السبت، 31 مارس 2012

Religion in Review

Religion in Review

Religion in Review

Mar 28, 2012

Original RBL Reviews

God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse

Slavoj Žižek and Boris Gunjević. Seven Stories Press, $19.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-60980-369-8

Juxtaposing essays by Žižek (Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?), renowned social critic and philosopher, with those of Gunjević (Crucified Subject: Without the Grail), a priest and professor, this dense and provocative theoretical assessment of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism seeks to explore the revolutionary potential of religion and to offer a critique of capitalism by drawing on the work of Lacan, Levinas, Hegel, Augustine, and others. The book is appealing for its scope of theological and political references even if the essays don’t always appear to be in dialogue with each other. Elucidating topics ranging from the sacred, cybersex, the Qur’an, Dante, paganism, the Islamic umma, Dostoyevsky, Christianity’s demystification of the sacrifice, redemption, and the necessity of an apocalyptic stance, both argue that “every theology is inherently political,” and that reference to religion “can enable political agents to break out of the ethico-legal entanglement” into what is possible. Even from their differing vantages of social critic and theologian, the authors rely on the work of Jacques Lacan and psychoanalysis as an interpretive key for religion, especially the assertion, “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is prohibited.” (Apr. 10)

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

Ross Douthat. Free Press, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4391-7830-0

America, argues New York Times columnist Douthat, is afflicted with bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional orthodox Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place. In an argumentative, smart, fast-paced, and sweeping rant, Douthat deftly chronicles the history of American Christianity from the mid-20th century onward, with special attention to the ways the edifice of orthodox Christianity began to crumble in those years and to open the way for what he understands as the gospel of self, from the prosperity preaching of Joel Osteen to the “gospel” of self-esteem ala Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert. He urges a return to the richness of orthodox Christianity, maintaining that this renewed faith should be political without being partisan, ecumenical but also confessional, moralistic but also holistic, and oriented toward sanctity and beauty. Many will dismiss Douthat’s claims as misguided—he operates with a very ambiguous definition of heresy—but many others will applaud his attempts to recover a world now mostly lost. (Apr. 17)

Our Religious Brains: What Cognitive Science Reveals About Belief, Morality, Community and Our Relationship with God

Ralph D. Mecklenburger. Jewish Lights, $24.99 (250p) ISBN 978-1-58023-508-2

Mecklenburger, a temple rabbi who also teaches at Texas Christian University, is a liberal and pluralistic theologian who believes that much of what we experience in culture forms our morals and our beliefs. In this fascinating study of the mind and how it shapes spirituality and mystical thought, Mecklenburger argues that emotional consciousness and how human beings rationalize has much bearing on how we relate to holiness and the idea of a transcendent being. Revealingly, he asserts that the soul does not last past our lifetime. “We could simply say that the soul is a religious metaphor for consciousness,” the author writes. Morality and free will grow out of what people learn in a lifetime and practice in "self-conditioning,” he says, and the human brain is hard wired for many of the moral decisions humans make; the community with its rituals helps guide people in their decision-making. This book should appeal to the church growth leader or anyone who is interested in the relationship between cognition, theology, and religious community. (Apr.)

Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success, and Happiness

Maureen Healy. Health Communications Inc., $14.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-7573-1612-8

Parents might sometimes wish their children came with an instruction manual; this book could be an answer to their prayers. Healy, a popular writer, speaker, and parenting expert, offers practical and time-tested ideas for instilling children with confidence and happiness. She offers a 5-step process to help children gradually trust more in their own abilities by moving from what she terms “outer” confidence to “inner” confidence. These steps include making sure children receive proper nutrition and teaching them appropriate social skills. The author includes “takeaway” tidbits throughout that will calm even the most frazzled parent. She highlights the importance of families sharing food together while children are encouraged to talk about their daily experiences. Healy also advises parents to guide their children in cultivating a sense of spirituality, something that she distinguishes from organized religious practice. Telling kids stories about great religious figures and how they overcame obstacles can assist them in tapping into their own inner power and confidence, she writes. New parents and veterans alike will discover useful ways to increase their own confidence about child rearing while allowing their kids’ happiness to flourish. (Apr.)

Scandal: The Catholic Church and Public Life

Angela Senander. Liturgical Press, $14.95 paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8146-3410-3

In 2002, The Boston Globe ran an investigative article on allegations of child sexual abuse by a former Catholic priest. At the time, no one knew the story would lead to uncovering thousands of cases of clergy sexual abuse around the world and revealing an insidious culture of cover-up within Catholic hierarchy that reached all the way to the Vatican. In this, Senander’s first book, the Catholic ethicist and systematic theologian intelligently and intelligibly unfolds the distinct meaning of “scandal” in Catholic history and theology, examining the unique roles of “act,” “agent,” “announcer,” and “audience.” How does one discern between scandal caused by revealing truth and scandal caused by avoiding it? Beneath this question are two contrasting, and often conflicting, views within the Church on whether it is more important to maintain continuity with Vatican I or promote development out of Vatican II. From this struggle one can better understand why U.S. Catholic bishops are at odds with Catholic hospitals, or why funding for contraceptives has become an issue of religious liberty. Senander offers a timely look behind the fault lines in the private and public life of the modern Catholic Church. (Apr.)

