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Category: Atheism

Book Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Jonathan Haidt)

In today’s world, discussion about morals is a lost art.  In part, this is because stupidity is on display everywhere, and encouraged to be so, even though most people’s thoughts and opinions are less than worthless, as a glance at Facebook or The New York Times comment sections will tell you.  More deeply, it’s because America is dominated today by the nearly universal (but wholly unexamined) belief that the only legitimate principle of moral judgment is John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle”—that no restriction on human action can be justified other than to prevent harm to another.  The Righteous Mind is an extended attack on the usefulness of the harm principle as the sole way to understand and justify human morality, combined with detailed explanations of the much broader ways in which people can and do view morality.  The author, Jonathan Haidt, uses this framework to understand political differences, and to plead for an increase in rationality and civility to arise from that understanding.

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Book Review: Theology for a Troubled Believer (Diogenes Allen)

From its title, Theology for a Troubled Believer seems directed at people having a crisis of faith.  That’s not precisely true; this is not a work of apologetics.  The author, the late Diogenes Allen, did not intend to convert in this work, rather he “intended [it] to increase a critical but pious person’s understanding of the Christian religion.”  True, the spur for his writing the book was receiving a letter from a man troubled by the particular problem of theodicy.  The book itself, however, is a sophisticated philosophical overview of Christianity in which troubles, as such, play little part.  Thus, it might be more accurate if the book’s subtitle, “An Introduction to the Christian Faith,” were the title, and the actual title the subtitle.  Either way, the book is substantively excellent, if not an easy read.

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Book Review: The Great Heresies
(Hilaire Belloc)

For no reason that is fully clear to me, I have always been fascinated by heresies.  It matters to me what the difference between a Monothelite and a Monophysite is.  Hence, I thought this book (from 1938, by the famous Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc) would survey various heresies and would explain, as its title says, the “Great Heresies.”  But that is not what this book is.

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Book Review: The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (Matt Ridley)

“The Evolution Of Everything” is a hard book to review, because it has no substance. Reviewing it is like reviewing a Cliff’s Notes or “For Dummies” book. It is a wholly derivative book, startlingly simplistic and frequently either disingenuous or stupid. What truth the book offers, is obvious, and what truth the book claims is not obvious, is not true.

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Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature (Steven Pinker)

This is a sprawling mess of a book. Flashes of arguably brilliant insight alternate with meandering musings. Fascinating narrow conclusions are drawn from carefully parsed evidence—and then sweeping conclusions are drawn from highly dubious evidence. Historical insights are used incisively in an argument—then the next argument is undermined by total historical illiteracy. At the end, the reader is left uncertain whether he has read 800 pages of genius, 800 pages of authoritative-sounding-but-meaningless fluff, or something in between. But I’ll go with the last one.

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Book Review: Lord of the World
(Robert Hugh Benson)

Lord Of The World is a highbrow, Catholic version of Left Behind, written by a priest, Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, in 1907. It is an apocalypse and theologically directed at Catholics, rather than at Protestants of the a premillennial dispensationalism bent. What makes it fascinating is that Pope Francis has repeatedly recommended it, no common thing in an apocalypse and not what you’d expect from a Pope reputed to be a theological liberal, and its predictive views, in 1907, of politics and technology.

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Book Review: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror (Michael Burleigh)

Michael Burleigh is a noted European historian, primarily known for a synthesis approach that blends intellectual, cultural and “hard” history, frequently with a heavy focus on religious and moral elements. Sacred Causes, along with its earlier companion, Earthly Powers, aspires to a synthesis of religion and politics in all of Europe, from the French Revolution to now, with a primary focus on “political religions,” ranging from Jacobinism to Islamism, that are “the abusive exploitation of the human religious sentiment.”

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