THE LOSER LETTERS, by Mary Eberstadt

THE LOSER LETTERS, by Mary Eberstadt

Terri Kelleher

by Mary Eberstadt

(Ignatius Press 2010, 148pp, $21.90. ISBN 978-1-58617-431-6. Available from Freedom Publishing)

The "author" of the Loser Letters, A.F. (A. Former) Christian, is a convert to the new atheism. As she (one gathers as the story unfolds and from the cover illustration that A.F., as I will refer to her, is a she) explains in the foreword, the ten letters that comprise the book are directed to explaining to the spokesmen for the new atheism the major stumbling blocks to conversion. In this they resemble The Screwtape Letters which were letters of advice from one (older) devil to another (younger) on how to win souls to atheism.

The Loser of the title is God: "'God', that Loser, is everything You say he is: the biggest fraud of all time, cosmic zero, ultimate no-show - and after all those centuries and promises too. It's like throwing the biggest rave ever, only to cancel at the last minute after everyone'd already bought tickets and drugs for it. ... If this were Facebook, no one would be befriending him now."

This encapsulates the very up-to-the-minute humour

The topics that A.F. raised as posing difficulty for the success of atheism were sex (as in free love vs faithful love); faith vs reason; good works; the legacy of art, music and literature; the "life issues", i.e., abortion and euthanasia; the absence of women, children and families from the writings and concerns of atheists; the lack of numbers of converts to atheism; and the "slippery slope", i.e., that without belief in God humans slide back into paganism which allows the biggest assaults on human dignity - abortion, infanticide, pedophilia, bestiality, incest, human sacrifice.

A.F. asks the "Major-League Athiest Guys" for answers to these obstacles to atheism's success.

On each score Christians win and atheists lose. You have to read the book to find out why.

Childless atheists

To whet your appetite, though, I will mention a few especially interesting points Eberstadt makes. In relation to atheism's lack of interest in familial bonds and parental love she observes that many atheists have themselves been childless or lived outside real family bonds: Spinoza, Nietzsche and most notably Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who apparently had five children all of whom he sent to an orphanage at birth so they wouldn't interfere with his lifestyle. Historians, Eberstadt writes, think the children almost certainly died there at an early age. (A la A.F., "How creep-acious is that?")

On good works Eberstadt quotes from Who Really Cares: America's Charity Divide: Who Gives, Who Doesn't , and Why It Matters by Arthur C. Brooks: "An enormous charity gap remains between religious and secular people." She quotes figures from Brooks showing by how much believers of different "levels" of religious practice (e.g., church weekly, daily prayer) are more likely to give or volunteer than unbelievers. A.F. advises atheists, "don't even think of going there." Believers win hands down.

Eberstadt also makes a very important observation about abortion in explaining why this is also a no-go zone for atheism. "If You're over fifty, there's not much chance anyone would have aborted You." For the present generation it's different, it being "the first truly disposable one - even disposed-of one." When young people realise this they turn overwhelmingly towards those who say this is wrong. And those people are, overwhelmingly, believers. I don't think this has hit public consciousness yet in Australia.

Eberstadt deals with the "big picture" both in terms of showing that any claim of atheism to be supported by reason or moral superiority, or to provide any answer to the challenges of the human condition, is simply not backed up by the facts or by psychological reality.

I can't help contrasting this with The Screwtape Letters which are more detailed and precise in describing exactly how a soul can allow itself to be turned away from God. They tell the story of an individual soul but it is also the same old story - of how the world, the flesh and the devil turn souls away from God. The humour in Screwtape is in the contrast of the old devil's cunning and the young one's naïveté and consequent ineptness; and in the old one's growing frustration.

The humour in The Loser Letters is of the "laugh out loud" variety and very much a function of the modern expressions used, some examples of which I have given. I wonder if this approach will date. The measure of this review will be if it prompts you to read both books.

Regardless, I did thoroughly enjoy the book and Eberstadt's scathing demolition of any claims atheism could make to reason or morality. I also enjoyed the humour, especially as we all know the devil hates to be mocked!