Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Cross Examined" by Bob Seidensticker: Commentary and Review

(By Guest Writer - Michel Weatherall)

Although I do believe there often times is truth in fiction, books like this can prove to be tricky, considering the author – Bob Seidensticken – is an Atheist and supporting the atheist world-view. There isn't anything wrong with this position. I just think it's important to identify this up front.

From a writing point of view there were a few surprising twists in the plot, but at other points, what I would have expect to be more climatic, were glossed over, almost removed to the realm of a footnote. Overall I enjoyed this novel. It captured my interest and held it. The characters were real and I could genuinely care for them.

At some points there seemed to be the theme that Science and Religion cannot mix, yet at other points almost the suggestion that the two are in need of one another.

Although many, if not all, the atheist arguments against Christianity in this book hold water, they are presented nearly exclusively as an argument against Christianity. They might be better served against religiosity instead. At times there seems to be an axe to grind, which concerns me, because if this is true, this form of Atheism is little more than a negative reaction.

I have come to many of the same conclusions (and arguments) the atheist-camp has regarding Christianity. (One of the reasons why I've moved beyond it). However, that doesn't make me an Atheist, nor does it make the Atheist right nor is Atheism the only answer.

Ultimately this fictitious book is about the very real and clandestine warfare of the human resources of the Faiths.

A large and overarching theme in Cross Examined is that of Apologetics (defending one's faith) and debate: the art of debate. Winning a debate does not necessarily mean being right nor finding the truth.

Too often times I have watched debates and it is more like a sparring match with either opponent showing off their debating talents and skills. However, I have found that one's skill at debate and the truth are not necessarily synonymous. We see this echoed by Jim Emerson on pg. 207:

"...let me stress one thing. Your primary goal in any discussion or even a debate must not be to win or even to defend your position. It must be to find the truth”.

I have seen individuals clearly win a debate but actually be wrong. They simply had better debating skills. I think sometimes a little bit too much emphasis is put onto the illusion of truth within Apologetics and Debates. They are not that decisive when it comes to the truth; they are more informative. It shouldn't be about winning. But I think this book addresses this issue in its subtle and elusive way.

Ultimately, I believe there is truth and wisdom within many of the world's many Belief-Systems, including Atheism and this book has potential for us to have a glimpse of it and learn from it. Never lose a healthy sense of doubt, scepticism, and most especially one's ability and permission to question.

But at points it would seem that Atheism is little more than a self-deluded scientism and at other points there's an acknowledgement that science is not all there is.

Science give us an approximation of the truth, nothing more. Science is built on a body of facts that changes, and that's its strength.” pg. 187
I think one of the most interesting and telling points in this entire book is the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 itself. Obviously it is the catalyst for this novel, but it is so much more.
If we look at Reverent Samuel Hargrove (Evangelical Christianity) , Father Mordegreen (Roman Catholicism), Jim Emerson (Atheism), and Abbot Tanaka (Buddhism) and what they did in relation to the earthquake, we begin to see interesting truths in their varied orthopraxies – and action speaks louder than any statement of belief.
Hargrove (Evangelical Christianity) sees it coming, but does little to nothing to help the people avoid it nor offers succour after it strikes. Quite the opposite in fact! He monopolizes the situation and attempts to turn the events to his favour and benefit. (Expand his church, more members, more donations, more money, larger church building, more personal fame) – practices of a corrupt religion.
Father Mondegreen, attempts to offer relief in the only way he knows how; by holding Mass (pg. 95) – by ritual – regardless of its success or failure – practising a rote religion.
Jim Emerson, the protagonist's mentor, as we later find out, is quite rich. What does he do in regards to the earthquake? Well, very little at all. He continues with his own fears and activities and hobbies and interests and obsessions. In fact, his actions would seem to reflect a mechanistic-materialistic atheism; a belief-system without a soul, or compassion. The earthquake is little more than a scientific fact or a news story. It happens. People suffer. People die. Oh well. There's an emotional detachment and even indifference.
And finally there's one of my favourite characters – The Buddhist Abbot Tanaka – Thena's mentor. What does he do in regards to the earthquake? He takes all the survivors the monastery can handle in, and then takes more. My favourite line is “We share what we have. If we don't have enough, we will be hungry with our neighbors”. (pg. 76)
I think Tanaka represents Humanism but with a spiritual edge.
We see the absolute immoral corruption organized and institutional religions can become with Hargrove. We see the mindlessness and rote obedience religion can be with Mordegreen. We see the emotional detachment and soulless emptiness certain forms of Atheism can become. But it is only with Tanaka do we find a harmonized balance.
I've heard an analogy of humanity's search for truth being like a 3-legged stool. Its legs being Science, Philosophy, and Spirituality. The simple fact that there are 'areas' where science cannot (and should not) function, is important.
This is echoed by Paul's old friend, Virgil near the end. seems to me that using logic to take care of your spiritual needs is like slicing bread with a hammer”. (pg. 261)
At the end of the day, this book is ripe for discussion and debate. On an individual level or reading, if nothing else, it should make the reader aware of how sound – or unsound – their beliefs are. This book should prove a healthy read for Christians because it will shake them out of their cloistered, bobble-head (group-think) safety, should they be suffering from it.
I would love to see this book presented for study alongside the Alpha Course Manuel. I think it would keep everyone honest and sober.

~  ~  ~

Great Wisdom: Quotes Worth Remembering:
Your primary goal in any discussion or even a debate must not be to win or even to defend your position. It must be to find the truth.” Jim Emerson, pg. 207

Let me tell you a story. In some parts of Asia, hunters build an unusual monkey trap. They hollow out a coconut and tie it to the ground, then they put rice in the coconut. The monkey can reach in through a hole and grab the rice, but the hole is carefully cut so that it is big enough for the monkey's empty hand to go in but too small for his fist to come out, full of rice. When the hunters come, the monkey refuses to release the rice, and he is stuck. He traps himself... Preconceptions are like the rice. They are attractive, but we must let go to find the truth”. Abbot Tanaka, pg. 99

Well, you're the philosopher, but seems to me that using logic to take care of your spiritual needs is like slicing bread with a hammer”. Virgil, pg. 261

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

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