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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief but never glib survey of universal questions about God
In 125 pages, sympathetic atheist Mark Vernon does not have much time to go deep into the God question -- as he acknowledges in the introduction, to believers, God is, quite literally 'all that matters'. What he does manage to do is survey the fundamental questions which most people ask and most religions try to answer about God: what about God and suffering? is God just...
Published 23 months ago by Martin Turner

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea in theory, but just didn't work for me
In theory this should have been a great read. With his 'credentials' (ex priest, ex atheist, ex physicist - is there anything he sticks at) Vernon is in a pretty unique position which should enable him to take a detached view on all that is religion.

The premise of the book is not to argue for or against religion but to simply present the thoughts and...
Published 23 months ago by The Fat Monk


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief but never glib survey of universal questions about God, 23 Aug 2012
By 
Martin Turner "Martin Turner" (Marlcliff, Warwickshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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In 125 pages, sympathetic atheist Mark Vernon does not have much time to go deep into the God question -- as he acknowledges in the introduction, to believers, God is, quite literally 'all that matters'. What he does manage to do is survey the fundamental questions which most people ask and most religions try to answer about God: what about God and suffering? is God just a projection of our own ideals? is God nature? is God an expression of the religious experience? is God actually good? is God green? is He coming back? is He love?

While he only has time to name the issues and touch on some of the most important and wide ranging responses, Mark Vernon really does manage to make a connection with at least the questions, if not the answers. This is a very sympathetic, objective account of what key thinkers have proposed in answering the questions. As honest broker, Vernon does not attempt to choose between them or put forward his own version.

Very few books on any subject are as fair-minded as this. Ultimately, the subject is so broad that Vernon is forced to reinterpret the title, and what he does is not more than a brief survey. But it is never glib, despite the fact that Vernon, personally, does not believe in any of it. He shows admirable restraint, thus making the book a useful introduction and discussion starter, rather than yet another personal contribution to a crowded topic.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea in theory, but just didn't work for me, 5 Sep 2012
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The Fat Monk (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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In theory this should have been a great read. With his 'credentials' (ex priest, ex atheist, ex physicist - is there anything he sticks at) Vernon is in a pretty unique position which should enable him to take a detached view on all that is religion.

The premise of the book is not to argue for or against religion but to simply present the thoughts and discussions others have had throughout history while wrangling religions big questions - "why does god allow suffering", "is god love" or even good and the more contemporary "is god green".

Unfortunately I found Vernon's style a little too detached even for this type of appraisal. It is difficult to know where the author's opinion is being expressed and what is the opinion of the thinker being written about.

On top of that there were far too many "What's that got to do with the price of fish" moments. I was reminded of South Park's OJ Simpson trial episode (or the trial itself, I suppose, but it's South Park that came to mind - if the glove don't fit you must acquit. These logical non-sequiturs grated after a while and usually ended with "Therefore God exists" or "...therefore God is good". The discussion leading to these conclusions often has nothing whatsoever to do with the conclusion being drawn, but again you are left wondering whether these are the conclusions of the author or the original 'thinker'.

Sadly I found a lot of the discussion (presumably not Vernon's own opinions, but I cant be sure exactly who thinks what where) to be pseudo-mysterious bilge. It's all well and good putting forward others' opinions but when they consist of circular arguments and empty philosophising like much of this appears to it is difficult to take seriously.

I'm a big fan of reading alternative views and have read Dawkins extensively (well written regardless of whether you agree with him or not) and I've even suffered through Harun Yahya (circular arguments and pseudo-scientific nonsense mostly), but God - All That Matters fails to make any real impact simply because of its detached presentation rather than its content.

It's all very well putting alternative views out there, but they need to be coherent to have any real worth. It is a fact of life that all opinions are not equal, and when they are as outdated and disproven as some of those presented here they do little to advance anyone's understanding. To paraphrase Richard Feynman, it does not matter how elegant a theory or respected a scholar when they are wrong they are wrong. To present pure bunkum as valid theory helps no one and really detracts from what I believe was Vernon's intent - to show how we got to today's thinking on religion and why there are so many, often conflicting, belief systems.

Just to be clear, I am certainly not saying that all of the beliefs systems here have no merit whatsoever (my personal opinion on this is really not relevant here). However, Vernon mixes modern thinking ('IsGod Green?' could only really come from today's Eco focused world) to the fire and brimstone hocus pocus of ancient times. I suspect this is done to give context and historical background to how god got to where 'he' is today. That IS a worthy topic, but, as I keep coming back to, the point seems lost due to the style of writing.

