Godsmack

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

Because of religion, more human beings have been murdered, tortured, maimed, denigrated, discriminated against, humiliated, hated and scorned than for any other reason in the totality of the history of man.

Today the only wars under way are religious wars. Arabs are killing Jews and vice versa. Ethnically religious groups are killing ethnically religious groups in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union. Arabs of one religion are killing Arabs of another. Catholics and Protestants are killing each other in Ireland and the British Isles. There is an endless list of clashes in Africa and the emerging nations of Southeast Asia.

Religion, more than politics and economics, kills and cripples humankind. There has never in all known history been a genocide of any kind which was not fueled by religion. Every religious organization on Earth is designed to gain economic and political power for those in the religion. Look at it closely and you will see for yourself.
- Bill Jenkins, former KABC talk show host, from his
introduction to The Book Your Church Does Not Want You
to Read II


Tim Leedom does not look like a warrior, religious or otherwise. He is polite and quick to smile. He campaigned for Robert F. Kennedy and has never stopped promoting world peace. Though he was a college football stud in the 1960s and still appears to be in pretty damn good shape, his blown knee would likely prevent him from blocking you into the azaleas at the local garden center.

But plenty of folks have declared war on the Newport Beach man for revealing the true origins of their religions and religious mythologies. They also don't seem to appreciate Leedom's exposure of the hypocrisies, suffering and deadly crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated in the name of an invisible almighty. Hate mail, angry phone calls and even death threats are their chosen weapons of mass damnation.

So much for turning the other cheek.

Leedom, who edited the 1993 soft-cover The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read, has just released a sequel—called The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read II—and his co-author is so spooked by the religious nutteratti that she's credited under the pen name Maria Murdy.

Considering everything Leedom went through the first time, for heaven's sake, why antagonize believers again?

"It's the 21st century, and things are a lot worse religiously," says Leedom as he sits across from Murdy in their offices overlooking a posh stretch of Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. "There are things we wanted to clarify about the origins of all religions."

He actually got the bug to expand The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read while promoting it. At book-selling events, he'd often be grouped with clerics, priests, rabbis and preachers—and walk away dumbstruck at how little they knew about the Bibles, Korans and Torahs they were thumping.

"The thing is, most people are completely ignorant of the tenants of their own religion, let alone anyone else's," Leedom says. He mostly singles out evangelical Christians, who twist scriptures to their own narrow views about the modern world.

"You owe it to yourself to be educated," he says. "If you are not educated, you can be easily led."

But when Leedom tries to set these saved souls straight, they don't exactly thank him. They turn the title of his book into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

"I learned when the first book came out that you're either a heretic, a pagan or an atheist if you even try to look at the ungodly or man-made origins of religion," Leedom says. "Throughout history, it's been ingrained in people that there is another dimension. These have been boiled down by fundamentalists, who have really hurt mankind a lot more than they have helped it."

Throughout time, religious folks have tended to smite those who have pointed out the errors of conventional wisdom.

"Four hundred years ago, people thought the Earth was the center of the universe," Leedom says. "You were burned at the stake if you said that was not true. Dinosaur bones were thought to be serpents. Anyone who tried to date the bones was killed."

Murdy begins to interject her own observations, but there's no stopping Leedom now. He calls it "ridiculous" that anyone would contend America was founded as a Christian nation since the majority of Founding Fathers were deists, atheists and agnostics who feared religious tyranny. And yet, Leedom notes, the religious right is hellbent on miscasting founders as devout Christians to further a systematic obliteration of the time-honored separation of church and state. Religious faith has transmogrified American politics the way it changes a chip of bread into a communion wafer.

"It goes all the way to the top," Leedom says. "President Bush says he consulted God before attacking Iraq. This is serious. We are in a very difficult situation because he chose to make this a religious war."


Religion. Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty and singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important and the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand, shake off all the fears and servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

Originally from New Jersey, Tim Leedom was born to a Quaker father and Catholic mother, yet he somehow turned out to be a flaming liberal—and a University of Kansas football standout. His stint in the football program overlapped the playing days of future Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Gayle Sayers and future mediocre Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass. But the teammate Leedom remains closest to is his former brother-in-law Les Steckel, who in 1984 replaced the legendary Bud Grant to become the third coach in Minnesota Vikings' history and at 38 the youngest coach in the NFL at the time. Steckel made more history when his team lost a franchise-worst 13 games in his lone season. Grant came out of retirement to replace him.

Leedom married (and later divorced) Steckel's sister, and the two buddies campaigned for Bobby Kennedy. But Leedom was drawn into the anti-war movement and politics, while Steckel was drawn into the Marines and God. Steckel's now president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

"We're still good friends, we just don't talk about religion," Leedom says. "He thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old. He's one of the greatest minds of the 13th century."

Leedom went on to complete his studies in journalism and political science at the University of Hawaii because "in Kansas, there was not much to do," while in the Islands during the '60s there certainly was plenty. He turned his college internships in government into full-time jobs as an administrative assistant to the governor and lieutenant governor of Hawaii and an aide to the state legislature.

He eventually returned to the mainland, and in 1978 started Manoa Valley Publishing Co., which he still owns. It put out Leedom's children's book, The Light Side, and a book on the Dead Sea scrolls he co-wrote with Silkwood producer Larry Cano. Leedom returned to his gridiron roots in 1984, starting a company that organized tryouts for pro-football prospects. He sold the business eight years later to a Newport Beach-based scout. Leedom went on to become an editor for 10 years at Truthseekers, the oldest freethought organization in the world, before landing at Intellevision, a Laguna Beach company that does film and TV commercial production work. He and Murdy are currently working on an Intellevision educational documentary together.

