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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Me of Little Faith -- Comedian and actor Lewis Black's new book is not the in-your-face yockfest I was expecting. It's funny and profane in places, to be sure, and written in the unique voice I've come to expect from his always-welcome appearances on The Daily Show, but Me of Little Faith is about religion and spirituality, informed by a number of Black's own true-life experiences and containing more nuance and room for cosmic possibilities than one might expect.

Religion can be a sensitive subject -- in Comic Book Galaxy's earliest days, my arrogance and refusal to acknowledge that fact cost the site one of the best writers it ever (briefly) had, Johanna Draper Carlson. Maybe it was because of that incident that I learned to be more tolerant and a little less knee-jerky on the subject. But the fact is, I am an atheist, despite years of religious instruction at Southern Baptist schools in Florida. Or yes, perhaps because of that schooling. But that's not the whole story when it comes to me and the possibility that there's more to the cosmos than we are able to see with our immediate five senses, as I tried to explain in an essay back in 2000.

I've never linked to that piece before, and I don't really love the way it's written, but I swear every word in it is as true as I could explain at that time. And what made me think of that time, and the weird shit that seemed to be happening to me on a regular basis back then, are the extraordinary experiences Lewis Black recounts in some of the chapters of Me of Little Faith. As the book takes you on a tour of major moments of Blacks life (both as a child and as an adult), he occasionally drops a bomb on the reader about seeing what seemed to be a genuine halo around the head of a religious commune leader, or the fact that one of his best friends has what seem to be genuine psychic abilities and often calls to advise him or let him know about an important event about to happen in his life.

And skeptic I am, my initial impulse is to think Black is having some fun with his readers, or more cynically, just fuckin' with us. But the short, funny and revelatory chapters of this book build on each other until Black's comedy, sincerity and life experience come together to create a quite extraordinary explanation of one man's lifelong experience with both the utter baloney of much of organized, rote religion and the utter sublimity of first-person experience with the fact that there is much more to the universe -- and possibly beyond -- than any one of us could ever hope to understand.

And there's no question that the idea of God and the power of spirituality are attractive concepts, no matter what your beliefs. As I often tell my children, "Just because an idea isn't true doesn't mean it doesn't have power." Which has helped me to understand something as gigantic as George W. Bush's cynical manipulation of religious conservatives, or something as odd as my profound reaction to seeing Jack Kirby's astonishing portrait of Moses in the 50th issue of The Jack Kirby Collector. That picture struck others with its presence, as well; Fred Hembeck did an amazing drawing inspired by the very same picture in TJKC at the convention I met him at last weekend. Recognizing religion and mythology are seemingly hardwired into our brains, and that recognition can give enormous comfort or cause monumental disaster depending on how the ideas are delivered and for what reason. It's a complex subject, one Black seems to relish delving deep into.

Me of Little Faith offers up a lot of stories from Lewis Black's life, and the philosophy he's evolved along the way. There are funny stories about staying with hippies on a commune, and genuinely moving sections about his career and the events and people that have shaped it. Lewis Black may be an angry comedian (most of the shit he's angry about pisses me off too), but he's also a thoughtful human being, and he's a very good writer, and if you like his comedy or are interested in an unusual look at spirituality, this is a book that will get you thinking even as it gets you laughing.

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