Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

I was reading the words of my brilliant friend, Digital Cuttlefish, this morning (which is the middle of the night for my American friends), and ran across this gem;

They were starving; they were homeless; they were dying; they were dead.
There were bodies to be buried; there were children to be fed.
There were broken heaps of rubble where the houses used to stand
There was utter devastation; there was chaos in the land.
There were frantic cries for rescue; there were howls of fear and pain
There were heroes risking life and limb, with much to lose or gain.
There were millions in donations–drinking water, food to cook–
And the most important gift of all… The Christian Holy Book.

excerpted from “Starving? Have a Bible” — Digital Cuttlefish

I was one of millions who were outraged at the unadulterated self-serving stupidity of christian cultists in American who would send bibles to starving, desperate Haitians instead of using that space for more desperately needed items: food, water, medications, tents. Okay, I know they also sent a few token relief items with the bibles as well, but why not substitute yet more relief items into the space (and weight) occupied by all those bibles?

Which leads me to my central question: why send bibles at all? Bibles are not at all practical, unless used as toilet paper. Additionally, as an extreme bibliophile, I recognize the value of good literature for helping people endure their miseries, but with the exception of Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs) and the Psalms, the bible hardly qualifies as anything more than a bunch of poorly-written and repetitive bullshit, senseless violence, fantasy and magic.

If these people are serious about wanting to help relieve suffering and insist on sending books instead of relief supplies, why not send Harry Potter books along with relief supplies? The Harry Potter book series is filled with escapism combined with generous helpings of magic and fantasy, but the hero doesn’t die in the end, and the books are much better written than the bible, too.

Since christian cultists are doing the choosing, maybe Herman Hesse’s Beneath the Wheel (Unterm Rad) is a better choice? That book would support the christian cultists’ friendliness to the know-nothing, do-nothing point of view that a good education creates more problems than it solves. But unlike the bible, Beneath the Wheel falls short on supplying enough fantasy and magic to a people who are desperate to escape from their situation.

Maybe we should instead consider the Haitian’s rage at the slow and incomplete rescue and relief response they’ve experienced? In that case, perhaps a few million copies of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath would be a better choice? That book is better written than the bible — much much better written, in fact (Steinbeck won both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize for Literature, unlike god, who has won exactly nothing for his prodigious ghost-writing efforts) and it drives home the point that the poor are always going to get screwed by the rich, regardless of how resourceful they are and despite how hard they work to escape their circumstances.

Which leads me to my next suggested book title, a practical choice, really, since relief is so slow in coming (and by the time it arrives, the number of dead Haitians might have doubled); John Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook, Revised Edition: For Any Climate, in Any Situation (in a handy paperback edition, which no doubt is lighter than a ponderous bible). Like some of my previous suggestions, this book fails on the magic and fantasy scales, but it does do something that the bible does not: it tells people how to look after themselves, instead of waiting for a nonexistent and indifferent god to do it for them.

Since books seem to be required as part of the relief supplies for desperate Haitians, which books would you consider sending them, instead of more relief supplies?


  1. #1 Simba
    January 27, 2010

    Is there any charity which is doing something like this? Nt necessarily to Haiti, because obviously it’s too early for books there yet, but to places where books might be hard to come across.

  2. #2 Gareth Owen
    January 27, 2010

    I was going to suggest Lofty Wiseman’s survival manual, but you beat me to it. Can I add any of the survival/bushcraft books by Mors Kochanski or Ray Mears. They perhaps aren’t specific enough for the Caribbean environment, but they’re a damn good starting point.

    Finding French Creole versions might be difficult though.


  3. #3 George W.B.
    January 27, 2010

    If I was still president, I would send My Pet Goat, or The Very Hungry Catepillar with the marines.

  4. #4 Neal R.
    January 27, 2010

    The Bible is one of the great books, no doubt of it, and worth careful study and contemplation.


    I have a few questions/thoughts?

    – Paper is heavy, hard to move, expensive to ship. What weighs more I wonder – a box crammed with Bibles or a box full of nylon tents?
    – Why send Bibles to a country that has a more devoted Christian population, and probably more Bibles per household, than most cities in the white western world?
    – Ummm. Were the Bibles in French? I’m just wondering. I somehow don’t think so. If they were in French though, I’m almost willing to forgive the evangelists their mercenary stupidity. Love to find out.
    – Can you imagine the orgasmic outrage and fury that would result from some organization sending Korans to Haiti?

