‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Two

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

Well, the first chapter lived up to the book’s title. I’m not holding my breath for the second one to be any better.

By the way; for those interested in keeping up with Jenny Trout’s snark-reviews of ‘Beautiful Disaster’, she now has Chapter Three up. That book isn’t getting any better either, but, as always, Jenny’s comments on it are definitely worth a read.

Back to ‘Walking Disaster’. Brace yourselves, everyone; here goes with Chapter Two. Wait, content warnings first:

  • Slut-shaming
  • Swearing (mine)
  • Swearing (Travis’s)
  • Mention of violence (only insofar as referring back to the first chapter)
  • Male main character being pushy and ignoring boundaries (yeah, what a surprise)
  • Objectification of female main character

 

Chapter Two: Backfire

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter One

This is a chapter-by-chapter review of problematic romance novel ‘Walking Disaster’ by Jamie McGuire. Posts in the series will all be linked back to the initial post, here. ‘Walking Disaster’ is a companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, which is being snark-reviewed by the magnificent Jenny Trout.

I’m going to have to start putting in content warnings in this one. Content warnings here for:

  • Misogynistic comments/attitudes/insults
  • Swearing
  • Injury and blood
  • Red flag attitudes for possible abusiveness
  • A man thinking harassment is fun and sexy

Chapter One: Pigeon

 

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‘Walking Disaster’ review: Prologue

For anyone who missed my post about this planned review, here is a quick bit of background:

Walking Disaster, part of a series by Jamie McGuire, is apparently one of those romance novels where the supposedly romantic behaviour of the male love interest is actually better described as highly alarming and possibly abusive. It’s a parallel novel to Beautiful Disaster, which told the story of the relationship between Good Girl ™ Abby Abernathy and Bad Boy ™ Travis Maddox, both college students, from Abby’s perspective; this book tells the story from Travis’s perspective. For an gloriously snarky review of Beautiful Disaster, check out Jenny Trout’s blog; at the time I write this, she’s finished Chapters One and Two, with more to come.

Aaaaand here we go!

So, this book retelling a ‘good girl and aggressive love interest’ story from the man’s POV starts out with a prologue describing a traumatic event from the main character’s childhood, seen through his eyes as a child. OK, good, we can all feel comfortable the author isn’t ripping off anyone else’s work.

Even with the sweat on her forehead and the skip in her breath, she didn’t look sick.

The next few pages will establish that this woman (OK, spoiler, it’s his mother) is lying in bed with an IV in, barely able to move or speak, with her eyes almost shut. She’s also thin to the point of boniness with brittle yellow nails and without the usual glow to her skin. To me, that sounds like a person who looks pretty sick. And not just to the point where I can pick up on those subtle signs because I went to medical school, but to the point where it would be quite apparent to her child.

However, apparently child-Travis’s only criterion for deciding whether someone looks sick is their level of retained beauty.

Her skin didn’t have the peachy glow I was used to, and her eyes weren’t as bright, but she was still beautiful. The most beautiful woman I would ever see.

That somehow doesn’t strike me as the main reaction a child would have on seeing his mother in that state. Or even the main reaction an adult would have in later life as he thought back to his childhood memory of seeing his mother in that state.

We then get a bit that’s actually rather nice, about the way his mother always focuses her attention on him:

That’s what I loved about her. When she looked at me, she really saw me. She didn’t look past me to the other dozens of things she needed to do with her day, or tune out my stupid stories. She listened, and it made her really happy. Everyone else seemed to nod without listening, but not her. Never her.

Travis’s mother asks him to come over to the bed, and his father nudges him forward with a few fingers on the back of his neck, which is enough to push Travis several steps forward. I’m not sure that’s physically possible without overbalancing someone? Also, his father is doing this while ‘listening to the nurse’, who is called Becky and first came to their house a few days ago. We aren’t told what Becky is saying to his father that’s so important she has to talk over what is apparently her patient’s deathbed goodbye to her son.

Anyway, what’s happening is that his mother has some final deathbed words of wisdom for him which she is about to pass on:

“Travis, I need you to listen to what I’m going to say, and even more important, I need you to remember. This will be very hard. I’ve been trying to remember things from when I was three, and I…” She trailed off, the pain too big for a bit.

Firstly: OK, we’ve got an age; he’s three. Thanks, I was wondering.

Secondly: what the hell?? Who decides that the best way to give their three-year-old the final message to sustain them through life is by expecting them to memorise it at a time of acute grief and trauma? How’s this poor kid going to feel when he inevitably can’t remember the final words his mother had for him? Especially since she’s telling him how important it is for him to remember, thus piling guilt on top of grief? This is clearly an expected death; why hasn’t she done this already by writing letters for her children, or making recordings, or telling her husband or family what she wants passed on? Bloody hell.

“Pain getting unmanageable, Diane?” Becky said, pushing a needle into Mom’s IV.

As a doctor, I have many questions about this:

Why is Becky not waiting for an answer before leaping in with a potentially oversedating injection just when Diane’s trying to pass on her final message to her son? (Which, yes, is another reason why you don’t leave your final messages to your children to the very last minute like this.) What if Diane was actually just overwhelmed by emotion and her pain was nicely controlled on what she was already getting?

Why was Becky not making sure the pain was under control before this three-year-old got shown in to see his dying mother?

Why the hell is Becky pushing a needle into an IV? You don’t put needles into IVs; you put the syringe directly onto the port to put the stuff in.

Why does Becky apparently have a syringe of opiates drawn up and ready to give, rather than needing to take a minute or two to draw it up? Especially when there are children around? Serious safety hazard.

