God and His Demons, by Michael Parenti (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2010, ISBN 978-1-61614-177-6) 281 pp. Cloth $25.00.
Michael Parenti is a Yale-educated political scientist whose works have been translated into almost twenty languages. His résumé bristles with awards and, during his early teaching career, prestigious grants. He is the author of more than twenty widely reviewed books (including, most recently, Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, and The Culture Struggle). In other words, his is an intellect to contend with. And in this book, God and His Demons, he’s taken on God.
The talent of a gifted storyteller comes forth not only in his words but in his arrangement of words, in his choice of particular words, and in what is not written as much as in what is written. At some magical juncture, the reader stops processing word after word and begins to see concepts, ideas, implications, and intentions. Clear, meaningful, and effective writing is, in my opinion, as much an inherent ability as a honed skill, and it distinguishes reading from quasi-experiencing.
Michael Parenti is one such gifted storyteller. In this book, he sets the record straight on what a monster God really is. It’s a fresh view. His major beef is with the self-proclaimed Purveyors of Truth, and he presents a CNN-style exposé of the problems that religion brings in his circus of the righteous.
One of Parenti’s most creative examples of God the Monster (Chapter 3) is a hypothetical of what our lives would be like if we followed the Bible to the letter as today’s law. It is a vivid description of a maniacal god’s reign otherwise reserved for the most violent of horror films.
Religion seems inescapable. You’ll find entire “Faith” sections in small-town newspapers like the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Patriot-News, sections devoted to the announcement of worshipful activities and meeting places of believers. Elsewhere, in the Patriot’s “Local” section, you’ll find full-page biographies reassuring readers that the family that prays together stays together. On the other hand, op-ed pieces supporting nontheistic values have trouble making it to press; I should know, because I’ve written them.
In Smalltown, U.S.A., you can’t go too far in any direction before seeing an old-time church with its clever little God-sayings posted in plastic letters near the schedule of services. It’s all very cozy until one stops to think of God as an industry—a very big industry dabbling in the business of paternalistic scientific and political obstructionism.
Everything is as possible as the existence of the One True God of Michael Parenti’s merciless analysis, the God we all hear about—even in mainstream media, annoyingly enough. The God Parenti discusses is the God of unquestionable dominion and of consistent, if unevenly applied, subjugation of the human spirit. The author does, however, recognize the earnest intentions of progressive religionists, a few of whom I, too, admire.
Personally, I would undo all things religious with the non-negotiable determination of Stephen King’s Langoliers, swallowing every drop of Christendom and replacing it with a firm secular foundation in which, though much is sacred, nothing is divine—undoing, uncreating, disassembling—and never again would an individual be pestered with the jubilantly mindless “Praise the Lord” phrase of Sunday-morning church.
However, where there are humans, there is religion, and where there is religion, there is totalitarian theocracy. Parenti journeys tens of thousands of miles and criss-crosses millennia to substantiate this observation.
To me, scientism seems a feasible remedy for religionism—not the advancement of science in coexistence with religion, or in spite of religion, but the advancement of science at the expense of religion. This likely makes me a heretic of a more incorrigible kind, advocating a sort of atheistic affirmative action program for the scientifically adept. Parenti mentions the science vs. religion point of view, going so far as to say that scientific progress could be much more efficient if not for the religious Right.
Parenti’s thorough book is not cherry-cheesecake material. His position is firm, his words are strong, and his arguments cogent. It seems to me a call to action to freethinkers everywhere to tune out the radical religionists, no matter how loud they are. This book shows the dark side of humanity in the name of (insert Higher Power name here), resting very comfortably beside anything Clive Barker or Dean Koontz might imagine. It is a masterfully composed work that reads very easily and convincingly.