Losing Faith: An interview with atheist author Harry Margulies

A second-generation Holocaust survivor, author Harry Margulies was raised in the Jewish faith but came to reject this in his teenage years. He replaced faith with reason, belief with logic, and in his own words has “never looked back”.

He has just published, through Why Is It Publishing AB, Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest, which is aimed at both believers and non-believers and presents an authoritative yet easy-to-understand critique of organised religion and holy texts. To mark its publication, we spoke with Harry to find out more about the book, his aims, and his controversial yet fair criticisms of religion and religious thinking.

Q. Isn’t it impossible to assert that there is no such thing as God? 

A. Of course, it is impossible to assert that a ‘god’ doesn’t exist. Instead, start asking the question, “Which god does not exist?” The burden of proof falls on anybody who claims there is a god, not on you.

Q. You have scrutinised the main holy books and have found them all wanting. Taking the Bible, as an example, why do you think this is logically nonsense? 

A. Start by reading the Bible without blinders on. You will find a God that is not loving but, in fact, the contrary. The biblical description of God describes a vengeful, jealous and overbearing God. He takes revenge for generations. He commands the most ridiculous sacrifices. 

In Psalm 137 (By the rivers of Babylon), for instance, the last line reads, “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones”. These are entirely innocent children that have nothing to do with any wrong their parents may have done. 

Moving to the New Testament, God decides humanity is evil and he finds that he wants to forgive them desperately. He doesn’t simply forgive them, however; he finds a difficult solution. He creates a son by a virgin, who is also one with himself, has his son punished and crucified to forgive us. That is cruel when, in all reality, he could’ve simply forgiven us. 

A god that allows evil seems impotent rather than omnipotent. The excuse we get is that God must allow evil so that good will prevail. Let’s interpret this to mean that if God had created a good world, without evil, the theologians would have begged for evil just to learn a lesson!

Furthermore, if a God existed, and either inspired or wrote the Bible and yet couldn’t make Himself clearer, that does not go together with his omniscience. Let’s take the Garden of Eden as an example. God, with all of his omni-attributes, of course knows everything that will happen, yet still is surprised that Adam needs a companion; surprised when the snake He created to tempt them succeeds in doing so; and surprised when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit.

Q. Many parents value a religious education for their children. Why do you think they should reconsider this? 

A. Let’s start by making clear that it’s not really just religious education. It is actually religious indoctrination. Filling a child’s brain full of holy texts leaves less space for learning about the true world. You end up limiting a child’s education which is unfair. 

Besides that, nobody follows any belief to a ‘T’ and it may be harmful for a child to see the parents cheat the religious rules while they are not allowed to. Even the parents who use religious text as a salad bar, picking what they want to believe and abide by, give religious organisations too much power over their children. In a Catholic family, I would start trusting my child when they come home and tells tales about their priest. 

Q. Religious institutions are known to be at the forefront of providing relief for the needy. Do you not think that by promoting atheism that this good work will be impacted? 

A. Let me start with a clear “No”. If the religious institutions were to lose all their power and be dismantled, one might be able to lower taxes for the working class. That would be as a result of the enormous, and in fact immeasurable, wealth amassed by religious institutions, which would be transferred over to society. 

While the religious institutions urge everybody to be generous to the needy yet continue to ask for funding for themselves, they are actually proving the opposite. They should simply pray to God to give them what they deserve. If they don’t believe that God will provide for them, why would anybody in that flock fall for that line? 

Heavily researched, eminently readable, and utterly compelling, Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest by Harry Margulies provides a convincing polemic that will make you think again about religion.

Q. Leaving the question of God aside, do holy books such as the Bible not still impart sound moral teachings? 

A. Chapter one of Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest deals exactly with that question. Here are just a few examples why this is not the case.

Cain kills his brother and gets a mark on his forehead so as not to be killed by others. This is God’s protection despite Cain being a murderer. 

A general vows to God that if he can just win a battle, he will sacrifice the first thing to come out of his house upon his return home. His daughter is that ‘thing’. He burns her and God didn’t stop that sacrifice the way he did with Abraham and Isaac. 

