A teenage boy loses his family in a car crash and is taken in by his grandparents. Some months later he loses so much more – everyone. An unusual disease breaks out in Europe, first affecting the old, but then causing rapid ageing in the young. Attempts are made to contain the disease, but due to the fact that the symptoms don’t show up until days after infection, it spreads across continents, eventually wiping out the world. There are a tiny fraction of survivors, all in their early to mid teens – an age where the immune system and the development of the human organism are in a sort of optimal balance.
This sounds like a fairly typical apocalyptic tale, but the strength is in the telling. It’s the story of one teenage boy and his struggle to survive and find companionship. This may be marketed as a children’s book, but there is nothing cotton-wooly about the events that transpire. You would be hard-pressed to find a children’s movie as harrowing as this. Christopher portrays life with a keen sense of realism, examing loss, the hostility of life, and the relationships between young people that have been freed from the restraining guidance of adults. In the end, what wins – our humanity or inhumanity? A short, strong novel – one of my favourites by this author.
The story is set in a slightly Blade Runner-esqe future. New York is a sealed city. Not physically sealed, but in the Orwellian sense – a place of constant ID checks, where the rich (known as Owners) can feel safe in their tower blocks and where aliens (illegals) are hunted down and expelled or killed. The sky is abuzz with jet-rotors, people walk the streets in masks because the air is dirty. It’s not what we would call normal life, but it’s normal to the citizens because it’s all they’ve ever known – until, that is, a rich family known as the Allbrights gets hold of a permit to fly to a place known as O-Zone, where they intend to have a New Year’s party. O-Zone is an abandoned city where nuclear waste was once stored in underground caverns. Due to a leak, the whole area became contaminated. Now, many years later, it is believed that no one lives in O-Zone. The Allbrights and their friends fly there in their jet-rotors, and discover that they are not alone.
The book is really about how this trip changes the Owners. They begin the story as incredible cowards, but by the end some of them are transformed – to the point where they cannot regard their heavily controlled indoor lives of luxury in quite the same way. Central to the story is the kidnapping of a young alien by an Owner, and the kidnapping of a young Owner by a group of aliens. This allows the author to explore the themes of racial prejudice, culture, wealth, poverty, freedom. You can tell this is a book written by a travel author. The mode of transport by jet-rotor allows Theroux to provide commentary on landscapes and cultures that are probably mirrors of some of his own experiences. We go from the extravagant waste of New York City to the poverty of Africa, and other locales. A great deal of the book is spent inside the heads of the protagonists, examining their motivations and attitudes. If you care about the author’s subtext, you’ll get a lot from this book, but if you’re looking for an exciting sci-fi story, you’ll likely be disappointed. There’s not really much drama in the story, and that’s its chief weakness. I get the feeling that Theroux had things he wanted to say, and he constructed a loose narrative around this desire.
Interesting novel, but much too long and drawn out for what little drama unfolds across its five-hundred pages.
As a truth-seeker who has investigated everthing from Christianity, to atheism, Satanism and Eastern philosophy, I thought it was about time I tackled the daunting arena of quantum theory – in particular because, philosophically speaking, I’m a non-dualist, and quantum physics does seem to talk of a world that is fundamentally interconnected in a manner that is at odds with relativistic science.
The book started out as intelligible and fascinating, but after a few chapters I quickly got lost in the mathematics. Nevertheless, I persisted, and I’m glad I did, because even though quantum physics continues to be desperately complicated, I’m definitely not quite so in the dark as I was before. The book stumbles into the same “error” that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time makes: those readers who can understand the later chapters didn’t need the early ones, while those who benefit from the early chapters can’t understand the later ones. The target audience for the book just isn’t clear. There are some funky chapter headings like “Being in Two Places at Once,” “Everything That Can Happen Does Happen,” and “The Universe in a Pin-head (and Why We Don’t Fall Through the Floor).” These give the impression that this is definitely a book for the lay reader. Not really!
