insecurities with life in the public eye and ultimately revealing the various paths they followed to overcoming them.
    Stage fright sufferers from all walks of life—whether a high school freshman nervous about an oral presentation or a professional baseball player with the eyes of the world on his bat—will find consolation by understanding the commonality of their problem, as well as helpful information to finally shed their inhibitions.
  • Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front coverFree Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, by Zeke Teflon. The reviews tell you all you need to know regarding this sci-fi novel about a hard-bitten bar musician exiled to a prison planet filled with religious and political cults:

“Solidly entertaining . . . reminiscent of early Mick Farren.” –Publishers Weekly

“The plot holds the reader’s interest and should appeal to a fairly wide audience.” —Booklist

“[Free Radicals] is among the best future-shock reads in years. . . . Teflon wields a dark sense of humor . . . and is a terrific depicter of violence. . . . [Free Radicals] is the only sci-fi novel I’ve read that captures the gritty existence of a futuristic bar musician . . . [It also] makes great use of border Spanish; . . . If we lived in the ’60s and ’70s when audience-rattling paperbacks like Naked Lunch were cheap, plentiful and available on pharmacy spinner-racks, critics would hail Free Radicals as a masterpiece.” —Tucson Weekly

So, if you review books and any of these titles appeal to you, we’d suggest signing up with NetGalley now, as over the coming months we’ll be taking down these titles from NetGalley and replacing them with others.

Finally, just a reminder that book reviews are fun to write and that your reviews do matter and can be a tremendous help to both small publishers and to other readers.


Quantum Thief cover

“But first, tell me: Why religion?” Paul asks.

Isaac laughs. “Why alcohol? Once you try it, it’s hard to give it up.”

He opens the flask and takes a swig. The vodka burns on his tongue.

“Besides, this is the faith of champions my friend: a thousand arbitrary rules you just have to accept, all completely irrational.”

–from Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief


“[I]t is at an end with priests and gods if man becomes scientific! — Moral: science is the thing forbidden in itself — it alone is forbidden. Science is the first sin, the germ of all sin, original sin. This alone is morality — ‘Thou shalt not know.’ All the rest follows from it.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ


Cartoon by Pamela Sutter

This portrait of J.C. lazing on a sunny afternoon is the latest from our friend Pamela Sutter, author and illustrator of May the Farce Be With You: A Lighthearted Look at Why God Does Not Exist

May the Farce be with You


Christians are fond of pointing out that the devil can quote scripture, and on Thursday Jeff Sessions did so, citing the Bible as justification for his and Trump’s policy of forcibly separating immigrant families. That policy has involved federal agents ripping babies and small children from their mothers’ arms; this is not hyperbole — Sessions’ and Trump’s uniformed thugs are doing exactly that.

Appropriately, Sessions cited Romans 13. Here are its first two verses:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Just why was it so appropriate for Sessions to cite this passage? It can be used to support any government and any of its actions, no matter how horrific. (Not coincidentally, Romans 13 was widely cited at the time of the American Revolution by royalists opposing the Revolution, and was likewise widely cited by slavery advocates in the run-up to the American Civil War.)

One can see how handy this passage is for the Trump regime.

What was Sessions trying to justify here? The Trump administration’s decision to rip immigrant families apart, to separate children from parents — a decision labeled child abuse by the American Association of Pediatricians.

Typically for Trump, he and his underlings have refused to take responsibility for their horrific actions: they’re attempting to shirk responsibility, to blame them, somehow, on others, in this case on the Democrats. As if they’re helpless to reverse the decision they made, helpless to reverse the policy they implemented. Their gutlessness is beyond slimy.

Almost worse, the Republicans have introduced bills in Congress to reverse this policy, but that also include $25 billion in funding for Trump’s border wall. So, they’ve torn children from their parents’ arms, are inflicting grievous psychological harm on the children, and are holding them hostage.

And Romans 13 gives them exactly the justification they need.

One would think this would make most Christians, especially those espousing “family values,” uncomfortable. Wrong. I just took a look at the web sites of the two most prominent “family values” political groups: James Dobson’s Focus on the Family site, and Tony Perkin’s Family Research Council site. There’s not a single damn word about this disgusting assault on vulnerable families on Dobson’s site.

