This book has had a profound influence on my life. I don't think it should be read by those whose Christian faith is a great comfort and help to them, or those whose religious beliefs give validity to their lives. To his credit, the author states he does not want to turn these people away from Christianity; he is addressing people like myself who have deep doubts and need answers.
Like many people brought up in the Christian tradition, for many years I went along unquestioningly with the received wisdom that the Bible was holy, the teachings of the Church must be true, and Jesus had mystical powers which could save me from going to hell. I also carried around the guilt which goes with the territory, realising that I couldn't live up to the Church's expectations.
As a direct result of reading another book (the first book that I bought from Amazon), I began to question and had doubts, especially with the teaching that babies are born in sin. I read all sorts of books, but they never gave me the complete answer I was looking for.
There were plenty of sceptical books which dealt with the inconsistencies and theological problems associated with Christianity, but they all left an unsatisfying vacuum.
Most pulled religion apart but offered nothing to replace it. If you took on board their arguments, you were left with either trying another religion, (and finding yourself with exactly the same uncomfortable feeling that you were following man-made dogma, based on a beautiful but unbelievable myth ), or with a cold and impersonal belief in science as the only truth.
Richard Holloway's book gave me answers AND a way forward. It was the book I had been wanting to read for many years although I didn't know it.
I don't think it could have been written by anyone else; his unique position as a former Priest and Bishop means he can speak with 'inside knowledge' and this allows the reader to feel they can trust his insight and vision as he has truly seen both sides and been where we cannot go.
He is truly a deeply compassionate man and I think he is the secular equivalent of a Saint if such a thing exists. His acceptance and love (in it's truest sense) for minority groups such as gay people is far closer to the way Jesus acted and taught than the homophobic hatred and cruelty shown over the centuries by the Established Church to women, homosexuals, Jews and others. His willingness to stand up to the Establishment and active proposal of radical change, is sadly all too rare in the Church.
Richard Holloway explains how we can ethically take on board all the best of Christianity without believing literally in its myths or accepting its dogma, much of which was originally adopted because it suited the needs of the times for which it was originally designed.
He explains that it is perfectly possible to follow the teachings of Jesus the man, updated for our times, without slavishly having to conform with the laws and dictates of past Church leaders. That leaves me personally in a very comfortable position and takes away my guilt. If society as a whole adopted this philosophy, I am sure it would be a much happier world.
The only negative criticism of the book I have, is that although it is very well written, a few parts of it are rather challenging for the average lowbrow reader like me who is not familiar with theological and philosophical terms and ideas.
I have to confess that as soon as words such as 'eschatology ' and 'Kuhnian Paradigms ' crop up in the narrative, my eyes tend to glaze over).
This would not be a problem for many readers as it is no more difficult than many other serious science or philosophy books, but I just feel that it is such an important subject that the content should be accessible to all, even those whose only reading material is the astrology predictions in magazines.
I would be so pleased if Richard Holloway could write an alternative version of his book in easier language, spelling out the more difficult concepts pedantically, so that it is read by a wider audience.
Perhaps the choice of style was deliberate, in order that his material is only read by intellectuals; he does not wish to be the catalyst for the Church's staunch followers turning away in droves, as they would if they all read his book!
However, I know there are many other non-university educated, average people like me who would have their lives changed for the better by reading this book, but would likely be put off by the effort involved in following the arguments.
If read by a wide audience, this book could start an amazing revolution and one day be a seminal classic revered for its role in changing society for the better.