In clear and engaging language, Michael Steinberg invites us to engage more fully with life's wonders and difficulties. Unsurprisingly, this isn't easy. It takes knowledge distilled from the long experience of ancient cultures leavened with fresh insights, and acting in often counter-intuitive ways to come alive to the mysteries of existence. Avoiding academic jargon and self-help over-simplification, Steinberg asks of us only `an open and active mind' as he takes us on a thoughtful journey into experiencing life with the fullness of our bodies and with respect for the limitations of our minds. In line with many religions and poets, he argues that the true richness of life is beyond words, in that place where mind, body and environment form an ineluctable unity.
Flowing easily from contemporary issues to historical antecedents, aspects of Indian spirituality and Western philosophy mingle with neuroscience and other contemporary takes on what makes us and the world tick, A New Biology of Religion is mainly arguing for authentic spiritual practice. Making subtle arguments for the viability of religion in today's secular world while deftly deflating New Atheist arguments against religion, Steinberg will have the likes of Dawkins and Dennett scratching their heads with his credible suggestion that atheist fundamentalism belies a Christian cultural background! Another chapter looks at how institutionalized religions have let us down as the book builds towards its invitation to more fully inhabit our bodies.
Less meaningful for me are sections arguing the benefits of irrational religious narratives. Steinberg asserts that religious nonsense reminds us that ultimate reality is indescribable, and is thus better than scientistic hubris. While I agree reality is something we are rather than something we can describe, my sense is that for all our faults and contradictions, humanity is creating wonderful understandings of life and the cosmos that many of us are beginning to live. Self consciousness is seen as a problem to be rid of, rather than worked better with, and Steinberg mentions various spiritual practices to reduce and buffer the troublesome human self. A truly new biology of religion would offer more than a grab bag of brief, though useful, suggestions ranging from zen koans, irrational myths, meditation and yoga to take us out of our bad mental habits separating us from authentic experience. This means we must await Steinberg's next book.
Steinberg invites us to live in the strange and subtle land of personal authenticity and deep relationship beyond the constraints of both objectifying science and institutional religion. Here is territory rarely visited by either science or religion. Whether or not you agree that the ultimate religious experience is mystical, if you interested in acting on philosophy and knowledge, in other words, doing spiritual practice, there is much here to inspire and challenge you in this book,. Though I don't feel compelled to visit my local ashram, I'm inspired by Steinberg's eloquent commitment to exploring and connecting. I'm glad I read this book and recommend it to those seeking encouragement and support on the spiritual road less traveled.