The book fell into a pattern for me. With each chapter, I was able to extract something intelligible and useful from the first few pages, then I would get bamboozled by complex math. The best part of the book for me was a brilliantly clear and thorough explanation of the famous double-slit experiment. This I can understand and appreciate – and it does fill me with a sense of wonder that space-time is underpinned by this extremely odd particle-wave duality. But as for the fine-print of how the quantum world operates, I’m afraid I will simply have to take physicists word for it when they say that an electron travels to its destination via every point in the Universe.
Worth reading for the ten percent of it that I could understand.
Here in the West, we’ve all grown up under the influence of Christianity, where God is viewed as a divine monarch. Little do we realise that we only picture God in this way because we’re unconsciously projecting an entirely human political structure onto him/it. Watts’s book challenges this, by describing the very different concept of God that has arisen in the East, specifically Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. To the Hindus, the Universe is viewed as God play-acting, or dreaming each of us. God is inside everything rather than above everything. It’s like a game of hide and seek; each one of us is God-in-disguise without realising it. In Taoism the Universe is viewed as a single organism (indistinguishable from God). Watts helps us to look upon the Universe in a very different way, not as a collection of separate things which exist independently of one another, but as a series of interconnected relationships. These Eastern approaches differ greatly from the likes of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, because they are not concerned with divine revelation, or obedience to a monarch. In this sense, they are not really religions at all, in terms of what we understand religion to be. The focus of the East is a transformation of consciousness. Learning to look upon the Universe in a different way that dramatically affects one’s life.
This volume consists of various verbal lectures given by Alan Watts, transcribed by his son Mark in the 1990s, from earlier recordings. The lecture “The Mythology of Hinduism” examines the religious side of Hinduism, where the godhead is said to be dreaming each of us. “Eco-Zen” delves into how the individual is one with the world, showing how the line between organism and environment is blurry and insubstantial when we get past the idea of “things.” “Swallowing a Ball of Hot Iron” examines the relationship of student and master in Zen Buddhism. “Intellectual Yoga” looks at the mind as a path to enlightenment. The volume finishes with “Introduction to Buddhism” and “The Taoist Way of Karma.” This is not a lecture series, as such. Mark Watts draws together material that spans his father’s career into single book of related topics.
Since this is the fourth book by Watts that I have read, I’m starting to notice a lot of overlap, but that’s unavoidable, and actually serves as a reminder of important insights. I continue to be impressed with this philosopher, and I have a better undersatnding of the Universe as a result of his work. This book provides a short and often humourous brief on Eastern philosophy. It’s certainly not detailed enough for the serious student, but as an introduction, it makes perfect reading.
Alan Watts is a non-dualist, as am I. Among those who think in this fashion, opinion is divided on the helpfulness of psychedelic drugs in the quest for enlightenment. Watts is in favour of their use, although he cautions that such experiences are wasted on those who do not approach the activity with a philosophical mindset.
Personally, I’ve never felt the need to take drugs in order to heighten my awareness. The human organism is working perfectly just as it is, and I’ve been able to grasp very deep things about reality from an intellectual perspective, and to feel these insights so deeply that I doubt drug use would be of any benefit. Many have congratulated me on my ability to talk and write about things they have felt but been unable to articulate; one individual even expressed great surprise that I have managed to comprend life to such a deep extent without resorting to drugs. My suspicion is that psychedelic drugs are merely a shortcut – something that takes the hard work out of the endeavour of understanding our place in the cosmos. And the drawback of such a shortcut is that it can leave the user stunned by glimpses of a deeper reality without any ability to communicate what he has experienced meaningfully to others. He feels a lot intuitively about what he went through, but cannot process it mentally. Since I haven’t dabbled in drugs, I’m doing a little guesswork here, but I hope intelligent guesswork.
The Joyous Cosmology is Alan Watts’ attempt to articute his psychedelic experiences in words. He never had hallucinations, except when his eyes were closed and he allowed his visual cortex to run amuck. In normal consciousness, the effect of drugs was to heighten perception. The simple act of gazing at a flower takes on far greater significance. Ordinary things became objects of incredible wonder. As I said, I think it’s possible to cultivate this appreciation without resorting to drugs. In fact, the author’s endeavour to capture his experiences in words attests to that.
