The Missionary Position by Christopher Hitchens

Notorious atheist Christopher Hitchens has written this short volume, subtitled “Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice” as a critique of the enigmatic Catholic nun that everyone knows so well – or do they? My opinion of Mother Teresa, prior to reading this book, was stereotypically positive, informed only by the TV news. I don’t like Christianity, but regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), it is possible to live a life of selfless devotion to others. Few of us choose that path, but if anyone shines brightly in this regard, it’s got to be Mother Teresa, right?

Wrong. Hitchens shows how Mother Teresa’s fame began with a documentary made about her Calcutta orphanage – the director insisting that he had captured the first ever miracle on camera. This miracle was the strange quality of the light within the building, which the director believed could not be explained naturally. The media ran with this, giving birth to a legend. The cameraman, who attributed the “miracle” to the quality of the new Kodak film, had no impact.

Hitchens, with painstaking research, unearths records of people who have visited Mother Teresa’s “House for the Dying.” We find a woman who, instead of attempting to improve the lives of “the poorest of the poor”, is interested first and foremost in the advancement of a religious view that makes a virtue out of suffering. While millions of dollars in donations lie dormant in accounts, she insists on maintaining strictly ascetic living conditions, not only for the nuns of her order, but for all her patients. Dying men are not allowed a simple comfort like watching TV or receiving visitors. People languish in pain without freely available painkillers. There was a particularly horrific case of a fifteen-year-old whose life could have been saved if he had been taken to hospital to receive proper medical care, but this was not permitted. “They would all want it,” was the excuse.

Meanwhile Mother Teresa is immune to criticism from a media that fails to inquire deeply enough. Her actions are judged by her reputation, rather than her reputation being judged by her actions. Instead of being a compassionate person, she is motivated first and foremost by the advancement of her religious order.

It’s hard to argue against Hitchens’ dark depiction. From now on, when I think of the word “humanitarian,” it won’t be Mother Teresa’s face that comes to mind.

Standing in Two Circles: The Collected Works of Boyd Rice by Boyd Rice (edited by Brian M. Clark)

riceb-standingintwocirclesI’ve been curious about this Boyd Rice character for a few years, mainly because of his friendship with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. Rice was apparently LaVey’s personal choice as successor after his death, but Rice declined the offer. I find LaVey’s philosophy fascinating, so I was eager to find out whether Rice was a man of similar depth and insight. The volume under review contains a sizeable illustrated biography of Rice’s life written by Brian M. Clark, a collection of essays written by Rice spanning several decades, photography by Rice, and lyrics to many of Rice’s songs.

The main section of interest to me was the essays. They were a mixed bag. Rice, like LaVey, is a student of human nature and a prankster at heart. He relates some humorous stories of the various pranks he has played upon people in the past, like breaking into a neighbour’s house to leave an open umbrella on his bed – not to steal anything. The real motivation behind Rice’s slightly criminal activities was to connect with life on a more primal level. There’s definitely something profound about that. Modern life is very safe and sanitised; the average 21st century human is a very dull creature in comparison to his hunter-gatherer ancestor.

Rice has a very interesting take on monism (which is my personal philosophy). He’s a monist, but unlike most monists he doesn’t preach “love and light” spirituality. The aggressive and predatory aspects of human behaviour as just as much a manifestion of the oneness as love. This is so true, but hardly any monists see it.

The most startling essay in the volume was themed around the moral justification of rape. I not sure how serious Rice is being here, because in other places in the book, he clearly has respect for women as more than mere objects to be used. Rice is infamous for wearing a black T-shirt with the word “RAPE” printed in bold across the front. He’s also infamous for flirting with Nazi symbolism. He is a Social Darwinist and views fascism as the form of government most in keeping with nature, since the whole animal kingdom is organised around power struggles: predator against prey. I’m not entirely convinced by all of Rice’s arguments, but he makes a real stab at articulating his personal philosophy rationally, which makes these essays stimulating reading.

In another fascinating essay, Rice talks about enjoyable times spent with LaVey. At one time, Rice also became fascinated with Charles Manson, to the point of arranging regular visits with him in prison. Rice retells snippets from these interviews, allowing the reader a rare snapshot in to the mind of one of America’s most notorious convicts.

On the downside, the volume contains some forgettable essays about Rice’s travels to famous places and his various drunken escapades with friends. Rice also expresses a longtime fascination with his own ancestry and the bloodline of Christ, which struck me as the least credible of his passions – bordering on the ridiculous.

While reading the book, I got hold of some of Rice’s music. He’s known as a noise musician. Personally, I don’t find much to like about the genre. On one record, he had the hole in the middle placed slightly off-centre, so that the speed of the record would fluctuate as it played. Profound or pretentious? You decide. I did enjoy one of his more melodious albums, entitled “Music, Martinis and Misanthropy.” He doesn’t really sing, but rather talks (usually in poetic verse) while the music is playing. It words quite well, actually.

The strangest thing about Boyd Rice is that he seems to thrive on being hated. And the more he can do to increase this kind of notoriety, the better – that seems to be his thinking. A fascinating oddity among us humans. Standing in Two Circles is a rare book and fetches quite a penny. It’s worth a read, but for me it’s not a “keeper.” My copy will be going back on eBay.

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate by Brad Warner

warnerb-zenkarmachocolateThis book begins: “In 2007 my mom died and then my grandmother died, my wife decided she didn’t want to be my wife anymore, I lost my dream job, and people I thought were friends and colleague in Buddhist practice began attacking me in public over scandals that existed solely in their own minds.” This statement crystallises the underlying theme of the book: does Zen practice really help when your life turns into a shit sandwich? Unlike books that deal with suffering in purely theoretical terms, Warner’s take is autobiographical, which gives it an air of realism lacking in many spiritual self-help books.

Warner is refreshingly human for a “Zen master.” He eschews robes in favour of T-shirts with punk rock band decals; he cusses when he talks; he says “I don’t know” when he just doesn’t know; and he never projects a fake “enlightened” persona. A lot of spiritual teachers could take a large leaf from his book, instead of pretending they’re the guys with all the answers. Many spiritual tomes get bogged down in technical details that have the reader scratcing his head, but Warner has a real flair for being both easy to read and deep. As well as providing advice, from a Zen perspective, on matters like dealing with death, sex, divorce, and fame, he deals with such hot potatoes as the taboo of the spiritual teacher who sleeps with one of his students – and his example is … himself. The overarching agenda of the book is to dispell the hoax of the holier-than-thou spiritual celebrity, by giving an eye-poppingly honest account of his own recent life, warts and all. That alone possibly makes this a landmark book. So if you happen to be involved in any way with any sort of guru figure, either as a fan or a student, you need to read this.

