I won this book in Goodreads First Reads. Odds: 10 copies available, 683 people requesting = 1.5%.
Now that final exams are over, I've picked up thI won this book in Goodreads First Reads. Odds: 10 copies available, 683 people requesting = 1.5%.
Now that final exams are over, I've picked up this book so I can finally review it. I've only read the back cover and a bit of the Author's Introduction so far, and I kinda disagree with the premise so far.
"If religions could be made more reasonable... [they:] could become a more positive force and begin to achieve their core purpose of spiritual guidance."
I guess that depends on what the author means by "reasonable", and I guess that's why I'm reading this book - to find out what the author proposes.
"We are in new and dangerous times, and the historic course that religions have taken for thousands of years is making the situation worse."
Okay... times are always new and dangerous, at any point in history (I mean for those living the times; although we may no longer find the history new and dangerous, because it's in the past). I guess I'll read on to see exactly how the author thinks the religions are making situation worse.
"My growing concern has been that doctrinal religions are, by their nature, opposed to most of those values [individual initiative, human liberty, fairness for the less fortunate, human equality, active foreign policy, and a view that fair and open democracy can lead to the best form of human political governance:] and when applied in a fundamental form in the political arena can be corrosive to human peace and liberty."
Interestingly, I see no real opposition between religion and those values. I suppose the author could be talking about specific controversial issues, e.g. human equality being code for gay marriage or something.
I have to back up and mention this. My perceptions of the book may be colored by an article based on the book the author has sent me, when I won. It sort of sounded anti-religious. The author explained that he's supportive of the Church but critical of the leadership.
Another thought that came to me as I'm reading this book and since I'm reading St. Thomas Aquinas at the same time, is that even if I might not like the contents, it could be right. The first chapter in St. Thomas Aquinas explains that St. Francis with his ideas of reform for the church wasn't accepted well by his superiors; but through the lens of time we can see that the reform was indeed needed at that time. It should be noted though that the reform was not doctrinal in nature; the teaching of the church has not been changed by St. Francis. I wonder if the same would apply here.
I was right on target with where the author was going with it. The very next page confirms it. He brings up discrimination against women and homosexuals, and wants a doctrinal change. Sadly, I think this is all a misunderstanding of the doctrine. In my opinion it's the secularized world that treats women unfairly instead, and while certainly there is discrimination against homosexuals it is proclaimed as wrong directly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The other doctrinal issue that the author is opposed to is "exclusivity", meaning that people of other faiths cannot be "saved". Exclusivity is not a Catholic concept (we believe that we have the fullness of truth, but others have truth too and all peoples can be saved); although it's definitely part of some religions.
The sort of religion that the author is calling for - an abstract one, minus the scriptures, the rituals, the "human-like God"... is boring. I don't know how people can be excited about it enough to leave off their selfish ways. I'm reminded of Orthodoxy by Chesterton, which begins with the discussion about the original sin - one thing from Christianity that can actually be proven. Everyone sometimes does things they know are wrong (although we are experts at making excuses). Can we really overcome this tendency by sticking to some abstract concept? I think God needs to be this personal. (Chesterton's discussion goes into a different direction from here, responding to those who don't believe in sin.)
"Most people are 'filtering' teachings of their religions and questioning and looking for answers that make more sense. The vast majority of people in the world are religious. The majority are also human and reasonable, and as such, are heretics."
In response to the first sentence of that: Yeah, people do that, I know. For me personally, the more I learn about my faith, the more sense it makes. There are justifications for everything; and so far, it explains the world much better than anything else. It fits. Returning to Chesterton's Orthodoxy, in the last chapter he answers a question that a hypothetical agnostic may ask a person who has found truths in certain doctrines, "But even supposing that those doctrines do include those truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines? [...:] If you see clearly the kernel of common sense in the nut of Christian orthodoxy, why cannot you simply take the kernel and leave the nut? Why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can define as valuable, and leave all the rest, all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?"
The answer he gives essentially is that he has looked into the many and various objections to Christianity and found them false, based on incorrect assumptions. The truths of the Christianity however just add up, so to speak. The bottom line is this: "... my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right..."
Now the latter part of the quoted passage (and a few others) make an implication that those who are orthodox are unreasonable and superstitious religious fanatics. I kind of have to take an exception to that ;p
The first part of the book sets out the author's philosophy. This is apparently what he calls reasonable religion. I think I'm not going to review this. But I'll make a few comments: he denies the original sin, which is exactly what Chesterton was talking about and what I alluded to earlier.
I had quite a chuckle on a section called "God is Not a Spiritual Accountant":
"Somehow, over the years, we seem to have gotten the idea that God is an accountant, or the head of a huge accounting firm, carefully entering the credits and debits of our spiritual balance sheet on the very surface of our soul - good marks/black marks. In the end, if the soul shows a positive balance, we make it into heaven. Religious organizations claim to have obtained local banking and accounting franchises from God and pretend to have the power to determine our spiritual balances, to erase the black marks on our soul, and give us credits to get into heaven. There are often bonus points for deathbed repentance or martyrdom."
It is funny when put that way, but I have my reasons for disagreeing with what most of the section says.
I wouldn't make a good apologist (yet). I realized that reading this book, I'm pausing on all the things I disagree with, rather than looking for things we have in common, to have those as a starting point in the conversation. That's what St. Paul was doing in Athens, and the advice I've heard a number of times. On one hand, I think it's good that I know where the differences are, that I know what I believe. But that's not all that's important. Another point: if I'm finding this book frustrating (because of what I feel are misunderstandings), that's probably a sign that I shouldn't read something like The God Delusion....more