Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Review: How to Believe in God (Whether You Believe in Religion or Not) by Clark Strand

I got the book through Amazon pre-order as soon as it came out then took a month to slowly absorb it rather than my usual 100-200 page a day (or more when I'm off from work) devouring of new books. I have already recommended it over a dozen times, mostly on discussion forums. I would (and have) describe(d) it as a Western Buddhist's (re)discovery of the wisdom of the Bible and Judeo-Christianity.

I am skeptical of Strand's statements in the preface playing down religion because without such tradition, the very insights he found by talking to so many people of different faiths would have been much harder to access. But I suppose that will help those who are hostile to or cynical about religion give the rest of his book a chance. He comes to many of the same conclusion lots of Buddhist converts from Western religions do when we come back to re-examine our heritage, such as the realization of a common Wisdom (confirming an all embracing ineffable Presence and our essential wholeness) that runs through the Old and New Testament in spite of the fundamenalist evangelical form of Biblical exegesis we had previously been blinded by.

Some chapters may require one to be familiar with Buddhism in general, and movements like Nichiren and Shin Buddhism in particular, to fully appreciate, but anyone can get the basic thrust of most chapters. Some are clear about the message Strand has received from a particular passage, and others, such as the one about dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, are more opaque and require a deeper insight on the part of the reader to appreciate. My favorites were the one about evil not having a way and the lesson of Jonah (the peril of having a "Nineveh-moment"). But some may be disappointed that the book does not include references or citations to other works.

A definite recommendation for the religiously progressive or those curious about why a Buddhist might find such inspiration from the Bible. Those who are allergic to "religion" in general and "God" or "Christianity" in particular should avoid this one, because it might wedge a crack in their comfortable prejudices.

To learn more or get this stuff straight from the worst horses's mouth*, try his blog over at Whole Earth God.

(*bad Buddhist pun)

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