Some people who are interested in non-duality have a strange view about life: they’re trying to “awaken,” to experience the underlying oneness. But if your individual mind were able to experience unity with everything, then it’s still the individual mind experiencing something separate from itself – still in duality. Any experience of oneness brought about by meditation or drug use will only be a halfway house, by virtue of the ever present subject-object (dual) relationship of consciousness. So, if that’s why you want to take psychedelics, you might as well forget it. What you seek can’t be accomplished.
The main aversion I have about mind-altering drugs are the toxic effects of drugs in general, especially when used habitually – which the author does not advocate. If you’re thinking about using a psychedelic drug for “spiritual” purposes, first educate yourself with this book and others. For me, this whole endeavour is of little practical value, because I’ve already achieved something the hard way. Still, a highly interesting book.
This is a very different look at Christianity from how it is commonly understood. It says that Christianity is not so much a historical faith of God’s actual dealings with mankind; it is mythological in character, telling a story with symbols – a story that is told, not just in Christianity, but in the core teachings of all of the world’s religions. I suppose you might call this Mystic Christianity. The idea is that you have to get past all the dross of conventional religion to find the nuggets of truth that are intuited at the heart.
Is there anything to this notion? Well, yes, at least to a degree. For instance, consider the prevalence of the number 12: twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples of Christ, etc. The significance of this is the twelve months of the year, with the sun (Jesus) at the centre. The notion of the incarnation (God becoming man) is viewed, not as a historic event that happened once for all time, but as a symbol of the divine and earthly natures of all men. We are all both God and creature. To comprehend this, you have to appreciate consciousness as something more profound than how it is considered within the constraints of materialistic science.
Before reading this book, I was already in touch with hints of what Watts’ explains. The idea of God having two natures (Father and Son) was not as absurd to me as it is to most atheists, because I had already come to appreciate that consciousness has metaphysical roots that are non-dual. There is little-me here in the material realm and big-me running the show from beyond space-time. But both are me.
While this was an interesting read, and by far the strangest book on Christianity I’ve delved into, I’m not sold on the idea that there is any value to be had in attempting to restore Christianity to some sort of mystic relevance. Christianity, for the most part, has long been interpreted as a historical record of God’s dealings with mankind. The idea of convincing the world that it is better treated symbolically can only happen after the world has been convinced that it is non-historical – at any which point ex-believers will be disenchanted at having been conned all their lives and will have no wish to translate the fictions of their imprisonment into symbols of genuine metaphysical worth. At least, that’s how being an ex-Christian makes me feel. Perhaps Watts’ approach to Christianity will have some relevance to a lapsed Catholic who has been trying long and hard to make something good out of it.
I personally feel that the way forward for metaphysics is to lose all religious and spiritual garb and to integrate with modern scientific language. For instance, understanding man as the Infinite focused to a point of limited awareness within space-time. That works a lot better for me than talking about man realising his godhood through his union with Christ the God-man.
An interesting and unique book, packed with a staggering amout of research by way of footnotes. But ultimately of no more value than a historical curiosity.
Back in school, we read (or were forced to read) various novels as part of English class. Mostly, I found them incredibly boring, and a drudgery. How Many Miles to Babylon, I Am David, Of Mice and Men, etc. – books that were, for the most part, too sophisticated and intellectual for a boy in his early to mid teens. These book choices no doubt contributed to me being unable to view reading as a pleasurable past-time. That all changed when Z for Zachariah became the class novel. I credit this book as the catalyst that got me into reading, and I’ve never looked back.
Ann Burden lives in a secluded valley with her family, when a nuclear war happens. Her mother and father head out in the car, to see what’s going on in the neighbouring town, and they never return. Beyond the valley, all is dead and lifeless. For some reason, the valley is untouched by the nuclear fallout – not a miracle, but a meteorological mystery. Ann now lives alone, thinking that she might be the last person in the world – except for the farm animals. Then one day, months later, she sees a column of smoke in the distance – a camp-fire. Someone is coming. Who is this mysterious traveller? How can he move about unaffected? And will he be friend or foe?
