Book Review: John Compere

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Astorian of Astoria, Oregon.

If God exists, He or She is going to be rather peeved at John Compere.

The former Astoria resident’s new book describes his belief that there is no evidence to prove the existence of a supreme being.

It’s not an opinion he came to easily. His 218-page book reveals he has really worked to get there, from a family history of ministers, a childhood of churchgoing, mission work in Alaska, college (where doubts developed) and seminary. Doubts festered as Compere traveled through pastorates, earning counseling credentials, then master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

Along the way, he describes how he shifted away from preaching to clinical psychology and public speaking, his first marriage broke up (though amiably), and he continued to enjoy singing sacred music and offer a philosophy on “living ethically and treating others with kindness as the best route to ‘life satisfaction.'”

Compere sets out to summarize the history of religion, focusing primarily on Christianity, with a quick tour through the significance of Wycliffe (who blasted the Catholic hierarchy for its wealth), Jan Hus, whose last words before being burned at the stake for heresy were to predict Luther’s appearance, and Luther himself, whose dissent sparked the Protestant Reformation.

Though Compere concedes Luther was his early hero, some of his writings against Jews (suggesting burning synagogues, cutting out tongues) were adopted by Hitler to help justify his belief that they were “agents of the devil.”

Compere lived in Astoria from 1996 to 2008, where he worked as associate director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. He and his wife, Joyce Compere, were active in the North Coast community; she served on the Astoria City Council and founded the Astoria Sunday Market.

Now living in retirement in Chandler, Ariz., Compere continues some public speaking. He will address the American Humanist Association’s national convention in Boston in April. While he doesn’t want to force his beliefs on anyone, he is blunt in his disdain. “The fact that someone believes that the Bible is the infallible word of God doesn’t necessarily make it so,” he writes, saying he no longer accords respect to beliefs that are “manifestly senseless.”

Despite this approach, he commends the Christian church for its contributions to architecture, art, music, hospitals and literature. But instead of preaching, he suggests church leaders should concentrate on their social mission to help the needy.

Attacking the powerful for feeding off the powerless, he writes, “The church could make its primary mission the effort to ameliorate some of that inequality and make life on this side of the grave not so grave for so many of the earth’s inhabitants.”

Throughout the book, Compere sees no evidence of God’s existence creating man and directing his actions. He derides prayer, virgin birth and belief in miracles; he trashes Catholics and Protestants just about equally, though he praises Unitarians for flexible thinking.

Compere suggests that today’s attempt by some Christians to contaminate public school classrooms with Old Testament creationism –as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution – one day will be seen as akin to the Catholic hierarchy’s attempts to suppress Copernicus. In 2010, everyone knows the Earth revolves around the sun. In the 16th century, it was heresy.

The ironically titled book covers well-worked ground, casting doubt on the veracity of the gospels, in part because scholars say they were not contemporaneous accounts of the life of Jesus. He likely will offend with his comparison of Jesus’ life to Paul Bunyan, the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. But his tone lacks the vitriol of comparable works like that of the eminently dislikeable author Christopher Hitchens, who covered the theme in “God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything,” in 2009, highlighting atrocities committed in the name of religion throughout history.

But Compere writes without bombast, in a softer, thus ultimately more persuasive tone, though unable to make Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” or adopt Hebrews 11:1, “Faith … the evidence of things not seen.”