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Recommended religious/spiritual books

2012-July to December


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Previous months' recommendations

The current month's recommended book

Tentatively scheduled selections for future months

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2012-July's selection

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"The Future of the Christian Tradition" by John Shelby Spong, Robert W. Funk, Don Cupitt et al. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Amazon.com review:

"What is the future of the Christian tradition as it confronts the challenges and opportunities of the global age? That question, addressed by authors from around the globe, leads in turn to more questions. What elements of a traditional Christian faith can be carried forward in an authentic contemporary faith: The Bible as Sacred Scripture? Life after death? Sin and guilt? Reward and punishment? How do we make an earth-centered vision the heart of a faith for the second axial age? And many more. Contributors include: John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop Emeritus of Newark, New Jersey; Robert W. Funk, Founder of the Jesus Seminar; Eugenie Scott, Director of the Center for Science Education; Richard Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh & Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Retired; Lloyd Geering, Emeritus Professor of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; Don Cupitt, former Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England; Anne Primavesi, Fellow of the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion, Birkbeck College, University of London; and Fellows of the Jesus Seminar."

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2012-August's selection

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"God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality" by Jay Michaelson

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

"The myth that the Bible forbids homosexuality—the myth of “God versus Gay”—is behind some of the most divisive and painful conflicts of our day. In this provocative, passionately argued, and game-changing book, scholar and activist Jay Michaelson shows that not only does the Bible not prohibit same-sex intimacy, but the vast majority of its teachings support the full equality and dignity of gay and lesbian people, from the first flaw it finds in creation (“It is not good for a person to be alone”) to the way religious communities grow through reflection and conscience. In short, Michaelson observes, religious people should support equality for gays and lesbians—not despite their religion, but because of it.
 
With close readings of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the latest data on the science of sexual orientation, and a sympathetic, accessible, and ecumenical approach to religious faith, Michaelson makes the case that sexual diversity is part of the beauty of nature and that the recognition of same-sex families will strengthen, not threaten, the values religious people hold dear. This is an important book for anyone who has wrestled with questions of religion and homosexuality: parents and pastors, believers and skeptics, advocates of “gay rights” and opponents of them. Whatever your views on religion and sexual diversity, God vs. Gay is a plea for a more compassionate, informed conversation—and a first step toward creating one."

List price for the hardcover edition is $25.95. Amazon.com sells it for $16.60 plus postage in hardback, $10.88 in paperback, and (choke) $13.77 in Kindle eBook format The Kindle price is clearly a rip-off by the publishers.

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2012-September's selection

Cover of book "Revelations"  

"Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation " by Elaine Pagels

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

Amazon's book description:

Through the bestselling books of Elaine Pagels, thousands of readers have come to know and treasure the suppressed biblical texts known as the Gnostic Gospels. As one of the world's foremost religion scholars, she has been a pioneer in interpreting these books and illuminating their place in the early history of Christianity. Her new book, however, tackles a text that is firmly, dramatically within the New Testament canon: The Book of Revelation, the surreal apocalyptic vision of the end of the world . . . or is it?

In this startling and timely book, Pagels returns The Book of Revelation to its historical origin, written as its author John of Patmos took aim at the Roman Empire after what is now known as "the Jewish War," in 66 CE. Militant Jews in Jerusalem, fired with religious fervor, waged an all-out war against Rome's occupation of Judea and their defeat resulted in the desecration of Jerusalem and its Great Temple. Pagels persuasively interprets Revelation as a scathing attack on the decadence of Rome. Soon after, however, a new sect known as "Christians" seized on John's text as a weapon against heresy and infidels of all kinds-Jews, even Christians who dissented from their increasingly rigid doctrines and hierarchies.

In a time when global religious violence surges, Revelations explores how often those in power throughout history have sought to force "God's enemies" to submit or be killed. It is sure to appeal to Pagels's committed readers and bring her a whole new audience who want to understand the roots of dissent, violence, and division in the world's religions, and to appreciate the lasting appeal of this extraordinary text.

