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Religion

Religion

Atheism Library’s 101+ Top Books

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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

Jonah Goldberg on Cafeteria Religion

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I also detest the tendency of Americans, Westerners, or “Moderns” to boast of how they’ve customized their religious views to fit their lifestyles. “I don’t believe in organized religion, but I’m a very spiritual person.” Yuck. It simply strikes me as intellectually offensive to pretend that the engineer of it all goes out of his way to let individual people order off-menu their religious preferences in just such a way so as pretty much everything they do is exactly how God wants it. And, even if that were the case, even if God customizes the heavens, space, and time so as to make every personal indulgence divinely inspired, the trend of people being their own priests is not one I celebrate. I’d hate to sound like I’m lending my voice to that chorus–I’m not. Indeed, my belief that religion is important depends on it being a social institution. If everyone has his own church, each designating himself a personal messiah, we’ve slipped out of the realm of faith and, ultimately, into the arena of the übermensch where whoever has the religion which condones the most barbarity, wins.

How Christianity Changed the World

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Western civilization is becoming increasingly pluralistic, secularized, and biblically illiterate. Many people today have little sense of how their lives have benefited from Christianity’s influence, often viewing the church with hostility or resentment. How Christianity Changed the World is a topically arranged Christian history for Christians and non-Christians. Grounded in solid research and written in a popular style, this book is both a helpful apologetic tool in talking with unbelievers and a source of evidence for why Christianity deserves credit for many of the humane, social, scientific, and cultural advances in the Western world in the last two thousand years. Photographs, timelines, and charts enhance each chapter. This edition features questions for reflection and discussion for each chapter. ~ From the Back Cover

Truth And Tolerance

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Is truth knowable? If we know the truth, must we hide it in the name of tolerance? Cardinal Ratzinger engages the problem of truth, tolerance, religion and culture in the modern world. Describing the vast array of world religions, Ratzinger embraces the difficult challenge of meeting diverse understandings of spiritual truth while defending the Catholic teaching of salvation through Jesus Christ. “But what if it is true?” is the question that he poses to cultures that decry the Christian position on man’s redemption. Upholding the notion of religious truth while asserting the right of religious freedom, Cardinal Ratzinger outlines the timeless teaching of the Magisterium in language that resonates with our embattled culture. A work of extreme sensitivity, understanding, and spiritual maturity, this book is an invaluable asset to those who struggle to hear the voice of truth in the modern religious world. ~ Product Description

Michael Shermer on the Ambiguity of Religion’s Impact

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From the Crusades’ numerous attempts to cleanse the Holy Land of infidels (anyone who was not a proper Christian), to the Inquisition’s efforts to purge society of heretics (anyone who dissented from Christian dogma), to the Counter Reformation’s push to extirpate reforming Protestants from Catholic lands, to the Holy Wars of the late twentieth century that continue to produce death rolls in the millions, all have been done in the name of God and One True Religion. However, for every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go largely unreported in the history books or on the evening news. Religion, like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil; shades of gray complexity abound in all such societal structures, and religion should not be treated any differently than, say, political organizations. One could easily build a case that state-sponsored terrorism, revolutions, and wars make even these horrific religion sponsored catastrophes appear mild by comparison. If God is a meme, so is King and President; and if religion is a virus, politics is a full-blown epidemic replete with copy-me memes such as nationalism, jingoism, and outright racism. Yet no memeticist would propose that we do away with the state. Why? Because the state is a complex social entity with countless nuanced beneficent effects that go along with the pernicious.

