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Eller, David. “Christianity Evolving: On the Origin of Christian Species,” Chapter 1 in Loftus' The End of Christianity
    Eller briefly describes the evolution of the faith and its divided nature from its very beginning. The Jews who gave rise to the faith were already split into groups such as the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots, and others. This division carried over into early Christianity, which, until it was unified by force in the fourth century, contained not just many books which were arbitrarily excluded from the canon, but was heavily infested by “heresies” including Gnosticism, Sabellianism, Docetism, Marcionism, and Montanism. When a faith is concocted without reference to an absolute standard such as the objective world, anyone can invent anything – and they did.
    Later heresies were Waldensianism, Catharism, and Lollardism, as well as groups such as the Brethren, Hussites, and Hugenots. Finally Protestantism, the greatest heresy of all, appeared. Eller goes on to describe peculiar American sects such as the Mormons, and branches in other regions (Africa, Latin America). There is not one Christianity but many; the one thing they have in common is the belief that Jesus died for our sins. Chapter 10 by Pulliam shows how absurd this idea is.  
Eller, David. “Is Religion Compatible with Science?Chapter 11 in Loftus' The End of Christianity
    Eller defines his terms carefully and offers insights not easily found elsewhere. He first defines religion as a system of thought that asserts the presence of nonhuman conscious causative agents, whom we can somehow relate to, which does not follow; causation and relatability have no necessary connection, but Christianity implausibly postulates both.
    Religion is characterized by: dependence on authority; subjective experience; real miracles; personal participation; and the use of faith. (Faith is a defect of the mind.) If conscious agents cause effects, the effects are fundamentally unpredictable, because the agent might change its mind. It follows that religion destroys the idea of cause and effect. Religion never predicts anything verifiable, an essential property of scientific theory.
    In contrast, science deals with only the detectable. (Eller probably avoids the word “observable” because it is associated with positivism, a discredited school of philosophy.) Also, science allows doubt: its postulates are in principle refutable by experiments. It further assumes knowability and impersonal causation, which religion does not. (God is unknowable.) Eller concludes that religion and science are deeply incompatible, so science should proceed while ignoring religion. The latter adds nothing to knowledge.
Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Harper Collins, 2012.
    Ehrman does not sufficiently take into account the indirect nature of some of the evidence he presents. Example: p. 101, where he quotes Eusebius (not known for integrity) who quotes Papias (whom Eusebius thinks is a moron) says the he knew people who knew the apostles or knew people who knew eople who knew the apostles. The degree of indirectness Ehrman is using here makes it nothing more than a vague rumor, about 4th degree hearsay. Also, in the part of the book I've read so far, Ehrman does not explain why the Gospels and other written records of Jesus were delayed for so long. Also, he does not address the fact that no one mentions a name of anyone who supposedly knew Jesus. So even though he mentions many "independent" sources, they're all not only hearsay, but went through many anonymous verbal communicators, who could be called rumor-mongers. My main interest in Jesus is not whether there was a rabbi wandering around a small area of Palestine annoying everyone, but whether Jesus was the person whom the fundagelicals claim he was. My opinion on Jesus’ supernatural character is: impossible.
Flew, Antony. God and Philosophy, Prometheus Books, 2005.
    Unfortunately, Flew writes in a typical philosophers’ style. While reading this book I kept thinking that I could write the same thing in 1/3 the space, with sentences 1/2 the length, and twice the clarity. As a reader of lots of books on the same general subject I found this one less than useful and hardly worth the time. His baroque writing style decreases the value of his thoughts. He became a deist in his later years, which some skeptics say was a sign of mental decline. I don't agree, but if he became a Christian, I might.
 Garst, Karen L., editor. Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion, Pitchstone Publishing, 2016. 264 pages.
    This is a collection of 22 essays by women who left religion. It is roughly the female equivalent of Edward Babinski’s Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, but Garst’s book is not restricted to fundamentalists. Common threads here are first, the effect of strict religion on women, and second, the realization that religious doctrines make no sense. All the essays are interesting, but I review some noteworthy ones below. (The editor has her own essay, titled “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”)

