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Recommended religious/spiritual books

2010-January to June

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Previous months' recommendations

The current month's recommended book

Tentatively scheduled selections for future months

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2010-June's selection

"Ex-gay research: Analyzing the Spitzer study and its relation to science, religion, politics, and culture."
Jack Drescher & Kenneth J. Zucker, Editors

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
This book received a rating of 4 stars out of 5 by Amazon.com customers.

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Amazon.com product description:

Defenders and critics of the controversial Spitzer study analyze its methodologies and findings

In 2001, Robert L. Spitzer, MD, presented his study on sexual conversion therapy with its controversial findings that some homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. The resulting media sensation and political firestorm that followed enraged the study?s critics and emboldened its supporters. Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study and Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics, and Culture presents leading experts examining Spitzer's research methodology and findings to discern whether the study itself deserves deeper consideration or outright dismissal. Every facet of the study is reviewed to discuss the positive or negative aspects of the results, its significance in political and social terms, and the implications for the future.

Dr. Spitzer himself was an instrumental figure in the American Psychiatric Association's decision in 1973 to remove homosexuality as a mental illness listing from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-III. His later study that states that in some individuals, homosexuality may be more fluid than previously thought stirred controversy in the psychiatric community and society at large. His study is presented here to allow the reader to evaluate and consider it for themselves. Leading experts then voice their own pro or con views on the methodology and findings. Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study and Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics, and Culture fearlessly illustrates the sometimes fuzzy boundary between science and politics, courageously spotlighting the culture wars now dividing our society.

Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study and Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics, and Culture discusses:

  • the ex-gay movement
  • the nature of scientific inquiry
  • the relationship between science and politics
  • the results of sexual conversion therapies
  • gay and lesbian rights

Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study and Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics, and Culture is essential reading for sex researchers, mental health professionals, pastoral counselors, political activists, and any person asking if one can truly "change" his or her homosexual... [orientation].

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Title:"Ex-gay research: Analyzing the Spitzer study and its relation to science, religion, politics, and culture."
Format:
Paperback.
Publisher: Harrington Park Press
ISBN-10: 1560235578
ISBN-13: 978-1560235576
Dimensions: 8.3 x 6 x 1.1 inches
Release date: 2006-MAR-22
Pages: 380
Cost: Amazon.com sells it for $39.95 in paperback (apparently the full list price) Review / order it

2010-May's selection:

"The Family: The secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power,"
by Jeff Sharlet
Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
This book received a rating of 4 stars out of 5 by Amazon.com customers.

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Book review by Shelley Glodowski of the Midwest Book Review:

Jeff Sharlet is an American journalist who writes about religious subcultures in the United States. He is the author of The Family and Killing the Buddha: A heretics bible. He is a contributor to Rolling Stone and Harper's and has two online journals.

"Religious freedom; the separation of church and state; the Declaration of Independence; the Bill of Rights...these are sacred documents to our culture and heritage in the United States. We are founded on the idea that no one religion will ever become a state religion that is forced on the populace. But there are those who think differently, and they would rewrite our nation's history to educate their young to eliminate these truths."

"In his excellent book, Jeff Sharlet tells of an organization called "The Family," a group of fundamentalist Christians, whose goal is to take over the world. He infiltrated the group, starting with Ivanwald, a tax-free private house in Washington, D.C. Who are these people? Unfortunately, many Republicans whose names are familiar are members of this group, as well as some Southern Democrats. What is their goal? Some of the participants belie their political identities:

'Hillary fights side-by-side with Brownback and others for legislation dedicated less to overturning the wall between church and state than to tunneling beneath it. Practically speaking, such work appeased evangelical elites without drawing the notice of liberals who thought Hillary stood for separation, but such tunnels genuinely undermine the foundations'."
"For the record, these fundamentalists are more interested in world domination and creating a strict theocracy than the basic teachings of Jesus. They bathe in the idea of Jesus without churches, but rather form cells similar to the Taliban for their instruction."

