Sunday, April 24, 2005

A dash of political bias in a religious book review

Nancy Zjaba, a writer from Madison, Wisconsin, couldn't resist zinging politically-engaged religious conservatives in her review of a trio of three recently-published religious books. The closing line comes as she finishes up on the third and most-theologically orthodox book, Lauren Winner's, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity.

Winner's book offers useful insights into current Christian thought on chastity. But her call for a communal sexual ethic is worrying, conjuring images of a "bedroom police." Whether she intends for her ethic to apply to the larger culture is unclear, although she writes that "to embrace chastity is to reconstruct a culture." Whatever her intent, it's easy to imagine her ideas making their way into abstinence-only education programs, where they might well be presented as fact by those who seek to advance their religious beliefs under the guise of sexual education.
What this has to do with the rest of the book is beyond me. Now, I've not read Winner's book, yet, but I've no doubt a good number of religious conservatives are among the numbers who will buy and carefully consider the arguments therein, and seek to, with God's help, change their lifestyle and outlook on sexuality, and seek to impress that view upon the culture with adialogue and argument. That that cultural dialectic is code for government action is more, it seems to me, the paranoid apprehensions and political prejudices of the reviewer, perhaps explained here as she writes how she became disillusioned with evangelical Christian theology while covering a rape trial:

It was the collision of two realities: the horror of sickening violence against a child, of sudden death, of driving through a parking lot and somehow killing a child, and a nearsighted, self-contained and self-satisfied religion that subverted all genuine human experience, good or bad, for its own purposes. It offered glib answers to the world’s problems -- bad things happen because people choose to sin, or simply because “It’s a fallen world.” But if people pray a prayer and are born again, they will be changed. Jesus will judge the sinners who don’t repent.

But how did any of that help the little girl? Should someone have witnessed to her assailant sometime before the rape? What if someone had, but he just chose not to repent? Why should she have to be the victim of his free will?

No, the explanations it offered were futile. And then I realized that, despite my very best efforts to practice the faith, I had not been helped either.


I realize now that the girl found help from the best possible source -- herself. Her testimony eventually led to a conviction of the man, who avoided a trial by entering a plea. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She did what a lot of adults couldn’t have done, or couldn’t have done nearly as well.

I prayed for her for a long time after that day. As for me, less than a year later, I stopped attending that church. I got one call from the choir director about a month later, wondering where I was. I told him I’d been traveling on the weekends. That was the last call.

And that was the end of my time as an evangelical. For many years I felt as if God had abandoned me, that I was on my own. Now I realize that to reject a form of faith that was not serving me did not mean that God had left me alone.

I still sometimes wish it had worked, that kind of faith where God scratches us behind the ears and we purr, “symbolic of … trusting peace,” the essayist wrote. But my pain failed to respond and I was driven away, seeking refuge in the wild woods, the realm of uncertainty. It’s where I still am. It is not warm and cozy here, and there are moments of profound fear. But it’s also the only place I’ve been able to find hope and some small understanding of how a person might be healed.

Look, the woman's free to believe what she will and bring her skepticism to the fore when reviewing a book. But clearly she let her prejudices from past church experiences, and her view on American politics, find its way into a religious book review.