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Dangerous Words: Talking About God in the Age of Fundamentalism Hardcover – June 12, 2007
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“Many of us are frustrated when we speak of religion because our religious words are defined by fundamentalism. Instead of a cosmetic ‘reframing,’ Gary Eberle provides a clear and deep rethinking of religious vocabulary that is liberating and, well, enlightening. If you care about rescuing religion from fundamentalism—both religious and atheist—Dangerous Words is essential reading.”—Barbara O’Brien, founder of mahablog.com and author of Blogging America: Political Discourse in a Digital Nation
About the Author
Gary Eberle is chair of the English Department at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he has taught since 1982. His books include the critically acclaimed novel Angel Strings, as well as The Geography of Nowhere: Finding One's Self in the Postmodern World and A City Full of Rain, a collection of short stories.
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Fundamentalism is actually an outgrowth of Modernism, as Eberle shows. In fact, many people who hold highly modernistic scientistic worldviews are more susceptible to fundamentalism, either religious fundamentalism or secular fundamentalism--in my view because they no longer hold or are ignorant of core humanist values. Here Eberle's background as an English professor could have provided much to draw on for a critique and a call to renew shared values. (Perhaps his next book could address secular fundamentalism.)
The progression I've observed is as follows: Religious humanists first follow the lead of secular humanists in the war against fundamentalism. Over time liberal religionists become secular humanists, even as they still participate in the religious sphere. At the same time the secular humanist have dropped humanism completely and simply become secularist, embracing only science and a narrow view of reason, one without any appreciation of deeper and broader cultural traditions or a creative valuing of the human nature as found in humanism. As they feel more and more frustrated the secularists become secular fundamentalists, and utterly reject all religious and humanistic language for a closed matter-is-all-that-matters philosophy, though they fail to see their own fundamentalist qualities as a shadow of those they hate.
Unfortunately because of these "developments" (sic) in our culture, most of us have become wimps about religious, humanist, or even creative use of a fully human deeply-rooted language. Read this excellent broad-minded book, though the religious beliefs of the author may not exactly be your cup of tea. Unfortunately, those who really need to read it, the extremes, will not. But it does provide a stronger rationale and motivation for those of us who wish to stay free psychologically, spiritually, and mentally from the distortions of both sides, and are learning we need to speak out to do so.
Reading the book was like following the work of a detective trying to solve the mystery about why "people of many faiths/beliefs", including atheists, can be so antagonistic/hostile/evil to each other. I think that only someone who has a serious love affair with words can effect such simultaneous examination/pleasure through use of "word candy" to try to solve such a serious conundrum. One of the things that I found most interesting is how I regularly found my mind wandering into what I can only describe as "meditation" - something that over the years I have found increasingly difficult.
To try and say much more about the book would not do it justice. I found a number of internet references that better describe what the book contains. One of the best of these contains some of the author's own comments:
"Over the course of the book, the author examines the following problematical, lightning-rod words, one per chapter: truth, modernism, fundamentalism, myth, religion, tradition, God, and silence. He concludes in his final chapter, `Silence', that the way religious discourse can best proceed is when its partisans, on both sides of the issues, understand the limitations of words as they debate them.
'My original idea was to examine how fundamentalists use these words, but in the last two years a new movement has arisen called "neoatheism" led by writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I think these modern atheists are as wrong, in their way, as the fundamentalists in their approach to God and God-language. I hope that my book will serve as a bridge between fundamentalism and atheism, enabling us to really talk with each other instead of just shouting and lobbing bombs.' "
I highly recommend reading this book for enjoyment and also because it has an important and valuable message for all of us, regardless of personal beliefs.
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