Every so often I did find something that peaked my interest, but these occasions were just too few and far between to recommend the book.

God - All That Matters is one of a series of 'All That Matters' books on a wide range of subjects. I don't think I'll be tracking down any of the others though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Indexing God, 24 April 2013
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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I started out with high hopes of this. I find reading those whose certainties are shaded, from both sides of a debate, more useful than reading those who inhabit the extremes of a debating position.

Hence, a laying out of some of the large questions that have been raised about 'Is God?' 'What is God' 'Why Is God' 'Do We need God' and all the rest, intrigued me

The fact that Mark Vernon WAS a priest and IS now an atheist, and has an academic background in physics, theology and philosophy was also a major lure for me.

Divided into easy bite sized chunks, a sort of 'here is a paragraph heading on thought about God from this angle' again initially seemed clear and interesting - for example: God and the Nature of Suffering; God as Moral Compass etc.

The strength of the book - a scamper through thought about these ideas - was ultimately, for me, its major weakness. It began to remind me irresistibly about the 'For Dummies' series with better pictures but no jokes. Useful to get to understand how to DO something, for example, write HTML, not so useful where something is to be experienced in an inhabiting or gestalt.

The cool 'here is information' began to take me further and further from engagement. By the time I had reached the 'Is God Green' chapter (becoming increasing irritated by the little snappy, poppy, trivial chapter topics), wherein Vernon reminds us 'The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao' I was ready to throw my hands up in complete agreement with the statement.

I was neither reading this for affirmation of one view or another, only for deeper engagement with the questions.

Vernon's coolness and disengagement while of course useful in that it just sets out the wares on the stall, ultimately for me fails to get anywhere really valuable at all.

In a sense, the list of '10 places to visit' '10 films to see' '10 websites to browse' says it all. Its a shopping experience of God.

I will return once again, with relief, to a writer who has made a similar journey - Richard Holloway Looking in the Distance: The Human Search for Meaning; Godless Morality - once Bishop of Edinburgh, now an atheist, engaging with that sense of a presence which is an absence. Holloway's writing is both analytic AND personal, inhabiting the gestalt of all this, and captures and immerses. Well, he has that effect on this reader, anyway, whereas a mere laying out of a 'a smorgasbord of God' disappoints. It really IS 'just OK' rather than I DON'T like it - the list of other books, the snapshot of 'what this argument means' is at times interesting, but some of it is just plain silly! eg 10 films to see (Life of Brian, The Exorcist) 'lets go to a God movie - is it YOUR turn to buy the popcorn, or is it mine?'

Popcorn may be a good summary. Intellectual popcorn at points, but still
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All that matters, 1 Dec 2012
By 
Adam "Say something about yourself!" (Dunton, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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The title refers to the series that holds this work, "All that Matters," but it also holds a deeper double meaning here. It will after all be argued by some that God is all that matters.
This short book is written by a man who has, like Jacob, wrestled with the divine. Mark Vernon, now a writer, journalist, broadcaster and teacher, was once a priest in the Church of England but left it a convinced Atheist. But he has continued his struggle with the divine and is now an agnostic, passionate about exploring how we, the human race, have thought about and explored the power larger than ourselves.
So his struggle must have been intense, scorching, bitter, despairing, but still passionate and charged with a fierce determination to take faith issues seriously. And this shows in this small book, which is crackling with energy and engagement with its subject. It is passionate and lively, not dry and academic, and throws up mind bending concepts with ha lightness of touch and clarity of expression that makes them enjoyable for us to grasp.
And so we explore, in thematic chapters, different understandings and expressions of the divine through history and the world; How God has been experienced though suffering, moral ideals, nature, peak experiences (as in the work of William James), goodness, ecology and nature, eschatology and love. The writer draws on the thought and work of some fascinating thinkers and writers through history, and his enthusiasm makes you want to research and explore further. And so with me I was fascinated to read about William James's work "The Varieties of Religious Experience "and I will be investing in that work. The illustrations are used sparingly and well, and some key concepts are explored in separate dialogue boxes.
A recommended, highly accessible work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile and Well Thought Out, 7 Oct 2012
By 
Brett H "pentangle" (Brighton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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Mark Vernon is probably the ideal author to have been chosen to present this subject, in that he started as a believer and became a priest, lost his faith and was an atheist for a while, but currently considers himself an agnostic. Hence he has a good working appreciation from his own experience of all three view points. He has written extensively on theological subjects and whilst this is a very brief book, there are some interesting arguments and consideration of God, not just from the author's ideas, but also drawing on philosophers and beliefs from bygone ages.

