God Against the Gods:The History of War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch

God Against the Gods begins at the very beginning of monotheism, not with Judaism but with the Sun God Aton. Not a lot of people know that monotheism began with an Egyptian Pharaoh, called Akhenaton, who decided that everyone should just worship one god which was Aton, the Sun god. Kirsch then moves on to Judaism and Christianity and along the way we learn many new and perhaps to some surprising things like the fact that martyrdom began with the Jews, and that the monotheistic condemnation of polytheism doesn’t come from the practices and rituals of these groups but from the fact that they worship more than one god and not the ONE TRUE GOD. Stripped to the basics what rituals pagans did/do is not so different from what the monotheists do.

The book is divided into two sections.

Book one is all about the God that failed and it has four chapters. Chapter one discusses Akhenaton and his monotheistic experiment and why it failed, chapter two discusses what pagans do and how that is similar to what monotheists do. It also takes about why the monotheists condemn the polytheists. Chapter three talks about the Jews and how they invented and reinvented themselves and how they dealt with other Jews whom they felt were not pious enough, as well as how the Roman empire dealt with them. Chapter four discusses how Christianity came to be and the things it went through with Rome before the time of Constantine.

Book two is all about the war of the God against the Gods and it has seven chapters. Chapter five discusses how Constantine was born and how his rise to power came about and how his name became linked to Christianity, causing it to rise to power with him. Chapter six talks about how after Constantine’s victory over his father – in – law, he and the emperor of the east repealed the Great Persecution law against the Christians. This however, didn’t make the Christians go out and spread the word, instead they now were persecuting each other. The chapter ended with the Christians bringing their case to Constantine. Chapter seven recounts the life of Constantine after he became emperor and what he did and didn’t do for Christianity and ends with his death. At the end of the chapter the author tells us that Constantine died with paganism still the religion of Rome but that he set in motion a Christian revolution that his sons late took up. Chapters eight and nine go on to describe what happened after Constantine’s death with his sons taking over and how Julian (the last pagan emperor) come to the throne. Chapter ten talks about the eighteen months of Julian’s reign and how he tried to turn back the clock in favor of paganism. In the Epilogue the author brings us to the present day.

The book also has at the end a time line of the events discussed in the book and a list of the historical figures discussed in it.

The book was a short order look at the interaction between polytheism and monotheism and mostly that of Judaism and Christianity. It showed just how each began and how much they took from polytheism, and why they fought it once you take away the propaganda. At times it was a little boring but it was overall a good read.

Religion Is Not About God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture Our Biological Nature and What To Expect When They Fail by Loyal Rue

The author, Loyal Rue, is a professor of philosophy and religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.  His writing style in this book is easy to follow even when he was explaining a complex thought.

The basic premise of the book is the idea that religion is not about God or Gods but about us.  Religions that are successful are ones that influence our human nature so that we could think, feel and act in ways that are good for us, both on the personal level and on society level.

The book itself is divided into three parts.

Part one examines the evolutionary story and especially the evolution of behavior.  Chapter one traces the evolutionary story from the first moment of creation to the emergence of life.  Chapter two continues with the evolution of behavior from simple molecules to complex neurological systems.  Chapter three concentrated on aspects of human nature that are open to manipulation by religious traditions.  The author focuses on the dynamic interactions between emotional, cognitive and symbolic systems.  Chapter four changes focus from human nature to spiritual traditions.  This chapter talks about (in general) what is religion, its structure, its origins, and its function.

Part two is very interesting as it puts into practice all we have learned in part one.  There are five chapters, each chapter is concerned with one religion and each chapter is broken down into the following: historical context, myth, emotional appeal, ancillary strategies, and personal wholeness and social coherence.  The five religions discussed are: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Part three considers the future of religion.  It is made up of two chapters.  In these chapters the author gives his version of the future of religion, even though in the beginning he says he is sure nothing will change.  Chapter ten discusses the impact of modern science, religious diversity, and the rise of the consumer culture and what it means for us.  Chapter eleven discusses the impact of the environmental changes that are going on in the world now.  Both these chapters are trying to discuss the viability of the religions we have now and whether they can do what they are supposed to do and if they fail, what then?

Anyone interested in researching religion should read this book.  It is an amazing journey, full of simple information that has totally been over looked by a lot of people.  It puts forward a theory and then sets out to prove it and I think that the author proves his theory extremely well.  And the way he finally brings it to the present then takes it to the future is just a pleasure to read.


