For fans of clergy detective novels

I’m a fan of crime fiction in which the detective is a clergy person or related, in some other way, to religious institutions. Here’s the link to a great crime fiction site that lists some 90 detective clergy, ex-clergy, monks, nuns, ex-nuns, rabbis, a rabbi’s widow, the clerk of a Quaker meeting, a Zen Buddhist, two choirmasters/organists, and some Wiccans:

Right now I am reading the Rabbi Small series, by Harry Kemelman. Not only are the plotlines consistently interesting, but so is the conversation about religious issues in general and Conservative Judaism in particular. There’s also this. In every book, part of the drama has to do with temple politics–there’s always some kind of fire that Rabbi Small is needing to put out. Very realistic, very relevant to anyone who regularly deals with church politics.

An excerpt from Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet:

(Rabbi Small): “You see, Doctor, ours is an ethical religion, a way of life.”

“Aren’t they all?”

The Rabbi pursed his lips. “Why, no. Christianity, for example, is a mystical religion.”

“You mean that Christians are not ethical?”

The Rabbi made a gesture of impatience. “Of course they are. But it is a secondary thing with them. What is enjoined on them primarily is faith in the Man-God Jesus. And their ethics are derived from the principle that if they believe in Jesus as the Son of God and their Saviour, then then will try to emulate him and hance will behave ethically. There is also the belief, common among the evangelical sects, that if you truly believe, ‘if you let Jesus come into your life’ is the usual formula, ethical behavior will come automatically. And sometimes it works.” He cocked his head to one side and considered. Then he nodded vigorously. “Sure. If you have your thoughts on heaven, you are less likely to covet the things of this world. Your foot may slip occasionally, of course, but not as much as it would if that were all you had to think about. On the other hand, you might get to thinking that any fancy that flits though your mind is the word of God. With us, however, faith in the Christian sense is almost meaningless, since God is by definition unknowable. What does it mean to say I believe in what I don’t know and can’t know? […] Our religion is a code of ethical behavior. The code of Moses, the Torah, is a set of rules and laws governing behavior. The prophets preached ethical behavior. And the rabbis whose discussion an debates form the Talmud were concerned with spelling out in meticulous detail just how the general rules of behavior were to be implemented.”



  1. A marvelous passage, giving a key reason why I’m not a Christian (why I’m not a Talmudist is another story).
    Incidentally, you post auto-generated a link to “Losing Faith”. If you take an iPod on walks or have long commutes: treat yourself to Julia Sweeney: Letting go of God As entertaining as it is deep. A two hour long Catholic de-conversion story. In one segment she describes how she invited two Mormons into her home whose stories – so obviously weird and clearly historically fictitious – made her realize that her own religious upbringing asked her to believe similarly odd things, come to think of it. Got rave reviews, and there’s some free audio online, as well as interviews, eg. in this podcast series from the Secular Humanist Center for Inquiry:

  2. Thanks for this link…just in time for Summer reading! I’m off to the library this minute!

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