Book Reviews: Books on Atheism, Religion, Philosophy, Politics, More
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Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, S…
What do atheists believe in? I get that question quite a bit in one form or another and it's a question that vexes some atheists. They may be well versed in how to critique religious doctrines of religious faith, but providing more substantive and positive explanations about what they believe instead of religion is another matter entirely. It's...
Arguing the Just War in Islam, by John Kelsay
There are two competing and incompatible strands of thought on Islamic extremism and terrorism. Some argue that it derives directly and necessarily from basic features of Islam, making Islam an inherently violent religion. Others argue that Islam is inherently a religion of peace, thus the extremism is a horrible aberration which has nothing to do with "true" Islam. The truth is somewhere in betw…
A Brief History of Death, by Douglas Davies
We are all mortal, which means that we must all face death - not just our own death, but the deaths of people around us. Death is thus a fundamentally social issue because it has enormous implications for how we relate to each other, how we structure social relationships, how communities are structured, etc. Because death is the end of all life, how we think about death also has enormous implicat…
Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life
Critics of atheism and contemporary atheists complain about the tone of so-called 'New Atheism' and insist that it can only have negative effects for atheists in society - as if atheists used to be the subjects of universal adulation and praise. Well, one positive effect of the atheist books which everyone loves to hate is the vastly increased...
I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing, by Kyria
What's it like to grow up in an oppressive household run according to the dictates of a fanatical religion? Fortunately, not very many people know and some of those who do let the rest of us in on what's happened to them. It's hard to read their stories without being depressed, horrified, angry, and usually some combination of all the above....
The Spanking Room: A Child's Eye View of the Jehovah Witnesses, by William Cobur
Most people have probably had Jehovah's Witnesses appear at their door, trying to sell their religion, but how many understand what the culture of Jehovah's Witnesses' families and communities is really like? True believers surely regard their religious culture to be just fine, but they also don't make much effort to reveal all the details which might be regarded negatively by outsiders. That task is left to apostates who leave the Jehovah's Witnesses, and they don't paint a pretty picture.
Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief
Perhaps one of the most difficult questions atheists have to tackle is both one of the most practical and one of the most significant when it comes to long-term consequences: how to best raise children in an atheist household. One of the benefits religion can provide is a set of traditions, practices, and answers for raising children. Not all...
Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning, by Christian de Duve
Life is an amazing thing. Throughout human history, we have tried to understand life - what it is, why it exists, and how it has developed. Only in the last fifty years or so, however, have we developed enough of an understanding about the nature of life - from the tiniest cells up through the workings of the human brain - to really move forward on understanding how life might have developed. We still have quite a ways to go of course, but we've already come farther than most people realize.
Oberammergau: The Troubling Story of the World's Most Famous Passion Play
In the German village of Oberammergau, both theater and life intermingle to the point where it has become difficult to tell which is which - and in more ways than one. It hosts the oldest continuous staging of a 'Passion Play,' the drama of Jesus' arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. It also hosts, as a result, one of the oldest continuous...
Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety
As many have surely noticed by now, America has a buoyant love affair with all things irrational. It's not just religion, but also astrology, psychics, wacky conspiracy theories, and worse. This has been going on since last century at least and while some may treat it as unimportant to how society functions, the widespread irrationalism and...
Can We Be Good Without God? Biology, Behavior, and the Need to Believe
For much of human history, there has been the perception that morality is largely or wholly dependent upon religion. Thus, people have argued that a person simply cannot be good without a religious belief system and, more importantly, a belief in some god. But is this perception accurate? Is it perhaps arguable that ignoring the existence of any...
Can We Be Good Without God? Biology, Behavior, and the Need to Believe
For much of human history, there has been the perception that morality is largely or wholly dependent upon religion. Thus, people have argued that a person simply cannot be good without a religious belief system and, more importantly, a belief in some god. But is this perception accurate? Is it perhaps arguable that ignoring the existence of any...
How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age
Belief in paranormal, supernatural and mysterious claims have always been very popular, so how can skeptics best approach such claims to evaluate their credibility and offer a critical perspective? What tools and principles should we employ in dealing with obviously weird things that come up in life? What are the methods of thinking which people...
Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt, by Christine Leigh Heyrman
What is the American 'Bible Belt' and how did it originate? Why did the most conservative strains of Christianity moved from New England down to the South? Much has been written about Southern evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity in America, but not a lot has been written about its very earliest origins: how a mostly Anglican region based...
The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder, and the Mafia, by Paul Williams
There is no disputing the fact that the Vatican, the clerical bureaucracy which controls and leads the Roman Catholic Church, is a very powerful and secretive organization. There is also little disputing the fact that great power and great secrecy typically help an organization to become corrupt. Has the same occurred with the Vatican? Many...
Sexual Shame: An Urgent Call to Healing, by Karen A. McClintock
Questions about sexuality are fundamental to the health and welfare of Christian communities - the problem is, few Christians seem to realize this. Sexuality has become a proverbial elephant sitting in the room: no one can help but see it, but no one wants to acknowledge it, either. This, however, is part of what leads to scandals, abuse and...
Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing
Humans have committed great evil against each other over the course of millennia, often in the name of religion but also often in the context of secular ideologies - especially during the 20th century. Such evil is not the standard means by which people relate to one another because we are usually quite a bit more civil and kind to one another....
Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement
Eugenics is a word with few, if any, positive connotations for most people. It started as an optimistic, if naive, idea but it wasn't long before eugenics became a force for misery and suffering. Although eugenics may be most commonly associated with Nazi Germany, the truth is that the Nazis looked to America for inspiration for their own...
Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church Was Left Behind, by Robert Price
Apocalyptic literature has been popular with Jews and Christians for millennia, but it has gained a special place in the hearts of Americans. There has of course been a recent surge in such literature, not to mention movies and video games, but it's not a recent phenomenon. Americans have been eating up stories about the apocalypse and Jesus'...
The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby
Have you gotten the impression that Americans are disdainful of intellectual pursuits, complex ideas, and thought that requires real work? Well, you should have because it's true. Anti-intellectualism isn't just alive and well in America, but it's gained the high ground. There's arguably more anti-intellectualism in America than intellectualism,...
Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, Christopher Hitchens
The popularity of books by atheists about atheism will, hopefully, create more interest in older works about atheism. There is a lot out there for people who are interested in the historical development of skeptical critiques of supernatural religion. Atheism itself is just the absence of belief in gods and thus is not the least bit complicated;...
Bad Faith: The Danger of Religious Extremism, by Neil J. Kressel
Anyone studying religion is immediately and unavoidably faced with a difficult dilemma: believers report that their religion is a source for morality and values in their lives - and there are many examples of religion inspiring good behavior - but at the same time religion is also demonstrably a source for violence, terrorism, war, and evil....
Onion Breath, by Steph and Dan Allosso
Religious parents have a large supply of materials to teach children about their religion, their god, and their doctrines in a manner which integrates it all into life generally. What about atheists and freethinkers who want to teach about skepticism, or who merely want to teach about moral values without relying on religion as a crutch?...
What Is Secular Humanism? by Paul Kurtz
In the debate over religion and religious violence, it's important to remember that there are viable non-religious alternatives - world views which have a lot to offer but which are both completely secular and completely lacking in any gods. Religious believers sometimes object to atheist critics by asking what they have to offer in place of religion; atheism itself is not a philosophy and thus not an alternative to religion secular humanism, however, is well suited to that task.
God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory, by Niall Sh
Intelligent Design may simply be another and newer form of age-old creationism, but it's been one of the more popular and successful forms of creationism. It has managed to get positive attention from Christians working in a variety of academic fields and the scientific-sounding language used by its apologists helps many other Christians imagine...
American Theocracy: Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, Borrowed Money
The power and influence of America's Christian Right is an important story, but it's not the whole explanation for the political success of the Republican Party - nor is it the whole problem for America when the GOP is in power. There are other important factors at work and a thorough understanding of what's going wrong in America requires an...
The Trouble With Christmas, by Tom Flynn
Why do non-Christians make a fuss about Christmas in America? How could anyone have problems with Christmas? There are parties, gifts, days off - this should be a fun time for all concerned. Anyone who would challenge and/or reject Christmas sounds like a Scrooge, right? As Tom Flynn explains in "The Trouble With Christmas," this is part of the problem - the expectation by the majority that everyone else should be happy to conform and accommodate themselves to a traditional Christian holiday.
Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, edited by Douglas Johnston
Considering how much of a role religion can play in causing conflicts around the world, is it reasonable to think that we can find solutions and resolutions that don't involve religion?
A Solstice Tree for Jenny, by Karen I. Shragg. Published by Prometheus Books
Christmas is prevalent throughout American culture. Everywhere you go, you can find Christmas greetings, Christmas decorations, Christmas displays, Christmas advertisements and more. All over people experience social and cultural pressures to "conform" and adopt this traditionally Christian holiday as their own, regardless of what their actual religious or cultural beliefs are. How can a secular, non-religious family cope with the political, religious, and consumer pressures being created?
The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal
Is there some basic connection between religious beliefs and paranormal beliefs? Some commonality which helps explain not only their similarities, but also why they have been so appealing to so many people throughout human history? Although there are many books which offer critiques of either religion or the paranormal, few are willing to do both, probably because people who are skeptical of one aren't necessarily skeptical of the other.
The Black Humanist Experience: An Alternative to Religion
Humanists come from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds; however, quite often it seems as though most humanists are whites of European descent. This perception is not without foundation, but it is unfortunate because there are so many humanists from other backgrounds who have quite a lot to contribute to the advancement of humanism.
Healing Yourself with Wishful Thinking, by Arthur Bloch
Can meditation really help you achieve optimum physical and psychological health? Can you really get in touch with a spirit guide who will help you make the right decisions in life? Can wishful thinking really make you better looking, richer, and cure your acne? Is self-delusion the key rather than an obstacle to happiness?
Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, by Michael Martin
Is it possible to create a thorough and philosophical defense of atheism and critique of theism? Absolutely, and Michael Martin has done just that in his massive book published in 1990. Despite the difficulty many readers will have with this book, it is a valuable reference work and learning tool concerning the arguments about atheism and...
Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies, by George H. Smith
Is it possible that there is actually some positive value in being a heretic, someone who chooses to follow a path different from what the rest of society tells them to travel? According to George H. Smith, there absolutely is, and in an effort to explain how and why, he addresses a wide variety of topics in this book.
Right to Recover: Winning Political and Religious Wars Over Stem Cell Research
Biotechnology should prove to be the most fertile ground for rancorous political and religious debate in the coming century. The first battles are already being waged over stem cell research - a field which not only promises to relieve or cure a host of diseases and conditions, but which may lay the groundwork for many future biotech advancements. There are legitimate questions and concerns about the research, but right now almost all opposition is firmly rooted in religious ideology.
Book Review - The Agnostic Reader, edited by S. T. Joshi
Agnosticism is the position that the existence and nature of any gods is unknown and probably unknowable. It might be limited to a mere statement of "I don't know" or it might be expanded to a broader philosophical position. Although the former tends to be more common today, in the past philosophical agnosticism was far more prevalent and it has had significant influence on both skeptical and atheistic positions today. Unfortunately, too few people are aware of these connections.
40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, on Trial in Pennsylvania
One of the most important and fascinating events in the recent politics of evolution and science was the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania. This case pitted parents and teachers who cared about teaching science against school administrators who were determined to inject as much of their religion into science classes as was legally...
Nothing: Something to Believe In, by Nica Lalli
It's common for religious theists to ask atheists how they can believe in 'nothing,' incredulous at how there can be any beliefs, values, or purpose outside of believing in their god. Atheists can easily counter this question by pointing out that there are plenty of values and purposes outside of religion or theism, but perhaps it's also...
An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, by Taner Edis
Many atheists have had the experience of a Muslim confidently informing them about how many modern scientific discoveries were already revealed to Muhammad by Allah and are recorded for all to see in the Qur'an. Muslims who believe this are convinced that such information should immediately lead to the conversion of all but the most obstinate...
Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion
Given the integral role which religion tends to play in how religious parents raise their children, it can be difficult for secular, atheist parents to achieve the same. Religion can provide structure and community, both of which are important to raising healthy, happy children - so how do secular atheists cope? It isn't always easy, but it...
Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real
Is there a role for creationism or Intelligent Design in modern science classrooms? Absolutely not, because there is no room for them in modern science - they are remnants of ancient religious traditions whose time has long passed. It's not simply a matter of contrasting skeptical science with simplistic superstition, though. Critics may be tempted to regard creationism as little more than superstition, but it is much more than that - and the threat is poses is far more serious.
Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn't
The idea that religious people believe things they shouldn't won't come as a shock to atheists - after all, atheists frequently complain that religious beliefs conflict with reality. It's not just that religious people believe things that conflict with what is rational or reasonable, however; religious people also hold beliefs which conflict...
Truth: A Guide, by Simon Blackburn
Everyone is familiar with the concept of 'truth,' or at least they think they are. People use the word 'truth' quite a lot, but the history of philosophy is filled with contentious and unresolved debates over the very nature of truth, let alone whether truth is something that can even be attained. So does the average person really understand...
Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend
After Jesus, three people figure most prominently in the development of Christian history and theology: Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. Far too often, though, the importance of these three depends more upon myth than history - not at all surprising for a religion, but not entirely compatible with the common Christian presumption that theirs is...
Leaving The Fold: Testimonies Of Former Fundamentalists, by Edward T. Babinski
Not every fundamentalist Christian remains a fundamentalist Christian - many deconverted over the years, adopting less or even anti-fundamentalist beliefs. Their voices are, unfortunately, not nearly as loud as those of fervent fundamentalists. Just as atheists have rarely been given much attention, ex-Christians and ex-fundamentalists also tend...
Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction, by Susan Blackmore
The human brain is arguably one of the most complicated biological structures that has ever evolved - so complicated, in fact, that we are only just now starting to understand it long after we've mapped the functions of our other organs. One problem is that we are trying to use the brain to understand the brain, or in other words we are trying to reverse engineer the basic nature of our very selves. Is that even possible? Most natural scientists think so, but many religious theists deny it.
Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain
What is the nature of consciousness? What does it mean to be me or to be you? These are among the most difficult and arresting questions being researched by scientists today, and they are also among the most fundamental issues that divide atheists from theists. As with biological evolution, though, the answers and data being produced by science...
Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave, Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder
The resurrection of Jesus is commonly regarded as the central, defining event of history for Christianity. It isn't sufficient for the event to be mythological, allegorical, or metaphorical: for Christianity to have any validity or truth, an actual resurrection must have taken place at an actual time and place in history. Many Christians think...
Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920, by Charles Reagan
The American South is called the "Bible Belt" for good reasons: religion is much more a part of culture, politics, and the general social order than it is in other parts of the United States. This has significant implications because none of the political, social, or cultural developments in the South can be studied without taking into account...
In the Name of Heaven: 3,000 Years of Religious Persecution, by Mary Jane Engh
A common criticism of religion is the violence and persecution which is so often committed in its name and under its jurisdiction. There are many popular examples of such events throughout history, but even those who focus on this issue don't know nearly as much about it as they probably should - and who can? The list would be too long for...
The Reason Driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? by Robert M. Price
Rick Warren is one of the most popular and well-known evangelical ministers in America today. His relaxed style and delivery has ensured him a positive reputation even beyond the traditional confines of even evangelical megachurches. The problem is, his relaxed style is matched by a relaxed, even lazy theology. Even worse, his style distracts...
D.M. Bennett, The Truth Seeker, by Roderick Bradford
DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett is not a name familiar to many, and given how much he fought for freethought, free speech, and a free press, that is unfortunate. Called the "American Voltaire" by friends and the "Devil's Own Advocate" by enemies, few fought as hard and suffered as much to promote American liberties we take for granted. If someone is...
Top Books Reviewed in 2006
Selected here are the best books reviewed during the year 2006. Qualities which helped books stand out include providing an interesting/unusual perspective on long-running debates, offering a real enduring value to readers (i.e., worth reading more than once), and being an invaluable resource on its topic.
God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist
Does God exist or not? That tends to be the central disagreement between atheists and theists, though the actual arguments themselves have typically been focused on logic, philosophy, and theology. Many atheists, and even more theists, seem to believe that science itself can offer little or nothing substantive on the matter because science is...
A 21st Century Rationalist in Medieval America
Everyone knows that atheists are generally a rare sight in public. It's impossible or almost impossible to find atheists among politicians and other public figures. Excepting the recent books from Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, it's also hard to find atheists in the major media. This is unfortunate, but atheists are not unable to work against...
Review: 'War on Christmas: The Official Field Manual' - Ideas & Suggestions
Are you a godless, liberal secularist who has been anxious to do your part to fight the War on Christmas but have been uncertain about where to even begin, much less how to best proceed? There's no shame in that - this is a complicated, difficult war that will last a long time and not everyone can be expected to march out on their own and be...
Review of The Case for Humanism: An Introduction, by Lewis Vaughn, Austin Dacey
The Case for Humanism is co-written by two longtime members of organized humanism, whom together cover the history and premises - if not most of the consequences - of humanism; and, while doing so, present a fairly informative account of this vital living philosophy. The arguments in this text are shared by Dr. Lewis Vaughn (five chapters) - a...
Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of The Mayflower, Lisa Q. Wolfinger
I can recommend this documentary without reservation. If you're like most people, then your knowledge of the Pilgrims is probably rather superficial and based on what you remember from school many years ago. What you learned in school was almost certainly incompletely, though, and there are simply too many myths floating around. Even if you are already very familiar with the Pilgrims' history, this presentation of their settlement is excellent and well worth your time.
Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy, by Susan Zuccott
Discussion of the Holocaust inevitably turns to the general failure of Christians and Christian institutions to do anything that substantively impeded the drive towards exterminating Jews. Some individual Christians and Christian leaders helped Jews or opposed the Nazis, but there was no mass movement against genocide or authoritative stand...
Seduced By Hitler. The Choices of a Nation and the Ethics of Survival
In hindsight, it seems clear that Adolf Hitler's policies and beliefs were immoral to an extreme. Even at the time, the things he wrote and said should have made it clear to people that he should never have held any real power or authority and that his Nazi Party was a danger to society. How, then, were so many Germans led to give so much support to Hitler and the Nazis? What caused people to think that the Nazis were not only good, but better than the alternatives at the time?
Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy, by Jose M. Sanchez
Debates over the actions of Pope Pius XII during World War II and the culpability of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust have not been marked by moderation; instead, people tend to take a very strong stand on one side or the other, either condemning the pope and the Vatican or finding them completely free of any sin of commission or omission....
The Nazi Conscience, by Claudia Koonz
Some may imagine that the very idea of a 'Nazi conscience' is a contradiction in terms - after all, weren't Nazis responsible for some of the most immoral acts of the 20th century, if not of all human history? Dismissing the Nazis as monsters without a conscience is too easy and simplistic, however. The Nazis were humans like everyone else and...
Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust
Although the debate over the actions of the Catholic Church during World War II and the Holocaust has been very heated for a relatively short period of time, quite a few books and journal articles have already been published. All available sources of information seem to have been exhausted, so unless new data is made available, is there really anything new to say? How likely is it that anyone will provide a completely original and ground-breaking analysis of what we already know?
The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, by Michael Phayer
Debates about the behavior of the Vatican in response to the polices of the Nazis and later the Holocaust typically revolve around the words and actions of Pope Pius XII. This is not unreasonable since he is the absolute monarch of the Vatican and leader of the Catholic Church. However, no pope can absolutely control every aspect of church life and every action of every cleric. Because of this, such debates should adopt a wider field of view than is often used.
Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven and How We Can Regain It, by Jeffrey Burton
What do we know of heaven anymore? With the decline of traditional religion there has also been a decline of traditional religious imagery and ideas - including, for example, the idea of heaven. Is this a problem? Could there be negative cultural consequences to losing the concept of a heaven or paradise? Traditionalist Christians will certainly...
Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers, by Bruce E. Hunsberg
It's common to see sociological studies or just opinion surveys which include information about the 'nonreligious,' but what about atheists? Atheists are usually lumped in with the nonreligious, but not all nonreligious people are atheists while some atheists are religious. Who are atheists, what do they think, and what sorts of attitudes do...
Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey
The Book of Common Prayer is fundamental to the Anglican Church - indeed, it's almost as important as the Bible itself because it helps define Anglican beliefs and worship practices on every level. What many may not realize, however, is that the Book of Common Prayer has not only changed several times through history, but appears in different...
Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism, & Humanism, by Bill Cooke
Atheism is nothing more or less than the absence of belief in gods. This does not, however, exhaust the full scope of thought and philosophy which can be associated with atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and skeptics. There's a lot more that can be discussed - more than can be succinctly explained in a few sentences or even a few pages. The...
Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, by David Brion D
The mass enslavement of millions of Africans is one of the greatest moral evils committed by both European civilization generally and America in particular - it was America, after all, which benefited so extensively from the enslavement of so many human beings. Just as with the Holocaust, though, it's difficult for many today to conceive of how a system dedicated to the creation of such suffering could have developed or been sustained by people who must have understood right from wrong.
Party Wars: Polarization And the Politics of National Policy Making, by Barbara
There is an interesting debate going on about the nature of debate between political parties: is there more polarization and less cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in Washington D.C. today than there used to be? Some say yes, but others insist that this is just a consequence of idealizing the past, and that politics has always been...
Faiths of the Founding Fathers, by David L. Holmes
Debates about the role of religion in contemporary American politics and law invariably turn to questions about the beliefs and intentions of the 'Founding Fathers' - the political and social leaders of early America who led the revolution against Britain and constructed a new system of government. What did the authors of America's government...
The Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Most religions usually preach peace and brotherhood. Most religions have also become deeply involved with war and violence - at times even becoming a motivating ideology behind the violence. Given the violent propensities of human beings this isn't surprising, and neither is fact that religions have tried to come to grips with this by outlining...
The Parables of Jesus, by Luise Schottroff
One of the most prominent features of the four canonical gospels in the New Testament is the parables attributed to Jesus. It's been argued that these parables constitute their own genre which basically originates with the New Testament itself. They are a defining feature of New Testament literature and of the teachings attributed to Jesus....
Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia
Many people tend to assume that the political relationship between America and Saudi Arabia is driven by oil, and indeed may be based entirely upon America's need for Saudi petroleum. There is a kernel of truth in this because that oil tends to form a coating over everything that happens. At the same time, though, this relationship started before oil became an issue and has many important facets which extend well beyond America's need for oil.
Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning
One of the most fundamental questions in philosophy and religion is about the nature of reality. Given that we only have access to reality through our ability to conceptualize that reality, perhaps an even more fundamental question might be how and why we believe the things we do. Where do beliefs come from, how do they form, and how can we...
End of the Republican Era, by Theodore J. Lowi
The takeover of the Republican Party by conservative evangelical Christians is one of the most important political developments of the 20th century. The culmination of this takeover will play out through at least he first half of the 21st century and probably beyond, but will it have positive or negative consequences for American democracy? Most critics insist that the long-term consequences will only be negative - both for Republicans and for the republic overall.
What Is Marriage For? Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
Nearly every culture on record has an institution we can label 'marriage' if we define the concept broadly enough - and that's precisely the point we need to keep in mind. Marriage, as an institution, does not exist at every time and in every culture in exactly the same way. Marriage, like culture, has evolved in a variety of ways in order to serve human needs. Unfortunately, marriage has also become a political football in which people invest all their ideals and expectations.
Road to Martyrs' Square: A Journey into the World of the Suicide Bomber
The suicide bomber, someone who will use themselves as a weapon and is willing to die in order to achieve the goal of killing as many people as possible, has become a symbol of Islamic terrorism around the world. Especially in the Middle East, suicide bombers are not just a tactic used by militant groups, but are now seen as representing an unhealthy obsession with death. Yet just how accurate is this perception?
Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
Quiet mediation or contemplation seems to have been an important aspect of most religions around the world throughout human history. Christianity of course has such a history, but in recent years many Christians have begun importing meditative practices from Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. This may make some sense, given how much...
Fear, Faith, Fact, Fantasy, by John A. Henderson
Many people seek solace from the world's troubles in religion; at the same time, though, many of the world's troubles can be traced directly back to religion and religious conflicts. How can religion be both a source of comfort and a source of conflict like this? One reason may be the reluctance of people to question it - by avoiding tough...
Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking
If you care about truth, then you have to care about being able to reliably differentiate between truth and falsehood. Figuring out how to do that, however, isn't always easy. A major problem with this is the fact that many of our normal habits of thinking which appear to serve us well in day-to-day matters don't really work when it comes to more complicated issues. There is little in modern culture which encourages people to do a better job with this task, and this harms us all.
Changing Face of Anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day
Antisemitism has been a serious issue in Western culture for millennia. Although known in the ancient world, it became a significant aspect of Western culture because of Christianity; what started out as religious animus was eventually transformed into a pseudo-scientific bigotry against a so-called Jewish 'race.' The development of Antisemitism continues today on account of Israel and Zionism and people's criticism of those institutions.