What a terrific set-up for a rivetting story. This is the third time I’ve read Z for Zachariah. It’s still great. Athough marketed as a children’s novel, it’s a very grown-up story that doesn’t pull its punches. At times, I wanted to shake Ann, for her excessive fear and her inability to be ruthless when something needed doing. But this only served to illustrate how much the author really drew me into the story, and how well he was able to portray the predicament of a sensible, moral girl whose whole world had been turned upside down.
Interestingly, I learned that the author died while writing the final chapter of this novel. His family finished it for him, and the book was published posthumously. Highly recommended.
I was attracted to this book by its subtitle: “Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality.” The odd combination of spirituality and mundanity appealed to me because I have a profound distrust of the kind of spiritual teacher who puts on a pretense of living on some higher wavelength of reality. I used to read a lot of David Icke, and much as I now disagree with many of his views, I still love the down-to-earth “spirituality with balls” attitude that he maintains. He was never ashamed to get pissed off, to swear in public, to trample on tradition, and to question authority.
In the same regard, Brad Warner didn’t disappoint. I smiled when the author poured scorn on all the pomp and ceremony that is attached to Buddhism, without losing sight of the value of the philosophy itself. And I found Zen Buddhism to be surprisingly agreeable.
The universe desires to perceive itself and to think about itself and you are born out of this desire. The universe wants to experience itself from the point of view of a tree, and so there are trees. The universe wants to feel what it’s like to be a rock, and so there are rocks. The universe wants to know what it’s like to be a famous Austrian body-builder cum film star and so there is Arnie. We don’t know that rocks and trees have an idea of “self,” and it doesn’t matter one way or the other. But we do know that human beings like you and me and Arnie believe in the existence of “self.” And this belief is the root of all of our problems.
Some might view the above assertsions as absurd, but I completely get the idea of duality as an expression of a more fundamental non-duality. In Eastern terms, I could say that I believe in the Advaita branch of Hinduism. But I’m damned if I can see any fundamental difference between Advaita and Zen – except that Zen has an emphasis on meditation as the principle means to enlightenment.
The type of meditation advocated in Zen Buddhism is pleasantly basic. It’s called “zazen” and it’s basically all about sitting still. There is no requirement for mantas, or specialised technique. The purpose of zazen is to open yourself to your true self. Given enough practice, it is claimed that we will be confronted with everything we’ve repressed.
There’s a really interesting chapter where the author makes a strong case against the idea of seeking enlightenment through psychoactive drugs. Another where he shows the error of belief in reincarnation. For the most part, I found my own views echoed and reinforced throughout the book. But the one chapter where I learned something new and important was “The World of Demons.” This was an alarmingly honest discourse on human nature – especially its nasty side, and how we should relate to that socially unacceptable part of ourselves. This chapter was so good that I went back and read it a second time, after finishing the book.
This is one of the more important books I’ve read in recent years. I don’t know that I would call myself a Zen Buddhist, but I am definitely keen to try zazen, even merely as a means of daily centering myself. It’s something I’ve always neglected, perhaps to my detriment.
Liam Creedy is knocked out in a nasty accident at school. When he comes to, he finds that everything has changed. For a start, he is seeing in black and white. Oddly, though, his own body remains in colour. Flashes of colour also manifest occasionally in other people, but for the most part they are uniformly back and white. Patrick Freeman High has changed even more radically. The school crest now features a fingerprint enclosed by a “no entry” sign, as if to say “No individual identity.” Prefects have become a kind of school police force. Corridors are more like streets, classrooms more like workplaces, and there is no exit to the outside world. In this strange self-enclosed microcosm of society, Liam has one friend, the strange Mr Samson, who tells him enigmatically: “Find the blueprint and change it. Only then will you find the way out.”
It’s clear that the author is using a lot of symbolism. The story is a vehicle for exploring the faults of the education system, its misuse as a means of indoctrination, ensuring that the population thinks a certain way. And the end result of this way of thinking, symbolised by a millstone inscribed with the words “Cause and Effect” rolling down a distant mountain towards the school, is the destruction of us all.