My own spiritual path began about five years ago, after I made a decision to leave Christianity. But not all the jigsaw pieces clicked into place at once, and a big one that took years for me to come to terms with was the realisation that Christianity’s ideals of purity are not based on human nature, but on thin air. It was a long time before I stopped trying to live up to the ridiculous standards imposed by my culture’s religious heritage. I used to think, “I will achieve what Christianity was supposed to achieve in me without Christianity.” But I couldn’t. And the problem was exascerbated by the example of spiritual teachers who would dress in special robes and make religious gestures and pretend that they are above anything so crude as sexual desire. What a bunch of phoneys! Thankfully I never fell prey to any of these people, but their presence unconsciously maintained the fallacy of purity in my mind. Warner does the human race a service in giving these spiritual “supermen” a much deserved boot up the arse and off their thrones.

This is the third book by Warner that I’ve read, and I have to say that I simply can’t get enough of his honesty and insight (not forgetting his sense of humour). I’m not a Zen Buddhist; I’m, shall we say, a non-denominational non-dualist, if that makes any sense. But the basic sense of reality in Zen is identical to my own beliefs (at least the way Warner describes it), and so I find the author’s words extremely helpful. Up to now, I’ve never made meditation a part of my life, but Warner has got me giving zazen a try.

Warner is streets ahead of the likes of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. Actually, all of my favourite teachers (particularly Alan Watts and Anton LaVey) are dead. So, long live Brad Warner! I will be following his career with great interest.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

pirsigrm-zenmotorcycleThis book uses a father and son motorcycle trip as the background for a philosophical discussion about the existence of what author calls “quality.” He notices first of all that there are two ways of looking at a motorcycle, and these are reflections of two ways of thinking – what he calls “classical” and “romantic.” To the classicist, reality is made up of functional bits and pieces; to the romanticist reality is an aesthetic whole. This is illustrated with a personal example of the vastly different manner that the author’s friend John views his motorcycle (and the task of motorcycle maintenance). The author sees the motorcycle as a collection of mechanisms, whereas John only sees the aesthetic whole and has a distaste for the technological side of things (and hence a frustration when things go wrong). There’s a funny example where the author suggests fixing a problem with John’s motorcycle using a slice of metal from a beer can. Classically speaking, it is the perfect solution, but romantically speaking, John is horrified to integrate such a thing into his beautiful, pristine BMW. And so begins the author’s journey from being a pure classicist towards an integration the two modes of thinking.

Scientifically oriented people tend to be classicists, but Pirsig came to the realisation that classical thinking alone was not enough to explain all of reality. The turning point was when he asked himself the question “What is quality?” and couldn’t come up with an answer. He was a teacher at the time, and he put the question to his students as a homework assignment, because he genuinely wanted to know what they thought. They were as unable to answer the question as he was. As he follows this thread, it leads him ultimately to a confrontation with his bosses, a nervous breakdown, and a stay at a mental hospital which changes his personality forever. I realise that’s quite an A-Z to lump in one sentence, and I’m not entirely sure how the author ended up at Z, other than some unhealthy obsessional tendencies – including a strange need to convince his peers about the reality of “quality.”

Much of the story consists of the author trying to put together the memories of who he used to be, referring to his past self in the third person as Phaedrus. The book shifts wildly from easy-to-read autobiographal passages, to massively deep philosophical discussions – back and forth. As a reader, I couldn’t make up my mind about whether I liked the book. I appreciated that it was teaching me something useful about how to think more clearly, and at times the author’s experiences were moving. But at other times I found myself feeling frustrated at the author’s long-windedness, and sometimes I simply couldn’t follow his train of thought.

Regarding the father and son relationship, I found it irritating the way the author would constantly make silent judgements about his son Chris. For instance, there’s a passage where they’re climbing a mountain together, and Chris is pushing himself like something he really wants to accomplish. Pirsig silently makes a big deal about his son’s “ego.” And yet he makes no condemnation of his own egotism in the intellectual fencing matches he engages in with his university peers.

I got something out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s streets ahead of many books that masquerade as “spirituality.” But I think the author came to grasp the existence of “quality” via a route that was far longer and more technical than it needed to be. Then again, this is his story, not mine. The primary value of the book is that it makes a case (albeit a rather complicated one) for the view that reality consists of something more than the material stuff of classical thinking.

How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale by Jenna Jameson

jamesonj-howtomakeloveWhat an unfortunate title for an autobiography. Makes the book look like a how-to manual for the sexually inadequate. It’s hard to know what the marketing people were thinking, when they decided on that choice of words. You wouldn’t catch me walking up to a bookseller to pay for it. No, I got hold of this as an ebook.

My own interest in reading this volume comes from my fascination with understanding human sexuality – both the light and dark aspects. Society today has a very permissive attitude to pornography, except in religious circles. Although I am not remotely religious, I do tend to see porn as counter-productive to maintaining a healthy mind. In defence of this, I offer the increasingly fetishistic and downright abusive trends in pornography; essentially, woman is treated like a human ashtray. So it was highly interesting for me to get the inside story from one of the industry’s most popular stars, Jenna Jameson.

Jenna’s story confirmed my views. The porn industry is largely run by unethical and abusive men, who treat the actresses like whores (and call them the same). The word “whore” was a particular sore spot for Jenna; she would go berzerk if anyone called her that name. “Well,” I thought, “what do you expect when you’ve allowed your body to be abused by lots of men, for finanial gain?” Porn is basically prostitution with a camera running.

Insight into the industry was secondary to the main theme of the book, which is Jenna’s life story. In summary, it’s a catalogue of bad relationship choices, bad career choices, drug addiction, and hard living. I had some sympathy for Jenna’s teenage years when, in her naivety, she fell in with a bad crowd, and ended up getting raped. But no one forced her to make the many choices in life that led to her facing much suffering. Some of her sexual ethics are bizarre, to say the least. She’ll be talking about how much in love she is with a particular guy, and they move in together, and the next thing you know she’s falling in love with a woman, and having sex with her, while seemingly oblivious to this being infidelity – presumably because it’s not another man. On a side-note, gossip-mongers will lap up the sexual shennanigans that Jenna reveals between herself and various stars, including Bruce Willis, Nicholas Cage, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee, Marilyn Manson. Later in the book she’s in a happy relationship with a guy, and no longer acting in porn, when an old boss compels her to fulfill an old contract and make one more movie. Instead of finding a way to get out of this, she goes ahead and makes the movie. Well, her boyfriend goes ballistic, naturally. I thought, “What did you expect, Jenna? You had sex with another man. This tends to be what happens when you cheat on your boyfriend.” The book ends on a happy note with her marriage to Jay Grdina. I was sceptical. While reading, I suspected this was not a happily-ever-after fairy tale ending, but just a peak on the rollercoaster of her life. And sure, enough, when I checked Wikipedia, the marriage finished in 2006.

