When Faith Turns Ugly… A new book

Posted by on Apr 5, 2016 in Blog | 1 comment

My next book, When Faith Turns Ugly: Understanding Toxic Faith and How to Avoid It, is due out in a few weeks. Rather than write about it and tell you why I think it is important, I will let the preface speak for itself. Hopefully it will whet your appetite for more (and the book is available for pre-order from Koorong and Authentic Media). Here is a taster from the preface…

It was an unexpected encounter at an art gallery and it left me unsettled and concerned. Rosemary and I had been admiring the entries for the Mandorla Art Award, and were impressed by the wide array of interpretations given to its 2014 theme, ‘Elijah Meets God’. One of the viewers did not share our enthusiasm, and started to mutter angrily to me, ‘how can they allow an exhibition like this? Don’t they know anything about the Bible? It is such a bloodthirsty book. And how can they have a competition about Elijah. He killed off all his religious opponents. Religion, that’s the problem with the world today, and now they are trying to sanitize it with this art award.’

I tried to present an alternate point of view, but he would have none of it. He appeared to be an ethically sensitive person, but at the deepest level of his being he seemed to find the idea of religion offensive. I wondered if he might feel a little differently about Jesus, as many people separate their views of institutionalized faith from their feelings about Christ, but he turned out to be as vigorous an opponent of Jesus as he was of Elijah. ‘Clearly you have never really examined his claims,’ he told me. ‘Fancy announcing that you are the only way, truth and life and that no one can get to God except through you. It’s the breeding ground of intolerance, and look at the harvest of religious wars it has birthed.’

Again, my attempts to defend Jesus got nowhere. He left the gallery shortly afterwards, clearly annoyed that he had stumbled into a display that so offended his ethical sensibilities.

I have been a follower of Jesus for over forty years. During that time I have often encountered people who have expressed intellectual reservations about the trustworthiness of the Christian faith. As both a student and teacher of apologetics, I have grappled with their questions, and have, at least to my own satisfaction, resolved the majority of them. The remainder I have learnt to live with. They don’t seem too significant to me. More recently however, I have noticed a different tone to the objections. People seem a little less interested in debating whether miracles can or cannot happen, or if the Bible can or cannot be trusted. Their issue is not primarily with the question of truth, but with the question of moral credibility.

It has taken me by surprise, and I have spent the last few years wrestling with some of the issues raised. To me it has always seemed a self evident truth that Christianity is a force for good in the world. I have seen so many faith based projects that bring light and hope to otherwise bleak and depressing landscapes. And I have met so many wonderful people whose faith in Jesus has touched and shaped them in such a way that their kindness and goodness spontaneously overflows into the lives of all who come into contact with them. I struggle to understand why people would question their integrity and morality – or the worthiness of the faith that has led to this transformation.

Perhaps it has been the many financial scandals in which the church has become embroiled. And then there are the heartbreaking cases of sexual abuse by the clergy – so many of them… And then there are the many examples of power abuse by religious leaders. If money, sex and power are the three false gods of our age, the church at times has been guilty of bowing down to each. The consequences are increasingly apparent. A watching world no longer believes that Christian leaders can be trusted, or that they have anything to contribute to the resolution of the ethical issues of our age. Faith is increasingly marginalized to a purely private zone, its presence in the public arena distrusted, unwelcome and often forbidden. How has it come to this?

We need to acknowledge that while faith, (and in this book I usually limit myself to the Christian faith), can be life serving, it can also turn toxic. As with Jekyll and Hyde, you cannot always be sure just which version you will get… or can’t you?

I have become increasingly convinced that it is possible to differentiate between forms of faith that are likely to do good in the world, and those that do damage – sometimes deeply destructive damage. It is not only possible to differentiate between different kinds of faith, it is also imperative that we do. We need to spot the signs that faith is at risk of turning venomous. We must move beyond the naïve silliness that assumes that simply because something has a religious veneer it must be supported and defended. Not all forms of faith do good; some do great damage, and it is important that we acknowledge this openly and transparently. Indeed, we have a responsibility to warn people against embracing toxic faith, and we should alert them to some of the signs that faith is in danger of becoming destructive.

That is why I have written this book…

Many of my friends will find it a surprising read. They know me to be an instinctive optimist, able to spot the hopeful in even the gloomiest scenarios. They will wonder why I have highlighted the negative. Actually, I hope I have not. Whilst I have become increasingly aware that faith can turn us into people who listen poorly and who arrogantly assume we already have the answer to every question, I am more convinced than ever that genuine Christ following leads us in a different direction. And I long that all those who desire to serve and follow God will be spared the destructive paths that might lead them astray.

Well – what do you think? How do we differentiate between toxic and life serving faith, and does it matter?

I will let you know when the book is out. As usual is will be available in both hard copy and electronic (Kindle and the like) formats. It won’t be long now. It feels great to see another project come to fruition – and I am really grateful to all who have made it possible, especially to those who have contributed to the interviews at the end of each chapter, in chapter order, Victor Owuor, Lloyd Porter, Travis Fitch, Yvonne Kilpatrick, Deborah Hurn, Dianne Tidball, Stephen O’Doherty, Rob Furlong, Phillip Nash, Rebecca Oates and Peter Christofides. As with The Tortoise Usually Wins and The Big Picture, the book has been published by British publisher, Paternoster.

Nice chatting…


One Comment

  1. Sounds like a very valuable book. Looking forward to getting a copy when it becomes available!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.