4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2011
I have to confess: I was not as excited to read "The Devil Wears Nada: Satan Exposed" as I was to read York's previous book, "Third Way Allegiance: Christian Witness in the Shadow of Religious Empire." After all, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I will live in this world as someone who wants to follow Christ's teachings, and not as much time thinking about Satan. As a matter of fact, I happen to think Satan is given way too much credit, particularly among the believers with whom I tend to associate.
I should have known better, though. I loved both books, but I laughed a lot more at "The Devil Wears Nada."
I was immediately gratified to see the title of the first chapter, "The Protestant Deification of the Devil," as it seemed to confirm my own previously-espoused belief. But there is much more to love here:
- York's conversations with people who, on the surface, would appear to come from all manner of belief systems, but who we learn actually have a lot in common.
- York's analysis of Biblical accounts, particularly the story of Job and Satan's temptation of Jesus. He often raises more questions than he answers, but that's probably why I enjoy it so much.
- York's skewering of people who need it, e.g. Cindy Jacobs and Pat Robertson, among others. (And he often includes himself.)
- The recounting of conversations in York's classes at Western Kentucky University (an institution somewhat dear to my own heart). These made me wish I could go back to my hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky and take some of York's classes.
- And there is much more, but you'll have to read the book to discover it.
(However, I am compelled to point out one of my favorite lines in the book: after summarizing Anton LaVey's "The Nine Satanic Statements," York concludes, "Wow, he sure likes Ayn Rand." That one really made me laugh for some reason.)
I could see some people not necessarily appreciating the humor in this book. Religion, theology - however you want to classify it - can be a touchy subject for many people, as York often proves within the pages of the book. People take this stuff seriously and consider it no laughing matter. But I love the way York manages to have me literally LOL-ing one minute and thinking through something in a new way the next.
I plan to try to nag all my friends into buying a copy of this book. Even if they don't read it, it will at least maybe help a brother pay off his student loans.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2011
I've said and written this before, and I still believe it's true: if you want to find out what's really important to your neighbor, ask that neighbor about Hell. I suppose the corollary of that truth is thus: a book about the devil will reveal more of the author than might a book about God. Going with that major premise, and using Tripp York's <em>The Devil Wears Nada</em> as the minor, I'd say that Tripp York is a person who loves his footnotes and worries that his reactions to one folly will land him in a second, more foolish folly. That said, whereas some books leave me wondering whether I live on the same planet as the author, York's is the sort that makes me think that a different choice here, a switch of opportunities there, and I could easily imagine his life and mine switched. That makes for difficult book-reviewing, but it's also the kind of reading that teaches me some things about myself. Yes, O Reader, this book review will be more autobiographical than most of mine, but it's because this book (not unlike Coffeehouse Theology) holds up a mirror to my mind as much as it gives me a funny book to read.
As the title of my review indicates, York seems to take the structure of his book from Morgan Spurlock's documentaries: after a brief narrative setting up the quest to find the real Satan, York travels to churches of all stripes, interviewing evangelicals and unitarians, Pentecostals and liberals, all to find the real Satan. Why find Satan? Because, as the book's setup narrative relates, York has become bored with the classical proofs of God and the safe, mostly sterile discussions that philosophical theology inevitably drift towards. So that he can find an exciting God, he goes where the excitement is: Satan. Unlike Spurlock, he doesn't state his rules at the outset, but there are rules governing the hunt nonetheless: for the duration of the book, he must go to a variety of religious and non-religious people, asking them to explain their claims about Satan and following those claims to their logical conclusions. As he hunts, his aim will always be a face-to-face encounter with Satan, and if the meeting occurs, he will offer his soul in exchange for the immediate repayment of his student loans.
The selling-the-soul riff, like most of the book, has its own theological rationale: York explains, deep in the book, that since he holds to something like a Thomist view of the soul, in which the soul is the ordering principle of earthly (and resurrected) existence rather than a non-corporeal component of the person that one can separate from the body (and thus buy or sell), that he's in no real danger of losing anything of value when he makes his deal. If you, O Reader, think that such a chain of reasons strains a bit, even for a light satire, then you'll likely read as I have read, laughing one moment and calling sleight-of-hand the next.
