Announcing The Dish Book Club

Well, it’s more like a resuscitation of the Book Club, since we had one more than a decade ago now. But the format will be the same. Each month, we’ll pick a book, and Dish readers are invited to read it alongside us. After three weeks, we’ll start debating it, through posts on the Dish and a reader thread fueled by your thoughts on the book. If the author is still alive, we’ll try and get him or her to do a podcast at the end (on Deep bookclub-beagle-trDish) to answer some of the questions readers have raised and keep the conversation going.

If you’re like me, you find your time for book-reading increasingly constrained by our Googled minds and our overwhelmed lives. So think of this club, as I am, as an incentive to read alongside others the kind of book you might have passed on without the prompt of a Dish discussion. In the future, we will have guests championing a favorite book – sometimes new, sometimes old – and hosting the discussion alongside Dish editors curating the reader threads. Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, has generously agreed to host the second club.

We had been mulling re-starting this feature and then a new book arrived that clinched it. I know some of you may flinch at such a religious subject to kick off the club, but the book is written for believers and skeptics alike, and focuses on the historical exploration of what the earliest Christians meant when they claimed that a first-century rural Jewish preacher was actually God. The reason I find this such a compelling area of research is because I have honestly always wondered what Incarnation is supposed to mean. I know what it means in the abstract – but what it means in reality eludes me. It is a mystery, and yet such a mystery is the linchpin of Christianity. The key questions are: what exactly did Jesus’ followers mean when they insisted upon this after Jesus’ death; and what can it ever mean to claim that someone is the Son of God?

The book is Bart Ehrman‘s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Buy it through this link to join the club and thereby help support the Dish with a little affiliate revenue. Here’s the publisher’s official description of the book:

New York Times bestselling author and Bible expert Bart Ehrman reveals how Jesus’s divinity became how-jesus-became-goddogma in the first few centuries of the early church. The claim at the heart of the Christian faith is that Jesus of Nazareth was, and is, God. But this is not what the original disciples believed during Jesus’s lifetime—and it is not what Jesus claimed about himself. How Jesus Became God tells the story of an idea that shaped Christianity, and of the evolution of a belief that looked very different in the fourth century than it did in the first.

A master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, Ehrman reveals how an apocalyptic prophet from the backwaters of rural Galilee crucified for crimes against the state came to be thought of as equal with the one God Almighty, Creator of all things. But how did he move from being a Jewish prophet to being God?

In a book that took eight years to research and write, Ehrman sketches Jesus’s transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection. Only when some of Jesus’s followers had visions of him after his death—alive again—did anyone come to think that he, the prophet from Galilee, had become God. And what they meant by that was not at all what people mean today.

Written for secular historians of religion and believers alike, How Jesus Became God will engage anyone interested in the historical developments that led to the affirmation at the heart of Christianity: Jesus was, and is, God.

Join me in exploring this topic and the roots of Christianity. Atheists and non-believers are particularly invited. This will emphatically not be a debate within the confines of any religious community. It may even, I hope, be a way for religious and non-religious Dish readers to communicate with each other in the threads that will eventually emerge. We’ll start the debate the week after Easter, on April 23. So get the book now and start reading.

Update from a reader:

Fantastic idea to bring this back, and terrific selection for the first book. I look forward to reading the thread. Have to say, though, I have a real hard time reading physical books any more. Got mine for the iPad.

In fact, all of our affiliate links go to the electronic version of the book. We don’t get as much affiliate revenue doing so, but since the Dish has long championed the spread of e-books over the dead-tree version, we want to put our money where our mouth is. Also, following the lead of Popova, we will provide a link to public library access. Meanwhile, another reader shares a heartbreaking story about her Christian mother:

I just 1-clicked my way into the Dish Book Club (enjoy the affiliate revenue!).  This is a book I would never have given a second, if ever a first, glance to normally, as I am a non-believer.

A non-believer who was raised in the United Methodist church and enjoyed many aspects of the denomination (the musicality, the general welcoming of others). I was also a born-again Christian from the time I was about six years old, but as I got into my teen years, I increasingly felt like a fraud among my Christian peers. The older I got, the less I believed. In my logic-driven brain, it just didn’t add up for me. I don’t know if I lost my faith so much as I let it go. Religion just isn’t a factor in my life very much. I understand how many of my friends and family are of strong faith and I don’t fault them for that or try to take it from them. Some of them know I don’t believe and some don’t. It isn’t much of an issue, except with one person: my mother.

As I’ve become a non-believer, she’s moved towards shades of Christianist. A Baptist church. Much more politically active in the GOP. She’s been unemployed for the past several years living on nothing but social security but still thinks the Affordable Care Act is socialism.

Two years ago at Thanksgiving she cornered me in conversation and asked me point blank if I was still a Christian and I answered honestly (one of my core beliefs) and said, “no.” That basically destroyed her emotionally. This past Thanksgiving she admitted to me that she had planned her suicide because she felt she had failed at everything at life, that the only thing she’d ever done that she’d been proud of was raising me, but when I told her I wasn’t a Christian any longer, then she realized she’d failed at raising me too. As I sat opposite my mother completely stunned at that revelation, she then told me the only reason she hadn’t killed herself was that she realized if she did, she’d never see me again, since she’s going to heaven and I’m going to hell, so she has to stay here until she converts me back to being a Christian. And she said it all so matter-of-factly, I think that might have been the most disturbing part of it all.

My mom wants me to explain to her why I don’t believe in God but she doesn’t have to explain why she does. My response is to just not talk about it at all. It seems like a lose-lose conversation.

Now I’m not looking at any book to solve my problems, but I’ve got to face facts that I have to deal with the religious elephant in my family room sometime and this book seems like a sane, logical place to dip my toe in the water and have some conversations with people on both sides of the belief fence. And I really enjoy history, so bonus there.