Sunday, May 1, 2016

Book Review: The Faith Club

(Reclaimed from Blogjob. Tags: ecumenisminterfaith discussionsinterfaith religious fellowshipliberal Christianliberal Jewishliberal Muslim.)

A Fair Trade Book
Title: The Faith Club
Author: Ranya Idliby, Susanne Oliver, Priscilla Warner
Priscilla Warner's web site:
Date: 2006 (hardcover), 2007 (paperback)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0-7432-9048-8
Length: 396 pages including (trilingual!) appendices
Quote: “We’re three mothers...who got together to write a picture book for our children that would highlight the connections between our religions...We realized that before we could talk about what united us we had to confront what divided us.”
In the early 1990's I belonged to a car pool of three writers who lived in northern Virginia and frequently spent weekends (and the Gulf War weeks) in Pittsburgh. We met through a newspaper ad: a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian. We realized that this combination would be excellent for a car pool, because it guaranteed that whoever was driving would be kept awake with lively conversation. Sometimes the religious debates became very lively indeed...but somehow we never had to stop the car. Somehow we became friends.
After 2001, authors Idliby, Oliver, and Warner achieved a similar kind of friendship. Their conversation looks bland and tactful on paper, yet the women disagree more intensely, at a more personal level, than women of their age and class normally tolerate. Sometimes their blood pressure rose; Warner mentions having to take extra pills for a cardiac condition. Nevertheless, they say, they’ve stuck it out and bonded as friends.
The authors’ friendship may be facilitated by the fact that each woman represents the liberal extreme in her religious community. Idliby, a descendant of Palestinian expatriates, felt like an outsider in Lebanon, rarely visited a mosque, and covered her hair only when praying. Oliver, brought up Catholic, joined a more liberal Episcopal group as an adult. Warner, born Jewish, didn’t even think she believed in God when the project began. These writers are committed to a sort of edge-blurring universalism. I believe it would have been possible for writers who practice their religion in more traditional ways to have talked about their differences as friends too.
They discuss the life and death of Jesus, whether Christians actually blame Jews for it, the stereotypes members of each group have about the others, the possibility of conversion, the ways the women “lean on” God during personal crises, the boundary disputes in the Middle East, prayer, rituals, beliefs about death, conversations with religious leaders, holidays, community, and the fact that each woman found this interfaith project to be a real spiritual experience. While they were writing this book, Idliby found a mosque to call home, Warner realized that she did believe in God, and Oliver worked through areas of doubt and confusion. Through the whole book, each woman consistently practices compassion for the others.
Readers will find plenty to agree with and to disagree with in this book. Warner, I think, does an excellent job of explaining why some Jewish people brace themselves to hear “-killer” every time they hear “Christ.” Then again, I’ve heard homeless paranoid-schizophrenics do a fine job of explaining why they think radio waves aggravate their mental problems. I think there’s some kernel of truth in what the schizophrenics are saying too. I don’t think paranoid people need to imagine that anyone else is going to want to participate in paranoia.
The main body of the text ends on page 293 of this book. The next 103 pages include a bibliography, appendices in English, Hebrew, and Arabic for reading groups, and questions and suggestions for those who want to form their own “faith clubs.”
The authors identify several groups of people to whom this book may be particularly helpful: “White male politicians..anyone who is interested in religion...people who know a lot about their religion, people who know very little, people who question whether there is a God, young people, old people.” Basically, any human could learn something from The Faith Club.
The book has sold well and is widely available, often for less than this site's minimum price of $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment. If you buy it as a Fair Trade Book, how will each of the three living authors get an equal share of the $1 payment to the author? Maybe they can agree on a charity?