on 12 September 2012
An excellent non biased and non threatening book, that attempts, to simply explain human beliefs. It neatly portrays the motivational similarities between fundamental christians and atheists.
I found this book enables one to better disseminate religous, spiritual and scientific debate surrounding human belief systems.
on 24 December 2012
How on earth did Simon Blackburn allow this to slip through? The Baggini book on ethics in the same series is excellent. This book, unfortunately, is not. If you want thinly diguised christian apologetics then this is for you. Masquerading as balanced discussion, it demonstrates considerable bias, suggests that being spiritual is superior to life without belief and generally panders to believers. There are straw-man arguments, lengthy irrelevant stories and many quotes from muddled theologians from the dark ages. Sceptics are portrayed as strident stirrers, causing conflict. They don't get much airtime and when they do, immediate attempts are made to undermine their positions.
With proponents like this, it is small wonder god is in decline.
on 29 December 2012
Very enjoyable new book from Mark Vernon, which is written with his characteristic liveliness and generosity. In common with many of his other works, Mark's interest in the big questions is governed by traditional philosophical concerns of what it means to live a good and fully-flourishing life (rather than, for example, focusing on technical aspects of logic and proofs). The result is a succinct book that prompts the reader, with generosity and creativeness, to think about what this big questions about God might mean, and how they might be asked, rather then offering an exhaustive exploration of the possible answers. It is very much a book to prompt thoughts and reflections than provide the answers, but does so in a way that is well-read, carefully considered and thought-provoking.
I found this to be absolutely superb, in many ways a rebalancing of discussion and debate, at least as I am familiar with it in the UK, between believers and strident non-believers.
I think there is perhaps what could be described discharitably as a bias towards Christianity, it seems to be the tradition with which Mark Vernon is most familiar, however I really do think that it falls short of what could be described as Christian apologetics, especially since there is not any indepth attention given over to theology of either the Roman Catholic or other denominations.
That said I actually am a Christian believer and perhaps enjoyed it all the more for that "colouring" of the content, I really, really would not let that deter any readership who has a normally strong aversion to all things Christian as this is far from simply a number of replies to non-believers of different stripes. Far from it. There are also some excellent responses to some discussions which are the product of varieties of Christian fundamentalism, which have bled across into other faith communities. For instance, the dichotomy between religion and spirituality which rightly opens, albeit only briefly, the way to a discussion about institutions prevailing over inspirations and also the value of traditions as repository for learning beyond the capacity of any one individual.
I really liked the discussions of other dichotomies, between science and religion, between evolutionary research and religious revelations, their origins, the legacy of bitter disputation and the shape in which they persist. Vernon suggests a conflict model has prevailed in the relationship between any of these parties, steming from significant clashes such as the Darrow case in the US about the teaching of evolution during science lessons in schools in the US (these clashes Veron rightly locates within a context with neither "side" deserving of complete valourisation or villification). This conflict model is treated, I believe rightly, as disfavourable, resulting in an inability of seperate and hostile schools of thought to acknowledge the legacies, positive and negative, of one another or the very human needs which have ensured the survival and endurance of their thinking.
Anyone thinking about religion, spirituality and God is likely to find this book interesting and engaging, if someone is looking for a source which is going to validate their non-belief is not going to find it very satisfactory but there are plenty of alternative sources. On the other hand I dont believe that it will prove that satisfactory to anyone seeking to find a validation of a narrowly held theistic stance either and may find Vernon's narrative too positive with regard to agnosticism or the consideration of God as some sort of benign or beneficial meme or social construct born of "religious imagination".
For the general reader I think this book should prove very interesting, it ranges across a lot of topics and manages to do so with a good economy of words, well paced narrative and engaging style of writing. Much, much better than a great many books in the pop-spirituality or mind, body and spirit sections of book shops. It is likely too to provide an understandable or receptive source of reading on the topic of religion for any parent seeking to engage with adolescent children who have absorbed uncritically the contemporary atheist and anti-theist zeitgheist/popular culture. It is unlikely to win any converts but I dont think that is its purpose, as I have said it isnt a work of apologetics for any faith community, although it will allow anyone to appreciate how and why belief in the existence of God and belief in divine providence (not the same thing) has been popular for the majority of human history. It certainly will be of interest to anyone who is not easily satisfied with the, to my mind conceited, idea that for the majority of its history mankind has been a collection of dupes and morons.
There is besides much discussion of the roles of feeling and changes in perception in life, for a reflective, thoughtful general reader that could prove useful all by itself. This book has a good contents and index, there are dialogue boxes which contain in larger print points from the body of the narrative, which is itself spaced well into paragraphs and blocks of script which make for easy reading and also highlighting and referencing, chapters are not all of equal length but do well to cover all topics and subtitling is used well also. There are illustrations and pictures in the body of the text which are accompanied by descriptive lines and references. Recommended.