Babe Ruth wrote that when he was a little boy his betters built a little
chapel in his soul. He grew up, and that chapel grew dusty and cobwebbed. But
through all his mistakes and irreligion he knew he had that little chapel he
could dust off in time of need. The point is not a new one: St. Augustine took
pains in his Confessions to mention that despite his sins and wanderings
the name of Jesus, which his mother whispered to him as a small boy, continued
to steer him from the most dangerous shoals of error and superstition. Indeed,
Thomas More quipped that it was a great mercy that God permitted whole
generations to keep the faith without living it because otherwise no society
could long remain Christian.
Baseball, Augustine, Thomas More, sin and conversion—Tarek Saab’s Gut
Check covers them all in a pop-cultural analysis of what matters to the
young male mind. As some recall, Tarek Saab entered pop culture via reality TV.
He was the token manly man on season five of Donald Trump’s The
Apprentice—where a group of promotion-hungry corporate types compete for
the brass ring.
Mr Saab calls Gut Check a journey through his “quarter-life crisis.”
The book begins with his college days and ends at the start of a more focused
journey toward a good death. That is the “Gut Check”, the realization that you are going to die, and that you are going to be held accountable for the life you lived. This philosophy is not Donald Trump’s, it’s Plato’s. In fact, the book has a number of Platonic-like dialogues peppered between narratives and moral exhortations. Mr. Saab even opens the book with a 21st Century version of that most ancient of philosophical themes: “Success in life and business begins by focusing on death.”
Mr Saab, who was born in Lebanon and raised in the US, identifies with
Augustine, the Mediterranean sinner-turned-saint. He writes, “As St. Augustine
once famously said, ‘Lord give me chastity, just not yet.’ I could have made a
similar statement about any of my vices.” As a result, disaffected young men in
need of a gut check will identify with him.
The book is filled with pop cultural images and gleeful camp likely to tickle
anyone from Gen X, Y, or Z. A college buddy questions whether a God who
tolerates Sally Struther’s fly-covered refugees could actually exist. There’s a discussion of the
nature of evil using pizza slices. Mr. Saab compares his first job offer to
winning Super Mario Brothers. A biography of St. King Louis IX touches off a
meditation on Joel Osteen’s “prosperity gospel” and Frodo Baggins.
This combination of superficial and serious lifts the book above your average
memoir of a failed contestant on a reality TV show. In just two pages of one
chapter, Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and
Thomas More compete for Mr. Saab’s heart and mind at a vodka-drenched nightclub. Rappers and
hip-hoppers versus philosophers and saints, pop versus culture—Mr. Saab does an
admirable job of framing moral choices in the true-to-life high drama of
post-modern decadence: “Even as Jay-Z, Outkast, Nellie, and others brought the
throng to a suspended frenzy, I reflected on faith and truth with a fistful of
Belvedere, sip after numbing sip.”
Mr Saab is a businessman. Gut Check is not simply a whimsical memoir;
it is part of T. Saab Media Inc.. He is also
a professional Catholic speaker, and he runs his own Christian apparel company.
Gut Check is part of a calculated business plan. While he critiques prosperity
gospels, he does not see anything wrong with prosperity or the Gospel.
Men in their twenties often face a crisis of manhood: are perfect abs, sex
and success all that life has to offer? At the ripe old age of 30 and newly
married, Tarek Saab answers this question with intelligence (he is one of the
few likable members of Mensa), and a deeply Christian outlook. But it is not the
usual Christian fairy tale. It’s gritty, comic and utterly believable. For the
right young man with a little chapel in his soul, reading Gut Check may
jolt him into a good spring-cleaning.
Matthew Mehan is US Contributing Editor for MercatorNet.