I can get on board with Hadcroft’s thinking to some extent. Like the author, I’m a fierce individualist, which makes me perceptive to the problems caused by mass herd-conformity. People work like crazy to buy like crazy, and this sort of attitude is gradually assassinating the planet. Religious hypocrisy and the pointlessness of war are touched upon in the book. I did find Hadcroft’s stance a little confusing at times, but while reading I was constantly analysing where we both differed.
I think my views would have been more in line with the author’s a few years ago, when I was reading a lot of conspiracy material. But these days, I see the competitive nature of life as something natural – a sort of stratification process, with winners and losers, a process that is mirrored in the animal kingdom. Although we fight against injustice, I don’t see a world without power struggles and exploitation as something that’s even possible. Hence, I don’t see the world we have in quite so dark terms as the author maintains. Even though we are undoubtedly indoctrinated in early life, it’s also true that the world today is so full of exciting education resources, if we would only reach out and take them – rather than spending our evenings wallowing in front of a television set watching soap operas. The real root of the problem is that many people simply don’t wish to learn. In fact, I would say that the TV is a far bigger source of indoctrination than the education system. I see television as the modern replacement for religion. It’s what people use to fill a hole in their lives; meanwhile it subliminally shapes their views and opinions.
I happen to know of the author’s personal religious convictions, so it tickled me when the protagonist had an argument with his teacher about evolution. The author takes the view that evolution is a lie, but the anecdote supplied in the story simply fails to deal properly with the issue. Today, for evolution to be false, there would either have to be a massive worldwide scientific conspiracy, or mass stupidity among scientists. While there is certainly a religious agenda against evolution, motivated entirely by a need to defend an inflexible dogma (which the author himself admits), the same accusation cannot be levelled at the scientific community, whose aim is simply to formulate the best theory from the available evidence.
Fans of the television series The Prisoner will notice a deliberate nod to the show in the design of the book’s cover. Elements of the story are also reminiscent of Life on Mars and Quantum Leap. The Blueprint is an enjoyable story, extremely well written, with an intelligent and thought-provoking subtext.
The usual argument you hear from religionists about morality is that unless you derive your values from a higher power, then those values are objectively meaningless. What right has one man to say to another that his actions are morally wrong, when they are both merely men making personal judgements?
That said, Harris’s target readers in this book are not religionists, but scientists. He maintains that science has, for too long, steered clear of this issue, and in doing so has allowed religion far too much leeway. Harris’s premise is this: the consequences of our behaviours have an objective impact on the wellbeing of conscious creatures, therefore ethics is a matter of objective scientific inquiry. Measuring our actions against this basis is something that we do unconsciously anyway. Well, unless we are a psychopath, that is. (And the book does include a very eye-opening section on psychopathy that doesn’t pull its punches.)
Back when I was a Christian, I knew better than to use the moral argument for God’s existence. I understood that atheists had every right to refine their behaviour in light of the impact of their actions – for purely pragmatic reasons. But sadly, there are still Christians who will use this argument – totally blind to the fact that every other social species in the animal kingdom is able to get along just fine without a divine lawgiver.
My view of ethics differs somewhat from Harris’s, although he writes with such precision and clarity that his assertions had a profound effect on my perspective, helping me to refine it. Before reading this book, I understood that the primary function of ethics was the refinement of natural instinct in the interests of personal survival; ethics that included the wellbeing of others were ultimately for the benefit of the self. However, after reading The Moral Landscape, I gained a fresh perspective on altruism. I came to understand it as the flowering of the survival urge (not something that Harris explicitly asserts). When personal survival is established to the point where there is abundance, that same urge blossoms into an interest in the wellbeing of others less fortunate. To state that another way: we must be good to ourselves before we can be good to others.
I also disagree with Harris’s assertion that we should be able to come up with objective values – clearly defined “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” if you will. I don’t think it can be that simple; each unique situation merits individual consideration. For instance, in the interests of my survival, I know that I would not act in the same way in a post-apocalyptic world as I do in present-day Western civilisation. In the former, I might have to kill to survive, whereas in the latter, it’s likely I will get through my life without doing much harm to anyone.
