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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 on 23 Aug. 2012 by Martin Turner

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Indexing God
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...
Published on 24 April 2013 by Lady Fancifull


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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: All That Matters (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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2 of 2 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: All That Matters (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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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 Sept. 2012
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The Fat Monk (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God: All That Matters (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
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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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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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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3.0 out of 5 stars Distinctly mixed quality essays here, 7 Aug. 2013
By 
Lark (North Coast of Ireland) - See all my reviews
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Mark Vernon, one time athiest, come agnostic, come interfaith devotee, has another offering for the reader interested in the topic of God and while I found this similar to another book on this topic by this author (The Big Questions: God) as the blurb on the back of the book indicates it is a little different but I am not exactly sure if it achieves its goal to "move the argument on from the debates between athiests and religious fundamentalists, to look at how people through time have looked for, experienced and explained God".

Infact, sometimes the content of chapters in this book do not exactly reflect what the chapter heading suggests but more about that in a moment. The book has a contents and index, makes use of illustrations (which have accompanying notes, some of which are interesting but some of which dont really seem to integrate with the overall text of the piece they are appearing alongside), text/dialogue boxes, subtitles and indented quotations, there is a brief notes section (all too brief, refering only to the fact that the chapter on William James is an extract from a series of articles published in the Guardian) and there is a 100 ideas appendix, a feature of the series, which includes a list of key thinkers, websites to visit, references/books to read, places to see and recommended films to see.

As an addition to the "all that matters" series it is probably about the same standard as the other books, at best an introductory text which for anyone who has read a lot on the particular topic may fall between repition of familiar material and some interesting insights about the author's own unique thinking. I thought that introductory comment from Vernon that for those who had dedicated their thinking to God it was topically "all that matters", it was an interesting turn on the phrase which I had thought of meaning up until that point "all that is salient" or "summary of key points".

As I have stated this is, to me, a distinctly mixed bag content wise, some chapters are memorable and good, a great read, while others are forgettable, dull and dont always reflect too closely the chapter headings. I dont believe this a simply a matter of individual taste but I will explain what I mean. The chapter on Is God in Suffering? discusses theodicy, the problem of evil; the chapter on Is God our moral ideal? discusses stoicism and philosophy for the most part, I felt this was actually a dull and forgettable chapter, Is God the same as nature? Discusses Spinoza and pantheism, which was much better than some of the others; Is God found in peak experiences? Discusses William James' variety of religious experiences, Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs and James' rejection of exclusively intellectual approaches to God and religious experience, this is probably the best chapter of all; How can we say, God is good? Discusses some of the thinking around whether or not athropomorphic understandings of God or his attributes are a good idea, I dont think Vernon succeeds in conveying some of the meaning he is aiming to present but its fine, refering to a lot of Aquinas; Is God Green? Would give you the impression it is a discussion about God and nature, which gets a mention but by and large this is a protracted discussion about Taoism and the division between religious and philosophical taoism and seems totally off track; Will God come ad the end of time? Is an interesting enough discussion of topics such as the singularity, science fiction, myths of moral progress, even positive psychology but continues in the same stead as the previous chapter in appearing to be off track and less of a discussion about God at all; Is God Love? reads like a real muddle, a sort of "shot gun" approach, presenting a whole heap of different ideas in a too short or summary format to be very satisfactory.

I dont think this is Vernon's fault particularly, he is clearly a very knowledgeable guy and really wants to share his interest in religion, God and the wavering at times more agnostic and at times less agnostic approach to it which I associate with his writings is present here. This series though is a short, shrunken down format, the books in the range can be read in a day or two at most and are pretty much the sorts of reads I would think of as non-fiction books for a vacation or non-fiction "beach books". Good for an introduction, good if you know and like the authors, good if you want a "sampling" of a topic while you make your mind up whether you want to go for some more detailed reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of The Matter, 9 May 2013
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God: All That Matters (Paperback)
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Mark Vernon's aim in 'God:All That Matters' is 'to address the central, contemporary questions......I imagine concerns searchers for the divine, also known as theologians...' in a global context. He looks at difficult questions such as suffering, pressing questions such as ecological concerns and modern questions such as the death of God. God is the Infinite or, to paraphrase Anselm, 'beyond our comprehension'. Spinoza wrote, 'By God, I understand a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence.' For Spinoza God exists by necessity, 'everything else that exists exists in God'. The former Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, has argued ' human beings barely understand the inner life of a hydrogen bomb, so it seems excessive to speculate about the reality of God.'

