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Interview: Joe Wenke author of ‘You Got To Be Kidding!’

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Comedian and cultural arsonist, Dr. Joe Wenke recently published a book called, “You Got To Be Kidding! The Cultural Arsonist's Literal Reading of The Bible.” The following is my interview with Dr. Wenke about his book.

Q: Are you a member of any of the local atheist groups in the greater Philadelphia area? If so, which ones?

I grew up in the Philadelphia area, but I’ve lived in Connecticut for many years, so I’m not a member of any Philadelphia area atheist groups. However, I’m very happy that I’ve been invited to participate in the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers Conference in Philadelphia this coming September. I’m looking forward to learning more about local Philadelphia atheist groups and meeting lots of interesting people. Also, I am a member of the Atheist Alliance of America, American Atheists and the Humanist Association of Connecticut.

Q: Your bio states that you grew up in a strict Catholic home in Philadelphia. Can you briefly tell us a little about your de-conversion?

I’ve always questioned everything since I was very young. I grew up in the days when going to Catholic school was like being in a penal institution. I hated every second of it. When I hit puberty, everything that I was taught conflicted with what I was feeling sexually and what I thought was rational and humane. It took a long time for me to completely reject everything that had been drilled into my head and develop my own humanist philosophy. Ironically, the catalyst was leaving Philly and attending a Catholic university, Notre Dame, where I gained some distance from my upbringing as well as the intellectual freedom to liberate myself from oppressive religious ideas and just think for myself.

Q: What motivated you to write your book, “You Got To Be Kidding?”

I wrote it for two reasons. First of all, I wanted to expose the absurdity of the Bible. How is the Bible absurd? Well, the most absurd thing about the Bible is that in all probability almost nothing of importance described in it ever actually happened.

What else? How about Mosaic Law, Old Testament morality? It’s not really morality at all. It’s more like tribal code. When I think of who today best embodies the values of Old Testament morality, it’s really the Taliban.

I also wrote the book to expose the fact that bigots use the Bible all the time to justify their bigotry against gay and transgender people. They also use it to defend the subordination of women to men.

Q: In your title, you call yourself a “Cultural Arsonist,” can you explain that a little and tell us what you mean by that phrase and how it applied to your book?

A cultural arsonist is somebody who sets fire to stupidity and burns up bigotry, metaphorically, of course. Being a cultural arsonist is also about pushing limits and boundaries—sort of like, if you see a line, cross it, or if you think you’ve gone too far, go further. I do this in my book through humor. The book shows that if you have a radical sense of humor and you read the Bible literally, you get satire rather than fundamentalism. You get skepticism rather than blind faith. You get humor instead of hatred.

Q: I understand there is an interesting story about the woman featured on the cover of your book, can you tell us about that?

The woman featured as a nun on the cover of my book is my good friend, Gisele Xtravaganza. Gisele is a very beautiful and successful transgender model. The original cover designer had proposed the idea of having a laughing, scandalized nun on the cover. I thought the attitude was a little heavy handed and obvious, but I liked the nun idea itself. I bought a nun costume online and gave it to Gisele. She tried it on and took a picture of herself. She looked so beautiful and angelic, very close to the image that we have on the cover, and I thought, oh, my God! That’s it. Jeffrey Michelson, the ultimate cover designer and the designer of my website, loved the image too but said quite rightly that it also had to be funny. He came up with the idea of having a cartoon balloon with the book’s title coming out of Gisele’s head. So, to me, the cover art really captures the point of view of the book, which is very funny while at the same time calling out bigotry against gay and transgender people.

Q: You have a lot of short chapters in your book. If you had to pick a favorite chapter, what would it be and why?

I think it would have to be Noah’s Ark. It’s one of the craziest stories in the Bible, and incredibly, lots of people actually believe that it happened--that a guy and his family somehow rounded up two or more pairs of every species on the planet, piled them all onto a boat and then survived a deluge that engulfed the entire earth.

Scientists have identified more than a million species, so how big was that boat? It’s just a guess, but I’m thinking something along the lines of the state of Rhode Island. And just how did Noah round up all of the animals? I mean who went out and picked up the polar bears and penguins. And what about the kangaroos and kiwis? Also, was every insect species on board, or was there a cut off point? Did roaches and mosquitoes make it? How about bed bugs?

Of course, if the story of Noah’s Ark were true, wouldn’t that make God the greatest mass murderer of all time? I don’t see how you can avoid that conclusion.

You Got To Be Kidding! The Cultural Arsonist's Literal Reading of The Bible” is available on Amazon.com and anywhere else books are sold. Learn more about the book at http://joewenke.org.

Please check out the Atheism 101 Series for frequently asked topics.

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