Religion Under the Lens
Joshua Fost on Religion Gone Bad said...
If Not God, Then What? (Clearhead Studios, Inc.: 2007), p. 198.
Needless to say, there is a long history of horrible events whose causes are or were almost entirely religious; without faith (i.e. belief without evidence) many of these conflicts may never have happened, or might at least have taken on a less violent form. Examples: Abortion clinic bombings; the American revolution; the Arab/Israeli conflict; the Aum Shinrikyo poisonings; Aztec religious sacrifices; the Branch Davidian conflict in Waco; the Catholic/Protestant conflict; the Heaven's Gate cult suicide; the Huguenots and the French Wars of Religion; the Inquisition; the Indian/Pakistani conflict; the Ku Klux Klan; the Sunni/Shi'ite conflicts in Iraq, the Tamil/Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka; the Thirty Years War; and witch trials.
Gerald R. McDermott (InterVarsity: Mar 2007), 192 pages.
In the providence of God, why are there other religions? Was the God of the Bible wise in allowing for them? Can they serve any purpose? Gerald R. McDermott explores teaching from the Old and New Testaments and reflections from a number of key theologians from the early church to suggest an answer to this intriguing but perplexing question. In the end McDermott provides considerable insight into the troubling clash of the world religions and offers a helpful Christian response. "Dr. McDermott has written extensively on the world religions from the orthodox Christian perspective. God's Rivals sets forth to answer the questions of whether or not there are other gods, and more importantly Why? Past that the questions really flow, and I personally love his style of giving enough facts from the Bible and historical writings to let the reader begin to form his or her own opinion. The "continuous red thread" is a helpful concept guiding this reader through a difficult forest." ~ William A. Fintel at Amazon.com
"Is Religion Built on Lies", a debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan at Belief.net (March 2007).
The reason I find fundamentalism so troubling — whether it is Christian, Jewish or Muslim — is not just its willingness to use violence (in the Islamist manifestation). It is its inability to integrate doubt into faith, its resistance to human reason, its tendency to pride and exclusion, and its inability to accept mystery as the core reality of any religious life. You find it troubling, I think, purely because it upholds truths that cannot be proved empirically or even, in some respects, logically. In that sense, of course, I think you have no reason to dislike or oppose it any more than you would oppose my kind of faith. Your argument allows for no solid distinctions within faiths; my argument depends on such distinctions.
Kwame Anthony Appiah (W.W. Norton & Company: Feb 17, 2007), 224 pages.
AAppiah, a Princeton philosophy professor, articulates a precise yet flexible ethical manifesto for a world characterized by heretofore unthinkable interconnection but riven by escalating fractiousness. Drawing on his Ghanaian roots and on examples from philosophy and literature, he attempts to steer a course between the extremes of liberal universalism, with its tendency to impose our values on others, and cultural relativism, with its implicit conviction that gulfs in understanding cannot be bridged. Cosmopolitanism, in Appiah’s formulation, balances our “obligations to others” with the "value not just of human life but of particular human lives" — what he calls “universality plus difference.” Appiah remains skeptical of simple maxims for ethical behavior — like the Golden Rule, whose failings as a moral precept he swiftly demonstrates — and argues that cosmopolitanism is the name not "of the solution but of the challenge." ~ The New Yorker
Philip Broadhead and Damien Keown, eds. (I.B. Tauris: Feb 6, 2007), 240 pages.
It is often alleged that religion is a major cause of war and dissent. History is littered with the wreckage of religious conflict, from the crusades onwards, and it is frequently maintained that it is religion which is the tinderbox that ignites so many regional disputes - from Bosnia's ethnic cleansing to the ongoing conflict in Iraq. If religion is on trial, the evidence against it so often seems damning. But is the picture really as grim as has been painted? Very little is heard in defence of religion and few attempts have been made to put the other side of the case. The essays in this volume are among the first systematically to explore the role of religion as a force for peace, both historically and in the contemporary world. They focus on the efforts that have been made by individuals, communities and religious groups to secure conflict-resolution and replace hostility with tolerance and mutual respect. Specific topics explored include: nationalism and religious conflict; revolution and religious wars; the impact of secularisation; ethnicity and religion; conflict over holy places; and making and keeping the peace. ~ Product Description
Daniel C. Dennett (Penguin : February 6, 2007), 464 pages.
