Backhanded Compliment? July 15, 2007

Backhanded Compliment?

Relish, a weekly newspaper in Northwest North Carolina, has a book review of I Sold My Soul on eBay. The piece is written by Mick Scott.

I wonder how I should take it… I mean, they criticize parts of the book! How dare a critic do such a thing…

You can get anything over the Internet these days.

Even a Christian Dog, I might add.

His quest may not have been so successful had the high bidder not been Jim Henderson, a minister and the author of Evangelism Without Additives, who was already somewhat notorious for paying non-Christians to attend church and provide critiques of what they found.

I agree: Jim made the whole journey worthwhile. Going to one church for a year wouldn’t have been as great a learning experience.

At points the book seems somewhat simple and repetitive – he takes pains to remind the reader that he is not the enemy; he is trying to be honest and constructive – but this was likely seen as necessary, since Mehta’s readers are expected to be the very people he criticizes.

It didn’t work, though… I still get emails from fundies convinced atheists are bad people. One woman wrote me to say, “I watched the last 2 days on Life Today [a TV show that interviewed me]. I was quite confused because you seem like a great guy.” Another man wrote this: “I am a Christian and I can’t stand you. You are a punk. I am now praying for your book to tank… so quickly in fact, that you will HAVE to say it was GOD…” This guy called me an asshole.

So, yes, I do have to point out (repetitively, even) that I’m not the enemy. Hopefully, people will pick up on that. Eventually.

For sure, Mehta has some misconceptions about “church,” even after all his visits. For instance, he considers church music to be a sort of “opening act” for the sermon, not realizing that many see it as an integral part of participatory worship.

Of course music is an important part of worship. But the point I make in the book is that there’s a difference between singing a couple songs and hearing an hour-long concert. The more music there was, the more people who walked in late. The music seemed to act as a buffer before the “main event” for many churchgoers. They came in late as a result. That’s what I’m referring to. Churches can keep the music. Just don’t overdo it.

But many of Mehta’s criticisms will be completely valid to any honest and reasonable reader.

Aww, thanks! I’m blushing.

He’s not the greatest writer in the world – in comparison to more scholarly works, his effort seems slight – but for his practical and engaging approach and his unique story, his book may ultimately be more meaningful than other atheist-themed writings.

Ouch… my feelings.

But the point that Scott makes with the above statement is the following, which I agree with:

This book could be useful and enlightening to pastors and other Christians who have a difficult time understanding the motivations of people who believe differently, or not at all. In these times of polarizing and heated rhetoric, it would be sad if some dismissed this type of dialogue with no consideration.

I have talked to many Christians who wouldn’t ever pick up a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris book. But they said they enjoyed mine. The book is obviously reaching people who don’t typically expose themselves to atheist thought. And if it helps them understand where we’re coming from, wonderful.

You are allowed to post comments after the article, so let Scott know what you think!

[tags]atheist, atheism, Relish, North Carolina, I Sold My Soul on eBay, Mick Scott, Jim Henderson, church, Christian, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris[/tags]

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