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Recommended religious/spiritual books

2011-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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2011-January's selection

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"C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy"

by Jeff Sharlet.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Reviews listed on Amazon.com:

"At once a gripping political thriller, a masterpiece of investigative journalism, and a timely call to arms, C Street reveals all that can be hidden within an innocuous Washington address. Jeff Sharlet delivers a warning that the blurring of the line between church and state is both an urgent local problem and a matter of global concern." (Peter Manseau, author of Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead and Songs for the Butcher's Daughter )

"Jeff Sharlet has an incredibly rare double talent: the instincts of an investigative reporter coupled with the soul of a historian." (Hanna Rosin, author of God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America )

"Jeff Sharlet is one of the very best writers covering the politics of religion." (Ken Silverstein, author of Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship )

"Few writers can pull off investigative journalism, historical research, and elegant storytelling. Sharlet does all this with a story that a lot of people don't want to hear and others won't believe." (Diane Winston, author of Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of The Salvation Army )

"[Sharlet] writes with insight, verve, and, thankfully, none of the bogus punditry and bad sociology that often passes for informed discourse about the contemporary role of religion in public life. His refreshing narrative style is as engaging as his groundbreaking information." (Frederick Clarkson, The Public Eye )

"Un-American theocrats can only fool patriotic American democrats when there aren't critics like Jeff Sharlet around-careful scholars and soulful writers who understand both the majesty of faith and the evil of its abuses." (Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America )

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A brief review by Amazon.com:

"Jeff Sharlet is the only journalist to have reported from inside the C Street House, the Fellowship residence known simply by its Washington, DC address. The house has lately been the scene of notorious political scandal, but more crucially it is home to efforts to transform the very fabric of American democracy. And now, after laying bare its tenants' past in The Family, Sharlet reports from deep within fundamentalism in today's world, revealing that the previous efforts of religious fundamentalists in America pale in comparison with their long-term ambitions."

"When Barack Obama entered the White House, headlines declared the age of culture wars over. In C Street, Sharlet shows why these conflicts endure and why they matter now - from the sensationalism of Washington sex scandals to fundamentalism's long shadow in Africa, where Ugandan culture warriors determined to eradicate homosexuality have set genocide on simmer."

"We've reached a point where piety and corruption are not at odds but one and the same. Reporting with exclusive sources and explosive documents from C Street, the war on gays in Uganda, and the battle for the soul of America's armed forces - waged by a 15,000-strong movement of officers intent on 'reclaiming territory for Christ in the military' - Sharlet reveals not the last gasp of old-time religion but the new front lines of fundamentalism."

About the book:

The list price is $26.90 US. Amazon.com sells it for $17.81 in hardcover (plus shipping) and $12.99 US in Kindle format.

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2011-February's selection

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"God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World -- and Why Their Differences Matter"

by Stephen Prothero.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Comments by the author:

"Mystics often claim that the great religions differ only in the inessentials. They may be different paths but they are ascending the same mountain and they converge at the peak. Throughout this book I give voice to these mystics: the Daoist sage Laozi, who wrote his classic the Daodejing just before disappearing forever into the mountains; the Sufi poet Rumi, who instructs us to 'gamble everything for love'; and the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, who revels in the feminine aspects of God. But my focus is not on these spiritual superstars. It is on ordinary religious folk—the stories they tell, the doctrines they affirm, and the rituals they practice. And these stories, doctrines, and rituals could not be more different. Christians do not go on the hajj to Mecca; Jews do not affirm the doctrine of the Trinity; and neither Buddhists nor Hindus trouble themselves about sin or salvation."

Review by Publishers Weekly:

"Expressing his astonishment, Prothero (Religious Literacy) arrives late at the party that has been celebrating for years the diversity and plurality of the world's religions. Although he is correct in asserting that an entire generation of scholars, teachers, and interested readers have claimed in the interest of religious tolerance that the world's religions were simply different paths to the same one God, such a claim functions as little more than a red herring in what is otherwise a useful introduction to the world's religions. Once past that assertion, Prothero sets up a helpful model for examining each religion on its own terms: he explores a problem that dominates the religion, the religion's solution to the problem, the technique the religion uses to move from problem to solution, and the exemplar who charts a path from problem to solution. For example, in Buddhism the problem is suffering; the solution is nirvana; the technique is the Noble Eightfold Path; and the exemplars are the arhats, bodhisattvas, and lamas. Despite his naïveté about contemporary interreligious dialogue, Prothero's survey is a useful introduction to eight of the world's great religions."

