How To Be A Charlatan: Background

I’ve been an atheist and untutored skeptic since my student days, but, having an easy-going nature, didn’t feel evangelical about it. In recent years, however, the strident militancy of some religious groups, both Christian and Islamic, as well as the ridiculous posturings of the Church of England, which tries to save its prestige and privileges by pretending to speak for people who never darken its doors, have begun to annoy me. I’m also annoyed by every sort of quack therapist, psychic and prophet. Or perhaps I’m becoming old and grumpy.

Being between novels I had time to think of these matters, and having a degree in sociology and a background in history, I felt I was reasonably equipped to analyse the phenomenon of charlatanism.How to be a Charlatan is the product of that analysis. I chose to frame it as a manual for self-improvement in order to parody a genre which is itself a fruitful field for charlatans; but, too, it gave me an interesting perspective and some insights I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t adopted the charlatan’s viewpoint. The book is therefore set out as a set of lessons illustrated with historical examples. The tone is humorous – or blasphemous – it really depends where you are coming from.

Many of my illustrations are drawn from Mormonism. This is deliberate because, in my opinion, it’s very easy to demonstrate that Mormonism is false and its origins are fraudulent. I say it because the religion makes specific historical claims that can be convincingly disproved using conventional scientific and historical methods. This makes it possible to examine Mormon beliefs and practices dispassionately for their general significance, untroubled by worries that God may after all be on their side. In short this particular religion makes a good specimen, the equivalent of a laboratory rat. Otherwise I have no particular animus against Mormons or the LDS Church. I have a sneaking admiration for Joe Smith; and Mormon people seem to be perfectly decent and the contemporary LDS Church as respectable and ethical as most other churches. In fact other Christians are far more hostile towards them than I am. Presumably this hostility comes from the duty to love their neighbour.

If you are interested in skeptical thinking or seek information on any matter being promoted by someone you think is a quack or crank, I strongly recommend The Skeptics’ Dictionary at:

If you would like to read a sample, click here

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