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Book Review — The Atheist Manifestos III: The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions by William Hopper

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It might be unfair to include William Hopper's The Heathen's Guide to World Religions with reviews of works by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins (covered in part I and part II of this series respectively). That's because Hopper's work is a Marxist manifesto. Marx as in Groucho Marx.

Yet that may be what is ultimately required when it comes to advocating atheism. Religious faith and belief are not founded on concepts of logic, reasoning or the scientific method. As a result, perhaps humor is the only way to draw believers in and educate them.

Farce is not Hopper's sole approach to his "secular history of the One True Faiths." It is actually two-fold. The serious side examines the precepts and contentions of various religions in the context of what history actually reveals. The other is to approach it all with biting satire and flat out humor. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

Hopper, a Canadian who pursued a college program in world religions, turns a skeptic's eye toward the largest of the world's religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. One thing is certain. When Hopper offends, he does so on an equal opportunity basis. Thus, Jesus is referred to as "JC" or "Josh" (short for Joshua, his actual Hebrew name) and Buddha as "Sid" (short for his real name, Siddhartha Gautama).

People like me who tend to look askance at religion likely will find The Heathen's Guide far funnier and less offensive than believers. And, certainly, believers will find that shots Hopper takes at other religions far more palatable than any shots he may take toward their own. But Hopper is also intent on trying to educate people about what history really says.

Thus, in his examination of Christianity, Hopper takes an honest and serious look at what a messiah was insofar as Judaic tradition meant. That is a wholly acceptable approach since that is the only religious tradition in which the term had meaning at the time. Likewise, Hopper seeks to belie some of the gloss put on the religions, such as the view of Jesus as this bearded, long-haired, fairly attractive white man.

He quotes a description of Jesus that appeared in the work of 1st-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus:

His nature and form were human; a man of simple appearance, mature age, dark skin, small stature, three cubits high [about five feet], hunchbacked, with a long face, long nose and meeting eyebrows, so that they who see him might be affrighted, with scanty hair with a parting in the middle of his head . . . and an undeveloped beard.

Not quite the image with which most people today are familiar.

While Hopper's work is replete with such information, it is within a satirical setting that, once again, does not discriminate based on religion or creed. A few examples:

  • His description of the Essenes, a Jewish sect in which Hopper believes Jesus was a member: "They're the nutbar, genuinely certifiable Jews; the ones who would have been in the Waco, Texas standoff if they'd lived today."

  • The Christian concept of the Rapture "is basically like being beamed up to the Enterprise, except you end up in Heaven instead of the transporter room."
  • His description of when Mohammed first saw the archangel Gabriel: "There's nothing scarier than being half-asleep on a mountain and having an archangel show up out of nowhere with a silk scroll and commanding you to read. Unless, of course, it's being half asleep on a mountain and having an archangel show up out of nowhere commanding you to read when you're illiterate – which, as luck would have it, was what Mohammed was."
  • His description of the death of the caliph that caused the split between the Shi'a and Sunni sects of Islam: "[T]he orthodoxy got together and removed Hussein from his position as head of the faith. They left the rest of him, mind you. They just took his head. It was mounted on a stick and taken back to Damascus, where it was paraded around the streets[.]"
  • His version of "Suffering," the first of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths: "Life is shit."

This tongue-in-cheek approach pervades Hopper's exploration of these religions. Unfortunately, while there's plenty of information here, there are items that cause you to wonder about either Hopper's knowledge of the tenets of the religion he examines or his attention to detail. Having been raised with a Roman Catholic background, I can only truly comment on his explanation of some of its doctrines. Here he makes at least two fundamental errors that require pause in evaluating his explanation of other denominations and faiths. This is particularly so since Hopper's biography at the end of the book indicates he was born Catholic.

For example, Hopper refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the "Immaculate Conceptee" and indicates it was the conception of Christ that was immaculate. Roman Catholics (particularly those of us who attended Catholic schools named "Immaculate Conception") should immediately recognize that is erroneous. The dogma of the immaculate conception stems from Catholic obsession with original sin, the "hereditary stain" all humanity is born with because Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden. Seeking to avoid Jesus being born of someone afflicted by original sin, the church came up with the doctrine that when Mary was conceived she was "preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." Thus, the concept refers to Mary's conception, not the supposed virginal birth of Jesus.

Similarly, while Hopper explains how the Nicene Creed came about from the doctrinal debates over the concept of the trinity in western Christian faiths, he says that Catholics will recognize the prayer "as being the first words said in the mass." That, too, is wrong. Instead, the Nicene Creed is said in the Roman Catholic mass after the homily and immediately before the Eucharist services.

Adherents of other religions or creeds might find equally egregious errors in the discussion of their faith. Then again, they may not. It is that uncertainty that causes the most harm to an otherwise enjoyable work. Also undercutting The Heathen's Guide is something that rankles me about books issued by any number of very small or vanity presses — the proofreading is horrible. This book is no exception. In comparison to the factual errors, this is minor but it never helps an author when the reader is forced to stumble over various sentences.

