The Faith Between Us

Killing the Buddha‘s Monday feature is “Why We Hunt,” by the tremendously talented and brutally honest Scott Korb. I met Scott in 2004, at a book party for Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible. Scott was a skinny raggedy guy with glasses and a messenger bag; I think he’d ridden his bike to the party, in midtown, in winter, at night. “An ascetic,” I thought. The best kind, it turned out — the sort who eats words instead of food, a bare-boned soul full of stories. Scott poured some of them into his first book, an autobiographical experiment co-authored with another Buddha killer, Peter Bebergal. Here’s what I had to say about it upon publication in 2007:

Now in bookstores! The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God, by Scott Korb and Peter Bebergal. I had the good fortune to read the book in galleys and wrote a blurb for the jacket: “This unlikeliest of books–a tag team spiritual autobiography–is a remarkable achievement. It’s part Confessions of St. Augustine, part Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a true story that is both subtle and adventurous. Bebergal and Korb, a Jew and a Catholic, an ex-mystic and a reformed ascetic, transcend the clichés of spiritual memoir to create genuinely unique story of faith evolving. The Faith Between Us is a milestone in the genre of memoir and a crucial reflection on American religion, in all its eccentricity, diversity, and depth.”

In a separate rant about Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel — two bands I learned about late from Scott — I added this: The “Us” of the title is Scott, an observant Catholic with Jewish tendencies, and his pal Peter Bebergal, a Jew sobered up from a drugged out mysticism. The two trade chapters of memoir about their ambivalent yet intense relationships to their respective religions. At the end of each installment, one critiques the spiritual progress of the other. It’d be Maoist, but they’re kind to one another, and deservedly so — the accuracy with which they capture earnest geekdom provides a counterpoint to their mushier spiritual questing, and the result is something smarter than ordinary memoir. Scott, for instance, imagines that a facial twitch he’s afflicted by is a sign from God and takes it as cause to play the holy fool. Then the doctor tells him it’s just a twitch, nothing special. Which is to say, he isn’t chosen. Bebergal, who technically is chosen, is so fried at the beginning he’s imagining new religions — scary, psychedelic, occasionally glorious truths that happen not to be true. But what’s interesting about collaboration is that whatever identity you bring to the process quickly slips away from you and into the hands of your doppelganger, and vice versa. That’s what happens in Scott and Bebergal’s book. Bebergal’s the mushroom mystic, Scott’s the anxious twitcher; Scott thinks he’s called by God, Bebergal sobers up; Bebergal starts a family and a heroic record collection, Scott writes family history around his tattoos.Then, together, they write a memoir in two distinctive voices that nonetheless depend on one another for their resonance. Both are very talented writers, but they’re coming from familiar places. Together, though, they’re wholly original.

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).