"Sharlet's book is difficult to read, in that it is so shocking. He names names, follows the trail of monies diverted from our government for use by The Family, and warns that this movement is not for dummies, but a sophisticated group that included both Bush presidents and many other prominent politicians. It should be a must read for anyone who has the right to vote. Because as the saying goes, we will end up with a government we deserve if we are not vigilant. Jeff Sharlet is to be commended for his personal sacrifice in exposing this group.
"

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One sentence book review by a volunteer at ReligiousTolerance.org:

"This book scared me so much that I couldn't finish it."

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Title: "The Family: The secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power,"
Format: Paperback.
Publisher: Harper
ISBN-10: 0060560053X
ISBN-13: 978-0060560058
Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
Release date: 2009-JUN-02
Pages: 464
Cost: Amazon.com sells it for $10.87 in paperback (about 32% off list) Also available at $9.99 in Kindle format. Review / order it

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2010-April's selection:

book cover

"Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell " 
by John Shelby Spong

Review / order it

This book received a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5 by Amazon.com customers.

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Some reviews:

"John Shelby Spong, the reinterpreter of Christianity for the doubtful, retired as the Episcopal bishop of New Jersey in 2001 but not from his religious provocations. . . . People have to get beyond the idea of God as a heavenly judge who hands out rewards and punishment,." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution )

"Spong has spent his life and work making sense of this most fundamental human issue . . . His fans will find this spiritual autobiography fascinating, but so, too, should anyone interested in the still uncomfortable topics of death and mortality." (Booklist )

"With subtlety and complexity, Spong promotes an idea of an ongoing existence beyond our physicality, one that entirely supercedes "religious" notions of Heaven or Hell and even conventional notions of God . . . Spong's writing here as elsewhere is intelligent, engaged, comforting, and uplifting. " (Library Journal )

"Fear of death is the most fundamental fear of human existence. The only way it can be conquered is through knowledge and experience of your eternal being. Eternal Life: A New Vision is elegant invitation to find this part of yourself and be liberated." (Deepak Chopra, author of The Third Jesus )

"In Spong's perpetual quest for truth and knowledge, he has transformed the enigmatic cosmic energy of the 'big bang' into an afterglow of human hope for the ages." (Daniel H. Gregory, M.D., Senior Attending Physician, Bassett Healthcare )

"Spong once again puts his intellectual money on common sense . . . Religion's purpose, he claims, is "security, not Truth" - a key insight that demands, in turn, a set of wholly new visions. . . . Spong . . . [is] a unique visionary." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch )

"This work, bound to be influential, offers new insights into religion's big questions about life and death, making an invaluable contribution to both religious scholarship and faithful exploration." (Publishers Weekly )

"If you are looking for indisputable proof that humans survive their death, you will not find it here. If you are seeking support for the traditional viewpoints of institutional religion, especially fundamentalist Christianity, don't look here either. What John Spong does offer his readers is what he has offered throughout all his books, an often deeply personal, totally honest, thoroughly researched, exploration of the subject from how he now sees it on his own journey. ... It is a book that draws you in and invites you to experience in your own time and way at least some of what the author has experienced. Spong has wrestled with the ultimate questions much the way Jacob wrestled with the angel. He searches, he challenges, and he offers no easy answers." Amazon reviewer (John E. Santosuosso )

"In 'Eternal Life,' he finally ... pulls it all together and offers a vision which transcends religion itself and encourages us to enter into a new way of being - in relationship with each other and the universe - thereby experiencing eternity NOW. You'll have to read the book to get the details, but I was VERY impressed with the way he tied together all his previous thinking and made this leap to, what I consider, a new level of consciousness and awareness. Don't let this talk about transcendence, consciousness and awareness make you think that Spong has gone "NEW AGE". ... Far from it. It's a personal, well-reasoned and easy to understand story of his own emerging thought and how we might do something similar in our lives." Amazon reviewer (Don Smith )

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Title: "Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell " 
Format: Hardcover.
Publisher: Harper Ones
ISBN-10: 0060762063
ISBN-13: 978-0060762063
Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
Release date: 2009-SEP-01
Pages: 288
Cost: Amazon.com sells it for $10.11 in paperback (to be released on 2010-SEP-07), 16.49 in hardcover. (about 33% off list) Also available at $11.99 in Kindle format. Review / order it

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2010-March's selection:

book cover

"The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture,"
by Darrel W. Ray, Ed.D.
Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Also, see: http://www.thegodvirus.net
This book received a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 by Amazon.com customers.

