Before writing her debut book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion, Rebecca McLaughlin had written a variety of articles for online faith-focused platforms. With the book she wanted to address a broader audience, and to tackle her own faith head-on. In doing so, she took on not only a personal spiritual challenge, but a writing challenge as well. McLaughlin told Spine she set out to take a deep look at the arguments that could be significant barriers to belief, positioning her book as a litmus test of modern Christianity.
Religion, like politics, has the potential to ignite passions in even the most mild-mannered. McLaughlin’s passion for her faith fueled her writing process, and her desire to formalize a collection of conversations that have occurred throughout her life.
"Writing this book felt almost like having an affair!" she said. There was a sense of excitement and discovery that came with the probing of her faith and the exploration of evidence. However, this intellectual affair was not as sexy as the word "affair" suggests. She wrote the book in four months, while pregnant with her third child, and in the context of significant emotional strain that made writing feel like therapy.
These challenges did not deter McLaughlin. She drew on her faith and friends to support her as she tried to juggle her writing and other aspects of her life, and as a "super extrovert," she continued in her mission to "put things out into the world that were very personal, but very redemptive" for her.
She began by putting to paper common arguments — "roadblocks" — against Christianity. "For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to work the coal face between Christian faith and the academy. I grew up in a highly secular school," she recalled, laughing. She felt others perceived a divide between faith and academic subjects, between faith and science — and she wanted to explore those divides, and address them. "I was either brave enough or foolish enough to call an assembly at school, when I was about 12, on why I was a Christian."
As an adult, McLaughlin took on the challenge of writing this book knowing that it would take her deeper into exploring these divisions, and negative attitudes about her religion. Reflecting her academic training (McLaughlin holds a PhD in literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College) and her personal conviction, McLaughlin’s writing process included hours of research, as well as drawing on real choices and sacrifices she and others made. When it came time for the writing, she tried to write as if addressing a friend. "My constant desire while writing this book was to sit alongside a reader who doesn’t believe what I believe – in fact, someone who has good reasons not to," she explained. "And that’s real for me, in a number of close friendships with people I greatly respect."
Though she was a first-time book writer, McLaughlin said she didn't face writer's block, in part because a four-month deadline meant she couldn't. "I had to write it quickly, and make peace with it, that it wasn't going to be pristine." She leaned heavily on two of her best friends during the formation of the book, friends who also happened to be writing books of their own. What she deemed "risky writing," the vulnerable sections of her book, went more smoothly by having a built-in support network of fellow writers. She exchanged sections of manuscript, thoughts on style choices, and even anxieties with this small group. Texting with a friend each morning gave her the "emotional and intellectual fuel" she needed to get off the ground. As any writer might understand, having feedback and guidance of others is a big deal. With her book being a mixture of the personal and professional, having this exchange with close friends made the publishing experience less daunting.
As McLaughlin concluded her book, she reflected on an important part of her book: The internal theme of passion, whether it be a passion for faith, for academics, for writing, or for humanity. She learned from translating her passionate faith into writing, and offered advice for those who would write about their own belief: embrace that passion. "We need books that unsettle people," she said. And find the right writing friends. "You’ve got to find the right friends – like picking a running mate. It’s got to be someone who can support you and challenge you in equal measure."
Rebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D in English literature from Cambridge University, and is co-founder of Vocable Communications, a speech-focused, data-driven communications firm dedicated to helping leaders deliver messages that change minds. You can find her online at rebeccamclaughlin.org or on Twitter @RebeccMcLaugh.
Tracie Mooneyham works as Program and Grants Manager for the Robins Foundation, a private foundation working to strengthen the community of Richmond, Virginia. She also serves as Content Editor for Initiatives of Change International, working with a network of teams and individuals whose goal is to build trust through honest dialogue.