Why, since this is obviously an ongoing progressive illness and there is a qualified health care professional involved, is Diane’s pain not under much better control with background medication? Why is it getting to the point of being overwhelming for her?

Why is Travis’s mom receiving pain relief via an IV instead of via a syringe driver, which is a considerably better method?

In fairness, the answer to both of the last two could plausibly be ‘Because that’s how pain relief would have been managed then’. This would have been in the 90s sometime; I have no idea how good palliative care was in the US at that time, so maybe the whole thing with the IV and the poor background pain control actually is the sort of thing that was going on then. The answer to the rest of the questions (and plausibly also to those two) is, I suspect, that the author wanted to go for a Heartwringing Deathbed Scene without actually doing any research.

On to Travis’s mom’s final advice:

“First, it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel things. Remember that. Second, be a kid for as long as you can. Play games, Travis. Be silly” – her eyes glossed over – “and you and your brothers take care of each other, and your father. Even when you grow up and move away, it’s important to come home. Okay?”

So far, good advice, even if the timing is terrible. Unfortunately, we then get this:

“One of these days you’re going to fall in love, son. Don’t settle for just anyone. Choose the girl that doesn’t come easy, the one you have to fight for, and then never stop fighting.[…]”

NO, TRAVIS AND READERS, DO NOT DO THIS. Firstly, if someone doesn’t want to be with you, fighting for them is a terrible idea. Respect their wishes, accept it isn’t going to happen, move on. Travis’s mom has just set her son up to be a stalker and harasser. (And, yes, sadly this probably is pretty much the premise of the novel.) Secondly, even apart from consent issues, ‘the one you have to fight for’ is a terrible criterion for choosing your life partner.

Also, thirdly, how about a bit less heteronormativity? You don’t know your son’s going to turn out to be straight, Diane.

Anyway, she tells him never to stop fighting for what he wants and never to forget that she loves him and will always love him.

“Okay,” Becky said, sticking a funny-looking thing in her ears. She held the other end to Mommy’s chest. “Time to rest.”

1. Why does Travis know what an IV is but not what a stethoscope is?

2. Why is Becky listening to Diane’s chest right now anyway? Unless something really sudden and severe has come up (sudden extreme breathlessness might indicate pneumothorax), it’s not going to tell her anything new. And, since Diane is imminently dying, it’s not going to change management.

Becky looked at my dad. “We’re getting close, Mr Maddox. You should probably bring the rest of the boys in to say goodbye.”

Diane’s conscious, responsive, and able to talk coherently. She might well be getting close in the sense of ‘final days’, but the book seems to be trying to imply ‘final minutes’

Travis watches his mother trying to breathe and Becky ‘checking the numbers on the box beside her’. I’m not sure what the box is meant to be, but it sounds like the kind of monitor you’d use in an intensive care setting, which strikes me as both unlikely in what seems to be an in-home setup and pointless in end-of-life care. Still, though, this is another example of “well, I don’t know things weren’t done that way in the USA in the ‘90s”, so this one might not be the author’s fault.

Becky’s eyes seemed to know something I didn’t, and that made my stomach feel sick.

If the ‘something’ is that his mother’s dying, why does he not know that? At least give the poor kid some preparation for what’s happening!

Becky tells Travis that she’s giving his mommy some medicine to make her sleep but she’ll still be able to hear everything he says so he can still tell Mommy that he loves her and that he’ll miss her. Travis shakes his head and says that he doesn’t want to miss her, so it sounds as though he does at least partly understand that she’s dying (otherwise I’d expect his response to have been more along the lines of “Why, is she going away?” or else something completely tangential because he’s three and that’s how three-year-olds actually talk when they’re not in novels). So at least that’s something. Becky says that his mommy wants to be with him very much but Jesus wants her with him. Travis says (pretty reasonably) that he needs her more than Jesus does, and Becky’s response is to smile and kiss his hair, which annoyed me as it seems more like a ‘bless his little heart, isn’t he being adorable’ response when what a child (or an adult, for that matter) in that situation actually needs is for someone to acknowledge their grief and sympathise. (Also, of course, Becky is here invading the personal space of someone who barely knows her. That doesn’t become OK just because the person is a child.)

Dad knocks on the door and brings Travis’s brothers in. By the way, what is this business with one child coming in on his own first? Was Diane trying to make her final act for the family be a demonstration of who really gets Favourite Child status?

The parents went Duggar in naming their children, apparently; Travis’s brothers are called Trenton, Taylor, Tyler and Thomas. That must be fun when the mail arrives.

Also, I saw the names Taylor and Tyler and thought “Betcha they’re twins.” And then I thought “No, Sarah, you don’t know that, Jamie McGuire has probably had enough sense to avoid that particular cutesy trap, let’s not prejudge.” And then Jenny Trout got the first post up for her ‘Beautiful Disaster’ review and I read that and… yeah, they’re twins. Sigh. I hope neither of them get any medical problems requiring specialist care until at least one of them has moved out to a different address, because otherwise their GPs, or whatever you call primary care practitioners in the US, are going to have a grand old time keeping straight which clinic letters go in the file of which of the two boys with the same address, same date of birth and very nearly the same name. And pity the school teachers who have to deal with two boys with such similar details in the same school year. And, of course, Taylor and Tyler themselves, set up from birth to be barely-distinguishable halves of a Cutesy Duo rather than individuals. Parents… no matter how adorably cute it might seem at the time, don’t do this to your children.