Some reviews by Amazon customers:

  • Dharma wrote:

    "For many readers, the works of Elaine Pagels have become the main entry point into the early Christian texts discovered at Nag Hammadi and generally known at "the Gnostic Gospels." In the current work, Pagels continues to explore these texts, specifically works of revelation similar to the one currently known as "The Revelation of John." Several of these works are quoted and characterized. The strong emphasis on personal revelation, direct connection with Jesus, and the communitarian context of these early groups of followers of Jesus is contrasted with the military structure and material greed of the early Catholic church.

    It is a measure of Pagel's brilliance and sensitivity that she is able to explore and illuminate all of these issues in a slim volume of only 180 pages. The reader will enjoy the historical irony as one apocalyptic movement after another succeeds in overcoming persecution, only to become the perceived evil as it consolidates its power. This is a never-ending story on the highway of human history."

  • L. Erickson wrote:

    "Elaine Pagels has written yet another accessible and powerful book that will appeal to both religious history buffs and spiritual seekers attracted to mystic Christianity. In this book, she explores the Book of Revelations, and the role of revelatory experience in general within early Christianity. She brings her impeccable scholarship to bear, detailing the social and political forces that were most likely in play when Revelations was written, and what the symbolism within it would have meant to readers at the time. She also explores the way it has been interpreted over time, and how different groups have used it at crises points in history to assert they are on the 'right' side of God, while their enemies are not. With all the hype surrounding 2012, and some interpreting this year as yet another 'end-times', Revelations is once again being used in this way, which makes this book especially relevant right now."

  • Valerie B. Lull wrote:

    "Elaine Pagels does a great job of telling us about the origins of the book of Revelation. She brings up many ideas that were new to me and quite revealing. One idea that was new to me was that John of the Gospel of John and John of Revelation were two different people.

    What I found especially interesting was the use of Revelation in the history of the early church. It was also interesting to me how the interpretations of Revelation changed as time moved on. There seems to be a lot of political motivation in these changing interpretations with each age seeing it a little different from the age preceding it.

    Personally I find the Revelation of John of Patmos intriguing with the vivid images of the 4 horsemen of the apolalypse, the beasts, the angels, cosmic war, etc. Some people dismiss Revelation as the ravings of a mad man. Perhaps Revelation was intended to have multiple meanings. There were other books of revelations that did not make it into the Bible. Pagels describes some of these in her book which adds to it's interest. I am not a scholar of early church history, but I found this book to be extremely interesting. It helped me to have a a better understand of the book of Revelation down through history and how we interpret it today."

List price for the hardcover edition is $17.54. $10.88 in paperback, and (choke) $18.37 in Kindle eBook format. This is another rip-off by Penguin, the publisher, for the Ebook version.

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2012-October's selection

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"ChristianHumanism: The Compassionate Theology of a Jew Called Jesus"

by Tom Drake-Brockman

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

Amazon's book description:

"Tom Drake-Brockman's provocative and scholarly book, Christian Humanism, challenges Christianity at its most basic level. It spurns traditional worship practices and offers an alternative that may potentially rescue Christianity from the verge of extinction and with it, our tormented planet as it lurches towards disaster.

Historian, teacher and author, Tom Drake-Brockman explains, 'If Christ were here today, he would be too actively involved with issues like Aboriginal child protection and crimes against humanity in places like Syria and the Congo, to waste time with the passive futility of church services. Jesus did not want to be worshipped. He did not come to save us. He came to show us how to save ourselves'.

Christian Humanism, a highly original, pertinent and thought-provoking book, draws on a raft of recent historical research to validate the Judaic humanism of Jesus of Nazareth. Tom states that the demise of Christianity is happening slowly in the US and rapidly in Australia and Europe. He uses key historical facts and commonsense logic to argue that Christianity's negative dogmas and fossilized hierarchies prevent the religion from fulfilling the radical, humanist mission that Jesus envisaged.

