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on 10 November 2003
This book has had a profound influence on my life. I don't think it should be read by those whose Christian faith is a great comfort and help to them, or those whose religious beliefs give validity to their lives. To his credit, the author states he does not want to turn these people away from Christianity; he is addressing people like myself who have deep doubts and need answers.
Like many people brought up in the Christian tradition, for many years I went along unquestioningly with the received wisdom that the Bible was holy, the teachings of the Church must be true, and Jesus had mystical powers which could save me from going to hell. I also carried around the guilt which goes with the territory, realising that I couldn't live up to the Church's expectations.
As a direct result of reading another book (the first book that I bought from Amazon), I began to question and had doubts, especially with the teaching that babies are born in sin. I read all sorts of books, but they never gave me the complete answer I was looking for.
There were plenty of sceptical books which dealt with the inconsistencies and theological problems associated with Christianity, but they all left an unsatisfying vacuum.
Most pulled religion apart but offered nothing to replace it. If you took on board their arguments, you were left with either trying another religion, (and finding yourself with exactly the same uncomfortable feeling that you were following man-made dogma, based on a beautiful but unbelievable myth ), or with a cold and impersonal belief in science as the only truth.
Richard Holloway's book gave me answers AND a way forward. It was the book I had been wanting to read for many years although I didn't know it.
I don't think it could have been written by anyone else; his unique position as a former Priest and Bishop means he can speak with 'inside knowledge' and this allows the reader to feel they can trust his insight and vision as he has truly seen both sides and been where we cannot go.
He is truly a deeply compassionate man and I think he is the secular equivalent of a Saint if such a thing exists. His acceptance and love (in it's truest sense) for minority groups such as gay people is far closer to the way Jesus acted and taught than the homophobic hatred and cruelty shown over the centuries by the Established Church to women, homosexuals, Jews and others. His willingness to stand up to the Establishment and active proposal of radical change, is sadly all too rare in the Church.
Richard Holloway explains how we can ethically take on board all the best of Christianity without believing literally in its myths or accepting its dogma, much of which was originally adopted because it suited the needs of the times for which it was originally designed.
He explains that it is perfectly possible to follow the teachings of Jesus the man, updated for our times, without slavishly having to conform with the laws and dictates of past Church leaders. That leaves me personally in a very comfortable position and takes away my guilt. If society as a whole adopted this philosophy, I am sure it would be a much happier world.
The only negative criticism of the book I have, is that although it is very well written, a few parts of it are rather challenging for the average lowbrow reader like me who is not familiar with theological and philosophical terms and ideas.
I have to confess that as soon as words such as 'eschatology ' and 'Kuhnian Paradigms ' crop up in the narrative, my eyes tend to glaze over).
This would not be a problem for many readers as it is no more difficult than many other serious science or philosophy books, but I just feel that it is such an important subject that the content should be accessible to all, even those whose only reading material is the astrology predictions in magazines.
I would be so pleased if Richard Holloway could write an alternative version of his book in easier language, spelling out the more difficult concepts pedantically, so that it is read by a wider audience.
Perhaps the choice of style was deliberate, in order that his material is only read by intellectuals; he does not wish to be the catalyst for the Church's staunch followers turning away in droves, as they would if they all read his book!
However, I know there are many other non-university educated, average people like me who would have their lives changed for the better by reading this book, but would likely be put off by the effort involved in following the arguments.
If read by a wide audience, this book could start an amazing revolution and one day be a seminal classic revered for its role in changing society for the better.
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on 21 August 2014
This is the sort of book which, upon reading it, I say to myself that I’ve been thinking on these lines for about forty years. It is good to know that I am not the only one to think like this.

He starts off with the vehemence and hatred exhibited by bishops at the 1988 Lambeth Conference. The author had what, to me, would be Saul being present at the stoning of Stephen. The students who witnessed all these homophobes, and were working in the kitchens and elsewhere to make some extra cash, all witnessed to those bishops by wearing the rainbow flag in one for or other.

Holloway suggests that once women were accepted into the hierarchy, the fundamentalists had lost. The Church has decided to ignore that biblical text. I wonder if this should lead to the acceptance of same-sex marriage. If you can change the matter in the sacrament of ordination, why not in the sacrament of marriage?

Holloway cares passionately about Christianity but fears that having fallen into the hands of the fundamentalists, it will die or, at least, dwindle into a sect.

