Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark

But if we feel deep affection only for people who tell us we’re right and only give high fives to the like-minded, all we’ve done is joined a club. We risk becoming incapable of the give-and-take of genuine conversation. If all our friends and news sources require of us is a “Ditto” and “I think what you think,” we might be in danger of becoming impenetrable to wisdom, immunized against the sensation of sympathy, resistant to the pleasure of being amused by our own ignorance, and closed to the joy of being wrong.

Sometimes books find us just when they're meant to (and other times they don't which is a sad story) and that feeling can be one of the best. An old blogging friend of mine has talked this book up as much as one possibly could, but I didn't get around to acquiring the book until the start of this year. It's so strange, because I loved the title, I was interested in the content, and I trust this friend's judgement pretty much implicitly, but I just didn't read it. I feel I now know why I put it off. I was meant to read it now.

That sounds so dramatic and over the top, but I really do think it's so.

I feel completely unable to review this book as it raised so many things for me to think about and challenged the way I live my life. It's funny, because on a theoretical level I already agreed with the premise of the book. As I started reading, I thought well, yes this is what I think, this is how I want to live my life. But the gold was in taking me through all the different areas of my life where asking questions applies, where living that examined life matters. I was convicted (to use the old Christianese) of the ways in which I've been lazy, I've fallen back on old ways of living and thinking and I've gone along with the easier accepted standards of my culture and subculture. But I don't want to be that person who has glimpses of revelation and refuses to act on them. And this book was a revelation.

But all of this personal stuff probably doesn't help YOU know whether or not this is something you'd like to read. So let me tell you about it.

I'm going to borrow the back cover copy to give you a synopsis of the book, though I'm not entirely satisfied with it:

The freedom to question is an indispensable and sacred practice that is absolutely vital to the health of our communities.

According to author David Dark, when religion won’t tolerate questions, objections, or differences of opinion, and when it only brings to the table threats of excommunication, violence, and hellfire, it obstructs our ability to think, empathize, and live lives of authenticity and genuine engagement.

The God of the Bible not only encourages questions; the God of the Bible demands them. If that were not so, we wouldn’t live in a world of such rich, God-given complexity in which wide-eyed wonder is part and parcel of the human condition. The possibility of redemption and revolution depends on the questions we ask of God, governments, media, and everyday economies.

It is by way of the questions that we resist the conformity that deadens and come alive to visions that redeem.

ME AGAIN: The thing is that the stories we hear, the things we've been taught are so deeply ingrained in us that they form our identity in many ways. Which is why questioning everything can be so hard. And why sometimes, we haven't even thought to question them.

The manner of writing in the book is very engaging, Dark uses a lot of references to pop culture and art which is always a win for me (and in fact his stance on the importance of such things wins with me too) but two specific mentions thrilled me. It's not unusual to find references to the classic and accepted art, but when he quoted Shannon Hale, I couldn't help but grin. Additionally, a mention of Jane Siberry won me over forever. (Don't worry there's plenty of reference to Cormac McCarthy, Ursula K LeGuin, Martin Luther King, and Bono to up the coolness and credibility) Additionally, his tone is never condescending, always encouraging and engaging and even a bit self-depracating at times. I could have easily rushed through it, but instead I read it in chunks, one chapter a day so that I gave myself time to process it and mull it over. Even so, I will probably reread the book in not too long a time frame.

Reading history yields the realization that deeply sincere people have gone to houses of worship, looked after their families, and prayed intensely while also participating in unthinkable atrocities. (from chapter 8, The Past Didn't Go Anywhere)
One chapter that especially hit home to me was the chapter on history. I felt like this chapter did an especially excellent job of peeling back our defenses so that we can truly become more loving people, people who recognize the sacredness of all human life. It's hard, because yes I'm an American. I've been shown and taught from an early age to love my country and regard it as good. I first started learning it wasn't necessarily so good when I was in high school, but I really struggled even so not to associate the casual remarks about Americans that flew out of the mouths of my fellow ex-pats when I lived in Japan to be about me. At one point, when he describes the sort of knee jerk defensiveness as a self-justifying impulse that you come across when you begin to address these ideas, I was just thinking...YES. Because I recognize it in myself, but I also recognize it in others, when I introduce how my thinking has changed. Why do we do this? Why are we so resistant to change our perspectives on the way things have been? Changing our mind, changing our perspective to ways that value all human life equally--Dark calls it repentance. (I love that)

But the most personal part of this chapter to me, was a bit from a letter he included from Flannery O'Connor. I cannot explain to you what I felt when I read this single line, "You are not your history." For some reason, I have never heard it put quite this way and it felt like the final step in a healing process in my life that has taken eight years. It is also incredibly liberating in so many areas of social justice...we don't have to let the guilt of our forefathers and even our own voting records and buying decisions keep us from making right loving choices for people today. We are humans...constantly growing, we never have it all together, the important thing is that we are consistently working to love others that we are good rememberers of the past so that we can bring redemption to the present and future.

