Credit where credit’s due, I’d rather read a memorable book that’s memorable for its condescension and oversimplification of complex issue over a book that is so boring I managed to read it three times without realising the second two times I’d already read this, and that’s pretty much all I can say in favour of Reba Riley’s Post Traumatic Church Syndrome.

Riley grew up in a strict religious family, and, as a twenty-something, attributes her break with the church with her spiritual sickness and its physical manifestations. She’s often lethargic, has gut and stomach trouble, is in generally poor health. Must be the universe telling her to get right with a higher power! She hits on the idea of exploring thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday, although many of those ‘religions’ are actually faiths that fall under broader religions. I couldn’t exactly place the timeline, but I’m guessing these thirty faiths took place in about a year.

At least one church leader that she approaches, a rabbi, is extremely dubious about her plan, calls her a ‘religious tourist’ and doubts she will get anything of value out of her flirtation with Judaism (or any faith, for that matter). Never thought I’d be agreeing with an old religious man, but dude has a point. Her ignorant condescension towards the various religions she tries borders on offensive, and if I hadn’t had the empathy I did for someone who is obviously in great physical and spiritual pain (not to mention a contempt for anything that calls itself ‘religion’) I would have found her a lot more offensive.

There are some good points – she finds her spirit animal during a Native American ritual and come to the realisation that atheists are some of the kindest folks you’re likely to come across because they know this is the only life they get, so they have to do something valuable with it – but for me, the kicker came at the end, when all her various maladies are connected via the diagnoses of celiac disease. After a few days on a strict gluten-free diet, she’s skipping around like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. All that anguish about the physical manifestation of her spiritual sickness and it was… celiac disease.

( I am in no way minimising the devastation of celiac disease. It was just such an anti-climax to the book’s general theme of ‘if I get right with a higher power, all my pain will go away. Turned out she just needed a competent doctor.)

I have a lot of issues with organised religion and put a lot of faith in science. I have no doubt as to how devastating and long-lasting the effects of a strict religious upbringing can be. A book like this should have appealed to more more than it did. I found Riley to be entitled and condescending towards the faiths she approached, like it was something for her to dabble in for a day, week or month and then pass judgement on it like she’d been doing it for years. I’m not a big fan of religion, but the folks who do have faith in it – pun intended – deserved better than such ignorant judgement from the likes of Riley.


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