The Magazine

Left Behind

An evangelical loses his faith but fails to gain insight.

Aug 4, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 44 • By MARK D. TOOLEY
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"After I walked away from Jesus Christ, my life improved dramatically," Marks recounts. He married a non-devout Jewish woman, had a son, and pursued his vocation in journalism. His rejection of religion accelerated. While living in Berlin, he met an aging transvestite who had stood up against Nazi and Communist repression of sexual minorities. He wonders why this courageous friend cannot enter heaven, having shown more virtue against tyranny than many Christians had. Marks recalls that his rejection of God culminated in Bosnia.

By his own account, Marks never personally witnessed killing or atrocities. But he was overcome when he learned that a victim of ethnic cleansing was holding onto hope of his sons still being alive, when in fact, unbeknownst to him, they were dead. Marks did not have the heart to tell the man, but he wondered how a deity could preside over such tragedy.

Although Marks supposedly abandons all belief in God, his absorption with, at least, the theory of religion remains nearly obsessive. And this book is his struggle to answer the question-"Will you be left behind?"-from the Dallas evangelical couple.

Repeatedly recalling humanity's greatest crimes, Marks cites the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Stalinist terrors, the world wars, the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. "A god has overseen this nightmare?" he asks. Such a deity has no right to his loyalty or belief, he concludes. "Leave me behind." But Marks also recounts the death of the Puritan Reverend Williams's wife, whose husband remembered, before she was slain by a Mohawk warrior, that she "never spake any discontented word as to what had befallen us, but with suitable expressions justified God in what happened."

Mrs. Williams's gruesome demise at the point of a hatchet, a metaphor for the world's horrors, haunts Marks. The Puritan martyr, having witnessed the murders of her children, still died with her faith intact. Marks wonders if her death could "mean something ultimate?" Despite his professed rejection of God, Marks mostly declines to answer his own question.
Reasons to Believe fails to be very satisfying, not because of his conclusions but because he fails really to have any.

Mark D. Tooley directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy's program for United Methodists.