8 Books Challenging the Foundations of Religion

Life After Faith
Philip Kitcher
Yale University Press, 2014

Sensible Religion
Edited by Christopher Lewis and Dan Cohn-Sherbok
Ashgate Publishing, 2014

Joan Chittister: Essential Writings
Edited by Mary Lou Kownacki and Mary Hembrow Snyder
Orbis Books, 2014

With Heart in Mind
Alan Morinis
Trumpeter/Shambhala Publications, 2014

Embracing the Divine Feminine: The Song of Songs
Translated and annotated by Rami Shapiro
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2014

A New Buddhist Path
David R. Loy
Wisdom Publications, 2015

God’s Message to the World
Neale Donald Walsch
Rainbow Ridge Books, 2014

The Religion of the Future
Roberto Mangabeira Unger
Harvard University Press, 2014

Book cover of "Joan Chittister: Essential Writing."The powerful ascent of fundamentalist religions in the last forty years has chastened those who predicted a triumph of secular thought and the gradual withering away of all religions. Yet the prominence of hate-filled orthodoxies has also provoked a strong movement of spiritual progressives in every religious community who are seeking to reclaim the ethical foundations of their religion and sometimes to rethink the metaphysical and theological foundations that underlie them.

Book cover of "Life After Faith."The challenge to religion is put forcefully by Philip Kitcher, whose subtitle, The Case for Secular Humanism, suggests a more powerful argument than the “New Atheists” have been able to supply, in part because it eschews their crude caricatures of the more sophisticated versions of contemporary religions. Kitcher hopes for a supersession of the privileged scriptures of religion to “a more inclusive collection of resources … supplied by the natural and social sciences … [and] derived from the great artistic achievements, including the great literature of our species.”

Book cover of "Sensible Religion."Christopher Lewis and Dan Cohn-Sherbok, meanwhile, have assembled thinkers from a wide variety of the religions that continue to shape the consciousness of the world. These thinkers present in their own discourse a “sensible” version of their religion to counter the versions espoused by fundamentalists who behead their opposition, violently grab what they consider to be their holy land or holy temple mount, or demean the nonobservant. And if you want to add a sensitive Catholic voice to the mix, you might also consult the collection of writings by Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, one of the original co-chairs of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

Book Cover for "Embracing the Divine Feminine."In the Jewish realm, Alan Morinis’s new book, subtitled Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life, and Rami Shapiro’s rereading of the Song of Songs by “finding God through the ecstasy of physical love” build on the groundwork laid by Jewish Renewal thinkers such as Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z”l), Arthur Green, Arthur Waskow, Judith Plaskow, and Tirzah Firestone to move contemporary Jews to a depth of spiritual engagement that many secularists acknowledge is missing in some (but not all) of their communities. And similarly, David R. Loy’s Buddhist vision addresses enlightenment, evolution, and ethics in the modern world and provides a more naturalistic interpretation of Buddhist concepts such as karma; he offers an account of “a rudimentary awareness even at the quantum level” that opens onto a consciousness that pervades all being.

Book cover of "God's Message to the World."Among all of these authors, leave it to Neale Donald Walsch to take many of these ideas and express them in a super-accessible yet sophisticated way. Walsch’s Conversations with God series may have been dismissed as too simplistic by some (likely by those who never bothered to read them), but he is in fact a very smart purveyor of new ways of thinking about God, and his purported message from God to the world in his latest book is stated clearly on the cover: “You’ve got me all wrong.”

Book Cover of "The Religion of the Future."Yet perhaps what is needed most is a brand new religion of the future such as that predicted by one of the Left’s most creative thinkers, Roberto Unger. Urging us to leave behind faith in a transcendent God who continues to intervene in history, Unger exhorts us to become “more human by becoming more godlike,” suggesting that we can share in the experience of the divine “by living out, through love and cooperation, the implications of our incompleteness.”

(To return to the Spring 2015 Table of Contents, click here.)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *