In case the book’s title is not self-explanatory enough, below is the Table of Contents, complete with excerpts from each chapter.
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF WHY YOUR RELIGION IS FALSE
1. The basics of religion
Unless you are reading this in North Korea (where, I understand from watching “The 700 Club,” traditional religions like Christianity and Zoroastrianism have largely been replaced with something called Juche, whose rituals involve starving and listening to government-run radio stations), you are probably familiar with religion, although – depending on your circumstances – you may know it as “why daddy is required to hit me with a brass ﬁreplace poker when I fail to show him proper amounts of respect” or “those expensive skin-galvanometer sessions I submit to in order to further my show-business career” or “the reason the beautiful, beautiful act of a man making love to another man is in fact ‘an abomination.’ “
2. The origins of religion
After careful study, scholars have concluded that the earliest religions were little more than collections of rituals and stories intended to explain phenomena that primitive man was incapable of understanding, to add a false veneer of “meaning” to what must have been difﬁcult lives, and to help tribal leaders legitimize their authority and control their constituents and punish malcontents.
3. A few words about religious language
Two steak knives, one emergency surgery, and seventy-ﬁve stitches later, the doctors summoned her to my hospital room, where she apologized for any misunderstanding and explained that “opening my heart” was actually Jesus-talk for “suspending my critical judgment and ignoring my faculties of logic and reason.
4. A few words about the inheritance of religion
If you ever follow in my footsteps and declare yourself a scholar of religion, you will quickly notice that most people follow the same religion as their parents.
5. A few words about religious stories
If your neighbor one day insisted he was the Messiah, the Buddha, an avatar of Vishnu, or the son of Zeus, you would arrange for him to be examined by a psychiatrist (unless you are a Christian Scientist, in which case you would pray for him, or a Scientologist, in which case you would kidnap and brainwash him).
THINGS THAT CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO (AND THAT ARE FALSE)
6. Godliness is false
Most of the religions we will show false involve some sort of “god,” a magical being who lives on a cloud in the sky and throws lightning bolts at his enemies and watches you while you’re showering.
7. Souliness is false
Correspondingly, souls are often used as plot points in popular entertainment, usually as a crutch to compensate for writers’ lack of imagination
8. Heavenliness is false
In some religious traditions, heaven has a doorman, Saint Peter, who will only let you past the velvet rope if you are on the guest list, if your party consists mostly of well-dressed, attractive women, or if you slip him a hundred-dollar bill.
9. Angelness is false
Theologically, angels are like people, except that they dress only in white, have feathery wings, carry small harps, live on clouds, have glowing halos hovering above their heads, can only be killed by magical weapons rated +2 or above, and have dimples.
RELIGIONS THAT YOU THINK NOBODY PRACTICES ANYMORE BUT SOME PEOPLE STILL DO
10. Religions involving the worship of giant stone heads are false
It is true that few things in the world are more beloved than ludicrously-oversized heads, which seems to be the principal factor underlying the popularity of the movie Mask, of the CEO of Jack-in-the-Box, of Pez, of three of the four primary Bratz dolls (Yasmin, Sasha, and Cloe), and of Kool-Aid Man.
11. Indigenous religions of Africa are false
Most Africans have abandoned their traditional religions in favor of Islam or Christianity, either because of greater plausibility (uncommon) or because of heavily-armed missionaries (very common).
12. Greek mythology is false
Unlike modern monotheists, Hellenists believe in an entire pantheon (from the Greek pan, meaning “pan,” and theos, meaning “belonging to Theo”) of gods, who live atop Mount Olympus, a waterslide park in south-central Wisconsin.
13. Religions involving totem poles, peyote, or casinos are false
The Amerindians lived in semi-autonomous tribes named after automobile models, some of the largest being Comanche, Navajo, Aztek, Grand Cherokee, New Beetle, and Escort.
RELIGIONS PRACTICED PRIMARILY BY ASIANS AND ASIAN FETISHISTS
14. Hinduism is false
While Brahma and Vishnu’s whereabouts are unknown, Shiva is rumored to live on Mount Kailash in Tibet. (A rival theory is that Mount Kailash is Shiva’s penis, making Mrs. Shiva a very lucky woman.)
15. Buddhism is false
The most famous Buddhist monks are probably Liu Kang (special attack: “Flying Bicycle Kick”) and Kung Lao (special attack: “Hat Throw”), with whom you should be intimately familiar if (like me) you spent the majority of college playing Mortal Kombat II.
