Religions speak of faith because they ask believers to accept as true things for which objective evidence is lacking. Yet faith is strong enough to influence how we view life. But what happens if and when our intellectual and personal journeys present us with situations that raise questions about the validity of those beliefs?
That question is the focus of GOOD GOD, JOHNNY: A Christian Journey to the Third Millennium, a self-published e-book by J.J. Spankston available on Amazon. Two deaths that bookend the novel and the exposure to ideas at a secular university lead the title character, Johnny Daniels, to examine what he believes and was taught at the private school he always attended, Almighty Wonders Christian School.
The story follows Johnny and his best friend, Matt Ryan, from near the end of their senior year of high school through their first year at a medium-sized university in their hometown. Johnny is senior class president, valedictorian and popular with both teachers and students. Matt’s approach to life is a bit more relaxed and happy-go-lucky approach, but he and Johnny always have each other’s back. The educational environment isn’t far-fetched, predicated on a Christian tradition of belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Although science fascinates Johnny, in the school’s science classes, he and his classmates are taught that Noah’s Ark contained the ancestors of the life forms on the planet today. Evolution is treated with such contempt and disdain that Charles Darwin is not considered a scientist but “a veritable demon out to tear down the truth of Scripture.” The curriculum also instructs that anyone who does not believe Jesus Christ is God is doomed to hell and those who transgress certain Biblical standards, such as homosexuals, likewise are damned.
The death of a friend and Johnny’s enrollment as a biology and chemistry mayor in college, together with the people he meets there, cause him to start wondering if he’s viewing the world with blinders. His evaluation of seeming contradictions between what he believes and what he has learned and seen outlines an argument against fundamentalism and, undoubtedly, blind faith. It as if he personifies the clash between many on the Christian right and those with other religious or more liberal views. Johnny’s personal evolution leads him to consider not only Christian right doctrines but their occasional relation to the so-called Tea Party.
The concept, approach and writing style are fine, but the book stumbles in other ways. The retelling of how Johnny and Matt met on the first day of kindergarten uses circumstances and language incongruent with the setting. While Spankston uses detail to great effect with a death early in the book, too much detail weakens a later scene between Johnny and and his classmate, Laura. At the same time, the growing contrast between them as Laura pursues her post-secondary education at a Christian college is told in brief sketches. Johnny’s and Matt’s language strives a bit too hard to set them as residents of a state in the southern half of the country.
Johnny fully details the development of his internal debate and how it affects his belief and faith near the book’s conclusion. Unfortunately, the finale seems a bit long. It may have been more robust and persuasive with keener editing. Still, it is a cogent response to a number of the doctrines inculcated during his primary and secondary education and by his church.
GOOD GOD, JOHNNY won’t illuminate any blinders of true believers. Such people are likely to pick up a book like this only to derogate it. Of course, with blind faith you don’t need evidence to censure works that may critically analyze the basis of your beliefs. For anyone willing to genuinely consider and evaluate the evolution of Johnny’s beliefs, it serves as decent summary of a debate that seems all too polarized.