Ceal Wright, Falling for the Devil:  A member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she fell in love with a non-member, against the strict JW rules. They told her that her love was sent by Satan to deceive her. The Witnesses are evidently so afraid of members being influenced by outside ideas that they disfellowship (excommunicate) anyone who strays. If they believed in an omnipotent God they would have no reason to worry, but they are so compulsively controlling that they think God needs their help. It is well-known that they forbid alcohol, unmarried sex, stimulants, transfusions, female leadership, masturbation, holiday celebration, patriotism, dissent, questioning, and other harmless or beneficial practices.
Fortunately, Ceal married her love and left the Witnesses and their nasty, self-serving ways. May more members do the same.

Sylvia Benner, Of Faith, Feminism, and Master Narratives: This essay is largely a rejection of “feminism,” which she mischaracterizes. “Christianity offers a hero’s quest while feminism offers the role of the victim.” No. Feminists do point out the many ways in which women are treated unfairly, but they want to acquire more power and not be victims. Christianity, with its patriarchalism, tries to keep women permanently inferior; that’s one of its main purposes. Benner’s claim that feminists love the victim role is no more valid than saying that Jews in Hitler’s Germany loved their victimhood. Women, like the Jews, must publicize their plight to have any hope of improving it. Women have benefitted from the advent of feminism because there are far more women in positions of power now.

Nancy J. Wolf, Not Quite an Atheist, and Where Does that Leave me? This chapter differs in being more philosophical and less personal. Wolf raises several interesting questions, such as
  1. Why doesn’t God just forgive us instead of killing his human form to “save” us from himself?
  2. Jesus’ suffering was not worse or worthier than sufferings that ordinary people experience.
  3. Jesus’ divine status depends on the reality of his miracles. That is very weak evidence indeed.
  4. Why does evil exist? Could it be explained by God himself being evil? He’s certainly not good.
  5. People’s confirmation bias has them see God’s positivity but not the evil and ugliness he creates.
  6. The stories about Jesus are no more than unreliable hearsay. The Gospels are anonymous.

