Evolving in Monkey Town

Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions
In your wanderings around campus you may have noticed a certain book lying about. That book is one Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. This book will be a subject of discourse at this year's Providence UC Faculty Forum and I would strongly encourage you to pick it up, read it, write your thoughts on it, and ponder its message.

This Friday PFC will be discussing this book at lunch so if you haven't read it yet, it might be a good idea to do so, it's a pretty easy and fun read.

To entice you to read this book and to foster some discussion, here is a brief review:

Evolution, a term loaded with a lot of rhetorical and emotional baggage in the religious culture of North America. As anyone versed in van der Breggenian philosophy ought to know, words can have multiple senses, and this proves true for the word "evolution". Evolution can refer to the Darwinian theory, or to simply change over time (there are many other senses, but for the sake of brevity I have only included two). Evolving in Monkey Town is the autobiographical account of one girl's journey growing up in a uber fundamentalist town and her coming to grips with her faith.

Rachel Held Evans grew up as the keenest apologist for her faith to be found. When she begins to realize that some of her answers just don't hold up against the emotional onslaught of dealing with real people, she begins to question her faith. Her journey reminds me much of Psalm 27, knows God, experiences some upheaval and disorientation and then is reoriented in her faith, now with a heart knowledge to accompany her "answers".

For the most part, I felt like I could identify well with the character. While my upbringing was not nearly as fundamentalist as hers, there are points of contact that hit home. For any who have struggled with doubts as they wrestled with their faith, they will find a familiar story here. This book is rhetorically powerful and convincing because of its emotional narrative. Where logical connections are lacking, the force of remembered experience evokes sympathy in the reader as one is drawn into the text.

My one major critique is that Evans seemed to force her faith to conform to her conscience. Somehow she knew that certain things were really right and really wrong, and where her theology clashed with that, she needed to do some work. The question that remains begging to be asked is of course, how does she know that her conscience was speaking truth. It would seem to me that she moved along a good moral direction throughout the story, but where did the standards of right and wrong come from that prompted her to deal with the inconsistencies of her faith?

I appreciated the emphasis that Evans put on the asking of questions over the defending of answers. There are a lot of things about God, that perhaps, it is better we never quite figure out. That being said, we shouldn't through out the notion of any epistemic certainty. We are a long way, each of us, from having the whole truth, but as VDB would say, "we do know some things, and that I think is significant".