Webmaster's comments:

A very few times each year, our technique for reading books breaks down. We try to underline the important passages for future reflection. This is made particularly easy with the highlighting feature on our Kindle eBook reader. However, there were so many important passages in this book that it would have been necessary to highlight almost the entire text. So I have up highlighting, read the book to its end, and placed it on a special shelf reserved for very important books (VIBs).

The list price is $26.99 US in hardcover. Amazon.com sells it for $14.45 (plus shipping). They also have it available on Kindle format for $12.99.

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2011-March's selection

 Book cover 

"America's Four Gods: What We Say about God--and What That Says about Us"

by Paul Froese & Christopher Bader.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Review by Publishers Weekly:

"Using conclusions drawn from the Baylor Religion Survey first published in 2006, these two Baylor University professors expound on their thesis that Americans' view of God can be characterized as one of four basic types: authoritarian, benevolent, critical, and distant. By knowing which of the four types of God an American believes in, these scholars can predict that person's views on many of the pressing issues facing the country. As an antidote to the prevailing but simplistic dichotomy between religious and nonreligious Americans, this thesis is far more nuanced and satisfying. But it, too, has its limitations. It's not clear that people stick to one view their whole lives, and it doesn't fully account for the views of those who occupy middle ground, somewhere between a judgmental and forgiving God. Still, the fourfold God typology is a step toward better understanding how Americans regard morality, how they understand the presence of evil, and what meta-narrative they tell about their lives.

Review by June Sawyers of Booklist

"Drawing from a wide-ranging survey of American religious beliefs, two Baylor University professors traveled the U.S. to explore the divisions that exist in America among believers. Froese and Bader look at what divides Americans, how they conceive God, and what role God plays in their daily lives. Despite the ongoing talk of the New Atheism, the U.S. remains one of the most religious countries in the world: some 95 percent of the citizenry believe in God. And yet despite, or perhaps because of, their religiosity, Americans also suffer from a religious illiteracy and, in particular, are ignorant of others’ beliefs. Americans, the authors contend, divide God into four categories: the Authoritative God, the Benevolent God, the Critical God, and the Distant God. The book demonstrates how these four images influence individual beliefs and behaviors regardless of upbringing, religion, or political identity. A fascinating and penetrating study.

About the book:

Format: Hardcover, 400 pages.
Publisher: HarperOne
Publishing date: 2010-APR-2010
ISBN: 006157127X and 978-0061571275
Size: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
Average of 62 customer review: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Cost: $24.95 US in hardcover. Amazon.com sells it for $16.47 (plus shipping) or $9.99 US in Kindle format.

2011-April's selection

 Image of front cover 

"The Authentic Letters of Paul"

by Arthur J. Dewey, Roy W. Hoover, Lane McGaughy, and Daryl D. Schmidt.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Review by Amazon.com:

"There were four different portraits of Paul in the early church: the non-authoritarian Paul of the great Letters, the authoritarian, misogynist Paul of the Pastoral Epistles, the frenetic missionary who single-handedly introduced Christianity to the Mediterranean world, and the proto-Gnostic Paul of Marcion and the Gnostic commentaries on Paul s letters.

Which is the real Paul? The Christian church opted for the Pastoral Epistles, and so read Paul letters through that lens. But that image has become so problematic in the modern world that many contemporary readers are either put off by Paul or simply ignore him. But was Paul really such a frightful figure? In providing a fresh reading of Paul s authentic letters, the SV translators have attempted to liberate his words from those of Augustine, and later Martin Luther, who used Paul to cover their own guilty consciences. This Augustinian-Lutheran tradition of interpreting Paul s discourses about justification by faith as a way of dealing with their own sense of moral failure, for instance, represents but one way of translating Paul s letters. The Greek of Paul's writings can be understood rather differently so that Paul s message is not about personal guilt, but about the trustworthiness of God, and Jesus courageous faith in God as a role model for others. This is how Paul s letters are translated in this book. Here readers will encounter a very different view of Paul and his message.

Some individual reviews:

  • "A magnificent book! The authors, four Jesus Seminar Fellows, combine their brilliant scholarship with a clear and readable prose to present Paul s thought to our day with a vibrant freshness. In the process they free Paul from the creeds and doctrines that have for so long distorted his message. This is the best book on Paul I have ever read." --John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop Emeritus of Newark, New Jersey

  • "In The Authentic Letters of Paul, Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy, and Schmidt have given us one of the most deeply satisfying Christian reads of recent time. Paul and Pauline literature have rarely been so accessibly, judiciously, and cordially presented as they are here, much less so beneficially. This is a work to be savored and pondered, employed, shared and, ultimately, praised." --Phyllis Tickle, Publisher's Weekly

  • "This new translation makes available a view of Paul that will astound and amaze. ... It provides a whole course of study on the Authentic Paul." --Bernard Brandon Scott, Phillips Theological Seminary

The list price is $27.00 US in hardcover. Amazon.com sells it for $17.82 (plus shipping). It is not yet available in Kindle format.