Vernon's approach is to discuss the concept of God in the form of questions, the first of which is 'Is God in Suffering?' For Buddhists there is no problem of evil as they do not recognise a creator God. They see evil as the consequence of deeds, the law of karma. The Hindus argued individuals suffer now as a result of the evils they committed in a previous existence in accordance with the eternal wheel of samsara. The Greeks did not see evil as a problem as it emanated externally from the gods. John Cottingham argues that for believers in a good God the extent of evil is a problem. Creation is, as Leibniz claimed, an 'original imperfection' of mortality whereas God is immortal. Most people's concept of God is expressed in human rather than spiritual terms which leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of God and of evil. Aquinas understood this suggesting, 'it is in situations where God is absent that evil may flourish'. God did not create evil, evil developed because God in creation did not adopt an interventionist role in the functioning of the Universe.

Traditionally, those who seek to explain evil within the concept of a good God, use the defences of free will and instrumentalism.As Edmund Burke wrote, 'It is only necessary for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph'. However, in regarding evil as a reason for non-belief in God, non-believers do not grasp the essence of theology which is that God represents that to which humans should aspire. Evil and suffering are primarily the material outcomes of human behaviour. Yet what constitutes evil or suffering? Just as one man's meat is another man's poison so too one man's evil is another man's liberation. Similarly, one of the failings of human beings is an inability to objectively assess the value of theories which leads to untrue paradigms prevailing in science as much as to intellectual pretensions in religion and philosophy.

Nietzsche's claim 'God Is Dead' opened the way for the denial of good and evil. It did not cause the Holocaust but it facilitated its implementation. It is therefore ironic that having attempted to banish God atheists have sought to use the Holocaust as a reason to deny God rather than as an occasion to assess human failings. 'Existentialists argued that a godless universe is a free universe because we are not answerable to to anything or anyone but ourselves'. The adoption of maximising pleasure and minimising pain has proved the vacuous nature of utilitarian humanism. Post-Christian activists such as Don Cupitt mistakenly believe that by rejecting traditional institutions and beliefs they will find truth. In so doing they ignore Cicero who wrote, ' Nor again can anyone judge truly of things good and evil, save by a knowledge of the whole plan of nature and even of the life of the gods'. In philosophical terms non-realism merely endorses blind chance.

In discussing whether God is the same as nature Vernon cites Spinoza for whom the existence of God was a necessity and the aim of religious and philosophical practice was to alter the human perspective to that of God. Spinoza's pantheism persuaded Dawkins that it was nothing but sexed-up atheism. Spinoza's theist contemporaries took a similar view. By contrast Einstein took a different view writing, 'behind all discernible law and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.' While Einstein did not believe in a personal God he wrote he was not an atheist commenting, 'What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility towards the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos'. Of course, humility and the New Atheists do not blend.

Vernon notes, 'today it is quite common to assume...the scientific study of religion can not only contribute to understanding humanity's spiritual side but will do away with it, perhaps by showing that religiosity is an excess of human feeling that belongs to former, more superstitious times.' William James did not agree primarily because of the varieties of religious experience. James believed 'the truth of mystical experience has little to do with the specificities of the times and places in which they occurred' a view with which most contemporary scholars disagree. James preferred the genuine mystical experience in preference to the ' vicious intellectualism' which imagines 'the fantasy of an objective science'.

Vernon refers to apophatic theology which claims God is ineffable, that is, beyond telling. We cannot say what God is, only what God is not. Vernon regards this as a form of pseudo-profundity. He suspects this reflects a fear about the nature of reason and that 'our sure knowledge will always rest on a sea of unknowing'. According to Einstein the existence of God is a problem too vast for our limited minds. Hence we can never know the mind of God. Vernon closes with lists of fifty theological thinkers, twenty books, ten places to visit, ten places to see and ten websites to browse. This is a book to be dipped into and one which leads to further study. Four stars.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not very enlightening, 24 Feb. 2013
By 
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
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Outside of the publishers remit to cover the topic, and Vernon's choice to take it on as a job, I'm not sure who this book has been written for.

Vernon has taken on the daunting task of addressing a huge idea - and a very contentious and vexed idea at that, over which much blood, let alone ink, has been spilled - and distilling the subject into a small but 'essential' form. For those of a particular traditional faith or belief I'd have thought his book is too modern, pluralist, and relativist (in addition to addressing the 'faith of our fathers' he mentions other beliefs, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, and even tries to reconcile some of these beliefs with the materialist naturalism of science), whilst for the naturalists or non-believers he's simply neither rigorous nor objective enough.

Personally I think the book has been poorly executed. As an example, in chapter one, where Vernon takes on the problems of squaring ideas of God with the existence of evil and suffering, he fails to define any of the terms discussed at the outset. Taking just one of the ideas that needs clarifying, evil, it's not until page 13, in a 15 page chapter, that he gets round to addressing what evil might be.

