Posts tagged ‘book review’

Blue Like Jazz: A book for disillusioned Christian fundamentalists

For the Christian who is disillusioned with the fundamentalists (and the fundamentals), along comes Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, supposedly the youthful and honest voice of modern Christianity (I wouldn’t know for sure – old fart that I am). Miller writes with a very casual style – more fitting to random and disjointed diary entries, than as a cohesive unit. But I suppose that is what gives the book its seemingly authentic and honest veneer. Yes folks, here is a Christian who attends a secular college, gets drunk, hangs out with the dopers and attends anti-Bush rallies. Not that any of that particularly bothers me; I remember fondly the old days of the Pentecostal Jesus movement from the early 70’s. But even though Miller claims that Christianity is at its core unhip, he strives to make himself and his version of Christianity the hippest act in town. Miller seems almost oblivious to his self-absorption, and I continually wanted to shake him in my frustration so as to snap him out of his stupor.

The book was recommended to me by fellow church-goers as a means of questioning my questions, and doubting my doubts. I read it during the early stages of my own suspicions of the claims of Christianity, and I was told that Miller’s experiences would mirror my own. Wrong – oh how wrong they were. What Miller shows is not doubt nor skepticism toward his beliefs, rather disillusionment towards the political right wing that Evangelical Christianity has recently taken. This goes without saying, and answers no questions about honest doubt in God or the Christians’ supposed relationship with him. To counteract his ‘doubts’, Miller devises a tepid theology is of the ‘feel good’ variety. He admits that he never really doubts his faith in Jesus…

Continue Reading August 9, 2008 at 9:07 am 170 comments

The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins

As a Christian, I was indecisive as to the origins of our four Canonical gospels. Ideally, they were four independent accounts by eyewitnesses, or associates to eyewitnesses, each showing a unique perspective of the life of Jesus. In fact, my church pastors never strayed too far from this ideal course. However, reading the Gospels for myself led me to some troubling questions.

The Gospels contain sayings of Jesus, which in some cases are identical between gospels. For example the Parable of the Leaven found in Luke 13:20-21 and Matthew 13:33 – “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened”. In other cases, the sayings are placed in the same setting, but slightly different, as in the voice from heaven’s proclamation of Jesus after the baptism (Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). The voice speaks directly to Jesus in Mark and Luke (‘Thou art my beloved son’), but the voice speaks to the crowd in Matthew (‘This is my beloved son’). Why the differences in some cases but near verbatim in others? Was this design by divine purpose, copyist error, or dare I say, differing Gospel traditions? Of course, my church never dwelled into this territory of Biblical study, and I was left with my questions parked in my brain where they remained for years.

Burton Mack’s The Lost Gospel of Q deals directly with this question with a hypothesis that is wholly plausible…

Continue Reading August 4, 2008 at 11:59 pm 26 comments

Shopping For God

James Twitchell, a professor of English and advertising, spent more than two years researching and writing his account of the USA’s recent rise in religiosity. He notes that consumerism is deeply ingrained in American culture and that American religion has not escaped its effects. In fact, as Twitchell demonstrates, American religion played a role in shaping American consumerism. Thus, the phrase “shopping for God” is literal as well as metaphorical. Twitchell visited dozens of churches and interviewed scores of pastors and churchgoers to discover what churches are selling and what religious consumers are buying. The result is an engaging book that offers substantial insights into both American religion and consumerism.

