The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt

The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt

by Joseph Loconte


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595554468
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 06/05/2012
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Joseph Loconte is a Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer in Politics at The King’s College in New York City, where he teaches Western Civilization and U.S. foreign policy and writes widely about the importance of religious freedom in strengthening democracy, human rights, and civil society.

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A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 Joe Loconte
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-447-5

Chapter One

Things Seen and Unseen

"As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him."

* * *

A bizarre scene greets one of Europe's leading Catholic scholars, John Colet, as he approaches the famous cathedral in Canterbury, England. The year is around 1511, a time of anxious spirituality in Catholic Europe.

It was here, nearly 350 years earlier, that an exasperated King Henry II had reached the limits of his royal patience with an obdurate churchman named Thomas Becket. The two had become embroiled in a protracted and testy church-state debate, and Becket refused to yield. "Will no one rid me of that turbulent priest?" complained the king. Four of Henry's knights responded by attacking Becket in his cathedral, stabbing him to death. The Church quickly venerated him as a martyr and a saint. An elaborate gold-studded shrine was built in his honor. Plays, novels, operas, and eventually, Hollywood filmmakers would tell his story of defiance.

Becket's shrine became the most important place of pilgrimage for Catholics in England in the centuries after his death. And so, in a gesture of reverence, Colet decides to pay a visit to the site. As the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Colet is a pious believer and defender of the Church.

Yet nothing has prepared him for what he sees in Canterbury.

After Becket was murdered, local people managed to acquire pieces of cloth soaked in his blood. Rumors spread that, when touched by this cloth, people were cured of blindness, epilepsy, leprosy, and other ailments. Before long, the monks at Canterbury were selling small glass bottles of Becket's blood to distressed visitors. Geoffrey Chaucer described the scene in The Canterbury Tales:

And specially from every shire's end Of England they to Canterbury went, The holy blessed martyr there to seek Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.

The Becket blood vendors are in full swing when Colet arrives. Noisy salesmen at souvenir stalls hawk metal trinkets as proof of a spiritual pilgrimage. A beggar sprinkles Colet with holy water and holds out what he claims is Becket's shoe for him to kiss and receive a blessing. Colet is appalled. "Do these fools expect us to kiss the shoe of every good man who ever lived?" he complains. "Why not bring us their spittle or their dung to be kissed?"

* * *

What is it that makes people build shrines, collect relics, preserve the blood of martyrs, and travel to faraway places to touch the bones of long-dead individuals thought to be close to God?

Why, for that matter, are there an estimated twenty-five thousand Elvis Presley impersonators gyrating their hips to hysterical crowds around the globe? Busloads of fans trek to his gravesite at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, with the enthusiasm of a Canterbury pilgrim. Shrines to the music legend multiply every year. Elvis paraphernalia is gobbled up as greedily as Becket blood samples ever were. There's even a "24-Hour Church of Elvis" in Portland, Oregon (I'm guessing "Love Me Tender" is their number one hymn). Erika Doss, who interviewed scores of fans for her book Elvis Culture, wrote that the icon is "imagined as a special, wondrous, virtuous, transcendent and even miraculous figure."

What explains the near deification of this rock 'n' roll legend? Crackpot spirituality? Emotionally stunted individuals? Johnny Carson once quipped: "If life was fair, Elvis would still be alive and all the impersonators would be dead."

Yet to blame this phenomenon on superstitions or psychology doesn't explain very much. Apparently there is something about everyday life—even in our most satisfying moments—that leaves many people anxious for something else. There seems to be a powerful impulse in human nature to connect with a "wondrous, virtuous, transcendent" figure: to be in the presence of God.

The God-Seekers

This is one of the most striking facts for those of us who study the history of civilizations. Every civilization is shaped by what philosopher Huston Smith calls its "God-seekers," those individuals who try to make contact with the divine. Every civilization, without fail, develops an elaborate system of religious beliefs that help to hold human societies together. "What a strange fellowship this is," Smith writes, "the God-seekers in every land, lifting their voices in the most disparate way imaginable to the God of all life."