Tom continues, 'The book is so much more than just another anti-religious rant. On the contrary it seeks to reinstate Christianity as the spiritual and ethical bastion of the Western world. The book does not preach or upset fellow Christians, rather, it opens our eyes using well-researched historic facts about Jesus and how the Church leaders have distorted His message'."

Available from Amazon.com in paperback for $24.99 plus shipping, and in Kindle eBook format for $12.99.

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2013-November's selection

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"Embracing the Human Jesus: A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity" by David Galston

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

Amazon's book description:

"Embracing the Human Jesus is a sincere effort to think anew about Christianity and Christian practice on the foundation of a purely human Jesus. Against the inevitable criticism that such a Jesus undermines the historic faith of the church, David Galston finds a human Jesus who inspires a new era of honesty in the practice of Christianity. The book expresses the awareness held by many scholars that the historical Jesus was an end-time prophet not well suited to the contemporary world. Galston counters that, by pointing out that whether taking the apocalyptic or non-apocalyptic view, virtually all scholars see Jesus as a participant in the Jesus wisdom tradition. On this often marginalized foundation, Galston proposes that the trajectory of the ancient wisdom of Jesus can be grasped in the contemporary world and can find life in the thinking and practices of a new church. The book combines both academic theory and basic Christian experience to offer a simple model that will help communities take the historical Jesus to church."

Other reviews:

  • "Smuggling Jesus into Christianity will be hard but exciting work, and David Galston is a clear and lively guide who knows just how much is at stake." --Don Cupitt, University of Cambridge UK

  • "A thought-provoking study of the historical Jesus that not only demonstrates a wide acquaintance with the relevant literature but also manifests much original thought." --Lloyd Geering, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ

  • "Galston takes seriously the quest for the historical Jesus and does not try to cook the evidence to fit a preconceived theological agenda, but follows that evidence where it leads." --Bernard Brandon Scott, Phillips Theological Seminary.

About the author:

David Galston is the Ecumenical Chaplain at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON, Canada. A co-founder of the SnowStar Institute, Fellow of the Jesus Seminar, and a United Church minister, he has written several articles and led many workshops on the question of the historical Jesus, the future of Christianity, and Christian liturgy in light of the historical Jesus. He is a provocative and popular speaker who is available as a lecturer and workshop leader through the SnowStar Institute. David holds a Ph.D. degree in the Philosophy of Religion from McGill University.

Available from Amazon.com in paperback for US $21.66 plus shipping, and in Kindle eBook format for $9.99.

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2012-December's selection

Book cover imge  

"Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide"
by Michael Slaughter, Charles Gutenson & Robert P. Jones

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

Amazon's book description:

"Rescue your church from the infiltration of partisan politics.

The last 30 years have seen the political discourse within our country grow more rancorous and increasingly uncivil. During the same period, there has been a growing tendency to conflate one's theological commitments with one's political ideology. As a consequence, partisan politics has infiltrated our churches and political commitments are creating unnecessary divisions. Perhaps of most concern, these trends generally tend to obscure the properly holistic nature of the Gospel of Christ and turn people off to Christianity altogether. Too often, it often seems politics trumps theology. Sadly, this leads to division, where decisions on church direction, and even the content of teaching, gets determined more based on partisan politics than on sound biblical and theological factors.

"Hijacked" explores this phenomenon, offers analysis, and proposes a way forward."

Available from Amazon.com in paperback for $10.98 plus shipping and in Kindle eBook format for $3.99.

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Want a Kindle?

Amazon.com has way over a million eBooks, newspapers, and magazines available for download into their Kindle eBook reader. Not only is this more portable than lugging up to 3,500 books with you but you can save a lot of money, because eBook versions generally cost significantly less than print versions. Ebooks have a search function. You can highlight passages from books and store them in a text file for use by an editor program on a PC or Mac:

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Amazon.com also has free apps that work on PCs, tablets, and many other devices and emulate the Kindle.

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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: 2012-JUL-03
Latest update: 2013-JAN-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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