Small Mercies: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life

Nancy Jo Sullivan. Loyola Press, $12.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8294-3695-2

In this heartwarming book, Sullivan (Moments of Grace) reflects on God’s presence in her life. A fifty-something Catholic mother of three, her life is rich with memories of motherhood, marriage, family, and love. But it is also laden with loss, grief, and anger. Sullivan recalls how she encountered God even in her darkest moments, such as during her divorce or after the loss of her daughter Sarah, who had Down syndrome. She reminds the reader that God is not only with them in beautiful cathedrals or when life is going perfectly, but also in “every mess, burden, and blessing.” Sullivan follows each chapter with suggestions for prayers, fasts, and almsgiving that are intended to help the reader discover God in the everyday. This is a quick, easy-to-read book that will comfort and inspire those struggling to find God in the mundane, the unexpected, and the onerous. Especially recommended for women in the second half of life, for parents of special needs children, and for those who have lost a child. (Apr.)

Children’s Religion/Spirituality

Original RBL Reviews

Picture Books

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illus. by Tonya Engel. Marshall Cavendish, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7614-6135-7

This well-known miracle story receives a spirited retelling in Bernier-Grand’s (Diego: Bigger than Life) well-paced, dramatic rendering of the humble Aztec peasant, Juan Diego, who finds the courage to testify to his visions of the Virgin Mary. A close third-person narrative (“It was not a dream! There she was!”) conveys the protagonist’s internal battle to trust his experiences and undertake the daunting task the Virgin entrusts to him: “ ‘There are many I could send, but you are the one I have chosen.’” Engel’s (Grandpa Stopped the War: A True Story) gold, brown, and sage-hued full-bleed spreads convey an arid physical environment full of beauty and adversity. Both his simple abode and the desert miles Juan Diego traverses to practice his faith contrast with the bishop’s regal attire, grand palace, and condescension. An author’s note recounts the story’s historical setting, providing insight into a time when Aztecs in Mexico City converted to Christianity, and describes the scientific inquiries on the tilma, the humble robe on which the Virgin’s image miraculously appeared, that attempted to account for the cloth’s surprising durability over the centuries. A compelling rendition of a beloved tale. Ages 7-12. (Apr.)

Where We Once Gathered: Lost Synagogues of Europe

Andrea Strongwater. Eifrig (eifrigpublishing.com), $19.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-936172-49-8 $18 paper ISBN 978-1-936172-48-1

Pleasing illustrations and uncomplicated writing combine to make this volume a good choice for introducing older children to aspects of the Holocaust. Strongwater recreates twenty European synagogues, nineteen of which were destroyed during the Nazi onslaught, with renditions of the exteriors and interiors of each. She provides a brief description of where the edifice stood, when the Jews began living in that city, who designed the synagogue, its architectural style, and what kind of congregation it held. Perhaps most poignantly, Strongwater tells when and how the building was destroyed (frequently with congregants inside) and what currently stands in its place--often an empty lot or a parking lot. The clarity and brevity of the profiles of the synagogues—especially the omission of details too gruesome or terrifying for children--and the bright paintings adorning each page will inspire readers to both appreciate and mourn what once was. Ages 9-12. (Apr.)



Homer Hickam. Thomas Nelson, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-59554-664-7

The first book of a new series by Hickam (Rocket Boys) illuminates the age-old impulses of human nature against the backdrop of a strange new way of life on the moon. Seventeen-year-old Crater Trueblood mines moon dust for a recently discovered fuel, Helium-3, that Earth needs in its 22nd century. Orphaned at birth, Crater was taken in by Q-Bess and raised along with his foster brother Petro. Crater is happy in his life and work, but a heroic act brings him to the attention of Colonel Medaris, the boss of Moontown, who sends Crater on a dangerous mission that changes his life. Crater and his sidekick gillie--a conglomeration of slime-mold cells that acts like a loyal, intelligent pet computer--encounter mutants, demons, and a host of unusual humans. Crater’s unwavering honesty sometimes obscures his fierce intelligence; both qualities serve him well. Written in tight prose with evocative descriptions of life on the moon, the story (which may build too slowly for some teens) concludes with enough resolution to satisfy readers and enough foreshadowing to make them eager for more. Ages 12 and up. Agent: Frank Weimann. (Apr.)