As if the film, publishing and athletic worlds were not challenging enough, Leedom has also branched into art, commissioning an oil painting called Satyagraba, the word Gandhi coined to refer to firm but nonviolent resistance. It depicts 20 men and women of peace, including Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, John Lennon, Anwar Sadat, Dag Hammarskjold, Yitzhak Rabin, Abraham Lincoln, JFK and RFK. The painting made the rounds to three presidential libraries (Kennedy's, Carter's and Clinton's) before winding up at the United States Peace Institute in Washington, D.C.

The vast contacts Leedom has cultivated over the years, in all his diverse lives, came in handy during the birthing process for The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read II.

"He's got friends in all walks of life," says Murdy, who has been working as Leedom's research assistant for eight years. "It's helped us a lot."


Fourteen organizations in this country, ranging from the People for the American Way to the National Educational Association, have issued a document that informs parents and teachers that public schools can be a proper place to teach Comparative Religions as an academic discipline. Such a course of study could make a major contribution toward erasing much of the religious illiteracy in this nation; it could also make a major dent in bigotry, prejudice and religious superstitions that exist everywhere. But now, when this issue is proposed locally, some will say, 'Oh, but we do not need or want our young people to be exposed to the other great religious traditions. All they need is Jesus Christ. That's where the truth is, for it was Jesus who said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Light." That's all our young people need.'


What people taking this position do not know—and this is a mark of their own religious illiteracy—is that practically every religious leader or hero has said exactly the same thing. Zoroaster used exactly the same words, saying, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.' The Buddha used the same language, as did Lao Tzu of Taoism. The vast majority of mythological formulas attached to Jesus were borrowed from Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Egypt, Babylon and the Greek Mystery religions.



The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read was published by the magazine for Truthseekers. It explored the myths, origins and identical stories of stellar/pagan/Christian beliefs, but the aim was to be more educational than inflammatory. However, Leedom notes it was also the first national publication to mention the then-budding pedophile-clergy scandal.

Contributors to the first book included Freedom From Religion president Dan Barker, former American Humanist Association president Edd Doerr and Cal State Long Beach religion professor Robert Eisenman, who has been credited worldwide for gaining scholarly access to the Dead Sea scrolls. But the writer who Leedom credits as being his most valuable player was the late TV pioneer Steve Allen.

"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."

"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.


Like most people in polite society, Leedom isrepulsed by the idea of pedophile priests and even more so by a Catholic Church hierarchy that continues to protect them. (Full disclosure: The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read IIreprints Gustavo Arellano's OC Weekly story, "Pope John Paul II: A Moral, Abject Failure When It Mattered.")

Leedom whips out a Jan. 5, 2007, advertisement in the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on Balboa Island. It still lists Monsignor Daniel J. Murray as the pastor at the Catholic Church even though the Diocese of Orange paid a cash settlement for molestation claims against him.

"I went over there to complain," Leedom says, "and they acted like they've never heard of him."

He's also called the church to complain, only to be essentially told to get a life, something members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) can relate to whenever they protest in front of churches harboring molesters.

"The thing that really shocks me is if you have a son or daughter abused by a priest, why not throw that guy down the stairs instead of rallying around him?" Leedom asks. "And yet you have the church snapping at SNAP. . . . It's like Animal Farm. It's total brainwashing."

On December 21 or 22, the Sun, going south, reaches its lowest point in the sky (our winter solstice). By December 25th, it is clear that the Sun is returning northward. Therefore, on Dec. 25th the Sun is "Born Again." Christians stole Dec. 25th from the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus—the Sun Unconquered. And to this day, His worshipers still celebrate His birthday—Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

Brothers and sisters, we end today's sermon by digging into the long-ago past (the 1990s), to the time Tim Leedom was on the cold-chicken circuit promoting The Book Your Church Does Not Want You to Read.He was invited to speak at a scholarly religious gathering in Newport Beach, the kind that draws a lot of folks in their seventies and their walkers.

Leedom was preceded at the podium by local pastors and ministers of several faiths. Everyone seemed kind and friendly to him . . .at first. Then he started noticing how any time someone would mention him, they'd butcher his name.

"Hello, Ted."

"Tom, it's nice having you here."

And then the clincher: he was introduced as "Tim Cleedom."

Now, all the preachers who went before him had received polite applause, but Leedom was greeted with stone silence.

"I got up and looked out, and everyone is like this," Leedom says as he folds his arms across his chest.

"All the preachers who had spoken were lined up in the back, with their arms folded the same way."

He decided to turn the tables. He asked the audience what the God Boys in the back had told them about his book, and whether they were sure what they said about his book was actually in his book "because, right now, other people are making up your mind for you."

He then asked if anyone knew who the first person was to die on the cross.

"Jesus" the people shouted back, in consensus, with gusto.

Leedom pointed out that there had actually been 16 crucified saviors before Jesus Christ. He then segued into other common misassumptions about the uniqueness of Christian mythology.

Up rose a guy who looked like John Wayne—an angry John Wayne.

"I thought to myself 'here it comes.'"

"Mr. Leedom," the gentleman said, "do you mean to tell me all these preachers and ministers never taught us this in church?"

Leedom fumbled with a "Well . . . yeah."

Duke's doppelgänger swung around, pointed at the preachers and said, "I need to talk to them."

"After that," Leedom recalls, "I sold three dozen books and got out of there with my life."

MCOKER@OCWEEKLY.COM

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