Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons? And 199 Other Questions from Catholic Teenagers by Matthew Pinto
(Ascension Press, 1998, 270 pp., $11.99)
Question-and-answer (Q&A) books are highly popular for two reasons: First, they are a fast read. People are busy these days, and Q&A books provide quick answers. Second, Q&A books are practical.
People want the options on and consequences to an action explained to them in practical terms. Q&A books do this better than any other medium. Not surprisingly, they have been used successfully in Catholic evangelization and catechetical situations for some time. They have been somewhat less prominent over the last 30 years, but it seems a good bet that they are going to make a comeback and be popular for a long time to come.
There are essentially two concerns when it comes to evaluating such a book. First, are the answers right? Speed and clarity are no substitute for accuracy and reliability. Second, assuming the answers are correct, do they lull the reader into a false sense of security by fostering the impression that a quick and clear answer exhausts the possibilities raised by a particular question?
Matt Pinto's delightful tour of questions posed by Catholic teenagers, Did Adam & Eve Have Belly Buttons?, scores excellently in the categories of brevity of reply and practicality of the questions. Hardly any of Pinto's pithy answers to 200 questions runs even two full pages. Nor could his selection of questions have been more practical since every one of them was posed by real Catholic teenagers with real questions about the Faith. An experienced apologist and youth minister with, literally, coast-to-coast credentials, Pinto knows what young people are wondering.
Consider, for example, question 45: “Why does it seem that evangelical Protestant teens have a closer relationship with Jesus than do Catholic teens?” A real question, that, and honestly put. Pinto replies in kind: “Some evangelical teens do seem to have a closer relationship with Jesus than many Catholic teens, probably because evangelical Churches stress personal conversion more than individual Catholics typically do. That's unfortunate because the Catholic Church teaches as strongly as evangelicalism the need for personal conversion.” Pinto notes the Protestant practice of “altar calls” and continues: “It is important to recall two things about that sort of thing. First, that human experiences come and go. What matters is one's continuing commitment to follow Jesus, with or without an ‘experience.’Second, Catholics have an ‘altar call’ every week — the call to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. There is no more personal relationship we can have with Christ in life than to be united with him in the Holy Eucharist.”
I came across no actual errors in the book, and considering the incredible range of topics that these teens surfaced and which Pinto forthrightly addressed, that alone is an accomplishment. True, there are some questions whose answers seemed to me incomplete, but this is a Q&A book. A few other answers seemed to raise, albeit secondarily, new problems. For example, in responding to a question about one's possibly going to hell if, in war time, one kills another person, Pinto replies “fighting for your country if it is a ‘just war’ is a noble thing to do,” etc.
Now, while Pinto's answer is quite sound, his throwing in that “just war” criteria suggests that it is the citizen's duty to assess the legality of the war and then to decide whether to cooperate with it. Suffice it to say that that's not quite right, and such points, although beyond the scope of this review and Pinto's book, should not be left dangling in future editions.
In no way, finally, does Pinto's book lull the reader into a sense of complacency with brief answers to tough questions. At several points Pinto incorporates research references into his answers, and he provides a reliable guide to more detailed readings on numerous topics at the back of the book. Pinto, in a true Catholic spirit, opens his book with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, and closes it with sound advice about how to examine one's conscience.
This is the kind of book that a Catholic parent can give with confidence to a Catholic son or daughter. Ditto for grandparents looking for something religiously reliable but not stuffy for their teenage grandchildren. And Confirmation sponsors looking for an age-appropriate gift for their confirmands upon reception of that sacrament will definitely want to check out this delightful text.
Edward Peters writes from San Diego, California.