Sneak Peeks: Religion Book Reviews Coming in PW April 9

Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America

Feisal Abdul Rauf. Free Press, $24 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4516-5600-8

Rauf, longtime imam of a lower downtown Manhattan mosque and a Sufi American Muslim, became famous for his organization’s plans for a mosque near ground zero in 2010. While Rauf could have devoted this book entirely to defending his plans, he rises above such pettiness and writes a book that is enjoyable and accessible. Describing the controversial community center as a Muslim version of New York’s 92nd Street Y, which has Jewish roots and values, Rauf has impressive clarity in the face of the various hyperbolic reactions to his plan. Rauf calls himself an “orthodox Muslim,” meaning that he follows the “authentic mainstream, moderate, nonviolent” faith followed by a majority of the world’s Muslims. This book, while covering the same territory as his previous ones, is more personal than his others. He begins by describing how he developed his own understanding of Islam, apart from his imam father’s, during the free love era of the 1960s America to which he immigrated, and how he came to be an imam, or Muslim minister. This is a great read for American Muslims and for those wanting to learn more about Islam or update themselves on the controversies American Muslims have faced. Agent: Wendy Strothman. (May)

The Juvenilization of American Christianity

Thomas E. Bergler. Wm. B. Eerdmans, $25 trade paper (291p) ISBN 978-0-8028-6684-4

Bergler, a professor at Huntington University, calls the current state of American Christianity consumerist, self-centered, and theologically ignorant. He attributes these characteristics to an excessive focus on the needs of adolescents that eventually leads to congregations filled with spiritually immature adults. The book primarily details the history of church youth programs in the African-American, evangelical Protestant, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions, showing similarities and contrasts, such as how and why Catholics and Methodists failed to hold on to youth, while evangelical Protestants retained youth at the cost of restructuring the entire church community and culture to accommodate them. Bergler’s hypothesis about the juvenile nature of contemporary American Christianity and its roots in youth programs beginning in the 1930s is only weakly supported, as he ignores other cultural trends that may contribute to today’s church culture. Yet the book is still a fascinating exploration of the places where Christianity and youth culture have intersected, and will certainly be provocativeboth for the casual reader and for clergy, who may also appreciate the book’s practical suggestions toward a solution for this problem. (May)

A First Look at the Stars: Starred Reviews Coming in PW April 9

The Tools: Using the Power Within to Connect to Life-Changing Forces

Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-679-64444-6

With deceptively potent visualization exercises, psychiatrist Stutz and psychotherapist Michels promote a rapid and streamlined method of self-improvement. Michels, known for his work with prominent entertainment industry clients, teaches readers to end procrastination and negativity by tapping into higher forces. Stutz, who originally developed the Tools, backtracks to explain how and why they originated. Though simple, the authors’ techniques are designed to access intense intrapersonal areas. The “Inner Authority” tool, for example, involves imagining the Jungian Shadow to reach greater self-expression. Though many of the tools are explained by addressing a creative problem, readers in any field are likely to feel empowered because of their ease of use. Easy but not shallow, the work of Michels and Stutz also has a transcendent component. The authors foresee a time when “psychotherapy... will become a spiritual endeavor”; exercises are said to work thanks to the generosity of the universe. The clear, user-friendly approach plus a belief that “the power of higher forces is absolutely real” is a winning combination. Here is the rare self-help book that doesn’t end with the self. (June)

12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth: A Path of Healing from the Gospels

E. Kent Rogers. Swedenborg Foundation (Chicago Distribution Center, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (234p) ISBN 978-0-87785-343-5

It is a common conceit among theologians that biblical miracles, inasmuch as they diverge from natural law, are invented and imagined stories aimed toward building up the faithful. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), Swedish philosopher and theologian, devised a system of thought that easily accommodated the miraculous, explaining and enlarging upon the scriptural accounts in a deeply personal and profoundly meaningful way. Rogers, a graduate of Bryn Athyn College (a Swedenborgian institution) and founder of Loving Arms Mission, has set out to translate into contemporary metaphor the way Swedenborg’s understandings of the inner meaning of scripture can transform the miracle stories into powerful lessons for today’s spiritual seekers. Categorizing into several areas, such as “Healing from Lack of Forgiveness” and “Healing from Doubt,” the author lays out a thoughtful path toward self-healing, guiding the reader toward wholeness. In a day when books on personal growth and remediation fill bookstore shelves, this marvelous volume can fill a need for a truly spiritual and solidly biblical approach to personal growth. (May)

On the Virtual Shelves: Web Exclusive Religion Book Reviews

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion

Jonathan Haidt (Pantheon, Mar.)


The Man Who Quit Money

Mark Sundeen (Riverhead, Mar.)


Missing: The Secrets of Crittenden County, Book One

Shelley Shepard Gray (Avon Inspire, Mar.)


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