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The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    The God Problem
    Book Description:

    The United States is one of the most highly educated societies on earth, and also one of the most religious. InThe God Problem, Robert Wuthnow examines how middle class Americans juggle the seemingly paradoxical relationship between faith and reason. Based on exceptionally rich and candid interviews with approximately two hundred people from various faiths, this book dispels the most common explanations: that Americans are adept at keeping religion and intellect separate, or that they are a nation of "joiners." Instead, Wuthnow argues, we do this-not by coming up with rational proofs for the existence of God-but by adopting subtle usages of language that keep us from making unreasonable claims about God. In an illuminating narrative that reveals the complex negotiations many undertake in order to be religious in the modern world, Wuthnow probes the ways of talking that occur in prayers, in discussions about God, in views of heaven, in understandings of natural catastrophes and personal tragedies, and in attempts to reconcile faith with science.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95426-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    It has become fashionable again in recent years to criticize religion—either as a kind of vestigial superstition that can now be understood in purely naturalistic terms or as something downright reprehensible. The best-known critics include the prominent philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, author ofBreaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and the evolutionary biologist and popular science writer Richard Dawkins, most notably inThe God Delusion. Works of a more tendentious nature have been written by religious studies graduate student turned neuroscientist Sam Harris, author ofThe End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, and...

  5. ONE Dangerous Dogma
    (pp. 7-44)

    Before turning to a close investigation of the ways in which thoughtful people talk about their faith, we need to step back and consider why the God problem actually is a problem. Our contemporary culture sometimes gives us the false impression that believing in God is not problematic at all, especially because so many people do believe and apparently consider it reasonable to believe. For one thing, our culture is highly relativistic, and so it is not uncommon to hear about people who, for instance, are dedicated scientistsanddevout Christians, and to say to ourselves, “Well, that’s their business.”...

  6. TWO Talking to God
    (pp. 45-92)

    In her book about evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, anthropologist Susan Harding describes an event that nicely illustrates the peculiarities of contemporary prayer. Needing millions for his fledgling fundamentalist campus in Lynchburg, the television preacher who was soon to become the leading voice of the Religious Right rose early on Monday, September 18, 1978, and drove the 11.3-mile perimeter of Liberty Mountain, praying constantly as he drove. For the next five mornings, he did the same thing, and on the morning of Sunday, September 24, repeated the trip seven times, a total of 79.1 miles, again praying as he circled the...

  7. THREE Big Scary Catastrophes
    (pp. 93-153)

    The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which destroyed more than three-quarters of the city and killed a third of its population, prompted Voltaire to question how church leaders could possibly make sense of an event that had devastated one of Europe’s most religious cities and flattened most of its churches. Even more, it led him to reject the view that God had created the best of all possible worlds for humans to inhabit, declaring, “Oh wretched man, earth-fated to be cursed, Abyss of Plagues, and miseries the worst!”¹ In England, Charles Wesley described the earthquake as the seventh vial of...

  8. FOUR Heaven Is a Wonderful Place
    (pp. 154-212)

    An atheist named Mark wrote to an advice columnist that his marriage was in jeopardy. His wife, a devout Catholic, was desperately anxious that her husband was going to hell. Should he covert for her sake? The advice columnist said he should. Why not, she wrote. “He knows it’s not true. He knows it’s all a load of piffle.” He could go along with the “whole ludicrous farce” with no fear of divine retribution.¹

    The column generated a flurry of comments. One counseled Mark to tell his wife that a heaven full of believers was his idea of hell. An...

  9. FIVE Jesus Sets You Free
    (pp. 213-247)

    One of the most memorable ad campaigns of the 1970s focused on the new Datsun 260Z. With dandelion seeds blowing away and a silver sports car visible in the background, the text read, “There’s a good life waiting, it’s not at all hard to find. Be free.” The hook line asserted, “Datsun saves and sets you free.”

    Released in May 1974, the ad was well suited to the times. The energy crisis following the oil embargo of 1973 drove up gasoline prices 45 percent in little over a year. The new Datsun combined fuel efficiency with the allure of driving...

  10. SIX Billions of Galaxies
    (pp. 248-282)

    Few topics have brought faith and reason together as squarely or with as much conflict as controversies about science. Especially hotly contested has been the question of whether faith somehow implies views of divine creation or of intelligent design that fundamentally contradict the evidence scientists have gathered about biological evolution. Yet there are many other areas of potential conflict as well. For instance, if there are billions of galaxies in the universe, is it supremely egotistical for humans to think they are somehow uniquely created to have a relationship with God? Or as scientists learn more about the age of...

    (pp. 283-304)

    A young pastor struggling to start a church in his basement felt himself surrounded by the forces of Satan. Neighbors told of farmers finding their cattle dead in the fields with organs removed and no sign of tire tracks or blood. A coven nearby was reportedly teaching children to experience demons. An anonymous caller phoned in the middle of the night, threatening his life and the lives of his family. The pastor prayed in anguish. What could he do? A few weeks later, after praying and fasting for three days, he drove to the top of a mountain not far...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 305-310)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 311-324)
  14. Index
    (pp. 325-332)