I recently reviewed a book on Amazon, “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” by Dr. Valerie Tarico. (I have recently shared some of Dr. Tarico’s work on this blog, here).
I have to say that I didn’t like the book, and this is reflected in my review. In some of my own work, even though I might well present a dark picture of modern Christianity and even of some of its practitioners, I always nevertheless try to mitigate that darkness by giving a hopeful counter-argument of some sort. If this book produces such a counter-argument, then I did not read far enough to find it; I could only read about a third of the way into the book before I gave up for the sake of my own sanity. Also, bearing in mind that I feel like I am presently going into another ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘ (which is nowhere near as bad as it sounds!), if I had gone into such a Dark Night after having read this book, there’s a fair chance I woudn’t have come out the other side in one piece 😉 Actually, that’s not true; it is God Who carries the believer through the Dark Night (Ps 23:4, Is 46:4, Phil 1:6, Jude 24) but still I think I have made my point.
I would also say that I do not consider that my incipient Dark Night has influenced my perception of the book. As a scientist, I am well used to viewing things dispassionately and without letting my preconceptions influence my impressions.
Anyway, here is my review, for what it’s worth. It’s presented more or less verbatim from my review on Amazon (with a few extra bits added after further thought):
“Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light”
– by Dr. Valerie Tarico.
I really wanted to enjoy this book, and having read some of Dr. Tarico’s articles on her blog, I looked forward to reading something with some substance and containing interesting, thought-provoking and ultimately upbuilding ideas. However, while I appreciated the clarity, forcefulness and honesty of Dr. Tarico’s arguments, I have to say that there is little to like in this book.
There are a few welcome episodes of dry humour, and a couple of ‘lessons learned’ where, despite the dark and hopeless conclusions she reaches at the end of most chapters, she does manage to salvage a few gems of wisdom and learning.
But, otherwise, the book would be more suitable for those who already believe There. Is. No. God. ; for those seriously considering leaving the Christian faith (and this book would indeed convince you to do so); or for Goths.
After a reasonably upbeat introductory section, the book rapidly goes downhill faster than a well-tossed anvil.
While Dr. Tarico rightly tears into the presuppositions and conflicting assertions of Evangelical doctrines, such as infallibility of scripture, original sin and the inequalities (racism, sexism and other prejudices) expressed in the Bible which are also enacted in today’s society by many Evangelicals, she also examines the rightness and ‘goodness’ of Jesus’s miracles, and even manages to conclude that because Jesus did not heal everyone, that in actual fact his miracles were cruel (she uses that actual word) because not everyone got healed, even if it’s just because they didn’t happen to be there as Jesus walked by.
Wait, what? Really??
Many of the author’s arguments against God being good are based on the premise of what would I do if I was God, which I’m not, and neither is she. We cannot presuppose that we know best. I have to say also that not all the arguments are based in correct axioms nor in logical presuppositions. I am not going to provide examples, because I don’t want to go back into this book again to find them, for reasons which will become clear.
There seems to be an underlying bitterness that everything in the world is not good, or, at least, a bitterness that Christians appear to try to explain away the fact that shit happens and life is full of it. In actual fact, however, everyone with half a mind asks life’s big questions, and nobody, not just the Christians, has the answers. So you can’t blame Evangelicalism for that.
Apart from a few upbeat anecdotes like ones about her grandmother, and even that story she then tears to pieces, there is nothing to rejoice about in this book. Even the good is denigrated and life is portrayed as empty, dark, bleak and hopeless.
I have to say that I got about a third of the way through the book before giving up in despair. The nihilism is simply soul-destroying, if you believe in the soul anyway. I am an upbeat, optimistic and positive person, but at the end of each chapter I felt like going off and drinking myself into oblivion, something I would never normally contemplate. Or maybe piling my car into a very solid tree or concrete wall. Except that my airbags would save my life. Damn.
At the end of every chapter, I thought, Oh well this must get better, after all I agree with a lot of what she says, so let’s keep reading. But no. The darkness and oppression are relentless. There is no place in this book for joy, no place for happiness, and even the spontaneous, joy-filled and free laughter of my severely disabled daughter watching something funny (in another room) seemed totally out of place in the presence of the cloud of darkness that seemed to emanate from this book.
