Movie trailers -- otherwise known as promotional ads intended to persuade people to pay for watching the next movie -- typically show the best scenes sliced and diced in rapid succession. The real movie often does not have the same punch. I think book reviews have the same effect. The Loser Letters is a case in point. The review made it out to be the next generation Screwtape, but Mary Eberstadt is no C.S.Lewis.
I mentioned the review to my friend who sometimes sends me books to review for him. He took the bait, but also mentioned The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day, which is a free download. If you are only going to read one book against atheism, read Vox Day's. Eberstadt has read extensively (citing also Irrational Atheist), and she has some good arguments I have not seen before (possibly adapted from sources I have not read), but she affects the dialect of English known as "Valley Girl" which gives her the appearance of being a bubblehead. That may be intentional, because it seriously detracts from the author's credibility as a first-person self-confessed atheist.
Eberstadt herself is clearly no atheist. There are minor inconsistencies in the text, where she relies too heavily on Christian arguments and Christian authors to criticize the atheist position she claims to adopt. The publisher, Ignatius, has a distinctly Roman Catholic name, and the last chapter has a strongly Roman Catholic conclusion, which no Protestant (nor atheist) would entertain.
The "Loser" of the title is God (from the atheist perspective), and unlike Screwtape, where the older and wiser demon is giving advice to his less-experienced charge, these letters come from a new convert attempting to advise the leadership. That somewhat incredible premise gives rise to the inconsistencies previously noted. There are also several forward references, which further batter the epistolary theme, suggesting that it was composed all at once rather than sequentially one letter at a time.
Her most devastating arguments against atheism are relational. As far as I know, she brings this newly to the debate, because all previous contributors on both sides were male in persuasion; Relationshipism is a feminine perspective. Female atheists are hard to find, as Eberstadt reminds us, because the biological distinctive of the female is pregnancy, which gives rise to all sorts of God-like emotions which single men do not and cannot experience.
Although she does not express it clearly, another of her better arguments against atheism relates abortion to genocide. *Good Darwinism approves of racial genocide (eugenics), eliminating the "unfit" lesser beings from the human race, and abortion is demonstrably directed at minority (from the Caucasian perspective) races. Eberstadt introduces a novel twist on that as a woman, because abortion also preferentially discriminates against women. Abortion should be contrary to atheistic (Darwinist) ethics, because it kills off your own progeny. Eberstadt rightly expresses surprise that modern atheists could affirm such a right.
If you can stomach the Valley Girl dialect and pseudo-bubblehead logic, I think this book makes a positive contribution to the debate by showing the anti-feminine problems of atheism. Otherwise, there are better books on the subject.
2010 July 10
* One reader objected to this line. Read my blog post "Truth in Labeling" in response