Saturday, August 14, 2010

Losing My Religion (memoir)

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America - and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell

I came across this title purely by chance; I saw it on a friend's to-read list on The title immediately struck a chord with me, as I've spent the last few years being somewhat preoccupied with having lost my religion (and faith) and trying to fit in in a community whose vast majority is made up of devout Christians. I wanted to read about someone else's experience going down the path of believer to non-believer.

The book didn't disappoint. In it, William Lobdell (who has a great blog) recounts how he became "born-again." Delving headlong into his new found faith, he prayed and prayed for a job covering the "religion beat" with the Los Angeles Times. After a number of years, his prayers are answered. But covering religious stories showed the author the ugly underbelly of organized religion - particularly in the Catholic church, but in all major religions as well - including horrific sexual abuse against children by the clergy and the church's not only covering up the crimes but vilifying the victims, mass abuse of donor funds, and fraudulent faith healers, among other things. Most of all, what Mr. Lobdell witnessed over time was the fact that the vast majority of people who profess to walk in the light of the Lord talk the talk but don't walk the walk. They don't regularly practice acts of Christian charity, tolerance and compassion, statistically they do not live morally superior lives to those of their unbelieving counterparts, they commit the same crimes of law, ethics, and morality, and they have the same struggles as everyone else. In other words, believing in God and professing to live according to the laws of the bible does not generally improve the quality of anyone's life; generally speaking, God is not making a difference in people's lives - not even devout Christians' lives - because God doesn't exist.

These observations finally led the author to the conclusion that there is no God, that God is only a myth and a fantasy created by people. At first the revelation is frightening and painful to him, but eventually he discovers a new found peace, knowing that this short life here on earth is our one and only shot, and we should make the most - and the best - of it.

Although my journey from belief to non-belief was far less dramatic than the author's, so much of what he lays out in this book resonates with me. This is a very compelling read, for believers and non-believers alike.

I read this on my iPad, so can't pass it along, but go buy yourself a copy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

A series of intertwined short stories, this book is a portrayal of a small east coast town and some of its inhabitants, all struggling the same universal struggles all people have. The book's main character is a cantankerous junior high school math teacher, Olive Kitteridge, whose story winds its way through the book, with some of the stories focusing on her and some only featuring her presence in passing. She's a hard nut to crack; it's hard to like her, and I found myself not liking in her things I see in myself that I don't like, so in that way it became somewhat self-reflective for me. By the end of the book, the reader hopefully comes to have compassion for Olive, even if they never do end up liking her. In a lot of ways, she's the best and the worst in all of us, and what I liked about her character was that she was very real - not beautiful or brilliant or especially charitable, but rather just an average, flawed human being.

The prose is rich and beautiful; I was reminded of Kent Haruf, all of whose books I read and loved.

I read this for my book club and am offering it up for grabs to my book club friends first.

The Case For Christ

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

I was asked to read this book by an acquaintance who is a devout Christian. My hunch is that she hoped that this book might convince me that not only was Jesus Christ in fact a real person who lived and breathed, but that he is/was the son of God, that he did, in fact, die nailed to a cross in order to save mankind from sin, that he was in fact resurrected, etc., etc., and of course, if all this is true, then it must be true that God exists. All of this is stuff of which I am not a believer; hence the attempt to convince me.

Written by a self-proclaimed life-long skeptic who finds God and converts to Christianity, the author uses his background as an investigative journalist to "investigate" the authenticity of Jesus Christ (and therefore, God). While he certainly has a flair for dramatic writing, he fails miserably to actually make anything resembling a solid case for the existence of Jesus, as the Messiah or anything else. While he purports to set forth "evidence," sprinkled liberally throughout the book are statements like "We must assume . . . " and "It is unlikely that . . ." and "It can be presumed that . . ." In other words, a lot of supposition, which is not evidence. His supposed "eyewitness accounts" of Jesus consist of the assumption that the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark and Luke; the fact is that (a) there is also no evidence that any of those men are anything more than mythical figures, and (b) there is no evidence that they wrote the gospels. Mr. Strobel sets forth his "case" by interviewing a number of "experts," all of whom, conveniently, are devout believers. He doesn't interview a single skeptic or secular scholar.

The fact is, there still is not a shred of forensic, scientific or archaeological evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ - and certainly not of any of the events the bible claims happened in this Jesus figure's lifetime.

This book is propaganda at its best. I simply cannot imagine that it could succeed in tipping the balance for a skeptic or convincing a non-believer; only someone who is already a firm believer will be able to swallow what the author sets forth.