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Religion (Masterguides) Paperback – 10 May 1993

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Product details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Fontana Press; Second edition edition (10 May 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006862616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006862611
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,454,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Origen on 27 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
The book is not only a discussion of important religious themes but a critique of the growing discipline of 'philosophy of religion'. It argues throughout that this branch of philosophy is in some important ways rather fundamentally flawed in that it attempts to make sense of certain concepts in an abstract way which cannot properly be accounted for purely in abstract terms. The book, as I saw it, represented an attempt to bridge the divide between the value of mere intellectualizing (in the form of abstract philosophizing) and the practical stuff of 'religion' in all its (non-intellectualizing, uncritical, unphilosophical) activity.

The rigid division between abstract philosophizing and religious action is probably too simplistic and herein lies the value of the book in trying to probe the space and overlaps between the two. The religious life, properly lived, is a strange combination of reflective 'reasoning' or 'philosophizing' AND engagement in a range of activities which give rise to such reasoning and philosophizing and ensconce them in a person's life yet further.

There is another aspect to the book and that is its handling of ideas of God. As I read him, the author wants his readers to recognise that there is a space which God might occupy in human experience, but that this space need not be filled by a very specific kind of metaphysics. Rather, there are a number of ways in which the 'space' might be filled and God, in the author's view seems a very good way to go. He doubts, however, the capacity of 'philosophy of religion' - at least as it is currently usually practiced - to show this, mainly because it concentrates too much on what he would regard as second order metaphysical questions.
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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Reviewer on 16 Oct. 2006
Format: Paperback
Disclaimer: I am very disappointed with this book, and this review may therefore be even more negatively biased than I actually intend it to be.

While this treatise purports to discuss and compare arguments for and against religion, it generally achieves nothing. Kolakowski does discuss such very important aspects as omnipotence, mysticism, holiness, death and afterlife, the "essence" of God, etcetera and so forth. Through the book he discusses the arguments believers and sceptics may use to "prove" their points - at the same time also trying to show that neither may the believer convince the sceptic, nor vice versa.

This would certainly make for an interesting and important treatise, were it not for a number of serious shortcomings:

** The convoluted presentation, the many obscure references and the major sin of philosophers - writing for their own kind - makes this a very hard to grasp discussion.

** The book does not treat "Religion" versus scepticism, it is about "The Christian Faith" versus scepticism. Other religions, whether contemporary or primitive, major or obscure (be it Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, shamanism, animism, etcetera), are seldom, most are never, mentioned - thus severely limiting the scope and validity of the discussion.

** There seems to be no "purpose" with the book. Why did the author write this book? Perhaps, and this is the best theory I have, to show how futile a discussion about religion (for as well as against) is. But somehow the book ends the same way it starts, in muddled confusion.

Adding to the problems, the copy I received was of mediocre technical quality.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
So long, and thanks for all the fish... 28 Sept. 2008
By Robert Bezimienny - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kolakowski is a believer - at least for the purposes of this book. The narrator here explicitly believes in a Christian personal God. What is more, he sees such belief as an integral part of an overall commitment to a lived religious practice, in his case, it would seem, Catholicism. This is the vantage from which he surveys the territory of the "So-Called Philosophy of Religion".

These are his allegiances, but his discussion ranges beyond his specific position. Rather than a straight defense, he surveys other positions and critiques their inconsistencies and attractions. But a reader must be careful. At times he asserts his own favoured conclusions without signalling that alternate conclusions could (and have) been drawn elsewhere. His erudition is remarkable in its breadth and depth, and as an intellectual guide he is charismatic.

The main motivation for his religiosity appears to be confronting such questions as, "What is the purpose of my life?" and, more grandly, "What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?" (my apologies to Douglas Adams). He takes these questions to be real questions. No argument extracted from the philosophy of language, or from other intellectual territory, is going to sway him. He feels these questions are ones humans inevitably encounter and which are, on their own terms, comprehensible. For Kolakowski, the only satisfying answers to such questions come from the realms of religion. He, like Arthur Dent before him, finds "42" a trifle disappointing as "The Answer".

However, the answers given by religion will be in religious language. Kolakowski comes close to saying that such language will not be comprehensible to a non-believer. It will not stand rational scrutiny. It is language grappling with concepts and questions which are beyond any language - as per the title of his chapter, "To Speak the Unspeakable". This intrinsically unresolvable situation is one which he feels is unavoidable - it is part of the human condition.

A second strong motivation for religiosity emerges in the first main chapter, "Theodicy: God of Failures": an explanation for, or at least solace from, human misery. Religion does not explain, in any scientific sense, misery, but it offers a somewhat comforting perspective from which to accept misery's presence. A faith that ultimately the cosmos is a meaningful experience, that from God's vantage suffering has its place and purpose, is said to be of solace to humans. One of the core ideas in this chapter is that if momentary suffering is inscribed in eternity, then it is more meaningful than if it were "lost" with the passing of the moment; that is, if the measure of reality is taken to be "eternal reality" and the transient "now" is seen as somehow "less real", then momentary suffering has a chance of being seen as "meaning" something more than its own misery.