Whether the dialogue in the book is based on transcripts of recorded conversations or whether York has some Thucydides to him, the conversations with religious people, both conservatives and liberals, are hilarious. Because York is himself an Anabaptist who wrote his master's thesis for someone whose name "rhymes with Schmauerwas" (98), he's just as comfortable poking holes in the liberal (or progressive, if that's what you'd prefer to call it) platitudes of the Unitarian as the Unitarian tries to reduce Satan to a battle with one's self (100) as he does with the Satan-around-every-corner claims of the Nazarenes, even one who claims that Satan made the CD skip during the Sunday morning song service (22). Both sorts of scenes, whether based on real conversations or not, left me laughing hard. Like a Spurlock documentary, though, York has the particular gift of liking (or really, really seeming as if he likes) people from all sorts of backgrounds. In other words, one comes away from the encounters with liberals and conservatives in his book with a sense that, as far as York is concerned, these are good folks who can really get things right when they have their moments but who are laboring under some seriously bad ideas. Think about the way you feel about the pony-tailed Big-Mac addict towards the end of <em>Super-Size Me</em>, and you'll have an idea of the frame of mind within which York approaches people of different faiths.
And by different, I don't just mean Trinitarians and Unitarians. Some of the funniest dialogue is with a self-identified shamanistic healer, someone who takes all of the magick and wiccan business quite seriously, talking him through the nuts and bolts of binding rituals, Tarot cards, and other trappings of the modern-day sorcerer. But to York's chagrin, he takes the soul so seriously that he won't help York to sell his soul in exchange for student-loan money. And here I reproduce the ending of that interview because, like so many other episodes, it ends with York's pointing to what is genuinely likable even in a person who could so easily become a stereotype:
"[...]what I have learned through this whole phase of my life, and the one major conclusion out of all these experiences that I can draw, is that although your loans seem uncomfortable to you, and I know this will sound crazy, but greater things are going to come out of experiencing what you need to experience in order to pay them off."
I stared in disbelief. Of all the things he had told me, this was by far the least credible. Yes, I said to him, as I nodded my head in agreement, you are correct--that sounds crazy."
He laughed and proceeded to tell me I'll be a completely different person than what I would be if I didn't have to pay my loans.
I would be a person with money.
I can't believe it was my conversation with the one-time Satanist turned pagan/shamanistic-healer/drum-playing mystic who would be the one to teach me about character building.
Well, that interview was a bust. (130)
Throughout the book York (whether he's inventing the dialogue or not) points to these moments when, although out of their gourds when it comes to some very important questions, folks who relate to Satan in very different ways nonetheless manage to say things, unwittingly or no, that teach him something about God.
As I said, this book was to a great extent a mirror for me, seeing as I wrote my undergraduate senior project for one of Hauerwas's grad students and had as a reader for my master's thesis in Old Testament a Yale-educated theologian. But like some mirrors, this one threw things into relief rather than simply reproducing them. For instance, whereas I tend to read Gospel pericopes through the lenses of N.T. Wright, always situating them within the large narratives of second-temple Judaism and first-century Church, York (in one of his relatively straightforward narrative passages) treats the story of the Gerasene demoniac as merely a "weird story" that tells him something about how people think about demons. He never mentions the name Legion and its connection the Roman presence, never notes the economic boon that gaining a son back would have been for the family, never notes that the presence of pigs in the Decapolis serves in the text of the gospels as a strong mark of foreign occupation. He spends four pages on it (80-83) but never sees fit to situate it very explicitly in its own moment. Such is a matter of emphasis rather than of doctrine, so no biggie. What troubles me more are brief passages in which York too easily conflates "people who are gay, or are of a different race, nationality, or faith tradition (even within Christianity)" (63). Those four categories carry with them the complexities of stories, and to list them flatly as elements within a series strikes me as a bit of sloppy writing, perhaps to demonstrate a point about Southern culture but nonetheless sloppy.
