I think most people would say that while numbers claim that many people are getting religious or converting from one religion to another, in most Western countries the trend seems to be inverted. More people seem to be leaving religions completely or being totally inactive within their specified branch. So it might surprise you to learn that 4.8billion people or roughly 70% of the world’s population belong to one of the top 3 world religions and only 16.3% are not religiously affiliated and the difference is made up of lesser religions, this according to Pew Research Center.
Additionally, I think most of us, religious or not, have questioned God, gods, or the existence of some divine creator or deity.
how could you not believe, or
how could this God or that God or any god allow evil to exist or bad things to happen, or
how do you know God exists,
how can you believe in God, or
where’s the proof of your God or any god.
All these questions and more have been asked by people since the beginning of any religious thought, to question is just part of life.
Sometimes we may think or it may seem like we are the only person asking these questions. We are not. Theologians, philosophers, scientists, the lost, the found, the convinced, the converted have all pondered such queries, especially when life throws a challenge or obstacle our way. I would counter with this; what is the value in life if everything is easy, pretty, and happy? If all that you have is easy, pretty, and happy with nothing hard or ugly or awful how do you know that things are easy and pretty and happy? You don’t. Easy, pretty, happy just like hard, ugly, and awful are comparative terms. You cannot have pretty without ugly. You cannot have easy without hard. You cannot have happy without awful.
Some experts and most followers of the major religions will say that everyone needs religion, religion is how you learn morals and virtues and how to lead a good and just life. However, the historic accounts of most religious beginnings are steeped in violence, from genocide to scorched earth to raiding, enslaving and thieving. Some morals. For the Abrahamic religions extreme punishment is included, for both the Old Testament and Quran seem to prefer some form of a death sentence for most infractions and some violence or maiming or other extreme punishment for lesser offenses.
Thus, if you are wondering how you can truly assess either your own religion or religion in general as a valid and necessary part of your life or something that should be history, then Timothy Chen thinks he has the answer for you in his new book The Religious Transaction. Chen was raised in a religious home and continued to practice while off attending college. However, in early adulthood, Chen faced some challenges that led to him questioning everything about his belief system, which was based on his religion.
This questioning about his own beliefs and struggles to reconcile his issues with his religious conflicts led him to author the aforementioned book probably both as therapy for himself and the genuine belief that it will help others. While Chen seems to really try to be unbiased about religion and honest about his personal issues, challenges, emotions there does seem to be an underlying passive nudge to encourage others to question to the point of abandoning their own religious paths. Whether this is an intended ploy by Chen or just a natural reaction to his personal struggles and journeys I cannot say, but regardless it is present.
His religion as a child was christian and his primary focuses on are Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, yet, he does include other religions scattered throughout the work. Personally, I have never been devout or zealous at all about religion, I believe that Organized Religion is a man made necessity in order to create a peaceful society for those in power. I also believe that while there are some truly devout and genuine believers, most religions and their sects have been usurped by individuals seeking power and glory and fortune.
The organization of the book is well thought out and flows. His approach to each aspect of religion is thoughtful and seemingly neutral. The neutrality is displayed in the pro-con discussion of each question with cited arguments supporting the pro or con respectively. And it is obvious that Chen has put thought and research into his writing. While it is difficult to research everything about a topic, I do feel like some of his research could have provided him with stronger arguments if he had dug just a little deeper. But all authors have to decide how much is too much or not enough and how much is “just right” or at least enough for the message. And I think that Chen did what he felt was just enough to support his arguments. That is not a critique if his purpose is more to get people to do their own research and questioning, but it is marginal if his purpose is to be the justification for changing religious paths.
In addition to arguments that are marginal to just enough, I believe that some of his points are more than over simplified. He admits to some over simplification, which can be excused considering the breath and depth of the topic if truly and fully investigated. One example is his argument that our similarity to some animals supports evolution over godly creations without any mention of the fact that the opposite is just as possible since religions with a “Creator God” believes that this god is responsible for the creation of the universe and EVERYTHING in it. So why wouldn’t such a god create similar living creatures, created or evolved they would both be from a collection of building blocks. He is also more willing to give benefits of doubt and early unearned credit to scientific discoveries but not to divine intelligent creation.
In short, it was an interesting read. I did hear some new arguments in the validity of religion debate, but I also felt the ball was drop and some arguments were skewed to the author’s current stances. However, he does make the effort to at least appear neutral and that effort is noteworthy.
*Copy Received For Review.
**Cover via Amazon.com