In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion. ~ Publishers Weekly
The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Black Garnett, trans. (Modern Library: 1977), p. 254.
There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men — somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then — who, retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that they’ve earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects. There were such men then. So our general, settled on his property of two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and domineers over his poor neighbours as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has kennels of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys — all mounted, and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the general’s favourite hound. ‘Why is my favourite dog lame?’ He is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog’s paw. ‘So you did it.’ The general looked the child up and down. ‘Take him.’ He was taken — taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It’s a gloomy, cold, foggy, autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry.... ‘Make him run,’ commands the general. ‘Run! run!’ shout the dog-boys. The boy runs.... ‘At him!’ yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother’s eyes!... I believe the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. Well — what did he deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!
Cathy Young on the Culture War said...
"Faith vs. Reason: Is Religion a Boon to American Society, or a Bane?" at Reason Online (Nov. 21, 2006).
Both sides in the debate traffic in simplistic stereotypes. Anti religionists such as Harris assert that religion is dangerous because it has historically promoted violence and oppression — and, in the form of Muslim extremism, continues to do so today. Yet the greatest atrocities of the 20th century were committed by totalitarian states armed with ideologies that were either explicitly atheist (communism) or non religious (Nazism). What's more, in the past and at present, religious fanaticism has often served as a vehicle and a cover for other tribal allegiances, such as nationalism. ¶ Equally misguided, however, is the claim made by many champions of religion that secularists lack the will to combat evil because they are moral relativists who don't believe in good and evil anyway. Pat Tillman, the football player tragically killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan, was an atheist who joined the armed forces after Sept. 11 because he wanted to fight for his country against the barbarians who attacked it. Andrei Sakharov, a physicist and a secular humanist, stood up to the Soviet regime in the 1970s, at great risk to himself, in the name of human rights. ¶ A religion, like any other set of beliefs, can be used for good or bad. In America, some people used the Bible to justify slavery, but Christians were also in the forefront of the battle to abolish it. Any passionately held belief, whether or not it includes God, can make some people intolerant, closed-minded, unwilling to look at facts that contradict their dogma, and hateful toward those who disagree.
Keith Ward (Lion Hudson Pic: September 1, 2006), 224 pages.
Although he lacks the glibness, arrogance, and fame of best-selling antireligionists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, Ward neatly cuts the ground from under such global-village atheists. He points out their definitional haziness about the key terms religion and the paltriness of the evidence for their claims, and their reliance on outdated, unverifiable anthropological and psychological speculations. And that's only in the introduction. Religion and violence, religion and irrationality, religion and morality, and whether religion does more harm than good are the topics of the short book's four parts proper, and in each Ward demonstrates that clear, consistent, and logical relationships between ill effects and religious motivations cannot be established. If religion is violent, how to explain Quakers and Buddhists? If irrational, then those philosophical reconcilers of reason and faith Kant, Descartes, and Aquinas must be refuted. Religious belief seems immoral only when scripture is cherry-picked, and whether religion harms more than helps the person and society has yet to be demonstrated. Ward argues with the findings of social science research and philosophy rather than scripture, and he concludes with boilerplate ecumenism only after having reassured readers that God-bashing celebs don't, perhaps can't, know what they're yakking about. ~ Ray Olson for Booklist
James F. Sennet and Douglas Groothuis (InterVarsity Press: Nov 30, 2005), 336 pages.
The shadow of David Hume, the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher, has loomed large against all efforts to prove the existence of God from evidence in the natural world. Indeed from Hume's day to ours, the vast majority of philosophical attacks against the rationality of theism have borne an unmistakable Humean aroma. The last forty years, however, have been marked by a resurgence in Christian theism among philosophers, and the time has come for a thorough reassessment of the case for natural theology. James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis have assembled a distinguished team of philosophers to engage the task: Terence Penelhum, Todd M. Furman, Keith Yandell, Garrett J. DeWeese, Joshua Rasmussen, James D. Madden, Robin Collins, Paul Copan, Victor Reppert, J. P. Moreland and R. Douglas Geivett. Together this team makes vigorous individual and cumulative arguments that set Hume's attacks in fresh perspective and that offer new insights into the value of teleological, cosmological and ontological arguments for God's existence. ~ Product Description
Evidence and Faith (Cambridge University Press: 2005), p. 3.
