Bill VanStone's Encouraging Thoughts On My Book "Unapologetic: Why Philosophy Must End"

His message was: "Keep writing – and keep righting!" He sent me an email that tells it all. 
I would hope it's never too late for a compliment. It has been a while since I've read anything that appeared to mirror my thoughts so closely on religion. For the past few weeks, I’ve found myself muttering "Of course" or "That's what I've been trying to tell people for years" more than once while reading UNAPOLOGETIC; Why Philosophy of Religion Must End.  It’s also been some time since I’ve wanted to write anything more than a short email or a Facebook post.  Yes, I’m on Facebook and many times wish it didn’t exist. I see that you’re also a member of the Facebook throng.  And no, I don’t play chess!

I think some background is in order. I, too, was once closely involved with Christianity. I grew up in an unremarkable, lower middle-class, Roman Catholic household.  I attended a Catholic elementary school and, from an early age had close acquaintances, friends and relatives who were priests and nuns in various orders. Indeed, one family had three priests and four nuns! I knew them in the classroom, church, school and at weddings, funerals, parties, and other social gatherings. I preface my following comments in this way because these remain some of the most caring, decent, and good friends and relatives I have known in my life. Some remain very good friends, especially three classmates who attended the local Buffalo Diocesan Preparatory Seminary with me. One was the Chancellor of the Diocese of Buffalo for many years. There are, understandably, certain topics which don’t come up during our get-togethers. Yes, I attended a Roman Catholic High School, because for a time, I considered priesthood. I graduated but chose not to pursue further studies towards that end. Not surprisingly, I didn't really look forward to extensive study in philosophy and theology. However, I did attend Canisius College, now a university – a local Jesuit institution. I majored for a short while in Math but switched early to German and languages, getting my B.A. and then M.A. plus teaching certification at the University of Pittsburgh. I regret none of my education, but, as George Carlin said, I guess I was a practicing Catholic until I reached the age of reason! I slowly drifted away from any formal practice of the Catholic religion in my 20’s and 30’s, except for weddings, funerals, and the like, where I still show up as a polite visitor.  I tethered myself to agnosticism for a while, "just in case". After a few years, I realized that an agnostic was nothing more than an atheist who just can't really let go.

Many years ago, I subscribed to the U. S. News and World Report, where I eagerly waited for each week's issue. The first piece I read was always that of John Leo, whose blunt take on various issues so closely matched my own.  I felt much the same way when reading your book. I’m not quite sure where or when I bought that book, but now that I’m retired, I’m reading many of the books that are piled almost everywhere in my modest home in Amherst, NY.  I suppose it's like listening to a piece of music and thinking, "I wish I had composed that!" That's what I feel. Joseph Campbell is also an author whose works absolutely fascinate me. He’s able to draw on so much of man’s history, anthropology, myth and religious beliefs and meld everything together in a convincing and unique manner.  It should be obvious to the rational mind that man-made God in his image, not the reverse.  Finding the rational mind – ah, there’s the rub!

Nonetheless, trying to dissuade believers from their beliefs is daunting. I generally don't bring up the topic, but if someone asks about my belief (or lack thereof), I tell them.  I get a lot of raised eyebrows, but if they want to discuss it, I'll discuss it. 

Where I usually begin is to say something which is brief but has been fundamental to my position for decades: The religion one practices is almost always a function of geography, not faith. Your book certainly makes that clear, in more detail.  You write of one's culture and surroundings as a driving influence in their belief and religion. One grows up with adults telling them what to believe, how to react when they enter that "special building," be it a church, temple, synagogue, or other place of worship. I had to think for a while when you stated, (more or less), that emotion comes first, then reasoning. And I thought back to my childhood and the childhood of virtually every adult of any faith.  They are taught to “Oooh” and “Aaah” and avert their eyes and genuflect and bow and yes, most certainly be afraid long before they have any understanding of why.  And the adults, teachers and members of religious orders who tell them how to react were taught by their parents, and so on and so on going back decades or centuries. Saying “That’s the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t work for me anymore.  It stopped working long ago. There's a very clear cultural connection. It's the reason you don't find a lot of Buddhist temples in Salt Lake City or Lutheran congregations in Mumbai. 