That said, as long as the reader is aware that it is possible that not every fact in the book should be taken as gospel (pun intended), Hopper's blend of cynicism, humor and history make this a top notch "Dummies Guide to World Religions." It also provides an enjoyable counterpoint to traditional "heathen" views of religion.

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About Tim Gebhart

Tim Gebhart is a book addict living in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he practices law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs.
  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • http://asimpleandspirituallife.org Francisco

    “Love Your Enemies”

    Question? Are you a disciple?

    Now a disciple is someone who follows the teachings of another. Do you follow the teachings of another or are you “self-disciplined”? The One called The Messiah teaches His disciples to, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father, HE WHO is in Heaven;” (Matthew 5:44-45a)

    Hope is your desire is to be a Child of “your Father, HE WHO is in Heaven”?

    Hope is you have chosen to follow the teachings of The Messiah, He Who is “The Prince of Peace”.

    As you continue, remember that The Messiah testified, “the words you hear are not My words,

    but they are The Words of The Father(Creator) WHO sent Me.”(John 14:24)

    “You have heard that it has been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that you resist not evil: but whoever smites you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you, turn him not away. You have heard that it has been said, “you shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy”, but I say unto you, Love Your Enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the Children of your Father WHO is in heaven: for HE makes HIS sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even politicians do so? And if you salute your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even politicians do so? Therefore be perfect, even as your Father, HE WHO is in heaven, is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)

    The Testimony of The Messiah you just read was preceded by the following verse in what the “catholic/christian” religions of this world call their “bible”. “Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) Some believe that this bore witness to the laws within the Old Testament, yet this verse rightly applies to the teachings of The Messiah that followed, one of which was to “Love Your Enemies”!

    The Messiah also testified, “Why do you call Me, Master(Lord), Master(Lord), and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) And as Our Father spoke through Him, He testified, “If you love Me keep My commandments”. (John14:15, also read verses 16-24)

    At the end of The Messiah’s testimony, in what is commonly called “the sermon on the mount” (Matthew chapters 5,6 and 7) The Messiah bore witness to the following, “Not every one that says unto Me, Master, Master, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that does the will of My Father WHO is in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Master, Master, have we not prophesied in Thy Name? And in Thy Name have cast out devils? And in Thy Name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity. Therefore WHOEVER HEARS these sayings of Mine, AND DOES them, I will liken him unto A WISE MAN, who built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And EVERY ONE THAT HEARS these sayings of Mine, AND DOES THEM NOT, shall be likened unto A FOOLISH MAN, who built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:21-27)

    “HEARS these sayings AND DOES THEM”! May The Messiah’s GOD and Father, HE WHO is The GOD and Father of The Messiah’s Brethren, help us that we would hear and do! For except HE gives the grace, strength and love, except HE gives of HIS Spirit, none could do! “ And so the elect “cry unto GOD day and night”! (Luke 18:7b)

    The letters in what this world calls the “bible” are in perfect harmony with The Messiah’s teaching of “Love Your Enemies”. “Bless them who persecute you: bless, and curse not.” (Romans 12:14) “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not your selves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink: for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

    “See that none renders evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.” (I Thessalonians 5:15) “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that you were called to do so, that you should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if you are followers of that which is good? But and if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the LORD GOD in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you for the reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in The Messiah.” (I Peter 3:9-13)

    “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through GOD to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of GOD, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of The Messiah;” (II Corinthians10:3-5)

    “You therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of The Messiah. No man that wars entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please HIM who has chosen him to be a soldier.” (II Timothy 2:3-4) “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of GOD, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto GOD, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, Will of GOD.” (Romans 12:1-2)

    Many desire and expect ease in this temporal life, but tribulation awaits those that follow the teachings of The Messiah in this world! Yet, what a blessed end! “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of GOD.” (Acts 14:22) “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 12:33) “For unto you it is given in the behalf of The Messiah, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake; having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” (Philippians 1:29-30) “Forasmuch then as The Messiah has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the Will of GOD.” (I Peter 4:1-2)

    Whom do you follow? Do you desire The Will of “The One GOD, Father of All”? Have you chosen to serve GOD and follow HIS Only Begotten Son, The Messiah, on The Way to The Truth of The Life? The Messiah was “a servant of The Only True GOD” and The Messiah Loved His Enemies! Whom do you follow? Whom do you serve? “No man can serve two masters!” (Matt 6:24a)

    Choose rightly! Choose to follow The Messiah! Chose to be His disciple and call upon GOD day and night for the strength needed to “Love Your Enemies” so that you might “enter in at the strait gate”: “for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter that gate: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Be one of the few!

    Lest there be confusion it is well to remember that The Messiah “Loved His Enemies”, and so it was when He rebuked the pharisee’s, those religious zealots who denied Him as they sought to crucify The Truth: “Woe unto you, scribes and pharisee’s, hypocrites! For you are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and pharisee’s, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,” (Matthew 23:27-29)

    Yes, The Messiah loved them! And so He told them The Truth even though He knew the pharisee’s wanted to kill Him. “Some save with compassion, others with fear….”

    “But i say unto you who hear, Love Your Enemies!! (Luke 6:27a)

    Are you listening? Do you hear?

