Book Review: God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction

Death Riding a Horse, Gustave Doré

Death Riding a Horse, Gustave Doré

Richard Dawkins drew a lot of Christianist wrath for his book The God Delusion. Likely the most controversial – well, incendiary, anyway – part of Dawkins’ atheist screed was the first sentence of Chapter 2:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Dan Barker, a former ordained minister and now atheist, took up the challenge of documenting from The Bible each and all of Dawkins’ accusations. And does. In spades. The book is God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction. Using quotes directly from the Old Testament, Rev. Barker constructs what amounts to an extended indictment, showing a reader that the God of Love is anything but. And, of course, the words of the indictment come from the dictated Word of God. With the ghastly illustrations of Gustave Doré.

In Part I, Barker takes each element of Dawkins’ sentence and devotes a chapter to it, taking quotations directly from The Bible to illustrate, document and prove each of Dawkins’ accusations. The cumulative effect can be staggering. For “jealous,” as an example, Barker offers some 25 quotes – not to mention two Commandments – in which God announces he is jealous. Since jealousy is, fundamentally, insecurity, you have to wonder if omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence include mental health. On the evidence, no.

The overall impression is that God is a childish, vindictive bully. Not unlike, say, Donald Trump. Except God claims the ability to throw curses, lightning bolts, world-wide floods and epidemics. God comes across as a bully who can only be placated with buckets of blood, burnt flesh or both.

Barker concludes that Dawkins was too kind, and in Part 2 of his indictment, adds psychopathologies that Dawkins overlooked: that God is also a pyromaniacal, angry, merciless, curse-hurling, aborticidal, cannibalistic slavemonger. And then proceeds to document those character traits with specific examples from the Old Testament as well.

It certainly isn’t what WC remembers from Bible School. But it certainly is what The Bible actually says.

In his final chapter, Barker dismantles the claim that the God of the New Testament is a better, more mellow fellow. After all, Barker points out, Jesus claimed to be God incarnate, the same deity who bullied his way through the Old Testament. Not a chip off the Old Block but the Old Block himself. And to remove any ambiguity, Jesus is also quoted as saying,

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come not to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and one’s foes shall be members of one’s own household. (Matthew 10:34-36)

Barker asks at the end of his book, should we choose reason and human kindness or should we serve the most unpleasant character in all fiction? The question kind of answers itself. As a lawyer, WC has found that most effective arguments he can make are those where he can takes the opposition’s words and prove his own case from them. Barker does so, and very effectively.

An interesting, effective read. Recommended.