A layman examines monotheist religions and the morals they endorse.
In the introduction to this extensive work, Shay (Getting Our Groove Back, 2006) posits some age-old considerations about God. Is God a fictional figure? Is the Bible a complete fabrication and, even if it is not, does it have any relevance to readers’ modern lives? The author also establishes himself as a believer. He may be a layman in the Jewish faith but he has had the opportunity to study the Torah very closely and, for the sake of this book, he has spoken with prominent members of other religions as well as his own. The result is a volume that covers a range of material that includes archaeological evidence both for and against certain biblical tales and a summation of Hebrew Scriptures in 900 words. But at the center of the work is an attack on idolatry. Shay argues that the God of the Old Testament represents a fundamental shift in thinking that took humanity from venerating false idols to accepting the more sensible idea of monotheism. The author contends that whether it is the worshipping of Baal or the deifying of a dictator, idolatry represents more than just an existential threat. As Shay asserts, by not creating idols “we have the best chance of going on the just path.” While a nearly infinite number of books could be written on the controversies of religion, this one strikes a unique path. The author utilizes a friendly, comical tone, as when, for instance, he imagines Joseph posting images of his coat of many colors on Instagram. The work also neatly intertwines disparate sources that range from the philosopher David Hume to the Babylonian Talmud. But certain defenses of the Bible are not persuasive. The story of Noah is treated as though “God decreed a reboot” for humanity. Yet other aspects of Noah’s trials that harden the hearts of the skeptical (for example, the curse of Ham) are not as thoroughly dissected. Nevertheless, the author’s heartfelt stance makes the book approachable. Regardless of readers’ prior knowledge and beliefs, they are likely to come away with new ideas to contemplate.
A highly readable, if not always convincing, defense of monotheism.