By and large, though, I can recommend this book for a good laugh at the expense of the Devil, who demonstrates his powers mainly through heresy (151) but also by standing back and letting us Christians say what we're going to say about the Devil. And the real gems in this book are related to but not directly in the plotline of the devil-search; as a set of theological reflections, although I had some quibbles, I enjoyed the book as a whole. I didn't come away any more convinced that anyone has anything worth saying about the devil, and perhaps that's the message of the book: with mouths as big as ours, the only wonder is that the devil has to work very much at all.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2011
I was able to snag a review copy of this book, and the only thing better than a free book is a free book that is, hands down, the funniest thing I've read in years. This is, of course, not what makes it such a great book--though that certainly helps. Rather, it's the author's ability to be so provocative while also being both self-assuming and self-deprecating.
Based on a wager made in one of his religion classes, York decides to search for Satan as a means of finding God. His hunt includes countless interviews with exorcists, Pentecostals, Unitarians, Satanists, Wiccans, Baptists, pagans, shamans, spiritual warriors, Nazarenes, and everything in between, while also engaging in some things that he hopes his mother never discovers (too late, I'm guessing). In case he does find Satan, he is prepared to try and make a pact with him in order to pay off the student loans he obtained while earning a PhD in theology. That, if nothing else, is the kind of irony that makes this book worth reading.
At times, it's hard to know when he is serious, when he is just messing around or how hell-bent he really is on finding the devil (though he certainly goes to great lengths), but that's what makes this book so interesting. He is providing a different sort of lens on how, in particular, religious people in the United States construe the world in terms of good and evil. And, yes, he makes fun of everyone along the way--while, also, poking fun at himself. And it's on this latter part that some may be turned off by his tone, but once you realize that he turns it on his own self you see that the tone is merely part of the search and is what makes the book such a compelling read. The humor does not distract from its serious nature; I think it actually forces the reader to really come to grips with what that person either does or does not believe.
All in all, this is an incredibly accessible and witty book. I definitely recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2011
On a semi-regular basis I get frustrated at whatever stack of books I've been reading because I don't do a very good job of balancing my literary diet. I read way too many that make me far more misanthropic than I am normally am. I am as it were vitamin H(ope) deprived. Usually when this happens my wife directs me to the section of our bookshelf where we keep a few favorite authors who use humor to help relieve my funk.
Tripp York's new book The Devil Wears Nada is a laugh-out-loud funny book that excels in a style that will be familiar to anyone who has read A.J. Jacobs' books such as The Year of Living Biblically or seen films like Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. Like Jacobs and Spurlock, York incorporates conversations and shares the written wisdom passed on to us by folks who have taken it upon themselves to drive out the demonic from malfunctioning techno-gizmos, homosexuality, their customers at the gym, and poverty and then tries to visit the other side of the coin by doing interviews with Satanists, a Neo-Druid, and lots of Unitarians (all while constantly pointing out how much the church manages to out-Pagan the Pagans!). Clever word plays and one-liners abound throughout and York does a good job of incorporating these jokes into serious critiques about how we treat the Bible and theology.
York starts the book off giving the reader a quick intro to Ludwig Feuerbach's critique of religion and how we "prove" God exists through experience:
Humans, Feuerbach argued, merely project their desires, needs, and wishes onto an imaginary deity that proceeds to fulfill such desires, needs and wishes...In this rubric, God, coincidentally, just happens to bless the kind of life we already want to live. God makes us feel good, and it makes us feel good that the God of all creation wants us to want what we already wanted. (p.5)
He then goes on to briefly argue that many of the more philosophical proofs for God (for example, the Unmoved Mover and Intelligent Design) don't actually prove the God of the Bible...unless of course you were looking for a reason to be convinced anyway. These arguments for God are boring and not really compelling.
So, having decided that whole endeavor to "prove" God is a giant theological crapshoot York decides--tongue-in-cheek-- to go about it via a less direct route--by finding God's "opposite," Satan. Clearly if Satan exists, God must exist too, right? Well...maybe...
York's take on pro-exorcist Cindy Jacobs--specifically her book Deliver us From Evil--is one of my favorite parts in York's book. In her book, Jacobs' cat scratches her and is thus, according to her, demon possessed. Before pointing out the obvious, that cats scratch people for no apparent reason, York deals with the more...uh...serious theological questions raised by Jacobs' story:
Everyone I've ever read on this subject, including Cindy Jacobs, argues that you have to, at some level, freely open yourself up to demonic possession in order to be possessed. Does this mean that cats can choose consciously whether or not to be possessed? And if so, what's in it for them?
