Archive for Atheism

Guest Post: John Manning – Why I’m an Atheist

AI LogoAnother guest post in the series kicked off by my why I’m an atheist post. Matt Bolton and Conor Murphy’s posts can be found here and here. Thanks to everyone who keeps reading responding these posts, the feedback has been brilliant for me and the guest bloggers. If you are interested in having your story appear here then drop me a line.

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I suppose, if I were to list them, there would be many separate and distinct reasons why I do not believe in the existence of any deities. These would include lack of any evidence, moral and ethical reasons, and the fact that I have never felt within myself, either emotionally or reasonably, the presence of any supernatural beings, either conforming to the rules of a specific doctrine or to my own specification – a ‘personal god’, if you like. I also think the means by which many Irish people come to be atheists is through a rejection of the obvious fallacies imposed upon them by the Catholic Church during childhood. In answering the question ‘why I am an atheist’, it is through these two points – the lack of connection with the supernatural and the rejection of the church, that I find perhaps the most important personal reason arises.

Like most Irish people, my formal education began with the local Catholic national school (hardly surprising given the fact the Catholic Church still owns in excess of 90% of our primary schools). I was exposed, quite strongly, to religion at home before this, but indoctrination began in earnest once I entered the school system. Daily praying was commonplace, and religious instruction was friendly and subtle – children’s books depicting kindly drawings of the good deeds of gentle Jesus (meek and mild) are a lasting memory. As a small child I was slowly drawn in, nothing in any of this was threatening or even terribly confusing; ‘a friendly looking bearded man loves me’ I thought. Seemed simple to present it in such terms in the early 1980’s, sentences like that are now rigorously queried by parents if reported from their child, I dare say.

I’m afraid that I have no memory, being just a few days old, of agreeing to the acceptance of my first sacrament, baptism, whereby I was formally admitted into the church. However I do recall preparation for my second, namely Confession. Through this, I was informed, all of my wrongdoing could be absolved by simply admitting those childish errors to an elderly man (thankfully, for the first confession, not seated in a creepy confessional), who would then hand out a modest punishment. As a seven year old, my militant tendencies were barely evolved and reserved only for parental lobbying for toys and sweets and so I did not protest the acceptance of this sacrament, especially as I would have been the only child amongst my peers to have done so. I do recall however, querying the whole process. Were my sins really so bad (didn’t do the washing up and called my sister a bad name, being two that I recall) to warrant me having to pick up the direct line to god to ask for forgiveness? Couldn’t god just forgive me anyway, once I’d realised my errant path, without the need of confessing my childish crimes to a stranger? How do I not use this ‘get out of jail card’ to never wash another dish whilst directing a tirade of expletives towards my siblings? I did not ask any of these questions, as the whole process seemed so normal in my surroundings, but I did worry that I was not understanding this ritual fully – why was I not understanding this? Am I stupid? Does this make me a bad Catholic in god’s eyes?

Hot on the heels of the sacrament of confession, came my third, and most consumable sacrament – that of holy communion. Still digesting the ‘child sin hotline’ as revealed to me through confession, further startling revelations about what was on offer were about to become clear. Apparently, it was now possible to say a spell over some bread and wine, which would literally transform (emphasising ‘literally’, not ‘symbolically’, no wishy-washy Protestantism here) these foodstuffs into the flesh and blood of my now edible hero, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ indeed! I was now invited, in the strongest possible sense of the word, to partake in a ritualistic cannibalism of the son of the god I was explicitly told not to offend in the first place. Nervous times. The reason behind why it was felt we should all eat this converted flesh was never really explained to my satisfaction, and indeed to this day I am still at a loss to understand. However, as before, I went along with the wave of enthusiasm, and received my first piece of the lord from the hand of no less than the bishop of the diocese, a minor celebrity in our naïve world. I went on to eat more than a body weight in small pieces of my saviour over the coming years, but the lingering pang of doubt remained with me throughout, as I felt I simply did not understand what this process actually meant. Thoughts of my lack of comprehension plagued me, and I began to feel like an unworthy recipient.

