Times Inside the List by Jennifer Schuessler Covers New Relgion Bestseller Books

We are down on the Times for technical reasons today. Our iPad Times app simply does not work. And navigation within the web site of the Times online is abysmal. So if we want to read through several weeks of Jennifer SCHUESSLER's column that summarizes news about best-selling books, we have to jump back and forth and through some hoops. Add to that the fact that today 9/4 the column displays the entry for 9/11, a week early, and that is supposed to be a good thing.

We did find the column for 9/4 and reproduce it below because is discusses several books about religion that have hit the charts. We still cannot fathom why Todd Burpo's book is measured on the non-fiction list - a book about a four year old who meets Jesus in heaven. And so we take a deep breath and wonder that all religion writing is highly imaginative yet cultural norms utterly prevent us from ranking it together with fiction. Such a situation. Here is Jennifer's column for today:
MAN BITES GOD: “God, No!,” new at No. 14 on the hardcover nonfiction list, isn’t a reaction to the news that George R. R. Martin has decided to abandon his “Song of Ice and Fire” series and take up extreme knitting instead. Rather, it’s a profanity-laced memoir-cum-manifesto from the magician and outspoken atheist Penn Jillette, the taller and louder half of Penn & Teller. The book is structured around Jillette’s alternatives to the Ten Commandments (take the Lord’s name in vain all you want, but be sure to “say what you mean, even when talking to yourself”), but we also get reminiscences about his moderately Congregationalist childhood in Massachusetts, his conflicted admiration for Siegfried and Roy, and the “atheist baptisms” held at his Las Vegas home, the Slammer, which tend to involve lots of bacon, “nude cornstarch wrestling” and a fat Elvis impersonator. We also learn some good post-show lobby pickup lines: he laughed hardest at the woman who asked, “Is your name Debbie?” but married the one who started talking about Richard Dawkins. As for their children, his wife may be Jewish (or, as he puts it, a nonbeliever whose forebears happened to be Jewish), but “they are atheist and their culture is Vegas — and even that’s too much tribalism for me.”

Which isn’t to say that Jillette doesn’t fall into some moments of Talmudic, or possibly even Jesuitical, parsing. While he may be listed on the Celebrity Atheist wiki alongside Noam Chomsky, Ron Reagan Jr. and Barry Manilow, he doubles down and insists on calling himself a “hardcore atheist,” explaining, “I don’t even believe that other people believe in God.” He uses the term “atheist” the way other people use “punk rock,” as in big fake breasts, Auto-Tune and tattoos all “feel atheist” (unless, of course the tattoos are religious). Jillette, however, bucks the standard “don’t ask, don’t tell” atheist party line. If you want to preach to or pray for him, bring it on. “Proselytizing is annoying,” he writes,” but not proselytizing is immoral.”

BLACK HOLE BITES GOD: The theoretical physicist David Deutsch, whose hard-to-­classify book “The Beginning of Infinity” enters the nonfiction list at No. 15, also has some things to say about God, not to mention dark matter, parallel universes, good art, bad philosophy, global warming, the evolution of language and just about everything else. While Deutsch seems to have less use for name-calling (not to mention strippers) than Jillette does, he also takes a rather dim view of religious belief. Religion is a “meme,” Deutsch argues, borrowing Richard Dawkins’s term, and a rather dubious one at that, not least because religious leaders have often objected to the study of infinity based on something Deutsch calls the Principle of Mediocrity. “The reach of science has inherent limitations; so does mathematics; so does every branch of philosophy,” Deutsch writes, sounding a million light-years from Las Vegas. “But if you believe that there are bounds on the domain in which reason is the proper arbiter of ideas, then you believe in unreason or the supernatural. Similarly, if you reject the infinite, you are stuck with the finite, and the finite is parochial.”

OLD-TIME RELIGION: Godlessness may do well in hardcover, but old-fashioned theism is still moving units in other formats. Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent’s “Heaven Is for Real,” about a pastor’s 4-year-old son who talks with his great-grandfather and meets Jesus during a near-death experience, is still at No. 1 on the nonfiction paperback list and the e-book list after more than six months.

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