'Ye Will Say I Am No Christian': Thomas Jefferson / John Adams Correspondence
There is a strong political movement in modern America that asserts that America was originally founded as a Christian Nation. This is meant not as a description of America's original demographics, but a statement of America's original political philosophy and moral ideology. When we examine some of the writings of America's political founders,...
A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America
Euthanasia is an increasingly important issue in American politics. As people grow older, and more face the possibility of living long lives with painful, debilitating, and fatal conditions, the possibility of ending things quickly, painlessly, and with some dignity will become ever more attractive. Only the state of Oregon allows this, however, and there are many in America who object strongly to legalized euthanasia. This issue could eventually eclipse abortion debates.
Jealous Gods and Chosen People: The Mythology of the Middle East
A significant percentage of people in the world belong to one of the three major religions that originated in the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A significant percentage of the world's violent conflicts also originate in the Middle East as well as between these three religions. It follows, then, that understanding these religions and the conflicts they generate can be aided by a better understanding of the ancient religions and cultures they grew out of.
The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang, edited by Grant
Social groups and professions often acquire specialized terminology and unique words with particular meanings just for that group. Since politics can be way of life that is so disconnected from the reality which everyone else deals with, it's no surprise the it has its own language as well - but the breadth and depth of political slang might not be fully realized by most, even those who use it on a regular basis. What this slang is and how it's used reveals something about political culture.
The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, by Ian Kersh
The Nazi dictatorship under Adolf Hitler is the most significant event of the 20th century and ranks as one of the most significant events in all of human history - though not for any positive reasons. Given this important role, it's not surprising that more is written about the Nazis than most other historical subjects, but what may be...
Hitler's Justice: The Courts of the Third Reich, by Ingo Muller
Leaders of the Third Reich were put on trial after World War II, with the argument being that the Nazi government acted in a criminal manner. Within Germany, however, those institutions responsible for punishing crime and upholding justice were themselves integral components of the Nazi machine. Without the active and even eager complicity of...
What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage
The legalization of gay marriage is one of the most significant cultural and legal debates in America today. Opponents of gay marriage are almost entirely Christian and their arguments are framed by traditional Christians beliefs. What about supporters? Well, many if not most of them are Christians, too, but their arguments are usually framed by...
Being Good, by Simon Blackburn
This is a very good introduction to the entire range of ethical issues. Very rarely will you find a short, easy-to-read book that covers ethical challenges, ethical issues and ethical solutions in a way that even non-philosophers can enjoy and learn from.
The Ethics of Organ Transplants, edited by Arthur L. Caplan, Daniel H. Coelho
Caplan's book, with 34 articles from a wide variety of professionals in medicine and bioethics, provides a great deal of information. The essays are usually reprints form medical journals, and as such they are generally written for an audience of professionals, but lay readers can still get a lot out of them.
Constantine's Sword, by James Carroll
Christianity's legacy of antisemitism is undeniable. Christianity's legacy of suppression of dissent and unorthodox ideas is also undeniable. What is interesting, however, are the ways in which both of these legacies are related and dependent upon each other. Ranging over the entire history of Christianity and the Catholic Church, James Carroll...
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Confusions
We live in an age of science and progress, seemingly far beyond the ancient world where superstition and occult dominated. If that is true, why do so many believe strange, pseudoscientific claims about things like past-life regression, alien abductions, creationism, and more? It is this conundrum which Michael Shermer explores in 'Why People...
Wrath of Jonah: Crisis of Religious Nationalism in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
What role is played by religion and religious nationalism in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis today? We often hear about the conflict over national ideals and national sovereignty, but not so much about how religious ideals have influenced the violence. This is unfortunate, because much of what is going on is inexplicable without...
Beyond the Veil, by Fatima Mernissi
How are women really treated in Islam? Many Muslims argue that Islam gives women a good status and even that Islam was an improvement for women over what they experienced previously. But many others argue that women are treated badly by Islam and have an inferior status. Who is right? According to Fatima Mernissi in her book 'Beyond the Veil,'...
Science Meets Alternative Medicine: What the Evidence Says
There's an awful lot in the news and in society about "alternative medicines" these days. By some estimates, it's an industry doing between $15 and $20 billion annually - and growing! A report in New England Journal of Medicine back in January 1993 showed that about one-third of American adults had sought some sort of unorthodox therapy in the...
The Psychology of the Psychic, by David Marks
Does ESP exist? Are some people telepathic? Can your mind by read by someone else? These are all interesting questions, and many would be inclined to answer 'yes' to them. But why? David Marks is a professional psychologist at Middlesex University and the head of the Health Research Centre in London. In 1980, he joined Richard Kammann to publish...
Awakening of a Jehovah's Witness: Escape from the Watchtower Society
Most people have had the experience of Jehovah's Witnesses coming to the door and offering to share their religious beliefs, but just who are these Jehovah's Witnesses, really? Are they simply another Protestant denomination of Christianity? Are they a dangerous cult? What is the truth about their organization and doctrines? One way to learn...
The Ancient Gods Speak: a Guide to Egyptian Religion, by Donald B. Redford
Ancient Egypt produced one of the most fascinating religious systems the world has ever seen. That religion is, however, now a part of history, just like the ancient monuments along the Nile. This does not mean, however, that it had no influence upon subsequent religious developments in the Near East. 'The Ancient Gods Speak: a Guide to Egyptian Religion' covers everything from beliefs about the afterlife through the construction and nature of private and royal tombs.
The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount
Conflict in the Middle East has resulted in untold death, destruction and suffering. Although many have offered plausible arguments as to the social, political, and economic origins of the various conflicts, inevitably everything keeps coming back to religion: the disagreement and violence between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This means that...
For a Christian America: A History of the Religious Right, by Ruth Murray Brown
Nowadays Christian fundamentalists play an important role in American politics, yet that hasn’t always been the case - for decades they isolated themselves from the political scene. All of that changed, in the 1970s, but why did it change, and how did fundamentalism itself change because of it?
Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools, by Robert S. Alley
What is wrong with having prayer in school? Many people in the United States believe that organized classroom prayers would be good for the moral and spiritual development of the children, and it is true that such prayers were common in schools for a very long time. Others, however, argue that schools, as representatives of state power, should...
Biblical Errancy: A Reference Guide, by C. Dennis McKinsey
Although various critiques of Christianity include critiques about the Bible, few books focus solely on this issue of errancy alone. If that is your interest, this is your 'Bible' - a single resource with everything you need.
Breaking Faith: The Pope, the People, and the Fate of Catholicism
What is going on with the Roman Catholic Church? During the past few decades, rancorous divisions have appeared over a variety of issues, including sexual morality, the state of the priesthood, the role of the laity in church polity, women in the church, the Vatican's squelching of dissent, the creation of saints, and much more. These are rarely...
The Choices We Made: Twenty-five Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion
Abortion is rarely an easy choice to make - but if that is so, why do thousands of women each year continue to choose an abortion rather than birth? This can be a difficult question to answer, especially since the reasons can be as diverse as the women making those choices. These stories, often difficult and always personal, illuminate an vital...
What is Atheism? A Short Introduction, by Douglas E. Krueger
What is atheism, and why would anyone be an atheist? Is it possible for an atheist to lead a moral, meaningful life? These are just a few of the questions which so many atheists encounter in their lives, and they aren’t always easy to give satisfactory answers for.
What is Wrong with Jung? by Don McGowan
What are Jung's contributions worth? Are they true? Have they shed any light on the so-called mysteries of the human mind? And how does Jung's work look in the light of today's science and humanistic studies? These are important questions and Don McGowan addresses them in a thorough analysis of Jung's work and ideas. This isn't an easy task -...
Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press
Borjesson's book will likely make you very angry, but perhaps that is the only way things will change. It may be time for you to start asking your news sources why they aren't doing a better job and what sorts of pressures they labor under when attempting to investigate and report.
Enemies of the Enlightenment: French Counter-Enlightenment & Making of Modernity
Who were the Enemies of the Enlightenment, and why it matter what they said and thought? The answers to both are intriguing, at least as presented by Darrin M. McMahon in his book. The case against the Enlightenment has not been finalized. McMahon's book is not a light and easy read, and will be of most interest to those who want to learn more...
Encyclopedia of Christmas, by Tanya Gulevich
Most people in America have had some connection with Christmas celebrations; indeed, most have probably been celebrating Christmas in one way or another all their lives. That does not mean, however, that people really know much about the symbols, traditions or origins of what they do. Fortunately, there is one source you can turn to in order to learn more: the Encyclopedia of Christmas by Tanya Gulevich.
Business Ethics Revised Edition: Corporate Values and Society
With the mounting scandals which have been dominating the news, people might be forgiven if they come to believe that the phrase 'Business Ethics' is an oxymoron. However, there is a case to be made that the pursuit of business is perfectly compatible with living an ethical life - the problem is, not enough business leaders in the United States...
Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion
Can a case be made for positive atheism, that is to say, that there is no personal creator of the universe who has an independent existence outside of our own minds? Robin Le Poidevin certainly thinks so, and attempts to make the case in the context of an introduction to the philosophy of religion which could be used in college courses on the...
Stalin's Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors
Everyone is at least vaguely aware of the fact that Joseph Stalin's brutal policies caused the arrests and deaths of untold numbers of innocent people during his dictatorial reign. The extent of his crimes are still coming to light, though, and we may never know all the details.
Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics
The Nazi party was about as misogynistic as any modern political party has ever been. Its views on women and women's proper roles in society were extreme; yet at the same time, the Nazi party was broadly and actively supported by large numbers of women. It's arguable that Hitler and the Nazis wouldn't have achieved what they did without the...
The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict
The Mormon faith has had a significant impact on American culture and law, though most people are probably unaware of this. It's not as though people are unfamiliar with Mormonism or even a bit of Mormon history, but that familiarity tends to be superficial and rarely includes knowledge of the Mormon legal or political battles of the 19th century.
Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy
Debates about the legalization of gay marriage have forced society to take a closer look at the institution of marriage itself. Opponents of gay marriage insist that it must be preserved in its traditional form, but their arguments are completely ahistorical. Marriage has changed dramatically over the centuries...
GOD.com: A Deity for the New Millennium
Most of the religions we have today were created thousands of years ago when humans lived very different sorts of lives. Granted, we haven't evolved much biologically in that time, but culturally and socially we have changed a great deal. This may go a long way to explain how and why religion tends to be more a force for violence in the modern...
Evolution: A Beginner's Guide
The importance of evolution to the biological sciences, and thus also to science generally, can't be overestimated. Yet despite its importance, there is also widespread ignorance about what evolution is, what it says about life, what it predicts, and how it should be used. Some of this ignorance is due to deliberate misinformation campaigns from...
The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life
Sometimes people talk about things they shouldn't; far too often, though, people keep quiet about things which should be discussed and brought out into the open. Whether done individually or collectively in a 'conspiracy of silence,' the denial of uncomfortable or embarrassing truths appears to be a common aspect of human social relationships.
The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
The popularity of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code book is enormous; unfortunately, its errors and deceptiveness are equally enormous. Some defend it by saying that it's a work of fiction, which is true, but the book itself insists that the fiction is based around historical facts. Almost nothing in the book is factual, however, and the...
Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany
The role of Christian theologians in Nazi Germany, including members of the Catholic Church, cannot be underestimated. The cooperation between Catholic leaders and Nazi leaders was conditioned in large part on the writings of Catholic theologians who paved the way for this to happen.
The Anatomy of Fascism, by Robert O. Paxton
Everyone knows about fascism, but not everyone quite knows what fascism is. Indeed, does anyone really know what fascism is? That's an important question: fascism is such a diverse political and social phenomenon that it seems to be used more as an epithet than as a serious political category.
Pride: The Seven Deadly Sins, by Michael Eric Dyson
Pride tops the list of the seven deadly sins - it didn't always take first place and it wasn't always considered the progenitor of all the other sins, but over time it acquired that status and remains there to this day. Even more recently, however, the idea of pride simply being a sin has also changed.
Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace?
The question about whether people have a right to create and view pornography or if porn is an obscenity that should be banned has been debated for several decades now. There was a time when pornography was quickly censored on the basis of traditional assumptions about sex and sexuality...
Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, Feminism
That religious conservatives would oppose pornography is no surprise, as graphic sexual expression is contrary to many religions' sexual morality. That feminists would also oppose pornography, joining with the same religious conservatives who would relegate women to inferior social roles, was quite a surprise - but that's what happened during the 1990s.