Ahem. Sorry. Back to the book. Their father is too choked up to talk to the children, so Becky tells them that she hasn’t been eating or drinking and her body is letting go. That’s actually a good description of the process of dying from a chronic illness, but it might have been more tactful to explain it when they weren’t with Diane; I wonder how she feels about hearing this? Becky tells them that it’s going to be very hard but they should tell her that they love her and miss her and it’s OK for her to go. The children all say their goodbyes, apart from Travis who (understandably) can’t face telling his mother that it’s OK for her to go. Dad sends the children out, telling Thomas to get them ready for bed. How old is Thomas?? Not only is the poor kid getting dumped with taking care of four young and grieving children, this is happening when he’s grieving himself. That’s not good.

Thomas takes Travis out of the bedroom and upstairs to have a bath. On the way up the stairs, they can hear their dad wailing, which I’m guessing is meant to indicate that Diane’s died. Thomas gets Travis undressed and into the tub and is really nice to him, telling him that yesterday Mom told him to take care of him, the twins, and Dad. On the plus side, this sounds as though the other children probably each already had their Final Parting Advice session, so at least Travis being the only one of the children in their mother’s room at the beginning of the chapter wasn’t some kind of weird Favourite Child thing. On the very much minus side, why the bloody hell is Diane setting up her son to be a caretaker child? She should have been telling Dad to take care of Thomas and the rest of the children, not the other way round.

Anyway, while Thomas should never have been dumped with this job in the first place, he is being really sweet about it, telling Travis that they’ll miss Mom together, he’s going to take care of Travis, he’s going to make sure everything’s OK. Poor Travis, meanwhile, is not only frozen in place by shock and grief, but he’s also semi-remembering what his mother said about fighting and interpreting this as meaning that he should be fighting for Mom and that he’s letting her down by not doing so. (There you go; another reason why it’s a really bad idea to give your final dying advice to your three-year-old this way instead of writing it down in a letter for him to read when he’s older.) The prologue finishes with him mentally promising his mother that he’ll always play and he’ll always fight hard. Which is obviously meant to be setting up the plot for later (he fights in an illegal fight club at university, which is where he first meets Abby).

So, that’s the prologue. As I did with CCCFK, I’ll link all further posts on the book back to this post as I write them so that all links are collected in one place.

 

Chapter One: Pigeon

Misogynistic main character is misogynistic.

Chapter Two: Backfire

Nothing says ‘romance’ like total disregard for the other person’s safety.

Chapter Three: White Knight

If you like TV Tropes, I think this one counts as Ignored Epiphany.

Chapter Four: Distracted

Would you like that orange juice with a side order of toxic masculinity?

Chapter Five: Roommate

In which Travis’s casual sex predilection really isn’t the problem.

Chapter Six: Shots

What, you’re worried people will think you and I are in a relationship? I know how to fix that; come out to dinner and a club with me somewhere public!

Chapter Seven: Seeing Red

Incredibly, the brilliant plan from Chapter Six is creating some problems.

Chapter Eight: Oz

This book finds a completely different way to be awful.

Chapter Nine: Crushed

The one with the bet.

Chapter Ten: Broken. Part One.

How not to deal with setbacks in life.

Chapter Ten, Part Two

In case you hadn’t had enough pathological jealousy yet…

Chapter Eleven

Boring chapter is boring.

 

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Final sections and final thoughts

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Puffing and panting on, finishing line in sight…

The cadets’ story is now finished. The final sections in the book are as follows:

  • Instructions for Using the Website. The instructions are one short paragraph telling readers to go to the website and watch the videos/do the activity sheets there. We didn’t.
  • A Challenge from J. Warner Wallace. The challenge being to get out there and evangelise.
  • Sample Fill-in Sheets. Worksheets for each chapter. They are, quite frankly, head-bangingly boring and consist of regurgitating back points from the story in each chapter, either by answering questions or filling in the blanks in sentences. If I was a child whose interest in Christianity had been piqued by the book (which might well have been my reaction to this book as a child), you can bet that this would have put me straight off it again. It ends with an advertisment for the original book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’, aimed at the parents.
  • Certificate of Promotion. A fancy certificate for children to cut out and keep (if they’re using the book version; families using the Kindle version can get the same certificate from the website) where parents can fill in their child’s name to state that they have successfully completed the Cold-Case Christianity Cadet Academy. (I thought for a moment this was meant to be a picture of one of the cadets’ certificates, and thought ‘Huh, Jeffries is having an unusual moment of honesty about the course.’)

And that’s all I got to say about most of that, but Katie and I both had some thoughts on the Challenge section.

This is the section where Wallace is trying to persuade all his new converts to get actively into the evangelism business. You believe in Jesus now! You’re part of an important team! You need to tell other people about this! In fact, you should love the idea of telling other people about this, because it’s such awesome news! Tell your friends, tell your church group, tell your family, use the next holiday get-together as a chance to tell everyone there all about your cadet academy training just in case they don’t already believe in Jesus!

“And then they’ll say that makes no sense,” Katie observed.

I feel sorry for any shy readers of this book; these expectations sound like torture for them. Not to mention the family members who’ll be stuck with sitting through excited and/or embarrassed evangelism, not wanting to hurt a child’s feelings. Curious, I asked Katie what she’d say if a friend tried to do this with her.

“I’d probably say to them ‘Well, personally I believe that it’s not really all that true. But if you want to believe in it, then, sure, that’s kind of what my religion’s about. Just as long as it doesn’t hurt or upset anyone, I’m OK with it.”