And Perkins’ Family Research Council web site attempts to justify Trump’s and Sessions’ vicious policy: “It’s impossible to feel anything but compassion for these kids, who must be dealing with a great deal of pain and confusion. But the origin of that pain and confusion isn’t U.S. law or the Trump administration. That burden lies with their parents who knowingly put them in this position.”

As if Trump and Sessions bear no responsibility for this atrocity. This abusive policy was never implemented under any previous administration. And no, somehow, it’s not the fault of those who implemented it, but rather the responsibility of its victims. (And yeah, right, one can almost feel the compassion oozing out of Perkins.)

To be fair, evangelist Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, has denounced Trump’s assault on families.

But most Christians, especially most evangelicals, haven’t.

Why? Let’s take another look at Romans 13. Fundamentalists claim to believe in the Bible literally (they don’t — only in the hate-filled, authoritarian parts of it that justify their cruelty), so they use it as a “get out of jail free” card for this horrible form of child abuse and the nauseating hypocrisy of the “ordained of God” Trump administration. They treat it as a “divine right of kings” card, more accurately a “Christians must kiss their authoritarian butts” card.

In fact, if you take Romans 13 literally, Christians must kiss all authoritarian butts that are seated in power, no matter who the butts belong to, and no matter what their owners’ political persuasions.

One would think that this would give pause to fundamentalists. For if Romans 13 is true, God ordained the suppression of Christianity in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin.

If you believe literally in the teachings of Romans 13, you should have no problem with this. No problem with either Lenin or Stalin — they were “ordained of God,” as were their actions.

Hitler? The Holocaust? Not a problem. He was “ordained of God,” and those who resisted him “received unto themselves damnation.”

Many Christians have attempted to interpret Romans 13 in a way that blunts or negates its obvious meaning. Please. It speaks for itself. Others have pointed to more humane passages in the Bible, as if they mitigate the horrific message in Romans.

Either Romans 13 is true or it isn’t. And if it’s true, the passages humane Christians cite that contradict it point to only one conclusion: the Bible is a man-made artifact filled with contradictions. It’s not the word of God.

The other lesson from this sad, tawdry affair is that “pro-family Christians” who support Trump’s and Sessions’ vicious treatment of families are disgusting hypocrites, utter moral garbage.

 


Iain M. Banks

“‘. . . these crowds are, perversely, highly attractive to bombers.’

“‘Christians?’ Q’and says . . .

“‘Of course Christians, you idiot!’ . . . ‘The religion of zealotry,’ she informs him testily. ‘The religion that loves its martyrs, the religion of the doctrine of Original Sin, so that blowing even babies to smithereens is justifiable because they too are sinners.’ She jerks her head and makes a sort of dry spitting sound. ‘A religion made for terrorism.'”

–“Madame d’Ortolan” and “Q’and” in Iain M. Banks’ parallel-worlds novel, Transition


For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is a slightly revised and expanded post from January 2015.

Given the spate of near-daily Islamic-fanatic atrocities, and the wholesale pandering of the Trump administration to its deranged theofascist base, this post seems especially relevant now. Indeed, who today can’t be wondering, “Which is worse, Christianity or Islam?”

Let’s take a look at some of the worst structures and practices in both Islamic and Christian lands, both current and historic:

Slavery

Slavery is still practiced in many Islamic nations. The most notorious recent example is the enslavement of thousands of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq. The Nigerian fundamentalist group Boko Haram is also notorious for enslavement of its victims.

At the same time, slavery persisted in widespread form in Christian lands until 1888 (Brazil) and in perhaps its most brutal form ever in the most religiously devout part of the United States until 1865. And enslavement of prisoners in the United States is still very widespread, currently involving at minimum hundreds of thousands of prisoners “paid” a few pennies per hour by for-profit corporations.

There is plenty of justification for slavery in both the Bible and the Koran, and not one word against it in either book.  (If you doubt this, run a search on Google or Bing. In fact, you’ll find justification for all of the horrors listed in this post.)

So, which is worse in regard to slavery, Christianity or Islam?

Islam “wins” this one based on the sheer brutality of some current Islamist groups.

