I am busy reading Michael Parenti’s latest book ‘God and His Demons’ and though I haven’t finished yet (my reading is in the early stages), my initial reactions require me to express a preliminary opinion. As my reading progresses and the ideas expressed therein are digested, this initial opinion could well change.
Title: God and His Demons
Author: Michael Parenti
Published by: Prometheus Books
So who is Michael Parenti?
Born in 1933, of Italian American parentage Parenti, by his own admission, was raised a Roman Catholic and even had aspirations to the priesthood. So this was not someone who was raised in a rabid anti-religious environment and it does not appear that he suffered any untoward experience during his religious nurturing; indeed he is at pains to mention “…never molested…”! A gifted man, he is obviously extremely erudite, having received a Ph.D. from no less than Yale University. A past teacher/lecturer, he now concentrates on his writing, public speaking and political activism. An award winning raconteur and commentator he has written many books and even more articles, one of the latest being the subject of my indignation.
…and why did I acquire a book which would so obviously raise my gander?
It is important, I believe, that one must read comment from both sides of the spectrum and it is that other side of the spectrum where this book falls – it may anger me and raise issues which are contradictory to my own views but that does not mean it should be discarded. Parenti claims that he is not a militant atheist ala Richard Dawkins, but is just highlighting the ills of a certain segment of society! ‘Of more interest’ he says ‘is knowing how decent they might be as people and how committed they are to social justice, egalitarian reform, personal freedom, and environmental sustainability’. So apparently, according to him, he is having a go at those who would pervert the system for their own ends but in particular, those in the religious sector of society! In fact, I would say (especially in the first few chapters) that his diatribe is aimed exclusively at religion and at God in particular. So one has to ask the question, is Mr Parenti being rather disingenuous when he says that he is not a militant atheist because the initial chapters of his book certainly do not indicate as such; in fact, to me, he comes across as someone who is bent on discrediting God, religion and in particular, the Judeo/Christian variety of religion.
The book’s table of contents is revealing in itself; The Great Exterminator, The Great Abominator and Working His Blunders in Mysterious Ways strike me as being far from benign atheism!
“I am halfway through Genesis and quite appalled by the disgraceful behaviour of all the characters involved, including God” (J.R. Ackerley). This is Parenti’s opening quote from the second chapter and is actually very appropriate as, in my mind, it reveals a lot about his thought processes – ‘approach the subject literally and it will have more impact’! But the scientific approach so emphatically touted, would require the contextual analysis of the texts being critiqued.
This would mean studying the culture, beliefs and levels of understanding in place at the time the texts concerned were created; it means “situating” the text within the ambit of its time. Polygamy was an accepted and normal practice during Old Testament times, as was a patriarchal society – it seems meaningless to try and make sense of ancient practices using contemporary mores! Likewise, the expansionistic proclivity of kingdoms of the Old Testament and the need to describe them in grandiose terms, must be seen in the light of the times; what were acceptable behaviours then would be considered as crimes against humanity today!
Parenti is correct in asserting that there are those of a fundamentalist inclination who would interpret the Old Testament in literal fashion, but this would be wrong. That is not to say that its ultimate message is not inspired, for hidden within those arcane texts are messages, some prophetic and some which contemporary society would do well to heed! Pinning on God some of the more idiosyncratic actions of ancient man is just as literal as the aforementioned fundamentalists of today. Thus holding God up to ridicule using texts whose literal meaning seems contradictory and adventive to modern society but which, at times hide some fundamental truths, does nothing in my mind but enforce a picture militant atheism!
As I continue to read the book, perhaps new meaning might come to the fore, but at the moment I cannot shake that feeling of a vindictive anti-religiosity.