Jim & Casper Go to Church

Jim & Casper Go to Church is published by BarnaBooks. It’s available on Amazon.com for $11.55.

One of my best friends, David Thompson, whom I haven’t seen in too long but who publishes The Nevada Observer, used to tell me, back when I was more of an investigative reporter than an editor, “Three times is a pattern.” I know that there’s more to this old saying—“Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence”—but I always thought that the first two parts of this old saw were irrelevant to an investigator was a telling insight into the investigator’s mind. Remove all the irrelevancies in any story, and what could be left but truth?

In this book, Jim & Casper Go to Church, Jim Henderson is a Christian pastor, and Matt Casper is an artist and an atheist. Henderson hired Casper to accompany him to 12 churches and then talk with Henderson about what he saw there. Each claimed open-mindedness; in other words, Casper said he was an atheist but open to the notion that he could learn something that could change his mind. Henderson said he believed in God but was open to the notion that he could learn something that could change his mind. Then the two of them went off to visit some of the United States’ biggest and smallest, least-known and best-known evangelical Christian churches.

OK. I have a problem from the outset. I know that Henderson is an evangelical Christian, and Casper grew up Catholic. If you limit your open-minded experience to Christianity—the variety of religious experience both the practitioners are familiar with—a major conceit of the book is undermined. Henderson will come across little in other varieties of Christian faith that could possibly undermine his understanding of God, since he’s looking only at the Christian representation of God, in which he already believes. Casper is only going to see varieties of the Christian god in which he’s already professed and accepted disbelief.

(This book review is becoming one long tangent, but it’s actually more fun than talking about the book. I’ll sum up the book experience at the end.)

And, I’ll be honest with you. It’s my believe that it’s this arrogance of religion—be it Christian, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, paganism, Buddhism, you pick—in which the observer is so certain of his or her correctness in his or her subscribed religious practice that every other religion is not only beneath consideration, but beneath examination—irrelevant—that causes most of the problems in the world today.

It’s easiest to point out this weak point by using the atheist point of view. For an atheist to say, “I don’t believe in god,” when he or she has only experienced representations of the Christian god, is like someone saying, “I don’t like candy,” who has only tasted black licorice. And while some argument can be made that this person has a basis in experience to sincerely claim that candy sucks based on his or her experience with black licorice, from my perspective, it’s ludicrous for that same person to say, “I don’t like pork chops,” when he or she has only tasted black licorice.

Get it? I don’t believe it’s logical for a person to say, “I only believe, and I believe wholeheartedly, in my parents’ Christian religion when I’ve never set foot in a mosque, temple, synagogue, or grotto.”

Now that I’ve pissed off both my Christian and atheist friends—who’ll say, “I don’t have to eat nuclear waste to know it will kill me—here’s my book review: Jim & Casper Go to Church is engagingly written. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun reading for people who think about the nature of outsiders’ perceptions of Christianity. The book’s individual chapters exhibit the very same problems that this column has: They are but two blind men’s experiences of touching an elephant once.

But not knowing what the rest of the elephant feels like is not the same as not wanting to know what the rest of the elephant feels like. And not wanting to know is not irrelevant to the investigation.