Once in a while, there comes a book that divides readers. Some people would think it is the most wonderful book in the entire world, and others would think it is not what it’s cracked up to be. The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness by Matthew Kelly falls into this category. It is a book that helps people to become better Christians (in theory) in the face of modern secular culture. For this review, I will explore why this book can divide people as they are reading it.
First, let’s look at its positive aspects. Kelly writes in a relatively understandable way. He uses layman language to connect to the average Joe. This would make a quick read. It also helps that he delivers his message very bluntly, which is good for a self-help book. If a self-help book uses flowery language to identify the problems and solutions, then readers might concentrate more on deciphering what the author is saying versus doing what they ask.
In addition, Kelly argues that the biggest lie in Christian history is “holiness is not possible” (p. 32), but he offers a way to achieve that in the form of holy moments. In his words, holy moments are instances “where you set aside self-interest, personal desire, and embrace what you believe will bring the most good to the most people in that moment” (p. 36).
These instances are essentially random acts of kindness. I liked how he lists the ways that one can have a holy moment from giving thanks to God for another day of life to controlling one’s temper (p. 50-51). In these ways, I can definitely see why the book has garnered a strong fan following.
On the contrary, there are a few things that bothered me about this book. Some reviewers have pointed out that Kelly treats holy moments as if they are solely a Christian idea. Since these kinds of moments are basically random acts of kindness, anybody can do them regardless of religion, and those acts do not always have be God-driven. In fact, the main mantra of the Zoroastrian religion is “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds”.
I am aware that this book is a Christian self-help book, yet it essentially puts a very important idea upon the Christian pedestal without fully examining it.
Another thing that annoys me with this book is that it provides no sources to verify the information that he provides. He cites a piece of the Scriptures and a line from the Gospel According to Mark, but that is it. For example, in his counter argument to the claim that Jesus does not exist, he could have listed the names of Jewish and Roman historians besides Josephus who wrote about Jesus as a real person (p. 22). I looked up Josephus referencing Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews, and it turns out that modern scholars are debating if it is entirely authentic, partially genuine, or completely forgery. All I am saying is that cite the resources, so people can validate the claims.
The main thing that bothered me the most about this book was its inflammatory language. I know that I praised it for its blunt method of delivery earlier, but one can be straight-forward without arousing anger or fear. In fact, this inflaming tone is clearly set with the book’s full title The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness. Going back to the Jesus not existing argument, Kelly asserts that the idea that “Jesus is nothing more than a figment of Christian imagination is both disingenuous and an outright lie” (p. 22).
Calling anybody who does not believe in Jesus an outright liar is extremely shallow and petty, especially given that the author never really proved the savior’s existence.
Overall, I completely understand why readers are polarized by The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness by Matthew Kelly. While it contains some good advice on being a better Christian, holy moments can easily be done by anyone regardless of religion. Moreover, Kelly rarely cites his sources, which makes it difficult for readers to validate his opinions, and how he words his arguments would only arouse anger and fear. If I were to recommend it, I would only do it if one would want to have an open and honest conversation about it.
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