Nietzsche famously declared that “God is dead.” Toft (Public Policy/Harvard Univ.), Philpott (Political Science and Peace Studies/Univ. of Notre Dame) and Shah (Boston Univ. Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs) suggest that the rumors of His death have been greatly exaggerated.
The authors claim that the influence of religion on the thinking and behavior of human beings may be stronger than ever, and they explore the implications of that influence over each of us as individuals and the world as a whole. Is religion a force for good or evil in politics? How much influence does and should it have? These are just two of the larger questions that the authors ask and then attempt to answer. Their sharp analysis, meticulous research and original thinking make for an enjoyable reading experience, and their willingness to unpack subtleties and address complexity keep their work from becoming biased or one-sided. In addition to critiquing religion, the authors celebrate it. Religion isn’t a good or bad thing so much as it can be a good or bad thing. Any major religion claims adherents both irrational and violent as well as just and kind. The authors then consider how religion might be a force for good and not for ill, and these specifics are the most engaging parts of the book. The authors offer concrete suggestions for confronting the challenges that religion’s influence can bring, as well as making the most of the unique perspective offered by religious thinkers and doers. In a world where religion isn’t going away and may, in fact, be on the rise, Toft, Philpott and Shah urge us to take the influence of God seriously and to not simply accept or dismiss it as “good” or “bad.”
In an age of Osteen and Hitchens, it’s refreshing to see the subject of religion addressed in this nonpartisan, insightful way.