From Publishers Weekly
While it seems paradoxical to oppose religion to belief—religions, after all, are systems of beliefs; and belief in deities, ritual practices and scriptures combine to form religions—Carse convincingly demonstrates that belief and religion are too often falsely linked. Belief, he suggests, is a response to ignorance. Carse examines three kinds of ignorance: ordinary ignorance is simply lack of knowledge of some kind, such as the weather in Africa. Willful ignorance purposefully avoids clear and available knowledge, such as Creationists acting as if they know nothing of evolution. The tenacious beliefs that grow out of willful ignorance often result in bloody religious conflicts. Finally, what Carse calls higher ignorance accepts the fact that no matter how many truths we accumulate, our knowledge falls infinitely short of the truth. Individuals acting in higher ignorance can recognize the many truths that religious traditions can offer. Seen in Carse's provocative way, religion transcends the narrow boundaries established by beliefs, and transforms our ways of thinking about the world. (June 2)
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In seeing the unknown everywhere—what he calls “higher ignorance”—Carse says, lies the beginning of wisdom, and the act of belief “is highly complicated and richly nuanced behavior.” Masterfully combining scholarly research and thoughtful commentary, he distinguishes religion from belief systems. Using the lives of such disparate figures as Jesus, Galileo, Luther, and Lincoln, he illustrates the various kinds of ignorance that confront the world, not only higher ignorance but also ordinary ignorance and willful ignorance. At its core, belief carries within it a strong element of the unknown and therefore requires risk, not certainty. With that in mind, he discusses the line between knowledge and belief, explores the complicated issue of authority, considers the notion of communitas, and declares that religion in its purest form is a type of poetry, relative to which, he interprets a Dickinson poem on death as revealing the thin line between the known and the believed. He also attempts to define evil to determine where it fits into the overall religious experience. A bracing consideration of religion, knowledge, and belief. --June Sawyers