The Jews in Jesus' day were especially earnest in their quest to know God. They built a massive and ornate temple in Jerusalem, where they employed priests who offered sacrifices to purify their hearts before Jehovah. Their sacred text, the Torah, records dramatic encounters between God and his people. Although God is never visualized by the Jews—never represented in art in any form—he is nonetheless described, tenaciously, as a Person. King, Redeemer, Defender, Judge, Father, Shepherd—all these images are applied to him.

The entire history of Judaism can be read as a long, tortuous tale of a nation's attempt to know God and to be blessed by him. Does this explain what is happening on the road to Emmaus? "Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him." We are informed, without any grandiosity and with no explanation, that Jesus has somehow returned to life and appeared among these disciples.

Were these fervent believers being carried away by their desire for an encounter with the supernatural? They wouldn't be the first. We marvel at the architectural achievements of the ancient Egyptians, for example, whose massive stone pyramids still baffle modern engineers. The Great Pyramid at Giza reaches 480 feet into the sky—taller than a forty-story skyscraper—and is composed of over two million blocks of limestone. Think of it: thousands of workers hauled tens of thousands of tons of stone across vast stretches of desert over many decades to build these wonders.

And for what purpose? A hieroglyphic text, addressed to the Egyptian god Atum, explains the reason: "O Atum, put your arms around King Neferkare Pepy II, around this construction work, around this pyramid.... May you guard lest anything happen to him evilly [sic] throughout the course of eternity." In other words, the pyramids served as burial chambers to help Egyptian kings make a successful journey from death to the afterlife. In this case, King Pepy II wanted to arrive safely in paradise—and mobilized an army of slaves and civil engineers to make it happen.

Likewise, we admire the political and military accomplishments of ancient Rome—its republican ideals, territorial conquests, and the "Pax Romana" that brought stability to much of the known world. We know the Romans had a panoply of "gods" and "goddesses," many of them borrowed from the Greeks. But their deities seem so much like human projections—they could be as devious and corruptible as a Nero or a Caligula—that we suspect no one really took them seriously.

Here it's worth remembering that the most important myth for the Romans was Virgil's The Aeneid, an epic poem about sacrifice, suffering, loyalty, and obedience to the gods. The hero of the story, Aeneas is described as "a man outstanding in his piety." Aeneas achieves true greatness, in fact, only when he submits fully to the will of the gods and devotes himself with absolute purity to his mission, the establishment of a new political society in Rome. Thus, when Aeneas allows his lover Dido to distract him from his task, it requires a stern visitation from the gods to get him back on course. "But Aeneas is driven by duty now," Virgil writes. "Strongly as he longs to ease and allay her sorrow, speak to her, turn away her anguish with reassurance, still, moaning deeply, heart shattered by his great love, in spite of all he obeys the gods' commands and back he goes to his ships."

This is what the Romans meant by piety. The story of Aeneas—a man mindful of the gods as he pursues his calling—was adopted throughout the empire as the pattern of the Roman hero.

The Faith of Fox Mulder

The fact is that every society, in its own way, reaches out for God.

The Jews in Jesus' day were very much like, but also very different from, the other cultures around them. Virtually every other society viewed nature as divine. The list of gods and goddesses, representing every aspect of the physical world, was endless. No matter where we look—among the Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, or Romans—we find people worshipping nature as the living and breathing embodiment of divinity.

Not the Jews. The opening pages of Genesis assert the non-divinity of the cosmos: "In the beginning, God ..." The heavens and the earth are not eternal. They came into existence, we are told, from the hand of a Being outside of them, a Creator utterly distinct from his creation. While other religions assumed the presence of deities all about them, the religion of the Jews began in a radically different place. Jewish philosopher Leon Kass says the opening lines of Scripture set Judaism at odds with the rest of the known world: "This perfectly natural human tendency the Bible seeks to oppose, and right from the first verse, by denying that the heavens—or any other beings—are worthy of human reverence."

In another sense, though, the Jews are like people in other societies. They, too, are God-seekers. More importantly, they believed firmly that they had discovered the one true God—that they were known and favored by him among all the peoples of the earth. They championed the idea that God is not only personal but purposeful, a Supreme Being with a supremely moral agenda for mankind. Scholar Paul Johnson calls the introduction of this idea "one of the great turning points in history, perhaps the greatest of all."

