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The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People by Cathleen Falsani

Jacket: Hardcover
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (March 7, 2006)
Genre: Leaders and notable people; Religious
ISBN: 0374163812

Comments about the author: Cathleen Falsani is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. She attended Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian college, and holds masters in journalism and theology. The God Factor is her first book

Author's blog: The Dude Abides

Author interview: NEBR Reviewer Mona Lisa Safai interviews Cathleen Falsani about her new book. Read the in-depth interview!

Review: In the United States, many Americans remain beholden to a faith; others succumb to spirituality, while some choose to question and challenge the outer realm. These concepts shape the beautiful tapestry which Cathleen Falsani bases her first book, The God Factor:Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People. She interviews a wide spectrum of accomplished literati and glitteri such as Senator Barack Obama, Melissa Ethridge, Barry Scheck, Bono, Jeffrey Sachs, and Hakeem Olajuwon only to name a few. In over thirty conversations common themes emerge throughout.

When questioned about religion and spirituality, a majority have surprisingly interesting details about why they believe (or do not believe). Her conversations with Senator Barack Obama in a Chicago café, Hugh Hefner in his Playboy Mansion, Hakeem Olajuwon in his Texan home designed in Islamic architecture, or Elie Wiezel in his study in New York City and numerous other interviews lead Falsani on her own spiritual journey.  

As a religion reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, Falsani often profiles interviews about modern faith and spirituality. In The God Factor, she wanted to “paint a spiritual portrait of popular culture with familiar faces—how society is changing. And how faith, essentially, is not.” They give brief detailed snapshots of their upbringing, faith or lack thereof, their careers, challenges, spiritual or religious journeys, and how faith reflects on how they choose to live their lives.

While a majority of those interviewed have been raised with some kind of formal religion such as Roman Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or other sects of Christianity, most of that same group tailored their faith as adults. Those who did not, however, are a sparse few. Such questions the reader cannot help but ponder are what made them change? What made those who remained the same continue to stay? Does faith grow stronger or weaken through tragedy and victory both professionally and personally? Each interview is relatively brief but meaningful. She delicately uncovers the myths which lay beneath the complicated mosaic that shape the United States.

Peppered through the conversations are shared threads of forgiveness, respect, love and humanity. Regardless of religious or spiritual predilections, many voiced the need for these notions to be adhered to under all circumstances. One particularly poignant interview is with Elie Wiesel, the writer, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. His continuous struggle to justify his existence and strengthen his faith, explains why he believes:

I cannot not believe. Not because of myself, but because of those who were before me. It is my love for and fidelity to my parents, my grandparents, and theirs, and simply to stop, to be last in the chain, is wrong. It would humiliate them. They weren’t at fault. Why should I do it to them? I feel such a presence when I think about them and even when don’t think about them. I want to follow in their footsteps. I don’t want to break the chain. And to choose what? Is it better to be agnostic or better to be an atheist? I don’t know. I’ve never tried it. I accept having faith. I call it wounded faith…

Meanwhile, some believers are mavericks in their professional field. Dr. Henry Lee, an international Forensics scientist, most recently known for his work in the O.J. case, relies on physical evidence to provide answers to crime and violence. However, he does not hesitate to say that “many things in this world are unexplainable…and…[s]cience doesn’t always have the answer.” Raised as a Buddhist, he categorizes himself as “a believer” respecting all religions.

In these trying sociopolitical times, The God Factor is not only an interesting read for the curious but also illustrates how Americans identify with their cultural mindset. It’s a personal piece which relies solely on the words of the interviewees. This makes the book more humanistic on many levels.

Although, her interviews are enchanting and each one filled with intimate details about fascinating individuals, the reader is left wanting a last chapter. Possibly, to mesh all the results, or even to have Falsani interviewed by someone. Overall, the book gives a broader understanding to why human beings may change their beliefs (or not), how amazingly different faith can be interpreted, and how similar we are when the labels are removed.

— Reviewed by: Mona Lisa Safai
Mona Lisa Safai

Mona Lisa Safai is a freelance writer, poet, and reviewer.



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