The main downside to the book was Harris’s assertions about free will. He views it as an illusion. One of the main problems I have with atheists is that they tend to be materialists, and materialists make a pretense of understanding consciousness. Harris unfortunately makes this same error, turning human beings into little more than automatons, despite the fact that we feel our “selfness” very keenly. They key to understanding this lies in differentiating the mind (which is physical) from the pilot of the mind (which is metaphysical). A lengthly discussion of this is beyond the bounds of this review. Faults aside, The Moral Landscape is an insightful book that has the power to be transformative.
Herbert weaves another complex tapestry of religion, politics and magic in this third installment of the Dune series. Dune Messiah ended with Chani’s death during childbirth and a blind emperor Paul Atreides wandering off into the desert to die. Children of Dune begins a decade later, with the focus upon the offspring of this couple, the twins Leto II and Ghanima. Although a mere ten years old, they are not truly children, but are able to access the memories of countless generations from their genetic past.
The control of the empire has been left in the hands of Paul’s sister Alia, who has the same gift. But it is a gift with a price. The memories of those past lives can attempt to overrun the present personality. Alia is at risk of being possessed by none other than her grandfather Baron Harkonnen. Alia’s mother, Jessica, is on route from Caladan, concerned about this very possibility.
To make matters worse, House Corrino, after its defeat at the hands of Paul Atreides in the first novel, is about to hatch a subtle plot to assassinate the twins. The planet Dune is also in the midst of an ecological transformation from desert to green pastures. But what will this mean for the worms, who produce the spice? For without spice, space travel is impossible – which would mean the end of the empire.
That’s a rough summary of the main threads of the story. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, remember that this is the Dune mythos, where characters possess skills of analysis and prescience that are unheard of in the real world. This adds a whole new dimension to human relations and political intigue. These novels are not the most relaxing read; you really have to be paying attention or you can quickly get lost in the complex tapestry.
One of my favourite aspects of the novel was the religious and philosophical overtones. I’m well versed enough to be able to connect much of what Herbert says about space, time and consciousness to esoteric ideas that have their basis in the real world – ideas that are often close to my heart.
So, I’ve now completed the first three books in Herbert’s six-volume epic. The first is unquestionably the best, but the saga hasn’t lost much momentum. I am certainly keen to continue reading. But not just now; I need a rest after this one.
It’s also worth checking out the television adaptations of Dune (2000) and Children of Dune (2002). The latter is actually a combined telling of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. But don’t spoil the books by watching the episodes first. The televised story is fairly faithful to the original, but not nearly as deep.
This work by the philosopher Neitzsche doesn’t quite live up to the promise, implied in its title, of providing a deep and coherent understanding of ethics that transcends the normal cateogories of good and evil. For its time, it was likely a revolutionary overturning of traditional Judeo-Christian values, but a lot of the content is rambling in nature, veering off into all sorts of peripheral avenues, including a large section on Neitzsche’s view of women – which is particularly hard to accept in today’s world. Nevertheless, the book had its moments of brilliance, and provided some very quotable quotes (some of which are darkly humourous):
Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule.
Not their love of humanity, but the impotence of their love, prevents the Christians of today – burning us.
Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.
Neitzche views morality as man-made, consisting of master morality and slave morality – those who lead, making use of what he terms the Will to Power, and those who wish only to be led.
“Exploitation” does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society. It belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life.
On whatever points we may disagree with Nietzche, he was clearly a very self-realised person, willing to look at human nature without masking it in self-delusion or wishful thinking. Not the best book I have read on ethics, but valuable nonetheless.
The first book ever to be written on the subject of satanic ritual abuse (SRA) was Michelle Remembers in 1980, co-written by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Over a period of one year, Pazder records hundreds of sessions where Smith allegedly recovers repressed memories of herself as a five-year-old undergoing a prolonged period of ritual abuse at the hands of a satanic cult. She is tortured, sexually abused, locked in a cage, witness to murders, and painted in the blood of sacrifice victims. At one point, a Satanist sews horns and a tail into Smith’s flesh. The scars left by this surgery would have proved invaluable in authenticating the account, but there is no such evidence on Smith’s adult body.
