What We’re Reading Wednesday

Hello Jessica and friends of Jessica! (And friends of friends of….etc.)

Well, that is awkward. Days after posting about my grandiose plans of understanding evolution and reconciling it with a Catholic anthropology, etc. etc., I gave up. Too hard. Need the movie version. 😮

So, I picked this up as a fun, guilty pleasure read … and was pleasantly surprised.

Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture

Yes, Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, by a self-described “humanist Jew” from Brooklyn. Sounds cringe-worthy, right? Well, it was definitely hilarious (Radosh’s awkward encounters with well-intentioned evangelicals at Christian bookstores slapping him on the back and saying, “My Best Friend is Jewish!!”), searingly accurate (he perfectly captures the wholesome weirdness of the Contemporary Christian Music scene), and surprisingly respectful of Christianity. I know that’s probably not a glowing endorsement — “not as condescending or mean-spirited as I thought it would be” — but Jesus Camp, it was not. 

Actually, what I found most interesting was reading the book in light of Pope Francis’ recent interview in Americaparticularly those controversial quotes where the pope, very paraphrased, is basically saying: Let’s be clear: we’re not changing the teachings of the Church. But if we’re honest with ourselves, and we step out of our bubble where all our arguments and Catholic language are just bouncing back onto our own ears — if we genuinely try to understand how the rest of the world perceives us — something’s not working. And we’ve got to get our act together before we lose what’s left of our credibility. 

Radosh, now a writer for The Daily Show, comes off as an intelligent, compassionate, witty and probably very nice guy. The one time he lashes out in the book occurs when confronting a volunteer with Rock for Life/American Life League, who’s passing out literature against IVF on the basis that embryos are destroyed in the process and that it objectifies children. Radosh pulls out a picture of his twin toddler daughters, conceived via IVF, and challenges the now-speechless pro-lifer to accuse him of considering his daughters objects.

Other than that, I think he interviews his subjects fairly (from teenagers at Christian music festivals wearing terrible Christian t-shirts, to Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, which operates the Creation Museum in Kentucky). He distances himself from the strident, militant tone of the “neoatheists” a la Dawkins (while saving his sharpest ire for their Christian equivalents), and I thought for the most part he avoided taking what could have been easy, cheap shots. I mean, he spends a chapter with a 20-something guy who straps on Spandex and plays “Bibleman” to live audiences in the Bible Belt. Come on.

With its outsider’s perspective, then, it was an enlightening and instructive look at the way Christianity (or at least, American evangelicalism) presents itself to the rest of the world, in all its sincerity and utter goofiness. I say “instructive” because I saw a lot of parallels with Catholicism, especially the Church’s task to engage in the New Evangelism, which I think Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis have been urging us towards very strongly.

So what does one Brooklyn Jew’s romp through Evangelical Land USA have to do with Catholics? My takeaways include:

  • When faith is divorced from reason, it’s immediately apparent to everyone except the guy in the awful Christian t-shirt that what’s left is utter bs.
  • I mean. I can’t even handle this.

     

  •  Radosh’s incident with the pro-lifer really struck me. I accept the Church’s teaching on the immorality of IVF. But I learned it as an already practicing Catholic, willing to accept a difficult teaching with faith seeking understanding. When it comes to communicating its message to the world, the Church has lost the privilege of assuming that that world speaks its language. A few months ago, my women’s reading group at our parish was discussing the marriage debates and trying to grapple with how it seems the Church, in the U.S. at least, is still struggling to articulate the basis for its opposition to gay marriage. I mean really articulate it, in a way that meets the opposing view on the same playing field, not just bounces back to our Catholic ears already steeped in Catholic concepts and vocabulary like sacrament and essence and natural law.* 
  • Likewise, I guess it’s cool and everything when your apologetics materials lay the smackdown on whatever hersey you’re trying to combat, but when you’ve lost sight of the person amid the argument, you’ve lost it all. Luke is fond of a phrase he and his friends jokingly used in college when discussing (or probably closing discussion on) a point of view other than their own: “Labelled, dismissed!” In short, satirizing the easy temptation to slap a worldview/philosophy on a person, assume that those couple words sum him up in whole, and casually file him away as completely understood. But, right or wrong, Daniel Radosh didn’t fit the pro-lifer’s notion of a Collaborator in the Culture of Death(!!!). And it showed, and everything fell apart because of it.
  • The most winsome method of evangelizing, says Radosh, is not evangelizing at all. Actually, he says something like, “The Christians I found most convincing were the ones who couldn’t care less whether I converted to Christianity.” Granted, this is maybe antithetical to the very definition of evangelical. Okay, the way Radosh puts it, it’s very antithetical. The point is (and it’s sad this has to be a point), you don’t treat people like projects. Not like potential “wins” to “our” side. Genuine faith, Radosh seems to realize, isn’t afraid of others with opposing views or no religious beliefs at all, which means it’s also not caught up in a myriad of frenzied gestures to come off as persuasive. It’s just…real. And free. And loving and (this is my addition, because it’d probably be too dogmatic for Radosh in the end… :)) certain enough of Who it’s founded on, that it’s okay with wading out into the messy, complicated, un-labeled world and being itself.

And so, Daniel Radosh, because you definitely are one of the five people who read my blog, next time Luke and I get our hipster on and are in Brooklyn (there are so many contingencies here, let’s say….in the next 10 years), let’s get a beer. Or, more likely since we both have young children, organic yogurt. That’s cool too, and you sound like a decent guy.

***

*It reminds me of one of the most beautiful passages in the pope’s interview, in my opinion:

Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

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10 thoughts on “What We’re Reading Wednesday

  1. I too try to read books sometimes that are going to enlighten and expand my mind,,, then move on to pleasure reading quickly. Rapture Ready sounds like a good read.

  2. I love your last point. I’ve seen firsthand many people turn away from the very idea of Catholicism because of over-zealous Catholics who turn them into a project instead of looking at them as human beings capable of rational thought and valid opinions. Drives. Me. Nuts. I mean, now I have to go make those over-zealous people projects of mine. Sheesh. 😉

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