    The Messiah testified, “…whoever HEARS these sayings of Mine, and DOES them, I will liken him unto a WISE man, which built his house upon a rock:” (Matthew 7:24) and “And WHY do you call Me, Master, Master, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) “For whoever shall do the will of My Father WHO is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 13:50)

    That which The Messiah taught was of The Only True GOD, for The Messiah spoke The Words of GOD, and GOD’s Word is HIS Will! And The Messiah testified, “Love Your Enemies”!

    Do you “Love Your Enemies”?

    And the religious systems that are of this world?

    Do they follow The Messiah, He Who is “The Prince of Peace”?

    Do they exhort their “members” to “Love Your Enemies” in deed, or in word only?

    Seems the fruit of death is born of religious ways,

    because life is but a pawn in the wicked game they play ;-(

    Seems religious systems are but the legacy of the pharisee’s ;-(

    The Messiah testified, “Whoever lives and believes in Me

    (My Testimony and My example of The Life) shall never die!”

    And then The Messiah questioned, “Do you believe this?” YES!

    And you? Do you believe? Or do you believe in death?

    If you do believe in The Life, then you will “Love Your Enemies” for you know victory over death is assured! And The Victor, The Messiah, desired above all else, “Father, not My will, But THY Will Be Done”! And those who seek to follow Him, those who would be His disciples, will have the same desire.

    Simply, the desire for “Father, not my will, But THY Will Be Done” is “The Way to The Truth of The Life”. So simple that “a child will understand”! An adopted child of “The One GOD, Father of All” that is.

    Such “children” will no longer deny and defy The Father that created them, for they know that The Life is Their Father’s Will ;-) HIS “children” will no longer be of those “GOD will destroy because they are destroying HIS Creation(earth/water/sky/creatures/Truth/Love,,etc,,) ;-( (Rev 11:18)

    Lest there be confusion, be aware of the fact that The Messiah testified of “a wicked world”

    and that “those of this wicked world hated Him”.

    The Messiah also testified that those of this wicked world “would also hate His disciples”!

    And John testified, “love not the world or its things”, and “if any man loves this world, the

    Love of The Father is not in him”, for “the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one”!

    And James testified, “whoever is a friend of this world is the enemy of The Great Spirit”!

    “Love Your Enemies” refers to mankind. Disciples of The Messiah are not to love this “world”, for this “wicked world” is but the product of “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life” that fuels mankind’s “imag”ination. And mankind’s “imag”ination, “evil inventions” and self-centered ways are destroying Creation(earth/air/water/creatures/Truth/Love/Peace,,etc,,) ;-(

    And “the god of this world”, he who is “the father of lies, is “d”evil spirit that dominates and provides the fuel for mankind’s “imag”ination ;-( The children of The Great Spirit are to resist that evil, lying spirit which is leading those who are of this wicked world along the broad way to destruction ;-(

    You can not use the religious systems that call themselves “catholic”, or “christian”, or “pentecostal”, or “mormon”, or “jehovah witnesses”, or any other system of religion as an excuse for not believing and seeking to follow the teachings of The Messiah, because “religions” do not follow The Messiah, religions follow and believe the lies that are of mankind’s “imag”ination. One such lie is the “imag”ined name, “jesus christ”, a name they gave to one head of an “imag”ined three-headed pagan “god” some 500, or so, years ago ;-( And because of such “imag”ination and the “catholic/christian” theo(ry)logical lies, “The Way of Truth is evil spoken of” ;-(

    Yet while there is breath(spirit) there is hope!

    Hope! Not for that which is of mankind’s “imag”ination ;-(

    But hope for that which is of The Great Spirit(GOD), that which is of The Truth!

    Hope! For Miracles do happen!

    May there be those who experience The Miracle that is “receiving a love of The Truth”!

    Those who receive will “Love Their Enemies”!

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this wicked world……. francisco

  • http://heathensguide.com William Hopper

    Francisco: You forgot this passage about being a good disciple:
    “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

  • http://www.myspace.com/canadianpoet Bob MacKenzie

    Having known Will Hopper for many years and having read this book while it was still in draft form, I found this review an interesting read.

    The irreverent approach Will has taken in this book reflects his approach to life in general, which is at times irreverent, witty, and iconoclastic. It makes for an interesting and unique perspective on humanity.

  • Andy Wey

    Pity about the title. Real Heathens (who take part in the Heathen faith known as Heathenry) will not appreciate atheists stealing it.

    Andy

  • http://heathensguide.com William Hopper

    Andy:

    You might want to find a new name for your religion. “Heathen” is a term that specifically means non-religious. Dictionary.com defines it as:

    Hea‧then 
    1. an unconverted individual of a people that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible; a person who is neither a Jew, Christian, nor Muslim; pagan.
    2. an irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized person.
    –adjective
    3. of or pertaining to heathens;
    4. irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    Personally, I am proud to be a heathen and free of all the now-corrupted bs of these primitive, if persistent, false faithist attitudes.

  • STM

    Sorry Christopher, despite being one of the great unwashed, you simply can’t describe yourself as a heathen.

    Being able to understand a cricket score means you don’t qualify.