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Book Corner July 2011


Breaking up With God

by Sarah Sentilles
San Francisco:  HarperCollins, 2011.


Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl            

Books about losing one’s faith are part of the general publishing scenes these days as the author joins Ehrman, Dawkins, Hitchens and other list writers of various types who proclaim life in a world without reference to God. Perhaps what makes this book unusual is that it is written by a female: most God-disclaiming books these days seem to emerge from male authors.

The disconcerting element of this work is the initial narrative fantasy framework of God as “He” and descriptions of God-relating as a male-female relationship, which the author is wise enough to break off.  Despite a well-written journey of faith abandonment, one gets the impression the author has yet to get over a rather juvenile version of God reflected in this choice of the male God “done me wrong” approach.

Sentilles takes the reader through her upbringing and her stints at Harvard doing two degrees in theology.  Her efforts to live out a faithful life in the slums of Compton on a teaching gig for Teach for America is admirable.  Another element of the work is the occasional brief reflection piece on the divine-human relationship interpreted through theologians and some of her teachers such as Gordon Kaufman. Other such snippets consider the fields of anthropology, ecology and feminism.  The work seems to derive more of its impetus from male figures than female although Mary Daly and Julian of Norwich make guest appearances.

In a postscript the author says:  “The version of God I used to love is still out there in the world, hanging around in churches, showing up in people’s prayers and hearts and imaginations, playing his [sic] role in the stories we like to tell.  But I know he’s [sic] not the right God for me.  I try to remember that.”  (p. 230)

This work has a great deal to do with Church, rules, church structures and theology but I found no address to issues of linguistics in any in-depth way and no reflections on the meanings of the Cross.

The work is humorous, thoughtful and theological but at the end of it one wonders still senses the nonintegrated elements of the author’s life.   Perhaps another work, twenty years from now from this author, will reveal a new level of theological reflection, one more mature and less girlish.  The work, however, is thoroughly honest in marking this current stage of the author’s life journey and makes fascinating reading.