It’s difficult to know what Jenna Jameson hoped to achieve in producing this book. It’s not really a damning critique of the industry, just the recollection of an unusual life – one that she doesn’t regret living. The problem is that such a book is counter-productive to her status as a porn star. First of all, the sort of men who objectify Jenna Jameson as a porn star are not the sort of men who would care about what she has to say. She’s just an ashtray to them. Those few who do decide to read her story will find that it steals the magic out of her larger-than-life projected image, by humanising her. So, who is this book for? I’m not sure, really. I could understand this sort of book if the author was trying to make a break from her past and create a new identity for herself, but that’s not the case. To her credit, Jenna Jameson, for whatever reason, chose to reveal a great deal of herself; it takes guts to be that vulnerable.

The book is co-written with Neil Strauss. As with most celebrity autobiographies, I suspect it is entirely ghostwritten by him, but hopefully the material is accurate. In regard to my particular aim of getting the inside dope on the porn instustry, the book was long-winded and far too detailed. For instance, I had no interest whatsoever in reading a catalogue of high school crushes from her old teenage diary. Still, if you can be bothered to wade through the fluff, the book makes an interesting psychological study of the porn industry, albeit from the perspective of one person.

From Witchcraft to Christ by Doreen Irvine

When I was fifteen, in high school, we had one period of Religious Education per week. For about half of the school year, this lesson consisted solely of our class reading through From Witchcraft to Christ, chapter by chapter. Today, revisiting the book two decades later, I’m amazed by how much of the story I remember. You might say it had something of an impact on me originally; it certainly reinforced Christianity and coloured my opinion of the occult.

When I was fifteen I was completely naive, and when I became a Christian at age seventeen, I wasn’t much brighter. Now, however, as an adult who survived the brainwashing exercise of religion and came out the other side with a razor sharp intellect, my memories of Doreen Irvine’s autobiography take on quite a different light. My intention in re-reading this book is to either confirm or deny my suspicion that what we are dealing with here is a liar.

The problems begin with the author’s note at the beginning. “I have of necessity omitted many details of my former life, the people I was associated with at this time and other personal details.” She explains that her intention “was to present a readable account of part of my life and to avoid having to relate definite dates and situations with known persons living or dead.” Unfortunately for the reader, such details could have corroborated Irvine’s claims, Without them we are left to simply wonder how much of what we are reading is fantasy. This is especially important given the fantastical nature of some of her claims, which we will come to shortly.

Nevertheless, the early part of book has an air of credibility; the reader gets the feel of someone relating direct experience. Irvine was a disadvantaged child, living in a council estate in Britain during World War II, with her mother, alcoholic father, and younger sisters. She was mischievous and a ringleader to the children of the neighbourhood, continually getting into trouble. Home life got worse when her mother upped and left and her father brought home a mistress. In her early teens, a local charity worker decided to help Doreen by getting her a job as a maid for a local upper class woman. Doreen stuck it out for a while, but naively longed for the idea of a better life in London. After saving some money, she left on the train without a word to anyone. In the big city, she quickly found work as a prostitute, then as a stripper, calling herself Daring Diana. In this profession, she made some serious money, and was able to afford a classy flat for herself. Despite material success, her main problem was loneliness, for which she turned to drugs. Heroin addiction ended up ruining her ability to do her job, so she returned to prostitution and also indulged in shoplifting. One day she was caught stealing jewelry and got three months in prison, which at least served as a withdrawal clinic for the drugs.

You can tell that this is shaping up to be one of those sensationalist Christian testimonies where the author revels in telling the audience how rotten she was, and how great God is for saving her. In all honesty I have nothing but contempt for such screw-ups. If you’re dumb enough to invite a man to stick a heroin needle into your arm, then you deserve whatever consequences befall you; I have no sympathy. The only time I felt any sense of respect for Doreen was when she was getting it together as a stripper (something she no doubt looks back on with disdain). Not the most respectable of jobs, but you’ve got to salute a woman who brings about material success for herself using whatever assets she has. That said, for the most part, this is the story of a young girl who squandered the opportunities given to her and whose recklessness brought about her undoing. The message of the book is basically: “God rescued me from my stupidity.” Am I being too harsh? Frankly, the people I have respect for are those who have the sense not to ruin their lives, or those who bring themselves back from the brink of disaster by their own determination. Doreen Irvine, however, belongs to the self-pity school of thought: “Poor me. Help me, Lord.” You ever notice how such testimonies are always about acceptable sins: “I was an alcoholic, but God redeemed me!” “I was addicted to heroin, but by the grace of God I’m now free.” “I was an IRA hitman, but by God’s mercy I am forgiven!” “I was a Satanist, but the might of Jesus freed me from the power of the devil!” You never hear anyone say, “I used to rape little boys, but through the blood of Christ my sins are washed clean!” That’s why I can’t stand these big boastful displays of past sin, because there’s sin that’s trendy to parade, and there’s SIN that isn’t.

You may have noticed that From Witchcraft to Christ hasn’t yet included any witchcraft. That’s because there’s not a lot of it, only a couple of short chapters worth. And it’s these chapters where Irvine’s credibility falls asunder. The believable detail of the early chapters is replaced with the sort of summarising brevity that is indicative of someone who wasn’t really there doing what she claims to have been doing. But that’s only a minor criticism. The details that she does give are enough to damn her.

When she came out of prison, she went back to her life as Daring Diana the stripper. One night, she overheard two girls talking about a “Satanist temple.” She asked them about it. At first they were reluctant to say anything, but with a quick nudge, they conceded to take Doreen to their Satanist meeting place. Doreen was blindfolded and taken by car to a secret location. There were about five hundred people in the hall, which was draped in black. A Satanic ceremony takes place, involving the sacrifice of a cockerel, people dressed in robes, and lots of chanting. The ceremony is said to last two hours, but Irvine gives practically no detail. Afterwards, she is asked by the chief Satanist if she would like to join their religion. And she does.

Anyone who has done some research into the occult will see that Irvine has no more knowledge of the subject than you would gain from a few Hammer movies or Dennis Wheatley novels. She refers to her religion as “the order of Satanism,” not seeming to realise that an order is a subdivision of a religion – a religion that is never named. Perhaps it’s the order of Satanism of the religion Satanism? On another occasion she refers to it as “the most ancient order of Satanism.” If so, you would think that the leader would be called by a legitimate occult title like “Ipsissimus” or “High Priest.” No, Irvine has no familiarity with occultism, so in her limited imagination she continually refers to the leader as “the chief Satanist.” Often, she erroneously refers to Satan as Lucifer, something that crept into Christian tradition through a mistranslation of the Old Testament into Latin. You would think the real Prince of Darkness would know that he isn’t a minor Roman deity. Irvine is also fond of calling her master Diablos; it’s unfortunate that the devil can’t spell (correct rendering “Diabolus”).

Irvine furnishes us with some of the rules of Satanism that she was required to obey:

1. Secrecy is the keynote for all Satanists. They must never reveal the whereabouts of the temples to an outsider or the things that go on inside the temple.