Conversations with Carl Sagan, edited by Tom Head
Carl Sagan was one of the most important scientists of the latter half of the 20th century - not so much because of original research or ground-breaking discoveries, but because of his passion for sharing his love of science with the rest of the world.
Born Amish, by Ruth Irene Garrett
Many Americans have encountered the Amish on the roads or at farmers' markets. Even more have seen them depicted in the movies or at least heard of them. People know that the Amish are religious, lead a simple lifestyle, and avoid owning modern conveniences, but that's about it. The Amish lifestyle may be simple, but the culture is complex..
It's All the Rage: Crime and Culture, by Wendy Kaminer
During the 1980s and 1990s, debates about criminal justice and the death penalty occupied important positions in the political landscape. The more conservative 'get tough on crime' perspective won out with longer mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes laws, and a renaissance of prison building...
Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins, by Joseph Epstein
Do other people have things which you want - and, even worse, which they don't deserve in the first place? If so, then you are envious. Envy isn't jealousy: to be jealous is to want to protect what you have; to be envious is to want what others have. Of all the deadly sins, envy is the one which few people are willing to admit to or willing to...
Gluttony: The Seven Deadly Sins
Knowledge of the seven deadly sins today is inferior to the past, but many can still name most of the sins on the list. How many remember that gluttony is one of the sins, though, much less understand why it was traditionally condemned by Christianity as a sin equal to that of lust, pride, anger, or envy?
Greed: The Seven Deadly Sins
Do you wish to acquire more and more? Do you covet what others have but you do not? Are you ambitious to have more money or material goods? In short, are you greedy? Many people may be willing to answer 'yes' to these questions, at least until we get to the last one...
The Losing Battle with Islam, by David Selbourne
The biggest international issue today is the growing militancy of Islam. Everyone knows about it, but not everyone is fully aware of the background. Islam has been growing more militant for decades, and this militancy has taken a variety of forms over time. The religious extremism of today may be incredibly significant, but it is also just one piece of a larger social movement...
Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy
Perhaps the most intractable political issue in the world today, and one which drives so many other international crises, is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. These two groups have been at each other's throats for decades, each insisting that they alone have exclusive rights to control the same lands.
Wendy Wasserstein Dies
Not long ago I reviewed the book Sloth by Wendy Wasserstein, an installment in Oxford University Press' series on the seven deadly sins. Unlike the others, Wasserstein chose a humorous approach, spoofing the ubiquitous self-help books we see everywhere. In January, Wasserstein died from complications of lymphoma.
Mencken: The American Iconoclast
Henry Louis Mencken is one of the most important journalists and defenders of free speech in American history, yet he was also a complicated person. He defended free speech, but was disdainful of everyone he considered an intellectual inferior. Who was he, really?
Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right
The power and influence of America's Christian Right is undeniable, so of course there have been innumerable books seeking to explain how the movement developed and what it means for American politics. Most such books focus on religion and religious explanations, yet we must remember that this is an American movement - there isn't anything quite like it elsewhere.
God And Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys
Religions are totalizing belief systems; because of this, it's inevitable that they also address questions about social power and values. Religions can serve to legitimize or undermine political systems, agendas, and policies. In America, some of the most influential voices on behalf of religious power are also voices on behalf of messianic imperialism...
The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft And Extraterrestrials
One of the most popular subjects among believers in the paranormal today isn't astrology or psychics, but so-called 'alternative' archaeology. One of the most common beliefs in this subject is that aliens visited Earth millennia ago and helped create human civilization and culture, or perhaps humanity itself.
The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality For Racial Reconciliation
One of the most significant aspects of American Christianity which no one wants to talk about, much less seriously engage, is the legacy of racism, slavery, and segregation. Too often people act as though it was simply a part of American culture and politics, detached from the Christian experience...
The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution
With the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, we can expect to see a large number of books examining the history and likely legacy of his time on the Supreme Court. This is only fair because Rehnquist served for over 30 years on the Court, pushing for a conservative shift away from the Burger and Warren courts of the previous decades.
The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong
It may have occurred to you that there seems to be a lot more cheating and dishonesty in American society today than there was in the past. If so, you aren't simply imagining things - there is strong evidence for a decline in people's willingness to be honest and this does not bode well for America's future.
Where Ghosts Walked: Munich's Road to the Third Reich
Adolf Hitler was born and raised in Austria. After he became Chancellor of Germany, the capitol of the nation remained in Berlin. The capital of his Nazi movement, however, was neither in Austria nor Berlin -- it was in Munich, the capitol of conservative, Catholic Bavaria.
The Spark of Life: Darwin and the Primeval Soup
Life might be said to be one of the defining features of our planet - we certainly haven't identified any other planets with life. Yet how did life arise here? What is the origin of life on our planet and could the same processes have given rise to life elsewhere in the universe?
Politics, Religion, and the Common Good
Public debates about the role of religion in the government in America are often characterized by rancor and bad feelings. It's questionable whether much progress can be made on this issue if people can't learn to work together more, so some scholars have been seeking ways to decrease the level of animosity in the rhetoric and arguments.
Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, by John Rawls
John Rawls' 1971 book 'A Theory of Justice' has become one of the most influential and important works on political philosophy in recent history. Even those who disagreed vehemently with his conclusions couldn't avoid his ideas and arguments.
The Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party
One of the most important questions for historians and sociologists has long been the reasons why so many people willingly, even eagerly, joined or just voted for the Nazi Party in Germany. Many different explanations have been offered, for example German inclinations towards authoritarianism and virulent anti-Semitism. What if the reasons were...
The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country
Unlike most nations, America isn't defined by any particular ethnicity or religion; instead, it is defined by particular ideals and ideas - creeds, if you will, that state what America is supposed to be and stand for. The nature of these ideals can change, depending upon whom you ask, because there isn't any one definitive list which all Americans are supposed to agree to.
Top Books Reviewed in 2005
Selected here are the best books reviewed during the year 2005. It was difficult to pick just a few, there were so many good books from the past year, but I had to narrow the list down to fit this page. Qualities which helped books stand out include providing an interesting/unusual perspective on long-running debates, offering a real enduring value to readers (i.e., worth reading more than once), and being an invaluable resource on its topic.
'Alternative' Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide
Alternative medical treatments take a number of different forms, but a great many of them share in common a 'mystical' or 'supernatural' foundation which makes them quite distinct from traditional, scientific medical practices. Just what is the nature of these mystical views, and do they provide as solid of a foundation as science has?
Courting Disaster: The Supreme Court and the Unmaking of the Law
What is the role of the Supreme Court in American society? Is it an impartial arbiter of civil liberties and government power, or is it actually one more political battleground where ideologies and social agendas clash? Maybe it's a bit of both.
From Culture to Ethnicity to Conflict
It is almost an article of faith today that modern conflicts coalesce around ethnic divisions rather than political disagreements and that, in turn, these ethnic divisions are more ancient in origin than any contemporary political conflicts have been. But is this true?
Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?
Conflicts between Darwinism and Christianity have existed since Darwin first announced his theory of evolution. Many today assume that the two must be inherently opposed to each other, irreconcilable in terms of premises and conclusions. But is that really true? Is it possible that the two might be entirely compatible? And if so, how?
In Defense of Secular Humanism, by Paul Kurtz
Does secular humanism represent a fundamental and corrosive threat to the future of America? Will it undermine important values and morals, bringing about the destruction of religion and free government? According to some on the religious right, the answers to those questions is 'yes.' This book, then, serves as a rebuttal to such claims.
Developing Democratic Character in the Young
To what extent does democracy depend upon the right sort of education of children - will any educational plan suffice, or are there specific needs? In fact, democracy depends a great deal upon education, and it is not true that just any sort of education will do. Democracy relies upon the existence of an informed, moral and interested public.
The Death and Afterlife Book: The Encyclopedia of Death
When we die, is that it? Is that the end, or is there some form of 'life' after our physical death? Most people and most religions have believed in some form of afterlife - but what exactly have they believed and why?
The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in modern US history, perhaps even more so than homosexuality. The sharp divisions cut through politics, religion and even families themselves. At times, it does not seem as though anything like a civil resolution to the conflict will happen anytime soon.
Euthanasia: The Moral Issues
Euthanasia is a thorny medical and legal dilemma. As the population of the West ages, the debate about it will continue to grow more important and the problem more divisive. Should some form of euthanasia be permitted, or should it be treated as murder? Is it a moral act to aid a suffering person, or is it a selfish and immoral deed?
Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life
Another biography of Francis of Assisi? So many have already been written, what is the point of another one - and why would it be of any interest to skeptics and nonbelievers? Unlike most who write biographies of St. Francis, Adrian House deliberately writes for both for religious and irreligious people.
The Holocaust and Antisemitism: A Short History
Antisemitism has been an unfortunate and destructive aspect of Western culture for millennia. Of course, every culture has had its hatreds and despised groups, but antisemitism differs from most in the sense that it not only dehumanizes Jews, but also demonizes them. In addition to being separated from the rest of society, they are also made the...
In Defense of Sin, edited by John Portmann
In Western society, the traditional attitude stands against sin, sinning and sinners. This does not, however, mean that everyone has formed judgments against sin - a few brave philosophers have tried to offer arguments in support of behavior or beliefs which have usually been regarded as sinful. Are any of these arguments successful, and what do...
Why Atheism? by George H. Smith
So why would anyone be an atheist? Why would any question the existence of a supernatural deity, something believed in by a large percentage of people in society? Is there any reasonable basis for atheism and such skepticism - and, if so, what is it?
Zaddik: The Battle for a Boy's Soul
Are religious communities above the law? Should religious minorities be permitted to follow the demands of their beliefs, even when those demands conflict with other moral principles which society wishes to enforce? Apparently, some would offer an unqualified 'yes' to those questions.
Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam and Eve
Should the government have the power to regulate private sexual conduct - and if so, how far should that power reach? When a single right, like free speech, is ignored or restricted by the government, there will almost invariably follow infringements upon other liberties. This is because none of our rights stands completely alone.
Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun
Anyone who has flipped through the cable channels over the past couple of decades has probably come across Mother Angelica's Eternal World Television Network. A cloistered Franciscan nun, Mother Angelica expressed an unapologetic and uncensored Catholic traditionalism which rankled not only liberal Catholics in America, but quite a few Catholic...
Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis
Although Hitler did not enjoy overwhelming support from the German people when he took power, his popularity did grow until he was lauded with almost unbridled enthusiasm from all sectors of German society. He and the Nazi party are regarded today as the epitome of human evil, so how could the German people have become so enthralled by them?
Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris, by Ian Kershaw
The importance of Adolf Hitler for the history of the 20th century is undeniable. People see him as the personification of evil rather than as a human being, though, and this creates a problem because it allows us to treat him as separate from the rest of humanity, as a 'thing' or force which cannot be explained in human terms.
God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law
Religion is not an unmitigated good. Although religion can do some good for people, religion can also be used as a cover for crimes - or merely for what is otherwise a naked grab for power. Unfortunately, too many people act as though religion is always positive.
For God And Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire
Is America's 'war on terrorism' really a war against extremism and on behalf of democracy, or is it instead a war on Islam? Americans insist that their concern is political, not religious, but there are good reasons to believe that even if this is true, the rhetoric and conduct of Americans is turning the war on terrorism into a war on Islam.
God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald
While still a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger gave three book-length interviews in which he was asked wide ranging questions about church history, his own life, politics, and Christian theology. He didn't know the questions in advance and at most only made minor adjustments to his answers after reading them in written form.
Pilgrim Fellowship Of Faith: The Church As Communion
Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the most prolific authors in the Catholic hierarchy. His numerous books, essays, interviews, and speeches covered an amazing range of topics relevant to Catholics and the Catholic Church.
Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church
Now that Joseph Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI, his past statements on religion, politics, and the Catholic Church are being examined much more closely. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had significant power and influence, but as pope, he wields even more.
Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium
As Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger wrote a number of books on Christian theology. In his role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had to defend the orthodox positions of the Catholic Church; as a theologian, he could explore religious issues with a bit more freedom.
Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem
Some of America's most rancorous debates are over the separation of church and state. Should the government have the authority to pick certain religions and/or religious beliefs for favoritism, endorsement, or promotion? Should the government remain strictly neutral between religions and between religion and non-religion, not taking sides in any religious disputes?
The Qur'an: A User's Guide
The Qur'an is the holy scripture for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. It is their guide to ethics, to conduct, and to religion. It is also a relatively difficult work to understand, which means that even those few non-Muslims in the West who attempt to learn more about it are often frustrated and disappointed.
Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands
The history of the Bible takes place in a region known as the Fertile Crescent, an area in the Middle East where the land's fertility was high enough to allow for the development of some of humanity's earliest sedentary civilizations. Because of the religious significance of the cities and places, it's also known as the Holy Land to many...
The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity
A popular belief is that Nazism was the polar opposite of Christianity: in Germany, the Nazis planned to eliminate Christian churches while devout Christians opposed the Nazi agenda. Is this perception accurate? No. Some Nazis were anti-Christian and some Christians were anti-Nazi, but the majority were equally at home in both camps.
Spiritual Clarity, by Jackie Wellman
The popularity of religion is undeniable, but why does religion have such a hold on people, and is its appeal justified? Many try to better understand the nature of religion and whether there is anything of substance behind the curtain - but not enough, frankly. Most people seem content to accept what religious leaders tell them...
How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature
The Bible is one of the most important and influential books in Western civilization; despite this, few people have much detailed knowledge of it or even know how to read it properly. This is partly due to a decline in classical education, but also partly to a failure of religious leaders to teach people how to approach the text properly.
Who Shall Lead Them? The Future of Ministry in America
For decades the social status of clergy has been in decline: whereas before they were among the educated elite, today they appear almost irrelevant at times. As America becomes increasingly secular and religious Americans turn away from organized religion in favor of more personalized spiritualities, what is the future for American clergy?
Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law
Sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly, many contemporary legal and social debates actually turn on questions of disgust and shame. On the overt side, there are increasing calls to have drunk drivers or sexual offenders be 'shamed' in public. On the covert side, arguments against gay marriage and pornography commonly rely upon personal notions...
Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence
Most religions depict themselves as forces for peace and harmony; in reality, most religions have been intimately involved in some of the worst violence that humanity has ever experienced. How and why does this contradiction exist? It's true that religions preach peace overtly, but perhaps there is something going on in the background which...
New Religious Movements: A Documentary Reader
Commonly referred to as cults, new religious movements have been exerting a significant influence on the American religious landscape for more than a century. This influence has not translated into understanding or respect, though, as evinced by the fact that people describe them as cults in a pejorative sense.
Gathering of Infidels: the Rationalist Press Association
Freethought has a long and complicated history in Britain, a history which few people are even dimly aware of. Most of the figures, organizations, debates, and conflicts have all but disappeared in history, a tremendous loss for freethinkers today because the lives of these people and work of these organizations still have lessons to teach us...
Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge To Persons Of Faith
Hunger is a serious problem in the world - it afflicts 800 million people, among them 300 million children. At the same time, though, the largest world religions require the feeding of the hungry as a charitable, if not sacramental, act. How can so many people believe in the divine mandate of feeing the hungry in a world where so many people not...
The Crusades: A History; Second Edition
The Crusades helped define the Middle Ages: its politics, its external relations, and its religion. A fundamental component of Crusader theology was that violence for the defense or establishment of a Christian state was a moral imperative - something which God desired and which Christians owed God because of their sin.
Presumed Guilty: How the Jews Were Blamed for the Death of Jesus
The relationship between Christianity and Judaism looms large in the background of both religions. This relationship has undeniably been horrible and caused incalculable suffering for the Jews. An important question for Christians is to what degree Christian misdeeds have been due to individual Christians and to what degree due to something...
Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America
Conservative evangelical Christians are an important part of American culture, yet they are a part of culture which the rest of society often doesn't pay much attention to; this forms a basis for their complaints that despite their power and numbers, they are a persecuted minority. The one thing they can point to positively, however, are the...
In the Shadow of the Prophet: Struggle for the Soul of Islam
For many people in the West, Islam appears to be a monolithic faith and Muslims an undifferentiated mass of fundamentalist believers. The existence of factions, debates, and disagreements either goes unrecognized or is simply undervalued, but this diversity - however muted it can be - may be key for understanding the state of Arab Muslims...
The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court is one of the most influential political institutions in the United States of America. It's also a relatively unique institution: other nations have their own high courts, but these courts don't typically have the same broad power to strike down laws as the Supreme Court does.
Fear: The History of a Political Idea, by Corey Robin
Fear is an ubiquitous part of the human condition. It is a basic, primal emotion which can motivate a person to act reasonably in defense of their safety and well-being or act irrationally in a manner that threatens the well-being of others. Because of its effectiveness as a motivator of action, it's only natural that it would become part of politics...
Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust
The Nazis would not have been able to achieve what they did in Germany and Europe without the active assistance of millions of Christians. This, in turn, was achieved in large part by the assistance of German churches: whether through silent acquiescence or active participation, German churches helped make the Nazi control of Germany possible.
Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats, and the Politics of Islam
Islamism is most commonly associated in Westerners' minds with terrorism and violence, but must that always be the case? Will Islamism continue to be violent and bloody even if it acquires power in the Middle East? This is an important question: if the violence can be removed, then Islamism might have a legitimate future as animating the politics of nation-states.
How Democratic Is the American Constitution?
Americans are proud of their democracy and the Constitution - so much so, in fact, that they often act as though both were the best examples of their species in the entire world. Is this justified or merely hubris? America may have created the first democratic constitution of the modern era, but isn't there something to be said for more recent developments?
Hitler’s Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany
When most people think of imprisonment in the Nazi Germany, they probably imagine concentration camps - and they are justifiably an icon of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. At the same time, though, far more people were held in regular prisons than in concentration camps, so their significance in German life was far greater.
Genetic Destinies, by Peter Little
As human scientific knowledge and technological ability progress, the prospects for human control over our genetic code increases. For some, the prospects of genetic manipulation open up dreams of an improved, disease-free future. For others, such manipulation suggests that the social problems of today will only be magnified, producing a genetic nightmare.
Humanism, What's That? A Book for Curious Kids
There are lots of books out there designed to explain various religions to children, but what about non-religious, non-theistic belief systems? Is there anything that can help children better understand what is believed by neighbors, friends, and relatives who don't accept religion? There isn't much, unfortunately, and thus many children continue to accept half-truths and myths.
Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights, by David Rose
The detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has become a symbol for America’s war on terrorism. For some, it’s a symbol of what needs to be done and of America’s resolve. For others, it’s a symbol of an American government that has abandoned its principles of justice, fairness, and the rule of law.
The 'Hitler Myth': Image and Reality in the Third Reich
Hitler enjoyed more personal popularity in Germany than perhaps any other world leader in history. Many scholars have sought to understand why he was so popular and thus why so many people in a modern, industrialized nation were willing to follow him into madness, barbarism, and self-destruction.
Quest for the Historical Muhammad
Who was the 'historical' Muhammad? This may seem like an odd question, since there is a common assumption that Muhammad's life was something that happened 'in' history. What that means is that it is something known through reliable, verified historical sources and that we can describe what happened with little or no interference from accumulated myths.
Digital Copyright, by Jessica Litman
Have you ever downloaded an MP3 music file from the internet? Have you ever copied software from a friend? Have you ever thought about how a movie might be different if this or that actor had been replaced by someone else? Did you know that all of the above may have been a violation of current American copyright laws?
Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, by Carl Zimmer
What is evolution, and what sort of explanation does it provide for the diversity of life on our planet? Those are important questions, but especially so for the United States, where so few people understand what evolution is and so many simply reject it outright, generally because of their religious convictions.
Farewell to Christendom: The Future of Church and State
Should the government use its power to encourage religion? Should the government use religion to encourage and strengthen moral values? Or does the Constitution prohibit such actions in the name of the separation of church and state?
Give Me That Online Religion, by Barbara Brasher
Religion is developing an increasing presence online, there is no question about that. But what does this development mean for religion and for the online world? That question isn't so easy to answer, but Barbara Brasher does explore the matter and attempts to give us an ideas of where the answer might lie.
The Religion of Paul the Apostle, by John Ashton
Paul is best known as the man who probably had more to do with the creation of Ch The Religion of Paul the Apostle, by John Ashtonristianity than did Jesus, but was Paul a shaman? This is a very interesting and unusual question, and the issues it raises lie at the center of John Ashton's penetrating new look at the origins of Christianity...
Splendid Feast of Reason, by Seymour Jonathan Singer
What is the value of reason and rationality, and how are rationalists to live in a persistently irrational world? These are the two main questions which Singer addresses in his book The Splendid Feast of Reason. They may not seem to be closely related, but as Singer argues, there are many benefits to be had from rationality in society, even if...
Vanquished Gods: Science, Religion and the Nature of Belief
For Tertullian, writing in the early 3rd century, the question was 'What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?' The implied answer was that Athens and Jerusalem had nothing relevant in common, and therefore that the dominant philosophies of Greek culture had no interest or application for Christian faith. The same question, and mirror answer,...
Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Are irrationality and superstition bringing the modern world to the brink of a new Dark Age? Can the proper use of skepticism and critical thinking keep us away from that brink and ensure that the promises of reason and science are actually fulfilled?
Deconstructing Jesus, by Robert M. Price
If you look at the books written by liberal Christian theologians about Jesus, you'll find a bewildering array of Jesuses with all sorts of agendas, ideas, and personalities. Who was this Jesus supposed to be? A political revolutionary? A religious dissident? Maybe a quiet mystic whose life got blown out of proportion?
Daughters of Light: Quaker Women Preaching
What role and influence did Christian women have in 17th and 18th century America? Most people's answer to this question would be heavily colored by the image of Puritan women, who practiced a religion which idealized female submission to men in both this world and the next. These were not, however, the only Christian women in America...
Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars' Rebellion
During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church worked vigorously to suppress any challenges to its authority, both inside and outside Europe. One of the victims of those efforts was Catharism, an offshoot of Christianity which preached a doctrine of peace and love.
Ultimate Journey: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk
In 629, the Chinese Buddhist monk Hsuan Tsang left the Tang dynasty capital Chang-an (current-day Xian) and traveled to India to see the main shrines of his religion. His path was difficult, taking him across deserts and mountains. His record of the 15-year-long voyage not only served generations of travelers, but also generations of scholars...
Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant
Was Jesus really an innovative figure in Judaism or was he the inheritor of a previously established belief system about the nature of the role of a Messiah? Traditional Christian opinions have ranged widely on this issue, with some saying that Jesus claimed a unique Messiah role, and others arguing that this was only claimed later by the...
Lying Awake, by Mark Salzman
If you thought that you were receiving visions from God, but learned that they may be caused by an easily repairable brain problem, what would you do? This is the dilemma facing Sister John of the Cross, a middle-aged nun living a cloistered life in a Carmelite monastary. She has endured many years of "spiritual drought" during which she prayed, but heard nothing back.
The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus
Who was Jesus? Innumerable people - scholars and lay people alike - have wanted to answer that question and have therefore embarked upon a 'quest for the historical Jesus.' What has been the result of their efforts? According to Charlotte Allen, not very much.
Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost its Way
In recent years, there has been a plethora of writings about 'lost' gospels - documents of early Christian communities which are supposed to offer an alternative perspective on the nature of Christianity and, perhaps, the nature of Jesus. But do these 'lost' gospels really offer us anything? Do they tell us anything about the earliest years of...
The God Experiment: Can Science Prove the Existence of God?
Are science and religion compatible, or are they so different that they must ultimately come into conflict, with people having to choose one or the other? Some believe that they are not only compatible, but that they ultimately support each other - with the new revelations of science demonstrating the deeper truths of religion...
Evolutionary Theory and Victorian Culture
People are generally familiar with the intense religious, political, and social debates about evolution and the teaching of evolution in public schools - but why, specifically, evolution? After all, no other scientific theory is the target of so much attention and so many attacks. Why the difference in reception and attitude?
The Erotic History of Adverstising, by Tom Reichert
Sex sells - at least, that is the general perception that most people have. But is it true? And, if it is true, how and why does 'sex sell' - everything from lingerie to soap to coal? What is it about sex and sensuality that they attract our attention, hold our interest, and actually get us to buy the associated products?
Many Religions, One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World
It's common to think of Christianity being grounded in the idea of having faith in God, but another and perhaps more accurate way of looking at it is to focus on a covenant with God. Faith is a one-way street while a covenant requires a two-way relationship, thus allowing for very different ways to conceptualize and understand Christianity as a...
Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights
The debate over gay marriage hasn't existed for very many years at this point, but already it seems that we have covered just about all the ground that exists. The arguments may get more rancorous, but new ideas are few and far between. It's unusual, and thus also especially gratifying, to find a book which raises new issues...
One Nation Under God, by Vincent M. Wales
The Christian Right in America has a deliberate agenda that involves remaking the nation into a far more religious society. They would like to transform culture, government, and family life on a fundamental level which would not be entirely consistent with democratic standards. What might be the consequences if they were actually successful?
