A series of personal reflections on the nature of faith in the modern world.
At one point in Stemmle’s gently irreverent and highly entertaining debut, one of his fictional interlocutors refers to him as “already 90% atheist,” though readers might have their doubts. Happily married, comfortably retired and congenially inquisitive, Stemmle is deceptively modest and self-deprecating, but in one of his various “puddles,” he reveals extensive reading, not only of the Bible and the great documents of Christian theology, but also of more recent literature of biblical scholarship. In a series of well-paced, smoothly written chapters, he examines various aspects of modern Christian belief—the struggles against internal doubt (and external doubters), the ease with which people resort to one-dimensional labels, and the authority of the Catholic Church, among other things. Many of his conclusions are fairly common-sense, and he saves an extra amount of railing for the fault of righteousness, which he shrewdly says “replaces the search for truth.” (It’s a mark of the book’s winning self-deprecation that Stemmle doesn’t exempt himself from this failing.) He intersperses his philosophical and theological musings with plenty of personal anecdotes and family history, ending each chapter with “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” that reveal a pedagogical impulse otherwise muted throughout the book. The highlight of his narrative comes in the sections in which Stemmle crosses swords with interview characters of his own invention—in fact, he puckishly reminds one of them, Arthur, that he’s invented—testing his knowledge and convictions against well-realized devil’s advocates; a fictional news anchor even has the four Evangelists as guests. The playful inventiveness of these sections highlights rather than obscures the essentially humanist heart of the book, expressed in many variations of Stemmle’s contention that an “informed faith is built on questioning and searching.” There’s a great deal here for readers of any faith to appreciate.
A wide-ranging, ultimately quite charming personal manifesto of faith, humor and inquiry.