Sunday, June 7, 2009

Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions




Thomas Nelson sent me this reference guide as part of the Book Review Bloggers Program. I’ve always been interested in religions – the variety of them in the world, their founders and claims and skeletons in the closet. So although I was probably, as they say, interrogating the text from a different perspective from the author’s, I found this an interesting read on the whole.

The front cover of Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions says it is “A comprehensive guide to the religions of the world”, and that’s quite accurate. This book covers all the religions I’ve heard of and dozens I haven’t – splinter groups, sects and cults of every kind, from Scientology to Buddhism to the Heaven’s Gate cult. The histories of such faiths, their core tenets and problems caused by their precepts are laid out in an easy-to-grasp format, with plenty of illustrations as well.

All this is presented from an evangelical Christian point of view, so there’s a short section in each chapter where each faith is stacked up against Christianity (and is found wanting to a greater or lesser extent). I think the author attempts to present other beliefs, or at least the people who follow such beliefs, in as reasonable a light as he can. So for instance, he makes it clear that Wiccans are not Satanists and that Satanists don’t sacrifice babies, though the introduction alone contained a line that would have discouraged me from buying this book.

No harm exists in seeing God’s common grace at work in the religions and peoples of the world. Thus, atheists can love their children.

Yes, it is within the realm of possibility that atheists might love their children (as opposed to abandoning said children near the gingerbread house in the forest). The other statement which gave me pause was a claim that Jack Chick had published “many fine tracts and comics that present the basis of the gospel”. That these tracts present heaven, hell, original sin and John 3:16 isn’t in doubt, but the fineness of them is more open to debate.

To summarize, this book would probably be a worthwhile addition to the libraries of Christians, but I’d advise non-Christians to balance the objective and the subjective in the guide before deciding whether or not to acquire a copy.

11 comments:

Tara Maya said...

I have several guides to world religions, but most try to be objective. I'd actually find it kind of interesting to read one which is deliberately written from the point of view of NOT trying to be objective.

After all, on this subject, most people aren't...

ralfast said...

Having a favorite sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Hazardgal said...

Makes me think of those who think all successful people must graduate from college too. Sure it helps but many make it big or even live well without a degree. Likewise many from varying faiths or with little or no faith, live comfortably and obey the "Golden Rule" as well. Amazing...

newadventuresinfantasyfiction said...

Sounds like a fun read! I gotta say I just love Chick tracts, especially the ones on D&D. There's a few 'comedy' rewrites of them around too. Though it's hard to outfunny chicks original work. :D

I have a copy of 'The World's Religions' by Ninian Smart that's worth a read if you want a more objecctive overview.

Paige said...

Despite leaning toward Atheism (or maybe Agnostic), I've always been really, really interested in religion because there are really few things in life that affect people so profoundly.

I don't mind reading books with a grain of salt though. Thanks for mentioning the book!

Marian said...

I hear you, Paige. Even though I'm an atheist, one of my heroines is a devout fundamentalist because it's so interesting to explore how different people think and believe.

Thanks for commenting!

Marian said...

ralfast, exactly. I think this book leans a bit more towards the "written by Christians for Christians wanting to evangelize" side of the spectrum than "written by a theologist for people wanting to learn more about religions".

On the other hand, I borrowed Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion from the library today, so let's see what that's like.

Marian said...

Hi Lee,

I don't know if you've read the Jabberwock dissection of the Chick tract "Dark Dungeons", but it's really funny. There's also a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 take on that tract out in cyberspace somewhere.

And thanks for the book recommendation! I'll keep that title in mind for the next time I'm at the library.

Marian said...

You know, Marge, from one perspective it's a good thing that people were being reminded that Muslims can disapprove of terrorism (that was in the book too) or atheists can love their children. I mean, at least it's an attempt to present people of different religions or no religion in a positive light.

But on the other hand, it's just so... I'm kind of at a loss for words. I just wonder, how would the author feel if he came across a book that said it was possible for Christians to tolerate their neighbors rather than going Spanish Inquisition on them?

Marian said...

Hey Tara,

You've got a interesting point. Now I'd like to find such a guide written by someone who's really not objective, because I think the author of the guide I reviewed was trying to be.

I'm sure such a book would be entertaining. Maybe not informative, but definitely entertaining.

James A. Beverley said...

It's interesting for an author to read reviews about the issue of objectivity. In my Nelson's Illustrated Guide I try very hard to be objective. I read many different perspectives on a topic, represent other views fairly, mention books and sites that oppose my views, etc.
But I do write as a Christian so am willing to concede that the book offers a subjective view as well.

Jim Beverley