What Price the Moral High Ground?
It's commonly thought that people are more strongly motivated by selfishness than by altruism. This position is especially popular among economists and is believed to be based upon a realistic appraisal of human action as it evolved over the millennia. It may not, however, be entirely accurate...
Ungodly Women: Gender and the First Wave of American Fundamentalism
Most people realize that one of the central features of modern American fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism is a distinctive vision of gender roles both in society at large and in the family in particular. When fundamentalists are criticized, it is often on the basis of their perceived reactionary ideas about women, sex, and gender.
Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments
Most people are aware that one of the fundamental moral principles for all doctors is to 'do no harm,' a principle which can be traced back to Hippocrates and the very beginnings of the Western medical tradition. Unfortunately, not all doctors heed this precept: the worst and most extreme examples can be found in the history of Nazi Germany...
Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage
The debate over gay marriage is one of the most serious and divisive in America today, but perhaps nowhere has it had as high of a profile and raised so many emotions as in Vermont. In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court rules that the state's marriage statutes which discriminated against gays were unconstitutional...
American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon
Jesus appears to be alive and well in America. Many people seek to discover the 'historical' Jesus who gave rise to the Christian religion, but at least as interesting is the 'cultural' Jesus which has given rise to all sorts of modern religious movements, political developments, and cultural progress...
The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception
What role do embarrassment and shame play in human morality? Probably quite a bit - they are very effective means for controlling people in small groups. At the same time, though, they can lead people horribly astray. Just such a person was Jean-Claude Roland, currently in a French jail for killing his wife, his children, and his parents...
Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith
Atheists tend to live removed from religious communities; because of this, we never get a chance to see some of the conflicts, controversies, and problems which arise within the life of a church. Occasionally, books and articles appear which give us an opportunity to do so, and Nora Gallagher's 'Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith'...
Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
Opponents of gay marriage rely heavily on the argument that marriage has been defined in a particular way for hundreds and thousands of years; thus, altering the legal definition to include unions between members of the same sex is an unacceptable breach with the past. Such arguments are devoid of historical reality...
Pope Benedict XVI: Intro to the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger
Joseph Ratzinger may now be Pope Benedict XVI, but for over 40 years he has been a Catholic theologian. Ratzinger's writings have covered a tremendous amount of territory and his opinions have even seemed to change on a couple of points, but there are a number of common themes that run through all of Ratzinger's arguments.
The Rise of Benedict XVI: Inside Story of How the Pope Was Elected
People around the world were stunned that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005 - and so quickly, too. It's almost unheard of for the College of Cardinals to act so fast or to elect someone who went into the conclave as a front-runner. Many expected a longer debate in order to find some sort of compromise candidate, not a quick decision on an arch-conservative. So what happened?
Pope Benedict XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was an exceptionally divisive and controversial figure in the Catholic Church. As Pope Benedict XVI, he is supposed to be a living symbol of the unity of not just all Catholics, but all Christians in the world. Can he make a credible transition from defender of orthodoxy to pastor of the entire church?
Zen at War, by Brian Victoria
When one thinks of 'holy wars' waged with the approval of religion, religions like Christianity and Islam come to mind, not Eastern religions which appear more peaceful. Buddhism is thought of as focused on the personal development of peace and harmony. Most don't realize the extent of Zen Buddhism's complicity with the Japanese war machine and the horrors it unleashed on Southeast Asia.
Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South
Religion played an important role in the Civil War - far more important than most people realize. Both sides viewed the conflict in explicitly Christian terms and claimed that God was on their side such that their victories or defeats were signs of God's preferences. Even less well known is the role played by religion in the South after the...
Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value
Everyone is familiar with classical music, but few spend much time deliberately listening to it. At most, they listen to small amounts that appear in movies, but never in a reflective manner. Music today is treated more as form of entertainment and distraction than as a form of art. A lot has changed in people's perception of music in the past couple of centuries, but is that a good thing?
With Pleasure: Thoughts on the Nature of Human Sexuality
Sex is fun. Sex is pleasurable. This is obvious, right? These sorts of things don't need to be said, right? Well, perhaps they do. Everyone realizes that sex is fun and pleasurable (though some seem to wish that it weren't), but the prevailing belief is that sex really only exists for procreation and that pleasure is merely a byproduct. What if...
Humanism: An Introduction
Humanism, in one form or another, has been part of Western culture for several thousand years. Its roots can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome, many of its principles were revived during the Renaissance, and those principles were integrated into the political and cultural developments of the Enlightenment. Today, organized humanism has...
Perspectives on an Evolving Creation
The prevailing assumption, spread and encouraged by the Christian Right, is that the standard scientific model of evolution contradicts orthodox Christian beliefs; therefore, it’s not possible to adhere to orthodox Christianity while also accepting the truth of evolution and the explanations of evolutionary theory.
Let God's Light Shine Forth: The Spiritual Vision of Benedict XVI
Most of the world knows Pope Benedict XVI as Cardinal Joseph Ratzigner, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981 and “Enforcer” of Catholic orthodoxy for the entire church. Now that he is pope, however, he needs to show both the Catholic faithful and the rest of the world that he can be much more.
Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent
One of the more common and serious criticisms of the Bush administration has been that it appears to have a consistent and deliberate policy to suppress dissent and debate over policy decisions. Insofar as such criticisms are true, they certainly aren’t unique to the Bush administration. Many times in the past, the government has suppressed...
The Fundamentals of Extremism
The Christian Right has become a powerful influence on American politics, even though their influence on the wider American culture has not proceeded as far or as quickly. The political goals of the Christian Right are horrifying to many, both atheists and theists, but not everyone is completely aware of just what the Christian Right claims or what their specific agenda is.
Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life
Just about everyone in America is familiar with the Amish. Their simple lifestyle has been immortalized in several movies and many visit Amish areas to buy quilts and other homemade items. But just how many Americans are familiar with what the Amish, especially the Old Order Amish, really believe?
Alternatives to Hitler: German Resistance under the Third Reich
Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has stated in the past that resistance to the Nazis was “impossible” and that’s why he cooperated with the Nazi authorities when he was young. Is that true, however? Was it really not possible for people to resist the Nazi regime and thereby either deny it the support it needed or even seek to replace it?...
Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church
Are capitalism and Christianity compatible, or do they represent fundamentally different and opposing value systems? For many Americans, Christianity and capitalism go hand-in-hand; indeed, Christianity is sometimes portrayed as something which validates capitalism. Others, however, argue for a very different conception of Christianity.
Democracy and the News, by Herbert J. Gans
Americans, by and large, tend to hold rather idealistic views about democracy and the role of journalism in a democratic society. However, they also tend to hold pessimistic views about the state of democracy in America and the actual state of journalism in American society. There appears to be a serious disconnect between what people want and...
Why I Am An Abortion Doctor
Why would anyone want to perform abortions in America today? Protesters march not only outside of clinics, but even outside of doctors' houses. Those who perform abortions even occasionally takes on serious personal risk - a person who peforms them regularly risks not only themselves, but also their families. Few such doctors have taken the time...
The Angel of Ashland: Practicing Compassion & Tempting Fate
What was it like for perform abortions when it was illegal? What was it like for an atheist to resist the imposition of religious morality and follow his own conscience? One book helps answer those questions by reviewing the life and career of Robert Spencer, a doctor who probably performed about 100,000 abortions in Ashland, Pennsylvania...
To Begin Again: Comfort, Strength and Faith in Troubling Times
Tragedy and death are things which enter everyone's life at one point or another - and each of us, whether theist or atheist, will have to find a way to adequately deal with our situation and emotions. How will we do that? Where will we find the strength, courage, and determination which will be required of us?
Toward A New Political Humanism
The past decades have witnessed a resurgence of the power and influence of religious fundamentalism. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and more have increasingly turned to religious fundamentalism for answers to political issues that divide their societies. Humanist philosophy can be used against fundamentalism, but can humanists develop a...
Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution
The debate over gay marriage is one of the most important social issues facing America today. If gays are denied the right to marry, then homosexual relationships will remain in a second-class status as compared to heterosexual relationships. If gays are afforded the same right to marry as others, then America's promises of liberty and equality...
The Evolutionists: The Struggle for Darwin's Soul
Within a decade after Charles Darwin published his first book on evolution, most British biologists accepted evolution as true. Today, the entire field of biology accepts the truth of evolution and its status in the field of science is undisputed by scientists. That does not mean, however, that scientists don’t disagree on any of the details.
Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage
There are over 1,100 federal rights that accompany civil marriage. There are an average 300 state-level rights that accompany civil marriage - making around 1,400 rights a couple gets simply by marrying. Child molesters, murderers, rapists, couples from different religions - everyone has a legal right to marry, it seems, except for gay couples.
Truth, Knowledge, Or Just Plain Bull
There are many different claims out there vying for our attention and acceptance. We encounter claims in politics, religion, and of course advertising. Some claims are true or at least reasonable, but many are wrong if not outright lies. How can we reliably separate the two? How can we learn to think clearly enough to differentiate between true and false ideas?
Kindness In A Cruel World: The Evolution Of Altruism
Religious critics of atheism and evolution allege that without the guiding force of some god, some supernatural power, there can be no reasonable explanation for the development of altruism and morality. In a purely materialistic and evolutionary nature, critics argue, there is no reason for altruism to exist or for us to be moral.
Mirror of the Gods: How Renaissance Artists Rediscovered Pagan Gods
Most people probably know that the Renaissance was a rebirth of scholarship and learning derived from ancient history. Most people are unaware, however, just how the reclamation of Europe's religious heritage occurred. It wasn't inevitable and it didn't occur independent of contemporary political, social, and religious considerations.
One Planet, One People: Beyond 'Us vs. Them'
Human beings have evolved biologically and culturally. Perhaps one of the most important advances in our cultural evolution has been our ability to expand the definition of the 'in' group - the group we consider most deserving of kindness and assistance. Today most people's idea of us is much broader than it was a few thousand years ago. How much further than the circle be increased?
Making Babies: Is There a Right to Have Children?
Reproduction is fundamental to any species - without offspring, a species will die off. It's established in most societies that people have right to reproduce, in that the state cannot interfere and prevent them from having children. Do people, though, have a right to children such that they have a right to medical assistance when they can't have children naturally?
Madness: A Brief History
Mental illness has a checkered past in the history of Western culture. Even today, some argue that there is no such 'illness' at all - it is instead simply a label we apply to those who for whatever reason don't fit in with the culture's prevailing notions about proper behavior.
Dworkin and His Critics: With Replies by Dworkin
Ronald Dworkin is one of the most important figures in the 20th century for moral, legal, and political philosophy. His ideas have spread widely and have had a profound influence on debates over basic issues in all those fields. Those ideas have not, however, been uncontroversial and he has had quite a few critics over the years.
The First Crusade: A New History
For years, scholars and historians focused on material or economic factors behind the Crusades. People argued that the Crusades were caused by nobles seeking land, wealth, and conquest. Today this has shifted and historians are focusing more on ideological causes: the Crusades were launched because people sincerely believed in the cause.
Eastern Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism...
Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto) encompass a significant percentage of the world’s population and are part of some of the oldest cultures on the planet. For most Americans, though, they are nearly invisible. Most people may have heard of them, but probably don’t know anything about them.
The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark
Dennis MacDonald's argument is one which is novel and will surely anger biblical traditionalists and literalists: namely, that the gospel of Mark was written as a conscious and deliberate immitation of the stories in the Homeric epics. The goal was to give readers a familiar context to discover the superiority of Christ and Christianity over...
God: The Oldest Question
Does God exist? Is it reasonable to believe in a god, or is such belief simply an ancient superstition which most people have yet to abandon? These sorts of questions have long been key points of debate in philosophy and culture, and there are always new books attempting to provide definitive answers.
Odd Gods: New Religions & the Cult Controversy
There are a lot of small, new religions in the United States, and it seems that more pop up all the time. What are they and what do they want? Why are people attracted to them? Perhaps more importantly, how are we as individuals and as a society supposed to react to these new religious groups?
God: A Guide for the Perplexed
Does God exist? If so, what is 'God,' what does God want and how do we know? If not, why do so many people believe anyway? The search for God - or at least the roots of belief in God - is one of the most divisive and perplexing projects in human culture. Is there any hope at it being resolved?
Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Humanism
Is it possible to live a life of happiness and moral responsibility without religion or even without belief in a god? Conventional wisdom and long-standing traditional attitudes hold that both religion and theism are necessary for happiness and morality - but through history a few have argued the contrary. Do they argue convincingly, though?
