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"He'd picked up a manuscript of the book in Florida," Leedom explains. "Later, I got a call, and the secretary said Steve Allen was on the line. I remembered when he hosted The Tonight Show, and here he was on the phone. He said, 'Look, I love this book and I want to be part of it.'"
It's widely known that in addition to writing a gazillion songs, Allen penned 56 books. He even made himself the butt of a joke about it on The Simpsons. But few probably are aware that 20 of those books dealt with religion, including Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality. Born in New York City on Saint Stephen's Day (hence the first name), and raised on the south side of Chicago by his mother's Irish-Catholic family, Allen was always fascinated by religion. Yet he became one of the nation's best known secular humanists, a Humanist Laureate for the Academy of Humanism and a member of the Council for Secular Humanism.
"One of the greatest questions Steve Allen used to ask about Jesus," Leedom says, "is when did he go from the King of the Jews to the savior of mankind? Jesus never was known as that until that notion was brought on by the Romans [many years after Christ's death]. Now everyone thinks he was born to be the savior of mankind."
Allen's second wife, actress Jayne Meadows, was the daughter of Christian missionaries, and perhaps it was her influence that caused Allen, in those final years when thoughts turn to the hereafter, to refer to himself as an "involved Presbyterian." But it was only eight years before his death in 2000 that Allen came to Newport Beach to personally push The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Readat the local Martha's Bookstore and Barnes & Noble. Later, Allen would go anywhere he could get a speaking slot to pump the book, from the American Booksellers Association convention to Pat Robertson's 700 Club.
As Murdy notes, that first volume "started out real underground."
"At first, we printed 10,000 copies and I had no idea if they'd sell," Leedom says.
Thanks to Allen's efforts, Leedom says, "We sold out in six months."
After nine printings, the book eventually sold 110,000 copies before going out of print. Used copies are still available on Amazon.
Christian leaders haven't exactly snatched them up. Calvary Chapel's Chuck Smith and Saddleback Church's Rick Warren trashed the first book, and Leedom claims their followers used to show up to his signings to label it blasphemous.
"Of course, none of them had read it," Leedom says, still ticked.
"Whenever they get angry," says Murdy, "it just shows it really is the book their church does not want you to read."
A Barnes & Noble bookstore in San Diego refused to stock the book, but perhaps the most stinging rebuke was a review I found online by someone named J.P. Holding, which was titled, "And I Thought Garbage Was Collected on Tuesdays." Holding wrote that most of the authors in The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read are scholarly lightweights, and that many of their claims were raised long ago and discredited since. Contrary to the book's main thesis, Holding believes differences in world religions far outweigh the similarities.
"Bottom line: This over-thick book, which makes for a Rogue's Gallery in itself, presents nothing that is either new or threatening to the Christian faith," Holding stated. "The compilers perhaps want you to read it because they think that the average church member is not informed enough to know how off base they are, but there are many who are. I would prefer to title this work The Book Your Church Would Laugh At Out Loud.
Plenty of others did not read it that way. The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read has been used as a textbook everywhere from Berkeley (natch) to Northern Alabama College (they have colleges in Northern Alabama?), and there have been heaps of praise from critics and at least one Christian minister, Richard Hill, who hailed it as "a giant step toward religious literacy."
It is a Christian belief that life and immortality were brought to light, and death, the last enemy, was destroyed by a personal Jesus only 2,000 years ago. The very same revelation had been credited to Horus, the anointed, at least 3,000 years before. Horus, as the impersonal and ideal revealer, was the Messiah in the astronomical mythology and the Son of God in the eschatology.
. . . The Egyptian Horus, as revealer of immortality, was the ideal figure of the ancient spiritualists that the soul of man, or the Manes, persisted beyond death and the dissolution of the present body.
"This book is really starting off where the first one left off," says Murdy, who took the first tome's negative reviews to heart when organizing The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read II.
"The reviews on the first book were either people really loved it, or they really hated it," she says. "But when critics would tear it apart, the one thing they all mentioned was how bad the graphics were. I took that as constructive criticism."