Book Review: Confessions of a French Atheist

Ecclesiastes tells us that “there is nothing new under the sun,” and this certainly holds true when it comes to Christian apologetics. Apparently, it is also true that nothing is lost in translation if the apologetics originates from outside the Anglosphere. Case in point: Guillaume Bignon’s memoir Confessions of a French Atheist: How God Hijacked My Quest to Disprove the Christian Faith.

Well-educated, athletic, musically talented, good-looking: the young Bignon, by his own account, had a lot going for him when he vacationed in the Caribbean and was smitten by a beautiful American woman, a born-again Christian who insisted on abstaining from sex before marriage. Dumbfounded and frustrated by this challenge, Bignon sets out to (at least) understand where she is coming from, hoping to find some chink in her religious armor; instead, he embarks on a long and gradual path that leads to acceptance of his own Christian faith and an insistence that it’s all very logical, historically sound, and scientifically compatible.

Which, of course, it isn’t. In this slim volume, Bignon trots out all the usual justifications for believing in the Bible (and therefore the Resurrection of Jesus). He characterizes the Gospels as historically well-supported and reliable sources based on eyewitness accounts by identifiable authors, when in fact most Biblical scholars concede there is nearly no contemporary non-Biblical evidence for Jesus and recognize that the Gospels are anonymous works written a generation after the death of Jesus, drawing upon now-lost oral or written sources. (Imagine, for example, how reliable you would consider anonymously published books written in the 2020s about an obscure person who died in the 1980s, and for whom word-of-mouth testimony is the only source information. That’s what we’re dealing with—and worse—when considering the reliability of the Gospels.) 

Bignon repeats the oft-repeated (but never logical or supportable) claim that objective morality can only come from a Creator God. “If God is the creator of the universe and all it contains, including the human race, we are morally obligated to obey his commandments.” Why would that be so? What is the necessary connection between procreative ability and moral authority? By this logic, all children owe blind obedience to their parents, simply because their parents conceived them. In any event, it’s entirely possible to imagine a Creator God who is simultaneously an unpredictable psychopath for whom we owe nothing but eternal fear and loathing. (Of course, if a Creator God demands eternal obeisance to avoid an unnecessary eternity of unspeakable suffering, we would do well to at least try to pretend we love and obey Him, hoping beyond hope He’s not also a mind-reader. Good luck with that.) Bignon, like most Christians, claims that God’s morality is objective morality, without sufficiently explaining why the God of the Bible condones pillage, rape, slavery, murder, and human sacrifice, depending on the circumstances. Objective, indeed.

Bignon’s account of his early explorations into the Bible are laughably naïve. He is impressed by stories from the New Testament in which Jewish leaders “tried to ensnare [Jesus] publicly, [but] his answers always left them speechless.” Well, of course they did! Assuming these accounts are even accurate, who thinks Messianic propogandists would include a collection of stories in which their guy was repeatedly stumped by his pious interlocutors?

Bignon also mistakenly (but surely at this point knowingly) relies on self-referential information in the Bible as objective proof of its veracity. Why, the apostle Paul “received a direct revelation from God that was later authenticated by Peter, James, and John”! By that logic we know Harry Potter existed, because otherwise who was Hermione and Ron talking to? Even if the New Testament could be shown to be based on sound history, we are still understandably free (Bignon’s protestations notwithstanding) to reject its supernatural claims in the absence of extraordinarily sound evidence. Even if you could prove an itinerate first-century Jewish rabbi was executed by Roman authorities, you’d have exactly zero evidence that he cured the sick, rose from the dead, or ascended to Heaven by surfing on a cloud. (Bignon appears unaware that Thomas Jefferson, certainly no idiot, used blade and glue and his own good sense to create a version of the Gospels that retained the philosophical teachings of and historical claims about Jesus, while omitting the unsupported claims of miracles.)

Bignon also (weakly) tackles the eternal science-versus-the-supernatural argument. “Science doesn’t establish that the world must necessarily follow the laws of nature, excluding any kind of supernatural intervention, or that nothing exists outside of nature.” Of course, it’s true that science is based on the premise that the universe is predictable and discernable (a premise, by the way, that has proven to be true time and again, and that has led, over the last 200 years, to humanity learning more than in the previous 10,000 years. The average fifth grader in the twenty-first century who’s paid attention in school knows more than Benjamin Franklin, one of the most revered and learned individuals of the eighteenth century. Science does not, however, claim that the world must necessarilyfollow the laws of nature; science simply demonstrates that it does. If something is observable today that was not observable yesterday, it’s not supernatural; it’s simply an expansion of what we understand as natural. Besides, there’s nothing in religion that says that God necessarily will advocate the same moral system for eternity. What theist would deny that God has the ability to reverse course, and suddenly proclaim that all the saints of Heaven must now trade places with all the inmates of Hell? You have to take it on faith that He would never do such a thing, but to rule out the possibility would be to draw boundaries around an omnipotent deity.

The only thing distinctive to English-speakers about Bignon’s memoir is that the critics of religion that he addresses are mostly Francophones; e.g., Voltaire, Baron d’Olbach, Michel Onfray, and André Comte-Sponville.

(Never mind that Bignon has not embarked on an exploration of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other religious -ism. Apparently, his encounter with Protestant Christianity in Pursuit of a Girl—who, spoiler alert, doesn’t work out in the end anyway—was so convincing that he’s found no need to make sure these other belief systems aren’t also, or even more, true.)

In the end, mainstream Christians who bother to read would undoubtedly cheer this book (“A godless Frenchie came over to our side! Hallelujah!”). Non-Christian readers looking for something new or freshly challenging from the world of apologetics will come away feeling ripped off.

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