The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior before Jesus
About 100 years before the lifetime of Jesus, a man came to Jerusalem who would be called 'The Teacher of Righteousness.' Given the name Judah by author Michael O. Wise, this all-but-forgotten preacher and prophet prefigured the stories surrounding Jesus in a number of ways. Equally messianic figures, both were were arrested and condemned by...
Fire and Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent
The United States of America likes to pride itself on its religious tolerance; although that is often true, such assumptions should not be made in a context of historical ignorance. It has been a long road to get to where we are, and a long road lies ahead of us yet.
Final Seance: Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini are two of the most famous popular cultural figures of the early twentieth century, with their popularity enduring long after their deaths. They also developed one of the more interesting friendships of the time, centering around the question of spiritualism and whether or not there existed supernatural...
Transformation of American Religion
Religion in America has been changing over the past few decades - and the change is one which reflects similar changes in previous centuries. Earlier changes were called 'Great Awakenings' - mass movements of people reaching radical new understandings of their religion, their spirituality, and the place religion had in their lives. According to...
By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture
Just what is the Book of Mormon and what has been the source of its appeal to the millions of Mormon believers? How did it launch not only the first major new American religion, but perhaps the first major world religion since Islam came out of the deserts of Arabia?
Global Philosophy of Religion: A Short Introduction
Does God exist? If so, is it possible for God to be male or female? Do we survive our physical deaths? What is religion and what purpose does it serve? Does life have any sort of meaning? All of these questions and more are topics in the philosophy of religion, the subject of the recent and worthwhile book 'Global Philosophy of Religion' by...
Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today
It is often argued that the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001, forever changed American society. However, a stronger argument can be made for the idea that the response of the American government to those attacks has made even greater changes - by systematically undermining American civil liberties. Which is worse, the disease...
First Democracy: The Challenge Of An Ancient Idea
Democracy is very important to America. It’s a fundamental component of America’s politics, America’s culture, and most importantly America’s self-identity. America is defined less by ethnicity or religion like other nations and more by a political ethic of democratic self-governance. Is America truly democratic, however? Does it understand what...
Harry Potter and Philosophy
The Harry Potter books are wildly popular, but are they just children’s stories, or do they contain substantive themes that merit philosophical analysis and exposition? It’s arguable that any book series which can attract so much attention is probably not fluff, but instead appeals because of the good use being made of serious themes, ideas, and...
Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives
First as books, but now as movies, video games, and a multitude of toys and kitsch, Harry Potter has become an important feature of modern popular culture. As such it is becoming the subject of critical, cultural studies designed to help us better understand what the phenomenon says about modern culture as well as what sorts of influences it is having on that culture.
Looking for God in Harry Potter
Is the Harry Potter series anti-Christian? That’s the argument made by many conservative and evangelical Christians. They object to the Harry Potter books’ depiction of magic and morality. This is not, however, the only possible Christian reaction. There are many Christians who argue that Harry Potter is not only acceptable, but in fact presents...
Fighting For Christendom: Holy War and the Crusades
The Crusades were one of the most important features of the European middle ages. For over 200 years, European soldiers traveled to the Holy Land in “Crusading Fever,” attempting to capture sacred sites in the name of Christianity. Today the Crusades are a powerful image — more for what they are made out to be by propagandists, though, than for...
America is host to a bewildering array of religions, religious beliefs, and spiritualities. Among the most misunderstood and misused are probably the religious beliefs of Native Americans. At different times vilified and lauded, Native American beliefs have played a serious, if often unseen, role in America’s religious landscape.
Ecohumanism: Volume 15 of Humanism Today
If humanism is principally concerned with the interests and values of humanity, does this mean that the environment and the interests of other species necessarily take a second-order status, if any status at all? Some have certainly reached that conclusion, and not without some justification.
American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon
What’s the difference between authentic and inauthentic scripture? Is it age? Historical accuracy? Correct prophecies? These and many more criteria have been used to justify including writings in scriptural canons while excluding others, but perhaps these are all rationalizations for something else: 'real' scriptures are those that produce...
The Case for Religion, by Keith Ward
Religion is ubiquitous in human culture. People look upon religion as a source of inspiration, comfort, and meaning; in practice, it also serves as a source for division, hatred, and cruelty. Can a case be made for holding on to religion, despite all its problems? Can it be argued that religion is a reasonable, rational aspect of human life?
Divination and Healing: Potent Vision
Divination is normally thought of as attempts to tell the future, but it can also encompass any efforts to derive information from an unseen spiritual realm. In cultures all around the world divination has been used for diagnosing ailments, prescribing treatments, and solving all manner of problems. How does divination work in these situations and how effective is it?
Fathering at Risk
Parenting may be one of the most difficult jobs that anyone can do, but this doesn’t mean that there is an adequate understanding among psychologists, sociologists, and other researchers about what parenting is and what good parenting requires. This is especially true when it comes to fathers and fathering.
Flat Broke With Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform
Welfare reform in the United States has been hailed as a great success, reducing the number of people on the welfare rolls from 4.4 million families in 1996 to 2.1 million in 2001. But is the number of people on welfare really the only appropriate measure of 'success,' and if not, how do the efforts at reform measure up against other criteria?
The 'God' Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation
Does a 'God' exist, or is belief in gods actually a function of our brains and biology? If the latter is true, what consequences would this have for our ability to have meaning, purpose and morality in our lives? Is theism simply necessary for human life - a 'white lie' of evolution?
Flat Earth? Round Earth?
Epistemology is a difficult subject. How do we know what we know - and how can we know anything at all? Assuming that we can know anything, is there any way to ground that knowledge rationally? Is there any value to insisting on rational beliefs, or are any ad hoc explanations sufficient? As difficult as these questions are, how can they...
The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science
Spiritual, religious, and theistic beliefs have been widely used to explain things about our universe - the origin of life, morality, and even the origin of the universe itself. Are such attempted explanations successful, or is a thoroughgoing naturalism preferable? Is there anything about the universe which suggests that a god of any sort exists?
It's Been A Good Life, by Isaac Asimov
Who was Isaac Asimov, really? Where did he come from, what did he do and why did he do it? In short, what sort of life did he lead? According to Asimov himself, he lead a very good life - something he explains in some depth in a new one-volume autobiography.
Ancient Philosophy: A New History Of Western Philosophy
For many, philosophy is an esoteric subject only studied in the ivory towers of universities; this is unfortunate because a solid grounding in philosophy also provides a strong basis for dealing with just about everything else in life: ethics, politics, science, and relationships. Understanding the connections isn't always easy, but it's almost...
Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance
Many people regard atheism as an ultimately negative, life-denying outlook on human existence. They can't conceive of an atheistic philosophy that affirms life, is joyous, and offers an optimistic perspective. Not only are such people very mistaken, but they are missing out on a great deal that some atheistic philosophies have to offer.
A common perception of science tends to focus upon a few great figures who stand out from the crowd, leading their colleagues to new frontiers of discovery through the brilliance of their insights and tenacity of their research. Although this is surely sometimes the case, it is perhaps less often the true than most people assume.
Handbook of Religion and Health: A Century of Research
Is religion good for your health? For a long time, religion and medicine were closely intertwined, with healthcare generally relying heavily upon the ideas created by religious tradition. In the modern age, the two diverged and medicine became a subject of scientific research. Today, however, religion and medicine may be moving closer together again - but should they?
An Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism
Debates over atheism and theism have occupied many of the greatest thinkers, philosophers and theologians through history. Unfortunately, we don't see many such debates today - but that doesn't mean that the question is no longer important. Which really is superior, belief or disbelief in the existence of a god?
Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet
Who was Jesus? Biographies of him are plentiful and arouse intense passion among authors and readers - more so than with the biographies of other figures. Everyone seems to have their own opinions as to who Jesus 'really' was and what his 'genuine' intentions must have been.
New Terror, New Wars
The nature of warfare and violent international conflict appears to have changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, and without anyone quite noticing until after it had occurred. At one time, war was something waged between states and where individuals found themselves as enemies through accidents of birth and nationality.
God and the Embryo: Religious Voices on Stem Cells
Biotechnology is advancing at a rapid pace - far faster than most anyone could have realistically predicted even just a few years ago. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is growing almost every day. One consequence of this is that we have learned a great deal about human embryos, and if things go as expected, we may be able to make use of them for medical treatment.
Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?
Debates about the compatibility of science and religion are regular features in academic discussions. On the one side we have those who argue that there isn't any conflict, perhaps because the two deal with different issues or because true religion is always in accordance with reality as described by science.
The Christian World of the Middle Ages
Christianity has a long and complex history, but really understanding the religion requires having a decent understanding of that history. How, then, is someone to develop such an understanding, especially if they don't want to make an academic career out of it? There are certainly many resources on Christian history, but not all are created equal.
Controlling Technology: Contemporary Issues
Most discussions about the ethics of researching and using technology tend to focus relatively narrowly on issues of bioethics - medicine, biological research, and so on. That does not, however, exhaust all of the ethical dilemmas which involve modern technology.
God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist
Debates about the existence of God fascinate some and bore others; nevertheless, they have occupied a great deal of philosophical, theological, and scientific interest over the centuries. Many of the arguments currently used are very old, while others are based upon recent developments in science and philosophy. Has either side developed an...
100 Greatest African Americans
African Americans, the descendants of slaves forcibly brought to America, have long played an important role in the cultural, scientific, and economic life of this country. Unfortunately, most people have little awareness of this history, despite the large gains made in recent years. What people need is ready way to learn more.
Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities
Is Christianity more of a help or a hinderance when it comes to addressing male violence against women? Traditionally, it seems, Christianity has often done more to support and abet violence against women - because of that, Christian leaders need to be more proactive in the effort to improve matters.
From Islam to Secular Humanism: A Spiritual Journey
In an age of science and nationalist politics, is religion still relevant any more? Does relgion still have anything to say to us, or is it rather time to move on and find something better? Does Islam itself still have a relevant role to play in the ongoing development of human society?
Jews Without Judaism
What does it mean to be Jewish? Is 'Jewish' necessarily intertwined with 'Judaism,' or are the two entirely separate? Can a person really be 'Jewish' without also being religious - or indeed, without even believing in the existence of God?
Law and Religion - Current Legal Issues 2001
For most Americans, the relationship between law and religion is limited almost exclusively to the question of the separation of church and state. That is not, however, the true extent of the relationship, as demonstrated in this recent anthology of articles.
Examining Holistic Medicine
A wide variety of 'alternative' medical treatments are currently offered and employed, all falling under the label 'holistic.' What are "holistic" medicines, and do they offer a legitimate alternative to traditional medicine? Or are they instead just a misguided attempt to alleviate the suffering of individuals who are anxious for any sign of hope?
Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship
Just how did Adolf Hitler become the Hitler of history - a rabid hater and butcher? Was there something in his family or his life which made him what he became? According to Brigitte Hamann, a key place to look is Vienna, Austria, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Origin of Human Social Institutions
A central, if not the central, question in the study of human social evolution is that of the origin of our social institutions. Early in our history, simple groups of hunters and gatherers developed the complex societies of the Neolithic Era. But how and why did this occur? How and why did marriage develop? How and why did religion develop?
Islamic Mysticism: A Secular Perspective
Islam so often seems like a harsh religion dominated by rigid rules, unpleasant severity and unthinking - even fanatical - beliefs. So why are many Westerners attracted to it? What is appealing about Islam, and are people justified in being drawn to it? Ibn Al-Rawandi takes a closer look at this phenomenon and explains it from his own personal and secular perspective.
Humanist Anthology: From Confucius to Attenborough
Some people seem to think that humanism is simply a recent development, but it does in fact have a long history. Philosophers, politicians, artists, historians, and many others have espoused important humanist values in the course of their work and writings.
How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science
Belief in a god is ubiquitous in America today. Given that such belief has been integral to society and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, it is worth asking: why do people believe and how does that belief proceed? Why do people retain their religion instead of abandoning it?
Health Robbers: a Close Look at Quackery in America
Today, modern medical science has more to offer to people in terms of treatments and cures than ever before, and the situation is improving every year. So why is it that so many people keep turning to treatments like herbs and acupuncture which have not been scientifically demonstrated to offer any help whatsoever?
The Philosophical Challenge of September 11
The importance of September 11 and the ensuing responses is undeniable. What they ultimately mean, however, is another matter entirely. One might imagine that the meaning of all these events would be obvious, but that isn’t the case - opinions diverge greatly about how to even approach the issues, much less about what conclusions to reach.
