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Previously recommended religious/spiritual books

2011-July to December

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Previous months' recommendations

The current month's recommended book

Tentatively scheduled selections for future months

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2011-July's selection

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"Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived"

by Rob Bell.

Read reviews or order this book in hardcover, safely from the Amazon.com online book store
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Webmaster's comments:

Christians who interpret the Bible in accordance with religious tradition are faced with the inescapable conclusion that an all-loving God is relegating the vast majority of the human race to be tortured in Hell for all eternity after they die. The justification? Because they believed in the wrong deity or no deity at all.

There are names for political leaders on Earth who torture and imprison people for thought crimes, and they are all very negative.

There is a type of hatred of "the other" that covers such an opinion. It is called "Religious Intolerance." It is regarded as evil by many -- perhaps most -- people.

This is a difficult belief to accept, and is becoming more difficult with each new generation as democracy and religous freedom expand across the world. Most pastors now don't dwell on the horrors of Hell, and prefer to talk about a place of isolation from God. But it isn't always convincing.

This book offers an alternative.

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Product description from Amazon.com:

Millions of Christians have struggled with how to reconcile God's love and God's judgment: Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this "good news"?

Troubling questions—so troubling that many have lost their faith because of them. Others only whisper the questions to themselves, fearing or being taught that they might lose their faith and their church if they ask them out loud.

But what if these questions trouble us for good reason? What if the story of heaven and hell we have been taught is not, in fact, what the Bible teaches? What if what Jesus meant by heaven, hell, and salvation are very different from how we have come to understand them?

What if it is God who wants us to face these questions?

Author, pastor, and innovative teacher Rob Bell presents a deeply biblical vision for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of understanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance. The result is the discovery that the "good news" is much, much better than we ever imagined.

Love wins.

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2011-August's selection

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"Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case For Respectful Disbelief "

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse.

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

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Webmaster's comments:

This is not the usual type of attack book by Atheists -- the type that concludes that non-Atheists are without a clue. Rather, it makes a convincing moral case for Atheism and strongly supports real dialogue among persons of all religious faiths and none.

The first 45 pages of this book are absolutely invaluable and are alone worth the price of the book many times over. The authors promote civil dialogue. They discuss how we all have a responsibility to understand the beliefs of those with opposing positions. Further, we need to study why others have reached their conclusions. Only then will we truly understand their own position. Amazon.com's reviewer wrote: " In the end, the authors make not only a compelling case for atheism but also for the value and necessity of mutual respect in a democratic society" composed of citizens with diverse beliefs."

Many, perhaps most, adults in North America settle on a relatively few news sources. For example, they tend to choose Fox News, CNN or MSNBC depending upon which is closest to their beliefs. The authors of this book recommend that people also watch news sources that are slanted away from their own belief system. They will end up knowing much more of what others believe and why they believe it. They will also become far more proficient at detecting lies and biased reporting.

I sometimes have a fantasy of a new educational order in which public, middle, and high school curriculum developers are required to scrunch the existing subjects into four days of instruction, leaving Friday free for a full day of instruction and exploration into strudent's civic responsibilities, how democracy works, world religions, developing and maintaing relationships, parenting skills, comprehensive sex-education, developing critical & skeptical skills in analyzing the media, etc. The first 45 pages of this book would form an important component of Friday's classes.

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Other comments:

  • Author Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, commented: "Since the rise of the 'New Atheists' so much has been written about atheism -- both for and against -- that it is hard to imagine anything new or original being published on the subject. Yet Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse have made an important and original contribution in building a case that, more than religious skepticism, atheism is also a worldview that is both reasonable and, ultimately, moral. This book will do more to push the public's perception of atheism in a positive direction than any work published before. A vital addition to philosophical and skeptical literature."

  • Michael Ruse, director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science at Florida State University said" "This is a stimulating and fair-minded discussion of the plausibility of atheism. It is a very welcome change from the overheated rhetoric that surrounds this topic and should be read by all who are interested in the issue. I recommend it highly."

  • Ophelia Benson, editor of the website Butterflies and Wheels said: "Aikin and Talisse make a lucid and eloquent case for the value of reasonable disagreement even on matters of central importance. While firmly stating and arguing for their own atheism, they defend the principle of mutual civility and dialogue between people of differing views."

The list price is $20.00 US in paperback. Amazon.com sells it for $12.82 in paperback. (plus shipping).

