When Religion Becomes Evil (#28/50)

I wanted to like this book. I really did. It was the basis of an “Adult Education” class at a church I occasionally attend, and rather than go to the lectures, I decided to check out the actual book from the library and read it myself. The author makes some good points, but it simply didn’t live up to my expectations.

Title – When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs

Author – Charles Kimball

Page count – 227

The premise of the book is that religion can function in one of two ways. The healthy form of religion functions as part of a larger cultural system to give individuals a sense of community and a guide for morality and ethical behavior. The unhealthy form of religion happens when individuals or whole communities become corrupted in at least one of five ways: Absolute Truth Claims; Blind Obedience; Establishing the “Ideal” Time; The End Justifies Any Means; and Declaring Holy War.

Like I said, I really wanted to be impressed by this book. I fully believe in the idea that it is a corrupted form of a religion that leads to mistreatment and violence. What I didn’t like is how the author seems to think he’s speaking in an objective, inclusive manner. The reading I encountered was a well-meaning but clearly white, male, Christian, academic perspective with a bibliography that looks about the same (I had to go back and make sure I read it right when he cited Rosemary Radford Ruether).

The author also frequently cites examples of the “Five Warning Signs” within the context of Islam. Matthew 7:3-5 says to remove the plank from your own eye before worrying about the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye. There are plenty of examples within Christianity that fit these “Warning Signs” which wouldn’t contribute to the negative, untrue perception of Muslims that too many people already have. There were non-Islam examples as well, but it was clearly skewed.


“It is important to recall that violent extremists are on the fringe of these traditions for a reason: the large majority of adherents recognize that the extremists violate the most basic teachings and values within the tradition…Fear, insecurity, and a desire to protect the status quo can foster a tribalism in which otherwise sincere people engage in dehumanizing patterns of behavior.” (p. 200)


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