Hubris Goes Marching On

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The Edge, an unassuming gathering of the worlds’ “most complex and sophisticated minds…asking each other the questions they are asking themselves” kicks of the new year with: “What is your question? Why?” The answers range in quality and interest from the disingenuous and rhetorical: “Are we ever going to be humble enough to assume that we are mere animals, like crabs, penguins, and chimpanzees, and not the chosen protégés of this or that God?” to the esoteric: What is the difference between the sigmundoscope and the sigmoidoscope? A number of these intellectuals are troubled by age-old, philosophical questions like the source of evil and the nature of identity. But unfortuntely, honest bewilderment and questioning are noticeably scarce, and in their stead are pedantry, scientistic surety, and several smug, scornful dismissals of philosophical and theological approaches to the same issues. In some cases, the essays reads like satire, guilelessly betraying the inability of science on its own to answer important questions. For example, Rafael Núñez argues that finally admitting we are merely animals is a road to peace. It is a relief to learn that what I thought were hateful slurs, like “Capitalist Dog”, actually hold the seeds of reconciliation. James Gilligan’s decent essay considers the limits of science, and almost admits this problem. (2/7/02)

Jesus Among Other Gods

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In a world with so many religions—why Jesus? In his most important work to date, apologetics scholar and popular speaker Ravi Zacharias shows how the blueprint for life and death itself is found in a true understanding of Jesus. With a simple yet penetrating style, Zacharias uses rich illustrations to celebrate the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives.Jesus Among Other Gods contrasts the truth of Jesus with founders of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, strengthening believers and compelling them to share their faith with our post-modern world.

The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain

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The Spanish Inquisition remains a fearful symbol of state terror. Its principal target was the conversos, descendants of Spanish Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity some three generations earlier. Since thousands of them confessed to charges of practicing Judaism in secret, historians have long understood the Inquisition as an attempt to suppress the Jews of Spain. In this magisterial reexamination of the origins of the Inquisition, Netanyahu argues for a different view: that the conversos were in fact almost all genuine Christians who were persecuted for political ends. The Inquisition’s attacks not only on the conversos’ religious beliefs but also on their “impure blood” gave birth to an anti-Semitism based on race that would have terrible consequences for centuries to come. This book has become essential reading and an indispensable reference book for both the interested layman and the scholar of history and religion. ~ Product Description

Problems of Religious Diversity

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Problems of Religious Diversity analyzes the philosophical questions raised by the fact that many religions in the world often appear to contradict each other in doctrine and practice. The volume distinguishes the differences between religious and non-religious responses to these questions, and evaluates the fundamental philosophical underpinnings of these contemporary debates. It further discusses what a religion is and how diversity in religion can be understood, and examines the concepts of religious truth and salvation. Questions considered include: Can there be more than one true religion? What is the relation between commitment to one’s faith and tolerance of other faiths? How does one’s awareness of diverse religious claims affect the degree or strength of belief in one’s own religion? In what ways can the concept of salvation and its prospects be construed in response to the contradictory nature of different religions?

Richard John Neuhaus on Catholicism

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Priests and academics born into Catholicism tend to know all the inside stories, the flaws and foibles and legendary figures of the Church, and can regale one another with the rich lore of its characters and scandals. It is one big extended family. In that company, status is often contingent upon demonstrating that one has transcended the “Catholic ghetto.” That explains, at least in large part, why dissent from official teaching carries the panache of being sophisticated. The disposition is: “Yes, I am a Catholic (or a priest, or a theologian), but I think for myself.” The remarkably improbable assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.

Is Jesus the Only Way?

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Christianity teaches that something is profoundly wrong with the human person. We are, among other things, corrupted, dysfunctional, sinful, and at times evil. Furthermore, there is ultimately only one remedy for our condition, and that is salvation from ourselves and our condition by faith in Jesus Christ. This central Christian tenet is often unsettling to Christians themselves and is positively insufferable to the culture at large. Religious Tolerance Online, for example, catalogues all manner of religious perspective with delicacy and precision, raising no quibble with their various beliefs. But it judges the Christian belief in the unique salvific efficacy of Jesus as on par with racism and other forms of intolerance. Observe the author’s herculean (and commendable) effort to describe Christian exclusivism’s view toward other religions without expressing his/her own frustration and sadness with this perspective. Leadership U. is featuring several articles that seek to justify Christian exclusivism. We especially recommend Rick Rood’s “The Christian Attitude Toward Non-Christian Religions,” Brad Johnson’s, “A Three-Pronged Defense of Salvific Exclusivism in a World of Religions” and Paul Johnson’s “The Necessity of Christianity“.