And yet somehow all it took for Doreen to be transported right into the heart of the most secret organisation (one whose existence isn’t even known today in the internet age) was to ask a couple of its members in a stripclub?

3. Satanists must never enter a Christian church unless sent in to spy by the chief Satanist.

Why not? What would a Satanist be afraid of? The power of the Christian Gospel? I think not.

4. Satanists must never read the Holy Bible for their own edifiction.

Again, why not? What self-respecting Satanist would be afraid of a book he thinks is full of lies? Compared to Anton LaVey’s “Nine Satanic Statements,” Irvine’s rules of Satanism seem rather infantile.

Lies are compounded upon lies, as Irvine thoroughly insults the reader’s intelligence in her tale of how she became initiated as “the queen of black witches” (another title that has no existence in occult lore). She had to walk through a bonfire, and as she did so, the devil walked with her, visibly as a black figure. On several occasions she talks about seeing Satan physically, hearing his voice audibly, then later as a Christian she makes the same claims about Jesus. Of course, there’s not a shred of evidence, and the reader is simply expected to take her word for everything. One night Irvine is with her witch chums on the moor when several men come over the hill. She uses her Satanic powers to make the witches invisible, and avoid getting caught. Brimming with occult power, with zero esoteric knowledge. How does she do it?

In the two brief chapters about Irvine’s experiences with Satanism and witchcraft, she had opportunity to completely blow the lid off this. But she refains. Details are scant, events are summarised, locations remain unknown. She talks about how the meeting places used as Satanist temples change regularly to maintain secrecy, but after she becomes a Christian she doesn’t seem to have any trouble getting in touch with her old pals and attempting to convert them.

Irvine’s conversion to Christianity is fraught with difficulty, as apparently she is possessed by numerous demons. Rev. Arthur Neil exorcises her over a period of many months. The demons that leave her have names like Doubt, Deceit, Lust, Lies, Pride, Witchcraft, Tormentor. That’s right, folks, if you’ve ever experienced doubt, that’s not your brain’s way of making sure you have a robust enough reason to believe in something; that’s an infernal demon from the pit of hell gnawing at you! There’s even a demon called Lesbian. Yes, all you rug-munchers; you are possessed!

Once Irvine is on the “right path,” the final quarter of the book is taken up by sanctimonious, melodramatic stories of her early ministry as an evangelist. Oh, now we get the detail. I had to smile when she sprained her ankle and had to cancel one of her appointements, for she believed that to be Satan’s doing. This reminded me so much of the silly damaging ideas that used to occupy my own brainwashed mind in another life.

It’s difficult to know how much of Irvine’s story is deliberate deceit and how much is down to over-enthusiatic evangelists preying upon a psychologically unstable woman. In any case, it is clear that Irvine’s witchcraft experience is entirely bogus, or at best grossly exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Interestingly, there’s not a single mention of the Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) of children, something which became a staple of Satanic testimonies in the 1980s and 1990s (the period known as the Satanic Panic). Clearly, in the 1970s, when Irvine wrote her story, SRA hysteria had not become part of the zeitgeist. It’s omission makes From Witchcraft to Christ an important book historically, for it demonstrates how people simply accept sensationalist tales, regardless of their content or veracity. This book has become a big seller in Christian circles and is still in print today. That depresses me, because the material is easily debunked by anyone with a healthy sound mind. Sadly, the success of this book only attests to the credulity of the general mass of humanity.

Let the honest Christian reader take note, you should be every bit as concerned as I am to expose people like Doreen Irvine. Liars in your ranks do you no credit.

If you would like to see this lady in action, telling porkies for Jesus, look her up on YouTube.

The Secret Life of a Satanist by Blanche Barton

This is the authorised biography of Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan (1966) and author of The Satanic Bible (1969). It is written by Blanche Barton, LaVey’s long-term lover and a high-ranking member of the organisation, so high-ranking that administration of it passed to her upon LaVey’s death in 1997. Certainly, no one is more qualified to write a biography. The book was first published in 1992, which serves to give us a fairly comprehensive look at LaVey’s life.

Unfortunately, some of the claims in the book can be sourced elsewhere as outright lies. For instance, LaVey’s real name is Howard Stanton Levey, whereas the biography claims that Anton LaVey was his name by birth and that he was called “Tony” in his early years. He also gives false names for his parents.

According to the book, Anton LaVey was something of a misfit from his early years, a fact which led him to leave home early in life and join the Clyde Beatty circus – and later the carnival. After that he worked as a crime photographer. The insights he gained from leading his unusual life were instrumental in shaping the man he was to become. For instance, working in the circus as a lion tamer gave him an affinity for animals, so much so that later in life he would keep a lion as a house pet! In the carnival, he would play the organ for the strip shows, then play for the church services, where he would see the very same men who had attended the strip show attending church the next day, only to return to the strip show the following week, in a neverending cycle of hypocrisy. LaVey learned that “Man’s carnal nature will out.” He saw man as an animal, no different in nature from any other animal. In his work as a crime photographer, he saw the very worst in mankind. All of this shaped his views of man, God, and the nature of human existence. LaVey could be described as one whose views were shaped by living outside of the typical boundaries of the common herd of humanity.

Contrary to the above claims, the Beatty archives show no record of a “Levey” or “LaVey” as lion tamer or musician (source: Beatty 1947 Route Books, Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin). That said, the biography does feature a photograph of a young LaVey posing with a clown and dwarf; the words “Lou Jacobs” are prominantly visible. San Francisco Police Department past employment records include no “Howard Levey” nor “Anton LaVey”. Frank Moser, who was a SFPD photographer in the early 1950s, said that LaVey never worked for the Department (source: SFPD records, Frank Moser).

LaVey developed an interst in the occult and held regular meetings with other interested friends at his home, the Black House (6114 California Street). The book alleges that LaVey purchased this house after learning that it was a former brothel of Barbary Coast madam Mammy Pleasant. It was honeycombed with trapdoors and secret passageways, built by Pleasant to elude police raids. LaVey’s home meetings eventually evolved into the Church of Satan, the first above-ground organisation to embrace the term Satanism in public.

In reality 6114 California Street was originally LaVey’s parents’ home. It was never a brothel. LaVey’s parents allowed Anton and his first wife Carole to live in the house, then transferred ownership of it to LaVey and his second wife Diane in 1971. The secret passages and hidden rooms that exist were constructed by Anton LaVey (source: San Francisco property records; Michael & Gertrude Levey [parents], Joint Tenancy Grant Deed, July 9, 1971).

LaVey codified modern Satanism as an atheistic religion/philosophy which utilised Satan as a symbol for an adversarial stance towards spirituality, and the triumph of the flesh. Satanism sees man as an animal, who is perfect just as he is, and not in need of any redemption, spiritual growth, or hypthetical reward hereafter. Satanism is not a religion of hedonism or violence, but of indulgence in our own nature, taking into the account the consequences of our actions. The occult side of Satanism was in the incorporation of magic as a reality – as something which is not fully understood, but which can be used to benefit the practitioner. Although Satanism is atheistic (denial of deity), it is acknowledged that there is a “dark force of nature” – not a God, not a being, not a consciousness; something beyond all of this, which can be tapped through ritualistic means. Some claim that LaVeyan Satanism is not true Satanism (because there is no actual Satan), but what expression of Satanism deserves the name more than the very one that has the brass to publicly call itself by that name?

