The dark face of religion is exposed in Rot on the Vine, a shocking and often disturbing examination of the many ways religion kills, abuses and destroys. Author J. Stenesh, a biochemist at UC Berkeley, has written a powerful and well-researched book about a subject far from his usual world of science. With all of the current headlines today about the right-wing religious assault on our culture and our ideals, this book could not have been published at a more critical time.
Stenesh holds nothing back in this unusual look at how religion, from the days of cavemen and moon and sun worship to today’s violent and vitriolic culture wars, has always had a dark and horrific side to it. Stenesh uses both fact and fiction to show how men and women of faith have easily been turned into murderers, child abusers, rapists and killers because of their fanaticism and their inability to see beyond their narrow beliefs. No religion is spared, with numerous examples of the dark faces of the traditional Western religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Alternating between nonfiction fact-based research into the destructive paths of religious belief and some pretty disturbing and quite realistic fictional accounts of how that destruction plays out in real human lives, Rot on the Vine is the kind of book you have to muster up the courage to read ahead of time - it is brutally honest in its portrayal of the levels of hatred and sheer evil that such acts of terrorism as the Crusades, witch burnings, the Holocaust and today’s gay-bashing preachers prove exist alongside religion’s more peaceful and gentle face.
Some of the most shocking material comes in the form of these fictional accounts, most notably a Catholic priest who discovers sexual lust and murder can be easily excused when you are wearing a robe of God, and a frighteningly real visit to a modern church led by a pastor with a passion for eliminating gays. One of the most enlightening pieces has three human mortals playing God and discussing theological beliefs in a way that really drives home the facts behind the fiction. There is also a totally realistic and utterly distressing account of Holocaust survivors talking about their experiences in death camps and gas chambers. The account itself is fiction, but is based upon real witness accounts of the horrors of religious fanaticism in the hands of a madman. The truth of what happened in that darkest of ages literally made me ill, and I had to stop reading.
So much of Rot on the Vine is chilling - not just the long history of religious hatred, intolerance and outright slaughter, but the fact that the dark face continues to exist unabated today, albeit in new forms such as right-wing gaybashing, “pro-life” murdering and crusading warmongering, as well as the constant attempts by fundamentalists to toss evolution teachings out of school classrooms and textbooks. I know that I have gotten much out of a book by the number of page corners folded over for future reference, and in this book, I lost count.
J. Stenesh takes on Christianity and Judaism right alongside the usual suspects of Islam, showing how terrorists and fanatics in all three religious camps are responsible for a tidal wave of bloodshed, abuse, fear and destruction. This book is bold, it is daring, it is right on the mark, and it should be required reading for anyone who claims to be “religious", for the line that divides the light side from the dark is often vague and indecipherable, and the more we can recognize the ugly side of religion, the more we can do to avoid it from spreading.