More than four years passed, and I continued as a practicing child catholic, trying desperately to feel the presence of our lord in my daily life, and kidding myself into thinking my prayers made some sort of difference when in my heart I knew they did not, all the time feeling that there was something wrong with me for not understanding my church. It was now time for my fourth and final sacrament: confirmation. Now, through learning of the history of monarchies, the idea of a man ruling something, and then his son being involved, perhaps as a sort of heir-presumptive, is something I could understand. The world has been good to god with its never ending adulation, and naturally he’d want to involve the kids, even after humanity murdered him and continually feasted on his body. But what in the world is going on with the pet dove? For confirmation, we got familiar with the silent partner in the trinity: the holy spirit, represented by a shiny white bird. I do recall having a sense that the educators and clergy had somewhat given up at this point, and explanation was barely attempted. The ritual itself too was entirely forgettable, but I had a vague notion that I was now a full member of the church, a ‘made man’ if you will, however the feeling that I would be caught out as a pretender at any minute prevailed, and I still felt a devoted but confused conformer to a faith I simply did not understand. My religious faith stayed with me until I finally rejected Catholicism, and soon after the idea of the supernatural, in my late teens.

The late great Christopher Hitchens said that religions arguments were so flimsy that even a child could see through them, and this can be regularly referenced by the direct questions they often ask when religious instruction fails to make sense. You may think that I am including myself proudly amongst such children with the sacramental stories I have told you above, but unfortunately I think of it in opposite terms. When I finally rejected religion and became an atheist, it was such a rush of relief, and I felt that the world was suddenly revealed to me in all its beautiful craziness. I spoke a lot around this time to people my age about their experiences and, whether they were amongst the faithful or not, I got one overwhelming sense of how religion is perceived, in this country at least. Very few people, except the small number of exceptionally devout, really believe any of the bizarre claims outlined by the church such as in this story – and in this I include most clergy and religion teachers. I feel I may have been unusual in my guilt over not understanding the central tenants of the church as revealed to me, but I believe nobody fully understands them, as they are simply nonsensical. The only reason it was so important to me is that I felt I was alone in this lack of comprehension, whereas almost everyone else questions it much less, going along for the ride out of either habit or indifference, or as a child even for the financial perks of taking ones sacraments. I wish then I could have had more of the logical sense afforded to some of my childhood peers, and simply have said to myself ‘right, this makes no sense, but so what, I’ll just get on with my day to day life’

The serious point I would like to make for why I am an atheist is as follows: I think there are few things as depressing as the thought of a normal, intelligent, curious child feeling stupid and doubtful for not understanding  a lot of dubious, nonsensical superstition in a surrounding of complete acceptance from the society in which he lives. This neither fosters nor encourages intelligent development, and in the case of the Catholic Church, it is an indoctrination into a sexist, bigoted, homophobic and sexually repressive organisation run by elderly men who are entirely out of touch. As a criticism of ‘new atheism’, I have heard the accusation that atheism is just another ‘religion’ to replace those that are now, thankfully, beginning to drift into irrelevance. But I challenge anyone to describe anything secular today that is even close to the level of indoctrination of children as outlined in this story. I began by saying I am an atheist for many reasons but I think the primary one is this: I am proud not to believe in any god or organisation that takes it upon itself to force children to believe their own views, and I think it is absolutely commonplace amongst non-believers not to practice this notion, no matter how sure they are of their own worldviews. The ideas of free thought, free discovery and finding one’s own path is something held by most non-believers as (if I may borrow the word from the faithful) sacred.

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John Manning was born 1 week after the papal visit to Ireland in 1979, and like three other boys in his class in school was christened ‘John Paul’. Eventually rejecting religion completely in his late teens, John later discovered the writings of Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens, authors who helped give expression to the philosophical and indeed moral arguments against forced religious indoctrination. John lives, works and volunteers in Dublin City.

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Atheism, Guest, Opinion, Personal

Guest Post: Matt Bolton – Why I’m an Atheist

AI LogoThe reaction to my original why I’m an atheist post and Conor Murphy’s guest post continues to be really great. I’ve received a few guest post submissions and this is one from Matt Bolton. If anyone else would like to submit a story please contact me.

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In a lot of blogs people give all sorts of reasons for their non-belief and it can sometimes read like an introduction to an AA meeting:

My name is Matt, and I have been without God for six months. This is why…

Or they take a rather more direct approach and come to the conclusion through intellectual arrogance.

I am an Atheist and anyone who is not one is a moron

Neither of these approaches suit why I decided against believing in any form of mumbo jumbo.

I was raised Methodist but my parents were not overly religious nor where they particularly anti anything. Until the age of nine I was taken to church and made to sit through Sunday School. I remember this as a particularly profound boredom. Nothing that the Minister or the parents running the group ever said ever really connected with me. Once my parents split up and we stopped being forced to go I simply stopped thinking about god or anything related to it. I would however always question people with faith as to why they held those views but that is more a sign of my own arsey-ness than any intellectual curiosity. I guess, being brought up in England which is a very secular society makes being an Atheist easy as more people seem to be agnostic than are believers.

