If you’re a fan of philosophy in sheep’s clothing written in a style somewhere between an English Grammar and Plato’s Republic, Stephen L. Gibson’s A Secret of the Universe may be the book for you.
The plot wraps around two nonfiction cores, the first of which concerns the religious implications of sex. The question is simple—what’s so special about vaginal intercourse that seems to make everything different, both the people and the relationship? Gibson capably points about the hypocrisy of those who denounce premarital sex while engaging in sexual behavior themselves, hiding behind the curtain of non-vaginal intercourse. This argument eventually morphs into a larger critique of monogamy, from both biblical and emotional perspectives. Biblically speaking, he argues, God doesn’t care how many wives or husbands you have—after all, countless kings did it; the original laws against adultery were more about stealing another man’s property. Emotionally, love shouldn’t be a finite quantity. Loving one person shouldn’t detract from the affection you are capable of doling out to others. While Gibson’s characters seem to support this theory, that’s more because they’re flat devices than anything else.
The second question is about the formation of belief. A brief perusal of his website (www.truthdriventhinking.com) reveals that this is Gibson’s central interest. His main project is to critique the main axioms of Christianity by examining their foundations based on historical and biblical evidence, concluding that they’re far shakier than pastors, priests, and popes would have us believe. While extrapolating this to some bold claims about the existence of Christ as an actual person, this mainly manifests itself as a basic, heard-it-before warning against extreme evangelism. This most fundamental of themes will be nothing new (though to its credit, the evidence probably will be) to anyone reading this book.
Gibson disseminates his ideas in nonfiction and on the web, and both of these seem better vehicles for his thought than the novel. The dialogue is completely unbelievable, for in the world of this book, teenagers and scholars speak with roughly the same diction. The characters are lifeless and the plot is boring. The worst of it comes from the endless barrage of information posing as dialogue, where one person prates and the other gives one-word responses to remind us that he’s there. These fiction elements may be a tactic to expand Gibson’s audience, but in actuality they may turn people off of his ideas. Good ideas, when uttered by drones, still sound droning, and Gibson’s revelations sound pedantic through these characters. If one is interested in any of these themes, the website looks promising, full of podcasts and lectures and multimedia presentations, all of which can do more justice to Gibson than this novel. While the ideas hold merit, they aren’t worth it to slog through nearly 600 pages of question-and-answer style lifeless fiction.