I’m proud of her; what a tactful way of dealing with a potentially awkward situation.

Meanwhile, what struck me most about this section was Wallace’s sheer enthusiasm for his religion. (To the point where I honestly don’t think it’s occurred to him that his expectations are likely to set up some seriously awkward and unpleasant family conversations. He genuinely thinks he’s doing people a favour by not only telling them all about Jesus but pushing others into doing so; after all, he’s happy with these beliefs, why wouldn’t everyone else be?) ‘I was excited about what I discovered and about what God had done for me,’ he writes. ‘I was so happy to finally know the truth’.

This struck me because it was so very different from the reaction I’ve always had to the basic tenets of fundamentalist Christianity. I mean, you’re talking about a religion that teaches that non-Christians are going to burn eternally in hell. That the one way out of burning in hell is a route that, in the nature of things, has been unavailable for most people throughout history simply because of the time and/or place of their birth. That good people are going to be abandoned by God to an eternity of torture. And I can never get my head round the mentality that hears about this and feels anything other than horrified at the thought.

To be fair, Wallace seems to be one of the people who thinks of hell as separation from God, so I suppose he’s not actually reading all this and picturing people being tortured. Still, to me it’s a strange and alien way of thinking.

 

Anyway… we finished that section, zipped through the others, and that was it… the end of the book! Almost fourteen months after first starting it, we had made it through!

I asked Katie for her final thoughts on the book.

“Well, for a start I thought it was a very biased opinion,” she told me. (To be fair to Wallace, it was never intended to be anything else.) “And also, it overlooked major plot points and also told… I wouldn’t call them lies because they weren’t intentional, but there were some really huge flaws in it. There were facts missing and facts that weren’t correct and stuff, and there were huge, huge, huge over-exaggerations. Stuff like that.” She didn’t feel it had changed her mind about anything, except possibly Wallace’s sanity level.

I would say that Wallace missed the mark with a member of his target audience there, but, during the time I spent reading this book, it eventually dawned on me that Katie was never his target audience. I’d started out assuming this book was aimed at non-Christian children and written with the aim of converting them. Naive of me; of course, it’s actually written for Christian children with Christian parents who want their children to stay Christian and want a resource for strengthening their faith. (I figured this out for myself, but a quick look on Wallace’s blog has confirmed it.) As far as I know, Katie and I are the only atheist parent-and-child team to have read and reviewed it; I’m pleased to have broken new ground there.

I chose this for my first review book on here mainly because I liked the idea of doing a review together with my daughter, and I’m so pleased I did, as it’s been great fun; but I also liked the idea that she would get the chance to read about a completely different belief, and that I would get the chance to talk to her about my reasons for not holding that belief. As far as religion is concerned (as far as quite a few things are concerned, in fact), my main priority for my children is that they learn to think for themselves. That’s far more important to me than having them grow up with the same beliefs about religion as I have.

This, of course, is easier said than done, so I don’t want to pat myself on the back and assume I’m getting it perfectly right; that’s just a one-way route to getting it wrong. But I’ll leave Katie with the last word on this one, from her comments during the final part of the review and what she thought about Wallace’s arguments. “I listened to you and to what you said,” she told me, “because what you said held up much better.”

 

And that, folks, finally is it; we have finished the review of Cold Case Christianity For Kids. My first book review on here is done. I hope you join me for many more, and for that matter I hope I manage many more. Do please come back for upcoming attractions. In the meantime (putting on Richard Ayoade voice) thank you for reading, if indeed you still are.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Postscript

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

We’re nearly at the end. I was planning to collect all the final sections together and blast through them in one post, but Katie did have quite a few thoughts on these and so I might take two posts to cover them properly. I still want to blast through, though; I have loved doing this, but I have two shiny exciting new projects waiting for me and I am ready to put this one to bed and move on. Let’s get cracking.

Postscript: Belief THAT or Belief IN?

We’re still in the cadet academy frame story (don’t worry, this really is the last cadet academy scene; hang on in there). Everyone except Jason, Jeffries, and Insert Character has left the room. Jason’s hung back because he has a question. (Insert Character has apparently hung back for reasons of plot necessity.)

Jason has now, apparently, concluded that he believes the Bible is telling him the truth about Jesus. (Oh, Jason, my skeptic, I had such hopes of you. It’s such a shame you didn’t get to hear a different viewpoint.) Anyway, the question he has is whether this conclusion means he’s a Christian?

In response, Jeffries tells him that Jesus said there’s a difference between belief that and belief in. No, Jeffries, I believe you’ll find that Jesus is not, in fact, quoted anywhere as saying that. It’s a perfectly reasonable statement, but that doesn’t mean you can just attribute it to Jesus. Jeffries reads out John 3:16, which, as many of you will know, is the verse about anyone who believes in Jesus getting eternal life.

“I guess that means I’m never going to believe in Jesus,” Katie told me. “Because… eternal life? That sounds good on paper, but come on! It would get really boring! Just going on and on, not able to die… I just want some peace!”

Probably not the effect that the author of gJohn was going for, but a very valid point.

“Plus,” Katie continued, “being put into heaven is kind of a way to be reborn – reborn as a perfect form in heaven – and my interpretation of reborn is, as you know, terrifying.”

That was a twist on things that I hadn’t expected. What Katie was referring to was an idea she’d come up with in her drawings a little while ago; the Reborn, a group of zombies. I pointed out that, despite Christianity’s flaws, it was fair to say that it does not actually teach that going to heaven involves becoming a zombie.

