A philosophical, big-picture look at the meaning of human faiths.
Lang’s nonfiction debut is an examination of religion that emphasizes the genius of organized faith, including its uncanny ability to harness base desires and provide emotional comfort. Wars have been fought over religious differences, he points out, and many millions of people have been killed in the name of various faiths; these problems seem permanent, in Lang’s reckoning, as he maintains that “more than one religion…will continue and have followers beyond the death of the author of this book, beyond the death of the seven-billion-plus people alive today, and probably beyond the death of the planet we call Earth.” Religions can hardly have followers if no humans exist, obviously, but this kind of conceptual overreach is endemic to the book, which is harmed by its infrequent but glaring overgeneralizations. “Most religions, if not all of them,” he writes, for example, “frown upon judgment of others”—which will surprise many Christian, Jewish, or Muslim readers, for starters. The work also has a tendency toward windy digressions, starting with its seven-page, throat-clearing preface. However, this heavily sourced and footnoted book usually overcomes these drawbacks, as Lang effectively elaborates on how people allow quick, judgmental thinking to keep them inside conceptual boxes and narrow mental routines. He includes the idea of “thin-slicing,” in which one takes a single glance at a person and extrapolates a whole set of judgments from it. Lang urges readers to break out of these boxes: “do something you rarely do, make it a point to stretch your boundaries.” On the whole, his wide knowledge and ample use of quotations make his book a nice, layered reading experience for religious and secular audiences alike.
An often engaging, wide-angle view of religion and remedies for narrow interpretations.