We bear witness. Or more soberingly, we attempt to assume responsibility for the witness we already bear by way of our governments. We listen closely for the witness of others, thinking hard about the reality of other people, perhaps especially the nameless ones often on the receiving end of the raw, unchecked power exercised on them and funded by people like us. We mustn't allow governments to decide who our enemies are or to dictate policies whereby some lives are more sacred, more worthy of our attentiveness, than others.... We're responsible for what's done in our names. (from Chapter 9, We Do What We're Told)

I'm really just scraping the surface of what this book is and what it meant to me. I read a review on one of the social reading sites where the reviewer said they abandoned the book because they didn't need permission to question the Bible. I find that to be an oversimplification of what Dark tries to acheive through his words....it's not just permission to question the Bible but to question EVERYTHING. And only by consistently questioning our lives, questioning the media, questioning the government, questioning our language, interpretations, our offendedness, and whatever religion we cling to, questioning our history and our future can we hope to live lives that bear faithful witness. Challenging? Yes, incredibly challenging. Hard to do, painful at times to strip away those things we don't even realize we've built into us as absolute certainty. But more than anything this message brought hope to me in an incredible new way. I simply can't recommend it enough.

Rating: 5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: While I would say this book is intended for Christians, I really think it can be enjoyed by people of other faith persuasions. But that might just be my perspective.
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: Zondervan



Unknown said...

Wow. Thank you so much for this detailed, thoughtful review. I'm definitely going to have to check out this book. I think it's going to be very timely.

Cori said...

This is an incredible review. I can tell that the book really hit home for you in a lot of different ways. I was having a conversation with a friend last night about a bunch of stuff that has happened in the past, and I had no idea what to say to her. "You are not your history" might be exactly the right thing. Anyway, I am going to pick this one up ASAP -- it looks amazing.

Beth F said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth F said...

Interesting... and it's fantastic that you have found a book that speaks so fully to you. You are right that sometimes the right book comes along at the right time.

I find I'm a loss of words for a public forum, but you can talk to me about this book at BEA, if you are inclined.

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

Fantastic review, Amy! Learning to question and think critically and make sense of your beliefs, whatever they may be, makes life much richer (and more challenging), and I am thoroughly intrigued in this book now.

Pam said...

To be honest the reason I have not been religious in my adult life is because I went to a church when I was younger it was all about 'putting the fear of god in you'. I never understood as a child why we had to fear God. Why I got in trouble for asking questions, I really wanted to know why if God loved us all, why was he vengeful? I got tired of getting in trouble for fidgeting when I was 6 during a 2 hour long sermon. I began to dread going to church and dread anything to do with God. I am agnostic because of religion.

Great review Amy.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Sounds like something that really makes you think, and God knows we could all use those every once in a while. Adding it to my wishlist!

Fiona said...

Thanks for this review, I am very intrigued by this book and I think I'm seeing this at just the right time.

caite said...

I belong to a Tradition that is all about the questioning and always has been...although how funny the modern world does not see it that way. We have been questioning and thinking for thousands of years and see nothing to fear, because nothing can contradict the Truth.

Perhaps we differ from the world in that we actually believe there is an Ultimate Truth which can be sought and known...well to the degree that our limited minds allow each of us. The Truth has reveled itself and there is nothing to fear by seeking it.

Hazra said...

You seem to have been influenced a lot by this book. Honestly, religious books don't work for me, so I think I'll give this a miss, though its message sounds intriguing.

Kacie said...

You should write about that healing process you refer to. I would love to read it. Sounds like most things are somehow intertwined with your time in Japan, and as a fellow TCK I would love to hear your story and learn from it!

Vishy said...

Beautiful review! The books looks wonderful! 'You are not your history' is a real powerful line. Thanks for writing about this book.

Melissa said...

Great review, Amy! I have this out from the library now, and now I want to read it sooner rather than later. And, I think when it is time to write a review, I might just point them in this direction ... because I can't imagine being able to add much more to this wonderful review. :)

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