Sunday, January 17, 2010


I know you're not going to believe this, but I'm rereading Girl Meets God.

I don't think I've ever reread a book I actively disliked before. I knew it was well-written; in fact, I think one of the reasons I disliked it so passionately before is because I so wanted to like it. I love spiritual memoirs, especially those that come from the type of place that this one comes from: an Orthodox Jew (by conversion; her mother was not Jewish) comes to Christianity. She's an intellectual, with (by now) a PhD in history, who reads voraciously and name-drops the great thinkers of religion and history and really any form of non-scientific thought.

This is the person I want to read a spiritual memoir from, for two main reasons. First, as an academic, I assume that her explanations are going to be clear and well-argued. And she is an excellent writer.

Similarly, secondly, as a convert, something drew her from NOT believing in Jesus to believing. This is the piece I'm often looking for in a book like this. It's why I read C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. How do you go from believing that the mythology* of Christianity is false to believing it's true?

These two reasons go together: I think she's going to explain this to me, and I have always assumed that there's some big piece of logic that I'm missing that makes people begin to believe something that goes against my understanding of the world, as based on the observations I've made by living in it.

But yesterday, I found the point in the book that points out my error, and explains why Lauren Winner is not the one to explain this to me. A professor of hers, an atheist, has always been confused about her religiosity--first Jewish and later Christian. "'One day you'll have to explain to me how intelligent people can believe in something that sounds like a Greco-Roman myth,' he says. 'You know: Zeus, Demeter, Jesus.'"

This is the point she makes in the book. This is how she reads that comment. "Admittedly, it is a little crazy. Grand, infinite God taking on the squalling form of a human baby boy. It's what some of the old-timers call a scandal, the scandal of the Gospel." That's what she thinks he doesn't get about Christianity--or at least, that's what she thinks is worth being bewildered about. Not the idea of believing, not just in the idea of an infinite power out there in the world, but that that power cares that you sip wine from a certain cup on Sundays, or who has sexual intercourse with whom, before or after which third party conducts a certain ceremony. And that there was a guy who walked on water one time a few thousand years ago, and now a few thousand years later, we're being foolish if we don't believe that, in spite of everything we know or have ever seen in the world.

Now, I can follow her; her argument about why God cares about our petty lives--if he cares about us at all, the only way or reason to do it would be down in the weeds of our day-to-day experience. But the fact is, she starts out believing that God is there. The whole exploration, argument, transition of the book is not learning to believe in God, in things that don't make 'sense.' It's about finding a shape for that belief. And that's why her book isn't speaking to me.

Having learned that, I'm able to enjoy the book better this time around, because I can read it on its own terms, not mine. Does this mean I've grown up a lot?

*I don't mean to be pejorative when I use the word "mythology." I only want to make the distinction between the detailed parts of belief that are about things that may or may not have happened historically that don't fit with a non-religious view of the world, as distinct from the part of religion that is about believing in things that are beyond the realm of physical experience entirely, and therefore can't be addressed by science at all.

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