About the book:

Format: Hardcover, 224 pages.
Publisher: HarperOne
Publishing date: 2011-MAR-15
ISBN: 006204964X and 978-0062049643
Size: 8.3 x 5.4 x 1 inches
Average of 480 customer reviews: 3.5 stars out of 5. Virtually all reviewers gave the book either a 1 star rating (the minimum) or a 5 star rating (the maximum) depending upon their initial theological beliefs.

The list price is $13.95 US in paperback. Amazon.com sells it for $13.79 in hardcover (plus shipping) and $13.71 in the Kindle edition.

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2011-September's selection

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"Jesus Potter Harry Christ" by Derek Murphy

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

"At first glance it may seem that J.K. Rowling's boy wizard and the crucified Jesus prophet who became the Christian savior have absolutely nothing to do with each other - and yet the unease and sometimes outright animosity between the followers of these two figures suggests otherwise. Harry has been banned, burned, and abused by religious fundamentalists for over a decade.  At the release of Rowling's final book, however, many readers were surprised to discover parallels between Jesus and Harry that, in such apparently diverse world-views, had no right to be there. 

As a result, recent years have witnessed a revolution in Christian responses to Harry, with many groups, writers and religious leaders praising Rowling's young sorcerer as ultimately Christian and a clear metaphor for Jesus Christ. And yet the most spine-tingling question has so far been ignored: Why do these similarities exist at all? Although it is easy to accept that Rowling crafted the literary character of Harry Potter after the figure of Jesus, shouldn't it pique our interest that Jesus -- a monumental figure in modern world religion generally believed to have been historical -- has so much in common with the obviously fictional fantasy world and character of Harry Potter?

The main distinction, it will be argued, is that Jesus Christ is real: Jesus has traditionally been viewed as a historical figure, while Harry is instantly recognized as fiction. But does this distinction apply to the many seemingly mythical elements in the gospels? Can Jesus' miracles be separated from Harry's magic tricks because they really happened - or will we allow that certain features of the gospels were exaggerated or intended to be literary. And if so, where do we stop? What protects Jesus from the claim that he is, like Harry, a fictional character?

This is the starting point of Jesus Potter Harry Christ; an innovative treatise into religious history, comparative mythology, astrological symbolism and contemporary culture. From ancient mystery religions to modern fairy tales, from fictional Hogwarts to the ruins of Jerusalem, Derek Murphy, PhD in Comparative Literature at one of the world's top universities, zooms in on one crucial question: How do we separate the obviously mythical literature of Jesus Christ from the historical man himself?"

Amazon.com sells it for $17.95 in paperback (plus shipping). Barnes and Noble sells the Nook ebook version for $4.99. Amazon.com sells the Kindle version for $6.99.

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2011-October's selection

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"Must Christianity be Violent: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology"

edited by Kenneth Chase and Alan Jacobs.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
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Kenneth Chase is director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics and associate professor of communications at Wheaton College.

Alan Jacobs is professor of English at Wheaton College. He is the author of "A Visit to Vanity Fair."

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An Amazon.com's review by Paul Alexander:

"This timely and helpful work is the result of a conference at Wheaton College (Illinois) in 2000. The goal was to investigate and apply the Christian ethic of peace and how it has been compromised by believers over the centuries. The triadic focus of the book allows the reader to consider historically both Christian complicity and prophetic action regarding the First Crusade (Joseph Lynch), the conquest of the Americas (Luis Rivera-Pagan), American slavery (Dan McKanan), the Holocaust (David Gushee), and whether Christians have done more harm than good (Mark Noll).

Christian practices are also considered, such as teaching American history from a perspective of constructive nonviolence (James Juhnke) and the emerging Just Peacemaking Theory that seeks to bring just war theorists and pacifists together to engage in concrete peace building practices that can prevent wars (Glen Stassen). Stassen continues to improve the approach with both biblical scholarship (from NT Wright, EP Sanders, JD Crossan, etc.) and practical implementations.

Richard Mouw, Stanley Hauerwas, and John Milbank provide the theological wrestlings that conclude the book. Mouw presents a Reformed perspective of the atonement and defends it against the claims that the atonement inherently promotes violence. Hauerwas' "Explaining Christian Nonviolence" admirably explains why nonviolence cannot be explained. It is not an ideal that can be abstracted from Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, the Christian life, and discipleship. It can be lived, it is a skill. Milbank answers with a chapter on the double passivity of violence: the passive watching of violence is itself violent. The transcript of their public conversation about Christian Peace, with questions from the audience, is also included."