I kept thinking of the ancient Roman pictures of the keeper of doorways, Janus, the god of beginnings. He has two faces, one looking to the past, the other to the future... The Cambridge Platonists occupy an important middle ground in the history of ideas. They understood the power of modern science... and yet they worked in allegiance with an important Platonic philosophical and religious heritage spanning ancient, medieval, and Renaissance philosophy. They forged an extraordinary synthesis designed to incorporate modern science while retaining what they believed to be the best of Greek and Hebrew wisdom. Like Janus, the Cambridge Platonists invite us to adopt that double vision of looking both to the past and to the future... Some artists, scientists, and religious practitioners complain that philosophy of art, science, and religion utilize misleading pictures of the way art, science, and religion are actually practiced. For better or for worse, the Cambridge Platonists were philosophers of religion and, at the same time, committed to the practice of religion. They practiced the very thing they were studying and philosophically reflecting on, and in that respect the Cambridge Platonists were like artists or scientists working out a philosophy of art or science. They also thereby raise questions about the roles of detachment and religious commitment in the course of philosophical inquiry.
Evidence and Faith (Cambridge University Press: 2005), pp. 1-2.
Philosophy of religion is also a robust, important undertaking due to its breadth. Religious traditions are so comprehensive and all-encompassing that almost every domain of philosophy may be drawn upon in the philosophical exploration of their coherence, justification, and value. I can think of few areas of philosophy that lack religious implications. Any philosophical account of knowledge, values, reason, human nature, language, science, and the like will have a bearing on how one views God or the sacred; religious values and practices; the religious treatment of birth, history, and death; the varieties of religious experience; the relationship between science and religion; and other substantial terrain... ¶ Because it explores embedded social and personal practices, philosophy of religion is relevant to practical concerns; its subject matter is not all abstract theory. Given the vast percentage of the world population that is either aligned with religion or affected by it, philosophy of religion has a secure role in addressing people's values and commitments. A chief point of reference in much philosophy of religion revolves not around hypothetical, highly abstract thought experiments but around the shape ad content of living traditions. Because of this practical embeddedness, philosophy of religion involves issues of great political and cultural significance. Questions are raised about the relationship between religious and secular values; religious toleration and liberty; and the religious implications and duties concerning medicine, the economy, public art, education, sexual ethics, and environmental responsibility.
Garret J. Deweese and J.P. Moreland (InterVarsity: Nov 2005), 180 pages.
From time to time we all face life's big questions ... What is real? How do we know what we know? What is right? Who or what am I? How should we view science and its claims? And as we wrestle with these issues, we may even find ourselves thinking, Perhaps what I need is a good dose of philosophy. It's a shame philosophy is so difficult. Garrett DeWeese and J. P. Moreland understand this frustration and in this book offer help to make philosophy at least slightly less difficult. In straightforward language with everyday examples, they explain the basics needed to understand philosophical concepts and thus bring clarity to discussions of life's big questions.Students, pastors, campus workers and ordinary Christians will all benefit from this user-friendly guide. ~ Product Description
Sam Harris ( W. W. Norton : October 10, 2005), 224 pages.
Sam Harris cranks out blunt, hard-hitting chapters to make his case for why faith itself is the most dangerous element of modern life. And if the devil's in the details, then you'll find Satan waiting at the back of the book in the very substantial notes section where Harris saves his more esoteric discussions to avoid sidetracking the urgency of his message. Interestingly, Harris is not just focused on debunking religious faith, though he makes his compelling arguments with verve and intellectual clarity. The End of Faith is also a bit of a philosophical Swiss Army knife. Once he has presented his arguments on why, in an age of Weapons of Mass Destruction, belief is now a hazard of great proportions, he focuses on proposing alternate approaches to the mysteries of life. Harris recognizes the truth of the human condition, that we fear death, and we often crave "something more" we cannot easily define, and which is not met by accumulating more material possessions. But by attempting to provide the cure for the ills it defines, the book bites off a bit more than it can comfortably chew in its modest page count (however the rich Bibliography provides more than enough background for an intrigued reader to follow up for months on any particular strand of the author' musings.) Harris' heart is not as much in the latter chapters, though, but in presenting his main premise. Simply stated, any belief system that speaks with assurance about the hereafter has the potential to place far less value on the here and now. And thus the corollary — when death is simply a door translating us from one existence to another, it loses its sting and finality. Harris pointedly asks us to consider that those who do not fear death for themselves, and who also revere ancient scriptures instructing them to mete it out generously to others, may soon have these weapons in their own hands. If thoughts along the same line haunt you, this is your book. ~ Ed Dobeas
Kai Nielsen (Prometheus Books: September 2005), 245 pages.