A never-ending supply of catnip?
A tenth life?
A gold ball of yarn?
Does this mean that there is a whole world of Holy Ghost spirit-filled felines doing battle over the eternal prospect of their little kitty cat souls . . . ? (p. 50)
York carries on in this playful tone throughout the book, and it shines particularly in the section he dedicates to Jesus' temptation in the wilderness as he asks what Satan's ownership status of all the governments means for those of us who live in democracies.
While I found this book to be very humorous and well written I have some questions about how we use humor that relate to how we here at Jesus Radicals do theology as well. I realize that as I write this I am very much the pot calling the kettle black but, that said:
For us as a group that has quirky beliefs in terms of economics and politics I wonder how much laughing at and placing ourselves over/against those who see spiritual warfare behind everything is productive and how much just reinforces pre-existing borders. The same goes for our treatment of evolution. York spends a whole chapter on a discussion with a preacher who thinks that the Darwinism is demonic. The chapter is really funny, and I get that the majority of the scientific community agrees on this one. But in a number of discussions I've had with people in our community I've felt like this has become a sort of doctrinal deal-breaker. You can have any crazy permutation on Christian radicalism except for ones that incorporate spiritual warfare/creationism/etc.
But with that question raised, I still recommend this book as a wonderful breath of fresh air. I think Christian publishing is hard pressed to put out books like this one that ask some serious questions while managing genuine humor. Also if you do like this book I'd also recommend coupling it with Jeffery Pugh's Devil's Ink--who, incidentally, also heartily endorses Tripp York's book on the back cover--which came out earlier this year and deals with the question of evil in a way that I think avoids the trapping I mentioned.
(Originally written for JesusRadicals.com)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2011
This book was educational, hilarious (sometimes unintentionally), and incredibly thought-provoking.
I bought the book while stranded in Pennsylvania by Hurricane Irene, and was absolutely delighted and grateful for this read.
Attempting to prove the existence of God, the author embarks on a journey to find Satan. He chronicles his numerous encounters with pastors, preachers, Satanists, and other "experts" on his journey, and finally, he attempts to conjure up Satan up to strike up a bargain in which he'd sell his soul in exchange for payment of his student loans. The funniest of all this is that despite speaking with all these experts, no one can seem to give an explanation on who exactly Satan is, what he does, or how one goes about communicating with him.
The book is so hilarious, that at times, you forget that the subject matter is so dark, but the author knows his theology, as evidenced by an entire chapter, and days worth of citations that back up his claims.
Despite the fact the book was centered around his journey to find Satan, the book also provided some interesting social critiques, and makes the reader think about a lot that we do and come across in our lives. The mall, our inhumane treatment of animals, diet and exercise, prayer, mega churches, racism, and love are just a few examples of things this book will make you think about. Be prepared to examine your lifestyle in the most enjoyable way possible.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2012
Yesterday, UPS delivered The Devil Wears Nada to my door. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. I can't remember the last time I did that. I laughed out loud in places, was challenged in others, and grateful to hear someone saying so much that needs to be said to our devil crazed church culture. As I read the author's conversations with people in the book all I could think was here is a guy who has mastered the Socratic method in his conversations with others.
Also, as a person who tends to write a lot of music that for better or worse ends up on the contemporary Christian side of the things, I hate to admit it, but I agree with the author that God probably hates most of it. :)
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2011
Certainly this book won't be to everybody's taste; it is quite risqué at points. But for me, this is simply one of the funniest, most outrageous and unique books I have ever read. I haven't laughed so much reading a book for a long time. Those who start this expecting am extended theological or scriptural meditation on 'satan' in church history, and in the bible, will probably be disappointed. Those who hope to have a roaring laugh and to gain some great theological and biblical reflections on the way, will really enjoy this - at least so long as their piety is such that it can laugh at itself.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I suppose there must have been some mention of Satan or the devil when I was in my Lutheran catechism class (a very long time ago), but I can't recall any specifics. I know we studied the temptations of Jesus; the healing of demon-possessed people; and what happened to Judas, but I simply can't remember what might have been specifically said about Satan.