16. Sikhism is false
The primary commandment of Sikhism is the “Rule of Two,” mandating that only two Sikh lords can exist at any time.
17. Jainism is false
For instance, one who kills a man just to watch him die is (according to Jain theology) much more likely himself (either in this life or in a future life) to be killed just to be watched die.
18. Zoroastrianism is false
These poems addressed the one god Ahura Mazda, whom scholars suspect Zoroaster subconsciously named after a “Star Trek” character and his first car.
19. Bahá’í is false
Bahá’ís are forbidden from begging, being gay, setting things on fire in order to collect insurance money, shaving their heads, libel, slander, and sexting. They are also supposed to fast for the entirety of March Madness, even though no Bahá’í university has ever made it out of the round of 64.
20. Feng Shui is false
Practitioners claim that making choices according to the dictates of Feng Shui will produce results that are auspicious, i.e. “in accord with the dictates of Feng Shui.”
21. Taoism is false
Despite the initial T, it is properly pronounced Daoism, which you would do well to remember if you don’t want to get laughed out of the monastery like I did.
22. Confucianism is false
Unlike other Asian religions, Confucianism is reasonably well-known in the West, mostly because Confucius’s pithy religious pronouncements are popular staples of children’s joke books.
23. Shinto is false
These precepts are not particularly useful or interesting, although learning about them might help you make sense of your Japan vacation, of the “Monchichi” episode “Misfit Grumplin,” and of a number of otherwise-incomprehensible Gwen Stefani videos.
RELIGIONS OF THE JEWS
24. The story of the Jews
According to these scriptures, the Jewish god created the world about 5800 years ago, which helps explain why observant Jews regularly show up to work several billion years late.
25. Judaism is false
Jews have a long tradition of scholarship, which has produced famous thinkers like Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, Rabbi Hillel the Elder, Maimonides, Karl Marx, Woody Allen, Milton Friedman, and Paula Abdul.
26. Orthodox Judaism is false
Curiously, Orthodox Judaism does not forbid lesbianism, teaching that “girl-on-girl” action is permissible as long as it is “hot,” “steamy,” “moist,” or “filthy.”
27. Reform Judaism is false
If you point out to them that this would mean that plants somehow survived millions of years without sunlight or being pollinated, they will often get angry and cut off your access to capital.
28. Kabbalah is false
Kabbalah’s most famous proponent is “Material Girl” Madonna, who has a diverse history of religious dalliances with Catholicism (“Like a Prayer”), the pro-choice movement (“Papa Don’t Preach”), Astrology (“Lucky Star”), Clapton-worship (“Crazy for You”), Zoroastrianism (“Holiday”), Islam (“Justify my Love”), Hinduism (“Beautiful Stranger”), Juche (“La Isla Bonita”), Mormonism (“Express Yourself”), Christian Science (“True Blue”), New Age (“Secret”), and Dispensational Premillennialism (“Who’s That Girl”).
29. JuBu is false
According to a page I found on the internet, approximately one third of American Buddhists are actually JuBus (this was corroborated by a different page on the internet).
RELIGIONS THAT EVERYONE AGREES ARE TYPES OF CHRISTIANITY
30. The story of Jesus
Jesus’s last words on the cross described as either “My god, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew), “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” (Luke), “It is finished!” (John), or “Peter, I can see your house from up here!” (Mark)
31. Christianity is false
If you have not been indoctrinated from birth with the notion of Original Sin, you may find the idea of punishing people for their distant ancestors’ wrongdoings a little bit distasteful. If you point this out to Christians, they will patiently explain that your sense of taste is wrong, possibly as a result of Satan’s influence.
32. Catholicism is false
The Catholic Church considers itself the original form of Christianity, virtually unchanged from Jesus’s day (except that over the years it has become wealthy and powerful enough to establish a fancy web site at http://www.va where the faithful can play slick online games like Vatican Tower Defense and Communion Mania and Indulgence Wars and Bejeweled).
33. Orthodoxy is false
Today Orthodox Christians are best known for their annual “Greek Festivals,” where they open the doors of their churches to non-believers, break plates, sell loukoumathes, perform festive Greek dances, play bouzouki music, and shout “Opa!”
34. Conservative Protestantism is false
For instance, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod disagree primarily on the questions of whether Sunday-school teachers are “divinely inspired,” whether women should be allowed to vote in primary elections, and whether “the only ship worth a damn” is fellowship or friendship. (In fact, the only ship worth a damn is Jefferson Starship.)
