166 of 186 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just means are necessary for just ends
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...
Published on April 13, 2003 by Brother Anansi
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Inoffensive but incomplete.
Kimball's WHEN RELIGION BECOMES EVIL argues that while true religion is all nice and good, it can sometimes get corrupted into forms that are violent and dangerous. One can tell when a religion has become corrupted by looking for these warning signs: (i) the religion claims to be the exclusive province of absolute truth; (ii) the religion demands blind obedience to a...
Published on January 25, 2003 by Mark I. Vuletic
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166 of 186 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just means are necessary for just ends,
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. While clerics in these religions are fond of saying they worship the same Abrahamic God, their conceptions of that God are different.
A third criticism that has been raised is that Kimball does not address the issue of the possibility that a religion's "authentic sources" themselves may contain moral and theological errors that encourage evils. I think this ommission is understandable given the focus of the book. Kimball's book is not a comprehensive discussion of religion, but rather a discussion of the corruptions of mainline religion.
My only other wish is that Kimball had accompanied his five warning signs of "evil" religion with their counterparts that indicate more positive religion, which I attempt below...
Charles Kimball's five warning signs of corruption in religion:
1. Absolute truth claims
2. Blind obedience
3. Establishing the "ideal" time
4. The end justifies any means
5. Declaring holy war
My five signs of integrity and dynamism in religion:
1. Dynamic and relational truth and ongoing learning
2. Critical thinking and honest inquiry
3. Making the best of every time and leaving the determination of the end time to heaven
4. Both means and end are important and linked
5. Declaring holy peace
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literalism as the Enemy,
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.
Is religion the problem? Kimball correctly, I think, answers yes and no. Religion is always going to be with us and there will always probably be those who take it to extremes or use it cynically for their own gain, often at the expense of the lives of others. However, religion may be a human need. This is not necessarily a seeking for God as some would have it, but a need for meaning in life. An atheist can be just as ethically good as the best believer and a devote believer can easily be as evil in their actions as the most evil non-believer. We have Schindlers and Gandhis, Communist dictators and inquisitors. People who saved Jews in Nazi- overrun Europe came from all sorts of belief systems, including atheists, but all had some sort of faith in a moral system. On the other hand, some people who considered themselves truly religious turned in Jews to their destroyers. It is belief in a basic morality, not in a specific doctrine, which makes life bearable.
As Kimball points out religion at its best can be very good, while at its worst it reaches depths of depravity seldom seen in simple non-religious disputes. The current hatred between Palestinians and Israelis is a case in point. Both sides have lost moral authority and I find it difficult at present to have as much sympathy for either side as I would like.
While I cannot exactly share Kimball's Christian faith I am impressed with his honest attempt to examine the evils of religious literalism and bigotry. I might add that I do not embrace atheism, but prefer a more ecumenical approach that includes all major religions and non-believers as well. However, whatever your beliefs, if you want to learn more about the problems of religious exclusivity and literalism associated with hatred and violence, you cannot go wrong by reading "When Religion Becomes Evil." Whether you agree with Kimball or not, it will expand your understanding of the difficulties involved in too literal a belief system.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brief overview to a solid contribution,
According to Charles Kimball, religion is the most powerful and pervasive force on earth. Religion inspires humans to transcend their self-interests, while at the same time, more evil has been committed in the name of religion than any other human institution. Using a comparative religious approach, Kimball uncovers five warning signs that increase the likelihood of a religion becoming unhealthy or evil.
Kimball argues the word `religion' is amorphous and difficult to define. As a result, the author believes a comparative religious methodology is necessary, one that sees the similarities and interconnectedness of all religions. Kimball, next, asks if religion is the cause of evil, and he answers both yes and no. A religion that is arrogant, condescending, and requires adherents to "disconnect their brain" is problematic. On the other hand, religion opens up humanity to a universe of purpose and beauty and teaches how to live meaningful and moral lives as individuals and in community. Kimball seeks to discover the signs that increase the likelihood of religion becoming evil.
