Eliza Wood, Crisis of Faith
Wood wants to be Dan Brown for the loyal opposition. She wants to have
God, and she wants to have Christ, but she wants to exclude any
Scriptural content that seems outdated or makes her uncomfortable. Her
first book attempts to kick-start debate about the future of religion in
America. Sadly, people don’t debate boring, obtuse books that treat
readers like cattle to be herded.
the wake of Christian terror attacks, the President convenes a blue
ribbon panel. Their mission: to examine the Holy Bible, purge it of
impure influence, excise any passages that offend modern tender
sensibilities, and push a new, nonprovocative religion on the world.
Christian Identity extremists in California, meanwhile, somehow take
offense at this and start planning a violent pushback to assert their
own religious and secular primacy.
format Wood chooses is an annoying contrivance. Novels are driven by
action and dialog. But entire chapters go by in which no action takes
place. The characters don’t converse, they discourse at one another, in
monologues which lap over pages and pages, interspersed with block
quotes, in-text citations, and bullet lists. Yes, inside the character monologues. They aren’t speaking, they’re reciting the author’s position paper.
further peppers these monologues with endnotes. Some of these notes
direct readers to her appendices, of which she has twelve. Many include
lists extracted from the interwebs. Others include citations of
“sources.” Ms. Wood is insufficiently discerning in her sources. I may
disagree with his conclusions, but Bart Ehrman is at least a serious
scholar. Dan Brown is not. Likewise, Christopher Hitchens: strong
source. Glenn Beck: weak source.
Stop rolling your eyes.
that her narrative completely lacks action. In rare moments, something
beyond oration actually happens. Take the scene, around page 100, when
“Radical Christians” come gunning (literally gunning) for an Ayurvedic
lecturer for “the book I wrote on Jesus.” Because Richard Dawkins lives
in fear of his life. Yeah. By making the rare action about the conflict
between unrelenting virtue and nameless straw men, Wood weakens an
already flimsy story.
slovenly research and contrived format result in prose that ballyhoos
its weakness. Wood doesn’t bother to know anything about conservative
Christians on their own terms; she simply reduces them to their most
ridiculous outliers. She completely fails to see them in context:
mainstream Christianity has not warmed to religious extremists. Scott
Roeder and Eric Rudolph were reportedly astounded when their violence
failed to hasten a Christian revolution.
will probably greet the objections Wood raises to conventional
Christian theology with shock and horror if they haven’t cracked their
Bibles since grade school. Me, I grappled with her “astonishing” finds
about, say, the changing role of women or slaves, clear back in 9th
grade. Thinkers from Augustine and Aquinas to Bonhoeffer and King dealt
with them even earlier. Her professed stupefaction makes Wood look
Wood’s characters, acting as her voicebox, want God and Jesus, but none
of the hard scriptural content that makes faith unpalatable for so
many. Wood’s characters want to remake God in their own
modernist image, bland, affable, and neutral. If the Bible that already exists
doesn’t support their secularized liberal values, we should write our
own Bible to remind us we’re good enough and sanctified as we are.
scripture isn’t supposed to make us comfortable! Read the Tanakh or the
Gospels: Jesus and the prophets did not come to confirm common earthly
values. They came to call people out of worldly self-satisfaction, to
remind us that living fully can often mean abjuring ourselves. The
Hebrew and Christian scriptures (and you’ll see it in Confucius, the
Buddha, the Koran, and elsewhere) preached against the very ethos that
motivates Wood’s characters.
Personally, I’m with John Polkinghorne, particle physicist and Anglican priest. In Testing Scripture,
Polkinghorne writes that we cannot read scripture in a vacuum, as Wood
evidently does. Genesis was not written on Monday, and Revelation on
Tuesday. Changing historical context matters. The mores of the audience
matter. The Bible is not a novel to read cover to cover; it is a topic
to meditate on, pray over, and love.
official bio calls her “a social thought instigator on religious
topics.” Well, this book might earn cheers from readers who already
agree with her. But anybody who has spent any time contemplating ancient
beliefs in modern context will find her contentions old hat, and her
style tedious. I suspect Wood sets her cause back several paces with
this tone-deaf book.