During these discussions about religion, faith (special pleading) almost always comes up in the conversation. I tell people I've run some simple tests to look at miracles. I've had periods of deep grief, fear, worry, despair, and other very concerning periods in my life. When they occurred, after a while I started the test. Sometimes, I prayed to God, sometimes I prayed to Homer Simpson, and sometimes I did nothing at all.  As I suspected and expected, there were times when things got better, other times when they got worse and still other times when things didn't change appreciably. Believers will usually tell me I didn't pray correctly or wait long enough for a response, or more often, will come up with their standard response; if you pray to God to help you, sometimes the answer is No. Well, how convenient! It doesn’t seem to give them pause that their all-knowing God(s) can apparently be influenced by one or more mere mortals. Do we have free will or not? Does God take hints? What’s even more hilarious is the constant parade of saints, who for all intents and purposes, take over some other saint’s territory and suddenly are the go-to ethereal man or woman who can now intercede and try to convince God that whatever we want is worth His time and, one would hope, minimal effort. Hundreds of millions of Christians are praying billions of prayers every day and then to canonize someone, the Vatican must spend years searching the entire planet for two confirmed miracles. That doesn’t really sound like a reliable way to solve anything!  Pope John Paul II was canonized, and immediately the bended knee and special pleading started. Don’t people realize they’re ascribing different levels of influence to different saints? “Hey Freddy, who’s got God’s ear today? I need this promotion real bad!” Ridiculous! If they ask me to prove that God doesn’t exist, I usually nod politely and back away while telling them, “Yes, I can prove that God doesn’t exist the same way that I can prove that 9 foot, three-headed pink and purple polka-dot rabbits don’t exist”.  That moment of silence while they try to connect the dots is an appropriate time to leave the room.

With every page I turn in your book, I feel as if I'm reading my own thoughts being put in print. I have only a relatively abbreviated and glancing understanding of the vocabulary and fundamental concepts of philosophy, religion, metaphysics, and the like (although having a B.A and M.A. in German Language, Literature and History, I have met the literary thoughts of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and others), but I know what I know, and that has led me to believe what I believe. Your book was and is refreshing.  

I've attached an article that I wrote over 20 years ago for the Buffalo News. It was the first time I thought, “Enough is enough. I’ve got to say something!”  When I write – when I want to write, I know that people will read it. I told friends and relatives that I wrote an article for the Buffalo News My View section, and that I was sure they'd publish it. It was controversial but, I thought, clear and well written.  Then again, why would they publish one of hundreds of articles that are sent to them every day?  The article was indeed published, and shortly thereafter, someone from the Council for Secular Humanism who had read it called me and invited me to attend one of their meetings.  The Buffalo News printed the article with their own title, Frowning on Miracles when Fortunes Smiles. The Council on Secular Humanism reprinted it in the Secular Humanist Bulletin with my original title, Miracles! Or Miracles? I still find their core principles compelling.  I’m also a fan of Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and most comedians, who seem to have an easier time making fun of religion than anyone who attempts to make fun of atheists. There aren’t a lot of conservative comics out there. Even Lewis Black hit the nail on the head when he said that the God of the New Testament was a nice guy, but the God of the Old Testament was a prick! I saw Phil Plait many years ago at the Council for Secular Humanism, which is only about 10 minutes from my home. He was nice enough to show us all the way the earth can be destroyed. Lovely! James Randi was also a guest back then and I always got a laugh when he debunked some clown on national TV. Priceless! I published several editorials for the Buffalo News long ago, but they changed their format and it’s now more difficult to get one printed. The Buffalo News is on life-support and gets smaller month by month.  Where can my sarcasm find an outlet?

One does not have to look very deeply into our world's history to see the damage done by religion. Indeed, one has only to turn on the television today to see the chaos in the Middle East and watch as the destruction and carnage continue. This certainly wasn’t the first or last time. The Inquisition, Crusades, the Islamic State, colonialism, the Salem Witch trials. It will never end. The only place I’ve ever seen a war between Atheists is on the biting and satirical TV series, South Park.  

I'm sure there are thoughts that I've left out of this message, but to continue would be preaching to the choir – no, it would be preaching to the preacher! You've reminded me that amidst the search for Bigfoot and the paranormal investigators, it's reassuring to find an author that is grounded in reality! I also appreciate the abundance of references to other books and authors that will keep me busy until I leave this earth for whatever might lie ahead – per my wishes it will be a cremation oven! The best to you!