atheism, Book Review, deconversion, Memoir

Review: Portrait of an Infidel

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Portrait of an Infidel

By Michael Vito Tosto

There is a lot I appreciate about this book. First, the author thinks deeply and (usually) rationally. Also, he is a great writer.

I really enjoyed the story as he wrote of his time as a Christian and the reasons for his deconversion. He never wanted to become a non-believer, and he struggled against it for some time.

I can relate to the author’s gradually growing problems with Christianity, from becoming discouraged with the “promised” supernatural help (that never comes), to having to accept that the Bible just doesn’t make sense as the “inspired and infallible” word of God. The author, by the way, came to this conclusion after more serious Bible study than most Christians ever engage in.

Where I can not relate is in the melodramatic reaction of the author, who seems to be driven to the edge of insanity through his discovery of what he considers the truth. Sure, have a symbolic book burning. But the long, drawn out tales of driving through streams of tears, running and screaming through the rain, and lying in the fetal position just make me want to say, “Man up, Mr. Rational.”

We could praise this writing by saying the author is transparent, brutally honest, or the like. I just call it too much. He makes himself out to be a spoiled boy-man who can’t handle real life (or any type of criticism). He also sees himself as a victim throughout the story. (I’ve never before heard a man whining so much about his promiscuity, believing that it was only a result of damage from previous relationships.) His victim mentality, especially as it relates to his experience with religion, hurts his credibility as a philosopher.

Also, there are a few hints of dishonesty in this book. I’ll give one small example out of several. The author tells of his conversation with a Calvinist who claimed to believe what he did because “John Calvin said it.” This is a common urban legend, a story I’ve heard repeated about lots of “people.” I was raised a Calvinist, and remained a Calvinist for several decades, but I never once, not even from the hyper-Calvinists that I’ve known, met anyone who ever believed that Calvin was infallible; much less would they say it.

In part two of the book, the author aims to “destroy” Christianity. How does he do this? By repeating the arguments of Hitchens, Dawkins, and others. However, they do it a bit more convincingly.

I did enjoy much of this book, but it would be better if it had more focus. Is it a memoir of a rationally thinking young man finding his way to truth, or a memoir of a tantrum-throwing teenage girl, or a philosophical writing aimed at destroying religion? I’m not sure.

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A husband and daddy, striving to love his neighbors and be kind to his pets. I love life, good food, good beer, and a few good friends. My other interests are hiking, taking walks, lifting weights, reading books by manly authors like Hemmingway and Twain, and splitting fire wood with my bare hands.

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