Vincent Bugliosi started his legal career in the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, where he successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials, including receiving 21 of 21 murder convictions. In that capacity he is best known for the Charles Manson case. That experience enabled him to write Helter Skelter (1974), which remains the biggest selling true-crime book in publishing history. Since then, Bugliosi has continued his career as a writer with another eleven books including two that reached #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list: And the Sea Will Tell (1991) and Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away with Murder (1996).
Divinity of Doubt: The God Question is unlike anything Bugliosi has written previously (and likely unlike anything he will write again given that he is now some 77 years of age). Raised Catholic, Bugliosi, now agnostic, seeks to build a case for agnosticism as the only reasonable approach to the God question. On either side of this intellectual high ground are two unappealing and ill-conceived ditches: atheism and theism.
Atheism receives only brief consideration. Since he considers atheism before theism, it provides the reader with an introduction to Bugliosi’s methodology as well as his tendency to overly characterize his position primarily by selecting the weakest aspects of the position he wishes to render stupid. Additionally, it offers ample examples of his willingness to attack those many would see as the contemporary leaders of a given position, including these words about someone who is considered by most to be a leading atheist:
. . . it is rare to see someone so painfully devoid of substances (at least on the issue of God – I’m not familiar with his other work) occupy the top position in his field as is the case of Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University (p.49-50).
While his appraisal of theism accounts for perhaps ninety percent of the book, the vast majority of such is about one very specific form of theism: contemporary American Christianity (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are mentioned, but combined in one rather brief chapter). Even more specifically, the sections on Christianity focus almost exclusively on Catholicism and Evangelicalism. Once again he is quick to find significant flaws with leaders, including C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham.
While I think the ideas presented within the book are important for Christians to consider, I don’t recommend the book. My experienced failed to match my expectations or those stated by the author for his readers:
. . . if at the end of this book, you didn’t find several (and hopefully many more) fresh insights that caused you to say to yourself, “Hey, I never thought of this before,” not only will I be surprised, but, more importantly, I will feel I had no business letting trees be cut down to print this book (p.xii-xiii).
Are you a Christian because you believe it is the most reasonable form of theism or because you were born into a Christian family and/or culture? Consider your response in light of the following wise words from Bugliosi:
Likewise, does any Christian reading this book really doubt that if he were born a Jew in Jerusalem that he would most likely be a member of the Jewish religion? And that if he were an Arab born somewhere in Saudi Arabia he would most likely be a Muslim? Or if he were an Indian born in India that he would most likely be a member of the Hindu faith? Isn’t it comforting for people to know that their very firmly held religious beliefs have nothing to do with the quality and merit of the beliefs, and everything to do with geography? (p.231)
Vincent Bugliosi. Divinity of Doubt: The God Question (Vanguard Press, 2011). ISBN: 9781593156299.Tweet