Manifest destiny by Jason Sylvester

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Matt Fleming quizzes Jason Sylvester on his new atheist book and why he believes religion is the real enemy to humankind 

Being a vocal atheist isn’t easy. Well, admittedly, it’s a damn sight easier now than it’s ever been at any other point in history but, nevertheless, many people across the world still label the godless as ‘empty’, ‘provocative’ and even ‘arrogant’. So when you write a book which effectively attacks the religious beliefs that many people hold dear, then choosing a pseudonym can be a wise move to avoid any repercussions.

And that’s just what one Hongkonger has done for his debut, Manifest Insanity, which aims at ‘debunking the myth’ of Christianity through a historical journey – and has its sights targeted on the extremist evangelical Christians of the USA. This author has used the pen-name of Diogenes of Mayberry, a reference to the establishment-challenging philosopher of ancient Greece. However, just for Time Out Hong Kong, he’s revealing his identity. He’s Jason Sylvester, a 42-year-old Canadian project manager and religious history buff who lives and works in Hong Kong. He’s a proud atheist and is hoping to ruffle some feathers here, in the US and across the world generally.

Sylvester, whose only previous publications have been blogs on atheism and articles on faith, was raised a Protestant in Canada. He also received two years of Baptist indoctrination at a private school in his teens and he confesses, as a result, he ‘became a tad more evangelical than the norm for a year or so’. But it wasn’t long before the Hong Kong Atheist Society member started to really think things through and calculated that there must be no God – and that evangelical Christianity was at the root of America’s evils. Therefore, he concluded, religion is a dangerous tool – and people must be educated to free themselves of it. So that’s the mission he’s embarking on, starting with this new tome.

Manifest Insanity is ‘a social commentary directed at the Christian right in the US and a satirical history highlighting some of the major doctrinal origins of their beliefs’, according to Sylvester. “The evangelicals use these beliefs to push their conservative agenda on to the rest of American society by claiming that the Bible is literal and without error,” he says. “My ire was aroused by the pushing of creationist dogma into science classrooms as an ‘alternative’ to evolution. In 2009, this issue was making news in HK and it really fired up my passion and got me writing.”

Initially, Sylvester’s book started off as a parody of classic film Dr Strangelove but he brought the story into the modern day given the ‘polarisation between the American secular left and the Christian right’. “The book evolved into a history of Judeo-Christian doctrines – albeit with my own satirical slant,” he says. It’s aimed at liberal, secular readers and ‘open-minded’ religious people, also ‘picking off a few moderate Christians who are sitting on the fence’, says Sylvester. And he says there are Hong Kong readers who will find the history interesting. “I think it’s about damn time the atheist movement is gaining momentum across the globe,” he says. “The ‘nones’ are the fastest growing demographic and increasingly younger generations are throwing off the indoctrination of their childhoods. The days of religious domination over the thinking of the majority of people are numbered. This will also translate into a gradual reduction in the socio-political power, especially in the heavily evangelical US, of faith groups from being able to push their agendas on to society at large.”

Sylvester notes that there seems to be a sharp rise in evangelical Christianity in Hong Kong of late. “I am rather dismayed by the spread of evangelical Christianity here, especially among Legco members,” he says. “So I say to all Christians: read my book. If you claim your faith is so important to your life, then understand the history of your beliefs and don’t just take on faith what you’ve been told to believe through your indoctrination.” Who’s up for the challenge, then?

Manifest Insanity is published by Smashwords, priced $77.50. See diogenesofmayberry.com for more details on the book and the Hong Kong Atheist Society.

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