Thus, at first glance, the encounter on the road to Emmaus is baffling. We assume that people living in the first century AD were more prone to spiritual "experiences" than we are as enlightened, sensible, modern people. The Jews accepted the possibility of such experiences. Surely these followers of Jesus, we reason, are desperate for some sign of hope after his brutal execution, some message from heaven to reassure them that their faith in him was not a tragic fantasy. They want to believe.

Many scholars of the Bible treat the accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection in just this way: the disconsolate disciples will believe almost anything in order to regain their psychological equilibrium. Their frame of mind, we are told, is like that of Fox Mulder, the credulous FBI agent from the TV show The X-Files. A recurring theme of the series was a haunting memory from Mulder's childhood, when his sister was mysteriously abducted by aliens from outer space. Mulder's faith in the existence of UFOs was constantly reinforced by his desire to find his sister alive. A poster over his desk with a picture of a UFO carried this caption: "I want to believe."

But if this was the psychological mood of these two men on the Emmaus road, then we're faced with a very odd tale indeed. "Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him." What can this mean? If these disciples are so anxious for a spiritual experience—a supernatural reunion with Jesus, for example—then why aren't they immediately overwhelmed with fear, shock, or joy at seeing Jesus alive?

We'll explore later the likelihood of ordinary Jews, even followers of Jesus, believing in a resurrected Messiah. For now, let's admit that although we're a long way from the people who lived in the first century, we share at least one thing in common. We often have a hard time recognizing the spiritual dimension to life. Whatever else they believed about the supernatural, these disciples had to face a world of physical hardships that often left little room for thoughts of God. Indeed, many Jews in Jesus' day complained that the God of Abraham had abandoned his people. As one of their prophets lamented: "You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through."

The two men in our story must have asked the same question we ask: If God exists, if there is no place in the universe where he is not present, then why does he seem so absent from our everyday experience?

The Scientific Spirit

The question is a painful one for many of us. Perhaps it is made more painful in a society that owes so much to the scientific quest: a search for knowledge that, by definition, must exclude any thoughts of the supernatural. The tools of modern science—reason, observation, experimentation—have brought countless blessings into our lives. Who would want to step into a dentist's chair, without anesthesia, and have his wisdom teeth extracted? Nevertheless, the assumptions of science have changed dramatically over the centuries, in ways that can close off our minds to the wonder and mystery of life.

It is important to remember that the earliest scientists, those pioneering thinkers of the later Middle Ages, saw themselves as religious believers in pursuit of the secrets of creation. Virtually all of the early innovators of the period—Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton—believed that God sought to reveal himself through man's exploration of the physical universe.

"They perceived their intellectual breakthroughs as foundational contributions to a sacred mission," writes philosopher Richard Tarnas. "Their scientific discoveries were triumphant spiritual awakenings to the divine architecture of the world, revelations of the true cosmic order." Newton, whose law of universal gravitation laid the foundation for modern science, argued that the "the frame of nature" strongly suggested a universe designed and sustained by God. For Newton, nature reinforced the existence of a Deity who should be worshipped for "the creating, preserving, and governing of all things according to his good will and pleasure."

Some Christian thinkers, though, began to claim too much from nature. They argued that all living things bore the mark of divine benevolence. They insisted that the natural world, in all its details, proved the existence of a loving Creator. Others, however, looked at the same universe and saw the virtual absence of God—a world that ran on its own steam, often with appalling ruthlessness.

The discoveries in biology by Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century seemed to confirm the growing skepticism. The relentless struggle for survival through evolution—whereby the strongest and ablest organisms devoured the weakest—ran afoul of the God of Mercy. Had Darwin written a Beatitude, it might have been this: "Blessed are the cunning, the brutal, and the heartless, for they shall inherit the earth."

Over time, religious belief became more and more removed from the scientific quest. Even if God existed, the new scientists reasoned, he was indifferent to the world he had made. Neither the laws of nature nor the principles of science required the assistance of a Creator. "The more we know of the fixed laws of nature," wrote Darwin, "the more incredible do miracles become." It would not be long before nearly the entire scientific community would agree with him. As philosopher Peter Gay has written, science seemed to have all the facts on its side—and none of those facts involved a deity. "Science could give the deists and the atheists great comfort and supply them with what they wanted—Newton's physics without Newton's God."

