Debate Magazine

“I Once Met a Texan Who…” – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

By Carnun @Carnunmp

Here’s another post inspired by the outstanding ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook’ by Alom Shaha.

I hope that these will help a few to consider donating to the campaign to get copies of the book in all English and Welsh secondary schools, the website for which can be found here:


“I once met a Texan who…” – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

“I once met a Texan who bragged that he had only ever read one book from cover to cover: the Bible” – Alom Shaha, The Young Atheist’s Handbook.

I’ve read the Bible; and if I’m honest, the prospect of having it come along with me, by default, to a celebrity/music-filled island is, to say the least, a little disappointing.

Don’t get the reference? I’ll explain… Desert Island Disks is a popular and long-running radio show in which relatively well-known public figures are invited on to talk about what music they would least detest being stuck with for the rest of their lives on a fictional desert island. They also get a loosely enforced ‘luxury item’, as well as the choice of a book to go with the Bible (or alternate holy book) and the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Even though I’ve never thought about it, I think it’d be easier for me to pick the music than the book. I’ve read far too many to pick a favourite, and far too few to reassure myself that a decision would be in any way well-informed.

But, thankfully, this is a wholly fictional scenario – in real life I don’t have to think about restricting myself to a single text.

Why anyone would do so voluntarily, and be proud of it, not only deeply confuses me but saddens me too.

Some people never get the chance to even learn how to read, so anyone wasting it is frankly upsetting. Of course, your average Bible-bashing Texan would likely venomously disagree. After all; the Bible is the only book a person needs, right?

I dispute that.

As I write, I sit next to a nice little pile of cherished books on my desk. Among them:

As great as these all are, picking one would be hard. It’s simply impossible, having read more than these four books, to pick a definitive favorite. It’s also impossible, ‘as great as these all are’, to end my reading career with them.

The more I read, the more I want to read.

This includes fiction and non-fiction, and I often find that I go between long phases of preferring one over the other. Sometimes, I want hard information. Other times, escapism and fantasy.

The problem is, each of these things has the capacity to be detrimental to religious faith. Hard information can contradict with (less solid) learned pseudo-information, and fantasy can – with hindsight – reinforce the fact that scriptures too are nothing more than fiction (and pretty bad fiction at that). Of course, I’m not suggesting that every believer who reads books other than their ‘holy’ texts is instantly de-converted – but a flow of information and higher literacy levels certainly do have a strong correlation with scientific literacy (itself strongly statistically opposed by religiosity).

I can see why some avoid books… I just still can’t see why anyone would do so with a smile.

For one, if this Texan’s Bible is the word of God, how is reading any other text going to change that? Somewhere along the line, there simply must be a doubt; an insecurity strong enough to warrant such happily self-imposed ignorance.

Or not – I’m neither a psychologist nor am I a neuroscientist. I can only speculate.

What I can say confidently and with full conviction though, is that censorship – whether self-imposed or external – never does any good. Information is simply key to rational decision-making, and ignorance is a great way to keep reason (and people) at bay. North Korea is a good example: it’s citizens (or ‘hostages’, as I prefer calling them) largely share a belief in the superiority of their nation, the *fact* of outside aggression, and the need for war. Guess what book you’ll have trouble finding a copy of there?

1984, George Orwell:

“a dystopian novel set in Oceania, where society is tyrannised by the Party and its totalitarian ideology.The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thoughtcrimes. Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good.” – Wikipedia (emphasis added).

Sound familiar?

I know that North Korea is an extreme example, but a very real one. Sure, it’s a far cry from Mr One-book, but it illustrates the point I’m trying to make. Information is the enemy of ignorance, and even oppression.

Now, I’m not calling for anyone to force-feed information down intellectually cocooned Texan’s throats – but I do feel sorry for them. Less patronisingly (but no less unashamedly arrogantly), I think that the world would be a better place if less people cocooned themselves and more had access to books and the uncensored internet.

Gratefully, too.

Carnun :P


The ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook 4 Schools’ campaign:

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