Alvin Plantinga on Religious Pluralism

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[T]here is something wholly self-defeating, so it seems to me, in [John] Hick’s posture. If we take [his] position, then we can’t say, for example, that Christianity is right and Buddhism wrong; as Christians, we don’t disagree with the Buddhists; and we take this stance in an effort to avoid self-exultation and imperialism. But we do something from the point of view of intellectual imperialism and self-exaltation that is much worse: we now declare that everyone is mistaken here, everyone except for ourselves and a few other enlightened souls. We and our graduate students know the truth; everyone else is sadly mistaken. Isn’t this to exalt ourselves at the expense of nearly everyone else? Those who think there really is such a person as God are benighted, unsophisticated, unaware of the real truth of the matter, which is that there isn’t any such person (even if thinking there is can lead to practical fruits). We see Christians as deeply mistaken; of course we pay the same compliment to the practitioners of the other great religions; we are equal-opportunity animadverters. We benevolently regard the rest of humanity as misguided; no doubt their hearts are in the right place; still, they are sadly mistaken about what they take to be most important and precious. I find it hard to see how this attitude is a manifestation of tolerance or intellectual humility: it looks more like patronizing condescension.

Toward the Inquisition

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One of the world’s foremost scholars in the fields of Spanish and Jewish medieval history, B. Netanyahu revolutionized accepted belief concerning the causes of the Spanish Inquisition in his magisterial volume of 1995, The Origins of the Inquisition. Locating that origin not in the supposed persistence of Judaism among the New Christians but in a concession the kings were forced to make to powerfully anti-Jewish popular sentiment, he radically altered the whole landscape of Hispano-Jewish studies. Toward the Inquisition is another major contribution to this historiographic revolution. Made up of seven of Netanyahu’s essays, published over the last two decades and collected here for the first time, it further illuminates Jewish and Marrano history from the mid-fourteenth century to the end of the fifteenth century. The essays throw light on such long-obscured phenomena as the rise of the Nazi-like theory of race which harassed the conversos for three full centuries, or the abandonment of Judaism by most conversos decades before the Inquisition was established. ~ Product Description

David James Duncan on Christianity

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Personally I’m not sure just who or what Christ is. I still pray to him in a pinch, but I talk to myself in a pinch too — and I’m getting less and less sure there’s a difference. I used to wish somebody would just tell me what to think about Him. Then along came Elder Babcock, telling and telling, acting like Christ was running for President of the World, and he was His campaign manager, and whoever didn’t get out and vote for the lord at the polls we call churches by casting the votes we call tithes and offerings into the ballot boxes we call offering plates was a wretched turd of a sinner voting for Satan by default. Mama tried to clear up all the confusion by saying that Christ is exactly what the Bible says He is. But what does the Bible say He is? On one page He’s a Word, on the next a bridegroom, then He’s a boy, then a scapegoat, then a thief in the night; read on and he’s the messiah, then oops, he’s a rabbi, and then a fraction — a third of a Trinity — then a fisherman, then a broken loaf of bread. I guess even God, when He’s human, has trouble deciding just what He is.

David James Duncan on the Mean Spirited Church

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Christ founded a new church! You’d know that if you ever opened a Bible! And that new church — “And that new church,” Papa cut in, his face suddenly savage, “is two thousand years old now, and every bit as senile and mean-spirited as the one that killed Him!” “How dare you!” Mamma hissed. “How dare you say such a thing in front of these children!” “How dare you throw a fit in the name of God over one damned beer!” “I’ve seen the hell one beer can lead to!” Mama cried. “And I’ve seen the hell your friendly preacher calls salvation!” Papa roared. “‘Come unto me all ye Tea Totalin’ prudes, and if your husband watches baseball or sips a beer with a neighbor on my Sabbath pay day then damn him to hell and whip his kids off to Spokane!”