My parents and brothers have held on to their faith and take my young nieces to Church with them. Obviously, I do not agree with this but it is, after all, their decision to make. They hold on to their beliefs in the afterlife and in to the version of God they have been taught to worship.

For me the idea that anyone in the sky is taking a vested interest in our lives and acts a guiding hand is absurd. It is the same as the stories you tell to small children to calm them about the dark. I find a lot of what the Religions say to be utterly nonsensical, phrases such as “God’s greatest gifts are the prayers he doesn’t answer” send me to a tailspin of irritation. That no one has spotted that is a massive cop out actually hurts. It is a perfect example of twisting logic to suit needs – if you get what you want then that is god’s will and if you do not then that is also god’s will. It is all bollocks.

I briefly complained about the arrogance of some Atheists (notably Richard Dawkins) but some fundamentalist Theists are just as bad. They want the whole to think and to act like them. They want us all to see the world as they do, through the eyes of Bronze Aged farmers trying to explain what they do not know. Arrogance such as enshrining anti-abortion into constitutions, dictating Creationism is taught in schools and at National Trust visitor centres.

I do not come from a Science based background but from a grounding in the Humanities so I cannot argue the finer points of evolution or the make up of the cosmos. I can however, point out that Holy Books are often contradictory, almost always have an ingrained misogyny and are not the literal truth. Also, I find it interesting how people believe their particular Holy Book is the oldest and most authentic disregarding thousands of other equally Holy books and other assorted nonsense.

I do not want to change the opinions of people, nor do I want to change the world but I would like Religion to be treated as a minority interest, such as speaking Klingon or excessive gaming. I have found more comfort in literature than I ever have out of Holy Books.

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Matt lives in Wicklow and has been in Ireland for five years. He tweets at www.twitter.com/popematt. Matt’s post originally appeared on his blog.

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Atheism, Guest, Opinion, Personal

Guest Post: Conor Murphy – Why I’m an Atheist

The response to my post on why I’m an atheist has been nothing short of fantastic. It instantly became my most read post and I received great feedback from friends and strangers a like. Conor commented that he must write one himself and I offered him my blog as a venue. And now, over to Conor.

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Hello, I’m Conor Murphy, this is a post telling my “why I’m an Atheist” story.

Well I guess it started off with my Parents. My parents didn’t baptise me and decided that it would be wrong of them to impose any religion on me at such a young age. My Mother, I suspect is privately religious as her mother (my grandmother) passed away about a year ago and she was very religious. So I guess to her giving up on the belief and the traditions would be giving up on the memory of her mother. She wouldn’t be a regular mass goer at all, not even Christmas but she does the little manger and lighting of the candle in the porch “for lost travellers”. I live in an estate, no lost travellers here. My dad is very anti church and religious institutions which is coming more out now that I’m an adult and he knows I feel the same way. He has his own unique take on the universe that’s a bit out there and certainly not scientifically based.

Since you can join any religion at any time and religions only indoctrinate children out of fear that their “souls” would be lost if they were to die and they weren’t made a member of the cult/religion it was sound reasoning to let me figure out my own path through the maze of these concepts and proof and if I decided to become a member of X religion at the end of this quest then no religion would refuse me. They enrolled me into a non-denominational primary school that wasn’t local to us but was on the commute to my mom’s work (or at least not too inconvenient from it). Catholic instruction was possible in this school but it was meant to be done outside of class time and was an opt in rather than the non-religious opting out. The teacher simply gave us extra Maths or Irish for the half an hour or so that the class was split. I remember having no concept of what the word “Religion” meant but I knew that it seemed to be a way of getting off Maths. I remember asking my parents what is this “Religion” thing and can I do it? To which they replied “eh, Conor I don’t think you’d like that” and as soon as I found out that this “Religion” meant bible lessons I think I was willing to suffer the Maths in preference.

