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Featured Book: Questions are the Answer: Nakedpastor & the Search for Understanding

Picture this: the pastor at his pulpit confesses to his parishioners, “I’m sorry people, but in my faith journey, I’m afraid I’m entering the ‘I just don’t know!’ stage.” They shout back, “Welcome!”

It’s one of almost 100 of David Hayward’s Nakedpastor cartoons in this autobiographical book. Together with his text, they tell of his story into and out of the church—ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1986, he bowed out of ministry in 2010. Four years before, he’d launched his Nakedpastor blog, complete with what faithmeetsworld.com calls “irreverent, but piercingly insightful cartoons.” These allow him, layanglicana.org explains, to show what might be “too subtle, deeply felt, revealing, or mysterious to be expressed in words.” As one New Testament scholar exhorts, “Come for the laughs, stay for the brutal honesty about matters of religion.”

Hayward, who styles himself a “graffiti artist on the walls of religion,” and who has been called [by faithmeetsworld.com] “unofficial agent provocateur and commentator on all things related to Western religion and its shortcomings,” has since launched thelastingsupper.com, which he describes as “an online community of spiritually independent people”. A Canadian, he lives with his wife, Lisa, on the Kennebecais River near Saint John, New Brunswick.

Questions are the Answer: Nakedpastor and the Search for Understanding, by David Hayward
Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd., 2015 

Featured Book: Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality

Upon his death, whenever that comes—John Shelby Spong, scathed by a stroke, is now 88—his publisher should engage a biographer to report the many goings-on in his life in the years since he wrote his autobiography, and bring up to date his theological thinking and conclusions. Even without what’d be a lengthy epilogue, Here I Stand makes an engrossing read: Publishers Weekly finds it a “full-bodied, racy chronicle”; and whosoever.org calls it “passionate, heart-warming.”

Recognized globally as “a lightening rod for controversy” [the Christian Courier dubs him a “rogue priest”], Spong is “a man, often misunderstood, who never fails to elicit strong reaction,” according to Style Weekly in Richmond, Virginia, where once he served. Of the book, it warrants, “He knows how to keep the pages turning. …Spong make[s] even arcane religious and theological points accessible.”

A prolific author—Wikipedia has him authoring 26 books—he has called for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrine: he wants for the Christian church a new Reformation! His autobiography, whosoever.org affirms, “allows his readers to step inside his shoes, and experience vicariously the thrills of being involved in a movement for a more sensible, welcoming…Christianity.”

Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality, by John Shelby Spong
HarperSanFrancisco, 2000

Featured Book: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

Tufts University philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett argues that “society must overcome its ‘spell’ against studying religion as a natural, evolutionary occurrence,” Kirkus Reviews says of this book. The atheist author, “seeks to expose religion to the systematic tools of modern science,” and “presents material from various researchers regarding how religion has evolved in human cultures.” Not surprisingly, Scientific American fancied it as “a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological, and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond, who found the work to be “crystal-clear [and] constantly engaging,” mentions that, “For all the thousands of books that have been written about religion, few until this one have attempted to examine it scientifically: to ask why, and how, it has shaped so many lives so strongly. …Ranging through biology, history, and psychology, Daniel Dennett charts religion’s evolution from ‘wild’ folk belief to ‘domesticated’ dogma….”

In this sampling, Dennett maintains that the “three favourite purposes or raisons d’être for religion are (1) to comfort us in our suffering, and allay our fear of death, (2) to explain things we cannot otherwise explain, and (3) to encourage group cooperation in the face of trials and enemies.”

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett
Penguin Books, 2006

Featured Book: The Case for God

The Case for God—which Britain’s The Daily Telegraph called Karen Armstrong’s “best, most lucid book to date”—“wraps a rebuke to the more militant sort of atheism,” according to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, “in an engaging survey of Western religious thought. …a former nun turned prolific popular historian, [she] wants to rescue the idea of God from its cultural despisers and its more literal-minded adherents alike.” 
 
True, “she stands squarely on the side of ‘God,’” The Globe and Mail reports, “but the ‘God’ for which she has sympathy is not knowable, as we generally assume ‘God’ to be…. …The case being made in The Case for God is for mystery.”  
 
In The Daily Telegraph, critic George Pitcher, referencing atheist Richard Dawkins and his The God Delusion—our last “Featured Book”—has it that she succeeds in “blow[ing] Dawkins away….” How? “…by demonstrating that religion is not what he and the atheist caravan think and claim that it is”; theirs is “an irrelevant argument…. For Armstrong…religion is like art—‘an attempt to construct meaning in the face of the relentless pain and injustice of life.’” “…discover its wonderfully suggestive thinking for yourself,” The Globe and Mail urges.
The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009

Featured Book: The God Delusion

When Penguin issued the 10th anniversary edition of The God Delusion, the publishing house began its pitch by recalling how the book had “caused a sensation” when it was first released. In its critique, The Guardian, referencing its author, Richard Dawkins, reckoned that “believers in God are right to see him as their arch-enemy.” The Darwinian scientist and essayist on popular science, in “dissecting the arguments for the existence of God”—this is reviewer Joan Bakewell’s take—“comes roaring forth in the full vigour of his powerful arguments….” She explains, “He is an out-and-out atheist, and this is his testimony.”
 
This seems to have caught Publishers Weekly off guard: “For a scientist who criticizes religion for its intolerance, Dawkins [at Oxford University, he’s Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science] has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe.” It points out how he “insists that religion is a divisive and oppressive force….” What he has produced in this book is what the British Columbia publication, The Tyee, calls “a most impassioned, endearing, articulate, and heartening secular-humanist call to arms.” Bakewell concludes her review with this presumption: “…it will, I trust, offend many.” 
 
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2006
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