GOD BLESS AMERICA Paperback – 1 Oct 2013
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"God Bless America" lifts the veil on strange and unusual religious beliefs and practices in the modern-day United States. Do Satanists really sacrifice babies? Do exorcisms involve swearing and spinning heads? Are the Amish allowed to drive cars and use computers? Taking a close look at snake handling, new age spirituality, Santeria spells, and satanic rituals, this book offers more than mere armchair research, taking you to an exorcism and a polygamist compound, and allowing you to sit among the beards and bonnets in a Mennonite church and to hear L. Ron Hubbard's stories told as sermons during a Scientology service. From the Amish to Voodoo, the beliefs and practices explored in this book may be unorthodox, and often dangerous, but they are always fascinating. While some of them are dying out, and others are gaining popularity with a modern audience, all offer insight into the future of religion in the United States and remind us that fact is often stranger than fiction.
Top Customer Reviews
Highlights the absurdity/irrationality of ninety nine percent of them all.
Unfortunately this makes them difficult to analyse rather than list and this book struggles to get away from being a great long list of mixed up jumble.
Fascinating if you don't know much about these belief systems.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Beliefs are not neutral, as they guide our actions, as we base those on what we hold to be true to better their potential for success. Some beliefs are dangerous to the practitioners, some to those they persecute because of those beliefs, while some belief practices, such as violent exorcisms, can cause injury or death in those alleged to be possessed.
Stollznow's book, God Bless America, puts these into focus, with one of the most objective treatments of the subject I've seen to date. Compare this with Ravi Zacharias' "Kingdom of the Cults," and similar works written by religious apologists currently in print.
The first chapter, Modern-Day Prophets and Polygamists: Fundamentalist Mormons, describes the extreme branches of the Mormon Church, those not considered by the more mainline LDS Church to be true Mormons, but which consider themselves to be that very thing. Some of the early history of Mormonism that gave rise to these breakaway sects, or from which they lay claim to legitimacy, is explained, and their controversial practices and lives revealed with no small amount of scrutiny.
The Not-So Simple Life: The Amish and Mennonites, discusses the little-known history, practices, and origins of the Amish and Mennonites from their Anabaptist (not "Anti-Baptist...) roots in Europe, fleeing to the Americas to escape persecution during the Protestant Reformation, and looking to put down roots during and after their numerous schisms. An eye is turned here to the little known things about their seemingly quaint way of life, and the misconceptions surrounding them as a part of Americana.
In Signs, Wonders, and Miracles: Charismatics and Pentecostals, the third chapter, Stollznow turns her skeptical eye to the religious movements that take their cue from the practice of charisms, or gifts from the Holy Spirit of Pentecost by the Apostles. The alleged origins of the modern Pentecostal movement in Kansas and also the setting of the modern precedent of hypocritical preachers by the movement's founder, Charles Fox Parham are discussed. Enough said on that, though... The distinctions between Charismatics and their origins from Pentecostals are made clear, as is the debate between Mainstream and Charismatic Christians, and there was much here that was new to me, even living in the Bible Belt.
Chapter four, Hoodoo, Voodoo, and Juju: Afro-Caribbean Religions, Karen explains the religions brought to the Americas and West Indies by those captured as slaves, their differences, histories, and their evolution as they spread rapidly to other parts of the Western hemisphere, from Voodoo, Santeria, Candomblé, and other faiths descended from West African traditions, their beliefs, quirks, histories, subtle and not-so-subtle differences, and their magical practices are discussed, though the process of syncretism of some that led to both their survival and evolution I found kind of neat.
Full of the Devil: Demonic Possession and Exorcism, discusses the widespread and often contradictory beliefs in evil entities such as demons, the Devil, and the equally widespread practices from a variety of mutually inconsistent traditions for ridding people of them. But widespread belief does not make something true, and often the practice of exorcism can delay real and effective treatment of mental illnesses (something I'll admit having a personal stake in...) and in the case of some exorcisms result in injury or death to the alleged possessed. Karen notes the renewed popularization of belief in demons, possession, and exorcism by Hollywood, and is particularly critical of "real exorcist" Bob Larson.