I’ll fast forward a bit to around the 10-12 age. At this stage I was an early bloomer in terms of intelligence. I was no means “gifted”, I would struggle at things like Irish and some aspects of Maths but myself and another kid, would’ve been above our age in scientific interest and comprehension. I would’ve been a regular watcher of BBC Horizon and Wildlife on one at this stage and would’ve understood most of it. This I feel was key to laying down the foundations of the scientific basis of evolution and the relationship between similar animal species in my head. I could see the similarity of Humans and the other great apes and of dogs and wolves and other examples. I was only just hearing of Darwin and his body of work at this stage as my first, and still one of my greatest, hero of Biology and natural world is David Attenborough. It just made sense to me and the evidence has only gotten stronger since then. At this stage I felt that I wasn’t a believer based on the information I had at my disposal, I didn’t have a label for it

My transfer to second level wasn’t an easy one, I went to my local one whereas my primary school friends naturally went to the nearest one to the primary school. It is a Community school and is “officially” supposed to have some catholic founding or history but in truth they were and I presume still are quite progressive in their teaching of religious concepts. I don’t think I’d be as far progressed and as comfortable with my position as I am now if there was more of an emphasis on indoctrination, (or maybe that would have caused me to rebel against it more, I don’t know). I retreated quite a bit into my shell for the first 3 years and in some areas I haven’t fully gotten over those self-esteem issues. I was convinced I was the sole atheist but funnily enough that didn’t make me feel down as I had built up a mental brick wall and a façade towards my fellow students. I was only myself around my immediate and extended family. It was 4th year or transition year where I came out of my shell quite a bit and made lifelong close friends. I saw no need to keep up the façade and saw transition year as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. The fact that there were several bonding trips such as cycling for a week or Paris or skiing (5th year) only catalysed my intent.

During 6th year, religion class was a study period with occasional guest speakers from various religious groups. We had an ex Jehovah Witness (he gave us the inside scoop that a practising one would never give us), group of Hare Krishnas and maybe a few others I forget. A funny side story is that 15 mins before our teacher brought in the Hare Krishnas he said to the assembled class “Now you’re about to meet a strange crowd, with bird droppings on their foreheads and curtains around their waists” I think a few students at the back were still chuckling when they came in with their hand drums and mantra chanting.

I wasn’t really an outspoken atheist at the time but would have told people if they asked. The same as I feel now. I found out a few of my friends were also atheists at this stage. But my closest friend funnily enough I don’t think I ever asked him. He either is an Atheist or a very lax catholic otherwise he would have put up with me all these years. This pretty much brings me up to speed as my views haven’t changed since then. I subscribe to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, The Atheist Experience and The Non Prophets podcasts (among others). I am a loose member of Atheist Ireland, by that I mean I subscribe to their newsletters and Facebook group and occasionally fall in for their social meetups.

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If anyone else would like to use my blog as a venue for their why I’m an atheist story, please do contact me. Conor blogs at secularcelt.blogspot.com.

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Atheism, Guest, Opinion, Personal

Why I am an Atheist

AI LogoAtheist Ireland asked the members of their email list why they are an atheist so I thought I’d post a quick response here.

I wasn’t always an atheist but nor did I have a strictly traditional Catholic upbringing. While my mum and her side of the family are reasonably good Irish Catholics, my dad’s side is nominally Protestant; although realistically atheist. Even when going to mass as a child, it wasn’t exactly your standard Catholic mass. I grew up in the 1990′s when the sex scandals in the Catholic Church were breaking and respect for the Church was waning. Also, I went to a non-denominational school so I was not exposed to early indoctrination there.

From an early age my dad made it perfectly clear that he considered god to be in the same group as Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie the Pooh. If we asked what he thought happened after you died his answer was that you rot in the ground – he also referred to graveyards as “bone orchards”. In hindsight, I’d say this absolutely infuriated my mother who was as determinately religious as my father wasn’t. I don’t think the idea that me and my siblings would be brought up Catholic was ever contested; as seems typical in atheist-religious couples, the religious parent is far more adamant that the children are religious than the atheist parent is that they aren’t. While I may be misinterpreting memories, I have a sense that my dad was content to let us all make up our own minds when it came down to it. Because of this I was baptised, communioned, and confirmed – ironically taking my dad’s name, Ian, as my confirmation name.

The first house I lived in as a child was a five minute walk from a convent. The nuns were genuinely lovely, though exceptionally odd. My mum went to mass most Sundays and took me and later my siblings with her. My dad, obviously, didn’t. The few times that he was dragged to mass for Christmas and the like he engaged in a fantastic form of non-violent protest: he became the best mass attendee you could wish for. He would sing (read as shout) every hymn out as loud as he could, and if there were extra verses that the priest was going to skip, he’d sing them too. The mass in the convent was small, with only thirty or so people in attendance. One singer who’s as incompetent as they are seemingly eager goes a long long way towards bringing the air of quiet dignity crashing down. I think this pretty much ensured my father was entirely unwelcome at mass.