Other 'systemic' problems - conflations and non sequiturs abound - in my view, reduce this to a level close to complete redundancy. My notes, written as I read this slim volume, are so copious (amounting to almost as much as the book itself) that I can't justifiably reproduce them all here. I may post them elsewhere online at some point. But, having already noted some structural problems, such as not defining terms at the outset, I'll simply make observations in relation to a few other issues.

Firstly Pascal's wager is, unbelievably (and despite rather lame and partial caveats), referred to as if it still carried some intellectual weight. In some circles it surely does, and the mere citation here is evidence of that. But even a tiny awareness of the historicity of religion, i.e. it's factual status as part of an evolved human culture, renders Pascal's wager redundant and obsolete, hence Rowan Atkinson's excellent sketch in which bemused Christians find themselves in hell, Atkinson's devil informing them "ah yes, I'm afraid the Jews were right."

Atkinson's very amusing and engaging sketch begins thus: "As the more perceptive of you have probably realised by now - this is hell, and I am the Devil. Good evening. You can call me Toby." Having deftly disposed of Pascal's wager (in the first of the two extracts I've quoted) he then casually but cleverly addresses another issue regarding matters theological; namely, what's in a name? Vernon begins his book by discussing the multitude of names God has been given. The philosopher A. C. Grayling has also drawn our attention to this issue with a useful tactic, mirroring what Atkinson did in his sketch. Where the comedian chose to rebrand Satan as Toby, Grayling suggests that we substitute a common name for God, and then re-examines statements made about him, to reframe them. At the talk Grayling gave that I was at, he chose Fred.

Let's try that with an extract from Vernon's writings: on p. IX of his introduction he says 'To those who trust and yearn for God, God is ultimately all that matters.' Using Atkinson and Grayling's name-substitution ploy this now becomes 'To those who trust and yearn for Fred, Fred is ultimately all that matters.' I was brought up in a variety of denominations over the years, from C of E, through Baptist, to Evangelical (one might assume fans of free-market economies would be pleased to see the variety of choices available to the UK's religious consumer). Despite the issues that may have otherwise separated these different sects of the Christian faith, they all shared a common response to this kind of statement. In its God form it would be universally greeted with much nodding, eye-closing, and many an Amen. But, in it's Fred form, it appears ridiculous.

That's the power of a name. As Isaac Asimov has pointed out, the basis of religious power has generally been founded on appeals to tradition, authority and emotion. By changing God to Fred we are momentarily removing such 'conditioning' factors, and can thereby look at the statement and examine it for meaningful content. And it has none. Or rather, and more importantly, it begs many questions. Questions which, in their God form, are all too often ignored or glossed over (in popular understanding, if admittedly not in academic/theological circles), in their Fred form seem to need addressing urgently. Who or what is this God/Fred? Without such investigations the statement quoted above remains no more than an empty pious platitude. 'Who or what is God?' are the kinds of the kind of things I'd hoped this book might address, but, despite the topic themed structure, I feel it fails to do so.

My final specific example concerns the chapter in which he addresses what's commonly known as pantheism, the idea that, if God is no longer popularly believed to be specifically responsible for the weather, wars, disease, and so on - all things he used to be believed to oversee - he is nevertheless somehow the 'final cause' and/or sum of the totality of existence. Like Pascal's infamously flawed and shortsighted wager, this is something that one would have hoped we had long moved beyond. Schopenhauer wrote the following in 1851: "The chief objection I have to pantheism is that it says nothing. To call the world God is not to explain it; it is only to enrich our language with a superfluous synonym for the word "world" (A Few Words On Pantheism).

Having read this little book I don't feel particularly inclined to read any others in the 'all that matters' series (although I'd already ordered the Mohammad title before reading this one) as they don't seem anywhere near rigorous enough. Nor do I feel inclined to read more by Vernon. I was initially drawn to this particular book both for the subject itself, and because the brief biographical blurb on the author mentioned him undergoing his own 'apostasy'. Despite the potted history of Vernon's qualifications as an authority in the area, he comes across as an apologist for a rather nebulous and indistinct form of of neo-Christian religiosity. Pretty scrupulous on the whole in occluding himself from the book, Vernon prefers to cite and discuss the ideas of others. But it feels somewhat disingenuous, making for an interesting and revealing contrast with, for example, Diarmaid MacCulloch's more transparent stance as a 'candid friend' of Christianity. Ultimately Vernon feels closer to Melvyn Bragg, when the latter defends Christianity in his book on the the King James Bible; neither can quite believe in the old fables any more, but nor can they let go of their attachment to the 'faith of our fathers'.