David James Duncan on Hellacious Church

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And today is Sabbath. And I’m not sick. And the sun is already so hot outside that everything’s all bleached and wobbly-looking, as if the whole world was just an overexposed home movie God was showing Jesus up on their living room wall. And whenever it’s really hot Elder Babcock’s sermon — even if it starts out being abut some nice quiet thing like the poor or meek or weak — will sooner or later twist like a snake with its head run over to the unquiet subject of heaven and hell, and who all is going to which, and how long you’ll have to stay, and what all will happen to you when you get there, and he goes on so loud and long and the air gets so used up and awful that bit by bit you lose track of any difference between his heaven and his hell and would gladly pick either over church. Then the sermon ends, and the long prayer after it, and it comes time to belt out the big hosanna that means it’s almost time to go home. Except that last hymn always has about fourteen verses. And when you stand up to sing it you discover your blood has got stuck down in your feet. And all through the sermon every grownup in the place has had their mouth clamped shut trying not to yawn, so when the glad voices suddenly upraised this tidal wave of pent-up halitosis comes swashing out of them and up your nose and all through the parts of your head where the blood that’s in you feet should have been, till your brain feels like it’s going to barf.

Stewart Guthrie on Anthropomorphising God

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‘But if oxen (and horses) and lions…. could draw with hands and create works of art like those made by men, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen. … Aethiopians have gods with snub noses and black hair, Thracians have gods with grey eyes and red hair.’ Like many later critics of anthropomorphism, Xenophanes evidently did not question the gods themselves but only their human attributes. Later Western writers think the Greek gods especially anthropomorphic, but gods in many other religions are equally so.

Faith and Criticism

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Faith and Criticism addresses a central problem in the church today — the tension between traditionalists and progressives. Traditionalists want above all to hold fast to traditional foundations in belief and ensure that nothing of value is lost, even at the risk of a clash with “modern knowledge.” Progressives are concerned above all to proclaim a faith that is credible today, even at the risk of sacrificing some elements of traditional doctrine. They are often locked in uncomprehending conflict. Basil Mitchell argues that, not only in theology but in any other serious intellectual pursuit, faith and criticism are interdependent. A tradition which is not open to criticism will eventually ossify; and without faith in some established tradition criticism has nothing to fasten upon. This interdependence of faith and criticism has implications for society at large. Religious education can be Christian without ceasing to be critical, and a liberal society can espouse Christian values. ~ Product Description

R. Douglas Geivett on Revelation

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The proliferation of religious options is ample testimony that humans everywhere desire meaningful contact with ultimate religious reality. But human religious diversity signals that something is amiss. It is impossible to discern a consistent pattern among the innumerable human strategies for seeking spiritual fulfillment. The sad track record of religious activity initiated by humans suggest that the conditions for genuine spiritual satisfaction must be set by our Creator and communicated in an accessible and compelling way to us his creatures.

R. Douglas Geivett on Religious Pluralism

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Thus, we find members of the human community resisting God’s attempts to establish lines of communication with himself. Some, in fact, are scandalized by the prospects of a precise diagnosis of the human condition with a specific remedy. This very tendency is symptomatic of human alienation from God. But while the propensity to dictate to God the conditions of divine-human relations is pervasive, it is hardly rational. The religious pluralist’s insistence that God cannot have arranged for our salvation in the exclusivist way of Christianity presupposes a greater knowledge of God than the radical religious pluralists are in a position to have on their own assumptions.

Lesslie Newbigin on Liberals, Fundies, and Doubt

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The words "liberal" and "fundamentalist" are used today not so much to identify oneself as to label the enemy. From one side comes the accusation that the mind of the fundamentalist is closed, shuttered against the possibility of doubt and therefore against the recognition of hitherto unrecognized truth. From the other side comes the charge that liberals are so open to new ideas that they have no firm commitments at all, that every affirmation of faith must be held only tentatively, and that every dogma must, as a matter of principle, be challenged. There are terms of moral opprobrium that each side employs to attack the other: the fundamentalist is arrogant, blinkered, and culturally illiterate; the liberal is flabby, timid, and carried along by every new fashion of thought. From the point of view of the fundamentalist, doubt is sin; from the point of view of the liberal, the capacity for doubt is a measure of intellectual integrity and honesty.

Pearcey and Thaxton on Non-Euclideanism and Relativism

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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.