“I know, but it still seems awful,” Katie told me. “I hate the prospect of being reborn. I just hate it.”

Although Katie, I found out in the ensuing discussion, apparently thinks that hell involves becoming a zombie. “The thing with my religion,” she told me, “is it doesn’t matter what you believe and it doesn’t matter what you think, as long as you’re nice to other people and accept them. But, if not, then you get condemned to the other life, the land of the Reborn. And there isn’t a way out, you just become a bloodthirsty monster.” Due to the lateness of the hour at this point and my desire to get on and get finished with the book, I did not, I regret to say, explore in greater detail how this fits in with Potatoisum. Must ask her about this another time.

Anyway… back in the book, Jeffries tells Jason that if you read what the Bible says about Jesus, you’ll end up believing that Jesus worked miracles, rose from the dead, etc. (except, of course, for all those of us who don’t, who are conveniently ignored at this point), but belief in is a different matter. To have belief in, Jeffries tells us, you need to see what the Bible says about you. He doesn’t back this up with any actual examples of what he thinks the Bible says about you, but then, when I had a look at Wallace’s blog to find out more, it seems that what he had in mind was the we-are-all-terrible-sinners lectures from Paul and similar rants from Jesus, so I actually think he made a good call not including those in a children’s book.

The points Wallace/Jeffries wants to make here are:

  • You’re not perfect.
  • God is perfect. Or, at least, if God is all-powerful and create everything from nothing, then God ‘could be’ perfect, which apparently counts as the same thing in Wallace/Jeffries’ chain of logic. (I did at this point flash back to Katie’s rather more interesting logical deduction in Chapter One, where she hypothesised that a god might potentially be really good at creating universes but not so good at, say, sports.)
  • We can’t live in eternity with a perfect god when we’re not perfect, because our imperfection would spoil his perfection.
  • Our mistakes, ‘whether large or small’, must be punished.

“Except,” Katie objected, “if God really was so perfect, he would accept everyone for what they are instead of saying ‘I’m sorry, you’re not perfect, you don’t get to be with me, you’re contaminating me, eugh, gross’. I can imagine that in one of those teenage girl voices,” she added.

Right on, kiddo. Nicely put.

“Also,” Katie continued, warming to her theme, “you have to be punished for your every mistake. I mean, if you deliberately choose to do something wrong, then fair enough, but your mistakes? If you accidentally stumble and fall into someone, then you have to be punished? I mean, come on, he’s a huge jerk! I realise I’m condemning myself to hell by saying all this, but, hey, whatever, I don’t care. God, I’ve decided you’re a huge jerk and I hate you and I hate Jesus too.”

Score one for Wallace’s evangelical efforts, folks! Sounds like they helped Katie make her mind up, anyway!

Anyway, back to Jason, who’s looking understandably worried at what Jeffries is telling him. Fear not, Jason! Despite the Christian God’s apparent utter inability to plan a decent afterlife for His own creations, there is a solution! God came to humans as Jesus, lived ‘the perfect life’, and ‘willingly accepted the punishment we deserve’. This means that, if we ‘accept what Jesus did for us on the cross’, God will now forgive us, despite being apparently either unwilling or unable (it’s not clear which) to do so without his version of self-harm being involved (which, among other things, makes me wonder what exactly was supposed to have happened after death to the souls of all the people who lived and died in the thousands of years before Jesus’s birth). We aren’t told how any of this is supposed to solve the problem of God being unable to tolerate imperfect people in his presence for eternity, but it’s kind of vaguely handwavingly implied that this is somehow solved, so… don’t think about it too hard, I guess.

Jason says he thinks he gets it, which is more than I do. Oh, well, never mind the problems with the ethics or logic of this theology; let’s get this done. I hoped Wallace wasn’t going to end with some horribly awkward scene of Jeffries leading Jason through reciting the Sinner’s Prayer, and this hope at least was granted; Jeffries tells Jason that this is a decision everyone has to make on their own and that he should think about it and tell God what he’s decided. So that bit, at least, I liked a lot better than the scenes I’ve seen in Christian books where impassioned missionaries lead a tearful new target through praying and converting on the spot. Jeffries tells Jason and Insert Character that he expects to see both of them at the police station sometimes (I assume he meant for visits rather than because they’ve been arrested), and the story ends with Insert Character thinking ‘deeply’ about what they learned from Jeffries.

Still not quite it, as there are a few final sections; these should be quick to deal with, so my next post really should be the final one. Nearly there!

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 3

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

So, as expected, Lacey was the skateboard owner, and, as not expected but should have been, Jeffries pretty much hands this one to the cadets rather than helping them work it out themselves. I forgot to update my prediction accuracy count, but this, of course, brings it to three accurate out of five; which, alas, is where it stayed, as my daughter had an unusually long episode of rationality while reading this and thus did not at any point randomly utter any of the words ‘mushrooms’, ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’ ‘jalapeños’, or ‘chicken’. You win some, you lose some.

Time to wrap this up:

We get a bit more information from Lacey, including the fact that she kept the board in the shed. What the hell is the security at this school like? A shed on school grounds containing potentially dangerous tools should be locked. Also, of course, it’s supposed to be filthy in there; surely her parents would have noticed her continually turning up at home with smudges on her face or cobwebs in her hair? She put the sticker over her initials when she was about to graduate as she didn’t want to risk her parents seeing her initials on a skateboard, although since she seems to have just left the board in the shed permanently at this point it’s not clear why she thought it would be an issue. Oh, and she did eventually confess all to her parents.