The first warning sign that religion is displaying tendencies towards evil is the belief and adherence to absolute truth claims. When conceptualizations of God are held with certainty and rigid doctrine, the propensity towards evil increases dramatically. Sacred texts, sources of wisdom and guidance, become abused when selective readings of the text are used to reinforce these absolute truth claims. Christianity and Islam have missionary mandates, but these become imperialistic when conversion is forced because of absolute truth claims. Kimball argues for a "human view of truth", one that is dynamic and relational, allowing adherents to affirm truth without solidifying truth claims into absolute propositions.
Another pivotal point when religion becomes evil is blind obedience: when adherents abdicate personal responsibility to religious authorities. When a charismatic leader demands total obedience, has unrestricted power, and has total control, religion is unhealthy. Uncritical acceptance of doctrine is also unhealthy, as authentic religion encourages questions and reflection. Strict segregation from the larger society, combined with a leader with unlimited power is dangerous. Kimball asserts that religious inquiry and freedom of thought are necessary for responsible religious adherence.
Every religious tradition believes that something is awry on earth, while some believe that an ideal time will arrive in the future. When adherents believe they can speak for God and wish to usher in this time, the likelihood for disaster increases. Many Muslims embrace the hope for an all Islamic society, zealous Jewish settlers dream of a time when Israel will be returned to its divinely promised status, and the Christian Religious Right believe that America should be politically structured with Christian principles in mind. Kimball opines those who narrowly define temporal structures of the state and those who believe they are God's agents to usher in a theocracy are dangerous.
Religion also becomes a force for evil when the ends justify any means: when one theological component gets elevated, thus becoming an end, and adherents become consumed with achieving or protecting this end. All religions have notions of sacred space, but an unhealthy religion becomes obsessed with protecting this space. Reinforcing or protecting group identity against an `other', or protecting group identity from within the group, are also potentially dangerous signs. Institutional structures develop in all religious traditions, but corruption occurs when the protection of the institution becomes the end. Kimball asserts that a healthy religion preserves the connection between means and ends.
The last warning sign occurs when religious leaders believe their struggle is a "holy" war. Kimball outlines the history of pacifism to the just war theory and crusader ideals within Christianity, and he shows how each of these views were represented in the Gulf War of 1990-91. Islam is a peaceful religion, which asks adherents to build a just and peaceful social order. The word jihad means "struggling in the way of God," but in a narrower sense jihad is understood as a struggle in a military sense - with rules similar to the Christian just war theory. Because of socio-economic disparities, some Muslims openly advocate violent means to achieve revolutionary ends, and some leaders declare this revolution as a holy war in order to legitimize their cause. Kimball believes both that Christian and Muslim adherents should not speak of war but of peace and that the call for holy war is not holy.
With the knowledge of when religion becomes evil, religions have a clear understanding of healthy praxis. Faith, hope, and love should be the guiding spiritual compass for all religious adherents, so that in times of conflict unhealthy religious mechanisms can be averted. Against secularism, Kimball finds validity in religious traditions because of the time-tested wisdom and ethical standards, and he believes that religions should embrace religious diversity. With religious diversity Christians have three options, exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism, but Kimball believes each position has value if adherents from different faiths work together for the common good of humanity. Finally, the Middle East represents a microcosm for the world community: if peaceable solutions are not found in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then the future for the world community and world religions are bleak.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Age of Messiahs or Organized Heresy?,
Religion. How is it that for the majority it is a way of worship, enlightenment, and ethical conduct, while for others, it becomes a weapon for destructiveness and the worst in human behavior? Dr. Kimball, who has a long list of some very impressive credentials, takes us on a short journey to witness how faiths that start out on their true paths, become susceptible to any of the five warning signs as it heads towards polluted waters.
From the dark side of Christian "Love" through the ages to those who have bastardized Islam today, the book focuses on the five warning signs and are explored from cults, to mainstream religions, in different degrees and assorted times, and amongst various groups both ancient and modern.
Ranging anywhere from exclusivism to outright religious anarchy, the author's writing shines as he focuses on religious corruption within the three Abrahamic teachings in the context of current social, economic, and political factors where communities fragmented by conflict, economic, or social inequities, and even political division, produce collective ideologies and zealots of all stripes.
