Eric Metaxas aims high. He’s got a book out called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask). He confesses early on that he’s really just taking “a crack at” the “everything” part, but hopes to get a conversation going about the higher things nonetheless â€” which he literally does in the book (it’s questions and answers) and does right here, too, always with a light touch.
Metaxas had a pre-Christmas conversation with NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez, who forgives him for his very Manhattan cracks (rolfing? â€” you’ll see). Thomas Aquinas (you will see, too) may not be as forgiving.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Give me a break. You cannot tell me everything I’ve always wanted to know about God. You yourself say such an endeavor is “patently insane” in the book’s intro. So what’s the point, man? Don’t I have enough to read already without your no-answer answer book?
ERIC METAXAS: You’re carrying a lot of hostility. May I suggest rolfing?
But seriously, I think the main point of the book is to get the reader involved in a larger conversation about these questions which â€” incidentally â€” everyone has. Everyone wants to know about the meaning of life and who God is and why there’s so much evil and suffering in the world, and no, I don’t have glib answers, because, frankly these questions are too deep for glib answers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wade in and try to wrestle with them. These are way too important to ignore.
I think if we don’t find a healthy and open way to discuss these things we’ll end up carrying around a lot of hostility, and possibly maybe even need to be rolfed.
I’m just saying.
LOPEZ: You want God conversations to be “fun”? Unless you’re in college with too much late-night talking time on your hands, don’t those conversations tend to come up in dire times?
METAXAS: Well, that’s the problem. When life gets tough we ask the hard questions, but the way it’s supposed to work is that we find answers before things get tough, so that when things do get tough we have a substantive way of dealing with the situation. God wants us to know Him so that when things get rough we can lean on Him and let Him comfort us. Of course He doesn’t force us to let Him do that.
LOPEZ: You live in NYC. Outside of Vast-Right Wing Conspiracy chapter meetings and church, do you actually talk about God in polite company?
METAXAS: It’s not easy talking about God in polite company in New York, you’re right. Which is tragic, and which is one reason I wrote this book, to try and get folks in places like New York City to open themselves up to the subject. Hence the humor, I guess. Folks need to stop being afraid of discussing this. Everyone has these questions! Let’s begin to admit it. I should also point out that there are many more evangelicals and serious Catholics and other Christians in NYC than you’d be led to believe by reading the New York Times. But of course there are lots of realities unrepresented by the NY Times. That’s what NRO is for, right?
LOPEZ: You better believe it.
Your book is a Q&A. Who is asking those questions?
METAXAS: A guy named Schmuley, down on Second Avenue. Why?
LOPEZ: Well, he could put Charlie Rose out of a job.
Didn’t Thomas Aquinas already do this â€” try to prove God’s existence and the like? You think you can do a better job?
METAXAS: I can certainly crack jokes better than Aquinas â€” and who can’t? â€” but that’s more important than you might think… because part of the problem with Aquinas, and part of the reason I wrote this book, is that Aquinas is extremely dry. No one reads Aquinas. At least your average skeptic isn’t likely to pick up Aquinas to answer his deepest questions. And what does Aquinas have to say about UFOs and that sort of thing? Nothing.
But seriously, if everyone were reading Aquinas there’d be no reason for my book. But things being as they are, there are lots of reasons for my book’s existence.
LOPEZ: Did you ever feel like you were dumbing down religion a bit too much at times in the book? For example, when you liken Christianity to a 12-step program?
METAXAS: Well, I said that to make a point. It’s called hyperbole. But there’s a lot of truth there; in fact, it’s a truth that very few non-Christians know about, so I thought it worth asserting. Lots of folks have complicated and often confused ideas of what Christianity is, and by saying that it’s like a 12-step program I’m basically communicating that Christianity isn’t for morally superior people â€” on the contrary, it’s for people who need help. And that’s all of us. At least those of us who are honest about ourselves.
LOPEZ: Who is your target audience? You’re Christian. Surely Muslims will have no use for your book? Will even most Christians? Is there any use in a Jew reading your book if he has no desire to convert?
METAXAS: This book is for the widest possible audience, and I’m not just saying that. Really. This book is perfect for Christians to give to their non-Christian friends. But it’s also perfect for folks who are already Christians who want to refresh themselves on what they believe. Most folks who go to church now and again have probably forgotten much of what they learned on some of these issues. This book is a way to get the answers without embarrassing themselves by asking someone they’d rather not ask.
And this book is also for non-Christians of every stripe because it might not convince them of anything, but it’ll give them an idea of what Christians really believe as opposed to what they think Christians believe. Everyone owes it to himself to know what something really is, even if they don’t agree with it, and many people reject a version of Christianity which is a straw man, or a cartoon version of real Christianity. This book tries to set some of those misconceptions straight.
