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Nathan Jacobson » Reflections on Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great
Christopher Hitchens' god is not Great is an expression of the profoundest moral outrage at the transgressions of religious people. As such, Hitchens follows in a long and honorable tradition. Indeed, in his life and teaching, Jesus also was a consummate critic of corrupted religion. In particular, it was the religious authorities of his time and place — the pharisees — that he most roundly denounced. His criticisms were many, but included charges of hypocrisy, pride, legalism, and unkindness. Like Hitchens, a consistent theme in Jesus' criticism is how inhumane their religious strictures had become. For example, in one of a number of confrontations over Sabbath observance, Jesus reminds the pharisees that the Sabbath was instituted for the sake of humankind, not vice-versa. Furthermore, the letters of early church leaders follow Jesus' precedent in confronting the failings of his earliest followers. And they all stood in a long line of prophetic voices that, according to the biblical record, were called by God to correct the recurring degeneration of Hebrew, and then Christian, religion. Finally, today you can browse the bookshelves of any Christian bookstore to find volume after volume lamenting this or that shortcoming of the Church. Clearly religion can be corrupt, even poisonous, and it is hardly exempt from criticism. But though Hitchens is in good company in his indictment of religious transgressions, god is not Great is something of a missed opportunity. Because his rhetoric evinces such a profound contempt for people of faith, Hitchens fails to speak persuasively to the very people he thinks need saving. If intended merely as a call to arms for his compatriots, god is not Great is a tour de force. But if he hopes to deconvert the converted, to liberate those captive to religion, another course is needed. If that is the aim, here's how to criticize religion.
William T. Cavanaugh (Oxford University Press: September 3, 2009), 296 pages.
The idea that religion has a dangerous tendency to promote violence is part of the conventional wisdom of Western societies, and it underlies many of our institutions and policies, from limits on the public role of religion to efforts to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East. William T. Cavanaugh challenges this conventional wisdom by examining how the twin categories of religion and the secular are constructed. A growing body of scholarly work explores how the category 'religion' has been constructed in the modern West and in colonial contexts according to specific configurations of political power. Cavanaugh draws on this scholarship to examine how timeless and transcultural categories of 'religion and 'the secular' are used in arguments that religion causes violence. He argues three points: 1) There is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion. What counts as religious or secular in any given context is a function of political configurations of power; 2) Such a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion as non-rational and prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of Western society; 3) This myth can be and is used to legitimate neo-colonial violence against non-Western others, particularly the Muslim world. ~ Synopsis
Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: Oct 26, 2009), 360 pages.
Fifty Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists presents a collection of original essays drawn from an international group of prominent voices in the fields of academia, science, literature, media and politics who offer carefully considered statements of why they are atheists. Features a truly international cast of contributors, ranging from public intellectuals such as Peter Singer, Susan Blackmore, and A.C. Grayling, novelists, such as Joe Haldeman, and heavyweight philosophers of religion, including Graham Oppy and Michael Tooley. Contributions range from rigorous philosophical arguments to highly personal, even whimsical, accounts of how each of these notable thinkers have come to reject religion in their lives. Likely to have broad appeal given the current public fascination with religious issues and the reception of such books as The God Delusion and The End of Faith. ~ Product Description
Christian Smith (Oxford University Press: August 26, 2009), 172 pages.
What kind of animals are human beings? And how do our visions of the human shape our theories of social action and institutions? In Moral, Believing Animals, Christian Smith advances a creative theory of human persons and culture that offers innovative, challenging answers to these and other fundamental questions in sociological, cultural, and religious theory. Smith suggests that human beings have a peculiar set of capacities and proclivities that distinguishes them significantly from other animals on this planet. Despite the vast differences in humanity between cultures and across history, no matter how differently people narrate their lives and histories, there remains an underlying structure of human personhood that helps to order human culture, history, and narration. Drawing on important recent insights in moral philosophy, epistemology, and narrative studies, Smith argues that humans are animals who have an inescapable moral and spiritual dimension. They cannot avoid a fundamental moral orientation in life and this, says Smith, has profound consequences for how sociology must study human beings. ~ Product Description
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds. (B&H Publishing: Aug 2009), 304 pages.
