Saturday, 13 April 2013

Book Review & Give Away: Joe Wenke's You Got To Be Kidding!

This cover image has a very interesting backstory.
Check it out in Staks Rosch's interview with Wenke.
Many of you probably know that I have done quite a few book reviews on this blog.  But it's probably never crossed your mind that I've so far only reviewed books by written by people who are now all dead. It's as if a book needs to moulder for awhile in a dank cellar before I'll even read it, like smelly French cheese or pungent mushrooms.  Call me contrarian, but I don't want to read anything anyone else happens to be reading.  So it only stands to reason that I would wait over a month after reading a book by a not-dead-yet author before embarking on a review.  You know, just to let things stew a bit.

Joe Wenke is the not-dead author in question.  Awhile back, I was asked to review his book You Got To Be Kidding : The Cultural Arsonist's Literal Reading of The Bible.  Since the author is still alive, other people have reviewed the book in the blogosphere, and this is my first  ever totally legit book review of a currently sentient author, I made a couple of key demands:

1) Send me a free copy of the book for me to read on my Kindle and

2) Send me a couple of print copies to give away to my readers.

The other side complied to my demands and I now present you with the resulting review.

Now, I'd like to be upfront about these things. Yes, I have been given these books, but this won't affect my opinions about said book.  It's sort of like dinner and a movie.  I'll gladly accept both if you seem interesting enough, but it's no guarantee you're going to get into my apartment at the end of the night.

Let's get this review on the road with my favourite snippet of the book.  Here Wenke summarizes the whole Jesus story for us in a single paragraph that should clue any believer in pretty quickly that there could be a problem or two with Biblical consistency.

Most excellent. Would this fit onto a t-shirt?

Wenke has a sense of humour very similar to my own. There is no laugh-out-loud humour in this book but rather a kind of witty sarcasm that elicits chuckles, smirks and the occasional ah ha moments.  With the surgical precision and timing indicative of his comedic roots, Wenke points out absurdities, contradictions, and horrors that make up so much of the Good Book, all the while never getting things get uncomfortably heavy like many other Biblical critiques do.  He keeps it fun.  You know, it's very much like sitting in a pub and rhetorically ripping up the Bible between brews all in good humour - and what skeptic doesn't like that?

Blogger Staks Rosch over at the Examiner sums up this observation well on his own review of the book.
To be honest, I didn’t find this book all that funny and it doesn’t actually seem like humor was really the author’s intent. The book has really been miscategorized in that sense. It does take a lighthearted approach to the Bible that is in the spirit of humor, but you probably won’t laugh out loud reading it. 
But really, the Bible is such a horrific hodgepodge of gruesome human torture, genocide, rape, murder and barbarous bloodletting.  What can any sane person do than try his best to keep things light and have a laugh or two?  And I think that this is really for the better because, as Staks observes, Wenke's ultimate goal doesn't seem to be drop dead funny. He is trying to make a real statement here and it could be that pure comedy might undermine the credibility of the message anyway.  Perhaps following the footsteps of Voltaire, he is undermining was has been unassailable for centuries through with a most powerful weapons: dry wit and ridicule.

For me, Wenke lies in a kind of middle ground between the devastatingly serious attacks of Ingersoll in his Gods and the comical stories of Voltaire (Micromegas), Mark Twain (Diaries of Eve and Adam) and Anatole France (Penguin Island).  Like Ingersoll, Wenke does not invent his own fictional Biblical accounts, but he keeps things light and witty like this other authors.  His approach of recounting major Biblical stories and commenting frankly on the difficulties they present his mind which no longer finds itself tethered to a Christian mindset, reminds me most of some of Mark Twain's own off the cuff comments of Christianity.

Another snippet. Here is Wenke talking about God, the most powerful thing in the universe.  This supreme Architect of all things cut a few million corners with his lame-ass apparition to Moses as a burning bush.

That's one God who doesn't like to flaunt his shit.  Okay, when he's not murdering and abusing Egyptians with ten plagues just to prove how big his god balls are, that is!

