One of the interesting things that happens to religion editors (yes—there are occasionally such things!) is that we receive emails from well-meaning evangelicals trying to convince us of the truth of their religion. I don’t get such emails too often, but they do come with, as the commercial used to say, “occasional irregularity.” These emails often tend to be long, as if someone who reads books for a living needs excessive verbiage to be shown the truth, and a bit rambling. They claim to show, sometimes scientifically, why their version of Christianity is the only true one. As an editor you have to pay attention until you find out whether it’s a book proposal or not (generally they’re not), because it’s good form to reply to all actual proposals.
Just as I’m about to type about not knowing why people do this, I recollect my own evangelical youth. I was a charter subscriber to Discover magazine. Growing up in a town where science was considered an unnecessary luxury, I was fascinated by it. We had no local bookstore, and our town didn’t even have a library. I subscribed to Discover and read several articles from each issue. I was, however, troubled that the editors of the magazine seemingly weren’t aware of the proofs of Christianity. I had Halley’s Bible Handbook in front of me and it stated in no uncertain terms that all of this had been proven. I considered all of this to be my responsibility, so I wrote a letter to the editor explaining that the Bible really had been proven true. If they’d accept that their great magazine would be even better. They elected not to publish it.
The point is, deep down I understand this compulsion to convert. My thinking has matured with the hundreds of books and articles I’ve read on the subject, but I can’t forget the evangelical terror of my childhood. For the good news, it was pretty scary. Of course, advanced study of the Bible—learning the original languages and their ambiguities—casts the whole thing in a different light. Those who don’t share the evangelical view may have had an enlightenment of their own. The thing is, admitting this doesn’t feel as good as claiming to have all the answers. Admitting to having questions, to some forms of Christianity, seems to be admitting weakness. And so I sit, reading through rambling emails that are well intentioned, but pointless. I wonder if they read Discover magazine too.