By Michel-Camille Bordeau
If you ever wonder what’s the future of freethinking and who’s leading the charge; if you are curious to know what Freethinkers of today are doing to ensure that tomorrow’s secular world is on the right path; if you want to know what’s good to (free) think about these days; or, if you simply want to read a mind-bending interview, tune in to Religion Nerd for my series, Freethinking Tomorrow: In the Words of Today’s Freethinkers.
The format is simple: I read a book, contact the author with a lengthy email, invite him/her to answer half a dozen questions, and then I wait eagerly to see if blind confidence gets rewarded. And it does.
The first Freethinker I decided to interview for this series was the Australian born author of God Hates You, Hate Him Back: Making Sense of The Bible and Jesus Lied-He was Only Human: Debunking The New Testament, C.J. Werleman. When I initiated contact, after a brief introduction, I made sure to explain to some length how much I understood, enjoyed, and had a willingness to share with fellow Religion Nerd readers his rationalist take on the Bible.
My hopes were very soon answered. CJ sent responses to my questions in less than twenty-four hours—I like to think we are on a first name basis. I am a fan, if you haven’t notice. And after this, I hope you will be one too.
MC: Do you think rationalists, freethinkers, and secular scholars have to resort to in-your-throat titles in order to be heard? How did this marketing strategy work for you? What other titles did you consider? Anything Twitter worthy? [CJ Werleman–@rationalists– is very active on Twitter]
CJ: Interesting question. I guess a captivating title is essential for any book these days, no matter the genre. Especially when you consider the vast number of new titles released every year, which is a result of improved self-publishing ease and accessibility. Now days, anyone can write a novel, for example, and then self-publish on Kindle within two minutes of completing their manuscript. Thus, with a litany of available titles on the market, an attention grabber is a must. Unless you’re a Dan Brown, of course. Coming up with the title for God Hates You. Hate Him Back was as difficult as writing the book itself. I wanted something that conveyed the objective of the book, that being to demonstrate the God of the Bible is arguably the most wicked character of all fiction, using the sixty-six chapters of the Holy Book to validate that claim. For a long time, every title that either I came up with or my publisher suggested, didn’t meet the litmus test I had set. Then, with less than four weeks to release I was watching Lethal Weapon 2, of all movies. And there is a scene where Danny Glover’s character says, “I think God hates me!” In reply Mel Gibson says, “Do what I do, hate him back.” That was the light bulb moment, while eating nachos and enjoying a beer watching a crappy movie.
MC: God Hates You. Hate Him Backis refreshingly humorous considering the seriousness of your project—plowing through the Bible for a non-apologetic, textual analysis. Was there a particular point in your research where you wanted to toss humor out the window and empty your lungs? Can you recall particularly frustrating passages?
CJ: Ha. Well, yes, the Bible can be a tediously boring endeavor. For example, reading Leviticus is like watching golf on valium. It reads as an ancient cookbook, providing every minuscule detail for preparing bread offerings. I’m sleepy just thinking about it. But overall I love the Bible. It remains the most significant book in all of Western civilization, but no one reads it. Christians don’t even read it. In my book I cite one study that shows 93% of American households own at least one copy of the Bible but 75% of Americans can’t name the four gospels. So I wanted to write a summary of the Bible in a manner that makes it enjoyable and entertaining, and not just for theologians, but for the man in the street. Like me.
MC: By the end of the Old Testament, your precise count reveals that Satan is not in God’s league when it comes to genocidal mania—40 innocent victims versus 31 million is a shocking discrepancy. What social, cultural, if not economical mechanisms must be set forth for people to realize that (1) the Bible is a toxic, if not dangerous read, and that (2) their interests are better served outside the influence of Religion?
CJ: Absolutely the Bible is a dangerous book if you do what God commands you to do. For example, if my daughter says, “God damn it!” I’m to take her to the edge of the town and bash her brains out with large rocks. If I wish to sell my daughter into sexual slavery, not only does the Bible not say there’s anything wrong with that, it gives commercial terms and conditions for doing such a thing. When we look at places like tribal Pakistan, for example, there they routinely execute people for blasphemy, a victimless crime. Now, are they barbaric, evil people? No they’re not. In fact, according to biblical law, of which the Koran is based, they’re more pious and pleasing to God than those who ignore that command. When people become cognizant of these kinds of issues, people realize this ancient book has no relevancy in today’s times.
