Before I get into my review of Hemant Mehta outstanding new book, I would like to pass along my experiences with people who saw me reading Mehta's book in two airports and on one Airplane.
Los Angeles international Airport - the bag check lady.
I was singled out to go through the sniffer, which was followed by a manual check of my bags. The lady who checked by bags pulled the book out and looked at it for a moment.
"Are you an atheist?". I answered "Yes".
She pointed to the tables at the end of the line. "Step over there".
15 minutes later I was cleared to ender the airport. Note to self - next time say "huh - what?"
In the waiting lounge in Southwest's "A" line. - The news paper collector.
A funny little man was collecting newspapers to read prior to boarding a flight. My computer bag was resting where my ass had been a few minutes before. Hemant's book was on top. The news paper man reached down and picked it up (which pissed me off).
"Why would an atheist care about faith - that's stupid, why are you reading such a stupid book?"
I am defiantly not the Friendly Atheist, I'm more like the really big scary man you never want to piss off. - my response to the newspaper collector is not printable. The newspaper man dropped my book, tripped over a chair in his haste to depart, while loudly proclaiming "I'm sorry man, I'm sorry".
Security came over to talk to me, they asked what happened. I said '"huh - what?"
Southwest flight from San Antonio to Los Angeles - The flight attendant.
One of the flight attendants was passing out the little indigestible snack boxes filled with dried fruit can cookies. She paused and looked at the back the book. Her face screwed up like a prune as she read the words "Unique insights from and atheist's Sunday-morning odyssey". I turned the cover toward her, she recoiled like a vampire from a cross. I never got a snack box.
The Book Review:
I enjoyed I Sold My Soul on eBay. I read it looking for more than it delivered, but I must say, the book left me satisfied in the end. Hemant Mehta - please tell my you will right a sequel?
The book starts off with background on Hemant Mehta and his journey to atheism. His religion was unfamiliar to me. I know nothing of Jainism. Learning how Mehta was socialized into his religion and his subsequent coming of age in atheism was the best part of the book.
As Mehta takes us to church through the eyes of a newcomer, I find his characterization fascinating. He asks many of the questions I ask when exposed to the various rituals of belief. He listens to the sermons of various pastors and discerns genuine compassion and love, while at the same time hearing words of intolerance and bigotry.
He compares small, medium, and mega-churches for feel, friendliness, message, focus, and inclusiveness. In general, he nails it. His perception is remarkable, I feel like I am part of the service. His description moves toward that of a good story teller. I am fascinated by the journey and feel a need to race ahead to find out if he escapes with his soul.
For some reason, Mehta is the consummate outsider, able to fit in without attracting too much attention, feel the experience, and then escape to write about it. I find myself thinking about sitting there with him, what question would I have, how would I relate to the music or the message?
I've done something similar while in school as an undergrad taking a comparative religion course. I enjoyed the experience at the time. I re-read the paper I wrote as part of the process of reading this book, I detected a note of prejudice in my writing, prejudice and superiority - Mehta's work did not have any of these biases - I think that is why I enjoyed it so much. I hate to say it, but I Sold my Soul on eBay made me want to go to church.
No book review would be complete without a critique. True to Hemant Mehta's nickname, he is the Friendly Atheist - his book is positive and upbeat, yet lacks bite. He speaks well of others and plays nice. His criticisms are meek by comparison to the significance of some of the events he witness. His focus is to provide a tool which will help Christians appeal to the unchurched - that's nice, but some of the churches have ugly social agenda's. A few more harsh words might have been in order.
I liked I Sold My Sole on eBay. I plan to introduce the book to a few friends, and maybe even buy a few more copies as gifts. The book is that good.