Kolakowski allows that an extreme rationalist could consistently deny that such questions as to ultimate meaning and the justification of suffering are answerable. The transcendent vantage can be considered a useful, or pernicious, fiction. Truth becomes an operational concept, one aiming to better manipulate the world to immediate ends. All talk of a transcendent reality remains just talk. But Kolakowski does not think that being a extreme rationalist is an easy stance to adopt, neither intellectually nor emotionally. Nor does he see the rationalist as having an argument against religious belief which the believer must acknowledge as sound. Once committed to religious practice, the believer has a system of meaning and purpose which is beyond rational criticism.

The crucial problem for a believer of Kolakowski's kind is that of the existence of evil. Fairly or not, he summarises twenty five centuries of thought on the subject into two positions.

Either one considers the existence of an all-powerful, all benevolent God and the existence of evil as incompatible, and so conclude that such a God does not exist, or one affirms the existence of such a God and then finds a way of reconciling the existence of evil.

The first position almost argues for itself. The second, according to Kolakowski, generally relies on an argument dating back to Leibniz and others, and amounts to saying that the actual world is the "best" of all possible worlds, in that any other feasible world would contain more evil. He expounds a few of the tortuous debates that have attempted to make this claim plausible. None are convincing (to Kolakowksi, let alone to skeptics). Ultimately, as a believer, he falls back on a naked belief and trust in God, and an acceptance that rational argument will fail to "prove" or make intelligible the mystery of evil's existence.

Kolakowski is not sympathetic to attempts to reconcile religious faith with rational argument. He charts the interaction between the two at length in his chapter, "God of Reasoners". He emphasizes that rationality trespasses on religious ground when speaking of transcendent truth. Any venture into concepts which imply transcendence (such as infinity, being, existence) is to step into religious territory. Rational argument no longer functions as it does when applied to ordinary, everyday, operational matters. The transcendent questions, like "What is the meaning of the universe", are not scientific questions, and the answers they seek will not be of a kind to better predict and manipulate the everyday world. They are, according to Kolakowski, of a different kind, but not therefore meaningless.

In the chapter "God of Mystics" Kolakowski openly admits to his admiration of mystical religious experience. He sees it as a core element in the religious world view. By the shape of his discussion he implies that his opinion is by no means universal. Yet he finds powerful the inherently inarticulate claims of mystics to have experienced directly "the Divine". From here he goes on to discuss the problem of maintaining that God is recognizably a person whilst also maintaining that God is timeless, has infinite capacities, etcetera. It is a short step then once again to his acceptance that the language of mysticism, and of faith in general, will not be the language of rational or scientific argument.

Ultimately, Kolakowski abides by his own conclusion that a skeptic can't be persuaded by rational argument to become a believer. If the skeptic can forgo the temptation to look for transcendent answers to transcendent questions, then he is immune to the lure of faith. If the temptation proves too great, then Kolakowski's book offers a welcoming hand to those ready to join him in the kingdom of God. For me, I'd rather stay here on Earth, at least until the Vogons arrive, but by then hopefully I'll have made friends with the dolphins...
5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Kolakowski's brilliant! 12 Mar. 2013
By Jan Rogozinski - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is actually fun to read. He clearly describes the concepts of philosphers, theologians, mystics (and others) on the existence of God. If one doesn't like to think, one will not enjoy the book. If one does enjoy following someone thinking through difficult problems, one will love it.

His conclusion is one I came to yeas ago. Everything happening since only increases my conviction. "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted," as Nietsche said. Without objective and shared moral convictions, there can be no civilization--or at least no civility. There must be shared rational standards outside of our own lusts. But, in fact, when an American says "I have a right to it," she only means "I want it." Its like a spoiled 8 year old brat screaming "Johny get a bigger piece of cake than I did."

This is why with 5% of the worl'd population, the US has 50% of the world's convicts in jail. When there is no moralaity, there is only "laws" enforced by physical violence.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 12 Sept. 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ten thumbs up :)
15 of 95 people found the following review helpful
St. Augustine was right 26 Mar. 2007
By Patricia Karwatowicz - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is the second book which I have read by this author and if I may say so, out of respect for his age, as well as out of respect for my own faith, it will be the last.

This book has an agenda, namely, to persuade the reader, particularly one who is a person of faith, to abandon that faith and follow the author's line of reasoning, which is to deny all but offer nothing in return. He selectively uses excerpts, many out of context, from many past historians, philosophers and theologians none of whom he agrees with yet uses them only to fit or to favor his agenda. Throughout the book he qualifies his statements with many "it seems, perhaps, some would say, others would say" and so on without stating concretely who say what and who doesn't in those specific instances. As a result one is left with a feeling that there is a lot fence straddling going on in this author's mind. Of course, in America, Religion sells and in the current culture, anti-religion probably sells equally well. Curiously, there is hardly any reference to Islam and the bulk of the book is anti-Christian.

This book is all about brains without heart and pride without humility. The author on several occasions refers to those who follow certain religious faiths as "simpletons," yet in other parts he stresses the value of equal human dignity for all. Thus, he makes a good argument that some are more equal than others as some are the "elite" brains and the others "simpletons" who deserve only a life of servitude to the intellect of those brains.

His concluding remarks, which are supposed to state the author's own and personal viewpoint as to belief in God as well as the meaning of life, are not persuasive and from a psychiatric viewpoint, without affect.

It is as if an automaton is speaking.

The author mentions St. Augustine several times and if anything this book proves that St. Augustine was correct in that the author's soul is restless and will remain so until it rests in God.
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