Then there is King David, who broke many of the Commandments. He lusted for a married woman, had sex with her while she was married (adultery), she got pregnant, he tried to fool the husband to lie with her so that he would believe he was the father but the husband refused because his troops could not have the same satisfaction. King David’s solution was to have him killed. Despite all this, King David is viewed as one of the big heroes of the Bible. 

Even if we would like to see the stories as allegory, they are still terribly immoral and had it not been holy text, we would not have allowed our children to read it in Sunday school. 

Q. You hope that your book will be read by believers as well as non-believers in God. How do you hope the book will be received by those who are religious? 

A. I think everybody should receive this book with an open mind. For those who are religious and find comfort in their childhood belief system, it might be a bit challenging. If you are so afraid to be challenged in your beliefs that you don’t dare read this book then you have a problem, not I.

For the non-believers, it is informative and it may be helpful to people sitting on a fence to understand that a salad bar of religious beliefs and adherence may not, upon reflection, cut it for them. 

Q. You have come to atheism through much research and ‘soul-searching’, so to speak. If you could speak to your younger self to help ease this journey, what would you say? 

A. While you go through the process, young Harry, you’re going to feel pain. You’re going to feel pressure from your family, your congregation, and quite a few of your friends. You need to know that if you manage to stay strong, and continue on your path to leaving behind the imaginary supervisor looking over you and checking everything you do, you will be so much better off. Sexual attraction and even self-love become beautiful and painless instead of sinful. 

Religious critic and leading atheist author Harry Margulies hopes his new book, Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest, will encourage readers to rationally analyse the truth, or lack thereof, of religious teachings.

Q. There are many books that analyse religion, such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. What makes yours different? 

A. Mine is not an overly philosophical book. It is mainly based on the texts that people find holy and which are analysed from that perspective. Namely, what do these texts really say as opposed to what we have been made to believe they mean. There is a foreword, followed by 12 relatively independent chapters and I, many times, challenge the reader to find their own answers. My guide is Occam’s razor and my motive is not only to question and help readers find answers but also to make the reader understand that religious institutions exist for their own power and that of their leaders. They have instituted a lot of rituals intended to make church visits necessary. A reader should ask the question, “If God really signed up to these rituals?”

Q. Britain has been moving towards atheism for several decades. As such, why should we still be concerned with the power religious institutions wield on society? 

A. Religious people expect that secular society tiptoes around them in order not to offend without returning the courtesy. The leader of the Church of England has a very high visibility and, in the name of the Church, can allow himself to say things that otherwise would not be acceptable. Religious leaders are not scrutinised to the same extent as secular leaders and politicians—there is an inherent lack of accountability. That being said, religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury gets access to the highest politicians with assertions that sometimes contrast to the teachings of the holy texts he is meant to represent, and he does so without being challenged by the mainstream media.  

Q. If religion is built on such unsteady foundations then why is it that it has endured for millennia?

A. Humans like to feel that they have a special purpose and that their lives have meaning. There are different ways of dealing with this but religion, which is really nothing but mythology has been able to get assistance from parents and congregations to indoctrinate the children and that has been going on for generations. 

Let’s not forget that the Catholic Church must have understood the scientific progress made over the last few hundred years. They, nevertheless, burnt people on the stake who 

translated the Bible into an accessible language, burnt or locked up scientists, and only forgave Galileo as late as 1992 for being right about the Earth moving around the Sun.

It seems to me, though, that the pace of moving towards atheism and agnosticism is growing faster as people become more and more educated. In my book I use a quote from Mark Twain that is telling: “It’s easier to fool people than it is to convince them that they have been fooled”. 

Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest by Harry Margulies is published through Why Is It Publishing AB and is out now in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats, priced £19.95, £12.95, and £9.99 respectively. It is available online from Amazon and all good book stores. For more information, visit www.whyisitpublishing.com  Follow author Harry Margulies via Twitter or Instagram at @askwhyisit.

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