Karen L. Garst, Appendix: The Subordination of Woman in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Here the editor briefly surveys the history of Judeo-Christianity and its horrible treatment of women. This serve as a decisive refutation of Benner’s claim that Christianity is more advantageous to women that feminism. 
Gericke, Jaco. “Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t? Chapter 5 in Loftus' The End of Christiani
    Gericke says that the best way to refute the Christian God is to examine Yahweh, god of the ancient Israelites. Examined carefully, that primitive entity is found to be a fiction that is worse than incoherent. Some examples:
ooo
  1. Yahweh has a physical body that needs refreshment, rest, and savory smells. We’re talking about “god,” not some minor potentate.
  2. Yahweh has the sex-negative views of the israelites. His morality is distorted to the point of being useless.
  3. Why would he need to create something imperfect such as the present universe? Was he bored? Does he enjoy enforcing his silly rules? Does he like watching suffering?
  4. Why does Yahweh require sacrifice, first of humans and then of animals?
  5. The Israelite view of the world is an absolute monarchy with Yahweh as king, like the societies they were familiar with.
  6. Eating Yahweh in the form of Jesus is an example of “you are what you eat,” the idea that if you eat a god you will be like a god.
  7. Gericke contends that theologians do not really believe in Yahweh; he is far too unlike the New Testament God that they all worship. Because of that disparity, believing in both gods is polytheism. 
Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. Scribner’s, 1977.
    Grant provides compelling reasons to believe in the historical (but not supernatural) Jesus. His arguments are an expanded form of the criterion of embarrassment, with the Gospellers writing a complicated story including many things that they presumably would not include if they were writing fiction, for example Jesus' temper, his violence in the Temple, his insults and impatience, his horrible "family values," etc. But Grant seems to think most of the Gospel content is accurate. He does not address why they were written so late, or how the writers knew what happened, or why they disagree on so many important points, or what it means that none were eyewitnesses. He does not address the fact that Paul and the other epistle writers, e.g. James, mention almost nothing about the Jesus' life. Grant did tilt my opinion slightly away from pure mythicism to considering that Jesus may have lived. But for balance, one should read Price, Doherty, Carrier, and other mythicists (those who believe that Jesus was purely mythical). Grant does not believe that Jesus was God’s son.
Henley, Geoff. Beyond Reasonable Doubt: A Lawyer's Case for Disbelief in God. Xlibris, 2008.
    This book is not like most atheist books. It evaluates gods, especially the Christian one, from a legal point of view. It spends somewhat too much time discussing evidence, court proceedings, etc. in preparation for his comparison with religious practices, but if you get through that, it's worthwhile. He's a Texas lawyer and former prosecutor, so he has lots of legal expertise. The writing is rather strange at times, especially in the beginning, but it gets better. He makes points you will not find elsewhere, so as an atheist who wrote Christianity in Ruins, I found it valuable as source material. It's well worth the low price.
Hoaks, Trina. 1 Atheist, 1 Voice. Publisher, date not stated.
    This book is well-written and clear, but for someone who reads constantly in this area, pretty elementary. It makes some very good points, such as pointing out that religion is not the problem so much as the arrogance that often accompanies it. (Pat Robertson regularly speaks for God, for example.) Ms. Hoaks also relates how her sincere questions about Christianity got stupidly answered by people quoting Bible verses. I find that more than amazing; don’t the quoters know that nonbelievers don’t give a damn about what the Bible says? She says "Religions are a breeding ground for hate," which is true; they create separateness where none need exist. She points out some of the many contradictions and ridiculous statements in the Bible. Hers is an unpretentious book, which I recommend to anyone who thinks about religion but is not sure about it.
 Humphreys, Kenneth. Jesus Never Existed: An Introduction to the Ultimate Heresy, Nine-Banded Books, 2014. 130 pages.
    This short book contains many important points, some not covered elsewhere. These are some in Part One:
  1. The author mentions many terms used by apologists to avoid the word “forged,” such as inauthentic, pseudoepigraphic, revised, and mimetic. If part of it the Bible is fake, how much of it might be? (p.23-26)
  2. The epistles predate the Gospels and are silent on Jesus’ life on earth. (p.27-30) If he lived, that is very suspicious.
  3. So-called Bible prophecies are really NT writers trying to make the OT a prediction of Jesus by “postdicting.” (p.31-34) Example: Micah 5:2 says that a future ruler of Israel will be born in Bethlehem. Problem: Jesus was never a ruler.
  4. That there are hundreds of copies of parts of the NT in no way guarantees that they are correct. Most copies date long after the first century. Example: the heralded fragment of John, P52, is by dated (by paleography) not before 125 CE. (p.35-39)
  5. The first Gospel, Mark, bears a striking resemblance to the script for a stage play. Obviously, that tends to refute its historical accuracy. (p.41-46)
  6. Jesus’ miracles are poorly explained by the Gospels. If Jesus was the son of God, he would know how to achieve healings and other acts by effective natural means, but his acts look like stage magic tricks. (p.47-50)
  7. Nazareth, supposedly the  town where Jesus was raised, did not exist until long after he allegedly died.2 (p.51-56)
  8. Why didn’t God put Jesus down in a big city rather than in some obscure backwater region? Because the Jews’ situation made that time and place ripe for a myth. (p.57-66)
  9. Contending that Jesus never existed was formerly dangerous, while inexpensive printing and the Internet make it easy. (p.67-73)

