- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (December 29, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415217865
- ISBN-13: 978-0415217866
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,028,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Religion Without God 1st Edition
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"Billington's book, which is very easy to comprehend, will interest three types of readers--those who are in agreement with his atheism; those who are undecided as to whether or not they believe there is a God; and those who believe in the reality of God.."
-"CHOICE, M.C. Rose, Goucher College
About the Author
Ray Billington is an experienced and respected author on Eastern religion and philosophy. His books include Understanding Eastern Philospophy, Living Philosophy and East of Existentialism, all published by Routledge. He also writes occasional journalism most notably as a contributor to The Guardian's 'Face to Faith' column. An ex-Methodist minister and onetime chaplain with the SAS, he has now retired from his post as Principal Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West of England.
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This book, as implied by the title, focuses on the atheistic religious philosophies of the east - Buddhism and Taoism. Hinduism, which is generally regarded as a monotheistic religion, is also discussed because of its unifying monistic concepts of Brahman and Atman. The author, who has written other books on eastern religion, was formerly a Methodist minister, a calling he followed for some twenty years. His theology - and I would maintain we can still call it that even without involving any concept of the western God - is much more radical than those of Bishops John Robinson (UK) and John Shelby Spong (USA), but along the same lines. They, like many members of the British `Sea of Faith' Network, do claim to be at least nominally Christian. Billington on the other hand thinks that people can be religious - or perhaps spiritual is a more accurate description - without invoking the concept of God.
The aim of the book is `to rid religion of theology, to rescue it from God, to declare God redundant.' Billington points out at the outset however that the very terms `God' and `religion' are open to so many interpretations that that they can embrace adherents from different if not actually opposite viewpoints. After the introductory chapter, the author makes exploration of these terms the subjects of his next three chapters, developing the characteristics of religion given by W.P. Alston in his Philosophy of Language. There are some faiths (e.g. Hinduism) and some theologians (e.g. Karl Barth) who regard religious dogma as an obstruction to enlightenment or communion with God. In discussing `God', Billington considers the viewpoints of deism, pantheism, animism, theism, polytheism, panentheism and dualism (as in Zoroastrianism with `gods' of good and evil).
Chapter 5 on Mysticism gets to the heart of the book as to what is really essential about religion: `mysticism is a unifying element in religion', though with the qualification that it is also `an intensely personal experience' and therefore `beyond rational explanation'. Billington then goes on to explore Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. There is much in Taoism that would resonate with spiritualists, who are not discussed in this book. The aim of Taoism is to be of such mind and action in one or more earthly incarnations as to be able to achieve spiritual immortality: the spiritual guides of Taoism are the immortals (hsien) who guide us in our earthly life - a concept similar to the guardian angels or spirit guides who influence the lives of spiritualists.
The remaining three chapters of the book take us into a Profane Religion, Beyond Good and Evil (to echo Nietzsche's phrase) that leads us into a numinous Substance Without Form, while harking back frequently to quotations from the TaoTe Ching. Overall, I felt that this book shared much with the philosophy of existentialism.
This is a scholarly and thought-provoking but eminently readable book that will provide stimulus for any religious or spiritual adherent who is inclined to think more deeply about their faith. For those who want more specific details of eastern religious philosophies there are excellent books by Ram-Prasad and one edited by Michael Coogan. There is an Index and Bibliography of suggested further reading at the end of the book.
Eastern Religions: Hinduism, Buddism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto
Howard Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God
Based on his own experience, he sees all of Western culture going through the same process. His thesis is that religion is better off without God. You can see that he already drew one long-winded, critical reviewer, and of course he will never convince any theists. Obviously Billington is just making his points and allowing readers to think for themselves.
Rather than theists, his book seems more directed toward people who are on the fence: maybe they suspect God doesn't exist, but they love or need religion and don't want to give it up. For them, Billington has a fresh Gospel (good news): they can go even deeper when they give God up. If you are in this position, this book will make you think hard, and it might change your life.
Now I basically agreed with Billington's thesis before I picked up the book, so you can anticipate my bias. I didn't care about the part of the book he spends criticizing the arguments that try to proove God's existence. Obviously other books do a better job of addressing that huge subject. For me, the interesting parts were his brief descriptions of non-theistic traditions, such as philosophical Taoism, Theravada and Zen Buddhism, and nondualistic Hinduism; as well as the romantic tradition in the West. Again, each of these topics are covered in other, quite lengthy books, so don't look for the last word here. But his coverage is adequate for his purposes.
From those traditions, with a very slight contribution from physics, he draws conclusions about the possibilities of religion without god, and his portrait is indeed quite rich.
Why only 4 stars? Well, because in my opinion there is much more exploration and explanation to be done. He just mentioned meditation a few times, without exploring it. He didn't fully explore the significance of modern physics, and when he mentions physics he appears dependent on an unfortunate source, Fritjof Capra. Besides, there is more science to explore: he didn't touch evolutionary psychology or the discoveries that are being made by neurologists about religious experience. He only explored a few traditions and not particularly deeply; in my opinion he left out some significant stuff. Most importantly, he needed to show that the essence of theistic religious experience can be had by an atheist, or even more that the most profound religious experience is essentially atheistic. I think such an argument is not easy, but it is possible to make. In short: this book needed to be about 500 pages longer. (IMHO.)
However, it is one of the best books I know of for people who are interested in atheistic spirituality.
The chapter on Buddhism deals with the subject with which I am most familiar, but it is reasonable to assume that the rest of the book is as dated and fatuous.