Religion As a Natural Phenomenon
by Daniel C. Dennett
It is time for a confession of sorts. Usually I like to avoid being too personal on this blog, as it is solely about the books and there are other places where I talk about my family and daily life. But now I feel a brief explanation is called for.
I was raised a very religious person. In my late twenties I became disillusioned by it and faced my own disbelief. I began reading texts not only on the history of the particular faith I adhered to (written both from the inside and outside) but also on religion in general. It was a very eye-opening experience that continues at a slower rate to this day. Up until now I have avoided discussing these books because it is sometimes difficult for me to separate emotional reaction from an analysis of the book on its own merit. But I feel it is time to try. I may not be able to say much in depth about these books because I am trying to keep that separation, and because it has been several years since I read most of them. However, I still want to have a record of them on my blog. So here goes the first of many. I hope this and future reviews of books that examine religion cause no one pain or offense; I do not wish to belittle anyone's belief, as for most of my life I've been a very strong believer myself. What I desire is to have a better, fuller understanding.
Breaking the Spell is an excellent read. Written by a professor of philosophy, it looks in depth at the nature of religion in the life of mankind. Religion (particularly in America) is examined in a historical, scientific, philosophical and cultural sense. The amount of information can be quite staggering, but it is well organized, and for someone like me who doesn't read much philosophy, it is very well-written and easy to understand. Some of the many questions the author addresses are: what does humanity's need for religion arise from? why does religion attract such strong followers? is religion the best way to live a moral life? how has religion altered the face of America? This book places ideas of science and religion side by side and uses one to illuminate the other. It even looks at an explanation of religion in an evolutionary context, something I did not expect at all. It does not criticize or demean religion, but treats it thoughtfully, with consideration and a degree of respect. I think this is a good book regardless of whether you are atheist or believer. It really made me think a lot. Personally I don't care much for the title, but if you get past a reaction to that and read what's inside, I feel it is well worth the effort.
Rating: 4/5 Published: 2006 pp 448