Godsmack

Orange County authors try to bring unity to people of different religious faiths. For this they will face the wrath of believers. Again.

"It's tough having a co-editor," Leedom confides. "Before, I could do anything I wanted. Seriously, she did great, especially on the graphics."

The sequel covers much of the same hallowed ground as its predecessor, but it has more pages, the print quality is better and it's wrapped in a hard cover. That's because, as Leedom puts it, he found a "real publisher" this time. New York City-based Cambridge House Books is even planning television spots to promote The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read II.

"They think we can sell a million copies," Leedom says in an I'll-believe-it-when-I-count-it tone.

The trick will be getting the word out. With 24 percent of Americans identifying themselves as either agnostics, atheists or unsure-what-the-hell-they-are, there should be enough people out there in Readerland receptive to the book's message.

"A lot of atheists are changing their focus," Murdy says. "These are people who are tired of being stepped on."

She recalls the times she used to hide her Buddha poster whenever her Born Again mother would come over to visit for fear of offending her. "Nobody does that for the other side," Murdy says. "Nobody checks to see if their religious icons offend you."

If the book doesn't achieve the lofty sales goal, it won't be for the authors' lack of trying. They have beefed up the lineup of writers, who include Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, Village Voice investigative reporter Rick Perlstein, groundbreaking feminist artist Judy Chicago and former Episcopal archbishop John Shelby Spong. There are also excerpts from Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers.

Though Christian fundamentalists are the book's biggest heavies—"Nonexistent Prophecies: A Problem for Bible Inerrancy," "Paul: the First Christian Heretic," "The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism" and "Killer Jesus" are among the more inflammatory chapter titles—the authors expanded their targets to include hard looks at Judaism, Islam and other religions.

But the strongest point made by The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read IIis that the source for all religions goes back to the earliest days of man—no, not Adam and Eve; yes, tens of thousands of years longer ago than 6,000 years—and the worship of the sun and fear of the darkness. Jews and Christians may recall the opening of Genesis, how there was darkness and a void (bad) before God said, "Let there be light" (good). You look up to the sky to indicate heaven, while Satan—a.k.a. The Prince of Darkness—is down there underground. Jews can ignore this next part, but the savior is God's son (sun).

Okay, that was a stretch. But how about the crown of thorns supposedly worn by Jesus on the cross? Ancient Aztec priests wore crowns of thorns and so does Lady Liberty on sentry at Ellis Island. Meanwhile, the cross symbol dates back to the earliest astrology, which used a cross to divide the four seasons.

Some would look at these examples and conclude that religion is a derivative sham, that men for years have built myth upon myth on top of the simple worship of the sun and fear of the darkness. But it could just as easily be argued that the examples of similar worship in all corners of the globe—right down to some frighteningly analogous beliefs and traditions and rituals—point to the existence of the same God as viewed by peoples on different continents who do not even realize other peoples, continents away, worship similarly.

When I foist this notion on Leedom, he agrees that's as plausible as any other explanation, and that he has no problem with people being faithful (a point driven home respectfully in his new book). He even throws out the "some of his best friends are Ba'hais and Unitarians" line. Leedom's problem is with those who consider their particular church doctrine the only real church doctrine when the evidence shows that the exact same doctrine was in place hundreds of years earlier, thousands of miles away, by followers of different faiths.

"If religious people would read their own books, and understand the spiritual nature of God, and read the other books and see the similarities of the nature of God, they would probably stop fighting. Whether a person believes in Darwinism or creationism, they would see at some point we all have the same origins, and share an indivisible nature."

The result of sexual abuse by members of the clergy has had a variety of effects on the victims. The psychological and emotional impact is the subject for medical experts. There is also however, a severe spiritual impact. The event or events of abuse have caused numerous victims to not only abandon the institutional church but to look upon it with disdain, fear and even hatred. Many are or were unable to make an emotional and intellectual distinction between the priest, the institutional authorities, and the church itself. The persons of the priests, bishops, etc. were the church. The church was the source of spiritual security. Faith in God was intimately bound up with faith in and loyalty to the church. It was the church, through the priests, who forgave sins. Now it was the forgiver who was causing the sins. Many victims felt and feel that they have been robbed of their faith and of their spiritual security. They cannot go to the church for relief because the focal point of their trust, the priest, has betrayed them. He has led them into what was and often is still perceived to be the worst kind of sins, sins of the flesh.

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