I went back after reading this and checked the earlier parts of the book, and Wallace has completely borked his own continuity.

  • The conclusion drawn by the cadets in Chapter 2 is that the skateboard is at least nine years old (appearance, plus sticker with the school’s previous name on it), which is why Daniel asked Lacey about it in the first place (she’s ten years older than him).
  • In Chapter 4, Lacey tells us that Lincoln Singleton, the board’s previous owner, moved away five years ago.
  • When the cadets go to see Mr Warren, the school custodian in Chapter 5, we learn that he’s worked there for three years. We also get the following history from him:

“[…]A boy named Lincoln gave it [the skateboard] to Mr. Templeton, the first custodian of the school. When he retired, he told the temporary custodian, Mr. Jenkins, about it, and Mr. Jenkins told me. I didn’t really want to throw it away, and one day a nice, polite girl asked if she could have it, so I gave it to her. Then sometime later it appeared in the shed again—and there it stayed, until you guys found it.”

So…

  • After all that business about ‘nine years ago’, it turns out Lacey would have to have owned the board in the last three years.
  • Except that, at the beginning of Chapter 4, it’s stated that Lacey attended that school ‘many years ago’. So, for some reason, she was hanging around the school and keeping the board there despite having left the school long since and (most likely) being clearly out of its age range.
  • Mr Warren, despite being familiar enough with the skateboard to remember in detail what Mr Jenkins said about its history, somehow didn’t notice that it was being left in the shed every night during the time Lacey owned it. (Or, more worryingly, that a student was regularly entering the school shed, and also regularly carrying something out of the school shed.)
  • If Lacey knew that Lincoln had put it there, why did she wait for over two years before asking Mr Warren for it? Alternatively, if she didn’t know at the time but found out since then… how? Did she see it there? What is it with this school letting children poke around in a shed full of rusty tools? Why was she even there when, according to the timeline, she should already have left the school?

Sigh. Absolutely none of this plot makes any sense. I much prefer ridana’s version.

On the plus side, we’re nearly at the end of the chapter:

Jeffries is delighted that the cadets finally see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Well, that’s more than I do.

“Just like there was enough evidence in this mystery to figure out who owned the skateboard, there’s also enough evidence to figure out the truth about Jesus.”

An apt comparison; in both cases, Wallace/Jeffries has been giving the cadets the evidence he thinks appropriate, and holding back on evidence when he thinks it appropriate. But I still don’t see how there was enough evidence to figure out who owned the skateboard. I mean, Daniel didn’t ask Lacey about the skateboard because there were clues pointing to her; he asked her about the skateboard because she happened to be the one person he knew who’d been at that school at what the cadets thought was around the time the skateboard had been left there but which I’ve just worked out wasn’t the time the skateboard had been left there. And we still don’t know how Jeffries figured out who owned the skateboard.

Aarrrgghhhh. Since I know perfectly well that the answer to all of the above is ‘Wallace didn’t care about his plot beyond the point where it provided a handy vehicle to pass on his views to children’ I will shut up about it and get on with wrapping this up.

Jeffries gives the cadets one last summary of his reasons for believing the Jesus-story is true, complete with lists on the whiteboards that are basically just going over the same stuff that’s been done so I won’t bother repeating them here. Hannah exclaims “Wow, I guess we really did learn a lot about evidence!” (sigh). And Jeffries calls the cadets up to receive their certificates. This last is illustrated by a line drawing of Jeffries and a cadet holding a certificate with a ‘Congratulations Cadets’ sign in the background. Unfortunately the quality of the drawing is… pretty much on the level of the quality of the plot, which meant my daughter found it severely freaky.

“Don’t you mean ‘Congratulations, demons??” she broke in, indicating the figures in the pictures. “The eyes are different sizes! That face is going to haunt my nightmares! It’s like so simple, but so complicated. That does not work! Aaaaaaah!”

Personally, I thought it was one more piece of evidence that the rest of the class was in fact populated only by cardboard cutouts.

And that’s the end of this chapter, but not quite the end of the book yet; we still have some final bits. I hope to wrap them up in one further post, but we’ll see how it goes.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 2

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

I assumed a few things about this book as I went along, and one of them was that the final-chapter Solving Of The Skateboard Mystery would be done by actual detective work from the cadets. Sure, I wasn’t expecting Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, and I also figured Jeffries would probably have to guide them with some leading questions… but I did expect that resolution would come in some kind of ultimate burst of discovering and/or connecting clues to give the cadets the answer. Not only was this the one bit of any actual detective work that the cadets got to do, but there was still the matter of the witness statement that Jeffries – despite promptly ignoring it for the next fortnight – did stress the cadets should be closely analysing.

Well… here’s how it actually went down.

Jeffries tells the cadets that they’re going to ‘wrap up the mystery of the skateboard’. He opens the door. Ta-daaaa! Lacey walks in! Jeffries tells them ‘”As it turns out, Lacey is the key to solving our mystery.”‘ Insert Character suddenly realises that Daniel’s – and therefore Lacey’s – surname is Bolan, making Lacey’s initials LB, the initials they found on the skateboard. Insert Character yells out ‘”You owned the skateboard!”‘ Lacey agrees. Ta-da. Mystery solved.

So… I guess technically I was not completely wrong. After all, the Insert Character does have one ‘Aha, so that is what that clue means’ moment. But:

a) this happens only once Jeffries has literally put the answer slap bang in front of them, and

b) this happens only because Insert Character is friends with Daniel and thus knows the family’s surname.