In Sympathy for the Devil: Satanism, Stollznow describes the Church of Satan, and why it appeals to some without, I might add, their actually having to kill anyone (much less babies...) for their initiation. It's not surprising to me that Satanists (as opposed to Santa-ists...), are often persecuted, as much by their own choice of branding as by moral panics involving rumors of ritual abuse, like those of the 1980s that resulted in spurious arrests and convictions, some with sentences still being served and lives destroyed for bizarre crimes that never really happened. False memory syndrome will do that. The modern origins of Satanism by Anton LaVey from mere accusation to a reality are discussed, the Church's belief system (not in a literal supernatural Devil, unless one is a Theistic Satanist...). Note of its magical practices, as much for the psychological effects of ritual as anything else, is made.
Chapter seven, It's All in Your Head: Dianetics and Scientology, was interesting, and more detailed than I can go into here. It goes beyond the usual criticisms to a well-researched examination of the brainchild of L. Ron Hubbard, from Scientology's origin as a controversial form of self-help for the mind, to the equally controversial and often ridiculed Church for the spirit it is today.
In Something Old, Something New: New Age Spirituality, the ginormous range of beliefs and practices, taken from both ancient traditions and new paradigms of science, the paranormal, alternative medicine, philosophy, and a hodgepodge of other sources, is brought to light. The New Age is famous for its undefinability, and that leads to its appeal to many disenchanted with organized religion. It is a metaphysical movement with no single beginning or founder, where anything goes, and this chapter makes clear what any good skeptic should know that their own investigations have not revealed.
Finally, Friends in High Places: the Quakers, talks about the Religious Society of Friends, unfortunately known to most only from stereotypes promoted through grade schools and oatmeal marketers, and tells their history from the time of the English Civil War to their persecution both in England and the Americas, to the present time, interestingly pointing out the widespread conflict of opinion among the many sects of Quakers. The colorful Society's effect on the development of the then-young United States is discussed, it's ideas, ideals, beliefs and values that greatly influenced the politics of the nascent country, including the principle of the separation of church and state. The Friends' lack of doctrine and reliance on testimony of values and actions, and even the occasional lack of theistic belief is noted, and this I found interesting.
All in all, I thought that this book was readable, entertaining, and well-worth revisiting.
Luckily a person like me can turn to Karen Stollznow's God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States. Yes, that title is certainly a mouthful. But the book itself is easily digestible with chapters covering everything from Fundamentalist Mormons, Amish and Mennonites, New Agers, Satanists, Quakers and more. Each chapter blends a history/breakdown of said religion's beliefs and experiences Karen Stollznow and her husband Matthew had in interactions with the believers. There is a part in Signs, Wonders and Miracles chapter (about Charismatics and Pentecostals) that had me darting into the living room and re-enacting Matthew's session with the Charismatic "healers" complete with a stuffed cat filling in for Matthew.
Thanks to God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States, I now know what an Anabaptist is and sorry Conradin from Saki's excellent and chilling short story "Sredni Vashtar", an Anabaptist isn't as thrilling and wicked as it sounds. I've also found out the differences between Amish and Mennonites. No stupid questions about why some Mennonites use computers and others doesn't from me! <cue my Mennonite friends sighing in relief>
Would I recommend God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States? Certainly! God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States isn't Religions for Dummies. And it's not a skeptic and her fellow skeptic spouse bashing every religion they encounter. The author's willingness to explore the different religions even if she might find them or some of their practices silly or foolish or unbelievable is admirable. What God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States is a concise and well research look at various religions and beliefs that many people might not know about or only think the wildest and most crazy ideas about. It doesn't talk down to the reader. You might not agree with each religion or it's beliefs after learning more about them but you will come away with a better understanding of each religion and be more informed when you encounter it in the future.
Would I recommend God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States? Certainly!
Addition, 2/13/2014 - if you get the Kindle edition and read it on your computer, iPad or Kindle Fire, you will be able to follow a link directly to some of the referenced articles. It's a handy way to get a little more info on a particular story or incident.
