I Sold My Soul on eBay
by Hemant Mehta
Reviewed by John Halford
I think it was Napoleon who said the two biggest mistakes military commanders can make is to underestimate their enemy and to believe their own propaganda. I think the same is true for evangelists. Especially at this time, when not just Christianity, but the whole concept of God and religion are under attack from some best-selling books by atheists.
They can make for difficult reading. Some are angry, aggressive, even sarcastic. Others have been poorly researched, showing little real understanding of Christianity. That is what makes Hemant Mehta’s book so different. He is not consumed with bitterness, or on a crusade to discredit our faith. He describes himself as a "friendly atheist," and if a book by an unbeliever can be a breath of fresh air, this is it.
Mehta was raised as a Jain, a minority Indian religion. He abandoned it as a teenager, and became an atheist. After taking the unusual step of auctioning on eBay a promise to attend the church of the winning bidder, he began an investigation of the many versions of Christianity in the United States. The result is a fascinating look at Christians through the eyes of an observant and thoughtful outsider.
Far from trying to drive another nail into its coffin, Mehta sees much good in Christianity, and he wants it to succeed. His book is often critical, but always constructive. As he writes, "I am simply telling you how a variety of churches came across to me — a young adult who is a well-educated atheist, open to any compelling evidence for the existence of God" (p. 138). He sees much to praise, but does not pull his punches in describing what he saw as smugness, hypocrisy and superficiality. He frequently reminds us that he may have misunderstood, and it is tempting to dismiss some of his criticisms as picky. But if this is the honest impression of a friendly outsider, we ought to pay attention.
Mehta makes no attempt to undermine our faith or to promote his lack of it. His research does not have a trite "happy ending"; Mehta is still as much an atheist as he was at the beginning. But he is a friendly one, and he says, "I did gain a newfound respect for some churches, though, especially those that make a difference by helping people (Christian or otherwise). These are the churches that practice Christianity instead of just preaching it" (p. 159).
Any pastor or congregation serious about reaching the unreached will find much to think about in this quietly respectful, but devastatingly perceptive, look at ourselves as others see us.
Hemant Mehta, I Sold My Soul on eBay, Waterbrook Press, 2007.