The author covers the age old enigmas, such as `why does God allow evil things to happen in the world', `Is God our ideal by which we set our inner compass' ie our personal judgement as to what actions are right or wrong, and whether an individual can experience the presence of God. This is not a book which reaches any definitive conclusions and it is very doubtful whether any readers are going to change their opinion as to the existence of God by reading this book. However, the arguments are well presented and cover the spectrum of thought about these key issues.

The style of this book is that it reads like a learned, academic essay, drawing on various sources to support and illustrate. As a result, undoubtedly some readers will find it rather heavy going. However, in my opinion, it is worth persevering with as it is well written and it does pull together the various philosophical and religious viewpoints.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars philosophical short book, 27 Sep 2012
By 
Jay Rainbow (bolton england) - See all my reviews
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I'm really enjoying this book. Its deals with the issue of God in society and raises the question of why we have created the type of 'God' that most societies believe in.

If you enjoy ethics and philosophy or anything written by the fantastic Stephen Law then the chances are you'll enjoy this too!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 8 questions about God interestingly discussed, 8 July 2012
By 
Alan Pavelin (Chislehurst, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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An ex-priest and ex-atheist, Mark Vernon is a regular contributor to the Guardian's "comment is free" website which I sometimes read. This short book discusses 8 questions around God, in an interesting manner, beginning with "is God in suffering?" and ending with "is God love?". This gives the author the opportunity to summarise the views of various thinkers and writers, such as Spinoza, Freud, William James, and the Greek philosophers, and to dwell on some non-Christian religions like Hinduism and Taoism. The chapters are not in any particular order, so the book can be dipped into if preferred, though there is no index in my uncorrected proof copy which I find a drawback in books of this type (an index may appear in the eventual published copy). At the back are interesting lists of 50 "theological thinkers and spiritual practitioners" (Abraham to Zoroaster), 20 recommended books (I was pleased to see Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind highly praised), 10 places to visit, 10 films to see, and 10 websites to browse.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God{ An Over View of Man's Thoughts, 3 July 2012
By 
K. Petersen "Ken" (Hemsby,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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Isn't it a gross arrogance to suggest that one can cover 'All That Matters' about God in 127 pages? The answer is probably, "Yes" but, what this little tome does very well, is to pull various threads together. It takes eight questions such as, 'Is God love?', 'Is God in suffering?' and 'Is God our moral ideal?' and discusses them in terms of the ideas of leading thinkers through the ages. I found that this approach was useful, to me, in two ways; firstly, I came across leading lights of whom I had not heard, and secondly, it places those of whom I was aware in context.

If, like me, you are not reading about theology as part of an organised course, it can be difficult to get that over view as to where a certain author fits in; who had previously said what, what was going on locally when he expounded his views? This book gives that background. It fulfils the role that a course tutor would perform, setting the scene.

Mark Vernon does an excellent job of remaining neutral. This is not a book of his opinions: I have no more idea now, than I did when I began the book, as to his religious beliefs. This is important because it leads to a book that can be read by anyone, whatever their belief system, and I would guarantee that, be they a novice, or an expert in the field, they will find the experience worthwhile.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting contribution to religious philosophy, 25 Oct 2013
By 
Paul Munro "hndpaul" (Northants) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God (ATM) (Paperback)
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Mark Vernon's book is a bit of an enigma to me: on the one hand I began to read it as a universalistic and non-empirical philosophy paper in which religions that have at their centre a concept of a "God" add something to life- the idea that people are richer with a religious belief than without. I got the concept but fail to see how all religious belief can- together- mean the same thing. There are so many distinctions between religions that this is a hard sell for me. On the other hand his argument is actually sustainable in that people with faith are indeed better off in the sense that they have a grander picture of the whole- and that is where the book actually starts to make more sense: in the middle of all of this philosophical talk is Vernon's contention that the patterns of nature and the design in everything shows the intertwining of science and faith (I would say "theology") and the two are inseparable. Overall this was a challenging book in many ways- not least because I didn't understand where it was headed until much further into the book than I would have liked. It would have been much better with a clearer distinction between religions and Christianity for example, and in addition missed a concise introduction whereby the author set out his argument from the outset. Even so, it is a good contribution and worth a light read!
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4.0 out of 5 stars OK, 15 Aug 2013
By 
L. Brown (UK) - See all my reviews
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this book covers a topic which is far far larger yet the author covers them in 125 pages. i wouldnt say its a little different. He has at the back a list of interesting people you may want to read up on, which was nice.
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God (ATM)
God (ATM) by Mark Vernon (Paperback - 29 Jun 2012)
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