Review: Salvation Boulevard

Last Friday, Salvation Boulevard arrived in the mail, sent to me for a religious point of view. Coincidentally, my internet server was down, my husband was out of town, the weather necessitated staying indoors, the kids were busy, and I had several guilt-free hours to enjoy this book.

Let me start by saying that it is an engaging story. It is a a theological murder mystery by Larry Beinhart [author of the political novel, Wag the Dog] in which multiple belief systems collide.

“The dead man is an atheist professor, the accused an Islamic foreign student, the defense attorney a Jew, and the detective a Born Again Christian. As Carl [the detective] gets deeper and deeper into the investigation of the death of professor Nathaniel MacLeod, his most basic beliefs and relationships are tried and his world is turned upside down.”

My perspective as a religious reviewer…

With topics of terrorism and homeland security that could be taken from today’s headlines, the story delves into scenarios of corruption, treachery, and scandal in every arena, moving from the college university to a wildly successful mega-church, from the local police department to an organized crime network in the process of solving the mystery.

The character development and plot lines concerning believers in the book tended toward outlandish caricaturization and at times were cartoonish, especially the portrayal of christian marriage. This may have been intentional for satiric effect. Although, admittedly, I’ve seen equally ridiculous and cartoonish situations in real life too.

The main character, Carl, was easy to identify with in his questioning of and disillusionment with religious systems. The corruptibility of power within religious structures is not shocking, in fact, it is probably to be expected.

Larry Beinhart describes the tension of conviction that occurs in many people’s lives, particularly as religious illusions and ideals are shaken or shattered. What he fails to grasp is a faith that can stand apart from the system of institutional religion, a faith that is bigger than the personalities that represent religion today.

He is asking great questions and is insightful in his conclusion that most claims of certainty can be shot full of holes. Questions about fundamentalism rooted in religious belief are valid and important concerns. His requirement that faith have an effect on morality and ethics is legitimate, but idealistically intolerant of the broken and imperfect state of believers.

The author’s underlying belief that faith is a delusion is evident throughout the story. While he pokes at the inconsistencies of systems of doctrine, he also dismisses faith that is based on knowing God through experience. The testimony and belief of others is not considered viable proof or evidence of the existence of God, but rather attributed to the innate tendency in humans to believe.

I was not surprised to see christianity predictably portrayed as being less than rational and intelligent, for the gullible, the easily duped, and those without mental depth. The author is generous enough to indicate that belief can actually be a beneficial delusion, but he basically ends up saying that one must turn their mind off in order to believe.

By the end of the book, the mystery of who killed the professor has been solved. But ultimately the author fails in his attempt to discover Whodunit in the mystery of true salvation.

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