How to fight bad books.

A number of bloggers who I read once in a while have been discussing a book called Lebor Feasa Runda. The possessor of this book, Stephen Akins, claims it is an ancient Celtic manuscript which describes Druidic ideas from before the rise of Christianity. He has recently published an English translation. It has never been offered to a reputable university for authentication; moreover, its content is characterised by neo-Nazi white supremacy.

I don’t need to say more about it than what has already been said by The Wild Hunt blog and others. What I’m curious about, however, is why people fall for this sort of thing.

In a conversation about a similar diatribe of dogmatic dung which somehow inexplicably got published, someone said to me:

“I know there are some historical inaccuracies, but the author has some good ideas.”

That is to say, the author pulled some philosophical concepts from out of his hat, mixed them into a poetic series of wise sounding pronouncements, and claims about facts from history or language that may or may not be verifiable. This will be done without systematic argument or close analysis of hidden presuppositions. However, it is often done in the mode of a confident assertion: the author appears certain and committed to his beliefs: he claims they are real and true, and he does not waffle with expressions of relativism. People are impressed by that kind of confidence, even if they are not otherwise inclined to be gullible. I suspect that this is the strategy which enables Akins and the like to be successful.

So, how do we fight it?

One way to fight it is to not talk about it: for blog entries about his stuff (including this one) only increase the amount of exposure and publicity he gets. Remember your Oscar Wilde: “Speak of me well, but speak of me poorly – but speak of me.”

Another way is to write better books. This is my own preferred strategy.

Those not in a position to write their own (better!) book can talk about better books, and do what they can to increase their publicity. So, the next time someone mentions Akins’ stuff, or Monroe’s 21 Lessons, or the like, try countering with: “But have you read Myers? Or Erynn Laurie? Or Greer? Or Philip Carr-Gomm? What about Emma Restall Orr? What about Isaac Bonewits? Those writers have interesting ideas too. And they have much more professional research habits. They want to inform and inspire people, just like the writer you mentioned. But they don’t want to just placate readers with seemingly interesting ideas. They also want to pose the deepest questions, the most serious problems. They want to engage the world in a real conversation, so that their readers will be better people, and our shared world will be a better place to live. For example, in one of my favourite books, the author said something really amazing that made me change my beliefs for the better. Here, let me show you…”

This may well be the case not only for one short book published by one person. This may well work for any noble and socially just cause. I think the effort to quell Akins’ book should be seen as just one part of a larger effort to resist racism everywhere. And for that larger effort, good people should not just ignore it and hope it goes away by itself. Good people should be prepared to act.

I’m convinced that what good people need to do is not simply, nor only, denounce the falsehoods. They must also uphold the truth. For “falsehood yields to truth”, as a wise man once said. But this only happens when the truth is respected: “let him care for the truth, it will care for him”. The meaning of the Druidic motto, “The Truth Against the World”, is that it is the Druidic task to assert the truth when ‘the world’ is about to succumb to ignorance. If history teaches anything, it is that knowledge is stronger than ignorance and truth is stronger than lies, but lies and ignorance always win when those who stand for truth and knowledge do nothing.

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14 Responses to How to fight bad books.

  1. wire_mother says:

    to ignore it would leave it in shadow to fester and grow. exposed to the light of scrutiny, it will shrivel into ash.

  2. Very thought-provoking, and by far the most rational response to outright fraud that I’ve read; although I do not completely agree with your position.

    I would begin the “…and have you read other better authors?” with a little exposition about misrepresentation of sources.

  3. Geez, just when we thought it was safe to come out from the trees, eh.

    I was just looking at the book’s description on Amazon, and like all books on Amazon there’s a section of “people who bought this book also bought…” Two of your’s are showing there, along with books by pretty much every other well respected author in Druish and Celtic subjects. Most people will realize there’s no connection, but to the untrained eye, this won’t look good.