There is no mention of life’s joys, the good things, the light, the scenery, people being nice for the sake of it, kindness, love and laughter. There is no mention of the tremendous good that Christianity has brought into the world, yes, along with all the horrific things it has done as well. The fault-finding of God in this book is unmitigated by any mention of his benefits. Indeed, it is as if the entire picture of God in this book is based entirely on the faulty image of Nasty God as espoused by the Evangelicals, and it doesn’t move on from there but stays down in the dumps. Instead of saying ‘Look the Evangelicals believe in this nasty God, BUT….’ , she instead goes on to explain why God, if he exists, is horrible just as the Evangelicals say, but giving her own reasons based on the bloodiness of nature and that life deals in crap on a daily basis.
No, this book is simply the apparently logic-based ranting of someone who has been damaged by Evangelicalism – as have I – and has gone on to get the qualifications and experience to be able to write an authoritative declamation against Evangelicalism, which undoubtedly deserves it!
But for those who want to see how someone else has approached the deconstruction of faith and come through, well, I didn’t get that far in the book so I don’t know if it has a happy ending, in terms of something solid and hopeful to take home at the end of the book. This book appears to have been written by someone in Fowler’s Stage 4 in the Stages of Faith (Google it) and has not yet come through to Stage 5. Like I said, the book may come through, but I can’t stand to read any more of it. I’m not afraid of logic; I am a professional scientist. I’m not afraid of deconstruction; I have gone through it myself. But it is possible to deconstruct one’s faith without destroying others’ hope too, something this book is more than capable of. But I also want to have a life, and I am not going to waste any more of my valuable time on reading this book of misery. Who would want to do that?
At the very least, the author could have given maybe a sneak preview. Like, hey, it all produces good stuff in the end, you’ll see. But in order to survive to that point, the earlier parts of the book need to have a little more upbeat stuff in there. Or maybe it does not in fact reach a good conclusion; maybe it stays dark all the way through. The occasional touch of humour, while welcome, is simply not enough to hold the reader in a place that is positive enough to encourage the desire to carry on reading. If you think things will get better, you might as well stop reading, because they don’t.
I gave this book a fair chance. I will be removing it from my Kindle, and cheering myself up by singing Python’s ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’. While still nihilistic, that song manages to put a funny and even positive spin on it. This book does not.
I did decide to give the book another chance, and actually dipped into later parts of the book to see if I’d misjudged it; to see if it does indeed get better later. It doesn’t. For example, the chapter on feeling the Presence of God, and how widespread it is amongst all types of churchgoers, I though would be great. Dr. Tarico begins the chapter on such a high note – like saying, ‘Look, folks, you believe you have a monopoly on God, well, you don’t, because other Christians feel that Presence too, no matter what their denomination’. And this is extremely admirable. But then it all gets shot down in flames as these ‘feelings of God’ are apparently essentially some sort of illusion or, I gathered, wishful thinking. Such a shame – but then I suppose it would appeal to some people who want ‘permission’ to deconstruct. But there is such a finality about each or Dr. Tarico’s conclusions that gives no room for further spiritual progress, at least in any mystical sense, and at least without having a whole raft of rational stuff to fight through. People in later places in their faith walk have learned to hold in tension the logical with the mystical. Neither stance gives a complete picture of reality, so to discount the mystical as illogical (which actually it isn’t; it’s irrational, which is a different thing) is to miss out on a whole slice of life.
I have actually gained something positive from reading the third of the book I did read. It’s this: up until now, I have had difficulty seeing the points of view of Evangelical Christians since I have moved out of their fold. Reading this book, however, has given me a new appreciation – because of the omission of this point from the book – of all the decent, honest and upright people in the Evangelical church, despite their mixed-up thinking, terrible ideas and their stifling, grey dogmatism. In contrast to this book, they really don’t seem so bad after all.
One final thing. If you are contemplating suicide, or if you are prone to depression, then in all seriousness, I strongly advise that you DO NOT read this book. It may well push you over the edge, figuratively or even literally.
“Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light”, by Dr. Valerie Tarico, is available on Amazon both as a paperback and as a Kindle eBook. The eBook was priced at GBP£7.46 at the time of writing. The link to the book is here.