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2011-May's selection

book cover image, hardcover  Book cover iamge 

Hardcover     Paperback

"Taking Back God: American Women Rising Up for Religious Equality"

by Leora Tanenbaum.

Read reviews or pre-order/order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Some denominations and traditions within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and many other religions are fundamentally sexist. They reflect the bias against female equality that was present when they were first founded. They actively the roles of women as leaders, and clergy. In particular they discriminate against women who aspire to positions of equality or leadership in the family, and faith groups. This book promotes the concept of religion free of sexism.

Reviews listed on Amazon.com:

“Well-documented, engaging, and encouraging . . . This book stands out from others.” —Library Journal

Taking Back God may help forge alliances among women of different religions . . . And on a human level, it’s a thoughtful exploration of a group of women who, like all women, live daily with contradictions.” —Bitch

“Tanenbaum illuminates a forgotten landscape of progressive activism: religion. Her intimate perspective is personally revealing and enormously informative. She takes two of the most polarizing issues, religion and feminism, and weaves individual stories together to craft a tale of people not politics. She reminds us why we wanted to believe in the first place, and that religion is cause that is far from lost.” —Feminist Review

“The author and her subjects seem to connect. Tanenbaum’s chapters on Jewish women are incisive.” —The Jewish Week

“Tanenbaum skillfully weaves interviews with 95 American women of all faiths into her own extensive research on the history of each religion. Compelling individual stories.” —Book Corner

“Whether we eat matzah or ham at the dinner table this holiday season, our liturgy will feature men and more men. We worship a God invariably described as male, and we recite prayers that skip over our foremothers while praising to the high heavens our forefathers . . . Millions of devout women are fed up. They love their religion but want to take back their God.” —Laura Tanenbaum on NPR

“Rich in anecdote, careful in analyses, strong in message, this highly readable and sophisticated text not only will inform the public at large but also chart the way forward for so many women who have chosen to take this journey.” —Blu Greenberg, author of On Women and Judaism

“In Taking Back God, Tanenbaum has done a great service by presenting a riveting account of the sexist sins of our fathers in not one but three major religions, and by giving the faith-filled women fighting to elevate women’s place in these religions the respect and attention they deserve. To every woman of faith who has ever sat in her church, mosque or temple feeling belittled, hurt, angry and alone, this one’s for you." —Angela Bonavoglia, author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women are Leading the Fight to Change the Church

Taking Back God is an enlightening, inspiring look at how our faiths can—and should—reflect our highest ideals about morality and God. It’s a must-read for anyone who cares about religion in America today.” —Danya Ruttenberg, author of Surprised by God and editor of Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism

“Religious feminism is not dead! If you believe in gender equality and belong to any of the three great ‘religions of the Book,’ Taking Back God will both energize and anger you. An observant Jew herself, Leora Tanenbaum carefully nuances the secondary status of many women in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She shows how women are challenging repressive traditions in light of the core values of their faith. As a Christian feminist myself, I especially appreciated learning about Jewish and Muslim women in parallel circumstances and with similar interpretive hurdles. Tanenbaum blends extensive research with human interest stories and an embracing attitude that keeps one turning the pages.” —Reta Halteman Finger, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania; and former editor of the Christian feminist magazine Daughters of Sarah

“It is a joy to find a book on women and religion that speaks from the point of view of religious women—women who love not just spirituality but organized religion, who care about tradition and ritual, and who hear the voice of egalitarianism as divine. At last, a treatment of Islamic gender debates that does not isolate Islam from other religions, or assume that Muslims are inherently more sexist than others. This book is a sincere attempt to understand, in a broad, generous, interfaith perspective, the concerns of religious women for equality and justice.” —Mohja Kahf, Associate Professor, Middle East and Islamic Studies Program, University of Arkansas, and author of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf

“Leora Tanenbaum is so uncannily accurate in capturing not only the facts but the nuanced heartbeat of a world that I know well—I read the book in one sitting. This is the most comprehensive overview of the status of women and religion I’ve read. It chronicles the harm religion can do to both men and women, but also holds out a promise of radiant hope.” —Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God

Amazon.com's book description:

If you’ve witnessed the preferential treatment of men in America’s houses of worship, you will not be surprised to learn that there is a surge of women in this country rising up and demanding religious equality. More and more, religious women—Christian, Muslim, and Jewish—are declaring that they expect to be treated as equals in the religious sphere. They want the same meaningful spiritual connections enjoyed by their brothers, fathers, husbands, and sons. They embrace the word of God but are critical of their faith’s male-oriented theology and liturgy. They reject the conventional interpretations of religious traditions that give women a different—and, to their minds, lesser—status. Rather than abandoning their faith, these women are taking it back and making it stronger, transforming religion while maintaining tradition.