LOPEZ: You seem to skirt a lot of questions. Like, did God invent Comedy Central?
METAXAS: I was so afraid you’d ask that. Dang. You’ve nailed me. I don’t know. I would guess not, but it’s possible he created some of the people who invented it.
LOPEZ: Here’s one for you: If heaven is so wonderful, why can’t the residents take calls? At Christmas? On birthdays? Sounds worse than jail the way it is.
METAXAS: Heaven is outside of time and space, so the phone bills would be infinite. Which is pretty bad, even without all those mysterious surcharges.
LOPEZ: Um. “God as Gipper”? You better explain yourself, Metaxas.
METAXAS: It’s a bit cheeky, I’ll admit, but the idea is sound. Once we know Who God is, we can’t help but love Him and admire Him so much that we want to please Him, want to play our hearts out for Him so to speak. When we know Who He is, we actually want to be better people â€” not out of fear, but out of love. That’s the deal.
LOPEZ: We just need confirmation here. Ronald Reagan was not God? There are all types reading NRO. I just want everyone to be clear. Don’t want anyone to have the wrong idea.
METAXAS: Yes, as wonderful as Reagan was, he was not literally God. For the record, God is taller and was never called “Dutch” â€” and, of course, God was never a registered Democrat. And God was never married â€” and even if he had ever been married, his wife never would have consulted an astrologer.
LOPEZ: Will Hindu hot-dog vendors be offended by your book?
METAXAS: Not if they buy it on Amazon.com, but if they pay full price in a bookstore, and have to pay tax on top of that, yes, I’m sure they’d be offended. Who wouldn’t?
LOPEZ: So hell is New Jersey?
METAXAS: I never said that. I said that hell might be inNew Jersey. Bayonne is not New Jersey, but Bayonne is in New Jersey. And no, I’m not saying hell is Bayonne, either. Man, you’ve got me on the run with this one… Can I go to a lifeline?
LOPEZ: Did Alice from The Brady Bunch actually read your book? How did that happen?
METAXAS: This is totally true. I knew that she was a serious Christian (I’m talking about Ann B. Davis who played Alice on the show) and I tracked her down via e-mail through a friend â€” it was pretty amazing that I did â€” and yes, she read the book and yes, she absolutely loved it, which thrills me no end. I mean, if Alice from The Brady Bunch likes my book, how bad can it be?
I’m working on getting Alice Cooper to get me a blurb, too. No kidding. Yes, he’s become a Christian, too. I met him two years ago on Madison Ave. right behind St. Pat’s (I’m not kidding) and talked to him about his faith. Anyway, two Alices would be better than one, but even if he doesn’t give me a blurb, Ann B. Davis has tickled me to death with the one she gave me. It really just warms me thinking about it.
LOPEZ: Why are you citing Woody Allen in your book?
METAXAS: Because I thought that the idea of him interviewing Billy Graham on an ABC special was so strange and amazing, someone had to write about it and let the world know. So I put it in the book.
LOPEZ: You’re into William Wilberforce. He’s going to make it to the silver screen before too long. What the attraction to this somewhat obscure fella?
METAXAS: William Wilberforce is one of the greatest men who ever lived, and the idea that he is obscure only speaks to the fact that we’ve stripped our history and Europe’s of all references to faith. If not for Wilberforce the slave trade in the British empire would not have been abolished for a long, long time. His faith led him to crusade against it, and by God’s grace he succeeded, and the fact that most folks don’t know who he is is positively scandalous.
LOPEZ: Buzz Aldrin held a prayer service on the moon? Where was the ACLU?
METAXAS: Not a prayer service, but he did take communion â€” no kidding. I have met him and asked him about it and it’s true. Isn’t it amazing? No one knows about it, so I’m thrilled I was able to put it in the book. Just the idea of it is so compelling.
LOPEZ: You’ve written for Veggietales, which seems hugely popular. What’s the secret of their success?
METAXAS: The secret of their success is their ability to use humor, which previous children’s videos with biblical themes had eschewed entirely. Quel domage.
LOPEZ: If I were given your book for Christmas, took one look at it and said, What the he…?, what is the most you’d hope I’d get out of it?
METAXAS: I’d hope to open up a conversation with you on the most important issues imaginable, in a winsome and non-confrontational way. I’d hope to humbly put forth the idea that looking for answers to these huge questions is something we should be open to, something we should perhaps look forward to, even. And I’d hope to entertain you in the process, doggone it! Not that anyone could ever entertain as well as Aquinas has already done, but what the heck, you know?
LOPEZ: Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? What say you? Say, to a Hindu hot dog vendor?
METAXAS: No, no… to a Hindu hot dog vendor you can only say one thing: “Make me one with everything.”