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Amazon.com Product Description

What makes religion so powerful? How does it weave its way into our political system? Why do people believe and follow obvious religious charlatans? What makes people profess deep faith even as they act in ways that betray that faith? What makes people blind to the irrationalities of their religion yet clearly see those of others? If these questions interest you, this book will give you the tools to understand religion and its power in you, your family and your culture. For thousands of years, religion has woven its way through societies and people as if it were part and parcel to that society or person. In large measure it was left unexplained and unchallenged, it simply existed. Those who attempted to challenge and expose religion were often persecuted, excommunicated, shunned, or even executed. It could be fatal to explain that which the church, priest or imam said was unexplainable. Before the germ, viral and parasite theory of disease, physicians had no tools to understand disease and its propagation. Priests told people disease was a result of sin, Satan, evil spirits, etc. With the discovery of microbial actors, scientists gained new tools to study how it spreads. They could study infection strategies, immunity, epidemiology and much more. Suddenly the terrible diseases of the past were understandable. The plagues of Europe, yellow fever, small pox, pneumonia, tuberculosis, syphilis, etc. were now removed from the divine and placed squarely in the natural world. This book owes a great deal to Richard Dawkins concept of viruses of the mind, but it seeks to go a step further to personalize the concept of religion as a virus and show how these revolutionary ideas work in everyday life. The paradigm can explain the fundamentalism of your Uncle Ned, the sexual behavior of a fallen mega church minister, the child rearing practices of a Pentecostal neighbor, why 19 men flew planes into the World Trade Center or what motivates a woman to blow herself up in the crowded markets of Baghdad. Learn how religion influences sexuality for its own purposes, how and why it protects pedophile priests and wayward ministers and how it uses survivor guilt to propagate and influence and how it might influence a person's IQ.

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Book reviews:

  • Dale McGowan, Author/Ed., Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, Harvard Humanist of the Year (2008):
    "Darrel Ray has made a marvelous contribution to our understanding of ourselves. The description of religion as a cultural virus is not new, Darrel is the first to put the virus on a slide and pull out the microscope. The God Virus goes beyond analogy, offering a fascinating and detailed look at the wiggling, maddening virus itself how it moves, how it survives, and how and why it continues to thrive."

  • Hemant Mehta author of I Sold My Soul On Ebay (Waterbrook Press, 2007):
    "For those hungering for more after reading the books written by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, Dr. Darrel Ray's The God Virus is a logical and thought-provoking follow-up. By extending the metaphor of religion as a virus, the reader gets a better understanding of the incredible power religion can have on anyone's way of thinking (Dr. Ray shows that even your IQ is negatively affected!). Lest anyone think this is just a putdown of religion, it also gives excellent advice on how to live life without a God, from marriage to raising children. It's a book that non-believers will enjoy and religious readers can only dare to read."

  • Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director American Atheists, Inc.:
    "Your book is a convenient handbook on how real life Atheists can stay sane while others are freaking out with religious madness and blaming it on those that challenge the true believer's faith based system. You are most welcome to publicize my endorsement. --Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director American Atheists, Inc."

  • Dale McGowan, Author/editor, Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, Harvard Humanist of the Year (2008):
    "Darrel Ray has made a marvelous contribution to our understanding of ourselves. The description of religion as a cultural virus is not new, Darrel is the first to put the virus on a slide and pull out the microscope. The God Virus goes beyond analogy, offering a fascinating and detailed look at the wiggling, maddening virus itself how it moves, how it survives, and how and why it continues to thrive."

