The Hopeful Skeptic: Revisiting Christianity from the Outside, Nick Fiedler. I wanted to review this book because it came up in a search for upcoming publications about Nepal. The exploring-my-faith topic seemed close enough to home (at least, the home of a few years back). It seemed the combination may yield a bit of a Christian On the Road or watered-down Zen and the Art of…. That much wasn’t true, and I didn’t even see mention of Nepal in its pages, but the book isn’t altogether without merit.
First, the disappointment: travel wasn’t the theme of this book. The author seems to have spent his fourteen months of overseas living and working (not so much backpacking) in boredom. Maybe the idea was that he spent those months in thought, forming and reforming his beliefs, but surely something interesting happened in all that time? Granted, he relates a couple of experiences from that time, but most of the stories in the book are from his work in churches or with his podcast, all right at home prior to the big trip.
In fact, there wasn’t a theme that was dominant enough to pull this thing together. The beginning was a rush of randomness. The end was a reasonable attempt to tie things together, but I was left wondering which of the innumerable strings planted earlier would be used to do so. The best chapters were topical, focused, and sandwiched in the middle, not beginning until fully halfway through the book.
During these topical chapters — which in turn discuss the inerrancy of the Bible, the truth about who Jesus was, civil disobedience, traditional church structure and the efficacy of prayer — you start to see what this book is all about. If travel wasn’t to be the theme, perhaps it should have been the sorting of traditional beliefs into “keep” and “discard” boxes, as Fiedler mentions late. These chapters form a modern-day Credo, written by and for my generation of kids who grew up in church, then went to college and learned to poke gaping holes in things they had been taught were unshakable.
At this, Fiedler succeeds. I got over my disappointment with how unlike On the Road this book is when it started reading like Thomas Paine. (The author does mention Kerouac in one of the more pompous portions of the book, in case the reader had missed any similarities.) The Age of Reason was very much brought to mind when Fiedler started discussing the problems with believing what people tell you to believe despite the glaring inaccuracies on which those beliefs are based. The difference, I suppose, is that when Paine tore apart the Bible he ended up a Deist, but when Fiedler does a little of the same he ends up a “hopeful skeptic” and still a born-again Christian — though, one imagines, one that attends a non-traditional sort of church.
I followed Tom Paine through his skepticism and out of the church; Fiedler couldn’t convince me to follow him back to what does seem an honest and open understanding of what for many is a dogmatic and closed-minded faith. However, I admire his ability to stand on the edge as he does on the issues so many hold tightly, without question. If you are looking for a little more honesty in your Christianity while remaining attached to it, this Credo may seem more true than most. If you want stories about wandering the world with a backpack, look elsewhere.
Note: I accepted a reviewer’s copy of this book but no other consideration from the publisher and am under no obligation to write a positive review. I write what I think and believe, nothing else, and the publisher has no effect on nor responsibility for what I write about this book. I request and write about books that appear interesting to me, and you should know when I get them for free.