Minnesota native Vincent Bugliosi has spent much of his life mired in society's gutter.
As a Los Angeles district attorney, he successfully prosecuted every murder case he tackled, including Charles Manson's grisly murder of 8 1/2-month-pregnant actress Sharon Tate. He also has written several bestselling true-crime books, including one that argues that O.J. Simpson got away with murder -- literally.
These days, Bugliosi, 76, is dealing with evidence about a much loftier matter: God. His latest book, "Divinity of Doubt" (Vanguard Press, $26.99), challenges whether God exists and questions whether some of Christianity's major tenets -- including immortality of the soul, free will and the immaculate conception -- are supported by the Bible.
"As a lawyer and a writer of true-crime books, I evaluate evidence, and the evidence in this case is the Bible," he said, going on to argue that many principles of both Christianity and Judaism are not directly supported by it.
Growing up in Hibbing probably shaped his outlook on life and, by extension, led to the success of his career in a city where image is everything.
"I have never been influenced by celebrity, and I think coming from the Iron Range has a lot to do with that," he said.
That attitude also surfaces in his book. Many of his objections to organized religion hinge on people focusing on who said something, rather than what was said.
"I'm not smarter than anyone else," he insisted, demonstrating a classic Minnesota modesty that he expressed three times during a 40-minute phone call. "My greatest strength is the ability to see past who is saying something to look at just the evidence."
He grew up Roman Catholic -- "I even served as an altar boy at Blessed Sacrament Church," he said -- but became an agnostic as an adult, and that's what his book is about. He is quick to point out that an agnostic -- someone who argues that it is impossible to prove the existence of God -- is not the same as an atheist, who believes that God does not exist.
"I'm actually pretty harsh on atheists in the book," he said. "As an agnostic, I believe that the question of God's existence is impenetrable, that it is beyond human comprehension."
It started with O.J.
The book grew out of a brief passage in "Outrage," his 2008 book which argued that Simpson should have been convicted for the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. In an aside to the legal arguments, he noted that after the not-guilty verdict was announced, Nicole Simpson's mother whispered, "God, where are you?" and O.J. Simpson's mother issued a statement thanking God.
"So it was God's will that Simpson slaughtered Nicole? Really?" he wrote, adding, "When it comes to theology, I am too confused to be anything but an agnostic."
"When that book came out, I started getting all sorts of letters," he said. "They would have one sentence about the rest of the book, and then 10, 15 sometimes even 25 pages about that comment."
When it comes to the reaction to his new book, he describes himself as "deeply perplexed." As someone who spent his career arguing cases, he was looking forward to debating the points he raises.
"I love to be challenged" in arguments, he said. "I'm saying some things here that could shake the foundation of Christianity, but people are just reading right over them. And the only reason I can think of is that they're just ignoring me."
Perhaps he's not enough of a celebrity? He laughed at the suggestion.
"There have been so many prominent people from Hibbing," he said. "There's Bob Dylan, of course. And Kevin McHale. Jeno Paulucci lived there. And Roger Maris, although he grew up in North Dakota, was born there.
"I was back in Hibbing six or seven years ago for a program at the high school. Kevin McHale was there, too, and he teased me that I might be famous in Los Angeles, but in Hibbing, I'm just a minor celebrity."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392