He is also passionate about symbol and metaphor. Those who flatten it into dogmatic literalism are unable to accept any truth claims that are different from their own.

He is not a literal realist but hovers midway between Don Cupitt’s non-realism and critical realism,. I hold to the latter.

People fear relativism but what many of us are into isn’t relativism, it’s pluralism. And pluralism is quite orthodox when you bring Aquinas into it.

Holloway writes a lot about religious language. You can’t avoid it. However, he oversimplifies when he uses the phrase ‘sodomy is sin’. He says that ‘sin’ had many meanings but ‘sodomy’ doesn’t. Nothing could be farther than the truth. That word has had many meanings down the centuries.

Where is progressive leadership today? Most church leads are a century behind the people they think are following them.

He looks at layers of meaning in some bible passages that emerge if you don’t take them literally.

He should know better than to take A. N. Wilson as an authority on Paul.

He shares my experience that liberal Christians and liberal Jews have more in common with each other than with their conservative co-religionists.

He wants us to follow Jesus, as did Albert Schweitzer, rather than merely talk about him.

House group leaders occasionally ask me for suggestions of books they could study which aren’t simplistic and evangelical. There aren’t many these days but this is one which I will add to my list of ideas.
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on 26 August 2001
In this wide-ranging work the openly rebellious author, starting with his own enounter with prejudice in the church, goes on a tour of modern thought that draws upon science,feminism,Khun's paradigm shifts, theories of truth and reference, sociology and psychology. In such a vast range some of the discussion is inevitably superficial. I was surprised to find Marx as the last prophet. The key insight is that "theology is really another aspect of psychology". He attempts to describe a convincing version of Christianity based solely on the human meaning in the Bible; one that avoids both fundamentalism and scepticism and is consonant with a rational,ethical, practical and contemporary life. While this may bolster a wavering Guardian-reading Christian, there is little new here to inspire an agnostic and the values are common to many systems. He is good at summarising other writers'ideas.Few could disagree with the Christian virtues he advocates, but the problem he fails to address is the eternal one of how we are to achieve any of them. I preferred the colourful style and directness of "Godless Morality". A small quibble-- the lack of an index in a scholarly work is irritating.
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on 23 October 2002
In this title, Holloway succeeds in eloquently and beautifully articulating some extremely difficult theological questions and conundrums in an entertaining and accessible manner.
Using a blend of his own character and style and extensive quotations from as far afield as Freud to the Gospel according to Mark, Holloway puts his many concepts on the nature of our consciousness, the nature of God and its relation to the Church across expertly.
I found myself thanking Holloway out loud for having the intelligence and insight to articulate ideas i realised i held but had no name for. Despite this i found i did not wholeheartedly agree with all points made in this book, however the author writes in such a way as to make it difficult for the reader to find sound reason to disagree.
Love it or hate it, this book will make you think, and keep on thinking long after the final chapter.
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on 4 September 2016
I've come across two clerics and a head teacher at a church school who "ran out of faith" and I suspect that Bishop Holloway might be approaching that. I heard him on Radio 4 recently and he said he had very little faith left. But he is a very intelligent, well educated man, steeped in theology and much else, so he is in a very good position to examine this subject critically. In contrast I am a lightweight, able to enjoy what he calls "serene vagueness about specifics and details". As a layman I'm glad I don't have to grapple with the theological complexities outlined in this book. Also, I have a worm's eye view, a man in the pew, whilst his is a bird's eye view, a man at the top. I don't entirely share his assertions that gender or the gay issue (about which he feels strongly) are the main reasons for religious decline. The former has now been largely resolved in the Church of England; the latter has not, but the matter of the Bishop who has just come out as gay was not mentioned by anyone before, during or after the church service I attended today. More important, surely, is the fact that people have far more things to do than they once did, and not only on Sundays. From what I can gather, Round Table, Rotary and Freemasonry are also having problems attracting people.

I have one or two criticisms. A minor one is why he felt the need to refer to Martin Luther as "the German reformer". I can't imagine anyone reading this book not knowing who Luther was. Also, I felt that I was listening to a (very long) sermon, and my attention kept dropping off (though that could be a criticism of me, not the author).

