Heintzman (Public and International Affairs/Univ. of Ottawa; Tom Symons: A Canadian Life, 2011) tackles the Western world’s understanding of religion in this ambitious, scholarly book.
In his latest, which he wrote for his sons in an attempt to explain their Christian upbringing, the author argues that Western culture’s understanding of “religion” should be redefined. “The Christian and Western emphasis on religious ‘beliefs’ (especially since 1400) turns out to be the exception, not the rule,” he writes. Investigating spiritual traditions from around the world and the philosophical components within them, the author contends that faith and belief are not the same thing. Faith involves doing, not thinking; therefore, religion should be primarily defined by the actions associated with it. Heintzman suggests adopting a traditional religious practice with all its rituals and trappings in lieu of the laid-back “secular” spirituality adopted by many Westerners, who borrow beliefs from various religions but do not ascribe to a single, unifying theme. Neither, however, does the author, who tends to veer off on philosophical tangents; a single chapter on global climate change ranges everywhere from philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola to Francis Bacon, Descartes, the Romantic movement, Moses Luzzatto and John Locke, to name a few.
Heintzman’s pedantic approach will deter some non-academic readers, but those who can overcome his verbosity may find themselves re-examining how religion factors into their own lives.