Book Review: Holy Terror by Mel White

Title: Holy Terror: Lies The Christian Right Tell Us To Deny Gay Equality
Author: Mel White, former fundamentalist, currently an out, gay pastor
Disclaimer: Okay, this one was a Speakeasy Freebie, and it may help you to put into perspective my own personal theology, evidenced by other posts on this blog: I am liberal/progressive.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars*, but let’s be clear: I hated it. 

What I liked:  He’s an excellent writer, persuasive, evocative and as I read the table of contents, I got excited about this book. Part One: My Friends, The Enemy. Part Two: How Fundamentalists Fight and Win Their Wars. Part Three: The Great Fundamentalist Heresies. Part Four: Resisting Fundamentalism.

I was expecting a compassionate but clear-eyed account from this man-on-the-ground guy who had lived that life, embraced that ethos and later hit a turning point, and turned indeed. I expected to be brought into the heads of the people who lived the life of a fundamentalist – why are they this way, what is it about their strategy that works so well, what are the underlying errors of thought that will eventually trip them up, and what the author thinks I can do in my own little corner of the world about this situation. This expected situation did not, however, come to pass. But for the record, I’d be interested in reading that book.

What I disliked: The manner in which he treated his subject material, namely the outline mentioned above. He wrote 400 pages of sensationalist, angry, angsty autobiography, loosely framed around the four parts previously mentioned. As a matter of fact, he’s already written an autobiography, but his life is literally fantastic, so two is fine with me. Even so, the sensationalist, angry angst of it can be left at the door. Please exorcise your demons before you write your book, or exorcise them in the editing process. The reason I require this is simple: I really don’t want your demons in my living room.

It seemed (and this is presumption) that this style of writing was employed because the author thought it would be compelling and convincing to his audience, admitting in the preface that his audience isn’t fundamentalists, whose minds don’t change on principle. So, given that his audience, then, would be reasonably open minded conservative, moderate and liberal Christians, the fact that he emotionally vomited all over us in this book sort of shoots his entire purpose in the foot.

I don’t need to be convinced that fundamentalist Christians have made an idol of the bible. I’m already on that page. I don’t need to be convinced that God Loves Everybody, No Exceptions. Been there, wrote the website. I don’t need to be convinced about the horrors that humans have endured at the hands of other humans who invoke the name of God, or that hate crimes exist and are deplorable, or that the perpetrators of hate crimes actually do think they’re in the right. And it seems that Mel White just spent 400 pages trying to convince me of that.

Summary: So, finally, I think this book is fine for what it is. And it’s a Part Two, Sensational Autobiography of a former Christian fundamentalist gay pastor. I simply have zero interest in such a book, preferring my books to be at best thought-provoking, and at worst thoughtful, and find a book that attempts to dictate and direct my emotions (for instance, sensational material) an utter waste of time.

*Note on the Rating System:  So, if it was an utter waste of my time, why three stars instead of one? To me, a One Star book is at its core, badly written, and I have to wonder how it got past an editor with eyes. A Two Star book had good ideas and bad execution. A Three Star book is a good writer behaving badly, or a bad writer struggling to tell an excellent story. A Four Star book is a solidly good book, nothing wrong and lots of things right. A Five Star book may have defects, but it’s solidly good and it did something that a Four Star doesn’t: it challenged me, it taught me something true but elusive, it stuck with me through the years, or it broke new ground. And so this book? This book was a good author behaving badly.

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