I have to admit that when I first learned about the book I Sold My Soul on eBay by Hemant Mehta I was a little skeptical. As a fellow eBay shopper I was at least curious about the concept. “How in the world was someone able to put their soul on eBay?” I wondered. As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover (or the title for that matter).
The book is a very easy read and at some points hard to put down. Mr. Mehta spends a good portion of the early part of the book sharing his own experience with religious faith. The author came out of a religious tradition called Jainism; a belief system which I knew little if anything about before reading this book. Mehta describes his transition away from the religion of his childhood as a period of asking questions and receiving answers that were incompatible with reasonable thinking. These experiences led him to embrace atheism.
Even with doubts about religious belief and the supernatural in mind Mr. Mehta went ahead with his eBay experiment. I found his willingness to dialog and to be “bought” on eBay quite unusual but intriguing. As I was reading I found myself wondering whether this person was dissatisfied with his current situation and was truly seeking meaning in his life or whether his strategy was to confirm his rejection of all things supernatural.
My one critique is actually with the book’s subtitle. Perhaps this was the work of Mr. Mehta’s publisher and not that of the author. The subtitle on the cover reads, “Viewing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes.” After reading the book I’m not sure that is entirely accurate. What is described in these pages is actually Christian worship or “church” viewed through an atheist’s eyes. I know that genuine Christian faith viewed through the eyes of an unbeliever will probably seem strange and somewhat “foolish” (1 Cor. 1:18). What I want to know as a pastor is what the church experience looks like to someone like Hemant Mehta. Fortunately this is exactly what the author describes in this book.
The question that seemed to come up most often in his reviews of various churches was why these churches were doing what they were doing. I found this to be very helpful. Mr. Mehta is just one visitor offering one perspective but his questions are ones I’ve heard from other people in churches other than the ones he visited (including mine). Some of the “why” questions were in reference to particular church practices. A few of these might even be worth reviewing so to avoid miscommunication to those unfamiliar with the way things are. Other questions had to do with things many of us would label nonnegotiable, such as the exclusivity of the gospel message, human sin, and other doctrinal issues.
In the end this book caused me, especially as a pastor, to evaluate why we do some of the things we do in church. I even considered revising some of my own practices, not to cater to the atheist’s or to the visitor’s personal preferences, but so that I might better communicate what it is we do and why we do it. This book may not provide deep insight into an atheist’s view of Christian faith, but it will at least provide many of us with an outsiders view of what is happening in our local congregations on a weekly basis.
Eric Nygren is Pastor at Cornerstone EFC in