Richard Dawkins wants Pope Benedict XVI arrested when the pontiff visits England in the fall. Canadian National Post columnist Robert Fulford rightfully slammed the Dawkins proposal as “a publicity stunt to denigrate the Pope and his Church.” In doing so, Fulford channeled Mary Eberstadt and her new book, The Loser Letters, a full-length satirical slap-down of the whole lot of contemporary, out-of-control atheists.
“The Loser Letters” were first published on National Review Online in the spring of 2008. Ignatius Press has now made them bookshelf-ready. Revisiting the conception, Eberstadt talks to NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the Letters.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Who is A. F. Christian and why does anyone need to know her?
MARY EBERSTADT: A. F. (“A Former”) Christian is the book’s protagonist, and the Loser Letters are written in her voice. She’s a worldly, bubbly twentysomething girl who has a religious conversion story to share. For reasons that are revealed as the Letters go on, she’s chosen to tell it to her personal rock stars, the New Atheists. Along the way she gives these “Brights” plenty of earnest advice about how to strengthen their movement against the believers — a.k.a. the “Dulls.”LOPEZ
: Where did you meet her?
EBERSTADT: In a way, A. F. is everygirl — or at least every girl who’s had the experience of losing her faith in college and then moving out into the secularized world. I’ve seen glimpses of her in lots of young women over the years, especially now. There’s even a little of me in A. F., though she obviously gets to do some things I don’t (or don’t anymore).
LOPEZ: Is there anything significant about her age? Is that decade, our 20s, when we tend to get “lost” in one way or another?
EBERSTADT: The early- to mid-20s can be singularly tough on unmoored young women, I think, especially in these feminized, secularized, pornified times. That’s what makes Tom Wolfe’s Charlotte Simmons so brilliant. He zeros in on that unique vulnerability of girls today and brings it harrowingly to life.
In a sense, A. F.’s story begins where Charlotte’s ends — as one possible way that such a girl, battered by some of the more toxic elements of contemporary life, might look a few years after college.
LOPEZ: You typically write — and we typically publish — relatively straight non-fiction, newsy analysis, and commentary. What made you go the “comic tale” route?
EBERSTADT: In the first place, making at least a little fun of the New Atheism was irresistible. After all, this movement has grown fat and happy by painting religious people as grim and humorless and self-righteous — all while writing tracts that exhibit plenty of those features themselves, as A. F. points out in the book by quoting them. And quite beyond the “New Atheism,” it seemed overdue to throw at least a few punches back against the nonstop pummeling of religion — and to try and do it in a way that would make people laugh as well as think.
Satire also felt right for another reason. From a critical point of view, it’s disarming. The worst you can say is that it’s not funny — but if other people are out there saying that it is, then you run the risk of looking like what A. F. Christian would call a “honking dork.”