35. Liberal Protestantism is false
While most Christians use their churches as meeting places for prayer and worship, liberal Protestants are more likely to use them for Bingo, potlucks, potlatches, covered-dish dinners, faith suppers, Jacob’s joins, hot chocolate parties, bring-a-plates, fuddles, and letting homeless junkies sleep in the gym.
36. Dispensational Premillenialism is false
After this defeat, Jesus and the rest of the raptured will reign for 1,000 years, during which time they will re-institute Old Testament practices like animal sacrifice and gay-stoning and slavery.
37. Snake-handling is false
Myth: “G.I. Joe” villain Serpentor was a snake-handler
Fact: Serpentor was actually a Christian Scientist
38. “Cool” Christianity is false
Christian musicians have over the years infiltrated a huge variety of musical genres and infused them with religious lyrics, messages, and horribly-punnish band names.
39. Some obligatory words about Thomas Kinkade and Joel Osteen
Kinkade’s paintings are especially popular with Conservative Protestants, who praise them as “accessible,” “unchallenging,” and “insipid.”
RELIGIONS FOUNDED BY MOHAMMED
40. Mohammed and the mountain
After years of fighting, the Muslims eventually gathered enough forces to conquer Mecca with minimal bloodshed, killing only a handful of people who were reputed to have drawn cartoons depicting Mohammed.
41. Sunni and Shi’a
After Ali was poisoned (and was secretly buried in the Tomb of Imam Ali in the Imam Ali Mosque so that his not-very-bright enemies would be unable to find and desecrate his grave), the Muslims descended into a variety of ugly civil wars that spawned a number of timeless sayings including “I have not yet begun to fight,” “One if by sand, two if by sea,” “Damn the camels, full speed ahead!” and “A Caliphate, if you can keep it.
42. Islam is false
Muslims are required to pray five times a day: during “Good Morning America,” at lunch, before “Oprah,” after “Oprah,” and when flipping back and forth between “Leno” and “Letterman.” These prayers should be prayed while kneeling on bathmats and facing toward Mecca, after washing one’s feet in a public restroom sink.
43. Salaﬁsm is false
Salafism has in recent times grown popular with disaffected Muslim youth around the world, for reasons like “it makes me feel like a man,” “it’s a way of sticking it to my parents,” and “setting the trappings of modern civilization on fire is fun!”
44. Sufism is false
Some of the best-loved Sufi poems are Turyaaq-e-Qulb (“O Caliph! My Caliph!”), Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi (“Stopping by Dunes on a Sandy Evening”), Kimiya-yi Sa’adat (“There Once Was a Sheikh from Nantucket”), and Dala’il al-Barakat (“The Love Song of J. Abu Bakr”).
RELIGIONS THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE CHRISTIANITY, DEPENDING ON WHOM YOU ASK
45. Messianic Judaism is false
Like Christians, they believe in the divinity of Jesus; like Jews, they avoid eating cheeseburgers.
46. Religions that claim to be science are false
Christian Scientists believe that god has made all things “in his likeness,” which would mean that he was somehow both as attractive as Ashley Olsen and as terrifying-looking as Mary-Kate Olsen.
47. Religions that leave tracts in the laundromat on 12th Avenue
Based on Biblical passages loosely implying that the primary purpose of blood is “atonement for one’s sins,” JeWits famously eschew blood donations, blood transfusions, blood pudding, blood sausage, czernina, dinuguan, Black Soup, menstruation, rare steaks, vampirism, and hemophilia.
48. Twelve-step programs are false
Twelve-steppers commonly encourage each other to “let go and let god,” which doesn’t make any sense but sounds clever if you don’t think about it too hard.
49 Seventh-Day Adventism is false
Other Christians are critical of this idea, typically on the grounds that “Ellen White made it up, and that lady was nuts.”
50. Quakerism is false
Quakers believe that since all people have the same “divine spark,” they all deserve equal treatment. Accordingly, they frown on scientific research investigating whether males and females actually do have the same divine spark, insisting that such questions have no place in the academy.
51. Amishness is false
In fact the various Amish communities differ on everything from “how wide must a hat brim be?” to “what color should a buggy be painted?” to “are snaps on clothing permissible, or should we stick with buttons?”