Not all modern scientists, of course, have looked at the universe, with all its complexity, and deduced God's absence. When pressed, Albert Einstein denied he was an atheist, explaining that he preferred an attitude of humility toward the cosmos, given "the weakness of our intellectual understanding" of ourselves and the natural world around us:

We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how ... The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.


Excerpted from THE SEARCHERS by JOSEPH LOCONTE Copyright © 2012 by Joe Loconte. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: A Conversation on the Road to Emmaus xi

Introduction: Two Friends on a Quest xv

Chapter 1 Things Seen and Unseen 1

Chapter 2 A Grief Observed 23

Chapter 3 The Poison of Religion 49

Chapter 4 The End of Illusions 73

Chapter 5 Rumors of Angels 95

Chapter 6 A Divine Conspiracy 115

Chapter 7 Our Inconsolable Secret 137

Chapter 8 Myth Becomes Fact 161

Conclusion The Road Home 179

Acknowledgments 185

Notes 187

Select Bibliography 203

About the Author 207

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The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Teresa_Konopka More than 1 year ago
This is going to be a hard review to write. This book is what I guess you'd call "Christian." It has some Bible in it and talks about the importance of Jesus. That's all great and lovely. The reason why I am not giving this book a great review is because--I'm sorry to say this--I found it boring. Now, that's not to say everyone will find it boring. For the philosophical reading type people who adore literature, this will make an excellent coffee-shop book. I don't even like coffee. Jokes aside, I felt like this book was a collection of essays. It is not a story but rather a bunch of ideas from history and literature (even quoting pagan literature; oh my!) that talk about man's quest for the divine. The Road to Emmaus story is the backbone to make connections. I'm sure someone will love this book. However, for me, it just didn't cut it in terms of being a page-turner.
Deal_Sharing_Aunt More than 1 year ago
This is part of the book description "Historian Joseph Loconte unlocks the meaning of their exchange, set in the chaotic days following the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. Drawing from literature, film, philosophy, history, and politics, Loconte shows how this biblical drama is an integral part of our own story.Sooner or later, we will find ourselves among the searchers" When I saw this, I immediately thought the the story would be set in biblical times and would consist of more information, other then what Christians know from the Bible. We know how Jesus walked with them and we know that Jesus had risen. However this book clearly uses todays stories (Harry Potter for example), to show that we are all on a path with Jesus. Whether we know it or not. We are all searching for something. This book is a 5 star in the regard of showing us how we are all like the 2 men on the road to Emmaus. I did however think that the book had alot of information, about alot of different things, that all related to the core theme of the book. It was easy to follow and anyone of any religion can easily follow the message. Even if they do not believe in the same beliefs as the 2 men on the road to Emmaus. As a Christian I feel as though this must have been such a horrible time of grieving. Jesus was dead. Yet these 2 men saw him and walked with him. This renewed their hope for a brighter future. The most important thing that I could say that I got out of this book is exactly that.Even when times seem most depressing, there is always hope for a better future. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
Steven_Ruff More than 1 year ago
In “The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt” professor and historian Joseph Loconte takes his readers back in time and joins the two travelers on their journey down the ancient road to Emmaus. Using the crucifixion of Christ as the backdrop of his story, Loconte chronicles for us, by expounding the passage of Luke 24, the search these two friends are now engaged in. A search for meaning. A search for purpose. A search for understanding after their lives were shattered seeing their Savior crucified just days earlier. Loconte shows how the journey and search of these two friends parallels our own journey and search in life. What Loconte reveals to us in that the doubts and fears of these two friends are our doubts and fears. We will all have circumstances and events that shake our foundations and challenge our beliefs. In the same way Jesus guided these two men with the facts that He was Israel’s promised Messiah, the Father’s plan for redemption through Calvary’s cross, and that He would rise again, Loconte also serves as a guide. Using elements such as philosophy, science, history, poetry, pop culture, and religion, Loconte brilliantly weaves together their journey and ours. For example, in Chapter Four, entitled “End of Illusions”, in order to draw the parallel from ancient Jerusalem to today, Loconte included references to Sigmund Freud, Robert Browning, The Bourne Identity, Cold War Communism, The Ottoman Empire, Old Testament Prophecy, Johnny Cash, and Clement Attlee. The Searchers is a thought-provoking work. It is packed full of facts and historical information. This book is 205 pages long and is not an easy read. Although the book wrapped around the twenty-three verses of Luke 24, the supporting information will take some time to digest. I recommend this book to all who may be struggling with doubt. There is great insight to be found here. A great tool for all believers. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
