I was browsing for Christmas presents at a book store when I stumbled across this book. The back cover lists the 5 warning signs of corruption in religion:
1. Absolute Truth Claims
2. Blind Obedience
3. Establishing the "Ideal" Time
4. The End Justifies Any Means
5. Declaring Holy War
Kimball's background is quite good for this book. He is a professor of religion
at Wake Forest. He has been involved in dealing with Middle East conflict for
This is a small book that could have been even smaller. It's worth reading, but I do have some problems with it. He seems to assume that religion starts out good, then can get corrupted by the above 5 points. He doesn't give much thought that a religion can START with those things. One of his solutions to the 5 points is to water down absolute truth claims by a religion. But what religion doesn't have absolute truth claims? Isn't that inherent in the definition of religion?
A point he doesn't really explain but is built into his argument is that human beings can be wrong. So for a human being to make an absolute claim on religion should be taken with a grain of salt. It's ok for you to make an absolute claim for yourself, but since you are a human and you could be wrong, it's not right for you to force your absolute claim on others. I agree with this. It's fine for people to have total faith in somethig they have studied and rationally considered. It's not fine to force that on others, no matter how sincerely you believe.
Rather than review the 5 points, I'll just give some quotes from the book.
"Being sincere doesn't exempt people or groups from critical scrutiny." [page 7]
"Distinguishing between corrupt forms of religious expression and authentic, life-affirming forms is essential if we hope to reduce the global threat." [ibid.]
"Religion that requires adherents to disconnect their brain is often a big part of the problem." [p. 29]
"If religious institutions and teachings lack flexibility, opportunities for growth, and systems of checks and balances, they can indeed be a major part of the problem." [p. 32]
"Whatever religious people may say about their God or the mandates of their religion, when their behavior toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbors, you can be sure the religion has been corrupted and reform is desperately needed." [p. 39]
"It is much easier to know the truth than to seek it." [p. 68]
"Beware of any religious movement that seeks to limit the intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents. When individual believers abdicate personal responsibility and yield to the authority of the charismatic leader or become enslaved to particular ideas or teachings, religion can easily become the framework for violence and destruction." [p. 72]
"Authentic religion encourages questions and reflection at all levels." [p. 89]
"In authentic, healthy religion the end and the means to that end are always connected." [p. 129]
"The most obvious sign of this corruption is visible when compassionate and constructive relationships with others are discarded." [p. 129]
"Concern for the well-being of one's religious community is normal. The positive impulse can turn violently negative when group identity is defined in ways that dehumanize people outside the community." [p. 134]
"When people are dehumaized or treated as objects, the purported goal immediately should be called into question." [p. 150]