It seems pretty obvious that Christianity has left a deep mark in Western societies, so it’s not exactly clear why we would need a book to discuss this, but the author argues, rather strenuously, against atheists’ claims to the contrary . In any case, I did not really understand The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped our Values. It is certainly written by someone with impressive knowledge of history but I could not grasp its arc.
Tag Archives: religion
Emma Donoghue wrote the stunning Room (and other novels I did not like so much) and with The Wonder, she returns with a claustrophobic story of a “starving girl” in 19th century Ireland, whose food-free existence brings her family fame. A nurse is brought in to investigate this miracle and she will eventually untangle the mystery and save the girl in violent fashion.
The author captures the circumscribed existence in the small Irish village, the all-powerful role of the church, and never tries to simplify characters to fit the story. Bravo!
Much better know for his Sherlock Holmes series, Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote historical novels, of which he was apparently very proud. The Refugees is one of them, and it ambitiously traces the picaresque adventures of a young American who travels to France, helps his Protestant friend survive many perils in procuring a priest for the secret marriage of Louis XV and Madame de Maintenon, and swiftly retreats to North America with friend, friend’s wife, and friend’s father upon the banishing of Huguenots from France. The French adventures are far-fetched — but what happens on the way back (iceberg, Indian attacks) seems utterly unbelievable. Add to that the totally helpless wife who cannot even see the fauna and flora of Canada without them being pointed out to her by her menfolk, and it becomes clear why Sherlock Holmes remains Conan Doyle’s legacy.
I was disappointed by Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence because I felt misled by its subtitle: it is not a book about the entangled roots of violence and religion, although the author does discuss them, quickly, in the beginning of the book. It also focuses mostly on violence done to Jews, which is a vast and interesting topic, but it would have been interesting to cover in more detail violence done to and by other religious groups. And finally the bulk of the book is an erudite discussion and analysis of Genesis that points out all kinds of details about the violence that is so prevalent in that famous book — fascinating for some I’m sure but not quite my cup of tea, and in any case I do not think that the average religious person who wants to commit violence first stops to carefully consider what the book says…
Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue features an atheist and a Muslim talking about Islam — although I often felt that the former should shut up and listen to the latter, who seems both better informed and more measured. The best part of the book for me was the careful distinctions between jihadists, Islamists, and conservative and reformer Muslims.
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People is a loose memoir and reflections by an unconventional Lutheran pastor: a tattooed ex-addict who embraces all comers and believes in grace and love amongst struggles — and adds “Blessed are the closeted” to the standard list of beatitudes. Whether she is on a plane engaging a sullen teenager in conversation or leading the funeral of a suicidal young man, she is the same honest, open person. If you sometimes wonder whether religious people want to exclude rather than welcome, read this book.
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence is a weighty tome filled with prodigious academic erudition, from Gilgamesh to the Greek to the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In it reside prodigious amounts of violence, which the author painstakingly shows seems to stem more from the general context than religion itself. She also shows that religion occasionally seeks to pacify the world, although not, it appears, anywhere near often enough to counterbalance the many times it seeks the opposite.
The whole thing was all rather overwhelming and long and tedious for me to get through — and I doubt very much if the people who believe violence stems mostly from religion, especially those who believe that Islam specifically incites to violence, would either invest time and effort in this massive book, or embrace what they read it in. So I’m not sure whom to recommend the book to. Careful thinkers who somehow think that religion is the main source of violence and who can tolerate 400 dense pages with the details on that 678 schism?