So, none of the other cadets – you remember them, even though Wallace doesn’t? The children from other schools who are supposedly also in this class even though none of them ever, ever gets named or says anything? – had a look-in here. And it would have been so easy for Jeffries to do that differently; all he had to do was to start Lacey’s witness statement off with a ‘State your full name for the record’. Apart from anything else, surely getting the witness’s full details is normal practice for a witness statement?

But, nope. Didn’t happen.

Daniel wants to know why Lacey didn’t say anything earlier. I’d assumed that this was because she didn’t want her illicit skateboard-riding to get back to her mother. But… nope. Instead, we get this:

“Because Detective Jeffries told me not to,” she explains. “Once he solved it, he asked me to play along and let you guys try to figure it out on your own.[…]”

Where. To. Start.

1. I can quite understand that Jeffries would want the solving of this case to take a bit more effort than Daniel happening to examine the board at home and Lacey walking in and saying “Hey, that’s my old skateboard!”. However, this goes further; Lacey’s actually kept quiet about her involvement when explicitly asked if she knows anything about the board, to the point of downright deceptiveness. Her response when Daniel asked her about it was “I’ve seen it before… At least, I think I have.” The first statement was technically true, but the second one wasn’t; she knew perfectly well that she’d seen it, because she’d owned it.

Which means that the one bit of detective work the cadets got to do during this entire fake cadet class – solving the mystery – has been mucked up for them by Jeffries deliberately suppressing evidence. Heck… even if he didn’t want Lacey handing Daniel the solution on a plate, the obvious thing for him to do would have been to lead the class through analysing that damn witness statement and help them see what further questions to ask. It would have been great teaching and really interesting for the cadets. Bloody hell, Jeffries. You couldn’t even let your class have that much.

2. It’s disturbing that Lacey managed to lie to her brother so smoothly when he first asked her about the skateboard. Did Jeffries coach her in this?

3. How and when did Jeffries solve the case? He apparently managed it before Daniel first asked Lacey about the skateboard, and that happened between sessions 3 and 4, so he managed it fairly early on. And Jeffries would have had no obvious reason to ask Lacey; Daniel didn’t ask her because any clues had pointed to her at that stage, he asked her purely because she happened to be someone he knew who’d been at the school at around the right time. The other people the cadets have spoken to – the custodian and the person at the skateboard shop – didn’t mention anyone else coming round asking questions about the board (though, who knows, maybe Jeffries told them to keep quiet as well).

4. Did it not occur to Daniel at any point that, if he was looking for a girl who’d been at the school several years ago who had the initials ‘LB’, there was someone right there in his family who fitted the bill?

5. Could we all just take a minute to reflect on the irony of the fact that, within minutes of Jeffries assuring us that this clearly wasn’t a conspiracy, we find out that he was in fact conspiring with Lacey?

 

Sigh. Why am I even shocked by any of this? Jeffries told the cadets they’d discover the truth about the skateboard if they kept searching; but what he actually did was to give them the evidence he wanted, when he wanted to. I have no idea why I didn’t see that coming.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 1

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Chapter 8: Resist Conspiracy Theories: Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!

“Final chapter!” I announced to Katie. “What do you think of the book so far?”

“It’s a whole load of nonsense,” she told me.

I asked her what she expected to happen in the last chapter. “I presume that Jeffries is going to come up with some sort of nonsense, stretching the truth, ignoring huge issues, to make it seem like Christianity is true even though there are huge flaws in it?” she suggested.

So, subtle there, but I think if you read carefully between the lines you can spot a hint or two that my daughter was less than impressed with this book. What do you think?

Anyway… after this chapter there’s still an epilogue and a final section from Wallace pushing apologetics, so we’re not quite there yet, but this is the home stretch. As we go through, I’ll update my predictions for this chapter to see what I got right and what I got wrong.

It’s the last session of the cadet academy aka Bible class, and Jason ‘has spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries said’. Foolishly, I thought for a moment this meant that he’d realised it was their last chance to solve the skateboard mystery that everyone else seems to have stopped caring about and that he’d spent the week thinking over something Jeffries said on the subject in hopes of figuring things out. I know, I know, I’m naive sometimes.

Jason has actually, of course, spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries has said about Jesus. At the beginning of the session, before Jeffries has come in, he tells the others he still has his doubts because he wonders if the disciples who wrote about Jesus were ‘all just lying’.

Dr Sarah’s prediction accuracy tally, two paragraphs in:

  • Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument: check
  • Skateboard-to-apologetics segue: nope. Wallace has actually changed things up a bit in the final chapter and decided just to plunge straight in with the apologetics.

So, the running total is one right, one wrong, and three remaining to be seen.

Back to the chapter. We have a grey insert box defining the word ‘conspiracy’ and telling us that successful conspiracies are ‘incredibly hard to pull off’. “If you think you know about a successful conspiracy, it wasn’t successful! If it had been, you wouldn’t know about it!” Wallace tells us.

“That, or there’s a chance that it was actually completely successful but you’re actually from a different time period and it bamboozled the people of that time period but you’re from a different time period so it hasn’t bamboozled you,” Katie pointed out. Which was kind of irrelevant with regards to Christianity, which I don’t believe to have been a conspiracy at all, but I didn’t bother getting into that one as I just wanted to push on through.

Insert Character, faced with Jason’s doubts, replies “But remember what Jeffries said about the fact that the disciples didn’t have a good reason to lie? Why would they all choose to suffer like they did if they were only lying?”