I grew up in the 1990′s. By the time I was cognizant, the early reports of the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church were beginning to come out. I may be wrong in my opinions on this, but I think that the media were a lot more critical of the Church in the 90′s than than they had been before with this resulting in a general culture that was a lot less respectful of it. Growing up when peoples respect for the Church was fading meant I never got the full “respect the church at all costs” talks. Anecdotally, my age group seems to be the least religious. Of my 20 or so closest friends, a full third would identify as atheist and most of the rest not really give religion much thought. Only two would be practicing Catholics. Certainly, I do not see any future children of many of my friends being raised at all religiously.

The final factor that set the stage for me to become an atheist was the school I went to: Sutton Park School, a non-denominational school in Dublin. In the primary school there were no religion classes. People taking their communion had to stay back for an hour after school one day a week, although this was most of the class. Religion was not a feature of any of the other classes. There were no weekly prayers. There was the occasional hippyesque stand in a circle, hold hands and close your eyes moment of silence, particularly with one principal when I was in secondary school there. It was only much later that I found out that this lack of religion in school was completely atypical. My early time at Sutton Park was very important in me becoming an atheist as I was not exposed to the indoctrination that so many other children were.

I fully became an atheist in my early teens although the process happened over a few years before that. As soon as I was old enough that getting up early at the weekend was my idea of hell, I took every step I could to avoid going to mass. The few times I actually failed to worm my way out of going to mass, I actually read the pamphlet and listened to what I was saying. When I looked at what I’d been mindlessly chanting since I was too young to understand the words properly I realised that I didn’t agree with anything that was being said. In particular, the Proclamation of Faith creeped me the hell out. Seeing thirty or forty people brainlessly parroting each other is a genuinely scary experience when you are beginning to question the beliefs of the group. I totally stopped going to mass and despite this realisation, I didn’t identify as an atheist immediately. It took another few years as a lapsed Catholic where I didn’t even think about it at all. At some point I read something that challenged anyone who was religious to read Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion with an open mind. I took the challenge starting out as nominally religious and finishing the book a self-proclaimed Atheist.

On reflection, I was always atheistic. My church experience was so different from the traditional Catholic mass – I was exposed to lovely, slightly batty old ladies rather than a stern priest and so I never developed into a traditional Catholic with a fear of god and a guilt complex. The media’s growing criticism of the Church and the culture that came with it as well as being in a non-denominational school went a long way towards stopping a lot of the early indoctrination. Growing up in Dublin, which is far more secular than a lot of Ireland, while the Church’s sex scandals were coming to light contributed yet more. Finally, having one parent who was utterly dismissive of the concept of god and never hid that from me meant that I was predisposed to question religion.

As things stand now, myself and my brother are unrepentant atheists, one sister is religious and the other is likely to follow my brothers and my footsteps. After I became an atheist I certainly tried to help my siblings along the same path; I left the God Delusion outside my brothers door until he read it and got my sister a copy of The Origin of the Species for her confirmation!

If anyone has any comments please leave them below. Also, if anyone wants to write a guest post on this subject I am open to suggestions; email me.

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Atheism, Personal

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – Review

American Gods CoverAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman is firstly an excellent book, and secondly, a bloody hard book to describe – the latter especially, making this a difficult review to write. The version I read, or rather listened to, was the Tenth Anniversary Edition with the author’s preferred text.

American Gods tells the story of Shadow, a man recently released from prison for a crime he did commit, and his journey across America in the employ of an old hustler, Mr. Wednesday. On his release, Shadow soon discovers that all the gods and other mythological figures that had ever been believed in are real; and that there are new gods rising – gods of TV, highways and the internet – who seek to replace the gods of old. Throughout his journey Shadow encounters a vast cast of mythical characters; from Thoth and Anubis to Suibhne and Anasi as well as the new g. Trying to identify the mythical figures, and the foreshadowing that comes with knowing who they are, that Mr. Wednesday, Nancy, Ibis, Jacquel and all the others represent is a huge part of reading American Gods.

