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Sunday, July 13, 2014

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Questions about religion

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Sophie Dulesh, author of the provocative, well-researched book, The Trouble with Religion, is a humanist. She is convinced that it is only by “dispelling the clouds and phantoms of religion that we discover truth, reason and morality.”

Readers familiar with the arguments offered by Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris et al, will find little that is new or revelatory.

However, The Trouble with Religion is valuable and necessary as a history of the often overlooked atrocities committed in its name. Unhappily, all too often it has served as an instrument of social exploitation and political tyranny.

Again and again it has opposed scientific progress, only to give way reluctantly to the pressure of persistent truth.

The book’s long section on organized political Islam contains valuable factual material not easily available elsewhere.

The indictment of Judaism largely concerns the actions of the extreme Orthodox in Israel.

She writes, “These fanatics have hijacked the Zionist dream of Jewish nationhood, shamelessly claiming Zionism, conceived as a secular and ethical view, as the grounds of their own highly ideological, exclusive and expansionist attitudes.”

She quotes Bernard Avishai, a well-known political economist, who points out that Zionism remained secular at least until the Holocaust; that is, for more than half of the century. He maintains that “if things don’t change pretty soon, chances are that the two-state-solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will slip through our fingers… As this happens, the dream of the Jewish People to be a free people in their own land all so slowly disappears."

But blackening religion because of its iniquitous bloody history of persecution, oppression and violence is unacceptable as an absolute. There is also a tradition of good deeds and ethical behaviour that flows from faith. Many have given their lives to higher and nobler callings out of a sense of duty to their religious beliefs.

Humanists face an impossible task: how to convince billions of Catholics and Muslims, as well as partisans of other religions, to accept secularism. For believers, religion offers assurance, consolation, the beauty and warmth of tradition and the emotional involvement with community.

Albert Einstein referred to the mysterious as the fundamental emotion, which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. “Whoever does not know it, and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”

In his book Spiritual Envy, An Agnostics Quest, Michael Krasny writes of the power of tradition. “The memorial dates for both my father and my mother were on the same day in 2010. I wanted to honour their memory not because of the commandment that bid me to honour them. I wanted to honour their memory, simply to maintain the tradition, a ritual that I had been introduced to when I was a boy as I watched my parents light yahrzeit candles for their parents.”

Written on and off over a period of eight years, the Winnipeg-based author has compiled over 400 pertinent references from books, newspapers, speeches, interviews etc.

The book can be purchased via www.troublewithreligion.com and is also available on Amazon.

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