Hah! And, to emphasise this, I’m just going to skip ahead and quote Jeffries from a bit later in the chapter:

“Worse yet, they suffered like we described a few weeks ago. They were under incredible pressure to change their story, but they never did.[…]”

Hah! What did I tell you? Well, all right, technically what I told you was that the line would be ‘they died for their beliefs and never recanted’, but this is close enough. Dr Sarah’s prediction tally, three paragraphs in: Two right, one wrong. Not bad going.

Anyway, back to where we were… in comes Jeffries, ‘holding a stack of graduation certificates’. A stack? Just how many were there of the nameless, wordless other class members who didn’t get to be part of the plot at all? Quite a lot, apparently, unless the stack is because Jeffries wrote these graduation certificates on stone tablets. I feel sorry for the other cadets, condemned by the plot to week after week of sitting voicelessly while Jeffries lectured on evangelism and the few people for whom Wallace bothered to think of names lapped it all up.

And – surprise, surprise – Jeffries’ planned subject for the day is also an explanation of why Christianity wasn’t just a big conspiracy. Convenient, that, isn’t it?

“I’m confident he was listening in. Which he really should not be doing,” Katie told me. She might have a point.

We do in fact have a brief skateboard-to-apologetics bit inserted at this point, but not the one I was expecting; Jeffries asks the cadets how they know there was ever a skateboard mystery at all. How do they know it wasn’t all a big conspiracy cooked up by the custodian, the owner of the skateboard shop, and Lacey? Well, because that wouldn’t make any sense, that’s why. Ding ding ding! So now you can see why Christianity wasn’t all just a big conspiracy on the part of the apostles! And Wallace/Jeffries proceeds to give an explanation of what’s needed for a successful conspiracy theory that probably would have interested me if I hadn’t been all ‘strawman, bored now’ about it. I might go back to it some time if I’m having to deal with a ‘scientists are all conspiring to put autism in vaccines’ theory or whatever.

Oh, and we get this:

“[…]Remember what Hannah said a few weeks ago? There were five hundred people who said they saw Jesus all at one time.”

Er, no. There’s a claim in one of Paul’s letters, in what might be a formal creed, that Jesus appeared to ‘more than five hundred people’, but we have no details at all of what this ‘appearance’ involved, and it’s not mentioned in any of the other accounts of the resurrection appearances.

A quick note: When I first read this claim, I assumed Paul must be making it up. After all, this is the same Paul who seemed quite happy to misrepresent himself to potential converts if he thought it would win them over. A few years ago, I started thinking about it a different way; was there any event in the early church that might have genuinely been misinterpreted as a mass appearance, as rumours grew? There was, I rapidly realised; Acts 2 tells the story of a huge public sermon leading to mass conversion among the audience. The standards for what counted as an ‘appearance’ don’t seem to have been that high (from Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion, it seems Paul didn’t even see Jesus in his road-to-Damascus moment), so it’s quite plausible that an event at which a large crowd of people experienced some sort of religious ecstasy could have been interpreted, by eager members of the early church, as Jesus ‘appearing’ in some form to them to cause this ecstasy. So I now suspect that the ‘more than five hundred’ story actually refers to the Pentecostal sermon described in Acts 2. At any rate, that sounds a lot more plausible than the idea that there was a genuine mass vision of a resurrected Jesus which, for some reason, absolutely none of the other NT authors consider worth mentioning.

“And how could all these people stay in touch with each other to get their stories lined up, especially since they were scattered all over the Roman Empire?”

I have to wonder whether Wallace really believes that this mention of ‘more than five hundred people’ was only made after the purported five hundred had each individually been carefully interviewed, the interview records compared for consistency, and the process then repeated some time later to see whether anyone was willing to crack and confess to it all being a conspiracy. That is, after all, what he seems to be implying here. Who does Wallace believe would have been tracking down these people, checking their stories, and using any inconsistencies to blow the roof off the Christianity story? Who does he think would have bothered? People who didn’t believe in the early church’s claims wouldn’t have joined it, and authorities who suspected them of breaking laws or creating a public disturbance would have arrested and tried them on those suspicions; who does Wallace think would have been going to enormous effort to debunk it?

(Side note: Also, why does Wallace think the ‘five hundred’ would have ‘scattered all over the Roman empire’? That’s quite an assumption to make about a group of people about whom we know nothing. He honestly seems to be inventing this stuff as it suits him.)

Jason says that maybe the disciples managed a successful conspiracy because they were good friends and that helped them stick to their story, and Wallace/Jeffries comes up with the rather odd claim that this wouldn’t apply to Matthew, because, apparently, he wasn’t their friend:

“He wasn’t raised around the other disciples and wasn’t their friend when he met Jesus. Instead, he was a tax collector named Levi, disliked by the others.[…]”

So… anyone know of anything to support the idea that Matthew, whatever his status when he first met the disciples, didn’t become friends with them in the supposedly three years that they all lived and journeyed and strove towards a common goal together? Or is this another place where Wallace seems to have just invented stuff? I mean, yeah, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theory anyway, but this is a weird argument. But it did set Katie off on another thought; she thinks that Jesus would have pushed them into being friends whether they wanted to or not.

“‘You’re all worshipping me so you should all be friends in peace! Even though I’m going to bully you into believing in me so I’m secretly a huge jerk!'” she hypothesised. “Jesus is really a huge jerk, though, isn’t he?”

And on that note, I will break this post here and return for the next part of the chapter, in which the skateboard mystery finally, and underwhelmingly, gets solved. If you’re on the edge of your seats… well, don’t be, it’s soooo not gonna be worth it.