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Title:  ""The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture," by Darrel W. Ray,"
Format: Paperback.
Publisher: IPC Press
ISBN-10: 0970950519
ISBN-13: 978-0970950512
Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.5 inches
Release date: 2009-DEC-05
Pages: 241
Cost: Amazon.com sells it for $10.85 in hardcover. (32% off list) Also available at $9.99 in Kindle format. Review / order it

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2010-February's selection:

Book image

Dromedary Hump, "The Atheist Camel Chronicles: Debate Themes and Arguments for the Non-Believer (and those who think they might be)."
Read reviews or order this book
Amazon customers rate this book with five stars, the maximum rating.

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Our review:

We have never reviewed or recommended a book by member of a non-human species before. We are pleased to enthusiastically recommend this book. It is a real gem.

Ms. Hump (or Mr. Hump; we are not sure of the gender of the author) has produced a hilarious book of humorous and witty descriptions taken from her/his blog. They are absolutely delightful arguments useful to Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, -- and also for Theists who want to be prepared for challenges from secularists.  Caution: Be careful where you read this book. You may find yourself helplessly rolling around on the floor in laughter. So check for sharp objects underfoot in advance.

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An Amazon.com customer review by NewEnglandBob:

"Atheist Camel Chronicles" by Dromedary Hump contains clear, concise pearls of wisdom via the process of critical thinking that takes the reader to an oasis of logic, reason and sanity.

These essays can be used as debating themes or they can help non-believers and skeptics clarify the injustices and intolerance perpetrated in the name of religion during the last several thousand years. The strong introduction sets the stage for the book in a bold way.

Not every one of these 105 essays is equal. The overwhelming majority is well written and can be used to explain and counteract the illogical tenets of religion and irrationality of faith. I found two essays to be logically weak and need deeper explanation and one essay is a strident rant that needs to be rethought.

Several of these essays can profoundly affect the reader. Two of my four favorite chapters demonstrate the absurdity of religion ("Letter from God to a Chosen Believer", "Following God's Orders: How Far Would They Go?"). One shows the positive methods that atheism uses to replace belief ("Gods I Can Accept"). My other favorite emphasizes the illogical stance of accommodation ("On Belief and Respect").

It is relevant that the cover uses the large "Scarlet A" of the Richard Dawkins "Out Campaign" because this book makes it clear what atheism represents as well as the prefix of the "A" signifying the antithesis of theism which is a major theme throughout.

Written in plain language, this book is a delight to read. Forceful and witty, the author often provides citations and web links for readers to follow for completeness.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who has an open mind.

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Amazon.com's product description:

"It's not often one finds an opinionated camel with humor, biting wit, cutting sarcasm, unabashed irreverence, outright blasphemy, and on-point arguments for rational thought and against religious delusion. An advocate of reason and common sense, the author debunks traditional believer apologetics and challenges theist platitudes, while providing food for thought and debate fodder for the neophyte to intermediate atheist. With more than one hundred no-holds-barred, plain-speaking rants and essays on a variety of religious subjects, The Atheist Camel Chronicles is the go-to book to find a burr to place under the saddle of the holier than thou, or to glean retorts to the banal "Truths" that religionists use to bolster their faith in the face of the Scientific Age and 21st century reality. Sometimes funny, always hard hitting and thought provoking, this book belongs in the library of every atheist, agnostic and skeptic who engages in debate and discourse with the religiously afflicted."

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Title:  "The Atheist Camel Chronicles: Debate Themes and Arguments for the Non-Believer (and those who think they might be)"
Format: Paperback.
Publisher: Book Surge Publishing
ISBN-10: 1439236976
ISBN-13: 978-1439236970
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 1 inches
Release date: 2009-JUN-18
Pages: 324
Cost: Amazon.com sells it for $15.99 in hardcover. Also available at $9.99 in Kindle format. Review / order it

2010-January's selection:

"The Evolution of God" 
by Robert Wright

Review / order it

From the book's website at: http://evolutionofgod.net/

In The Evolution of God, Robert Wright takes us on a sweeping journey through history, unveiling a discovery of crucial importance to the present moment: there is a pattern in the evolution of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and a 'hidden code' in their scriptures. Reading these scriptures in light of the circumstances surrounding their creation, Wright reveals the forces that have repeatedly moved the Abrahamic faiths away from belligerence and intolerance to a higher moral plane. And he shows how these forces could today let these faiths reassert their deep proclivity toward harmony and reconciliation. What's more, his analysis raises the prospect of a second kind of reconciliation: the reconciliation of science and religion.

