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When Religion Becomes Evil


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By now it's commonplace to remark that more violence than good has been committed in the name of religion. The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian strife confirm this age-old aphorism. Wake Forest religion professor Kimball has made something of a career out of speaking about the ways in which religion becomes evil. Every religion has the capacity to work either for good or evil, and he contends that there are five warning signs that we can recognize when religion moves toward the latter. Whenever a religion emphasizes that it holds the absolute truth-the one path to God or the only correct way of reading a sacred text-to the exclusion of the truth claims of all other religions and cultures, that religion is becoming evil. Other warning signs include blind obedience to religious leaders, apocalyptic belief that the end time will occur through a particular religion, the use of malevolent ends to achieve religious goals (e.g., the Crusades) and the declaration of holy war. Kimball focuses primarily on the three major Western monotheistic religions, although his examples also include new religious movements such as the People's Temple, Aum Shinrikyo and the Branch Davidians. Religion can resist becoming evil by practicing an inclusiveness that allows each tradition to retain its distinctiveness while it works for the common good. Kimball's clear and steady voice provides a helpful guide for those trying to understand why evil is perpetrated in the name of religion. (Sept.) Forecast: Its timely publication-coordinated to release in conjunction with the September 11 anniversary-should help this book, which has a $25,000 ad/promo budget and an initial print run of 35,000 copies. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

9/11 A Baptist minister and author with a doctorate in the history of religions from Harvard, Kimball was involved in facilitating communication with the militant students who held hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979. He also served as the director of the Middle East office of the National Council of Churches and since 1990 has worked in a university setting. His background explains why he is more than qualified to deal with the controversial subject of this book. After 9/11, we all need to consider how religious practice can lead to evil. Kimball includes many religions in his discussion but focuses on Christianity and Islam because they are the largest and are both missionary religions. Is religion part of the problem of evil? Kimball answers yes and no. He offers five warning signs (e.g., absolute truth claims, calls for blind obedience) of when religion is in danger of becoming corrupt. As he points out, it is urgent for us all to be aware of these signs because we all share one planet. His book is extremely informative, well written, and timely. Highly recommended for all libraries. John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"Kimball is well suited to his task, writing with a perspective forged in experience."--Chicago Tribune

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