In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran

Scott Atran is a respected cognitive anthropologist and a psychologist, so I new the book was going to look at religion from that point of view. The author deals with religion from the perspective that it comes from the ordinary workings of the human mind as it deals with emotionally compelling problems of human existence. The aim of the book is to look at religion from the stand point of evolutionary psychology and in that respect the author is very successful.

Now nothing in this book was new to me, I had already read much of it in Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer, however, this book is geared towards the academic community. It is a very technical read and if you are looking for a book that deals with religion from a psychological point of view but you are not familiar with the jargon then Pascal Boyer’s book is more your cup of tea than this one. I did find the book hard to read for that specific reason and kept a dictionary close at all times while reading it. I feel that the author sees religion devoid of the passion and feelings that usually go with it as well as taking it out of the context of culture which I feel makes a big difference in how people look at religion.

One statement that he made at the very beginning of the book was as follows: Human cognition (re)creates the gods who sustain hope beyond sufficient reason and commitment beyond self interest. Humans ideally represent themselves to one another in gods they trust. Through their gods, people see what is good in others and what is evil. For some reason I kept coming back to it in my mind over and over. Sometimes telling myself it was very true and at others that not everyone is like that, or are they?

The book certainly makes you think, and be prepared to think a lot. You might not agree with everything in it, but it sure does gives one food for thought. I would recommend it only for the people who are ready to invest a lot of time understanding the terms he uses, and to digest everything he says that might go against your way of thinking.

Celtic Religion and Celtic Reconstructionism Resources.

I was going to write an essay on Celtic Religion and then another one on Celtic Reconstructionism but then realized that I had so many resources from people who actually knew and researched more than I ever could.  Instead I decided that the best way to do this was to list these resources and as I come across more and more of them I’ll add it here.

Celtic Religion: What do we really know about it? – This article originally appeared as a multi-part message on CELTIC-L@Danann.hea.ie. **Highly Recommended

celtic_religion This is a report on the subject with good information.

Celtic Polytheism: This is an article on Wikipedia.  As with everything on there please check up on the sources and be sure to cross reference.

Celtic Reconstructionism (CR): This is an article on Wikipedia.  As with everything on there please check up on the sources and be sure to cross reference.

The Celtic Reconstructionism Frequently Asked Questions list: This list is also available in print now with 37 pages of additional material, including a glossary and pronunciation guide which provides readers with an introduction to the Celtic languages, as well as pronunciations for many Celtic terms and Deity names (in Irish, Gaelic, Old Irish, Welsh, Scots and Gaulish). It is indexed and thoroughly cross-referenced, making it very user-friendly for beginners as well as those with many years in the tradition.** Highly Recommended

Proto-Indo-European Religion: The Proto-Indo-European Religion is reconstructed on the basis of linguistic analysis of the languages used by Indo-European-speaking people. This website gives scholarly information on what is known about this religion, and the status of research in the field. Particular emphasis is placed on the oldest sources in each language group, but folklore, traditions and even Christianized versions of Proto-Indo-European goddesses, myths and rituals have been used as well. In India, the religion continues as it has for millenia, so information from recent or modern sources is relevant to the study.** Highly Recommended

Ceisiwr Serith’s Proto-Indo-European Religion: One of the best people to write on the subject.** Highly Recommended

There are many books on the subject:

Caesar, Julius, The Gallic War, tr. by H. J. Edwards (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1994)

Chadwick, Nora, The Celts (NY: Penguin, 1991)

*Cunliffe, Barry W., The Ancient Celts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Cunliffe, Barry W., The Celtic World (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1993)

*Danaher, Kevin, The Year in Ireland (Irish Books & Media, 1994)

Ellis, Peter Berresford, The Celtic Empire (London: Constable, 1990)

Ellis, Peter Berresford, The Druids (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1995)

*Green, Miranda, The World of the Druids (NY: Thames & Hudson, 1997)

Hutton, Ronald, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1995)

*James, Simon, The World of the Celts (NY: Thames & Hudson, 1993)

Koch, John and John Carey, The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales (Malden MA: Celtic Studies Publications, 1995)

Merrifield, Ralph, The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic (NY: New Amsterdam Books, 1988)

Piggott, Stuart, The Druids (NY: Thames & Hudson, 1986)

Raftery, Barry, Pagan Celtic Ireland (NY: Thames & Hudson, 1994)

Ross, Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1996)

Ross, Anne, The Pagan Celts (Totowa NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1986)

Ross, Anne and Don Robins, The Life and Death of a Druid Prince (NY: Touchstone, 1991)

There is also a comprehensive list in the CR FAQ, and IMBAS list.