LaVey’s biography alleges two romances of particular note. The first occurred in LaVey’s pre-Satanism days; he courted Marilyn Monroe when she was working in strip clubs before she became famous. Later, post 1966, he was involved with actress Jayne Mansfield, who became a priestess in the Church of Satan. Mansfield died tragically in a car accident with her “public” lover, Sam Brody. It was a complex relationship, with Mansfield trapped in a relationship she didn’t want with Brody, while besotted with LaVey. Brody’s jealously caused a great deal of trouble for LaVey, who eventually cast a curse upon Brody and warned Jayne to stay away from him. In one of Hollywood’s famous curses, Jayne died with Sam Brody in a car wreck.

According to Marilyn Monroe’s 1948 agent Harry Lipton, she never knew LaVey, and the particular claims in LaVey’s biography that the Mayan Theatre (where Monroe allegedly danced) was a burlesque theatre are false, as are the claims that LaVey and Monroe worked there. Diane LaVey has admitted to forging Monroe’s inscription on LaVey’s copy of her calendar (sources: Diane LaVey, Harry Lipton [Aquino-Lipton conversation 12/1/82], Robert Slatzer [letter to Michael Aquino 11/27/82], Edward Webber [interview by Aquino 6/2/91]).

Regarding the Jayne Mansfield affair, publicity agent Tony Kent arranged a meeting between Jayne Mansfield and LaVey as a publicity stunt. LaVey was smitten with her. Mansfield, who made no secret of her many affairs, denied knowing LaVey intimately, and no associate of hers has ever confirmed any supposed romance with LaVey. In a 1967 interview she said, “He had fallen in love with me and wanted to join my life with his. It was a laugh.” According to LaVey’s publicist Edward Webber, Mansfield would ridicule her Satanic suitor by calling from her Los Angeles home and seductively teasing him while her friends listened in on the conversation. LaVey’s public claims that he had an affair with Mansfield began only after her death, likewise the claim that Brody’s death was the result of a curse (source: Edward Webber [interview by Aquino 6/2/91]; interview with Mansfield quoted in Jayne Mansfield by May Mann, Pocket Books, 1974). In defence of LaVey’s own claims, the biography features LaVey posing in a familiar and friendly manner with Jayne Mansfied and her four children plus a handwritten letter that reads “To my Satanic friend, high in the eyes of orthodox religion. My probing for truth may be satisfied by my High Priest. Jayne.”

On the one hand, LaVey was a man with a deep insight on life, allowing us to sweep a great deal of pretentious nonsense out of ourselves, to our own benefit. On the other, he sometimes seemed to break his own Satanic principle, “Responsibility to the responsible,” paying back others far more than their crimes deserved. For instance, Togare, LaVey’s “big cat” eventually had to be removed from his home and housed in a zoo, due to neighbours’ complaints. Some time later, the zoo-keeper had Togare sent to Africa, without even notifying LaVey and giving him a chance to say goodbye. LaVey cursed the man, resulting in his death. Of course, it now appears that such claims are probably nothing more than exercises in myth-making by a man who wished to appear larger than life.

LaVey’s life was less eventful than I had anticipated. Aside from the alleged curses, there are no great Satanic crimes to speak of, or anything of a world-shattering nature. But that’s fine, and in fact, it paints Satanism to be much tamer than Christian hysterics would have you believe. For the most part, LaVey was a man who wished to quietly pursue his own interests, to communicate genuine insight, while falsely portraying himself as a powerful and dangerous man to the public. I have to ask, to what end? For it strikes me that there is something tragically pathetic about a man who once penned a work of deep insight (The Satanic Bible) now reduced to peddling lies about himself. What kind of insecurity drives this? Even worse to tell these lies to a universal readership, regardless of whether the reader is a Satanist or outsider.

I have one last criticism of the biography: there’s way too much hero-worship woven through the pages. From Barton’s perspective, LaVey can seemingly do no wrong. I think perhaps an autobiography might have been better in this regard, as speaking well of oneself comes less naturally than praising others. I originally read this book without knowing how deceptive it was. I took it at face value and liked it a great deal. But now that the myth has been exposed, this volume mainly just irritating. Its only lasting value is as example of how to manufacture a legend.

In fairness, it should be asked, are the counter-claims in the sources quoted any more valid than LaVey’s own claims? We may never be sure of all, but it’s clear that in some cases the evidence against LaVey is indisputable. For a full list of inconsistencies, see the sources at the bottom of the following Rolling Stone interview with LaVey. Also consult Michael Aquino’s massively detailed history of the Church of Satan, downloadable from the Temple of Set web site.

In the Light of Experience by David Icke

icked-lightofexperienceAlmost a year ago, I read my first David Icke book; it was I Am Me, I Am Free. Since then, I’ve been reading his work continuously, in tandem with my other reading. Icke’s books are tough on brain, and after devouring my fifth one, I was just about Icked out. Then In the Light of Experience came along, which is a refreshingly simple book by comparison, because it’s an autobiography.

What struck me as odd was that the book was written and published in 1993. Those familiar with Icke will know that he only got started on his spiritual journey in 1990, and a great deal has happened between then and now (2009). 1993 struck me as a bit early in his career for an autobiography. Nevertheless I was eager to read a detailed account of his early years, not least because these were the years when he faced the biggest ridicule – something that he has always said was the making of him, because it freed him from the prison of acting according to how others judge will us.

The internet is littered with audio and video interviews of David Icke, and he has often recounted his early experiences, such as his initial eye-opening encounters with psychic Betty Shine, his later spiritual experiences at a circle of standing stones in Peru, and the public ridicule that came on the heels of his appearance on the Wogan talkshow. You can also read a fascinating summary of his early years at the beginning of Tales from the Time Loop. I’ve listened to a lot of David Icke interviews (and I mean a lot), but there are things in In the Light of Experience that I have never heard him talk about anywhere else. Most fascinating of all was a relationship with a woman called Mari that resulted in a child, while David was still married to his wife Linda. Icke talks about this with brilliant honesty.

The first half of the book is devoted to Icke’s earlier years: his childhood, brief football career that ended because of athritis, his time as a journalist, sports presenter, and spokesman for the British Green Party. The other half of the book is concerned with 1990 to 1993. One chapter in particular is entitled “The Son of the Godhead.” Here’s a couple of excerpts:

I did not have the luxury of a long and gradual preparation period that many others enjoy. My higher consciousness and those working through me just opened the top of my head, the crown chakra, and poured in these unbelievable energies. For many weeks I was staggering about like some spiritual drunk, hardly knowing what planet I was on!

