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Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith Hardcover – May 15, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Beal, a religion scholar who took his family on a summer RV tour of some of America's oddest religious sites, explores the varieties of religious experience while daring to be vulnerable and personal about his own faith. Whether he's tackling the popularity of biblical mini-golf courses or Precious Moments figurines, Beal (Religion and Its Monsters) uncovers serious questions about religion and its sometimes highly singular practitioners. It's clear that the sites he finds most compelling are those whose creator has stepped out of the mainstream to carry out a quixotic personal vision, like the Maryland man who is building a gigantic replica of Noah's Ark to the size specified in the Book of Genesis; or the quiet Alabama Catholic who discovered his life's calling in transforming throwaway items (lipstick tubes, broken china) into sacred grottoes and replicas of biblical and historic sites. (Beal doesn't have as much patience with the slick Orlando theme park Holy Land Experience, which he calls "a fundamentalist Magic Kingdom.") The book is full of gentle humor and clever observations, such as when Beal notes that the World's Largest Ten Commandments site, in rural North Carolina, makes "a graven image of the prohibition against graven images." Although he can be critical, Beal is never cynical or snide, guiding readers to an informed understanding rather than simply proffering these sites as case studies in a religious freak show. (May 15)

From Booklist

Beal chose to discover religion in contemporary America by traveling with his wife and two children in a rented 29-foot-long motor home to visit roadside religious attractions. He reports about 11 of those, such truly unusual places as Holy Land USA in Bedford County, Virginia; Golgotha Fun Park in Cave City, Kentucky; Biblical Mini-Golf in Lexington, Kentucky; and God's Ark of Safety in Frostburg, Maryland. The book is full of good humor, and Beal doesn't patronize the creators of these attractions but accords them respect and dignity. He takes the attractions seriously, as unique expressions of the religious imagination and examples of "outsider religion." Part of his purpose in writing the book, aside from slaking his own curiosity, lay in discovering not only what kind of person would go to such lengths to display personal faith so publicly but also, and more important, why. Why write the Ten Commandments in five-foot-tall concrete letters on the side of a mountain? Why use miniature golf to tell the Creation story? Entertaining, quirky, and surprisingly thoughtful. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1st edition (May 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807010626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807010624
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,732,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Four years ago, Timothy K. Beal and his family were driving through the Appalachian Highlands of Maryland when they saw a steel girder framework for an upcoming building, incongruously set in a grassy field. A large sign said "NOAH'S ARK BEING REBUILT HERE!" They drove on by, but Beal, a professor of religion, started keeping a list of roadside religious attractions all around the country, and in the summer of 2002, the family rented a mobile home and hit the highways of the Bible Belt to get to see the Ark in progress and many other religious sites constructed out of piety, inspiration, or enterprise. In _Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith_ (Beacon Press), Beal gives a report on what he saw, and what he thought, and especially how he felt. Skeptics like myself probably would be happier with a book that conveyed amusement and incredulity at the sights, and Beal's book does have such a tone in many places. Indeed, Beal started out with a plan of a book of "witty and wry observation," but although it is funny in many places, it is altogether more respectful, sympathetic, and understanding of these very odd shrines than he originally expected.

Near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky are plenty of roadside attractions, but on Beal's list is Golgotha Fun Park, a miniature golf course which is described in a chapter wittily titled "Stations of the Course". Bizarrely, the name comes from the Aramaic for "the skull" and is the name of the place where the gospels say the crucifixion happened. Some fun. There are some ceramic skulls on the sixteenth hole: "Although they don't pose much of a putting challenge, they _are_ rather creepy and distracting." The eighteen holes tell the story from creation to Resurrection.
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Format: Hardcover
After hearing Dr. Beal in an interview and reading a few reviews of ROADSIDE RELIGION I was eager to read the book. What I liked best was the idea itself -- the family vacation spent visiting religious Americana in a motor home -- and Beal's curious and respectful approach to his subject matter. As he explains throughout, this was as much a trip as it was a journey of faith and rediscovery.

Although the Introduction and some of the chapters are a rambling mess, the Conclusion was insightful and inspiring. In four pages, Beal describes his rediscovery of faith as something more/other than mere belief alone: "Faith is a leap of hospitality, an opening of oneself to the other... an opening toward an unknown other....faith as vulnerability, risking relationship." Especially in a world that's divided by power and fear, this was sheer heaven to read.

My disppointments with the book are few, and mostly about the structure and omissions.

For subject matter that is as visual as it is spiritual, photos seem lacking and of poor quality: 25 in all, small scale, black and white only. Also, there are times when a simple diagram or even a primitive hand-drawn sketch whould have been far better than the dull prose trying to describe the same thing (such as the layout of Paradise Gardens). While this is not a guidebook, a simple map of the route taken to the visted sites seems like a given, but it's not. Finally, the lack of an INDEX, NOTES, or even FOR FURTHER READING represents a missed opportunity to improve the quality of the book and inspire futher exploration of the subject matter.

In the end, hearing Dr. Beal describe his journey is far more engaging than the way he wrote about it. Nonetheless, it's worth the read, and the sites themselves, worth the visit.
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Format: Paperback
This journey account by Timothy Beal is an incredible expedition with his family throughout the United States. A search for "... the sacred, the strange, and the substance of faith".
It all started outside Prattville, Alabama with a sea of crosses and signs of doom and the rewards of a sinful life. The Cross Garden is more than just an amalgamation of wooden objects and words but a statement of faith by the man who, with a vision from God, started its construction, his wife who supports him and the visitors who wander by.
Like the journeys of Bill Bryson throughout Great Britain; but these in search of the God experience behind the images, Beal brings us from The Holy Land Experience, to a Disneyesque theme park in Orlando, and onto a Biblically themed Golf Course, followed by a man who is building Noah's Ark in Frostburg, Maryland, to the largest Ten Commandments in the country in North Carolina, to the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama and countless attractions in-between.
I thoroughly enjoyed this travel log complete with RV and family. Each stop indicated a struggle and a creation out of some grief in life. The most unique of the visits I felt was the one to the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. Each of the figures is a precious creation of its artist Samuel Butcher. Fashioned like his Precious Moment figurines that are popular collectables, each of the biblical scenes is populated by Precious Moment children. Interesting enough, however, the only figure that is not fashioned like the children is the figure of Christ. Like many of the sites visited, this one was born out of the pain of the death of a Son. Almost cathartic in nature, this site is a work of love and a way of dealing with loss.
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