One of my social networking sites (that I don't network a lot on) is librarything.com. It's a site that basically keeps a record of all your books online. Because LibraryThing has essentially collected thousands of enthusiastic book-lovers, they get several hundred early review books from various publishers and you can request to get a copy. You're more likely to get a copy if you've reviewed a lot of your own books on the site, and even then there's no guarantee that you will get a book every month or even at all. I've been requesting books for several months (since I subscribed to the LibraryThing blog and they started sending out notices that the request list was up), but this month I found a weird little package in the mail. A free book! The Gnostic Mystery by Randy Davila.
Here's my little review from LibraryThing: "LibraryThing thought I wouldn't like it, and they were right. First off, the theological premise was not one that I agreed with, but second, the writing was clunky and the action was non-existent. The thing about didactic novels is that you have to let the story lead the teaching, and this book had about 80% teaching and 10% story and 10% action."
Here's an expansion though. Just because I don't like a book's theological premise does not mean I'll automatically dislike the book. I'm a huge fan of His Dark Materials series and that has gnostic roots too. I liked The Da Vinci Code--great action, less great writing. What Philip Pullman and Dan Brown do (that Randy Davila only attempts to do) is create a compelling story that slowly brings out the gnostic teaching. I appreciate contrary perspectives when I can see where they are coming from, how they would organically develop. It helps me respect and understand the perspective without agreeing with it. Davila's attempts to provide that background were heavy-handed and clumsy. Also his portrayal of the other side through a Bible-believing, immediately condemning pastor was just flat out insulting (though I believe it was a misguided attempt to be amusing). His characters who promote Gnosticism were dismissive, cynical, and in the case where they interact with that pastor disingenuous.
Okay so what is Gnosticism and why it is a mystery? Well, the traditional (or Literalist if you'd prefer Davila's term) view is that gnosticism is heresy from the early church (2nd-4th century CE) that promotes a special knowledge (gnosis) necessary to Christianity and if you carefully read the gospels (and some of the books that the traditional church cruelly stamped out) you'll get this special knowledge. So okay, there are phrases in Christianity that talk about "knowing Christ as your Lord and Savior" that might play into this, but secrets and hidden messages aren't part of Christianity (or at least they shouldn't be). Anyone is able to read the Bible and understand it. You might understand it better with some instruction, but there's no trick to the Scriptures. But the kicker for me is when Gnosticism goes on to say that Jesus may or may not have a been a real person, may or may not have done the stuff the gospels say he did, but it doesn't matter because the stuff people SAY he said was pretty good and worth following. And that statement says exactly what Judaism or Isalm or Buddhism will say about Jesus. Christianity is worthless without a savior who died and rose again for the sins of the world. Without that historical event, it's meaningless. It's even in Paul's letter to the I Corinthians.
Anyway maybe that's the good part of the book. It helped me crystalize why I don't support Gnosticism. More good: it's really short, less than 200 pages, and I liked the shape...
Other pet peeves: Not calling Chloe by her title though they did it with every other person who possessed a doctorate. Using the word "Jehovah" in an academic context. (It's an amalgamation of the letters of the tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the vowel pointings for adonai because Jewish tradition does not pronounce the tetragrammaton and the vowels remind them to say adonai instead.) Blatent ripping off of the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And really the waste of a very nice sacrifice of one for many scene that has no meaning because it can't refer to Jesus because he didn't really die ... or live.
Okay so the free book was a bit of a bust. But hopefully I'll get some more books and become better at this reviewing stuff.