MC: You make a point of demonstrating that authors of the Bible were ‘family-challenged.’ What’s your reaction to contemporary theists who are still convinced that the Bible is a moral barometer in matters of marriage, family, parenting? What would you like (to tell us) to tell them?
CJ: Well, similar to my answer in the previous question, the Bible only provides moral guidance if you wish to live in a world of tribal barbarism. If you don’t think slavery, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia are good values, then the Bible is not a great reference for morality.
MC: Which argument in God Hates You. Hate Him Back shows your greatest strength as a thinker? Is this the strength most recognized by your readers or critics?
CJ: I’d hate to second guess or presume my reader’s thoughts, but based on the feedback I do receive, and at the risk of being a presumptuous turd, it would seem people admire the way I do go question the taboo and sacred in a no-holds barred manner.
MC: Tell us about your new book, Jesus Lied-He was Only Human: Debunking The New Testament. You don’t beat around the (burning) bush with that one either; do you consider it a continuation of God Hates You, or an entirely new project? What should your readers be excited about?
CJ: Jesus Lied He Was Only Human is somewhat of a sequel to my first book. With God Hates You. Hate Him Back I examine all sixty-six chapters of the Bible, but as the Old Testament comprises more of the Bible than the New, it’s the former that gets most of the attention, and therefore a closer examination of the Jesus myth had to be its own, stand-alone book, as there was just too much to cover. Using the New Testament, and some Gnostic gospels, I break down Jesus’ life into the respective milestones of birth, baptism, childhood, ministry, arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection. I then show readers how wildly the gospels contradict one another with their respective accounts. Bearing in mind we have no biographies of Jesus outside of the Bible. When one sees the gospels examined side-by-side, or horizontally, one sees how absurd the Jesus biography is hacked together.
MC: What’s next for CJ Werleman?
CJ: My next book tackles Islam, which is due for release in the Fall 2011. I provide a biography of Muhammad, from childhood to his prophethood, while explaining the entire Koran alongside the things Muhammad did and experienced. The ultimate objective is to provide readers with a contextual understanding of the Koran. For example, when Muhammad said, “Jews behave like apes”, people will accuse the Koran of being anti-Semitic, and it seems that way when you take that passage in isolation. But this verse is contained within an entire chapter that refers to one specific Jewish clan in the city of Medina, a clan that went behind his back to offer assistance to the people who were trying to kill him, the Quraysh. Hence, this verse is Muhammad expressing his disappointment with that particular tribe he thought was friendly to his mission and is not directed to the entire Jewish people.
In this first installment of ‘Freethinking Tomorrow: In the Words of Today’s Freethinkers,’ I thought it fitting to start with CJ Werleman, a man who dared to plow thru the 770000 words of the Bible never lost his sense of humor, au contraire! Good (free) thinking always begins with a thorough analysis of primary texts, which is rarely something to smile about. So, it only makes sense to conclude that with God Hates You, Hate Him Back: Making Sense of The Bible and Jesus Lied-He was Only Human: Debunking The New Testament, C.J. Werleman has been responsible for an incredible tour de force. And we (free) thank for that!
Please, follow CJ Werleman on Twitter (@rationalists) and keep an eye on this busy man on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/CJ-Werleman/207324500344
About Michel-Camille Bordeau
Michel-Camille Bordeau is the founder and author of The School of Seshata (www.scriptotheism.net), a blog about secular spirituality and the home of the Scriptopedia Project. Michel earned an M.A. in French Studies from The Ohio State University (1998). Mid-life crisis oblige, he is returning to college in August 2011, to pursue an M.S.W. with a specialization in Mental Health & Drugs of Abuse.
Before relocating to Atlanta, Michel was an Academic Advisor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus, for nearly ten years. He has advised many students (and parents) on academic and life matters. He taught English, Public Speaking, Humanities, and French at various colleges and universities. In 2002, Michel published Poire Sucrée, Salée, Epicée, a short novel about a dance teacher forced to face the demons of her past. He is currently seeking representation for Seeing Purple, a dystopian novel set in Anaïs Abelard’s hometown, the New Orleans of tomorrow, also home to the power-hungry mega church known as the Calvinistry. Michel considers himself an amateur ‘atheologist’ and he often writes under the nom de plume Anais Abelard.