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The Destructive Power of Religion [4…

The Destructive Power of Religion [4 volumes]: Violence in Judaism,…

by J. Harold Ellens

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The vision behind this effort belongs to the editor, J. Harold Ellens, who has written eleven of the fifty essays and whose words outline and define the questions and problems with which he and his co-writers struggle. Stating in the preface that he has been trying to reconcile the "abusive" God of the Old Testament with the Judaic, Islamic, and Christian God of "unconditional grace," Ellens has gathered a group of similarly minded scholars to write on various aspects of this riddle.

Ellens's premise is that the ancient Israelite religion, from which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arose, centered on a dualistic cosmic conflict where good and evil, God and the Devil, were continually at war, thus contaminating Western thought and civilization with its "destructive power" through the development of all three religions and their "toxic texts." ("Toxic texts" is defined in vol. 1, 192–95.) These "negative archetypes" have also become part of the Western collective unconscious, infecting secular as well as religious culture. Because Western thought is so influential, humanity is under the influence of these texts; war and other miseries are the result.

The authors of the articles write on a wide variety of topics in support of this view. Some of the more unconventional themes include the desirability of analyzing the texts and eradicating their "violent core metaphors," and the idea that fundamentalist religion in general has direct ties to the human potential for violence and attracts "psychopathological persons." There is an extended discussion of Jesus's "cleansing of the temple" and what it says about his psychological stability, a theory relating Augustine's beatings as a child to the flavor of his theology and his neglect of his son (titled "Augustine: The Vicious Cycle of Child Abuse"), and an article on the psychological abuses of power by clergymen.

This collection clearly will be controversial. The interesting thing is that most of the contributors, including Ellens himself, are active Protestant clergymen and/or theologians and/or psychologists. (Ellens is all three, as well as a retired U.S. Army colonel with thirty-seven years of service.) They are looking into their own religions, into their own beliefs, to make sense of them. That is what makes this set of volumes worthy of close attention. One is reminded of the Old Testament Job, endlessly questioning yet keeping faith with his religion.

It is unfortunate, though, that the writers are such a homogeneous group. The contributor profiles suggest that they probably include only two Jews, one Catholic, and no Muslims. Most of them are American and only three are women. (The contributions of the psychologists remind us that this set is part of Praeger's Contemporary Psychology series.) It seems very unfortunate that there are no Muslim contributors and only two articles that focus on Islam. The foreword by Martin Marty begins, "Too bad this set of books is so relevant," but at this time in history, more illumination of the Islamic aspect of this worldview would have been useful.

At the end of the fourth volume, Ellens attempts to answer his own question about reconciliation between the idea of a violent god and a god of grace with the following: he defines "grace" as the "biblical word for unconditional forgiveness and acceptance of another person" and states that "it is a matter of recognizing the limitations of God. God is not in charge of the world. We are" (vol. 4, 235).

These books seem unique to me in their attempt by thirty writers to make sense out of their common religion and from an unusual viewpoint—that of theology, psychology, and politics together. I recommend them to most libraries for that reason and because of the currency of the overall topic.

Bibliographies (ranging from brief to extensive) follow each article, and indexes (also ranging from brief to extensive) accompany each volume.
  Luciana43 | Jun 2, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 027597958X, Hardcover)

Dozens of studies by 30 senior experts from five nations examine the influence of sacred texts shaping human nature, society, and political and military strategies in the Western world over the last 3,000 years. The contributors—including a recent Pulitzer Prize winner—explain how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all incorporate core metaphors of the ancient Israelite notion that history and the human soul are caught in a cosmic conflict between good and evil, or God and devil, which cannot be resolved without violence: a cataclysmic final solution, such as the extermination of nations, the execution of humans, or even the death of God's own son. This notion is internalized in the Western psyche and collective unconscious, shaping our social ethics, theological assumptions, and national strategies, particularly for fundamentalists in each religion who take a literalist approach to responsibility and ethics.

Whether they fly airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon; blow up ships, ports, or federal buildings; kill doctors and nurses at abortion clinics; exterminate contemporary Palestinians; or kill Israeli soldiers with suicide bombs, these destructive religionists are all shaped by the same unconscious apocalyptic metaphors, and by the divine example and imperative to violence. The authors of this book warn that until such metaphors are removed from the Western psyche, an end to religious violence in the West will not be possible.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:35 -0400)

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