The ceremonies were gory and bizarre, and bore no relation to the rituals of the Church of Satan. Nevertheless, Pazder wastes no time in naming this specific organisation as the perpetrator of Smith’s abuse. He also states, in total ignorance of known facts: “The Church of Satan is a worldwide organization. It’s actually older than the Christian Church.” Pazder was forced to withdraw his assertion of the Church of Satan’s involvement after the book’s publication, when Anton LaVey threatened to sue for libel.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Smith’s idea of Satanism suffers from the same faulty assumptions as Doreen Irvine’s account (see From Witchcraft to Christ); she depicts Satanists as worshippers of the literal devil of the Bible. The rituals are filled with pointless, nonsensical, sinister elements, and horror movie trappings, including at one point the appearance of a monstrous spider crawling across the altar cloth and a vampire bat with claw-tipped wings perched on the altar’s edge. In the final quarter of the book, Satan makes regular appearances in the flesh. And Smith’s depiction of him is an all-out horror movie cliché, right down to the horns on his head and the claws on his hands. Curiously, he has a pig’s snout and sports a tail that occasionally shape-shifts into a snake. Fire sprouts from his back. Amusingly, Satan insists on continually speaking in rhyming verse throughout the account:
The knife is ready. It is time to begin.
It has been poisoned and sharpened very thin.
I confess that when I began reading this book, I seriously considered that this child might have been the victim of some deeply unethical occult group. But by the time I finished, the entire tale had made a nosedive into total religious farce. In addition to enduring the devil’s bad poetry, Smith witnesses heads spinning, just like Linda Blair in the movie The Exorcist (1973). Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael appear to Smith at various points during her dark days in the ritual chamber. Absurdly, Mary sprinkles her sentences with French, which would not have been her native language, nor is it Smith’s. The two authors’ combined depiction of Satanism seems to be a fusion of their own Catholic prejudices and Pazder’s past encounters with unusual religion from when he was working and living in Africa in the 1960s. He goes as far as drawing this comparison himself in the book. It’s hard to see how Pazder maintained any credibility with his peers after publishing this unconscionable mix of psychiatry and superstition as fact.
It also turns out that some of Smith’s claims are provably false beyond reasonable doubt. Early in the story, she is allegedly involved in a car crash that is staged to look like an accident, as a means of the Satanists getting rid of a dead body. Conveniently, it happened so long ago that police and hospital records of the event were destroyed at the time of Smith’s therapy. However, Pazder overlooked the fact that it’s possible to check the newspaper records in library archives. No such incident was reported around the time indicated by Smith’s testimony.
The book features a photograph of a mausoleum at Ross Bay cemetery, at which a ritual allegedly took place. However, when this building is snapped from different angle (as another photographer has demonstrated), the mausoleum is revealed to be within eyeshot of suburban houses. Maybe the Satanists used one of Doreen Irvine’s invisibility spells!
Towards the end of the book there is an eighty-one-day non-stop ceremony. Yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school have revealed no indication of her being missing for a lengthy period of time.
There are many more problems with Smith’s account that I could raise, but these examples suffice to destroy her credibility. All that remains is to determine whether she is delusional or an outright liar. The coherency and detail in her account causes me to side with the latter.
Even without the evidence against Smith and Pazder, the simple fact that nothing can be corroborated ought to raise warning bells in the minds of readers. But many people have never made the mental effort to learn what criteria they ought to use in determining truth from falsehood. People tend to believe things if they merely feel true, or if they simply want to believe. The ability to believe claims in the absence of evidence is how witch-hunts are born. And in this instance, that’s exactly what happened.
Michelle Remembers opened the floodgates for countless reports of satanic ritual abuse. Pazder was considered to be an expert. He became involved in the Cult Crime Impact Network and lectured to police agencies about SRA during the late 1980s. By September 1990 he had been consulted in more than a thousand ritual abuse cases.