Terrorism

At present, the most vicious and most active terrorist groups are Islamic (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and MILF — this is for real: the acronym stands for Moro Islamic Liberation Front). These groups are responsible for the murder of uncounted thousands of innocent people across the globe in recent years.

But Christian terrorism also exists, though in more subdued form.  In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is a proudly Christian organization. As well, “right to life” Christian fanatics occasionally murder abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics; and they routinely stalk and anonymously threaten abortion providers, providing a dictionary definition of terrorism: they’re trying to frighten and intimidate — terrorize — abortion providers into no longer providing this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Still, there’s no question that at present Islam “wins” this one hands down.

Internecine Warfare

By far the worst current example of internecine warfare is the Sunni-Shia mass bloodletting in Syria and Yemen, with thousands of casualties every single month.

But historically, Islamic internecine warfare has nothing on Christian internecine warfare. Just go back a few hundred years. Consider the Beziers massacre of 10,000 to 20,000 Albigensian heretics in 1209 by a crusader army commanded by papal legate Arnaud Amalric. Justifying the mass murder of helpless prisoners, Amalric famously said, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Then go forward just over 400 years to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) for religiously motivated (Catholic vs. Protestant)  murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Then if you add in all of the nonreligiously motivated internecine warfare between Christian nations (Hundred Years War, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc.), Christianity “wins” this one going away.

Subjugation of Women

The situation of women is unquestionably worse in Islamic lands than Christian lands. In some Islamic countries, the barbaric practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage are still very common, with the number of victims up in the tens, probably hundreds of millions. In far more Islamic countries, women are still very much second class citizens. Their testimony in court is accorded less weight than that of men, Islamic fanatics seek (sometimes successfully) to deny them education, they’re forced to wear head-to-toe coverings, they’re forced into arranged marriages, and “honor” killings are common and culturally accepted.

In the West, women still earn less than men, face street harassment and domestic violence, face a glass ceiling in employment, and rape is still a major and under-acknowledged problem. Go back a few hundred years, and you’ll find religiously inspired witch burnings all over Europe. And nearer to the present, denial of property rights, denial of the rights to contraception and abortion, and systematic denial of employment in many, many professions.

But bad as all this is, the situation of women in Islamic countries has been and is far worse than in Western lands. Islam “wins” here.

Persecution of Nonbelievers

In Islamic countries, it is simply unsafe (often deathly unsafe) for Muslims to abandon Islam. Many of their fellow Muslims will feel completely justified in murdering those who abandon the faith, and far more will condone such killings. Going beyond this, as the Charlies Hebdo atrocity in Paris demonstrates, Islamists feel entirely justified in murdering nonbelievers who were never Muslims, simply for criticizing Islam. And it’s not just unofficial Islamic thugs doing the killing. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a capital offense to be an atheist or an apostate, and the Saudi authorities are notorious for imprisoning and brutally whipping atheists and apostates, and threatening them with execution.

In the Western countries, it’s been several hundred years since the torture and murder of apostates and heretics was commonplace. There are still unconstitutional laws on the books in several U.S. states denying atheists the right to hold elected office or serve on juries, and high-profile atheists are sometimes stalked and threatened, but the situation of nonbelievers in Muslim countries is undeniably far worse. Islam “wins” again.

In Sum

At present, there’s no denying that Islam, which Bill Maher calls “the mother lode of bad ideas,”  is worse than Christianity. But why should this be so? Consider the above: the worst examples of Islamic barbarism are current, and the worst examples of Christian barbarism are in the past, mostly centuries in the past.

What happened? In a word, science. In the West, science with its question-test-and-logically-analyze attitude has flourished and has eaten away at traditional religious beliefs. This has resulted in a good majority of “believers” being “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose their “beliefs,” and reject those which are too ridiculous or too inhumane.  Hence the slow but fairly steady social progress over the last few centuries. This social evolution never happened in Muslim lands.

To put this another way, religions are toxic to the extent that their basic tents are toxic and to the extent that their members follow their teachings literally.

Many of the teachings in  the Bible are every bit as barbaric as those in the Koran. But a hell of a lot more Muslims than Christians take those teachings literally.