Monday, April 23, 2012

A Higher Court / John L. Betcher

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Religious Fiction

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

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John L. Betcher graduated with a degree in English from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota (which shouldn’t be confused with the fictional hometown of Rose Nylund, Betty White’s character on the Golden Girls). Betcher continued to the University of Minnesota Law School and settled in the Mississippi River town of Red Wing (famous for shoes). In addition to this book, Betcher has written three additional novels, all thrillers, along with two non-fiction titles. For more, visit the author’s website.


“My name is William Kensey. I have a wife and two great kids. Until very recently, I was a well-respected and financially successful trial attorney.
I was also a man who was comfortable with his religion. I preferred it served at arm's length from the pulpit on Sunday morning. And would rather not discuss it the rest of the week.

The circumstances that led me to write A HIGHER COURT changed all that. The entire experience was both bizarre and unavoidable. You see, I was summoned to serve as a juror in an improbable trial -- a trial to determine whether God exists.”


I love the concept of this book. It’s an excellent example of how fiction can educate. In this instance, on the arguments both for and against the existence of God (or Allah, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever name the world’s many religions attach to their Deity of choice). In this book, which reads like a legal drama with a supernatural leaning, Betcher lays out the arguments for both sides. I stole this quote from the book, which seems to describe most people:

We are Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic, or whatever other label we have selected for ourselves. We are comfortable with our chosen viewpoint, and uncomfortable with any idea that might pop our theistic or atheistic bubble. So we avoid controversial ‘proofs’ of ‘God’ or ‘No God,’ choosing to remain blissfully unaware of any challenges such writings may pose to our beliefs.

There is no shortage of books that argue for the existence of a God,  or against. But many people find these too dry for their taste.

A Higher Court does an excellent job of laying out many of the arguments for either side in the guise of a court case, although one that takes a slightly different form than normal, and does so in a way that is entertaining, or at least more interesting than dry facts and proofs. I felt the “trial” also presented the “facts” in an even-handed and reasonably comprehensive fashion.

I think understanding the arguments both for and against your personal beliefs is a good thing. It is conceivable that reading this could challenge or even change those beliefs. That also seems like a good thing.

While I would recommend A Higher Court to anyone, regardless of which side of this question they currently stand on, I do have one complaint. The author did a great job not taking an obvious position either way throughout the trial portion of the book. He even managed to tie things up in the trial without announcing a verdict. Then the book took a decidedly partisan turn. I won’t say which direction, because it doesn’t matter. I think it would have been a much better ending leaving it to the reader to decide which side made the better case without attempting to push them in either direction.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars


Walter Knight said...

I hope the final verdict wasn't for the Flying Speghetti Monster. I would be uncomfortable with that, partisn or not.

BooksAndPals said...

As would I, Walter, despite that being my personal diety of choice. :)