Having said that, this is a serious book, avoiding the dogma and fervour of both the hard line religious and the "new atheists". Certainly it is thoughtful, open minded and cerebral. He sets out to examine rather than (dis)prove points. He looks at the good and less good aspects of Christianity. I think that it was Cliff Richard who said of Jesus Christ Superstar, "that'll never convert anyone", and in this book Bishop Holloway is clear that he does not seek to do that. But many thought-provoking points come across. For example, when St Peter was commanded to eat "unclean" foods, was God telling him to break God's law? And later we get the assertion that, "it is the persistence of unexplained anomalies that precipitates a scientific crisis". That might explain why in spite of the claims of the new atheists, many scientist retain religious beliefs. Another interesting point is his seemingly correct view that "sects that claim to be the inheritors of some tradition or other usually end up as footnotes of the groups they repudiated. The various Anglican breakaways, not least the hapless Ordinariate (forecast as a harbinger of "seismic change") bear witness to that.

In summary, the book is well worth reading, if a little on the heavy side.
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on 14 January 2014
Upon telling my Dad that I was an atheist, every Christmas without fail he would give me a book from a religious apologist designed to make me question my new views. Previously I got Keith Ward's book 'Why There Almost Certainly Is a God' and hated it. Finding it immensely condescending. Hence I was reluctant to approach my dad's latest offering. I needn't have been.

Doubts and Loves is a fascinating book which covers a vast array of theological and philosophical topics as Holloway attempts to comes to terms with his profound sadness that he is losing his religion. Indeed he asks the reader if after writing this book he can still consider himself a Christian. Make no mistake Holloway is no raging anti- theist, but having been a prominent Anglican cleric he is tired and frustrated by the church's staunch refusal to change.

The book is beautifully written and accessible though did force me to put it down occasionally and think about what I've just been told. I remember a section on the use of language, which while in no way trail blazing was the first time I'd come across the issue. It thrilled me and Holloway's careful approach left me hungry to dig deeper. Indeed I feel that this book is a taster which encourages deeper reading but with enough small dishes to sate your appetite.

To conclude this is a book for everyone who wants a measured accounts of the problems facing mainstream religion and how to move forward and solve them. Its a humble book and it's very hard to disagree with. Yet a must-buy, I've already lent my copy around my friends and they've all found it fascinating, you will too.
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on 18 November 2014
Brilliantly rational: Scholarly: up to date thinking; very clear exposition ; but takes some reading and requires on open mind and a lot of background understanding and a hunger to understand the mind of the author.
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on 22 October 2001
In 'Doubts and Loves' Richard Holloway seems to have completed the development from the conservative theologian with liberal moral attitudes of his early works to an agnostic who centres the meaning of Jesus fairly and squarely in the human experience without any external reference. The man, who in his earlier writings revealed himself as happily agnostic about miracles like the resurrection, focusing instead on their theological meaning, now only hopes to have the grace to listen politely to people's beliefs in a reality outside ourselves.
In 'Doubts and Loves' Holloway examines the major Christian myths with his usual brilliance, putting them in their historical context, thus freeing their inherent meaning, in a liberating narrative and laying the foundations for a Christianity that those of us still 'dancing on the edge' can subscribe to. This book is still required reading for any Christian with a modern enquiring mind. But be prepared to have the core of your faith, that of the existence of a divine reality, assaulted in the process. Because we can have no real verifiable experience of this reality, it is better to live based on the premise that it might not exist, Holloway appears to say.
I've never fully understood this paradox inherent in modern thinking. When man thought he was the centre of the universe he was quite content to believe that he had been created by a superior power that had claims on him. Now that science has shown us our own limitations and insignificance in so many ways, we apparently have to believe, as if by some compensatory process, that every positive live-force and love-force we experience is entirely inherent in ourselves. A belief in the 'superhuman' is not seen as a belief in a reality outside ourselves, which we are simply too ill-equipped to perceive with any degree of satisfaction, but is equated with a child-like believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden.
What happened to this most moving of all Holloway metaphors, this 'strange love that haunts the universe'?
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on 5 May 2013
Exceptional book written by a man of great integrity . It is comforting & stimulating to know that I'm not alone in "dancing on the edge" & that doubt is not to be hidden/dismissed-- it can lead to greater exploration into the spiritual aspects of life. Holloway doesn't skirt round problems but meets them head on. Holloway's autobiography is also important as it demonstrates the honesty, thought & love of the man who admits to his own shortcomings & pain --quite uplifting.
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on 18 January 2015
if you have problems trying to come to grips with religion and God read this book. It helps to get things into some degree of logical thinking and helps remove many man made stigmas that condition our views to life and death.
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