Twitchell opens by citing the intersections and interactions between American religion and popular culture. It was once the norm that celebrities said little about their religious beliefs. Nowadays, celebrities flaunt their faith. Few, if any, Americans are not aware of Mel Gibson’s Catholicism, or Tom Cruise’s Scientology, or Richard Gere’s Buddhism, or George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton’s Methodism. And religion pervades movies and television. Most Americans have viewed, repeatedly, such “sword and sandal” epics as The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur. Throughout the 1990s, Touched By an Angel was one of the most popular shows on television. And TV news shows, such as Dateline, frequently do special features on religion. You can’t even escape from religion in your car, unless you keep the radio off, because most programming on the AM band is religious. And guess what subject ranks second only to pornography in Internet popularity? Religion is even ubiquitous in print media. In 2004, Americans spent $3.7 billion on Christian books and related merchandise …

Continue Reading July 31, 2008 at 11:02 pm 3 comments

The Case For Christianity

The Case for Christianity is a series of transcribed radio talks given by C.S. Lewis during WWII, and edited together with additional notes into book form. It is one of three books that ultimately made up his famous apologetic work Mere Christianity.

Reading the book reminded me of some mathematics seminars I used to attend. The speaker would spend great effort in setting up the initial steps of some elaborate proof, only to spend the last 3 minutes of his talk rushing through the rest to get to his conclusion. It is the classic cartoon of a math professor writing “Poof, a miracle occurs here” in the middle of his equation list. Lewis attempts to build the case for Jesus Christ on first principles. The argumentation style is that of a long chain of assumptions and arguments, with one continuously built on the other. The problem with this type of argument is that when any argument or assumption in the chain is shown wrong, or even questioned or doubted, everything else that follows is discredited. If the foundational argument fails, the whole structure collapses and we might as well not read the rest of the book.

Lewis begins his arguments, indeed the first half of the book, with the argument of our moral conscience. He claims that since we have a moral baseline, which seems to be a standard across humanity, that it must have been implanted into us upon creation. Since our moral conscience cannot conceive of the abstract notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ unless they exist, they must then exist outside of our selves…

Continue Reading July 31, 2008 at 7:20 am 40 comments

Atheistic attacks on Christianity

A pristine second-hand copy of What’s So Great About Christianity? by Dinesh D’Souza became available to me recently. D’Souza tackles the current onslaught of atheistic attacks on Christianity by addressing the primary arguments within the framework of traditional Christianity or the kind of Christianity that takes the Bible to be the revealed word of God, the primary source of revelation.

The first two chapters are, for the most part, a sociological survey of the current success of Christianity as the world’s fastest growing religion. Vibrant Christianity, it seems, is an emerging force particularly in South America, Asia and Africa.

The third and forth chapters contain quite an informed characterization of the atheistic challenge to religion and Christianity in particular. D’Souza quotes a number of prominent figures to highlight their overtly negative views. Had I not read The End of Faith and listened to a portion of The God Delusion audiobook, I might have taken quite a dim view of Dawkins and Harris, considering them to be taking mere elitist positions in relation to science.

However, I now know that while their attacks on religion are strong, both men remain positive and mystically-oriented rather than negative and materialistic…

Continue Reading July 13, 2008 at 11:31 am 71 comments

Yet Another Review of The God Delusion

Since its initial release, millions of people have read The God Delusion. Some have echoed Michael Shermer in hailing it “not just as an important work of science, but as a great work of literature.” Others have sided with H. Allen Orr in deeming it a “badly flawed” book in which Dawkins “makes a far from convincing case” for his opposition to religion. My view lies somewhere between these two extremes.

The God Delusion is not Dawkins’ best book. In fact, it may be his worst (even so, Dawkins at his worst is immeasurably superior to most of us at our best). While his scientific discussions are, as always, insightful and illuminating, his philosophical and theological shortcomings are clear. Nevertheless, The God Delusion is a book that should be taken seriously by religious believers and non-believers alike.

Dawkins describes himself as a religious non-believer, a position that he also ascribes to Einstein, Sagan and Hawking – lofty company, indeed. Since theists are often quick to claim that Einstein was a theist too, Dawkins cites several passages from Einstein’s letters and other documents to refute their claim. Dawkins contends that Einstein was a deist, or perhaps a pantheist, but certainly not a theist…

Continue Reading July 11, 2008 at 11:05 am 3 comments

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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