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God: The InterviewBook review

God: The Interview
by Terry Lane

(Unfortunately this book is now out of print. You might find it in a good second-hand bookshop.)

It might seem somewhat ambitious (and perhaps indicative of hubris) to write a book ostensibly recording an interview with God, but Terry Lane has two qualifications which make him the ideal interviewer for Him. Lane was one of the best interviewers I ever heard on radio (he used to be on regularly in Sydney where I live, but over the last few years has only been heard on Melbourne radio) and he was always noted for the depth of his research and apparent knowledge of the interviewee. Interviewing God is no exception, because Lane trained as a clergyman and can therefore be expected to have good background knowledge of his subject and to be aware of many of the things that people either know or believe about God.

Anyone not knowing Terry Lane might be a bit suspicious about a cleric writing about God, even an ex-cleric, and might expect a hagiography or the sort of hero-worship seen in many tabloid interviews with evanescent "celebrities". Not so. This book exposes God for what many of us suspect He really is (if He is anything at all, of course) - someone who kick-started an experiment and now looks on with mild, detached amusement and bemusement at the progress and activities of the inhabitants of the maze.

Theodicy is the attempt to reconcile the claim that God is omnipotent (can do anything and everything) and omniscient (knows everything) with the existence of evil in the world. The traditional way of getting around this problem is to posit free will, but this still leaves open the question that if God knows everything, surely He knows how everyone is going to apply their freedom of will and therefore such will isn't free. Other suggestions are that evil is a way of punishing evil-doers (!) and that things like natural disasters are ways of punishing lots of people at once. It was this very sophistry which confirmed my atheism, as I sat in a pew at my grandmother's funeral and heard a priest desperately trying to explain why someone who had led a blameless life had been tortured by a painful and crippling illness. The fact that these debates have been going on for millennia suggests that either there is no answer or that only an omniscient God knows the answer and he is keeping it a secret for some reason also known only to Him.

Lane cuts through all of this by having his interviewed God say that He really doesn't care what goes on and wouldn't be able to do much about it if He did. The idea of miracles is discarded on the basis that any God who created a set of rules about how a universe works would look a little silly breaking those rules just to impress non-believers (and not very omnipotent, of course, if he couldn't invent unbreakable universal laws of physics). What this interview really shows, however, is just how many inconsistent, contradictory and completely unbelievable things someone has to believe in order to maintain a belief in God. Lewis Carroll had the White Queen saying "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast", but you don't have to be very far into Lane's book to realise that continued faith requires believing in many more impossible things than six and for doing it long after breakfast has been digested and forgotten.

When I started working on a review of God: The Interview I was also reviewing The End of Faith by Sam Harris and The Sins of Scripture by John Shelby Spong, other books which look at the state of religion today. This is the best book of the three in my opinion, because it lacks the savagery shown in the other two but still addresses the absurdities that any religious believer is required to accept. Sam Harris suffers from the same one-eyed intensity that allows believers to dismiss Richard Dawkins, and Bishop Spong is walking that very thin intellectual tightrope which allows for selective acceptance of dogma. Terry Lane uses humour and ridicule to highlight what is humorous and ridiculous, and he makes the point of the pointlessness of religious belief much better. Readers of Harris might keep saying "That's outrageous", Spong's readers might be saying "That is a pretty stupid thing to believe", but Lane's readers will be saying "That's right!".

Terry LaneTerry Lane retired in 2005 from his position as a radio announcer with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Melbourne. He trained as a minister of religion but has gradually moved towards atheism over a period of time. In his retirement, Terry has become an expert on digital photography. Another of his activities is dear to my heart - the defence of free speech. Terry is a committee member of Free Speech Victoria.

Copyright 1998- Peter Bowditch

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