    B, I suggest (if you haven’t already) that you prepare a statement that you’re not connected with this guy and you don’t endorse this book. Hopefully you won’t have to use it, but I think you might need to be ready, just in case. Hey, I may be a Druid, but I’m also an old Girl Guide, and we have a motto for that too… Be Prepared!

  4. lupabitch says:

    I have a few people with book ideas that I routinely poke every so often in the hopes that I’ll annoy them to the point that they actually get around to writing/publishing already. So far they’re still my friends 😉

  5. steven_akins says:

    Since the publication of my translation of the Lebor Feasa Runda, there have been innumerable blogs posted on the internet by various talking heads and spin doctors seeking to acquire some notoriety by perpetuating assorted half-truths and other misinformation in regard to what the Lebor Feasa Runda actually is, what it says, and my own agenda in publishing it. In nearly every case, these defamatory remarks and accusations have been completely based on hearsay, rumors, and other third-hand information, with no attempt on the part of those spreading these uninformed allegations to actually take the book in hand, read it, and see exactly what it is and has to say. Many of those seeking to condemn the Lebor Feasa Runda, such as Erynn Rowan Laurie (author of Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom), C. Lee Vermeers (co-author of The CR FAQ), and Phillip A. Bernhardt-House (The Phillupic Hymns) are authors themselves (albeit far left-leaning ones), who have published their own books pertaining to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism and no doubt see the book that I have published as a competing title which may stand in the way of selling their own books and promoting their own agendas (which are notably characterized by feminism, multiculturalism, and alternative sexuality). Thus as a right-leaning conservative Pagan author who has no interest in promoting these causes, it comes as little surprise that those who embrace such philosophies should resort to hysterics and irrational rhetoric as a means of discouraging the reading public from making up their own minds and judging the validity of my work for themselves in an unprejudiced manner unaffected by outside influences.

    One of the main allegations that have been put forth against the Lebor Feasa Runda is that it is somehow racist in nature. Let me assure any potential readers that nothing in the Lebor Feasa Runda could in any way be characterized as being racist in either tone or content. The book contains a number of old Irish sagas pertaining to the Celtic gods, the Celts themselves, and outlines the means by which the Celts interacted with their gods in a religious manner. Nothing in the text pertains to other races or ethnicities, nor offers any judgment as to the inherent qualities or character of any cultural group or nationality outside of Ireland. As an individual whose own ethnicity and heritage stems from that culture, my interest in it, it’s spirituality, traditions, and native literature should be apparent.

    Another criticism that has been put forth against my work is that it was never submitted to peer review. As an independent scholar, it has never been my duty or my obligation to have any of my work vetted through an academic review process. Furthermore I intentionally avoided this as a means of protecting the privacy of living individuals related to the German author of the transcription of the Lebor Feasa Runda which I have translated, as it was their wish to retain their rights to privacy in the interest of their own personal involvements and associations which have no bearing on the work itself. For this reason I have not sought to publish the original German transcription of the Lebor Feasa Runda, but have chosen instead to make my own English translation of it available to readers who may find its contents to be of interest and use in pursuing their own spiritual path toward enlightenment. I have made every effort to render an accurate translation of the material presented to me, and have purposely done so in a style and manner that I feel is befitting a religious text of what I believe to be of great antiquity. Those who disagree are free to do so, but the text should be allowed to stand on its own merits, and the right to accept or reject it should rest with the individual reader, and not with those whose own self-serving interests are tied to discouraging its intended audience from arriving at their own opinion of it.

    Steven L. Akins

  6. brigidsblest says:

    They also want to pose the deepest questions, the most serious problems.

    Regrettably, I think this is part of why some people fall for books like Akins’, and turn away from good ones. They don’t want to think about deep questions or serious problems. They see religion as just another form of infotainment — fun when it’s only “interesting”, and scary and to be avoided when it goes any deeper than that. This sort of lack of spiritual curiosity is a dangerous thing, IMO.

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