Leora Tanenbaum relates the experiences of Catholics, evangelical and mainline Protestants, Muslims, and observant Jews. The conflict these religious women face—honoring tradition while expanding it to synchronize with modern values—is ultimately one that all people of faith grapple with today.

About the book:

The list price is $16.95 US in paperback. Amazon.com sells it for $11.75 in paperback (plus shipping) and $5.59 US in Kindle format.

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2011-June's selection

  

"Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight:
The Reality of Misconception and Wishful Thinking in the Evolution/Creation Controversy"

by Michael L. Hawley.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Webmaster's comments:

The general wisdom in North America is that one must either:

  • Accept the accuracy of the Bible text and thus embrace Creationism, or
  • Accept the Theory of Evolution as truth and consider the book of Genesis as myth.

Hawley explodes these beliefs. Starting from the facts found in nature, one can harmonize evolution and Genesis. This book is a remarkable accomplishment. One of the most important books I have read in the past 12 months.

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Product description from Amazon.com:

"Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight examines two roadblocks in the search for truth, misconception and wishful thinking. As misconception blinds us to the truth, wishful thinking effectively hijacks our sense of reason. Did you know Darwin never claimed life evolved by chance, nor did he coin the phrase, 'survival of the fittest'? In the emotionally-charged evolution/creation controversy, truth often plays second fiddle to what we want to be true. Theologian Augustine of Hippo warned Christians sixteen hundred years ago against 'making unreasonable claims about nature as we call upon Scripture'. Oh, and creation science has a dirty little secret."

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Author's You Tube video:

Amazon customer's reviews:

  • Marty Rastelli rated the book with 5 stars out of 5 and wrote:
    "The author cleared up many misconceptions I had about the controversy. I had no idea a literal interpretation need not disagree with science. For example, 'after their kind' in Genesis is an excellent example of common ancestry."
  • Sue Blackall also rated the book with 5 stars out of 5 and wrote:
    "Too many evolution/creation books promote the claim that one must either believe God created the diversity of life or nature did, and this book clearly shows God and nature are one in the same. The author does this from the perspective of a Christian and allows for the acceptance of a literal interpretation of the Bible. I thought believing in evolution meant one must believe that man came from monkeys or apes, but the author points out that scientists reject this claim."

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Review by Dr. Ted Steegmann, Professor (emeritus) of Anthropology at the University of Buffalo:

"It was a pleasure to read Broken Flashlight,... His years of interest in geological analysis, knowledge of creationist pronouncements and teaching experience are embedded in the book's intellectual structure, and show in Hawley's clear, honest and charming style...He poses an interesting and fatal internal contradiction.  If the Bible is God's Word and nature is His Handiwork, shouldn't they agree?  Where's the truth?  Since we can't apply observational verification to Biblical text, but can to the natural world, a rational mind should choose to accept the evidence of God's Handiwork.  This is an extremely important lesson, in the classroom or out.  It's sort of a theological critical experiment." 1

and...

"...His years of interesting geological analysis, knowledge of creationist pronouncements and teaching experience are embedded in the book's intellectual structure, and how in Hawley's clear, honest and charming style.  I believe he wrote for his fellow teachers.  But anyone will benefit from his insights."

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About the book and author:

  • Author: Michael L. Hawley
  • Published by Aventine Press
  • Format: Paperback; 202 pages
  • Published on 2010-SEP.

The list price is $13.95 US in paperback. Amazon.com sells it for $9.63 in paperback (plus shipping).

Michael holds a master's degree in science and secondary science education at State University of New York, College of Buffalo. His master's research is on fossil faunal distribution, microstratigraphy, and correlation on Western and Central New York State sedimentary rock strata. He has completed further graduate research on fossil intermediates, creationism, and the scientific process. Additionally, he holds a bachelor's degree at Michigan State University in geology and geophysics and holds another bachelor's degree at the College of Buffalo, in earth science secondary education and chemistry. He has a web site at: http://www.searchingfortruthwithabrokenflashlight.com and an Amazon author page at: http://www.amazon.com/

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Amazon.com lists the following books on the topic of spirituality:

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Amazon.com lists the following books on the topic of religion:

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Reference used:

  1. Michael L. Hawley, "Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight," Author web site, at: http://www.searchingfortruthwithabrokenflashlight.com/

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-FEB-02
Latest update: 2011-JUL-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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