In the last chapter he writes that people of all faiths should be able to share their core beliefs while remembering that "one's own experience of God does not exhaust all possibilities." He claims it is possible to embrace "religious pluralism" and still stay true to ones own faith. A couple of the reviewers seem to miss his point by arguing that he is trying to blur religious lines... I do not think so. What he IS saying, and the point I believe he is trying to make is that how people of different faiths relate to each other has never been more urgent then it is today. He himself (a Christian Baptist minister) admits "..in my study and experience, I have yet to discover truths that compel me to embrace another religious tradition as my own." (p208) The author doesn't want you to abandon your religion, he wants you to embrace it yet at the same time build bridges to people of other faiths. Although I can't agree with everything in the book, it is still a welcome addition in contrast to those who simply stereotype or demonize other faiths.
35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent work with two concerns,
As a student of Dr. Kimball at Wake Forest University, I thought it important to submit a review of his most recent book from that perspective. I have read other works by Dr. Kimball, but this one is by far the best. It is timely in its publication, yet scholarly in its approach. Too many books have been published on terrorism since Spetember 11, 2001 that are nothing more than fluff, riding the wave of capitalism on the wallets of the ignorant. However, Dr. Kimball's work analyzes religion and the nature of faith when it becomes corrupt, explaining how the process works and the end results it has the potential to produce. Of all the books out there on this same subject, of which I have read many, Dr. Kimball's is numbered among the best. I have only two concerns about it, the first of which is minor; often Kimball cites himself, which comes off as pompous. The second concern is that he cites both John Esposito and Samuel B. Huntington as positive examples of other scholars who have written on the same subject. In conversation with many Arab Muslims recently, they have warned me of these two authors saying that their approach to Middle Eastern studies is far too Western and lacks real understanding of complex issues. I have not read Esposito, but I concur with this assessment of Huntington's work (Clash of Civilizations). However, Kimball's book is well written, erudite, concise, and above all, informative. In this day and age of uncertainty, books such as this serve to enlighten those of us who know little, but thirst for more.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative and accessible to a broad audience!,
This is a very, very good book. It can be a quick read and unlike many other books in the genre of comparative religion is accessible to a broad audience. I think almost anyone can read this book and learn something of value. I know that I did. Even though the title has the word "Evil" in it, do not take that to mean it is a denigration of religion. The author himself is an ordained minister. I think it is rather a clear warning of behaviors that can cause people to forget the true meaning of their religion and ultimately corrupt the original purpose of the belief structure. At the forefront is the first warning sign of "Absolute Truth Claims" which I think leads to the the other 4 warning signs he covers. People should not seek the cover of their faith or beliefs to stunt the pursuit of greater knowledge. The author points out the common ground of many religions in the "Golden Rule" which if adhered to would prevent the corruption of religion in the name of other causes. The Author specialized in Islamic Studies while earning his Th.D. at Harvard, so I think his interpretations of Islam are quite valuable and instructive in understanding some of the issues we confront today in the world. Again, this is an excellent book and very easy to understand. It is only a couple hundred pages long. For many readers, I think the several hours you will invest into reading this book will be well worth it.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Inoffensive but incomplete.,
Kimball's WHEN RELIGION BECOMES EVIL argues that while true religion is all nice and good, it can sometimes get corrupted into forms that are violent and dangerous. One can tell when a religion has become corrupted by looking for these warning signs: (i) the religion claims to be the exclusive province of absolute truth; (ii) the religion demands blind obedience to a leader; (iii) the religion attempts to bring about the apocalypse in order to pave the way for utopia; (iv) the religion argues that the ends justifies any means; (v) the religion promotes holy war.
While I believe these are all good indicators of trouble to come, and also believe Kimball did a good job of discussing and fitting case examples to them, I do not feel Kimball succeeded in establishing that forms of religion that display these indicators are "corruptions" of "true" religion. Instead, he appears virtually to assume that of course true religion is peaceful and progressive, so any deviation must be a corruption. But such an assumption is not obvious to me. For all I can tell from what Kimball has written, ultra-fundamentalists have just as much claim to be honoring "true" religion as do liberals, even though I appreciate the liberal position more. Perhaps I am wrong in this assessment, but either way, I would have liked to see Kimball offer far more argument for his contrary views.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book should be translated into many languages,
Everyone concerned about destructive fanaticism manifesting itself in the world's major religions should read this important book, praised by Publisher's Weekly as "Top Religion Book of 2002." Kimball, whose grandfather was Jewish, is an ordained Baptist minister, a committed religious liberal, and a Harvard-educated scholar of religious history, especially of the "Abrahamic" faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He loves all three of these faiths with a deep-rooted passion and is also an admirer of Buddhism and of Gandhi. For years he has served the cause of cross-cultural understanding and human rights as speaker, writer and National Council of Churches diplomat. Dr. Kimball was ideally situated to write a book clarifying the troubling issues raised by 9/11 and other recent events worldwide.
