Posts tagged ‘book review’
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…
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 …
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…
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…
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…
(from comment #96 on A Curious Christian with a Few Questions for de-converts)
It is my firm belief that any book which asks the reader in its preface to put away all subjectivity and view both sides of a debate topic equally will immediately plunge headlong into logical fallacies and spin-doctoring. Such is the case with Strobel’s ‘The Case for Christ’. Not that I mind Strobel presenting only one side of an argument – he is after all making a ‘case’. However, to pretend this has any objectivity at all makes Strobel’s intentions suspect from page 1.
Strobel, acting as a journalist, interviews a dozen or so leading Evangelical scholars for their evidences for their belief in Jesus Christ. The questions he asks are fine, but in general he never asks the follow-up questions that are just screaming to be asked. One assertion after another is left unchallenged. Bruce Metzger claims there are over 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, so the reader is left with the impression that each manuscript is evidence of the reliability of Scripture. But Strobel fails to asks how many of those 5000 are actually useful for determining the actual text. Strobel fails to ask how many centuries have passed between the time of Jesus and the time the vast majority of those manuscripts were written.
Donald Carson claims that Jesus fit the profile of God revealed in the Old Testament. Strobel should have asked Carson about Marcion, the early church heretic who found no similarity between YHVH and Jesus, and in fact claimed they were two entirely different deities…
Welcome to the End of the World! Er, well, um… maybe not quite yet.
For 2000 years Christians have been expecting the end of history. If you’re reading this and you haven’t been whisked away (and you have had no strange new microchips implanted), then odds are it hasn’t happened yet. In Robert Price’s new book, The Paperback Apocalypse, he gives us a look inside the sausage factory of that belief system – its origins, its theology and, even more, the implied psychology. What we see is as fascinating as it is appalling.
Price is something of a folk hero to former Christians. His Beyond Born Again has been a springboard for many who are struggling to extricate themselves form the Christian faith – serving, as it does, to encapsulate and put to words many of their thoughts, and point them toward a brighter, better way. He manages to avoid the shrillness of many currently popular writers that are also critical of religion, because he understands, I think, what fundamentalist beliefs mean to and do for people. And he graciously made the whole book available for free online.
Christian apocalypticism has become immensely important to modern evangelical Protestants, and in particular came to widespread prominence with Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth which was the number one “nonfiction” bestseller for the 1970’s (and the fact that it predicted the End in 1988, and yet still sells, is emblematic of the whole phenomenon). In its highly popular modern incarnation, the Left Behind series of books novelize the unfolding of this myth…