A very different book, but much more enlightening as to the question of who or what is (or was) God, is Alexander Waugh's excellent God: The Biography. Waugh focuses more particularly on the God of the Judeao-Christian tradition, viewed through the lens of the writings of these traditions, rather than taking Vernon's approach, which is to look at ideas of God through a series of issues or ideas of contemporary interest. Still, taken together, what Vernon and Waugh's books ultimately reveal, more fundamentally than anything else, is the anthropocentric and decidedly historical roots and nature of religion and theology.

I guess that the length of my review shows that I did at least find this stimulating, in that it must at least have been thought-provoking. But I can't honestly say I enjoyed or liked it. I do think this book covers a lot of fascinating ground, I just don't think it does it very well. If you were to take a look at a wider selection of my Amazon reviews, you'd see that I mostly review things I really like, so my more critical reviews are quite rare. I mean no unkindness to Vernon either, but I think his book muddies the water on issues that need clarity, hence the title of my review and the paucity of stars.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction, 31 Oct. 2012
By 
Mr. RB FORTUNE-WOOD "Rowan" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God: All That Matters (Paperback)
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Starting from an ignostic (as opposed to epistemological gnostic or agnostic) point of departure, Mark Vernon's book does not so much enter the stale contest between atheism and theism over God's existence, but asks the prior question about what is meant by `God' and thereby correctly perceives that the intellectual struggle is as much over the terms as it is its surface subject. To break that down; ignosticism puts forward the obvious, but nonetheless widely ignored claim, that without a sense of what we mean by God any further debate is meaningless. Where Vernon separates with ignosticism is their noncognitivist (and ultimately atheistic) claim that the concept always lacks either or both ontological or epistemological coherency and therefore further talk is meaningless. God (one of the relatively new All That Matters series from Hodder Education) is an injection of philosophy in its truest pedigree to an arena now overrun by peddlers of Plato's anathema, doxa--that is, opinion. It is guided by the instinct that, `Religious language has to operate at the limits of reason and sense, and so discernment is a critical task in matters theological and spiritual.' (p.64).

So how does Vernon proceed? Á la Maimonides' The Guide for the Perplexed--albeit with a great deal more brevity--he looks to, and comments on, a rich multitude of theological, scientific, philosophical and even poetic traditions. And he does so in an effort to introduce his readers to a world of thought encompassing, like Robert Burton's masterpiece, a plenitude of references and quotes. To many religious scriptures and myths; to Plotinus, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Leibniz, Democritus, Aquinas, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Cicero, Kant, Spinoza, Pascal, Lao Tzu, Thales, Parmenides, Empedocles and more contemporary persons like James, Maslow, Heisenberg, Eagleton, Rowan Williams, Cupitt, Veil, Kurzweil, Dreyfus, Robert Wright, John Gray and Yannaras. The resulting text is succinct; a solid introduction for some, a memory aid for others. So while I did not encounter new ideas--although the later chapters on Taoist environmentalism and God qua singularity are novel--I enjoyed the play of intellect and sense of narrative that ties the short book together.
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3.0 out of 5 stars More philosophy than theology, 12 Oct. 2012
By 
Darren Simons (Middlesex, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: God: All That Matters (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Written by a former priest who became an atheist, this book is from the "All That Matters" series which presents itself as a relatively short read (120 pages) to help the interested reader become aware of some of the subject. It's worked on some of them (notably the Muhammed book) but for me, this one fails to deliver. The issue isn't so much the content, it's the relevance and writing style that disappointed me.

First the content... Given the title to this book I was expecting something more akin to Karen Armstrong's A History Of God (which is in fact included as a reading reference). Instead the book is really asking the question what role does God play regardless of your chosen interpretation / belief system. Mark Vernon has chosen a number of topics which are used in religious belief and questioned the relevance - for example, the role of God in suffering, moral ideal, nature, love. There is little of educational value here in the history of belief in God (which is what I was expecting to read about) but instead it is almost a post-autobiography of how someone with religious beliefs found himself questioning the central thoughts. History is included in the odd paragraph here and there reflecting famous writers at various times but it's a bit all over the place. In fact, if anything this book should be titled "Why believe: All that matters".

The writing style is also difficult - he's too on the fence... I've read plenty Richard Dawkins books and regardless of what I agree or disagree with, his arguments follow a path and they are clear. This book isn't - lots of concepts, ideas and snippets are presented, but not in a way that really allows the user to draw any conclusion. It's detached but not informative somehow.

The "All That Matters" series style of text extracts appearing in big font was a welcome exclusion from this book and the index at the back of places to visit, books to read, films to see makes interesting reading.

So having criticised the author for sitting on his fence with his writing I shall do exactly the same with the review and give it 3 out of 5.
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God: All That Matters
God: All That Matters by Mark Vernon (Paperback - 29 Jun. 2012)
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