Religion, in its various forms, has delivered both immeasurable joy and terrible conflict throughout history. Currently, many ‘neo-atheists’ predict the death of organised religion within a generation. In For God’s Sake, four prominent thinkers address and debate the differences and commonalities between their various faiths (or non-faiths), and the place of religion in the modern world, both in relation to the self and to society.
Journalist Antony Loewenstein is culturally Jewish but spiritually an atheist. For him, the conflation of politics and religion (particularly the tendency to view criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic) is particularly troubling. Atheist commentator Jane Caro writes in a style that is often blunt but always deeply personal. For Caro, there is great peace in the idea of a logical but indifferent universe. For Simon Smart, a Christian, there is no dichotomy between science and faith – they merely answer different questions. Smart, while perhaps the most defensive in tone, highlights the charity and compassion emphasised by Christianity as pivotal to the freedoms of modern society.
Perhaps the most moving contributions are from Muslim academic Rachel Woodlock, who writes with passion, clarity and humour on the joy (as illustrated by some staggeringly beautiful Qur’anic verses) she finds in a religion so often misunderstood in the West.
All, to varying degrees, describe fundamentalism in any religion as a ‘corruption’ – as Woodlock writes, ‘because all the great traditions teach … compassion towards others, where there is violence, barbarity, prejudice and hatred … the tradition has been corrupted’.
While all four are passionate in defending their beliefs and contesting one anothers’, there are no attempts to proclaim a ‘winner’. The authors are always respectful, insightful and open-minded. It is fascinating to read each faith’s (often-conflicting but equally ‘true’) answers to the same fundamental questions. Engrossing and enlightening, For God’s Sake is an important addition to a complex and ongoing discussion.
Alan Vaarwerk is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader based in Melbourne.