Tell out my soul
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Date: 15 June, 2006
For surefish's June Book of the Month, Charlotte Haines Lyon reviews The Evangelist by Claire George.
“Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.”
So said the late anthropologist Ashley Montagu. It makes a lot of sense, especially when if you mix science and creationists, there is proof and certainty that debate will rage.
Such raging forms the backdrop to George’s second novel and provides for some intellectual exercise.
Professor Max Oldroyd, the book’s main protagonist, is the author of Genesis, obviously not the Genesis but a popular science book, explaining evolution and the folly of creationism.
Unsurprisingly, the publication is met with wailing and baying from conservative Christian groups, especially those in the American Bible belt. This fuels an arrogant and obsessive journey which aims to convert such foolish people!
One of the media’s cruellest hacks interviews the professor and labels him a failure both as a family man and academic. This leads to an introspective and angry repost, which forms the bulk of the novel.
It was insinuation of theological debate that initially drew me in. However I was soon tired of Max’s continual dismissive tone, reminiscent of documentaries about religion.
Was the book simply going to be a disdainful polemic against all forms of belief?
Just as weariness set in, I saw the light. Max’s zeal to convert all to atheism, regardless of whom he may damage along the way, is all too evocative of some people’s experiences in hard line evangelical churches. Hence the name of the book.
George has cleverly written a book that seemingly attacks religion but actually holds a mirror up to anybody with strong beliefs.
How do we grapple with different views in a pluralist age? How do we cope with schism in our own family let alone the wider church or world?
Max, whilst boorish is oddly beguiling. He is incredulous when his wife admits to agnosticism; the contempt for her “betrayal” is shocking. Yet there is palpable fear and sorrow as realises his part in the breakdown of many family relationships.
On the surface the novel is a fascinating essay on the fors and againsts of evolution.
It is in fact a thesis on the destruction of relationships by human frailty. In providing a model for tentative reconciliation, George has provided a beautifully written parable for today.
And it was much better than my other holiday read, The Da Vinci Code. One benefit of being a book reviewer is the excuse to read junk in the name of knowing what everybody is talking about!
I can totally understand why people dislike the book, for it clunks along with little grace. Yet I have to admit to finding it quite a page-turner. More disturbingly still, far from being convinced that the Church was evil, it made me want to know more about some of the myths.
Lo and behold, many of my theology books touch on the sacred feminine and I rediscovered that shelf in my study. I had forgotten how interesting God can be and for that I would like to thank Dan Brown.
Click here to buy the book ands raise money for Christian Aid.