This is a review of TRUSTING DOUBT: A FORMER EVANGELICAL LOOKS AT OLD BELIEFS IN A NEW LIGHT
by Valerie Tarico, Ph.D. The Oracle Institute Press 9/10 266 pages $17.95 (paperback)
The reviewer is guest columnist Ben Edward Akerley, author of The X-Rated Bible: An Irreverent Survey of Sex in the Scriptures.
Clarence Darrow, one of America’s foremost defense attorneys and a card-carrying atheist, once stated: “The Bible says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom but I say that doubt is the beginning of wisdom.” Continuing in that same vein, Seattle-based psychologist and author Valerie Tarico’s revised, updated and retitled tome (the original book “The Dark Side” came out in 2006) packs quite a wallop.
She delineates how, starting in 1910, a series of 12 pamphlets entitled “The Fundamentals” was published as an infallible guide to absolute belief and the followers of these articles of faith which are off limits to any questions have ever since been known as fundamentalists because they insist that only they adhere most closely to the one true Christian religion of their ancestors.
Despite coming from an early background of indoctrination and programming with fundamentalist core values, already at age 15, the questioning teenager began to doubt the validity of some of the basic teachings. Unlike the born-again conversion experience which often occurs as a spur-of-the-moment, emotionally-charged event, the deconversion odyssey proceeds only gradually as a purely intellectual undertaking and in the case of this former believer, it covered a period of many years.
Germane to the heart of fundamentalist belief lies the acceptance of the Bible as the literal, inerrant and inspired word of God—Bibliolatry—so that the first big step in her journey of what she calls “dismantling” her beliefs involved a careful exegesis of the Good Book which she found full of errors, mythical miracles, superstition, contradictions, incompatible images of God, unfulfilled prophecies and unbridled violence particularly against women.
Once she got past the hurdle of overcoming her Bibliolatry, she could more dispassionately examine some of the stumbling blocks which most fundies prefer to sweep under the rug: the death of children before the age of accountability; heaven and hell as carrot and stick (heaven, the ultimate bribe and hell, the ultimate threat); the execrable doctrine of vicarious atonement with Christ as the sacrificial Lamb of God fulfilling the New Testament admonition that “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission from sin.” (Heb. 9:22); the problem of pain. She devotes an entire chapter (“The Luck of the Draw”) to the thorny issue of selective salvation and underscores how of the many factors that parents bequeath to their children, psychological research confirms that religious orientation has the most powerful influence in religious identity development and far outweighs the many other aspects of adult identity. In short, most individuals really do stick with the faith of their fathers.
The tireless investigator spent a couple of days reading the testimonials of ex-believers on their websites and discovered that the number two reason for their disaffection with religion was the rampant hypocrisy so evident in the extravagantly lavish lifestyles of televangelists, bad behavior of fellow believers and the now-all-too-common instances of family values , anti-gay religious leaders being caught quite literally with their pants down. The inauthenticity of the Bible ranked as reason number one.
Having spent enough time in southeast Asia to intimately interact with Buddhists, the writer emphasizes the stark and dramatic contrast between the agony of the crucified, bleeding Christ on the cross (echoed most graphically in the words of Roger Ebert who called Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” the most violent movie he had ever seen) and the peaceful pose of the meditating Buddha so she tells me that of all the wide assortment of designations for nonbelievers, “spiritual non-theist” works best for her, a stance similar to the Buddhist ideal of living their religion by setting an example with no attempt ever to proselytize (unlike Christians who slavishly follow “The Commission” to preach the Gospel to all the world and convert the heathen) and with no supernatural, anthropomorphic Big Daddy in the Sky anywhere in the picture.
This impressively-researched volume, replete with abundant historical detail and a very helpful reference list of books for further reading, can serve as an invaluable deconversion primer as well as a worthy addition to any free thought library.
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