Prosecutor-turned-bestselling-author Vincent Bugliosi loves a challenge.
That must be why, after literary efforts that took on the Supreme Court (twice!) and the president of the United States, he’s turned his considerable intellect on an even bigger target: God.
Bugliosi’s latest book, “The Divinity of Doubt,” is a passionate defense of agnosticism, the belief that the question of God’s existence is unknowable. And the man who put cult leader Charles Manson on death row and later wrote the best-selling true crime book of all time — “Helter Skelter” — knows from good and evil.
Bugliosi customarily refuses to ignore evidence that contradicts his argument, such as Old Testament prophecies that eerily presage the life of Christ, or the fact that his disciples continued to preach about the resurrection despite persecution. (Asks Bugliosi: Would not even one of them have recanted before he was put to death, if the story was false?)
And a powerful circumstantial argument for God is that no one can adequately explain the origins of the universe without supernatural intervention. (Where, to put it another way, did the materials that resulted in the Big Bang come from?)
This is not to say Bugliosi is a Christian. If, as believers assert, God is both all-powerful and all-good, how can he allow evil such as the Holocaust or natural disasters? If he can’t prevent evil, he’s not all-powerful, but if he can and chooses not to, he’s not all good.
Bugliosi recounts how celebrated Christian authors often ascribe human traits to God, such as mercy, love, goodness and joy. When confronted with what C.S. Lewis called the problem of pain, they occasionally say we can’t always understand the divine. But if we can understand him enough to describe his positive traits, how can we claim we can no longer understand when things go south? “You’ve closed the door on that,” he said in an interview.
On prayer, Bugliosi confesses to being mystified: A man prays for a new car and finds a great deal, and says God answered his prayer. But what about the myriad prayers God declined to answer, the more urgent prayers of AIDS victims or Jews detained in Hitler’s concentration camps?
“These people who needed God the most — we know, we have absolute 100 percent certainty — that he turns down people when they need him the most,” Bugliosi said.
Even more perplexing: After a tragedy, whether it be Sept. 11 or Hurricane Katrina, people pray to a God they acknowledge is all-powerful — the very entity who either caused or allowed the tragedy to happen in the first place. “This goes beyond insanity,” he says.
And while some argue human free will is the cause of evil, Bugliosi’s obviously in-depth study of the scriptures produces far more evidence showing people lack free will than that they have it. Besides, what would you think of parents who let their son go on a crime spree only to shrug and say their boy was simply exercising his free will?
Along the way, Bugliosi also takes on atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. They may have proved religion is less than divine, but they’ve utterly failed to go the rest of the way and prove God doesn’t exist, he says.
“I’m more excited about this book than any of my other books,” says Bugliosi, who’s landed three previous volumes atop The New York Times hardcover best-seller list. He adds: “At my heart, I’m kind of an educator. When I see people thinking wrongly, I try to educate them.”
“The Divinity of Doubt” is a graduate-level education on the subject of religion, and a darn good read, for believers and non-believers alike. Whether or not you’re persuaded, you will most certainly never think about God or religion in the same way ever again.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius, or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.