The book's primary theme is to find out why certain followers of religion enslave themselves to doctrine, and why they dehumanize, even demonize, those who follow other paths. It begins with a head-on discussion of whether religion itself is the problem, concluding, as most of us would, that genuinely transcendent religious faith -- like Martin Luther King's and Gandhi's -- provides history's cutting edge for good, but that coerced religious practice is intrinsically evil. More than once he writes that "freedom from religion is a corollary to freedom of religion." The chapters are broken into his choice of the five most dangerous tendencies of religious belief, which are listed below along with a few of the subtopics. In some ways this is a weak structure, since many of the topics and subtopics overlap, but sorting them into five broad areas aids the reader in focusing on important issues:
Absolute truth claims -- misunderstanding and denigration of other faiths, idolatry of sacred texts and/or hierarchies, the difficulty of defining deep religious concepts in words
Blind obedience -- requiring adherents to "disconnect their brain" (Kimball's phrase), not only within cults like Jonestown and Aum Shinrikyo, but also troubling manifestations within all the major world faiths
Establishing the "ideal" time -- Millennialism, Israel-Palestine, televangelism, the Taliban
The end justifies any means -- Hindu-Muslim conflicts, Bosnia, murder of abortionists, cover-ups of child-molesting priests
Declaring holy war -- Christian crusades and inquisitions, Islamic and Jewish fanaticism, cynical use of religion for political ends, the real meaning of "jihad."
Although I've read the Qu'ran a couple of times, that was some years ago and I learned so much about the nobler aspects of Islam from Kimball's book that I intend to reread that faith's sacred text. Kimball's final chapter, on inclusive belief, is cautiously hopeful, and ends in a quote from the Qu'ran, Surah 5:48, which is more latitudinarian than anything I recall from either the Judaic or Christian scriptures: "If God had so willed He would have created you one community, but [instead] . . . compete with one another in good works." As Kimball sees it, the sublimest aspect of religion is its vast and infinite diversity, providing all varieties of competition for good, which in time may overwhelm the evil tendencies of religious narrowness.
Keep this impressive book on your shelf next to Eric Hoffer's classic on political fanaticism, The True Believer.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why did 9/11 happen?,
Why do practitioners of religions end up doing bad things? Why do we believe our religion (whichever one it is) gives us an open mandate to do evil? Is it, in fact, our religions that foment & encourage? Or is it something else?
With the dreadful attacks of 9/11 & the global unease with Western values in mind, Charles Kimball sets out to explore these questions & see if there are any answers.
If you have ever asked why good & faithful people mutate into death-dealing martyrs, WHEN RELIGION BECOMES EVIL, offers some insights. It is by no means a "heavy" read, after all Charles Kimball has been successfully teaching theology students for many years! & by the way, he was one of seven clergymen invited to Iran to confer about the embassy hostage taking.
Thought-provoking, lucid & accessible. Highly recommended by RebeccasReads.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood on our Hands,
Since I finished reading it, I have been recommending this book to everyone I know who is a reader, interested in politics, or concerned about the state of the world today. It is written humbly, accessibly, engagingly, without attacking anyone's belief, but showing that representatives of all the world's religions have allowed cultural hatred to lead to bloodshed, in the name of religious faith. I especially commend it to anyone who fears Islam, thinking it an evil, violent faith. Kimball, an ordained Baptist minister with a Th.D. from Harvard University, specialized in Islamic studies, has been involved in high level conversations in the Mid-East. As he points out, "whether or not one is personally religious, it is imperative that we all try to understand and address . . . behavior in religion that threatens everyone." His five warning signs are right on the mark, and will raise your awareness that we have a responsibility to speak out against evil, especially when under the guise of religious belief.
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When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs by Charles Kimball (Paperback - September 1, 2003)
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