    But if I was forced to send, say, 5 books to Haiti – the country that is the poster child for “Decades Of Rape by the American Empire” I would send – in French translations:

    – Thomas Paine’s Common Sense
    – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    – Collected writings of Thomas Jefferson including the Declaration Of Independence
    – Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War
    – Shakespeare

  5. #5 Tabor
    January 27, 2010

    I am not a religious person and my experience with the Bible when in my youth only left me more confused. But in this case some of the Bibles might have replaced those that were lost and this just MIGHT have given those who were deeply religious a little more hope. Of course, it should never take the place of medicine, or food, or water or heroes.

  6. #6 Cuttlefish
    January 27, 2010

    Just to let you know, a company rep visited my site, and says he/she will talk with the designer/engineer to see if the next production run of the solar powered audio bible can include a radio receiver. This would make it a very useful item in disaster situations. On the other hand, another commenter has chosen the atheist reaction against the audio bible as the jumping-off place for a hilarious rant accusing atheists of hypocrisy (because the money we spent on atheist billboards could have been given to charity instead). (my latest post is on that)

    Oh, well.

  7. #7 Jen
    January 27, 2010

    My comfort-read, corny, cozy, and full of hope, is the All Creatures Great and Small series. Unchallenging and sweetly predictable, where everything (almost) always turns out right.

    I was thinking that stories about a fusty man drinking tea in Yorkshire could be a little culturally alien. But really, there isn’t much that’s more alien than the text of the Bible.

  8. #8 Jason Failes
    January 27, 2010

    Missionaries remind me of gangsters running a protection racket:

    “Nasty disaster you got here. Be a shame if there was another….act of god, if you know what I mean.”

  9. #9 Eva
    January 27, 2010

    Empty notebooks and pens/pencils.

  10. #10 Dave X
    January 27, 2010

    Maybe a bible is more nutritious than the Mud Pies some Haitians were eating before the earthquake.

    Swapping a 1 pound block of chocolate for a bible could save a life or two, but I guess these folks are interested in reaping souls.

  11. #11 RachelW
    January 27, 2010

    This is obviously of secondary concern to immediate humanitarian relief, but the American Library Association has established a relief fund “to collect monetary donations to help rebuild libraries and archives that were destroyed or damaged” in the earthquake.

  12. #12 Rob Jase
    January 27, 2010

    The Champions Rule Book, 4th edition.

    RPG’s might not help them survive the afterquake but they’d be ready for Doctor Destroyer at least.

  13. #13 Mariano
    January 28, 2010

    There are also audio Bibles going to Haiti; what a blessing.
    FYI: I wrote a favorable mention of them and a refutation of atheist condemnations of them at this link.
    For the past few years atheists worldwide have literally wasted enormous amounts of money during times of recession, war and poverty not in helping anyone in any material need but in order to purchase bus ads and billboards attempting to demonstrated just how clever they consider themselves to be; and now they want to become the charity police—please!

  14. #14 Bob O'H
    January 28, 2010

    Mariano – your complaint has already been answered by Digital Cuttlefish. Isn’t there something in the bible about worrying about motes and branches in people’s eyes?

  15. #15 Ambitwistor
    January 28, 2010

    “The Harry Potter book series is filled with escapism combined with generous helpings of magic and fantasy, but the hero doesn’t die in the end”

    Harry Potter, the savior-hero, does die in the end, but comes back to life. There are obvious Biblical parallels. Rowling has stated that Christianity was a major inspiration for her books:

  16. #16 biosparite
    January 28, 2010

    JK might have looked to Christianity to lay a predicate for her novels, but at least some elements of the evangelical community down here in the cowtown called Houston warn off potential readers because of witchcraft as a central mover of the plot of each book. You have no concept of the submarine dumbness that appertains to the thinking of Religious Right wackjob wingnuts until you encounter such people and hear their jeremaids against anything enlightened or logical.

  17. #17 Ambitwistor
    January 29, 2010


    I’m well aware of fundamentalist opposition to Harry Potter “witchcraft”. I’m just pointing out that Harry Potter isn’t really the literary antithesis to the Bible that this blog post made it out to be (as well as correcting a misstatement about the last book’s plot).

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