52. Mormonism is false
Mormons specialize in creating quirky, not-particularly-entertaining movies, like The Book of Mormon Movie, Mobsters and Mormons, Tales of the Rat Fink, and Napoleon Dynamite.
RELIGIONS POPULAR WITH FLAKEY CALIFORNIANS AND REBELLIOUS TEENAGERS
53. Jediism is false
You will not meet many people who believe that there is some kind of universal power that radiates through us all (except, of course, for the Power of Love, which is able to make one man weep, to make another man sing, and to change a hawk to a little white dove).
54. Thelema is false
Many Thelemites practice Magick, which Crowley defined as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” (Another key Thelema practice seems to be blatant Disregard for the usual Rules of Capitalization.)
55. Vodou is false
Vodou is best known in popular culture for its practices of creating Zombies (beings that are externally indistinguishable from normal humans but that lack “qualia”) and of sticking pins in Voodoo dolls.
56. Wicca is false
According to the fourth season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” witches tend to be lesbians, although the American Pie movies suggest that this is not the complete story.
57. Environmentalism is false
Following closely behind her was prophet Paul Ehrlich, who preached that Gaia demanded the cessation of economic growth and human reproduction or else she would starve to death hundreds of millions of people.
58. New Age is false
Based on these and other similarly-impressive accomplishments, New Age ideas have steadily grown in popularity, and these days it is nearly impossible to flip through an issue of Of Spirit or Infinite Healing or ThinkWell=BeWell Magazine without encountering dozens of ads for “shaman this” and “energy that.”
59. Astrology is false
Being twins, How the West was Fun co-stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were born only minutes apart. And yet the pure, kind-hearted Ashley and the tormented, eating-disordered, rift-with-Paris-Hiltoned Mary-Kate could not be more different in character.
60. Objectivism is false
To be fair, the Objectivists do have some good ideas, like withdrawing from the world and hiding out in the remote wilderness of Colorado to protest creeping collectivism, bravely opposing the removal of the word I from the English language, and blowing up buildings when their use betrays the architect’s original intent.
61. Scientology is false
Famously, Scientologists do not believe in xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxx, based on Hubbard’s teachings that xxxx was merely caused by a xxxxx of xxxxxxxxxx
62. Other cults are false
Even traditional religions like Scientology and Falun Gong were once considered cults, over the strong objections of the all-knowing and all-powerful L. Ron Hubbard and Li Hongzhi.
RELIGIONS THAT WERE MADE UP VERY RECENTLY
63. Intelligent Design is false
This is the sort of conflict that led to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, indelibly captured in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning drama The Diary of Anne Frank.
64. Falun Gong is false
Falun Gongers try to live according to the motto “Don’t Think. Just recite the Master’s teaching,” which they then use as an excuse to explain their poor performance on “Jeopardy.”
65. Choprism is false
For reasons that are unclear but that probably have to do with the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, many people find these well-spoken Indians unrealistically credible.
66. Rastafari is false
As Rastas do not believe that god can die, they insist that Selassie’s 1975 “death” was in fact a hoax, and that he is actually in hiding with Elvis Presley, living on a diet of peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, ham-bone dumplings, and bacon-fried corn.
67. Ða.i Ða.o Tam K`y Phô Ðô. is false
Caodaism considers itself the “Third Alliance between God and Man.” Caodaists are demure about what the first two might be, though most scholars suspect they were the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance and the Alliance to End Hulkamania.
68. Cheondoism is false
You probably suspect I’m making it up, which is why I encourage you to visit your local library and find some books on it. I particularly recommend Cheondoism: The Religion I’m Not Making Up!, Chondogyo: The Religion of the Cosmos That Blossomed in Korea, and Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Donghak Becomes Cheondoism.
69. Clapton-worship is false
Don’t get me wrong, “After Midnight” is a pretty good song, especially the part where it goes “gonna shake your tambourine.”
70. Dungeons and Dragons is false
Its adherents, known as gamers, have few official places of worship, but often gather together in college dorms or in someone’s basement.
71. Singularitarianism is false
Singularitarianism refers to worship of the singularity, a Twilight-Zone-ish other dimension that lies behind a door that you unlock with your mind, and that represents a world so different from ours that (except for those of us who are Science Fiction authors) we are incapable of imagining it.
72. Hooliganism is false
Football partisans cheer for and diligently follow the progress of clubs named after their home cities and/or weapon-storage facilities, like “Manchester United” and “Arsenal” and “Tottenham Gun Locker.”