Closure of the Satanic Panic finally came with the publication of the Lanning Report (1991) by the FBI. Three hundred cases of multi-victim, multi-offender SRA were examined and no physical evidence of abuse could be found. Aside from the occasional unethical pseudo-Satanist, there was no evidence whatsoever of any underground occult organisation engaging in SRA. This document can be read in full on the internet. Conspiracy theorists still like to keep the phenomenon alive. I read this in an online forum: “The Lanning Report is load of pig shit, if you ask me. Written by the same people it claims ‘do not exist.’” Of course, the conspiracy theorist doesn’t require actual evidence of the FBI’s involvement in a cover-up; the mere suspicion of it is enough to warrant belief.
During the years of the Panic, the lives of many law-abiding Satanists (and other non-satanic occultists) were subjected to the judgements of a dangerously ignorant population (including its law enforcement) that was feeding on a diet of sensationalist propaganda.
By contrast, the uncovering of real, verified, widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church has to be one of the most spectacular reversals of expectation in history, as we discover that real evil lies within those who masquerade as the good, rather than those who merely enjoy the glamour of sinister symbolism.
The Satanic Panic must never happen again. That will only be possible through the widespread triumph of reason over superstition.
Uniquely, I’m someone who first read The God Delusion as a Christian and now I’ve read it for a second time as an ex-Christian. In my first reading, the book didn’t convince me to abandon my faith. Looking back on my original review, I still concur with many of the points I raised in criticism of it. You see, I was no idiot as a Christian. And this is part of the problem with Dawkins’s book: his tone, from the get-go, is that you’re a moron if you believe in God. He characterises the most profound dilemma of my life as foolishness.
Dawkins does not get why people gravitate to religion. He has never understood the view that human nature is broken. This is the driving force that causes people to seek salvation, redemption, spiritual awakening, etc. The feeling that there is something incomplete or malfunctional in man, such as “original sin.” When a religion addresses this need, that is why people flock to it. And this deep psychological attachment then becomes the reason why the religionist cannot be reasoned with. I now believe the view of human nature as “fallen” to be erroneous, but this key issue is not even addressed by Dawkins’s book and it is the very cornerstone of religion.
The God Delusion can basically be split into two parts, each comprising roughly fifty percent of the volume. In the first half, Dawkins makes the argument against God from an evolutionary perspective – the view that complex things are always formed out of simpler things. This is the basis from which Dawkins argues that God, if he exists, must have been something incredibly simple, because a vastly complex God would have required a creator, in the same manner that the theist argues the universe requires a creator. In arguing this way, Dawkins simply does not get what is meant, philosophically, by the idea of a “first cause” or an “uncaused cause.” It is a reference to something wholely outside of the constraints of space-time, something formless and timeless that encompasses all that is in the material realm – something wholely other. I confess that, as a Christian, I gave up on the book at this halfway point, because Dawkins failed to make his case in laying the groundwork.
The second half of the book is mostly concerned with slamming religion as a force for evil. Much of what Dawkins says is true, and a torch should definitely be shone on it all. The trouble is, the Christian is not overly concerned with the atrocities done by others, or the horrors done in the past in the name of Christ. The Christian sees his religion as a personal relationship with God, and his only concern is his own standing before God. And if the Christian feels that his religion is beneficial force in his own life, that’s primarily what matters. A great deal of what Dawkins says will sit in the mind of the Christian reader as a huge ad hominem argument against religion that will have no effect.
One very controversial moment in the book was Dawkins’s suggestion that it might be a good idea to prevent parents raising their children in a religion, on the grounds that such indoctrination is a form of child abuse. I don’t know which is scarier: the idea of parents controlling the education of their own children, or the state dictating it.
The God Delusion only scratches the surface of the problem of religion. The tone and content serve as little more than an effort at mutual atheist backslapping. An expert in evolutionary biology, who attempts to tackle a bigger subject that inevitably strays into philosophy and metaphysics, only reveals how out of his depth he is.
In fairness, I’ve concentrated on the negatives, but there’s a lot in this book that is good. It’s just not nearly good enough.