Then, when I began to study comparative religions in college, I encountered a totally different perspective: the detailed (and often dry) scholarly dissection of world religions. These books were often massive, and included huge detailed sections on the mythologies and core beliefs that soon became overwhelming. It was eye opening to see what other religions reveal about the religion you grew up with, but it was also a lot of hard work.
Between these two approaches is Karen Stollznow’s lively book, God Bless America. It strikes the perfect tone between these extremes. It takes an outsider’s view of American religions, as do most religious scholars, without hundreds of pages of tedious details to read through. Yet it also critiques these religions, and comments on the more absurd parts of their theology and belief systems, something that my little Sunday School book also did—but without the commitment to Presbyterianism. It is written in a wry, lively style, often poking gentle fun at the sublime silliness of some beliefs (and the fact that their practitioners see no irony or absurdity in their beliefs). The tone is humorous but very tongue in cheek, letting the irony and bizarre aspects of the belief system speak for themselves.
Each chapter begins with a little “hook” about some strange aspect of the belief system. Stollznow then gives a very brief but well organized introduction to the history and essential worldview of each belief system. She closely examines how the religious ideas were first established and how they have changed, and focuses on those aspects that are of greatest interest to American society. In the final part of most chapters, she practices a bit of “embedded journalism”: attending services or meetings of each group (if they let her), giving her vivid impressions of the believers’ behavior, their surroundings, and their approach to outsiders.
And the range of religious ideas is impressive! First, she covers the bizarre and illegal practices of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, the extreme Mormons who openly practice polygamy, but use it as an excuse for the disgusting old men who run their cult to acquire lots of underage brides. As Stollznow reports from the recent stories about Prophet Warren Jeffs, this religion has essentially become an official excuse for child molestation. From there, she covers the many splinters of the Anabaptist revolt, especially the Amish and Mennonites, and show how they negotiate the delicate balance between their traditional ways and the modern world. She devotes a full chapter to the Pentecostalists, and their weird practice of snake handling (often fatal to the believers) and “speaking in tongues”. (As a professional linguist, Stollznow is better trained than most to recognize that they are speaking gibberish, not “unknown foreign languages”). There are three chapters on voodoo, demonic possession and exorcisms, and the prank by Anton La Vey called “Satanism” (not really a religion, but more of a performance art piece to mock Christianity).
Then she tackles one of the scariest of cults: Scientology. Thanks to many recent revelations from apostate individuals, and due to the internet spreading their secrets, Stollznow can now document what a bizarre, nasty, paranoid, litigious, dangerous predatory organization that Scientology has become, despite all its celebrity endorsements from Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and the like. She also takes a whack and the weird ideas of New-Age Spirituality, full of terms of “woo” and misuse of quantum physics by their chief practitioners, such as Shirley MacLaine and Deepak Chopra. Finally, in a sharp contrast to all the previous dogmas, she examines the Quakers, with their simple beliefs and emphasis on personal relationships to God and peaceful living.
Even though the book is very brief, her research is excellent and well referenced. I found no typos or mechanical errors, and only one error of fact: in the section on snake handlers (p. 83), she says that the snakes kill their victims with neurotoxins. This is true of the snakes in her native Australia, and in most of the Old World, but most of the venomous snakes of the New World (primarily rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths in this case) are pit vipers (family Crotalidae), which use hemotoxin to poison the blood, not neurotoxins.
Naturally, in a 250-page book, not every fringe belief can be mentioned. Notably absent were the Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, the Wiccans, and even the mainstream Mormons. Each of them has suitably bizarre religious notions. The author tells me that she had word limits, and that these larger cults are the subject of the follow-up book, so we have something to look forward to.
Except for these minor quibbles, God Bless America is an excellent, lively, well-researched, and fun book to read, which will surprise and amaze (and maybe disgust) the reader on every page. If you want a quick introduction to some of America’s most bizarre belief systems, this is the book to get.
Look for similar items by category
- Books > History > Cultural History
- Books > History > Religious History > Christianity
- Books > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History
- Books > Religion & Spirituality > New Age > Occult > Cults & Demonism
- Books > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Comparative Religion
- Books > Science & Nature > History & Philosophy > Reference
- Books > Society, Politics & Philosophy > Social Sciences