For all that it features a cast that includes gods, leprechauns and djinn, assigning a genre to American Gods is almost impossible. Even Gaiman seems unsure as to what shelf the book belongs on in a library – in his introduction to the Tenth Anniversary edition he points out that American Gods has won awards for best fantasy, science-fiction and horror novel. (A literary critic would raise their bespectacled nose and say that given the construction of the prose, depth of the allusion and Gaiman’s raw talent, American Gods “transcends” mere genre fiction and should be considered literature; in response to the hypothetical literary critic I’d say, bollocks, and point them to Lev Grossman’s article on the divide – or lack there-of – between genre and literary fiction). Regardless, American Gods does not suffer much from it’s identity crisis – anyone and everyone will likely enjoy it.

Plot wise, American Gods once again defies easy description. The main plot draws as much inspiration from Hollywood as it does from literature; it has elements of old-school heist and road trip movies as well as nods to the amateur detective novels of the 1920′s and 30′s. Various sub-plots weave romantic and horror elements in to the book. The main thing that can be said for American Gods’ plot is that it is excellent. The disparate elements drive the plot forward and the book, despite being over 600 pages, never begins to drag. Even when there is very little overt action occurring, Gaiman’s subtlety and fascinating characters keep the reader engaged. As with many multi-plot books, American Gods has multiple revelations built into the last 200 hundred pages which make it even harder to put down.

Gaiman has taken some flack for both the perceived dryness of his prose and his characterisation of Shadow. On the first point, I found Gaiman’s writing to be excellent, I can see how someone might find it dry but thing that if they do, it isn’t the book for them. Despite my distaste for the concept of literary fiction being superior to genre fiction, Gaiman’s prose has more in common with Martin Amis than J.K. Rowling. Also, Gaiman’s style relies heavily on allusion and so, if someone misses the references, a lot of the writing may seem odd or redundant. On the second point, I also found Gaiman’s characterisation of Shadow to be excellent. While Shadow’s reaction to events in the novel may appear to some to be unrealistic, given that he has just spent three years in jail as well as the constant barrage of life-shattering revelations on his release, I thought he acted fittingly. Also revelations later in the novel further explain any oddness in Shadow’s personality.

Interestingly, American Gods features plot points that appeal to me both as a magician and as an atheist. Shadow’s coin tricks are an important part of his character and a number of plots in the book. Initially a method for killing time in prison, they become a catalyst for several important scenes. Gaiman’s behind the scenes descriptions are both accurate and extremely well written. The skill required to describe a series of technical moves in a way that doesn’t alienate a large portion of the readers as well as to actually engage them is immense – however, Gaiman nails it. If more magicians could write even a tenth as well magic books might be bearable.

Gaiman’s underlying premise – that gods exist because people believe in them, the more people who believe the more powerful they become and when no one believes they become powerless – is a fascinating idea. In a sense, it’s true in the real world. Whether or not a god actually exists is immaterial to whether it not it has power, that people believe they exist is really all that matters. The more people who believe in the concept of a particular god, the more powerful that concept becomes. And when nobody believes in the concept, it loses all it’s power. Zeus, once all powerful, has now been reduced to a character in bad Hollywood films while if someone dares to so much as draw Muhammad, they will receive death threats – and sometimes, just death. The actual existence of a god is in no way required for the concept to have power. This is blindingly obvious in the world today. The Abrahamic concept of god wields immense power over all manner of public and private discourse, both here in Ireland, and around the world. Debates that should be focussed on the scientific and humanitarian facts around issues such as stem cell research, abortion and gay rights are stymied at every turn by the continuing focus on the “morals” dictated by the concept of a Christian god. Regardless of whether this god is real or not, the power the concept has is undeniable. To me, Gaiman has simply taken this concept to its logical conclusion, and characterised the concepts.

American Gods probably isn’t for everyone. It’s a dark, long and sometimes difficult read. However, if you can give the book the attention it deserves it is a very rewarding experience. I can honestly say it is one of the best books I have ever read. In particular, atheists should get a kick out of the portrayal of gods. I had put off reading American Gods for quite a long time because I didn’t really know what I would be getting into. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Do yourself a favour and go to amazon and order it now!

As a final aside, one line in the book really stuck with me and I thought I’d include it here:

“It’s easy, there’s a trick to it, you do it or you die.”

Harry Guinness is a professional magician based in Dublin, to hire him, or for more information, go to www.HarryTheMagician.ie.

All links to amazon in this blog are affiliate links, I have to pay webhosting somehow! However, that in no way changes my opinion of the product. If I wanted to make money off affiliate links, I wouldn't write really long review of €5.00 books.
Posted in Atheism, Review