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When Religion Becomes Evil Hardcover – September 3, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By now it's commonplace to remark that more violence than good has been committed in the name of religion. The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian strife confirm this age-old aphorism. Wake Forest religion professor Kimball has made something of a career out of speaking about the ways in which religion becomes evil. Every religion has the capacity to work either for good or evil, and he contends that there are five warning signs that we can recognize when religion moves toward the latter. Whenever a religion emphasizes that it holds the absolute truth-the one path to God or the only correct way of reading a sacred text-to the exclusion of the truth claims of all other religions and cultures, that religion is becoming evil. Other warning signs include blind obedience to religious leaders, apocalyptic belief that the end time will occur through a particular religion, the use of malevolent ends to achieve religious goals (e.g., the Crusades) and the declaration of holy war. Kimball focuses primarily on the three major Western monotheistic religions, although his examples also include new religious movements such as the People's Temple, Aum Shinrikyo and the Branch Davidians. Religion can resist becoming evil by practicing an inclusiveness that allows each tradition to retain its distinctiveness while it works for the common good. Kimball's clear and steady voice provides a helpful guide for those trying to understand why evil is perpetrated in the name of religion.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

9/11 A Baptist minister and author with a doctorate in the history of religions from Harvard, Kimball was involved in facilitating communication with the militant students who held hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979. He also served as the director of the Middle East office of the National Council of Churches and since 1990 has worked in a university setting. His background explains why he is more than qualified to deal with the controversial subject of this book. After 9/11, we all need to consider how religious practice can lead to evil. Kimball includes many religions in his discussion but focuses on Christianity and Islam because they are the largest and are both missionary religions. Is religion part of the problem of evil? Kimball answers yes and no. He offers five warning signs (e.g., absolute truth claims, calls for blind obedience) of when religion is in danger of becoming corrupt. As he points out, it is urgent for us all to be aware of these signs because we all share one planet. His book is extremely informative, well written, and timely. Highly recommended for all libraries. John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (September 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060506539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060506537
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on July 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
When the first airliner slammed into the World Trade Tower on that fateful September day in 2001 and I heard the news over the radio as I drove to work my first thought was not Saddam Hussein (as was the apparent first thought of at least one major world leader), but Osama bin Laden. Why did I think this? Because there had been an earlier attack on the towers by Islamic extremists and religious fanaticism is more likely to produce self-sacrificing violent deeds than simple greed and power hunger. Religious extremism allows a person to destroy themselves on the promise that they will wake up in paradise. None of the people around Saddam Hussein were that devoted to the admittedly evil dictator to sacrifice themselves in such a violent act.
Charles Kimball's book, "When Religion Becomes Evil" addresses the problem of corrupted religion and how to recognize it. He uses five warning signs to define such corruption- claims of absolute truth, demands of blind obedience, establishment of the "ideal" time, justification of means by the end, and declaration of holy war. We certainly have enough examples, from the Branch Davidians of David Koresh, to Heaven's Gate and Jim Jones, on through to Osama bin Ladin. All of these were or are demonstrably pathological. They all led to death and destruction for their followers and often innocent bystanders. Others, while not so extreme, are dangerous enough to warrant observation. These include several organizations of the so-called religious right in this country who often advocate violence indirectly by condemning certain groups that are deemed unworthy or under the control of Satan. As Kimball (who is a Baptist academic) notes exclusionary literal religions can indeed be a danger to democracy and to the general welfare of the society.
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171 of 192 people found the following review helpful By Brother Anansi on April 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a magnificent book. There are some typos and minor errors, such as the repeated misspelling of Hal Lindsey's name, but that is understandable for a first edition. There is quite a lot to ponder and savor within its relatively brief length (213 mid-sized pages) and it makes its points and justifies them while remaining easy-to-read. It explains the core tendencies that corrupt religion and provides a clarion call for more inclusive, honest, and dynamic religion in this new century.

A valid criticism that was raised by another reader is Dr. Kimball's use of the term "authentic" (which means genuine, real, true, undoubted, unquestionable, factual, verifiable) for his sort of religion. That assumes that all religious expression that he disagrees with is "inauthentic." One may argue that one type of religion is better than another in certain specific ways, as the author has, but that does not mean that bad religion is inauthentic. Bad religion is as real as good religion, just as bad politics are as real as good politics. Using the term authentic provides a temptation to use it as a copout. When someone criticizes the bad use of religion, an apologist could reply, "Well, that is not 'authentic' religion. Only good religion is true religion," thus making criticism of religion impossible, because any ills will be brushed aside as "inauthentic" and not due to religion at all. I prefer Dr. Kimball's other adjectives for good religion: healthy, dynamic, honest, etc.

A second valid criticism that was raised is, that while it is true that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all stem from the same root, Kimball goes overboard when he says on page 50 that "There is simply no ambiguity here. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are talking about the same deity." That is an oversimplification.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Dave Kinnear on November 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I received this book in proof edition from one of my Religion Editor friends. She has done me a great service. I found the thought process and information provided by Kimball to be most compelling. The book is well laid out and well written with concise expression of ideas. I have long believed that religion as we know it today has become corrupted by men (and I do mean men since the religions are mostly controlled by men, not women). But Kimball puts into eloquent words those ideas and concepts which I found I could only hold in my mind and not express.
Like so many books in this genre, When Religion Becomes Evil was scheduled for publication on the one year anniversary of the 9/11/01 tragedies. It could not have been timed better or be more relevant and important. For it not only points out the five basic corruptions that manifest themselves in each of the major religious traditions, but it holds out hope that each of those religions has within it the wherewithal to root out and correct those flaws. Yet we must be willing to hold ourselves and our faith institutions accountable for the intolerance we practice.
Kimball states that religion is arguably the most powerful and persuasive force on earth and that yes, it is the problem. It is the problem because each seems to hold that it alone has the absolute truth, demands blind obedience, and justifies the means used by the end goal (presumably salvation or "right living.") Somehow, Kimball has reinvigorated the often used argument that the basic teaching of the world faith traditions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist) have been used for corrupt ends, yet are in themselves the seeds for healing.
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