The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul
John Paul II has been one of the longest-lived and most influential popes in the history of the Catholic Church. For good or for ill, his policies and personality have helped shape not only the current character of Catholicism but also the direction Catholicism will take for generations to come. It’s only natural, then, that people would begin trying to evaluate his legacy before he dies.
Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II
The sexual abuse scandal that has hit the Catholic Church has proven to be very serious, but perhaps more serious for the laity than for the hierarchy in the Vatican. While the laity have been forced to reexamine their religious commitments, the hierarchy seem to have done all they can to avoid dealing with the matter.
The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters
Every week, millions of Christians recite one creed or another, signaling their acceptance of it - but just how many of them really understand what they are saying and what the creed implies?
Hinduism: Origins - Beliefs - Practices - Holy Texts
Hinduism is one of the world’s great religions. It’s one of the oldest continuing religious and cultural traditions still in existence (though of course it has evolved over time) and provides context for the lives of a significant proportion of the world’s population. Nevertheless, it remains something of a mystery to many in the West.
Kierkegaard, by Michael Watts
Soren Kierkegaard is an amazing, insightful, and fascinating philosopher. He’s also a frustrating, depressing, and difficult philosopher - all at the same time. He is regarded by most as the 'father of existentialism,' despite the fact that the word wouldn’t be coined for decades to come; yet for all his influence, he is understood surprisingly...
Miranda: The Story Of America's Right To Remain Silent
You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost. Do you understand these rights? If you do, it’s...
Psychological Roots Of Religious Belief
Belief in supernatural beings has been a part of nearly every human culture ever studied. Typically these beliefs have been integral parts of religions, but why exactly are they so common in the first place? Are they common because they are all true? Some might take this position, but scientists seek more substantive answers...
The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch
The Reformation is one of the most important things to happen in the history of Christianity. More than an event, it is better understood as perhaps an era that lasted from 1400 through 1700, causing Christianity to change in unpredictable ways that continue to resonate in modern religion, culture, and politics. No one can honestly claim to understand modern Christianity or even the modern West without also some understanding of the Protestant Reformation.
The Resurrection Of Christ: A Historical Inquiry
Was there a man named Jesus who lived, was executed, and then after three days rose from the dead? Christians believe so - this is the central doctrine of their faith, on that justify belief in God, in an afterlife, and in their own salvation. Others are not so sure about this, however, and some argue that it is a false belief - even from the perspective of Christian tradition itself.
M.N. Roy: Radical Humanist: Selected Writings
When most people think of 'humanism' or 'secular humanism,' they probably think of western politics, philosophy, and culture. This is understandable, but it’s not entirely accurate. Humanism has also developed a rich tradition elsewhere in the world, especially in India. It’s unfortunate that more people in the West are unfamiliar with the...
Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' is one of the most popular fiction books of recent memory, but it’s just that: a work of fiction. How many readers who are supposed to know this also fully appreciate what this means? Just how much of the purportedly 'true' documents and history in the book are really fiction? Most readers don’t know, but they...
Anger: The Seven Deadly Sins
Everyone gets angry from time to time - arguments, heated words, and hateful thoughts that we wish we could take back. Anger has been the cause of much suffering, sorrow, and tragedy. Some argue that anger is an inevitable part of being human, something that must be endured and channeled; some even argue that it has its uses if properly directed.
Why Intelligent Design Fails
So-called 'Intelligent' Design is very popular among conservative evangelical Christians in America. It is viewed as a 'scientific' alternative to evolutionary theory that avoids the many pitfalls and failures of traditional creationism. For some reason, though, Intelligent Design doesn’t really get any respect or serious attention from...
Tilting at Religion
The pervasive influence of religion in modern America cannot be denied. Unfortunately, more critical and skeptical discussions about that role tend to be suppressed - when we hear about religion it tends to be in an unequivocal positive light and any critical observations tend to be limited to other people’s religion, never one’s own.
Stem Cell Controversy: Debating the Issues
The debate over stem-cell research may be one of the most important in modern society. On the one side are those who believe that it holds out the promise to cure or at least relieve some of humanity’s most terrible diseases. On the other side are those who insist that stem cells can only be collected by killing embryos - by murder.
Should Parents Be Licensed?
Procreation is a natural part of being human; indeed, it’s a natural part of life in general. It may not be one of those things that “simply happens,” but it does happen without always a great deal of forethought and preparation. There are some who argue, though, that it should...
Sloth: The Seven Deadly Sins
Is your life as busy and filled with activities a everyone else’s seems to be? Mine certainly is - I never seem to have a free moment. I’m up early to work and spend the entire day involved in one task or another. If hectic schedules rule your life, then perhaps you could benefit from a self-help book - or an anti-self-help book, to be more...
God's Soldiers: History of the Jesuits
There are probably few people who haven’t heard of the Jesuits, more properly known as the Society of Jesus, but just how much do people know about them - their history, their goals, and their methods? That’s a more difficult question to answer because there are so many myths that have developed about the organization (both positive and negative).
Sin and Salvation in the World Religions
The concepts of sin and salvation belong principally to Christianity, but do other world religions have similar ideas? As a matter of fact they do, and comparing these concepts to one another can provide an interesting and revealing perspective on these religions as well as their various doctrines.
The Cave of John the Baptist
John the Baptist is one of the most enigmatic figures of the New Testament. He seems to play an important role early on and his work is even mentioned in other contemporary records. Then, however, he disappears rather quickly and Jesus takes over. Who was John, what did he do, and what sort of role did he play in the society around him?
Our Fathers: The Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal
There are few who haven’t head of the scandal of Catholic priests who for decades got away with sexually abusing boys and girls. Most information, though, has come through snippets in newspapers and magazines. The true horror of not just the extensive sexual abuse but also the hierarchy’s cover-ups has escaped most people’s notice.
Conclave: The Next Papal Election
Eventually every pope dies and a successor must be chosen. Although the current methods and traditions would be unrecognizable to the earliest Christian leaders, they have been in place for several hundred years with only minor changes or additions. A better understanding of how a pope is chosen provides important insights on how the papacy works and what a pope’s role ultimately is.
Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840
The Spanish missions in California are an important part of the state's history - important enough that many want the government to pay for restoring the missions, even if they continue to be used as active churches. At the same time, though, people aren't being completely honest about many of the awful things that religious leaders did to...
Travels in Four Dimensions: The Enigmas of Space and Time
Space and time are the foundations of our existence, our experiences, and our lives. Nothing is more fundamental than they, and probably because of that, nothing is more capable of producing paradox and confusion than attempted reflection on their nature. Just what are space and time, how do they operate, and do they even 'really' exist?
Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography
Paul is one of the most important figures in Christianity and some argue that he is the most important, surpassing even Jesus. Why? Jesus’ ideas are recorded second-hand and don’t offer much in the way of theology - nothing very useful to a church. Paul did much more: he established churches, kept in touch with them, and created a theological...
The Politics of American Religious Identity
For all of America’s 200+ years of history, religion and politics have played an intricate and interesting dance. Where does one stop and the other begin? That’s not always easy to discern - although they should ideally be separate, many individuals don’t distinguish between them. This has led to a number of unfortunate episodes, including a...
A Passion for Freedom
Freedom is an important cause all around the world. Most who struggle for freedom do so in quiet anonymity while a few have become quite famous for their work. All, however, have the same basic goals and the same fundamental obstacles. The more one learns about the struggles of such people, the more important the entire agenda becomes.
The concept of 'apology' is basic to all human cultures - indeed, it is arguably basic to human nature and communities in general. What, however, is an 'apology,' what makes one effective, and how can people learn to apologize in a better manner? For a concept that is supposed to be so fundamental, it’s curious that so many questions would exist...
No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam
The rise of political Islam in the Middle East has generated a great deal of concern and fear - not only in West, but also among Muslims themselves. Many are worried that this will become a regression to medieval theocracies, but what if there are alternatives? Perhaps a strong, self-conscious, and overtly political Islamic system doesn’t have to be a repressive theocratic system?
Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church
One of the most fundamental and indispensable doctrines of Mormonism is the idea that ancient Israelites traveled from the Middle East and settled in the New World. Their history is what constitutes the text of the Book of Mormon, primary scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Does morality matter? Itâs difficult to see how it wouldnât, but in an age when relativism has gained such widespread currency that may not be the case. After all, if every moral choice is equally valid, how can moral choices really matter at all? That isnât very credible, though, which is a good reason to doubt the validity of relativism...
Humankind: A Brief History
What does it mean to be human? This may sound like it should be obvious and, at one time, it was - but not anymore. Science has blurred the once sharp biological distinctions between humans and other primates. Science has also blurred the behavioral differences between humans and other animals.
Top Books Reviewed in 2004
Selected here are the best books reviewed during the year 2004. Qualities which helped books stand out include providing an interesting/unusual perspective on long-running debates, offering a real enduring value to readers (i.e., worth reading more than once), and being an invaluable resource on its topic.
Religion, particularly forms of religion that are fundamentalist or fervent in nature, have experienced explosive growth in recent decades. Many have found this to be strange, considering that great scientific, social, and political progress made made in secular circles. What could be going on? What are people looking for that they don't find in...
Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart & Saladin
Of the nine official Crusades to the Holy Land, only the first was a real military success; yet in many ways, the third was perhaps the most interesting. The reason for this was, as in so many cases, the personalities involved: Richard the Lionheart from England and Saladin the Kurdish sultan. They were among the most fascinating and heroic figures of their time...
Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich
The relationship between Christianity and Nazism has long been a subject of debate. On the one hand, the principles of Christianity would seem to be opposed to Nazism and should cause Christians to fight it; on the other hand, millions of German Christians went along with Nazism and some even cooperated eagerly. What happened?
Theology in America: Christian Thought from Puritans to Civil War
It can be argued that understanding American history and politics requires understanding Christianity as well, but the connection between America and Christianity goes farther than that. For a long time theological language, imagery, and ideas were pervasive in American political and cultural discourse - Christian theology was the common language of Americans in all walks of life.
Soldiers of God: Primal Emotions and Religious Terrorists
The human species has obviously evolved from earlier primates, which means that we owe not just our biology but also significant aspects of our behavior to our evolutionary past. How much of our religious behavior, though, can be attributed to past evolution and primitive needs? Might traditional religion simply be an expression of other primitive drives?
The Moral Authority of Nature
Whether made explicit or merely implicit, the principle of 'it's unnatural, therefore it’s wrong' appears in a wide variety of arguments for a great many positions. It’s likely that as far back as people could even think about it, they have connected what is good, beautiful, or proper with what they assume to be “natural.” We can find it in...
Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate
Those who support the legalization of gay marriage in America as well as those who oppose it are each convinced that theirs is the moral, legal, and rational position to hold. They couldn’t be farther apart in the contents of their beliefs, but they are very similar when it comes to the manner of holding those beliefs. How is one to determine who is correct?
A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond
Scholars and scientists have, over the years, suggested a number of supposedly 'human' qualities that are claimed to sharply differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. All have, upon further research, proven untenable - but the most common and the one quality that many assume almost instinctually to be particularly 'human' is our intellect.
The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Are the Gospels?
Did Jesus exist as a real, physical person? That’s always been assumed by Christians, but recent scholarship has begun to cast some doubt upon that. The more one looks at the biblical record, the less reliable the evidence of a historical Jesus becomes. If one probes deeply enough, belief in a historical Jesus may become unjustified.
In Search of Our Humanity: Neither Paradise Nor Hell
What does it mean to be human? That is the central question of humanist philosophy. Not all books on humanism, though, tackle that question directly - hardly a surprise, considering how difficult it is.
One of the most important figures in early American history (and indeed, in American history generally), Thomas Jefferson has long been a figure of intense political and historical research. Every American knows his name, and for many, he is practically a mythic figure who is more responsible than most for the American experiment in democracy and civil rights.
God's Scripture: A Comparison: What Jews, Christians, Muslims…
The conflict between Islam and Christianity - as well as Islam and the West - has gone on for centuries now and it shows no signs of letting up any time soon. This conflict has raged over religion, politics, resources, values, economics, and everything else. One of the more interesting aspects of this violent history is the fact that Islam and...
Top Books on Explaining & Defending Atheism
Atheists are always looking for books to help with explaining or defending atheism — whether for their own use, to give to others, or both. There are lot more books available out there today than there was even just a few years ago, but it's not always clear which books on atheism are best. Not every book is equal in terms of the amount of...
Top Books on Secular Parenting & Families
As the numbers of secular, irreligious people in America grows, so do the numbers of secular, irreligious families. Because of the integral role religion has traditionally played in raising children, many secular parents find themselves looking for alternatives — and especially for resources to help them transmit skeptical, freethinking...