The Literary Horizon is taking a look at two books about religion that have caught my eye–especially since they discuss Jesus and the very concept of God in a historical context. Let’s dive right in!
Jesus by Marcus J. Borg
From top Jesus expert Marcus Borg, a completely updated and revised version of his vision of Jesus—as charismatic healer, sage, and prophet, a man living in the power of the spirit and dedicated to radical social change.
Fully revised and updated, this is Borg’s major book on the historial Jesus. He shows how the Gospel portraits of Jesus, historically seen, make sense. Borg takes into account all the recent developments in historical Jesus scholarship, as well as new theories on who Jesus was and how the Gospels reflect that.
The original version of this book was published well before popular fascination with the historical Jesus. Now this new version takes advantage of all the research that has gone on since the 80s. The revisions establish it as Borg’s big but popular book on Jesus.
I knew I had to read this from the moment Eva posted her review of it over at A Striped Armchair–the story about how turning the other cheek is not passivity but nonviolent protest made me run to Google Docs to add it to the list, which is multiplying worryingly.
Eva absolutely adored it, pointing out that it’s absolutely chock full of stories like the one above, and heartily recommends it to absolutely everyone. The Reverend Doctor Robert Cornwall from Ponderings on a Faith Journey also quite liked it, emphasizing the book’s own emphasis on the historical Jesus. This sounds absolutely brilliant, I have to say.
Jesus was released on October 31, 2006.
The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity but including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese spiritualities, Armstrong examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?
Answering these questions with the same depth of knowledge and profound insight that have marked all her acclaimed books, Armstrong makes clear how the changing face of the world has necessarily changed the importance of religion at both the societal and the individual level. And she makes a powerful, convincing argument for drawing on the insights of the past in order to build a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age. Yet she cautions us that religion was never supposed to provide answers that lie within the competence of human reason; that, she says, is the role of logos. The task of religion is “to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there are no easy explanations.” She emphasizes, too, that religion will not work automatically. It is, she says, a practical discipline: its insights are derived not from abstract speculation but from “dedicated intellectual endeavor” and a “compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break out of the prism of selfhood.”
If pressed for an answer, I consider myself a Unitarian Christian. I firmly believe that all paths to God to valid, and a book about the human concept of God sounds like it fits neatly alongside that. This is also a book recommendation I’ve taken from a glowing review by a fellow book blogger.
Trudy at Complusive Overreader quite liked it, pointing out that Armstrong is fair to all religions and that she explores how faith has evolved over the years. Simon Blackburn, reviewing for The Guardian, however, points out Armstrong’s argument for being silent on faith, as well as the evolution of faith through the European Enlightenment. I’m still definitely going to give this a shot–Blackburn comes across as a bit smarmy in his review.
The Case for God was released on September 22, 2009.