Overall Impression

On whole, I find the book to be light, witty and informative - amusing, very amusing.  The chapters seem to have been strategically written to be just long enough for my train ride to and from work. I found myself being drawn into the next chapter, even if it meant standing outside the office door for an extra 15 minutes in the morning.

But there is just one little thing... I do have one criticism, that I believe I share with Staks about the character Jesus.  Here is what Staks says:
Another criticism I have is that Wenke points out a lot of the ridiculous stuff from the Old Testament, but he seems to tread a little lighter on the New Testament. He doesn’t really go into the split personality of Jesus as much as I thought he would. He could have definitely hit harder in some areas
When I read the portion of the book that dealt with the New Testament and Jesus, I noticed a definite softening towards the character of Jesus. Maybe it's the stuff I've been reading over the past years has been so critical of Jesus that my mind finds anything positive about him jarring? Wenke thanks Jesus for being a very compassionate and cool sort of dude who just happened to be nutty enough to believe he was a god.  (Wenke never actually calls Jesus nutty. I added that.) This picture latter gets balanced out better when Wenke points out that Jesus meek and mild also preached a great deal about eternal torments of hell.

Joe Wenke
I got the impression that what Wenke may believe Jesus could have gotten a bum rap from later crazies like St Paul. That his character could have been grossly misrepresented and sullied.

I think, to the extent there could have been a Jesus, he's absolutely correct.  To be honest, his positive painting of the charitable and humane character of Jesus opened my eyes to a powerful point I had not yet considered.  It is possible to admire all that makes Jesus a great man of the people and an early activist for social justice and change, as an atheist.  It is possible to respect Jesus the hell-raiser without believing he was anything more than a human being born of man and woman and died as dead as everyone else never to have arisen.   Perhaps he was the unwitting victim of the perverse mythologizing of madmen like St Paul.

In short, I really enjoyed this book.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 - Worth it for a light, thought-provoking and quite amusing read!

Now The Free Stuff!

So, anyone want a free copy of Joe's book mailed to them?  I'll mail them out to the first two commenters who are willing to tell me their favourite crazy Bible story and why.  Just leave a comment and I'll reply with instructions on how to get your stuff!

If you miss out on this free book offer, Joe's book is still worth a read.  You can pick up the Kindle version over at Amazon for a very affordable price.  Also, visit his site for more information about Joe Wenke's various projects:

Editor's Note 2013-04-15: I'm afraid you did miss the two free books I was giving away. But last I checked, the Kindle version over at Amazon is under $5.  You can also check out other options for getting the book at Joe's site  Thanks!


  1. When I was a kid, the favourite story in my sunday school class was the story of Ehud and the fat king in Judges 3: Ehud was left-handed, so his sword was strapped to his right thigh (so apparently the guards didn't check there before he went in to see the king?) So Ehud (a man sent by God to deliver the Israelites from an evil king) went to see the king (who was very fat, according to the Bible), said "I have a message from God for you", stabbed him in the stomach, all his guts spilled out, and his belly fat closed over the hilt of the sword so he couldn't pull it back out. As a kid, I remember thinking that this was pretty awesome. crazy Bible stories indeed.

  2. The craziest one to me and my mom was always, don't rape the angels, here rape my daughters. Oh Lot. how could you.

  3. Thanks for your comment! Hooray! You get book #1! I have your e-mail here attached to this comment in Disqus. So expect an email soon.

  4. Both crazy and tragic, indeed. Jen, you win book number #2! I have an e-mail associated with this I'll contact so we can talk about getting you the book!

  5. I'm too late for the books, unfortunately, but my favourite at the moment is actually the Golden Calf, because of Aaron's involvement in creating and using the calf. But then, when Moses asks him what's been going on, Aaron's all like "what? me? Nooooo, I wasn't a part of this!" And Moses is all like "Oh, okay, cool. I'll just go kill all the people who were, okay?" And that's it. Aaron is never punished for having led the people, no one ever says anything. What moral are we supposed to be getting from that story, exactly?

  6. Hey thanks for the comment! You know, I've read that story several times and I never thought of that angle? Clergy... man... I'm telling you... they get away with anything.


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