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    Part Two consists of an interview with Humphreys. He makes additional points, such as the Gospels could have been written completely without a real Jesus. The author mentions probable predecessors of the Jesus tale, including Poseidon, Dionysus, Ascelpius, Solomon, and even Caesar. The NT is “syncretic.” Humphreys also gives a summary of Christian events in centuries after the first. He also shows that while some persons in the Bible were real (e.g. Pilate), Jesus is probably not. Example: the many detective stories set in Los Angeles, a real city, do not prove that the stories happened.
There is more in this short but valuable book.
Shroud of Turin
Iannone, John C. The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence. See  
Jackson, G.M. How to Prove That God Does Not Exist, 2011.
    I'm an atheist who has been studying religion for years. I think I know a lot about disproofs, but Jackson brings up a few that are new to me. His language is informal and easy to follow, especially compared to the dense, elaborate arguments made by professional philosophers and theologians. If God existed and wanted us to believe, he would be much more visible. God seems to have a self-defeating personality disorder.
Jessop, Carolyn with Laura Palmer. Escape, Kindle, 2014.
    She was the fourth wife of a man, living in the tightly controlled Fundamentalist LDS community in southern Utah. The book is moving and quite tragic, but too long. Many of the smaller details could be omitted without affecting the book's importance. Also helpful would be some insight into why numerous women accept this brainwashing. Don't they ever wonder why it's only the men who get all the privileges? From Amazon: ”Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools.” Ms. Jessop, with remarkable courage, managed to escape with all of her eight children. I wonder how many she would have wanted if she was not confined to the FLDS prison?
Johnson, Phillip E. An Easy-to-Understand Guide for Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. InterVarsity, 1997.
    Johnson never gets to the details of his arguments. The book is simply an attempt to shove Christianity into the domain of science. He starts out insisting that God belongs in science but never says why. He points out no areas of science that need God, but he keeps mentioning evolution in that connection. The lack of details makes this book unconvincing, even for its intended audience. If this is the best creationists have to offer, science has nothing to worry about (except the ignorant public and right-wing governments). The book is one long, boring whine. He shows you can write competently without having a brain that can think objectively. 
Kelly, Joshua. Oh, Your God: The Evil Idea That Is Religion, Pitchstone Publishing, 2016, 216 pages.

    Despite its presence in the books’ title, Kelly does not define evil, on the grounds that everyone knows what it means so detailed definitional disputation is useless. (page 18) He also declines to define God, leaving that to believers, among whom there is wide disagreement. He says, “[I will] demonstrate the ways in which religion works as a cancer, overtaking the cells that would be happy in my life and the lives of others.” For a short book, the author packs in many important concepts, revealing the extreme poverty of Christian doctrine.
    Chapter 1 concentrates on obvious errors in the Bible and the ways in which believers (more properly called bibliholics for their abandonment of reason to silly dogma) violate the teachings of Jesus, such as his command to love your enemies. But it’s obvious that fundamentalists and evangelicals hate and despise their opponents, prominently homosexual men and women – who want only to be left alone with their harmless preference. Kelly points out that Jesus said both that the old laws were still in force and that they have been superseded. He succeeds in showing that the Bible is, doctrinally speaking, worthless, and has been responsible for massive evil. (Nazism was inspired not by atheism, as many Christians claim, but by perennial Christian hatred and persecution.Good examples of Jew-hatred are John Chrysostom and Martin Luther.)

