"Accidental Gods" by Anna Della Subin

Review by Borodutch

I have a problematic relationship with this book. It is made artificially longer and obscure by the author. It consists of two perfectly equal parts: unnecessary exposition and oversized quotes. Overall, the ideas of "Accidental Gods" are exciting but blown out of proportion. It almost feels like Anna tried to make a documentary book "interesting" to read by adding metaphors and other non-fiction tools. But this approach, unfortunately, rarely works. In the case of "Accidental Gods," it obscures the main topic of documenting and presenting the issues when usual humans became deified by various groups.

For some reason, the author politicizes the anecdotes a bit too much. Yes, the oppressors tended to use deification to keep exploiting people a few centuries ago — but this oversimplifies the issue of oppression today. We can't claim that what happened ages ago causes racism today, for instance. It simply shifts the blame from the current system that needs changes to the fictitious "tradition" that was wrong.

Quoting mentally ill people (almost always the case with cult followers and even cult creators) is acceptable when presenting a case. What is not ok is trying to rationalize the quotes and try to "learn" anything from them. What the author does here is, ironically, what she writes about — giving an unnecessary subject too much spotlight and trying to find meaning where there is none.

But maybe the actual issue was my expectations. I expected to learn from the book, not to get a politically biased lecture. At first, I thought that the author taught me something great: I did not know that the "cargo cults" had no evidence. Anna suggested that they were made up on a whim to justify racism. That's an excellent idea — but then I did a fact-check. My disappointment was immeasurable. Why would anyone write a blatant lie in a book without checking the facts? There is, indeed, a variety of cargo cult cases documented with evidence.

So what did I learn from the book? Well, there were 6-7 cases of wrongful deification of humans worldwide. That's neat. How do I apply this knowledge to the basic understanding of modern religions? I don't know. Maybe the author did explain this somehow, but it got lost among long non-fiction-esque expositions, endless quotes of mentally unstable subjects, and the author's attempts to decipher them.