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Religion Is for Fools

A spirited defence of Christianity
Appendixes 1 to 8

Citation Information

Bender, Robert 2017. Religion Is for Fools, URL = <http://www.rationalrealm.com/philosophy/reviews/religion-is-for-fools.html>.

Publication Information

Medley, Bill, Religion Is for Fools, Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2004, pp. 159, (paperback).

Painting of the fall of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden

The latter part of Bill Medley's book, Religion Is for Fools!, is divided into eight appendixes, as follows.

Appendix (i) – P.S. Please Don't Take Out My Appendix (i)

The first appendix focuses on bias in people's responses to Christianity compared with other religions. Medley uses as examples accepting the reliability of Buddhist scriptures even though they were not written until centuries after Gautama's death and what Hinduism might say about why there is suffering in our world (an interesting question for a polytheist religion of warring gods). His most interesting argument refers to people who reject the Christian god because the concept doesn't satisfy their idea of a good deity. Here, Medley instances the Hebrew concept of the 'jealous' god (in the second commandment about having no other gods). He deals with this by referring to a Hebrew dictionary that shows that the Hebrew idea is about assertion by the god of a claim to what is rightfully the god's; viz., the status of being the true god and not tolerating rivals.

Appendix (ii) – If There's So Much Evidence, Why Don't More People Believe?

Medley presents this issue as not about the presence of convincing evidence, but of most people's unwillingness to surrender to an authority that tells them how to live. He puts it all down to pride and to the association of Christianity with religious wars and sexually abusive priests. Medley says 'forget about the abusers, look at the evidence' (that Jesus was a god), as though the existence and continued practices of the abusers are not part of the evidence; that conversion to Christianity, and even elevation to high office in a church, is no guarantee of one's being a good person.

Appendix (iii) – The Bible Is All a Matter of Interpretations

Again, Medley fudges the whole issue of what is a fact and what is an interpretation, partly out of zeal to offer the Protestant defence of using the Bible as the sole source of truth. He counterpoises this against the Catholic dogmas based on non-biblical traditions. His motivation also partly arises from his belief that the Bible writers had no personal point of view, that they were merely recording objective facts. Here, Medley takes the Bible entirely out of context, refusing to accept it is a product of a particular culture (or even a changing culture, given that the 66 books were written over a period of 1000 years).

He quite rightly dismisses various cults that draw inspiration from the eccentricities of cult leaders, but fudges the process of how the texts that came to be included and excluded from the Bible were decided. He has a common Protestant prejudice about the reliability of anything written during a person's lifetime, so dismisses the Gospel of Thomas as too late to have eye-witness status. But he accepts the four canonical gospels as, of course, totally reliable. The only contrast he is interested in is between those who learn from the gospels plus 'traditions' and those who learn about Jesus from the gospels alone. He misguidedly thinks that any literate adult can read them and develop a correct view of what they mean, without any guidance from scholarly 'authorities'. For Medley, nobody needs to understand anything about the religious supermarket of the Roman Empire in the first century CE or to examine the cultures with which Jesus' sayings have affinities.

Book cover: Religion Is for Fools by Bill Medley

Appendix (iv) – If Cults Are Deceived, How Do You Know You're Not?

Medley's attack on this hurdle is twofold. First, he points out that all cults of which he knows forbid their members to read any critical material questioning the cult. Second, he argues that their leaders demand to be accepted as authorities in themselves on their beliefs, rather than sending novices to research original sources. This is in line with his argument throughout the book that Jesus was not a liar, but was instead a reliable source of authority on the nature and fate of the world. Someone who follows Jesus' original teachings cannot be deceived. Here, for the first time, Medley admits to being a church-going Presbyterian (which could be why he is preaching to Catholic Rita).

Then, it's back to his earlier argument that 'the Bible is either true or it's not', reducing many very complex issues to a simple black-or-white choice. 'It claims to be the written word of God. This is either true or it's not.' Throughout his book, Medley presents statements like this with authority, though the Bible itself makes no claim to be the written word of a god. That is a claim made by a large number of religious leaders. The Bible is written as journalism, a compilation of accounts of various historical events or works of literature, such as proverbs and psalms.