From book reviewers:

"In his brilliant new book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright tells the story of how God grew up. He starts with the deities of hunter-gatherer tribes, moves to those of chiefdoms and nations, then on to the polytheism of the early Israelites and the monotheism that followed, and then to the New Testament and the Koran, before finishing off with the modern multinational Gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Wright's tone is reasoned and careful throughout...and it is nice to read about issues like the morality of Christ and the meaning of jihad without getting the feeling that you are being shouted out...Provocative and controversial." (New York Times Book Review Paul Bloom)

"On any list of nonfiction authors that many people may not know but should, Robert Wright would rank high. . . . taken together, The Moral Animal, Nonzero, and The Evolution of God represent a powerful addition to modern thought. If biology, culture and faith all seek a better world, maybe there is hope." (Wall Street Journal Gregg Easterbrook)

"Can religions in the modern world reconcile themselves to one another, and can they reconcile themselves to science?" Robert Wright-journalist, philosophy professor, and author of the acclaimed books Nonzero, and The Moral Animal-ardently believes the answer is yes. In this meaty account, the result of 10 years of scholarly research, he attempts to do so, drawing on evolutionary psychology, archaeology, and game theory to trace a common pattern in the world's monotheistic faiths. It's a thoroughly materialist account of religion and yet is ultimately allied with one of religion's basic goals: to provide guidance and comfort in a chaotic world." (Seed Magazine)

"In his illuminating book, The Moral Animal, Wright introduced evolutionary psychology and examined the ways that the morality of individuals might be hard-wired by nature rather than influenced by culture. With this book, he expands upon that work, turning now to explore how religion came to define larger and larger groups of people as part of the circle of moral consideration. Using a naïve and antiquated approach to the sociology and anthropology of religion, Wright expends far too great an effort covering well-trod territory concerning the development of religions from primitive hunter-gatherer stages to monotheism. He finds in this evolution of religion, however, that the great monotheistic (he calls them Abrahamic, a term not favored by many religion scholars) religions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism -- all contain a code for the salvation of the world. Using game theory, he encourages individuals in these three faiths to embrace a non-zero-sum relationship to other religions, seeing their fortunes as positively correlated and interdependent and then acting with tolerance toward other religions. Regrettably, Wright's lively writing unveils little that is genuinely new or insightful about religion." (Publishers Weekly)

"Straddling popular science, ancient history, and theology, this ambitious work sets out to resolve not only the clash of civilizations between the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim world but also the clash between science and religion. Tracking the continual transformation of faith from the Stone Age to the Information Age, Wright, a self-described materialist, best known for his work on evolutionary psychology, free trade, and game theory, postulates that religious world views are becoming more open, compassionate, and synthesized. Occasionally, his prescriptions can seem obvious -- for instance, that members of the different Abrahamic faiths should think of their religions as  "having been involved, all along, in the same undertaking." But his core argument, that religion is getting 'better' with each passing aeon, is enthralling." (The New Yorker)

Title: "The evolution of God" by Robert Wright
Format: Hardcover or Kindle. Paperback to be published on 2010-MAY-02. 
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN-10: 0316734918
ISBN-13: 978-0316734912
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.8 inches
Release date: 2009-JUN-08
Pages: 576
Cost: List: U.S. $25.99. Amazon.com sells it at 34% off for $17.15 in hardcover. Also available at $9.99 in Kindle format. Review / order it

 

 

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-FEB-01
Latest update: 2010-FEB-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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