Top positive review
11 people found this helpful
A lot better than you might think
on February 11, 2010
I had this book for two or three years before I finally read it. If I had gone by the average rating or the reviews which exist now, I probably never would have bought it. I'm glad I didn't see the user ratings before I bought it, because I found it to be a fascinating book, worth the effort to read. I think it will be of interest to religious readers who honestly want to know more about the book they revere, and to secularists who want a better understanding of the massive human effort to interpret the Bible and why it has had such an enduring influence.
I wonder if an editor chose the subtitle of the book: "Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously." The author's argument is far more subtle and interesting than this newsmagazine-like line might suggest. And, that argument is only a fraction of what the book has to offer. As a thoroughly secular adult who was raised in a Christian, even Bible Belt, tradition, I certainly learned more about how the Bible was (probably) written. I also gained a new respect for, and understanding of, the group of intelligent, usually religious, scholars who devote their lives to interpreting the Holy Book. Most of them seem not to be Christian fundamentalists. At the end of the book, the author also makes some cogent criticisms of contemporary secularists.
Though the language is occasionally a bit on the fancy side for my taste, on the whole the book should be readily understandable to interested nonspecialists, while being considerably more scholarly than the usual popular secularist offering on this topic. The author does poke some fun at what he might call certain absurdities of the scriptures, but he never descends near to the derisive sarcasm one sees in authors like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. I did find some arguments more convincing than others. For example, I'm not as impressed by the book's review of the Bible's comments on homosexuality as I am by its review of scripture and Jewish intermarriage. As one who grew up in a Christian household and lives in a predominantly Christian community, I'm sorry not to see more on the New Testament. I also look forward to the day when a similar book may be written about the Quran.
Due to my few quibbles in the previous paragraph, I would give this book a 4.5 if I could. Since I can't, I'll rate it as a 5 because I strongly recommend it to interested readers and I think the negative reviews I've seen don't do justice to the book's strengths. .