Asking the big questions

a little history of religionReview by Nick Mattiske

Book | A Little History of Religion | Richard Holloway

The ‘Little History’ series is aimed at a younger audience or those wanting a layperson’s introduction to a subject. In this title, Richard Holloway, a one-time bishop who is something of a sceptic, aims to foster critical thinking about religion rather than blind acceptance.

So while his book is about what religious people say, the author also advises questioning the traditional beliefs and stories.

For example, he asks of the Moses story, was there really a burning bush? Or did Moses simply hear voices in his head? Further, was there really a Moses at all? Is this just a story, as some people claim about the Garden of Eden, that tells us not what happened, but what people believe about themselves and their history, and how they understand the world?

If this is so, it neither disproves God nor renders religion meaningless, of course.

Holloway’s emphasis is that religions originate in the human mind and are responses to questions about origins and destinations. Primarily the author poses two questions: Is there something or someone controlling the universe and the lives of human beings, and what happens to us when we die?

Interestingly, the Israelites, at least in the early stages of their ‘religion’, were concerned with the former but not the latter question. Jesus put it differently, saying that what happens to us after we die is already begun on Earth with the ‘kingdom’ he inaugurated.

Typically, Holloway has impatience for rigidity in religion. He links orthodoxy to closed minds and notes that positive developments in religion often start off as heresies.

This is true, but he notices that heresy can create even more rigid splinter groups (cults) and whacky ideas, so we might also be thankful for the more mainstream religious traditions that guard against the self-serving voices in our heads.

Available from: Yale University Press

RRP: $26

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