Amazon.com sells it for $28.00 in paperback (plus shipping). Used copies are generally available at lower cost.

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2011-November's selection

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"To continue the Dialogue: Biblical interpertation and homosexuality" edited by C. Norman Kraus

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

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Postings on the back cover:

"Here are reasoned yet passionate calls for all who care about biblical interpretation, homosexuality, and discerning a way forward to join together, no matter their perspectives, in sober and prayerful deliberation under guidance of the Holy Spirit. Excerpts from Part III, see fuller responses there: 'I heartily welcome this first effort among Mennonite scholars to publish a book-length resource examining biblical, theological, and pastoral issues about homosexuality'."' --Sheldon Burkhalter

"We should indeed 'continue the dialogue' with the goal of enlarging our capacity to be both welcoming (evangelistic) and covenantal (disciplined) congregations and conferences." --John A. Lapp

"I am glad this book is being published. It represents a courageous next step in the journey." --Mary Schertz

"Let's not continue the dialogue. . . . Homosexual behavior. . . . is sin. With some exceptions, the overarching intent of these essays appears to be to question that. . . ." --Richard A. Showalter

"There are strong . . . biblical word studies but the calculation seems to be not to offend [the official Mennonite positions adopted at] Purdue/Saskatoon." --Elsie and Don Steelberg

"Though we are theoretically 'people of the book,' when push comes to shove we are very much 'people of power politics. . . .' --Elaine K. Swartzentruber

"The current state of conversation regarding homosexuality . . . is so polarizing leaders often feel neutralized." --Anonymous Administrator

"This book is entitled To Continue the Dialogue. . . . A different stance might be more fruitful. That is a call to discernment." --Willard M. Swartley

"This kind of resource is the necessary beginning point for true discernment." --George R. Brunk III

Amazon.com sells it for $23.95 in paperback (plus shipping) Used copies are often available at much lower cost.

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Product Details:

  • Paperback, 336 pages, published by Cascadia Publishing House (October 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931038015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931038010

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Webmaster's comments:

This book is an absolute gem, yet seems to be languishing in obscurity. It is one of the very rare attempts to engage in dialogue by members of a single Christian tradition -- the Mennonites.

Equal rights for lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) is arguably the main topic of religiously-motivated conflict in the U.S. today. Unfortunately, the two "solitudes" often throw verbal rocks at each other, but rarely debate the topic and almost never enter into dialogue. Yet dialogue is the fastest, least painful way of resolving the conflict.

This book makes a valuable contribution to dialogue on equal rights for LGBs by allowing free discussion of the main source of the conflict: opposing biblical interpretation of the six or seven "clobber" passages in the Bible that have been used to attack LGBs.

A valuable resource for anyone concerned about the loss of quality of life -- and of life itself through suicide -- of persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation and for people who care about sexual minorities.

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2011-December's selection

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"Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen" by Jeremy Cohen

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

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Review by Bryce Christensen of Booklist:

"In the history of Christian hostility toward Jews, historian Cohen discerns the consequences of a condemnatory image: the Jew as Christ killer.

That image, Cohen acknowledges, originates in the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John. But careful investigation identifies a chain of theologians and clerics who have elaborated the image of Jews as deicides to advance their own cultural interests. Such Christian leaders have thus made the faith's most visible symbol -- the cross -- a visual indictment of a beleaguered minority. That indictment has grown particularly ugly when amplified by lurid fantasies about Jews performing bloody rituals of human sacrifice and cannibalism. Closer to the cultural mainstream, the Christian imagination has demonized the Messiah-murdering Jew in devotional woodcuts, street plays, and modern cinema. Yet when Jews have responded to this ominous imagery, they have, surprisingly, sometimes claimed the cross as a symbol of their own suffering. No wonder modern Christians have struggled to reassess a cultural history in which their doctrines have incubated anti-Semitic atrocities. Jews and Christians alike will find much here to ponder."

Amazon.com sells it for $30.61 in hardcover, although used copies are often available at much lower cost

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Want a Kindle?

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

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-AUG-04
Latest update: 2011-DEC-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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