With all the influence that they have over us, you'd think we'd spend at least as much time examining them as we do, say, spouting off about them. However, that doesn't always seem to be the case, and the sad and sometimes dangerous result is that there's an awful lot of malarkey out there masquerading as truth.
That's where Russ Kick comes in. Through his Web site, TheMemoryHole.org, and a raft of articles and books, the Tucson writer and editor has been doing a lot of examining for us, trying to pull some of the wool off our collective eyes by unmasking countless myths, delusions, misconceptions, half-truths, cover-ups, blatant lies and all manner of mind-boggling idiocies that feed the fog of consensual confusion.
Kick's latest work focuses on religion, an area where misinformation and unabashed lunacy seem to hold especially tenacious sway. In this fascinating and often hilarious anthology, Everything You Know About God Is Wrong, Kick gathers, as is his custom, an eclectic array of irreverent investigators who dissect an assortment of frequently accepted, but less than sustainable, notions.
Take Tibet, for instance. Many folks believe that before those pesky Red Chinese took over, Tibet, ruled for centuries by a string of dalai lamas, was a pretty cool place to be, a spiritually incandescent land of peace and brotherhood. However, according to political analyst Michael Parenti, pre-communist Tibet was anything but cool; well, perhaps it was for the small and wealthy elite of religious and lay leaders who used beatings, tongue extractions, eye gougings and amputations to subjugate the country's large population of land-bound serfs. Parenti doesn't blame the present Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet at 15, but he gives a detailed account of how, despite certain Chinese abuses, life there improved significantly after the communists assumed power.
Then there's the matter of the Primordial Goddess. There exists a general consensus--in some circles, at least--that during the pre-historical good old days, cultures across the globe worshipped a Cosmic Matriarch, and the world was, therefore, a thriving, untroubled, environmentally-conscious Eden with enlightened ideas about gender equity. Cynthia Eller, though, a professor of women's studies and religion, asserts that there is scant evidence to support this view. She says that while certain early cultures venerated goddesses (usually alongside male deities), goddess worship was far from a pan-global phenomenon and that primitive life was somewhat less than idyllic.
And let's not forget Christianity. Many evangelical Christians claim, passionately, that the United States was founded on Christian principles and that the Ten Commandments should be displayed in public places across the land. However, Kick presents two well-argued commentaries which show that creating a Christian nation was the last thing on the Founding Fathers' minds, and that most of the commandments, especially the penalties for disobeying some of them (stoning Sabbath workers, for example), are distinctly un-American.
These illustrations provide a good idea of what to expect from this eminently readable book. It's well-researched; it takes no prisoners; and above all, it's balanced--all religions and world views are fair game.
It's also brimming with delightfully bizarre glimpses into the religious fun house. We learn about the ludicrous metaphysics of Scientology; the frequently recurring role played by Jesus' penis in Renaissance art; the mystifying pronouncements of the Ayatollah Khomeini on mosquito droppings, elephantiasis and menstruation; the equally mystifying doctrine that Mary conceived Jesus through her ear; the cross-cultural use of human and animal excrement in religious ceremonies; and, my favorite, an egg that emerged from a hen bearing the message: "CHRIST IS COMING." It was soon determined that the egg had been humanly inscribed and reinserted into the unfortunate chicken.
There are, as well, moments of illumination, including a look at the erotic sculpture adorning many Hindu temples, some of the convoluted ways in which we try to rationalize illogical beliefs, an atheist's ruminations on death and the truly evocative love poetry of that sensitive libertine, the sixth dalai lama.
This book, of course, is much more about poppycock than profundities. However, Kick will tell you that clearing away rubbish is a necessary task on the path toward clarity. In its highly engaging way, this volume will help make that road a bit less congested.