This project began as a kernel of thought while I was reading Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, having just finished The God Delusion. Being entrenched in the atheist mindset (and because I am kind of an intellectual douche sometimes), I was discussing with my wife the relative inferiority of the ten commandments’ brand of morality, and I caught myself saying “when I used to be a Christian…” My own words made me pause: used to be a Christian. It was strange, not because the feeling of alienation from the religion of my upbringing was novel, but because it was so complete that I had to pause and think if I ever had been a Christian. It had been so long since I gave any credence to the dogma, myth, rituals, and other bullshit that I had to imagine the me that bought into it years ago, when I had a Bible in my nightstand and a healthy respect (fear) for the almighty.
Being familiar with my present self and looking back on my past self generated a strange mix of emotions, almost like that bittersweet moment when you realize you no longer remember what a departed loved one’s voice sounded like: sweet because you no longer feel the loss, but bitter because of the cost of that comfort. Seeing where I had been made me grateful for who I am now, philosophically speaking, but also made me wonder what the hell I was thinking in the first place. From that strange reflection, this project was born. What would “current me” think of the ideals to which “past me” slavishly subscribed? What would the Good Book look like now that I have stayed as far from it as possible for over ten years?
And so, here it is, Habilis Homilarium. Habilis as an homage to Darwin and all his successors: Homo Habilis, one of our oldest and most remarkable forebears, walking the Earth more than one million years ago. Homilarium because I am going to embark on an enlightened re-reading of the Christian Bible and comment upon it with the benefit of the knowledge, maturity, and insight I have gained in the past ten years. It will be a collection of anti-sermons, candid and uncensored (which is an idea that is frightening people who know me right now).
My Bona Fides
I was raised in the church, evangelical, born-again, one way to heaven, a million ways to hell, all that shit. From first grade through eighth grade, I attended Wheaton Christian Grammar School, where we started every day pledging allegiance to the Christian flag, praying with our teacher, and spending an hour in first-period Bible class. I went to church and Sunday school every week, not to mention AWANA (basically Jesus Scouts) and youth group. Wheaton College was at the end of my street, and those poor bastards were not allowed to drink, smoke, dance, or interact with the opposite sex. For Christ’s sake, I could see the Billy Graham Center from my house for the first seventeen years of my life.
I started having problems with Christianity in about seventh grade, but it stuck to me for a while after that, like a superstition that you know is silly and baseless but you show it a terrified respect regardless. Fortunately, I went to a public high school while most of my classmates at WCGS went to Wheaton Academy. I started reading more in high school, and although my school was still jam-packed with the sanctified, there were some people who weren’t middle-upper-class caucasian Christians to provide a welcome change and some secular conversation. Also, in my senior year in high school, I met a beautiful cop/preacher’s daughter who exuded wholesomeness but had the most liberal and open-mind beneath the choir robes. She lent me Don’t Know Much about the Bible, which was an incomplete but eye-opening bit of sacrilege to my starving mind. As Homer Simpson would say, it was sacrilicious.
I left Wheaton for college (public university, out west) where the superstition started to loosen its grip as I went through the normal process of questioning my beliefs and trying on new life-philosophies for size. My mom (off the charts religiosity) likes to blame the “liberals that run the universities” for “brainwashing” me out of my faith, but the truth is that no one, at any time, ever tried to tempt me away from religion in college. I took philosophy classes, religious studies classes, and other liberal arts classes on my way to an English B.A. If anything, I found them a bit too tolerant and respectful of the dogma and inflexibility of religion, and overcautious about offending any religious group. By the time I graduated, I was happily unaffiliated with any religious group, but I was only beginning my journey towards freethought. I would call this my “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” phase, which sounds pleasant and modern, but is ultimately almost as full of shit as being a card-carrying christian.
After college I went to law school, which is where the wheels really came off the tautology-train. Top tier law schools are designed to batter logic and reasoning into you for three years. If you cannot back up a position with a well-reasoned, logical argument, then your position is shit, and you are shit, and you should be ashamed of yourself, and you are wasting $40,000 per year. That’s the gist of it anyway. I became further polarized during my three years in law school. A real transformative moment for me was when I chose to write a “Law and Literature” Seminar paper on lawgivers in various religious texts, and I spent sixteen weeks digging into religious texts I had never read before: Torah, Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Zend-Avesta, and I Ching. I saw how similar they were, to the extent that they were obviously derivative. I saw how rigid they were despite the commonalities, professing to be the Truth to the exclusion of all others. The other conclusions I drew from that exercise are too numerous for this introduction, as are the details of the rest of my transformation into, well, whatever you want to call me: atheist, freethinker, Pastafarian, secular humanist.
Flash forward another five years, and I have consumed Darwin, Dennet, Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and others, and I had my moment of realization that I am not who I used to be. This is the next natural phase for me, revisiting this book that completely dominated my life for almost two decades with the accumulated knowledge and experience of nearly ten years of self-reflection and rational inquiry.
Note: I will be using the translation known as “Young’s Literal Translation” because, well (A) it’s public domain, and (B) I’m guessing that a literal translation will be even more ridiculous than the NIV or Living Bible translations I read as a youngster.