    Kelly shows that the U.S. Founding Fathers were not Christians, and most were plainly anti-religion. Examples:
Paine: Christianity appears to me to be to be a species of atheism.3
Jefferson: “Christianity neither is nor ever was part of the common law.”
Jefferson [paraphrased, p]: “Priest-ridden people have never had a free civil government.”
Madison [p]: “Rulers who want to subvert public liberty have a convenient ally in the established clergy.”
John Adams [p]: “The Cross is the most fatal example of abusing grief.”
Franklin: “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” [They shed light; churches shed darkness.]
Treaty of Tripoli [1797, ratified by the Senate unanimously; p]: “The Government is not in any way founded on the Christian religion.” [If that were submitted today to a Republican senate, it would be summarily rejected.]
    The Constitution never mentions God, Jesus, or Christianity. Claims that the U.S. was founded on Christianity are blatant, deliberate lies, intended to conflate the success of the U.S. with supposed benefits of the religion.
    Kelly describes the manifold evils that religion causes. He cites numerous wars and Christian intolerance of gays and of children who don’t display a parent’s notion of sex roles. Religious morons do not grasp that sexual preference is not only involuntary, but harmless. Christianity confuses morals with sexual repression. Kelly also says that when a Christian commits murder in God’s name, it’s mental illness, but when a Muslim does the same thing, it’s called terrorism. But in both cases, it’s religion; G.W. Bush, in starting the idiotic Iraq war, claimed it was God’s orders, but it was his bottomless stupidity.
    The author also mentions religiously inspired anti-women policies as well as false patriotism. Before praising it, many real patriots want the U.S. to eliminate or reduce its evils. This country is dead last among First World countries in many measures of societal health. Kelly answers the idiotic Christian claim that without God, there can be no proper morality. But morality is not God-given; it evolved naturally to allow humans to live in societies. His discussion of morality is combined with the derivative nature of Christianity. It had many predecessors and took many doctrines from them, including the dying-and-rising savior.
The next-to-last chapter goes into the daffy predictions of the Rapture and supposed end of the world. Much of the uninformed and gullible U.S. populace believes this rubbish. Many believers welcome the idea and pray for it, even though it means that billions will suffer and die. This is a wonderful example of religious sickness.
    Kelly closes the book by pointing out that he does not claim that all the world’s troubles are caused by faith. He rightly says that atheism is not a set of doctrines but a lack of them. (There’s a saying that if atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color and not collecting stamps is a hobby.)  
Klaits, Joseph. Servants of Satan: Age of the Witch Hunts, Indiana U.P., 1985. 212 pages.
    This book covers the who and the why of the age of witch persecution, refuting some long-held assumptions about the craze. Some of his main observations are these (not ordered here by Chapters; see Amazon’s Look Inside for the Table of Contents):
  1. The intensity and nature of witch-hunting varied greatly among countries. For example, there was virtually no torture in England, while neighboring Scotland was more like continental Europe in its savage treatment of the accused. There was little anti-witch activity in Italy but, as is well-known, Spain was quite different.
  2. Earlier persecution and that in Spain was directed more at heresy (and at inherently heretical Jews and Muslims), while the later emphasis was largely on witch activity. Persecution of witches concentrated on their “harmful” activity at times, and at other times concerned their beliefs.
  3. Most accused witches were women, often older, poorer, and more defenseless than the society at large. Thus they were easy targets, and conviction was simple, quick, and low in cost. The society was often relieved that a supposed source of their misery was neutralized.
  4. Because o
most of the accused were poor, most Inquisitors did not expect to profit by confiscating the estates of those who died.
  5. The Inquisitors truly believed that witches caused immense harm. They were not cynics for the most part. The witch persecutions were due to exaggerated fear of what a determined witch could do. The phenomenon was almost purely religious in nature. Religion allows evidence or its lack to be ignored.
  6. An accused witch could be tortured until she implicated others, who would then be tortured until they implicated still others, etc., until the whole community was seized with terror.
  7. Eventually the authorities realized that the persecution was destabilizing to society more than the supposed harm itself was. This led to lessened persecution. This was a practical consideration having nothing to do with the sick lack of morality.
  8. In the latter 17th century, the scientific-evidential view became prominent, leading to attribution to impersonal causes. The anthropomorphic view of phenomena such as disease, damaging storms, and other disasters slowly became obsolete. (The agent-view of disasters persists to this day; deluded evangelicals still attribute disasters to personalized causes such as gay marriage, erotic carnivals, etc.)
  9. The inquisitors’ religion-based thinking allowed them to deny that confessions were due to the desire to stop torture. Every time torture elicited a confession, the perpetrators decided that it was effective, which led to more of the same.
10. The trials in Salem, Massachusetts, were the most conspicuous example of witch persecution in the Americas (but a much greater amount of torture occurred in connection with the Spanish genocides in Central and South America).
    Klaits’ book is shorter than others on the same subject, but it covers the important issues.

FOOTNOTES

  1. “Anti-Judaism,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Judaism#Anti-Judaic_polemic  
  2. Rene Salm, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus, American Atheist Press, 2006. 374 pages. This is an exhaustive, detailed examination of archeological evidence.
  3. Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part 1, Chapter XI.

Book Reviews and Summaries
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