samcivy More than 1 year ago
Loconte analyzes every possible question and thought of two men who traveled from Jerusalem toward their home in Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus. They were disillusioned, confused and grieving. A stranger joins them and explains God’s mysterious, eternal plan to them, as revealed in the Old Testament. Only at dinner together is the identity of the stranger revealed, to the amazement of the men. Loconte examines ancient and contemporary literature, art, history, architecture and the writings of historians, philosophers, biblical scholars and agnostics to show how the interactions of these men and the stranger apply to our lives. He portrays the centuries old search for faith in the midst of doubt. The author includes movie themes and the evils of religion in his study. His important message discusses ideas about who God is and how our understanding of the Godhead is impossibly limited and often flawed. Loconte’s views will teach and encourage seekers for truth. The writing is clear, but necessarily somewhat academic so will appeal to intelligent readers.
Crystal-Sebastien More than 1 year ago
~CRYSTAL SEBASTIEN~ This book is a awesome book Every once in a while a book comes along that changes how you think .I learned a lot from this book and I will end up learning a lot more because it introduced me to things i hadnt known. I greatly enjoyed The Searchers and will be excited to read other books by him. For anyone looking for a book to read over the summer this is it! Everyone will be able to use this book to get their ideas out . also I was really impressed with this book. I had no idea so much could be gathered from and related to a passage of Scripture. This book is an excellent resource for anyone contemplating preaching on this passage. I would certainly recommend it to anyone wanting to understand more of how people of biblical times felt shortly after the crucifixion. That Loconte pointed out how those feelings have been experienced across civilization was amazing and i feel that even though it does not grab your attention on the first page still give it a try that is what i did once you get deeper into the book shazzam!!! it is ver good...i say GO FOR IT AND GO READ IT!!
sjziegler More than 1 year ago
Loconte states that "[e]very civilization, without fail, develops an elaborate system of religious beliefs that help to hold human societies together." "Christianity - or, more accurately, the church acting in its name - has inspired an awful amount of human carnage," he observes. "Many believers have failed to grasp just how far the church has drifted from the life and teachings of Jesus over the centuries." Through the conversation on Emmaus Road between two friends and a stranger, Loconte uses up-to-date stories that allow a modern day translation of this conversation. This leads us through the religious beliefs of other cultures through thousands of years that all end with the same meaning. I know this book has gotten rave reviews but I do not see what all the fuss is about. I found it boring and obsolete. The synopsis given by many sources, including the book jacket makes you believe that we were going to learn about the conversation on Emmaus Road. However, through examples like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, we were given a breakdown of the conversation. However, the Bible is not Shakespeare. Even I, who have not read the Bible, understood what the conversation conveyed without having to read thirty pages on why the Mary's were shocked to find an empty tomb. While the stories were well written, they were all over the place. A line of consistency would have made this short book an easier and must faster read. I was extremely displeased with this book but happy that I finished it. If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself! Until next time, take life one page at a time!
dadofdivas More than 1 year ago
This book takes a multi-faceted look at faith through both a historical, philosophical and biblical point of view. The book makes you think deeply about the topics presented and I found myself being drawn further and further into the book. What I liked most about the book is that it does not hit you over the head with the beliefs of the author, but instead he lets you make your own decisions based on what he presents. I also liked the history lessons within the book. Whether you are a person who readily reads the bible and are a student of biblical history, you are still given a good basis for understanding the background of the points presented which to me made a lot of sense! I enjoyed this book and will definitely be sharing this soon with others!