SPIRIT AND FLESH by James M. Ault
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SPIRIT AND FLESH

Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Documentary filmmaker Ault unearths the everyday codes that direct the lives of a conservative Christian community and the intensity of emotions embodied in their concept of being “born again.”

This grew out of the author’s experiences while making the award-winning documentary Born Again in the mid-1980s. His sojourn with the members of the Shawmut River Baptist Church (not its real name) in Worcester, Massachusetts, took a long time to write about, Ault states, primarily because it prompted a personal journey to a level of Christian conviction that he, raised the son of a mainstream Methodist minister, had not known before. But the text also sprang from his concern that intellectuals were often dealing with the fundamentalist movement, and dismissing it as flawed scholarship, without any exposure to its interaction with local communities. How do believers at the ground level, Ault asked himself, stand so firmly on concepts like inerrancy of Scripture and moral absolutism against the onslaught of scientific discovery and the drift toward freedom of individual thought in this country? The power of this work comes from the details based on Ault’s depth of immersion and freedom to observe social interaction among the Shawmut members, for whom an oral tradition of biblical bytes for every occasion reinforces total rejection of “phoolosophy” (secular learning) and a close support group that knits together a community to help any member struggling with a broken marriage, unemployment, sickness, etc. Revelations? Fundamentalists do change their thinking, Ault observes, but always veil the changes. For example, “interpretations of Noah’s cursing the descendants of Ham, in Genesis, as biblical justification [for] racial segregation fell . . . quietly out of sight in the Seventies.” His conclusion: fundamentalist movements (not mentioning Islam by name) based on sacred texts can survive in the modern world indefinitely.

Informative and well-informed documentation of how faith is made to fit.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-40242-X
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004




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