Saturday, April 28, 2007

Review: I Sold My Soul on eBay

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.


Abacquer said...

You got screened for being an atheist by the bag check lady?

Haven't these people been paying attention? Who blows up airplaines these days, (a) religious whackjobs or (b) atheists?

Can I have a show of hands please?

C. L. Hanson said...

My experience carrying the book around was a little bit opposite:

The only time I read it in public was when I was sitting at the school playground watching my kids just after getting them from school. The other people around were all parents of other kids who attend the same school. I figured no one would recognize the book as an atheist book since we're in France and the book has a halo and angel wings on the cover. So I ended up hiding the cover while I was reading it so that the other parents wouldn't see it and think I'm a Christian... lol

beepbeepitsme said...

I can seriously say that I have read "The God Delusion" in public on holidays and no one batted an eyelid.

I dread the idea that Australia might end up as weird as the US when it comes to these issues.

I have never worried about what I have read in public, nor have I feared that someone would make a disapproving comment.

Anonymous said...

I saw a comment on Hemant's blog by Kerry that wasn't sure this actually happened. I'd like to help confirm it if I could. Do you know if the flight crew on SWA was based out of San Antonio? If so, then I'd say it's solid as Texans out of religiously conservative cities like SA are generally not used to being around atheists. Austin is a world in of itself and I'm glad I'm just outside Austin.

Mojoey said...


the flight attendant was on a Southwest flight out of San Antonio. She was nice to everyone on the plane, but would not even look at me after she saw the book. I got a weird vibe from her. As if she thought, I was evil or something.

Mojoey said...

beepbeep - I've been reading The God Delusion for several week (I cannot seem to get into it). Many people have seen me reading it. Nobody has said a word.

Mojoey said...

C.L. Hanson - One reason I like living in France so much was that it was secular. Religion almost never came up. It was great; except for it seem like everyone smoked.

Johnny C said...

I have read the God Delusion in many places, even my work. I will even go out of my way to strike up a conversation with someone about religion and even recommend the book. Seeing as you enjoyed the Ebay book, I think I am going to have to pick up a copy. I am from texas not too far from there and though I am a rare athiest, when I did encounter someone like your flight attendant lady I would go out of my way to make them have to deal with me. Show them I am nice and not satan. Usually I end up getting asked questions after that.

Martin said...

Where I live, you'd get those weird-ass reactions if you were reading a Pentecostal pamphlet. (-;

David W. said...

I just spent a weekend reading this book in and out of airports myself. Although I don't have anything interesting to report. No comments whatsoever.

Great book, though!

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