I do, however, remember watching Laugh-In on television, and comedian Flip Wilson uttering his standard line, "The devil made me do it."
In the intervening years, I can't recall any extensive studies about Satan, other than the standard teachings and reading C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters." Perhaps I attended churches where there wasn't much emphasis on the subject. Perhaps I tuned out.
So when I started reading Tripp York's "The Devil Wears Nada" - a quest to see if more can be learned about God by learning about Satan and what Christians believe about Satan,, I wasn't sure quite what to expect or what frame of reference I had. It turns out I wasn't alone. Even people who thought they knew all about Satan turn out to know more folklore than Biblical understanding.
York, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan University, approaches his subject with fearlessness and a kind of irreverent humor - at least for a time. He talks with everyone from Pentecostals to shamans and witches. He considers everything Satan gets blamed for - from problems with the microphone at a Sunday worship service to the creation of internet, the Smurfs and student loans.
"For many Christians," he says, "God and Satan are active in every aspect of their daily lives. There is no room for chance, luck, accidents, the forces of nature, or contingency; we are simply at the center of a long-standing battle between the God of creation and the god the earth." And yet, when pressed, he finds we know far less than we think we do.
So do a lot of others, including Satan worshippers (and Unitarians). Conversely, York points out, to lose the idea that there is a devil ultimately means you lose the idea that there is a God. The early church's major concern about Satan wasn't "the devil made me do it" but rather false teaching, and he finds that heresy is just as common today as it was then, including within many of our churches.
"The Devil Wears Nada" is funny, irreverent, occasionally shocking but ultimately thought-provoking and troubling. I found myself squirming at times. Our understanding of Satan may be more cultural than Biblical, and that is a problem, a problem more serious than we realize, because it also means our understanding of God may be the same thing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2012
TRIPP! Tripp, I'm beggin' ya man, please keep me on your list of reviewers for future books! I haven't laughed this hard in a long time. Needless to say, I got absolutely nothing done yesterday.
Tripp's quest to find God by first finding the devil may be as serious as it is bizarre, but it's just so doggone funny. Tripp confesses that you can't find God through philosophical argument, but then proceeds to search for Satan in precisely that logical manner, scheduling interviews with a number of religious (and anti-religious) figures. Along the way, Tripp finds Satan in a malfunctioning microphone, a cranky kitty, and a buncha God-robbin' poor people who think it's more important to eat than tithe. In fact, Satan hides just about everywhere--except around those darn Satanists--but each interview just adds to Tripp's frustration in not being able to get a tangible hold on the slippery critter's pointy tail.
Tripp can't handle incongruity, by the way. He starts getting about as cranky as Cindy Jacobs' possessed cat, and then has a hard time harnessing his cynicism, which leaves a lot of bewildered interviewees in his wake. His research steers inexorably and frustratingly to an anticlimax, a Devil wearing nada, until, finally, trooper that Tripp is, he decides to go all in. He agrees to sell his soul to the Devil. No big deal, he figures: His belief in the soul has been dashed. He prepares a devilish concoction of soundtracks to hold him for several long lonely hours, locates a suitable "dirt crossroads," sketches out a devils trap in the dirt, and waits to see if his offer will entice the old dragon. Hey, this is suddenly turning scary, because beneath Tripp's now-nervous humor lies an undercurrent of serious flirting with the occult. It's now or never. And what happens next is ...
... aw, I can't tell you. But my smile disappeared in the final pages, as a philosophical answer to Tripp's search for Satan and God bubbled up from the underworld.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2013
I read this book while also reading several other works regarding the history and legitimacy of Satan. I found The Devil Wears Nada to be the most entertaining of my collection while also being incredibly insightful about the nature of Satan.
Author, Tripp York, takes a rather sarcastic approach as he interviews various ministers and "experts" on a search for Satan. York's humor is sharp, but his approach is also incredibly informed and scholarly. He examines the approaches of Pentecostals, Baptists, exorcists, and even Unitarians and comes to a unique conclusion based on history, experience, and scripture.
If you struggle with questions like "Does Satan exist?" "Does Satan have power?" or "How do I come under the influence of Satan?" this would be a fun and incredibly informative read.