Customer Reviews: The Girl with the Dove Tattoo
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on July 5, 2012
Brian McLaren's latest fictional ebook, The Girl with the Dove Tattoo, is a powerful account of human nature and the nature of God. This short ebook (Amazon estimates it to be 61 pages) absorbs the reader into its engaging story. We read as Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Buddha work together to confront human violence and offer an alternative to violence that will lead to peace. The story is captivating, but even more important is the ebook's ability to illuminate our understanding of anthropology and theology.

There is one scene that I found particularly powerful in this respect. It's the scene where Jesus tells how he, the Buddha, Moses, and Muhammad were attacked by some of Muhammad's followers. Why attack your own religious leader? As one character explains, the men attacked because, "They see these guys as a threat. They're showing that different religions can be friends, that they can work together for the common good." People working together for the common good seems like an odd reason to be angry--religions, including Islam, encourage their followers to practice love and mercy. But as Muhammad was attacked, his response enraged his followers even more. Jesus explains that as they "kicked [Muhammad]--first in the chest, then in the gut, then in the ... groin, he kept telling them that he loved them and he forgave them ... He kept saying, `Allah the Merciful have mercy on you. Allah the Merciful have mercy on you."

The scene, tragically, reveals something important about human nature. We form our group identity in violent opposition to other groups. Group identity is strengthened when we find a common enemy. We think about this enemy as a monster that threatens our group and we hold the monster responsible for our problems. For our group to survive, we think the monster must be killed or expelled. So, when it comes to violence, we always think our violence against our monstrous enemy is good and justified.

But how could Muhammad's own followers turn against him? Because they felt Muhammad was a threat to their religious identity. And indeed, Muhammad was a threat to their religious identity because their identity was based on a distinction all humans tend to make between "us" and "them." (And, in the story, Christians turn against Jesus for similar reasons.) We believe that "we" are good because we know that "they" are bad. Muhammad's friendship with Moses, Jesus, and the Buddha revealed that there is a distinction between "us" and "them," but that the distinction doesn't have to lead to violence. Rather, those distinctions can lead to friendship. And that's the threat Muhammad posed to his fellow Muslims.

Brian is making a profound observation. We tend to think that conflicts stem from differences. But in this story Brian claims that conflicts are not caused by differences with other groups, but by similarities in our own group. Similar desires shared within a group leads to inner conflict, rivalry, and hostility. The monster is not primarily somewhere out there; the monster lies within our own group. One character puts it like this: "we don't realize that our greatest threat isn't actually them. It's the hostility that we all keep stirring up among Us. We need one kind of hostility--against outsiders--to keep from falling into another kind of hostility--where we turn on each other and collapse into complete anarchy. So, we're like, addicted to hostility, and sooner or later, it will destroy us."

Unless we are shown an alternative way of dealing with our own violence. In The Girl with the Dove Tattoo, Muhammad, Moses, Jesus, and the Buddha show us this alternative. For example, in the scene above, Muhammad reveals the alternative by showing us what God is truly like. The theology behind this book reveals that God is not a violent monster. God doesn't respond to our violence with God's own violence. Rather, God responds to our violence with mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. This drives the monster of our own violence out of hiding and into the light. But revealing the monster is dangerous business, for the monster of violence doesn't like to be exposed by love and forgiveness. When Muhammad forgives his attackers, they beat him even more. Why? Because we humans, whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, or atheists, tend to have greater faith in our own violence than in a God of mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness. Brian has Jesus explain about the attackers, "But forgiveness--that was one thing they couldn't stand. That made them even more violent than before. They wanted to silence him so he would stop speaking words of forgiveness ... But he was showing them that there is a strength greater than violence and a fight greater than with fists. It's the strength of love and forgiveness, he said, and the struggle ... against hate and revenge in one's own heart."

