Although this book makes a good case for putting more reason in religion, it will fail to convince the skeptical.

Religion and Reason

A Catholic academic attempts to reconcile the concepts of reason and religion.

Nieman, who was for many years the dean of the School of Applied Theology’s graduate program in Berkeley, California, explores the leap of faith from reason to religion in this “brief study of religion and its place in human life.” Reason, he writes, is “a necessary intermediary between faith and truth,” but a belief in God, he says, makes it easier to understand morality. Though he admits that religion, like agnosticism, begins with uncertainty about the existence of God, he dismisses atheism outright as more speculation than belief, as a negative is harder to prove than a positive, according to logic theory. The intuition of God, which he says is evident even in primitive peoples, comes from man’s ability to reason, he argues, and “faith, like Jesus going to his death, and reason, like Socrates calmly drinking the hemlock, agree on life after death.” Though religion can’t be proved by the scientific method, truth isn’t limited to that avenue, he argues, and angels are no more outlandish than the concept of dark matter. While building a case for both reason and religion, he mainly concentrates on Christianity. He notes various positions that Christians have taken over the centuries that conflict with Christianity’s tenets. He notes that many conservative Christians endorse supporting wars, capital punishment, and greed, for example, but he also notes that the Roman Catholic Church has come to reject many of these contradictions. Although he says he wants to “dialogue” with all religions, he still attacks a few, declaring that “the whole religion” of Islam is “suspect.” Christianity, he concludes, is “uniquely compelling.” Indeed, this book might be better titled Christianity and Reason, as Nieman makes a far better case for the reasonableness of Christianity than he does other religions. He offers apt critiques of Christianity’s conflicts and takes an enlightened view of what a truly reasonable Christianity could be. However, his evangelical approach is too biased and limited to provide a comprehensive view. The book contains extensive footnotes and a bibliography, but it could use more citations, as when he describes the history of the Quran; sometimes, he merely cites movies as sources.

Although this book makes a good case for putting more reason in religion, it will fail to convince the skeptical.

Pub Date: June 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4908-7972-7

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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