Book Review: Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

So have you ever read any ancient myths and thought to yourself, This is some pretty crazy stuff!

Of course you have! But usually those dry textbooks discuss bestiality and cannibalism like they’re just items on a grocery list. Don’t you wish someone could just narrate these stories with the outlandish attitude that they deserve?

Well, Cory O’Brien is on that, bro. Founder of BetterMyths.com, O’Brien rewrites ancient myths and other tales from the modern dude’s perspective in Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes (2013). The result? Hilarious!

Here’s an excerpt from his retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone:

So Demeter gets real depressed
And when Demeter gets depressed
all the plants die
and everything freezes
and being alive just kind of starts to suck
because she is the goddess of like
crops and seasons and whatnot.
And see, up to this point
no one has even heard of winter
but now they are getting nothing but winter
nonstop and out of control
24/7/365
except actually maybe only for several months
but either way
shit is intolerable.

Despite the title, O’Brien includes myths from around the world, from Norse and Egyptian, to Mayan and Hindu.

And controversially, Judeo-Christian. Now there’s absolutely no doubt that the world’s most popular origin story shares similarities from the religions that came before it. But I get that some people get a little freaked out when painting God with the same brush as Zeus and Thor.

And nothing against Thor, but I’m more of a Loki girl!

Putting all that aside, if you have even the smallest sense of humor, you’ll get a kick out of this version of Genesis:

On day four God invents the sun and the moon
and the stars
which begs the question
WHERE WAS THE LIGHT COMING FROM BEFORE?
And then he’s like “Oh shit, the moon.
Better go to sleep.”
This dude needs an awful lot of sleep for an omnipotent dude
which may explain why wars happen.

Now if you’re not impressed with these tidbits, don’t worry. It was really hard to pick some blog-appropriate excerpts, since this whole book is super profane and raunchy. I especially enjoyed the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh and the secret behind Scientology.

Not gonna happen, Tom Cruise!

There was also quite a twist toward the end. If you’d like to find out for yourself, by all means stop reading, but I can’t review this book without mentioning it and honestly, there are worse spoilers out there (I’m looking at you, “Game of Thrones” Instagram. Close call with those comments!)

O’Brien concludes with “The Prevailing Creation Myth,” aka The Big Bang. So I’m reading this with my fist metaphorically in the air as science finally gets recognized like it should…but then he ends with this:

Me, I don’t see much of a difference between
Science and Religion.
First off, in order to successfully apply science
there are going to be certain things that you’re
taking on faith

Although I’m placated by his assertion that he doesn’t agree with people trying to unconstitutionally place Creation Science beside evolution in schools, his attempt to play referee between scientists and fundamentalists trivializes the real issues at hand.

I absolutely encourage everyone to give themselves a proper education in comparative religion, to incite skepticism and doubt, and to question the ideological status quo. I also recommend that your spirituality be based on love and acceptance of others, not hate and fear-mongering.

But that’s the secular side of me talking, and my book blog is not the place for me to de-convert anybody. On one hand, I agree with O’Brien because I want the world to honor the freedom for–and from–religion.

On the other hand, I understand that this an arduous mission, and sometimes you need to stir up the pot and demand a voice…even when the majority would prefer you stay quiet. When it comes to fighting for equal rights, playing nice is not always an option!

I may be an activist, but here I’m Book Club Babe first, reviewing books so you can decide whether to check them out for yourself.

My verdict? If ancient myths tickle your fancy, and you’re already familiar with a large number of them, I think that you’ll find Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes amusing. O’Brien’s blog also covers literary tales from Shakespeare, Tolkien, Dante, and Dickens, so there’s plenty more chuckles for bookworms.

In fact, I think that a blog is a better medium for these kinds of re-imaginings, since the experience of reading them in this book suffers from slight monotony. Great in the beginning, but the point is belabored once you get accustomed to the comedic style. Probably better to read in short bursts!

Thus, this book was fun to read for a while, but now I better get back to the witty humor in Catch-22!

No Flying Spaghetti Monster, O’Brien? For shame!

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RIP Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

I’m forgoing today’s “Masterpiece Monday,” so I can express my thoughts on the late great Christopher Hitchens. Sure, I’m a bit late considering that most media are more concerned with Kim Jong Il’s death right now, but how do you figure out what to say about a man who changed your life?

For those of us who knew of Christopher Hitchens, his death on Thursday was not surprising. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t heart-breaking. Hitchens was a famous atheist from England whose reputation as a debater could not be matched. And the only thing that could match his excessive smoking and drinking was his esophageal cancer, which killed him at only 62 years old.

I became familiar with Hitchens in high school, as I educated myself on atheism and read the works of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I read excerpts of Hitchens’ God is not Great and loved watching his debates on YouTube. His curmudgeonly attitude and harsh words against religion obviously upset a lot of people, but I was amazed at how many commenters online respected his refusal to be sorry for his beliefs, as well as admired his quick wit and riveting words.

Hitchens gave me the courage to live as a loud and proud atheist. One smart reader noticed that I prefer to call myself “secular” on my blog, but I only do that for your guys’ benefit, not mine. This is a book blog, and my atheism–although vital to my life–does not need to be mentioned in all my posts. But make no mistake: ever since de-converting as a teenager, I have never had doubts or felt apologetic for my views.

Which is why I love Hitchens so much. Many journalists made offensive comments to him as he struggled with cancer, such as whether he wished to recant in his final days, but he took all the ignorance with grace. And if Hitchens could read when The Huffington Post asked “What happens when an atheist dies?”, he would probably laugh and reply, “The same that happens to everybody else.”

Hitchens didn’t need saving, no prayers and miracles. He chose to smoke so heavily, and he never regretted his lifestyle. We shouldn’t hope that God will let him into Heaven anyway, and we shouldn’t wish him a torturous existence in Hell. He didn’t fret about his afterlife, so we shouldn’t either. Instead we should respect his beliefs and focus on all the good he achieved while he lived.

So how exactly did Hitchens change my life? By showing me that if atheists want to be accepted by society, we need to lead by example. We shouldn’t be afraid to share our thoughts and educate others, to fight for our civil rights and remind people that the majority shouldn’t rule by default. Show everybody that you don’t need faith to be a kind, considerate, generous, and moral person.

Whether you’re a staunch atheist, a devout Christian, or someone in between, you can benefit by reading Hitchens. He’ll broaden your mind as he blows it with all his exquisite arguments. You may not agree with a word he says, but at least you will be encouraged to ask questions and not take everything for granted.

Because that’s what it means to be an atheist. We believe that this life is all we get, so we better make the most of it.