That's the anthropology and the theology behind The Girl with the Dove Tattoo. It's an anthropology that exposes the violent monster within ourselves and that leads us to take responsibility for our own violence. It's a theology that claims God has nothing to do with our violence, but everything to do with transforming our violence into love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. But more work needs to be done. Fortunately, Brian is following up The Girl with the Dove Tattoo with a non-fiction book that will continue to explore these themes. That book is titled Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. I look forward to reading that book when it is released on 9/11/2012.
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on July 4, 2012
In this fictional prequel to his forthcoming nonfiction work ("Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World," due Sept. 11), Brian McLaren has the four founders of the world's four most followed religions raise the viability of religion itself. What needs to be saved is religion itself. There is a shadow side to all religion, due to its being embedded in human culture, that might only be fully transcended if we switch to an anthropological level of discourse. McLaren paves the way for such conversations with this engaging and readable work of fiction about a Hollywood bar waitress who befriends four mysterious guests seeking refuge in the bar before the lunchtime rush. And her boyfriend, whose help is subsequently enlisted, happens to be an anthropology major, so she is accustomed to such conversations in layperson language.

As a Christian (I don't know enough about Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism to say), I'm increasingly convinced that Jesus came to do just this: shift our gaze to the bigger anthropological picture so that our very way of being human can be saved. The cross isn't simply about our individual sins. It shows us the shadow side of religion itself, that is, the sinful origins ("original sin") of our species as needing to rely on religiously sanctioned violence as our means to peace in community. This is why St. Paul resorted to anthropological language such as the First Adam and the Second Adam. Jesus came to re-originate our way of being human, something we will only be able to see if we are able to transcend language, culture, and religion on the level of the anthropological. McLaren wonderfully opens the door to such conversations through this delightful and challenging story.

For my money, it's what salvation in Jesus Christ is really all about. At our evolution as a species, we were saved from destruction by the advent of religiously sanctioned violence (ritualized in all ancient cultures as blood sacrifice). At the right time, God sent Jesus to save us from that which originally saved us. If this sounds a bit mystifying to you, "The Girl with the Dove Tattoo" will provide an excellent fictional introduction to what I believe is a more true understanding of God's salvation in Jesus Christ -- a way of salvation that just might save us yet from destroying ourselves.
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on September 21, 2012
This is a wonderful little book. I imagine it will be controversial to fundamentalist Christians, as usual. But to us progressive Christians it is a breath of fresh air and a true analysis of the world today and what would happen if our founders were here together and talking. Awesome.
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on January 30, 2013
Here is a book that will capture the attention of those who are only marginally interested in religion. It is not anti-church or synagogue but it does call into question the practices of many religious institutions. The image of putting together Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and the Buddha is a very fascinating one. It tries to portray them as they might have been. It is a great preface to McLaren'sb longer work which deals with the doctrinal and liturgical implications of the thesis he presents.
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on December 10, 2012
I usually like what Brian writes, but found this contrived. I read the entire book and to a degree enjoyed it. However, I think the author was so focused on the objective of encouraging people of faith to work together, he wrote a book in which the story and characters were not developed. I don't think it will reach many with the message. So far the author's best fictional work, in my opinion is A New Kind of Christianity. I gave it to several people who were asking questions who found it helpful. I don't think that will happen with this book
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on February 14, 2016
I wasn't sure about this book - I have always enjoyed Brian McLaren's nonfiction writing, but was unsure about a fiction endeavor. This was wonderful! I loved how he conveyed the theme of peace in such a way that it was easy to read and understand. Even funny at times. Many people will not have the time or the interest to be convinced to read his book "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World" - but this conveys the same essential message.
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on May 9, 2014
Brian McLaren writes well and with a good perspective. I bought this based on his other books. However the ending is very much a set up for a sequel, if McLaren actually has one in mind. It is more like chapters 1-4 of a 10 chapter book.
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on November 25, 2014
Brian McLaren knows how to hold religion loosely without dropping it. In this fictional work he takes us back to primal moments in each of the lives of four major religious leaders--back to a time before their followers painted over them and substituted caricatures for reality. The restored purity is disarming to those of us who have treated secondary things as if they were primary, but if we allow McLaren's story to influence us, we may find that we not only see these four characters in a new light, but also their respective religions. A good read.
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on June 13, 2013
I loved the potential of the story, and the possibilities that were introduced in the beginning, but the plot proved to be a bit simplistic, naive, and predictable. Then, the ending was not sufficiently fleshed out to be an effective cliff hanger. I suppose it was like sugar: good for a moment but neither filling nor lasting.
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on May 10, 2013
Clever. Imaginative. Be stretched to imagine what is included in God's story by this novella by Brian McLaren. Focusing on the similarities of the great faiths rather than being polemic about our differences is to me a healthy, embracing way to imagine the gospel. Thanks Brian!!
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