73. Juche is false
Out of this grew the new Juche doctrine of “One meal a day should be more than enough for anyone” and the new Juche prayer of “Please, god or Kim Il-Sung or anyone, send us food!” Thanks to these religious innovations, it is estimated that no more than 600,000 Koreans died of starvation.
74. Pastafarianism is false
Part of me suspects that Pastafarianism is not a serious religion but was designed primarily to mock some of the more prominent religions.
RELIGIONS THAT ARE BARELY RELIGIONS BUT ARE STILL RELIGION ENOUGH TO BE FALSE
75. Deism is false
Although it is not such a popular religion today, Benjamin Franklin’s “Almanack of chicken foup for the Deist’s foulle” was the bestselling pamphlet of both 1773 and 1774, and John Philip Souza’s “Deist Nuuuts” sold more piano rolls in the 1890’s than any other religious song.
76. Unitarian Universalism is false
Unitarians follow the “I love you / you love me” teachings of Barney the Purple Dinosaur.
77. Pantheism is false
That’s right, everything. Here is a (necessarily) incomplete list of Pantheist gods.
78. Agnosticism is false
We believe that the sun is going to rise tomorrow, that dropped toast will always land buttered-side down, that it was that weird payroll analyst from the third floor who scratched our new Hyundai in the parking lot, and that the muscular, oddly-tattooed plumber will always drop his pants and violate Jenna Jameson as soon as the “boom-chicka-wow-wow” music starts, even though we cannot prove any of these things.
79. “Non-religious spirituality” is false
(These are the same people who insist that we call the short “vertically-challenged,” the stupid “learning-disabled,” the unfunny “differently-humored,” and prison schools for wicked kids “alternative education.”)
80. Apatheism is false
It is quite possibly the most important question there is, which means I have done you an incredible service in writing this book. Don’t you forget it!
ODDS AND ENDS
81. “What about my religion?”
Maybe you practice Xiantianism, a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Islam, in which case I recommend you read the chapters on Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Islam (at which point you might as well just read the whole book).
82. Moderation as a virtue?
If you are ever trapped at a cocktail party speaking with one of these pseudo-believers, it is probably a good idea not to ask her what the object of worshipping a dead teacher is, and it is probably an even better idea not to drunkenly assert that you worship would-be astronaut Christa McAuliffe for similar reasons.
83. Non-overlapping magisteria?
That is, Gould and the Academy are asserting that you should let witch doctors and shamans and priests tell you what to do, since they claim to know about moral values while science does not. And besides, using science to help make these kinds of decisions might diminish the witch doctors’ glory.
84. Isn’t atheism a religion?
Occasionally you see quotes like “Atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.” However, as not collecting stamps actually is one of my hobbies, I prefer my line of reasoning.
85. “But without religion. . . “
What the proponents of the “but without religion” argument seem to be implying is that only the threat of the sky-man’s wrath keeps them from dishonoring their parents, starting an affair with your wife, coveting your house, bearing false witness against you, and killing you in your sleep.
86. “What about all the good things religion did?”
In the absence of religion, Saint Peter might have designed an elegant shopping mall; Ford and Mercedes might have developed hydrogen cars or plug-in-hybrids or convertibles; Leonardo da Vinci could have spent more time creating bestselling codes and drawings of naked men in circles.
87. “But religion is what gives my life meaning. . . “
After all, the “Harry Potter” books serve as a great comfort to me (or at least they did until J.K. Rowling callously outed happily-in-the-closet headmaster Albus Dumbledore), but you will rarely find me arguing that Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft is a real place, that use of the Avada Kedavra killing curse is actually unforgiveable, or that Quidditch merits inclusion as an Olympic sport.
88. Religious freedom and religious tolerance
People like Hitler, who killed millions of people for practicing the wrong religion, are just as evil as the Popes, who killed millions of people for not practicing the right religion; just as evil as Che Guevara, who killed millions of people so he could get his face on a t-shirt; and just as evil as Hannibal Lecter, who killed millions of people so he could eat their innards paired with fava beans and a nice Chianti.
89. Separation of church and state
Amerindians can smoke peyote, while you and I cannot. Amish can opt out of the Social Security system, while the rest of us are forced to fund the extravagant lifestyles of octogenarians.
90. Hot-button issues, A to Z
Although slavery is today considered abhorrent by a slight majority of people, it was a popular working arrangement back in the days when most religions were invented. Accordingly, many religious scriptures endorse the practice.
Your religion is false.