Contending with Christianity’s Critics is book two in a series on modern Christian apologetics that began with the popular Passionate Conviction. This second installment, featuring writings from eighteen respected apologists such as Gary Habermas and Ben Witherington, addresses challenges from noted New Atheists like Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and other contemporary critics of Christianity concerning belief in God, the historical Jesus, and Christianity’s doctrinal coherence. Contending with Christianity's Critics and Passionate Conviction are the result of national apologetics conferences sponsored by the Evangelical Philosophical Society.
Ronald Aronson, reprint (Counterpoint: Aug 18, 2009), 256 pages.
Ronald Aronson has a mission: to demonstrate that a life without religion can be coherent, moral, and committed. In the last few years, the “New Atheists” — Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens — have created a stir by criticizing religion and the belief in God. Aronson moves beyond the discussion of what we should not believe, proposing contemporary answers to Immanuel Kant’s three great questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope? Grounded in the sense that we are deeply dependent and interconnected beings who are rooted in nature, history, society, and the global economy, Living Without God explores the issues of 21st-century secularists. Reflecting on such perplexing questions as why are we grateful for life’s gifts, who or what is responsible for inequalities, and how to live in the face of aging and dying, Living Without God is less interested in attacking religion than in developing a positive philosophy for atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, skeptics, and freethinkers.
James K. A. Smith (Baker Publishing Group: August 2009), 240 pages.
Malls, stadiums, and universities are actually liturgical structures that influence and shape our thoughts and affections. Humans — as Augustine noted — are "desiring agents," full of longings and passions; in brief, we are what we love. James K. A. Smith focuses on the themes of liturgy and desire in Desiring the Kingdom, the first book in what will be a three-volume set on the theology of culture. He redirects our yearnings to focus on the greatest good: God. Ultimately, Smith seeks to re-vision education through the process and practice of worship. Students of philosophy, theology, worldview, and culture will welcome Desiring the Kingdom, as will those involved in ministry and other interested readers. ~ Product Description
Eric A. Siebert (Augsburg Fortress: August 2009), 360 pages.
How should we understand biblical texts where God is depicted as acting irrationally, violently, or destructively? If we distance ourselves from disturbing portrayals of God, how should we understand the authority of Scripture? How does the often wrathful God portrayed in the Old Testament relate to the God of love proclaimed in the New Testament? Is that contrast even accurate? Disturbing Divine Behavior addresses these perennially vexing questions for the student of the Bible. Eric A. Seibert calls for an engaged and discerning reading of the Old Testament that distinguishes the particular literary and theological goals achieved through narrative characterizations of God from the rich understanding of the divine to which the Old Testament as a whole points. Providing illuminating reflections on theological reading as well, this book will be a welcome resource for any readers who puzzle over disturbing representations of God in the Bible. ~ Synopsis
Glenn S. Sunshine (Zondervan: Aug 1, 2009), 240 pages.
People often talk about worldview when describing the philosophy that guides their lives. But how have we come by our worldviews, and what impact did Christianity have on those that are common to Western civilization? This authoritative, accessible survey traces the development of the worldviews that underpin the Western world. It demonstrates the decisive impact that the growth of Christianity had in transforming the outlook of pagan Roman culture into one that, based on biblical concepts of humanity and its relationship with God, established virtually all the positive aspects of Western civilization. The two-pronged assault in our time on the biblically based worldview by postmodern philosophy and the writings of neo-atheists has made it even more crucial that we acknowledge and defend its historical roots. Unique among books on the topic, this work discusses Western worldviews as a continuous narrative rather than as simply a catalogue of ideas, and traces the effects changes in worldview had on society. It helps readers understand their own worldviews and those of other people and helps them recognize the consequences that worldviews hold. Professors, students, and armchair historians alike will profit from this book. ~ Back Cover
John E. Hare (Wiley-Blackwell: July 2009), 320 pages.
God and Morality evaluates the ethical theories of four principle philosophers, Aristotle, Duns Scotus, Kant, and R.M. Hare and: Uses their thinking as the basis for telling the story of the history and development of ethical thought more broadly; Focuses specifically on their writings on virtue, will, duty, and consequence; Concentrates on the theistic beliefs to highlight continuity of philosophical thought. ~ Product Description • "This is a splendid history of philosophical ethics, with special interest in God’s presence and importance in that perennial enterprise, by one of the leading philosophers of ethics writing today. Hare tops off this surprising, exciting, and unorthodox history with an account of his own that collects together the best features of the theistic ethics of the past. God and Morality is written with crystal clarity and impressive scholarship." ~ Robert Roberts, Baylor University
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