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Religion for Dummies

Honest Account of Religion - or Biased Account?

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Religion for Dummies

Religion for Dummies

In the book Gellman and Hartman explain their goal as an attempt to provide an “honest” accounting of religion, but that honesty suffers from their (understandable) prejudice in favor of religion, arguing that the “true nature” of religion is only good and never really bad. According to Gellman and Hartman, those who commit violence in the name of religion pervert that faith — their definition of “cults” is particularly revealing in how they try to separate out the “bad” and pretend that it isn’t “real” religion:

    Cults are not religions at all. They are not ancient, and they are just scams pretending to be a religion. Cults are brainwashing and moneymaking centers run by groups of power-seeking, money-hungry leaders who are merely working to increase their own power and wealth. Cults use the laws in the United States that protect religions as a cover for their corrupt and unspiritual activities.

Aside from the fact that the characteristic “ancient” is quite irrelevant to the definition of “religion,” what they describe could easily apply to many leaders of mainstream religious groups. Not a few people have observed that many Christian televangelists have been more concerned with their own wealth than with the spiritual development of others, but does that mean that Christianity is just a “cult”? The term “cult’ is often used simply to denigrate the religious groups someone doesn’t like, and that appears to be the case here, I’m sorry to say.

They don’t even accept honest criticism of religion, objecting when people cite problematic and violent aspects of religious beliefs. For example, in a recent column they claimed that there are only two reasons for quoting the “bad parts of our traditions” — to use religion as a weapon to hurt others or “because your own hatred and prejudice is so strong that it’s perverted your faith.” The possibility that citing the bad portions of their faith might serve as a useful reminder that religion isn’t always good and that religious people need to take responsibility for all aspects of their traditions doesn’t seem to occur to them.

The authors prejudices do not, however, make the book worthless, in large part because those prejudices are so apparent. Many readers who don’t understand or who are unaware of the prejudices will be misled, which is a shame, but those who are more critical and self-conscious about what they are reading can still get a lot out of the information provided. The structure provides a very handy means of comparing and contrasting religious beliefs, and there is a ton of useful facts about religious scriptures, religious traditions, religious rituals, and more.

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