The indeterminacy of the modern concept of God has made the distinction between belief and unbelief increasingly problematic. Both the complexity of the religious response and the variety of skeptical philosophies preclude simplistic definitions of what constitutes belief in God. Making the discussion even more difficult are assertions by fundamentalists who dismiss the philosophical perplexities of religious claims as unreal pseudo-problems. Atheism & Philosophy is a detailed study of these and other issues vital to our understanding of atheism, agnosticism, and religious belief. Philosopher Kai Nielsen develops a coherent and integrated approach to the discussion of what it means to be an atheist. In chapters such as "How is Atheism to be Characterized?", "Does God Exist?: Reflections on Disbelief," "Agnosticism," "Religion and Commitment," and "The Primacy of Philosophical Theology," Nielsen defends atheism in a way that answers to contemporary concerns. ~ Product Description
"Atheism Libray" at Nowscape.com, originally accessed on December 15, 2004.
The following is a mirror of the reading list found at Nowscape. It is a diverse collection, recommended by critics of religion and of Christianity in particular. Short reviews or annotations for each selection are available at Nowscape, though obstructed by at least 101 advertisements. While the original list has no explicit structure, the books listed fall into several roughly grouped categories: the reliablity and moral acceptability of the Bible, histories of transgressions committed in the name of religion, philosophical critiques of theism, stories of loss of faith, exposés on theocratic aspirations (especially the religious right in the United States), and psychological reductions of religious belief. The list includes some authors with impeccable scholarly credentials, like Bertrand Russell, and many other lesser knowns. Now several years old, the list lacks some of the most notable and recent contributions to the case for atheism. For a more current list, see The Secular Web's "Featured Books". ~ Afterall
Gregory E. Ganssle (InterVarsity Press: Nov 2004), 187 pages.
Greg Ganssle has produced the most fun and readable introduction to philosophy of religion I have ever encountered. His target audience runs from high school seniors to introductory college students, and I can say that I have enjoyed teaching an introductory philosophy course using this book. He presents the issues in a clear-headed way while drawing readers in with fun examples and humor. After arguing for the value of thinking through philosophical questions in a reasonable way, Ganssle argues for open-mindedness in the sense of not being so sure of your views that you are not open to reason, but he also dismisses the idea that we must be neutral or that we must not make exclusive truth claims. Open-mindedness does not require having no views in those ways. I especially like seeing this in a book designed for younger students unfamiliar enough with philosophy to need some kind of way of heading off the simplistic kind of relativism that many students of philosophy find themselves stumbling over. The main body of the work considers philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God. ~ Parableman @ Amazon.com
The End of Faith (Norton: Aug. 2004), pp. 18-19.
The only reason why anyone is "moderate" in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought... The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt.
The Soul of Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), p. 154-5.
Throughout the academic world, non-Euclidean geometry was invoked to support a positivistic, anti-metaphysical temper of thought. A culture was assumed to be analogous to a geometry. Both were built on a few postulates chosen from an indefinite number of possibilities; both consisted of internally consistent, interrelated wholes; and both were immune to judgements about their truth or falsity in any ultimate sense. Just as different geometries could all be logically valid, it was argued, so any number of different cultural and ethical systems could all be logically valid. Thus non-Euclideanism became a metaphor for the rejection of all traditional deductive systems — particularly the moral and religious tradition of Christianity. This is not to say that non-Euclideanism is intrinsically anti-Christian or anti-religious. Yet it was invoked as a symbol to deny that Christianity has any claim to a superior or exclusive truth.
Bertrand Russell on Immortality said...
Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 108-09.
But in the present state of psychology and physiology, belief in immortality can, at any rate, claim no support from science, and such arguments as are possible on the subject point to the probable extinction of personality at death. We may regret the thought that we shall not survive, but is a comfort to think that all the persecutors and Jew-baiters and humbugs will not continue to exist for all eternity. We may be told that they would improve in time, but I doubt it.