The most important three words in terms of publicity and profile were “Son of God”. I said I was a Son of the Godhead and this was immediately repeated in the media as the Son of the Godhead. What I said was true. We are all expressions of the energy that is everything, what I call the Infinite Mind, and what others individualise under the term God. Therefore, if you want to use symbolic language, we are all Sons and Daughters of God, all part of the Infinite Mind of Creation. But because society programmes people, even those who don’t believe in religion, to think the words “Son of God” mean the biblical version of Jesus, the media predictably linked me to that whole concept of “messiahs” and the “second coming”. The result was someone who was fundamentally challenging religion and the Bible view of Creation being dubbed in the media as someone who had discovered religion and was promoting the Bible!

For those who appreciate the work of David Icke, this rare and long out-of-print book is probably the deepest look you’ll find into his life. Keep your eye out for it on eBay.

Trance-formation of America by Mark Phillips & Cathy O’Brien

We all know that the world of politics is a manipulative and sometimes seedy realm. Politicians and distrust are two words that go hand in hand in the minds of many people, and the reality of this is borne out by the broken promises and sexual scandals that often hit the news media. I got the first hint that this was merely the tip of the iceberg when I read a chapter called “The Depths of Evil” in David Icke’s book I Am Me, I Am Free. This offered a brief condensation of Trance-formation of America, and the reading of it left me thinking, “Surely this is simply too outrageous to be true – that the world I’m living in is nothing like the way everyone thinks it is?”

The trouble is, I’ve been discovering that, in general, the world really isn’t the way most people think it is. Most people are blind to the fact that the food instrustry is destroying health. Most people are blind to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is not about health, but wealth. Most people are happy to continue raping the planet of all resources and poisoning it with pollution, and will think of this situation as normal life. This book challenges the reader to get to grips with information claiming the governments of the USA (and other countries) are rotten to the core – so rotten that the word diabolical is maybe the only one that fits.

Co-author Cathy O’Brien suffered sexual abuse by her father Earl as a young child. When it was found out by the authorities, the US government offered her father immunity from prosecution if he would agree to have Cathy introduced into the MK-Ultra mind-control program. Child abuse victims are specifically targeted because because of the effect on the mind caused by trauma. The mind becomes compartmentalised, learns to close off memories as a coping mechanism, and develops Disassociative Identity Disorder (what used to be termed Multiple Personality Disorder). After much painful training, Cathy developed numerous personalities which could be switched by various programmed methods. Each personality was hidden from the others and she lost all awareness of the passage of time. This compartmentalisation allowed her to be used in various criminal activities: prostitution to high-ranking government people, government sanctioned drug-running, “carrier pigeon” secret messaging.

In adulthood Cathy lived with her handler Alex Houston in a sham marriage. Houston was not her first handler; there was also Wayne Cox, with whom she had a child, Kelly. Like Cathy herself, Kelly was introduced to MK-Ultra at an early age and was soon taking part in child pornography and prostitution to members of the government. Cathy eventually became what is termed a “Presidental Model,” and was in close contact with the likes of Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill & Hillary Clinton. Some of the sexual stuff that Cathy claims went on between her and these people almost beggars belief. One of the worst was when Bush took Kelly into another room and violently raped her while Cathy had to listen to her daughter’s cries on the other side of the wall. This book took so long for me to read because at times I just couldn’t take it. I had to put it aside for a while and read other things. It was too terrible.

Co-author Mark Phillips first met Cathy by going into business with her “husband” Alex Houston. When Houston eventually put some trust in Phillips, this paved the way for Phillips to find out what was being done to Cathy and Kelly, and to make a plan to rescue both of them. After a lot of running, and much learning about mind-control, he was able to de-program Cathy and eventually bring about her complete recovery – and uncover all the memories that the government thought it had so effectively hidden. Kelly was not quite so fortunate and remains in psychiatric care.

So, what should we make of a book like this? Are Cathy O’Brien and Mark Phillips a couple of sensationalist attention-seekers wanting their fifteen minutes of fame? After having read the book and also seen Cathy talk about her life on video (look her up on YouTube), I just don’t get that impression. She does not seem the slightest bit unhinged. And it strikes me that you would have to be more than just a little unhinged to write the sort of things she writes and risk prosecution from countless famous names.

For me, the thing that helps pull this book out of the realms of fantasy is the picture section. We have photographs of Cathy and Kelly, pictured with some of the people mentioned in the book. Business cards, with addresses and phone numbers, are supplied for many, many people involved in the events of Cathy’s life, any one of whom can be easily contacted to verify information. There are several letters from the government, demonstrating Cathy and Mark’s ongoing quest for justice. There are medical reports on Kelly, showing evidence of her sexual abuse and her ongoing psychological trauma.

Cathy describes a mutilation inflicted on her by one of her handlers, where the inside of her vagina was made to resemble a grinning witch’s face. It was hard to believe until I stumbled upon an actual video of it being examined by a doctor.

It’s no surprise that this book is self-published. What publisher would dare to take it on and risk prosecution? For me, therein lies the most convincing aspect of the story. There are countless high-profile people named and shamed in this book, and yet here it is in publication with not a single charge laid against Cathy and Mark. Why? Is it perhaps because it’s a true account and to draw attention to it through a legal battle would only bring the awful truth out into the public eye? Or should I perhaps give the government the benefit of the doubt and simply say they are innocent until proven guilty?

People who read conspiracy books are often accused of wanting the world to be a more exciting place than it really is, trading the mundane for the sensational, swapping rational investigation for wish-fulfillment. Well, here’s a book that will really put you to the test. Because there is nothing to like here, nothing pretty, nothing that makes me feel good. It only makes the world seem like a much darker and more foreboding place than I thought it was … if it’s true. Is it?

Let me be absolutely frank and rational, because this book left me feeling disturbed and frustrated. I need more than a testimony. And that’s all this is, when you get right down to it. I need something resembling proof, or else I’m trafficking in rumour.

God Outside the Box by Patricia Panahi

I was drawn to this book by a review I spotted elsewhere, at a time when my life had just undergone great spiritual change. I had chosen to abandon my Christian faith, on the grounds that I had been ignoring terrible problems with it. See my personal blog for more detail. In short, I came to view my religion as a sort of mind prison, where you are lured into sacrificing your freedom to think for yourself to a massive set of beliefs that are laid out for you by others: the Bible and the Church. And any attempt to reclaim that freedom to think for yourself instantly makes you a denier of the Word of God. It was a breath of fresh air for me to start looking at life and universe and saying, “What do I think?” instead of “What do they want me to think?”

