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The Heathen's Guide to World Religions: A Secular History of the One True Faiths Paperback – February 15, 2011
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About the Author
Kenneth Hopper has been active for 50 years as a writer on industrial affairs and a consultant in both the U.S. and Europe. William Hopper has spent his career in investment banking in New York and London.
Top customer reviews
Hopper is not a Neopagan Heathen, but an atheist one. In this book he covers Hindiusm, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity in the most rational, logical, irreverent ways possible. These religions make sense to me now! Especially Judaism and Christianity which have always baffled me. I know what power play Constantine (a pagan follower of Apollo) was up to when he created formal Hellenistic Christianity and got rid of the Gnostics. I understand Moses, the man who would be king and his life’s irony.
The strange changes in the Koran about how to deal with Christians now makes sense. The messages from the angel changes as the Christians' changed. If they were attacking, the angel said do bad stuff in retaliation. If the Christians were allies, the angel said they are like us. Very situational messages that oddly became codified outside of context. (Which is most religion, right?)
Even the many stages of Hinduism are explained well, which is nearly impossible. Most Hindus couldn't do it. I understand better why the changes happened. As a follower of the earliest Vedic stages, the latter ones make more sense to me.
Buddhism I sadly knew too much about: Buddha has a lot of rules. Zillions it feels like, but the main ones are the 8 paths of right living. He abandoned his family and never went back while telling everyone else how to live when he got over his suicidal depression from being overprotected. Kinda like a lot of Baby Boomer men, right? Old men want to nap and get kinda grumpy. The book helped me understand the later Buddha, the less militant one. Buddha got older and all these kids kept bugging him on the details, “You said this, what did it mean, how do I do this?” etc. Buddha says “Find Buddha within you” and heads into woods to nap ie meditate. I like that older Buddha who was much more than the neurotic fellow who created so much stress for everyone trying to be enlightened ie perfect. (See, you who have childhood issues with Jesus and the Church? You could have them instead with Buddha and lamas!)
The presentation leaves a lot to be desired, however. Stylistically, it goes back and forth between refreshing and annoying: especially with the Abrahamic religions, it switches between irreverence--which I can get behind--and just being flippant. More substantially, it makes several mistakes that lead me to wonder about the depth of his knowledge. His understanding of medieval history is simplistic, as is his description of indulgences. He lists the numbered Crusades, but skips the 6th, 7th, and 8th and calls the 9th number six. He repeats the myth that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy, and credits Islam with inventing the telescope (actually invented in the Netherlands in 1608), paper (China, 2nd century), and Arabic numerals (India, pre-1AD). He refers to Tolkien's Gollum as "Golem" (significant here, considering that golems are an element of Jewish folklore), and cites the Book of "Revelations" (a common error, but a poor one to make in context).
There are numerous technical issues, some of which must be sloppy editing rather than errors on the author's part. The book is shot through with typos--and this is the print book, not the Kindle version with possible scanning errors. Examples include simple missed letters ("see tons of idols and her [hear] dozens of stories"), letters replaced with numbers ("Eng1ish"), wrong words substituted ("never to go into Nirvana...until every soul proceeds him"--rather than "precedes him"), and several times it uses one apostrophe at the end of a word instead of apostrophes or quotation marks at both ends (" Yogi' and Yoga' are both..."). The book often (but not consistently) uses hyphens "-" in place of dashes "--", so for instance "To be a rabbi or teacher you had to have been taught-you had to have some credentials". And throughout, it makes a multitude of apostrophe errors--using them to make plurals, then not using them to make possessives, using it's in place of its, and so forth. I would give page numbers for some of these examples, but the book doesn't have them. (Also, the table of contents isn't very user-friendly--not that it could be much help anyway without page numbers to refer to.)
So, to sum up: the book needs a lot of editing work. I would also have liked to see a stronger treatment of some of the more obscure religions that don't get much attention, such as Jainism, but that's a "would be nice" item. Notwithstanding its serious technical issues, this contains a lot of useful information about the major world religions, and I found it very informative and accessibly written--apart from the annoyances mentioned above, which are very distracting. It gives a clearer explanation of what the various faiths are about than anything else I've read. With some revision, this has the potential to be a five-star book.
As for the content, I was hoping to like the book more. I have been looking for a timeline based general overview of the subject matter for a while, and this book seemed like the winner. The problem is not the information presented, it's the delivery and flow. The author wrote in a very conversational cheeky style that was campy and distracting.Too bad seeing as I do think the idea of the book is fantastic and fairly unique.
It's worth the read as the format of the subject matter is presented well. There are plenty of books the delve deep into particular religions or times in history, this is different. I like the idea of "A Heathen's Guide...", I just wish I was done better.
It presents a combination of the historical facts and myths that make up religious beliefs and it is not always possible to determine what is fact and what is fiction. For example, he talks about the life of Buddha as described by the religion without discussing whether it is based on a real historical person or completely mythical. It is therefore not an academic text.
Religious folk will be offended because the book does not treat religion with "respect" but those of us who think it is all nonsense will enjoy reading this.
Most recent customer reviews
Author is knowledgeable, irreverent and sometimes funny.
-I was kind of disappointed that the author showed only his opinion rather than different interpretations on historical jesus, fall of...Read more