I feel like you come to Regular Rumination expecting nothing less than honesty, am I right? So let’s get some things out of the way: I am not feeling well and I’m grumpy. BUT while that may in fact affect my delivery of this review, I don’t think it is affecting my opinion of the book A View from the Back Pew by Tim O’Donnell. I began reading this book weeks ago and I promise you I wasn’t quite as cranky then.
A View from the Back Pew and I immediately got off to a rough start. In his introduction, O’Donnell makes a remark I have heard before that infuriates me: “I’m troubled by reports of people declaring themselves agnostic and leaving their churches in droves. To me it’s a kind of cop-out. I may not agree with the conclusion an atheist draws about God, but at least he has asked enough questions to draw a conclusion. It’s all too common today for people who become disillusioned with their religion, frustrated with dogma and ritual, to stop asking questions altogether. They just walk away – inadvertently turn their backs on God as well.” (xiv) Unfortunately, O’Donnell is making a lot of assumptions here. He assumes that all people who classify themselves as agnostic have simply stopped asking questions. For me, it is being in a state of constantly questioning, which is ultimately not so different than the path that O’Donnell finds himself on. In his mind, he is superior because has reached a covenant with God, which he blatantly calls a “Deal”, and thus can know God. I don’t presume to have the answers to the questions that O’Donnell asks, and answers himself, but I do ask them.
If I didn’t ask them, I would still be Catholic or Methodist, the two religions I was raised in. Perhaps it was this dual upbringing that originally led me to question belief for the sake of belief. I asked questions that my Sunday School teacher wasn’t pleased with. I questioned too much. I could relate to O’Donnell in that sense, but when his questioning suddenly went from wondering to knowing, I questioned that transition as well. What if “God” had not kept up his “deal” with O’Donnell? Would he still feel the same way about God?
I think I need to take a break from the religious non-fiction. I’m sure a lot of you wonder why I even bother, when I’ve so clearly laid out my beliefs here as non-religious, non-Christian, and constantly questioning. I don’t know. I guess I’m interested in faith as a journey, in the Bible as literature, in the scripture as history. Unfortunately, I haven’t run across the books that agree with me yet. I’m just being honest – grumpiness makes me honest to a fault. It’s not necessarily that I want every book to agree with me, because that would be presumptuous and ignorant, but I just want to read about that journey a little bit, somewhere. I think that’s why I loved Blankets by Craig Thompson so much. That journey was so much like my own. But that also doesn’t mean I’m not willing to read books that differ in opinion, I love to! I love the discussion that comes out of it, but where my problem begins is when an author asks me to accept something as fact that is not a fact, but it is a belief. I suppose to the truly spiritual, there is no difference.
Unfortunately, I’m just not capable of making that leap. And that is why I’m a heathen. (A joke! Sort of.)
I think there is certainly a reader out there for O’Donnell’s book and there are probably far better people than I who can separate their own beliefs from what they are reading and can admire this as a personal journey of faith. But to me it reads as a “how-to” guide in a way and one that is much too impractical for most to follow. So I could tentatively recommend this book to a certain reader, but overall? I’m just not convinced.
Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me this book to review. In the interest of getting this review up on time, I’m currently posting it without a cover image or links because my connection is slow. I will come back later and add in links and images when I can!