This book is essentially Patricia Panahi’s autobiography, and she has an interesting story to tell. In her childhood, she was in the rare position of having a Muslim father and a Catholic mother. They weren’t overly religious people, and didn’t impose their beliefs on their daughter. This allowed Patricia to look at what she was being taught from two standpoints that were very different, whereas most of us grow up with a single religious view and the idea that “I’m right, and everybody else is wrong.” In her college years, she learned about Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddism, etc., but always from the perspective of an outsider looking in. She started to notice ways in which all religions were expressions of some of the same ideas.

As I was reading this, I couldn’t help thinking how great it would be if we all had opportunity to learn it this way – if we were shown a big picture and allowed to choose, instead of being encouraged to blindly follow what those around us are doing, and never dare to question it for fear of being branded unacceptable or fear of facing some eternal punishment.

Patricia appears to possess that rare kind of skepticism that is actually looking for answers rather than looking to deny the reality of everything. A little later in life, a friend encouraged her to go to something called a “Rebirthing” session – a New Age type practice that involved lying down and allowing your higher self to affect you. The results of that session were the first big wake-up call to the idea that there was an actual spiritual dimension to life that was real and definite – something you could experience rather than simply have faith in. This awakening led Patricia to start reading everything she could get her hands on, on a vast array of spiritual topics. Over the course of her life since then, she has learned and experienced a great deal that she shares with the reader. Not only strange experiences that scientists would balk at like walking on fire, but hard experiences of life that contain priceless lessons.

The theme of the book is spiritual awakening. I felt a great sense of kinship with many of the ideas that Patricia communicates. I wouldn’t say I was on the same page with everything, but overall this is an excellent read. If you’re learning to see the world in wider terms than the rigid scientific mindset that says “This world is all there is,” or you’re daring to step outside the boundaries of a religion that has been programming you, I thoroughly recommend this book. It will be a great encouragement to you in your own quest for truth.

You’re Him, Aren’t You? by Paul Darrow

Every British person over thirty-five has heard of Blake’s 7. Made in the late 1970s, and running until the early 1980s, comprised of four thirteen-episode seasons, Blake’s 7 was the BBC’s ambitious space opera. This was no Star Trek copycat. Blake’s 7 was about a bunch of escaped convicts who hijack an abandoned super-spaceship and take on the might of a corrupt galactic government. It was aptly described by the series creators as The Dirty Dozen in space. Having the audience root for a pack of thieves, pirates and embezzlers was daring territory for a producer. And it worked. Despite the wobbly sets and poor special effects (the BBC didn’t have the same budget as George Lucas), the nation fell in love with the show. And I would take a guess that this was down to the memorable characters.

After season two was made, something odd happened to the show. Its lead character, Blake (played by Gareth Thomas), left. Rather than cancel the show, the next strongest character, Avon (Paul Darrow), stepped into the leadership role, and Blakeless 7 (no, they didn’t call it that) went on to flourish for a further two seasons. Few will disagree that Avon was the most memorable character in the show. Where Blake was a rather typical selfless zealot, Avon was more interested in self-preservation. He was a cold-hearted realist with a dry wit, living by his own code: he had no problem with thieving, but one thing he never did was break his word. It’s hard to make Avon seem interesting on paper. You’ve got to see the show to know what I mean. When I first revisted Blake’s 7 through the video release that came out in the early 1990s, I had forgotten every character except Blake and Avon.

So this is Paul Darrow’s biography, named after the question he generally gets asked by members of the public when he’s out shopping, meaning, of course, “You’re Avon, aren’t you?” I thought it was odd seeing this biography in print, because I had to ask myself, “What else has Darrow done besides Blake’s 7?” It shows you how little I know. Blake’s 7 may have been his only long-running television role (there are countless shorter ones), but he has a long and varied career in theatre, too.

Darrow’s early years are interesting, particularly a brief stint in military training during his boyhood. Darrow tells the story of how he was placed in the woods overnight with a troop of other boys and a mission to fulfill. He ended up winning by outwitting his superiors … and got disciplined for it!

The least satisfying part of the biography is the sizeable portion taken up with brief accounts of each of Darrow’s roles and all the famous people he has rubbed shoulders with. The author should have asked himself how much of this he expects the reader to remember, because it got a bit like a shopping list after a while.

The Blake’s 7 chapters of the book are, of course, the most enjoyable. He talks about the cast and crew, and gives his own witty guide to each episode in the series (yes, all fifty-two of them).

I really enjoyed reading You’re Him, Aren’t You?, any my only complaint is that I personally wanted to read more about Blake’s 7 and less about theatre. Still, it was an enjoyable insight into an interesting man who has been in my head since I was six years old and shows no sign of leaving. To illustrate: when I was writing my second novel, Chion, there was a scene that simply would not work, because the believability of the character’s extreme actions was stretched to the breaking point. But I couldn’t bear to lose the scene. I tried making my character drunk, but that didn’t work, either. Then I had a brainwave. What if I made him a cold-hearted realist? What if I made him, in essence, Avon? When I rewrote the scene, I knew I had conquered the problem. So, as a little nod to Avon’s help, I named the character Mr. Darrow.

I might one day forget Vila, Cally, Jenna, Gan, and even Blake. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget Avon.

The Feeling’s Unmutual by Will Hadcroft

The Feeling’s Unmutual is the autobiographical account of Will Hacroft, author of a children’s novel entitled Anne Droyd and Century Lodge. You’ve never heard of him, right? And given the novel’s small-press status, I’ll take a wild guess that you haven’t heard of it, either. So, what’s so special about this non-celebrity in his thirties that he gets to have his very own autobiography? Aspergers Syndrome, that’s what.

This condition manifests itself in a difficulty relating with others and in obsessive tendencies, amongst other things. Will has had a “ghosting” of the condition all his life, but was only recently diagnosed with it. That means he’s gone through most of his life not knowing what the heck was wrong with him or why he found certain tasks so hard while others around him sailed through.

I haven’t got the syndrome, but back in school I was the fat kid who was unpopular with the cool people, so I know all about what it feels like to be different. Will’s account is told with raw honesty, and I felt a real sense of empathy with him. Of special interest to me were Will’s digressions into cult television. He often speaks about why certain series, such as Doctor Who, The Incredible Hulk, or The Prisoner, made such an impression on him. In these shows, the hero is a misfit, not belonging in society, but he’s still the hero. Will’s philosophising made me question why I like particular films and TV shows. I realised that the theme which is cloeset to my heart is that of loner men, abused by life, by society, by their own wives even, yet they fight on and win the day, usually standing alone at the end. Now I know why I’m so fond of Mad Max II, The Shawshank Redemption and Gladiator.

There’s something in The Feeling’s Unmutual that’s not directly talked about by Will, but it’s there if you read between the lines: the idea that there’s a big plus side to being a misfit. From a very young age, you will see Will demonstrating an uncommon compassion, such as trying to help a school friend when everyone else (the typical, popular kids) just wants to cause pain. Later, in another context, Will has the courage to help a girl who is being sexually abused by her stepfather. Will simply tells what happened and doesn’t blow his own trumpet, but what I’m seeing is this: suffering breeds character. You don’t build courage by having an easy life. And what I’m getting at is that maybe it’s not so bad to be a misfit. Maybe, in fact, it’s best. Popularity and cruelty are easy elements to find together in a person.