Keep an eye on this post as I might update it with even more stuff as I come across them.

The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value by John Cottingham

The Spiritual Dimension‘s aim is to offer a new way of looking at the philosophy of religion. It brings together emotional and intellectual aspects of human experience and embraces practical as well as theoretical concerns. The book wants to show that a religious world view should be related to spiritual praxis and the search for self-understanding and moral growth. The author John Cottingham is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading.

The topics covered in the book are; religion and spirituality, religion and science, religion and value, religion and self-discovery, religion and language, religion and the Enlightenment, religion and ethics, and religion and pluralism.

It is a short book (about 200 pages including the bibliography and the index) compared to other books that I have read on the subject, which ran to more than 400 pages. It provides a different way of looking at religion from the point of view that it is not really about theory but more about practice. To the author praxis must come first and be emphasized. For those of you who don’t know what praxis is it is use; practice; especially, exercise or discipline for a specific purpose or object. Don’t feel bad that you didn’t know that I had to look it up myself. The book looks at religion from an emotional point of view, which is something I feel is lacking in other books. Nothing in the book is new, but it is presented in a new way.

The book has an extensive bibliography and lots of footnotes which makes the book totally worth the read. The information in the footnotes is just as informative as the information in the chapters. It is good experience to have read it.

The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion Edited by Robert E. Segal

The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion is a book edited by Robert A. Segal, who edited a book on Myths that I had reviewed before. The aim of the book is to give people who are studying religion an idea about the different approaches to the study of religion and the topics that are important to it.

The book itself is a group of essays written by people who know what they’re talking about since each writer is a specialist on the subject he/she is writing about. The book is divided into two parts; the first part is approaches to the study of religion and it is made up of nine essays and the second part is topics of religion and that is made up of fifteen essays.

Segal begins by asking why we need a field of study called religious study and gives us the arguments for and against it. Then he gives is his view on it.

The approaches discussed in the first part were really interesting because it showed me that the same people who formulated theories on culture, society and mythology are the same ones to formulate theories on religion.

The section concerning the topics related to religion was interesting in that it didn’t just tell me about the topics but it showed me that when talking about different religions some components come to the forefront while others recede. In other words what component is important depends on the religion. Also there are some components that are universal to all, things like ethics, ritual and belief.

The book has an extensive bibliography at the end but each essay also has a bibliography that serves as a further reading section. The book is a good place to start when talking about how to study religion as well as giving you a nice introduction to the theories of religion and where they came from.

Philosophy of Religion: A Contemporary Introduction by Keith Yandell

Philosophy of Religion is written by professor Keith E. Yandell, who is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin. It is part of the Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy series. The series as a whole is aimed at students that have already done an introductory courses in philosophy. However, this book is very clear for someone who wants to read up in the subject of philosophy of religion.

The aim of the book is to look at the philosophy of religion but the author does NOT consider the subject from the point of view of Christianity like many other books on the subject. He understands that religious traditions are different. They make different claims, argue from different points of view and have different aims and goals.

Yandell deals constructively with the views and arguments from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Jainism. The book also includes a discussion of the major philosophical figures in religious traditions as well as important contemporary philosophers. The books starts at the very beginning by asking the questions “What is philosophy?” and “What is religion?” and goes on to more complex ideas and concepts.  I learned new things and got rid of some misconceptions I had.  The logic he uses sometimes can make your head hurt but in a good way.

I loved the book because the author has the ability (and the willingness) to argue points in detail rather than just give us the highlights of the arguments. The writing style of the author is witty and easily engages the mind. And believe me your mind is engaged constantly to follow what he is saying and digest it all before you move on.  Its not an easy read but it is an interesting one. At the end of each chapter he includes questions to be pondered and resources for further reading and research. At the end of the book he has a glossary of all the new words and concepts he addresses, a list of some of the great names in the history of philosophy of religion and an extensive bibliography. I know that some will think that the book is limited by the choice of religions he has decided to discuss but the approach can be used on other religions as well. So everyone gets something out of this book, whether they were interested in the arguments for these specific religions or others that are completely different.