He Sold His
Soul on eBay
A book review
Within the pages of I Sold My Soul on eBay we meet a fine young man named Hemant Mehta who is intelligent, funny, friendly, and tries to be helpful to others. Why is the word atheist not in the description? It does not matter, except for the fact he went on eBay and announced he was an atheist who was willing to go to church and asked for few things in return. He only wanted to ask questions and show people that stereotypes are not always correct. In addition, he was upfront concerning where the funds raised would go after the auction and deal was completed.
Hemant tells us he grew up in an average family that consisted of two parents and a sister. His parents were very religious, but their religion of choice was Jain, so he knew very little about Christianity. Regardless, he came to his personal beliefs, not by his parents, but through his own heart, mind, and informed choice. Like many people, he has a variety of books and literature in his bookcase, volunteers, as well as fills a leadership role with a respectable college campus group. While he does not practice his parents' religion anymore, he still holds on to the commendable values of vegetarianism and non-violence he learned from Jainism, but he has no personal concept of an existing deity. This is not to say he is alone or unfulfilled in his life, because he does charity work and leads a very happy and satisfying life. When he needs a sympathetic ear to listen to him or a shoulder to cry on he seeks out a friend or relative. In times of need, he relies on them and shares his joy and achievements with them. He finds great solace and satisfaction in human companionship as well as enjoys life with all its great wonders.
He explains in detail how he became an atheist and what the non-religious believe. He did this as everyone else does by questioning the beliefs taught to him, did research concerning his questions, and came to his conclusions on his own. Eventually he found others who thought like him, but other questions still needed exploring. In order to find those answers he turned to Christians, but he also wanted to give something back to them.
While there are some minor things readers may disagree with, they can agree with other things concerning his assessment of the churches he visited. The minor things are a matter of preference, like a thirty-minute service with a five-minute homily and no music verses a long one with a whole band or just an organ. After all some people do like a service that is short and sweet so they can get on with life. He also made other suggestions concerning the services in his book that appeared to be very good ideas though and not a matter of preference.
However, in the chapter with suggestions on how to improve the Church, he devotes less than a page to religious extremism and only mentioned it briefly in other parts of his book. This is important feedback because it concerns many people and it is a major problem, which turns many people away from religions. Avoiding religious extremism would seem to be one of the key issues necessary to convert someone. While religious extremism is a sensitive subject, it needs a more thorough discussion and in a way that will hopefully not offend others. Then again, he may have figured people have covered this topic before.
There were two suggestions that stood out to me as I read Hemant's book. One was the rituals and traditions. While I dearly love the beauty of the rituals in an Episcopal service, one does not learn about these rituals until they take the classes required before becoming a confirmed member. Even then, people learn more about the service the longer they attend the Anglican Church, if they are lucky. This leaves the members to explain everything they can to their guests who come with them to church, or they remain in the dark and very frustrated with the service. As an Episcopalian, I saw this many times over the years, as I watched visitors completely lost and befuddled in the service. The second was the lack of opportunity to ask questions. While the Anglicans do fairly well with this, the opportunity rarely comes until potential new members take Adult Confirmation Classes or go to the Adult Bible Study Class. Before and after services the priest is always rushed and even during the social hour, she or he is still hurried. Therefore, it is difficult for visitors to get answers to their questions.
While I never heard of most of the churches Hemant visited, except for Ted Haggard's church, he gave a very detailed synopsis of a few churches and in some cases mixed a little humour, which was a very nice touch, especially in places where services got a bit dull. I appreciated his observations about various ministers and the events that happened at each church. He also pointed out what he liked, did not like, and what could be annoying to some people. Before he finished though, he explained what worked and what did not, and then continued with suggestions on how Christians could better reach out to the non-religious. He gave good ideas on how to create energy and passion in members as well as possibly attract new members.
Hemant Mehta's wonderful personality and humour shines through in his book as he takes you on a journey about his life, his beliefs, and his views of various churches he visited. As one reads I Sold My Soul On eBay you forget he is an atheist or find that it does not matter because you see a very nice intelligent man who wants to inquire into what he knows little about and give something in return. He gave back to the people, the community, and the world with his book. It is a wonderful attempt of giving back to everyone around the planet in exchange for what he learned which was very different from what he grew up with as a child.
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May 4, 2007 Podcast
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