I recommend this book, not only for sufferers of Aspergers Syndrome, but for everyone who has ever felt like a misfit. Will’s life story will touch your heart.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Surprised by Joy is essentially C.S. Lewis telling us his Christian testimony. It’s not the usual tale of rescue from the evils of drink, drugs or sex that you tend to come across; in fact, it’s right at the opposite end of the scale. There isn’t much mention of personal sin (at least in the outware sense) in this tale, probably because there wasn’t much of it in his life worth talking about. C.S. Lewis was a philosopher, and his conversion to Christianity was a journey of the mind. A staunch athiest, it was only after many years and much debate with himself that he finally came to accept the reality of God.

The book begins with Lewis’s boyhood, in particular his relationship with his brother and father, and the harsh realities of school life in the early twentieth century. It’s hard for me to say much about the factual content of the book, because it has become a bit of a blur. Essentially it’s a chronicle of various schools, colleges and people who were influential in Lewis’s life. It was fairly interesting reading, but I couldn’t help getting impatient with the book; I was more interested in Lewis’s inner pilgrimage than his outer life. But to be fair, the one can’t be told without the other. The only major gripe I have about the book is that the author presupposes that his readership is highly educated in classic literature; there are continual references to authors and books of which I have absolutely no knowledge.

I tend to approach C.S. Lewis’s books with a sense of caution, chiefly because I’ve grown to believe that philosophy is a dangerous minefield. I don’t like “truths” that are only discerned by adding together all sorts of complex building blocks in your mind, any one of which could crumble and turn your truth into falsehood. I didn’t really get that impression from Surprised by Joy, but Lewis’s journey was complicated enough that I’m left scratching my head when I try to recall if there was any one particular thing that was the major turning point for him.

Throughout the story, Lewis talks much about his search for a thing he calls “Joy.” This was a lifelong quest to grasp and hang on to an experience that he only remembers having in flashes, and one which seemed to be happening less and less as he grew older. As the book progressed, I began to see Lewis’s obsession with Joy was as very strange and slightly ridiculous. But the big surprise came at the end of the story, when I was delighted by Lewis’s own conclusions on the matter.

As an evangelistic tool, I’m not sure that Surprised by Joy is all that useful. My own return to Christianity involved the disassembling of an athiestic philosophy in my mind, but my journey was nothing like Lewis’s. Philosophy is a very widespread minefield and no one book can wrestle with everyone’s outlook. However, this is a fairly interesting look into an interesting life.

Crawling from the Wreckage by Eddie Kidd

Eddie Kidd was a motorcycle stuntman, the best in the world at one point, beating numerous global records, including those held by Evel Knievel and son Robbie. His records include jumping over 32 cars, 22 cars with no hands, 13 double-decker buses, and the Great Wall of China! It was a daring and high-risk profession; Eddie had even seen a few of his rivals killed. And in 1996, Eddie himself came very close to going the same way. At a Hell’s Angel’s rally in Long Marston, Warwickshire, Eddie performed another successful jump. But it was the landing that went wrong. He ended up being knocked unconscious and falling over a 20ft drop. The result was brain damage. It left him unable to walk, unable to speak properly, and with a reduced level of manual dexterity. Thankfully, his mental functions were still one hundred percent, and hence this book his here today.

I remember Eddie Kidd from when I was a kid, right here in Portadown. I was about ten years old and he was jumping at our town’s football stadium, Shamrock Park. I recall him circling the perimeter on his bike, waving at the crowd. I was near the front, and I wasn’t waving; I was giving him the thumbs-up instead. Suddenly Eddie’s hand changed to a thumbs-up as he passed by in front of me. That was a cool moment for a kid. There were “monster trucks” at the show, crushing other cars; there were cars circling the stadium on two wheels. But the moment we’d all been waiting for was of course when Eddie’s bike mounted up the ramp and went soaring through the air over a long row of parked cars.

I really enjoyed reading this book, for two reasons. One, the insight into a unique and very exciting life. And two, the insight into how a person can lose so much and come out at the other end with a love for life. Eddie Kidd is a guy who has fought through the hardship and depression of adjusting to his new life, and has discovered that life is well worth living.

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan

John Bunyan is the author of one of the most famous books of Christian Literature: The Pilgrim’s Progress. This Grace Abounding is a short autobiographical volume about his life.

The full title is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, an expression borrowed from the Bible. If I’m not mistaken, the Apostle Paul, who was once renowned as the strongest persecutor of the early Christian church, referred to himself as the “chief of sinners” after his conversion, in light of all the harm he had done to the church. Reading Bunyan’s account of his own pre-Christian experience, I can’t help but think the title is inappropriate. He speaks of his sins in only the vaguest terms, and I got a sense that he was a reckless sort of man who swore a lot and enjoyed dancing (which, presumably, was regarded as sin in those days).

Gradually, Bunyan came to have a sense of his own sinfulness, and after wading his way through some badly thought out theology, he eventually became a Christian. Far from being the answer to his problems, it proved to be just the beginning.

Bunyan was tortured mentally with “temptations” (as he puts it). On one occasion he was tempted to “sell Christ” incessantly over a period of days. At the end of his tether, he finally responded, “Let him go, if he will.” This led to Bunyan believing that he had committed the “unpardonable sin”. For years upon years he was tortured with this belief, having only brief moments of respite. He would talk about finding a verse of Scripture which would convince him again that he was truly in the Kingdom of God, but his high spirits would last only a day or two, and the verse would lose its power for him.

This struck me as a strange way of examining Scripture, constantly looking at one’s own emotions in order to determine the truthfulness of a Bible verse. From a Christian point of view, surely the Bible is true regardless of how it makes one feel. If a verse is interpreted correctly, it makes no difference to the truth of it whether one’s heart is warm or cold. Much of the book is taken up with Bunyan’s long and difficult inner pilgrimage towards a joyful Christian experience.

Grace Abounding was first published in 1666, and much as I hate to be critical of a book as old and cherished as this one, I can only be honest. Bunyan’s experience is largely alien to me. Perhaps the book would be of value to someone who suspects they may have committed the “unpardonable sin”, but it became a little tiresome to me. I was much more interested to read about Bunyan’s time in prison, and how he coped, but this was relegated to a very brief account near the close of the book.

I was a little amused to read a few paragraphs where Bunyan digresses to discuss his disapproval of men who kept company with women, not it any immoral sense, merely socially. Different times, I guess, but it seemed a little ridiculous.

On a brighter note, Bunyan’s long emotional distress resulted in an intense appreciation of his salvation, and a intense love for the Lord, which in turn led him to become a preacher. And if you’re wondering what it was that threw him into prison, it was his fearless attitude and uncompromising message in the pulpit. There are few of us like that.