I received this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program.
Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl
Beacon Press, 2009 (hardcover) (ISBN 0807010669 / 9780807010662)
Memoir, 215 pages
First sentence: “The devil is in an air bubble floating beneath my baptismal robe.”
Comments: Despite the fact I haven’t been a regular churchgoer for several years – or maybe because of it – I still find religion a fascinating subject. I’m interested in both academic-style discussion of religious topics and personal accounts of experience with organized religion, especially struggles with it. I’m pretty sure that ten years of living in the Bible Belt contribute to a particular curiosity about fundamentalist beliefs and practices, and my own issues as a woman living within Catholicism draw me toward other women’s stories of their own religious issues. Susan Campbell’s Dating Jesus brings two of those lines of interest together.
Campbell is a journalist with the Hartford Courant, and her book, subtitled A Memoir of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl, is a little different than I expected – lighter on the memoir, and heavier on history and analysis connecting fundamentalist teachings about women’s roles and the feminist movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. Campbell’s approach is thematic rather than strictly chronological, and she usually places the events she shares from her personal history into a larger context. Regardless of the emphasis, however, it was a pretty quick read, and accessible and thought-provoking throughout. (Well, thought-provoking for me, anyway, but I’ve already said this is an area I think about quite a bit.)
Campbell’s family became members of a fundamentalist church in Missouri when her mother married her stepfather, and young Susan initially embraced it wholeheartedly, Bible reading, outreach ministry, and all. However, as she grew into her teens and young adulthood in the 1970’s under the influence of second-wave feminism, she began to question the restrictive roles that her church demanded of women – but she came from a background that didn’t encourage questioning. Certainty, rooted in the belief in the literal truth of the Bible, is one of the hallmarks of fundamentalist thought. On that note, I found the distinctions Campbell makes between fundamentalism and evangelical Christianity enlightening; not coming from either tradition, I’ve tended to lump them together.
Campbell spent several years as an adult studying at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, and calls herself a “seeker” these days. She is without a “church home” now, and seems to have mixed feelings about that. She has re-framed some of her understanding about Christianity and women though direct reference to verses about Jesus’ interactions with women in the Gospels themselves, which seem to be much more woman-friendly than a lot of “official” Christian teaching, and seems to see some hope in a renewed emphasis on “social ministry” by some congregations.
I think I had expected the balance between personal and political in this book to be different, but I still found it a worthwhile read. I’m also a regular reader of Campbell’s Dating Jesus blog, which she updates frequently with links and commentary about both topics touched on in the book and less related posts. (And she does update frequently, sometimes with very short posts – someone needs a Twitter presence, methinks!)
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