Appendix (v) – Why Would a God of Love Have a Hell?

Medley's justification for the existence of hell is on the grounds of justice. This may sound reasonable given that his god (and his readers) do not want mass murderers to be rewarded with entry into heaven. But, as usual, he avoids the real issue. And that is that in the Christian concept, god built hell into the design of the universe in the expectation that vast numbers of people would go there. So, god is believed to have known in advance that a large percentage of the humans set down on Earth would be condemned to eternal torture. Apparently, god designed humans in a way that ensures the effort he put into creating hell was not wasted and that it is well peopled.

Appendix (vi) – Women

One of the Big Issues in all middle-eastern religions is the subjection of women. For Christians especially, this appears as the misogyny expressed in Paul's epistles, and for modern liberated women, as the instantiation of the patriarchal male headship of families. Medley defends all of this by stating that male family heads were instructed to love their wives, and by pointing out that all the other religions he examined are even worse (which is true). However, this is not a defence of inequality in our public life, within our community, in business, in government, etc. Medley has just diverted our attention from the real issue again.

Appendix (vii) – What about Those Who Haven't Heard?

The problem here is that Jesus preached only to a tiny fraction of people in a very small middle-eastern country, neglecting Native Americans, aborigines, Easter Islanders and Patagonians. None of these people heard about him for some 1500 years after Jesus' death. As so often, Medley asks a question and follows up by systematically avoiding answering it. Here, he diverts us to the story of the vast mission enterprises of modern times; the same times at which the attraction of Christianity has seriously declined within European civilization. So, he finishes up with 'What about those who haven't heard? I'm much more worried about many of those who have!' Another diversion.

Appendix (viii) – Why Does God Allow Suffering?

In his final appendix, Medley proposes an argument for the existence of absolute standards of right and wrong. He warns against atheism as being incurably relativist with no standards at all and of not being able to offer any reason to be good. Medley presents the concept of Buddhist karma as a 'blame the victim' ideology—if bad things happen to a person, that is just payback for evil in the person's previous lives and is all well deserved. He dismisses Buddhism as a really amoral creed and uses his critique as an opportunity to introduce the dogma that not all evil in the world is caused by a god. As Medley says, much of it results from our own actions in rejecting god's rules and doing our own thing.

Book cover: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

And, of course, he replays the well-worn argument that the only way for god to eliminate suffering is to remove free will, which, naturally, we wouldn't like. You can't have it both ways, he admonishes, and besides, a person who cannot do wrong is an automaton and we don't want to be one of those. The usual cop-out is to claim that all that suffering is compensated in the next world, so don't expect anything in this one. This attitude of total resignation to this world because it is a world full of uncontrolled and unpunished suffering and evil is very Christian and negates any meaning in the concept of a 'good' god. All of Medley's energy goes into justifying why the good god isn't really good, essentially by changing the subject.

Following the appendixes, Medley includes 135 endnote references. Of these, 80 are to New Testament verses and 9 are to Old Testament verses. All are taken out of context, of course, on the basis of the 'seamlessness' of the Bible.

In summary, Medley's entire book is really a gloss on C. S. Lewis' claim in Mere Christianity that Jesus was either a lunatic or a liar or he was god. In the process, Medley has attacked the lunatic and liar ideas while avoiding all enquiry into the nature of gods and their possible function in the universe. He has steered well clear of an honest examination of the ideas of a god becoming a man and dying unresistingly after being tortured (then possibly coming back to life again), of whether gods communicate with humans and why, and of all the other basic questions around the meaning of life, death, the universe and everything. Medley claims to be very open-minded and willing to test all ideas, but has really shown serious avoidance of all the big questions involved. His appendixes claim to deal with important challenges to his Presbyterian/Protestant belief. However, each in turn systematically diverts our attention elsewhere and fails to really deal with the question asked.

Copyright © 2017

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