Craig Hart and I share remarkably similar backgrounds. We were both preacher’s kids who grew up in conservative homes and churches, home schooled for several years each, and devout Christians who eventually questioned more and more of what we had been taught.
Eventually both of us switched to other beliefs. Agnosticism for me, Energetic Universalism for Craig.
Everyone has a story. One of my favourite things to do is to listen to what it is someone believes, why they believe it, and most importantly what happened in their lives to lead them to those beliefs.
The best way I know to understand where someone is headed or why they believe what they do is to listen to these stories.
Passing Through: An Ex-Fundamentalists Pursuit of Personal Spirituality is divided into four sections. The first, by far my favourite, talks about how Craig’s experiences as a child and young adult shaped what he now believes. The church he grew up in was extremely strict – for example, women wore dresses but were forbidden from wearing makeup or jewelry and no one was allowed to watch movies. At 17 Craig goes off to Bible College at the same time that he seriously begins questioning his faith.
If only this section could have lasted longer. Craig’s bittersweet stories really resonated with me. Too often we only hear from the extremes – people who love everything about their religious tradition or those who deconverted and are still angry.
Part two is a philosophical discussion: what is religion? Why does it have such a powerful hold on people? What are the benefits of struggling with your beliefs? Why do people believe in God?
It’s easier for me to discuss philosophy in person because certain words or phrases can be interpreted in radically different ways depending on your tone of voice and body language at the time. If you read this book keep in mind that Craig doesn’t defines terms like religion and fundamentalism in traditional ways. He uses these words to describe how someone behaves or thinks, not necessarily what they do or believe.
The third section discusses issues like biblical inerrancy and infallibility. (Basically, are there errors in the Bible? Is the Bible actually the word of God? If so, how do we know these things to be true?) To be honest I find these debates boring whether the holy book in question is the Bible, Torah, Koran or some other text.
This section is a good introduction for anyone who has never studied or thought about these questions though. The arguments are easy to follow and the examples used are thought-provoking.
The final part of the book talks about how to live in a society where many others disagree with you and describes what Craig means when he says that he’s an Energetic Universalist. I definitely agree with Craig’s belief that fundamentalism is in no way limited to one particular religion or group – it’s found anywhere that someone settles into or says, “I don’t need to listen to or respect you because I have all of the answers already.”
It was also refreshing to read thoughts on spirituality from someone who genuinely respects non-theists. Too often religious inclusion is really only intended for those who believe in at least one god.
This book would be a good fit for anyone interested in taking a second look at their beliefs, Christian or otherwise.
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Craig to review.