Coincidentally, much of my summer reading happened to revolve around religion, its history and development in the West and America, and its centuries-old war with science, as follows:
The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, by Frank Lambert, surveys the development of religion in America by attempting to answer the question, “How did the Puritan Fathers transform into the Founding Fathers?” He does a good job in tracing the origins of our religious heritage and its different manifestations on a regional basis from the early 17th through the late 19th century. Of particular interest are the debates among the Founders on the questions of establishment, free exercise, and religious accommodation, the influence of the Deists, and the origin of the doctrine of “separation of church and state”, which is much misunderstood by contemporary Americans. I have points of disagreement with Lambert on the degree to which several of the Founders rejected their Puritan heritage for deism, but this didn’t detract from my high regard for his book.
Science vs. Religion: The 500-Year War, by David J. Turell, M. D., is one of the better surveys of the various arguments, pro and con, of evolution, scientism, and naturalism in their long battle with supernaturalism, creationism, and intelligent design. Basically, Turell, who, incidentally, is a new friend who lives in the Houston area, attempts with a high degree of success to show that a belief in a purposeful theistic creation and in the process of evolution can be combined and are not mutually exclusive. He makes frequent use of a favorite source of mine, Mortimer Adler’s How to Think About God, and an approach that allows atheists and agnostics to comfortably rethink their positions. Finally, Dr. Turell adds an attractive personal touch in the last chapter by providing insight into his personal search for meaning in the universe. A very good read.
The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, in all of its 683 pages of narrative and sixty pages of footnotes, consumed a large part of my reading time last summer, but it was well worth the effort. The book is a sweeping history of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation from about 1490 through the late 17th century, wherein the author traces the origins of the reformation impulse and the evolution of the transformation of religious thought and institutional change as they worked themselves out in various ways throughout Europe. All the historical players are here—Luther, of course, and Calvin, Zwingli, the Popes, the secular heads of state and wannabes, but also the lesser lights and fringe players, many of whose ideas helped shape the outcome and are being debated still. Of particular interest to me was the explanation of the various fine points of theological disagreement that spawned and sustained the conflict and over which much blood was spilled. A great book, the major significance of which was to remind me of how fortunate we are in having benefited from the evolution of the idea of religious tolerance that was ultimately forged out of the crucible of this period.
“World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win”, Commentary, September 2004, by Norman Podhoretz, is not a book and only marginally about religion, but it is a 54-page article that is a must read for all who want a deeper understanding, beyond the political spin from both sides, of the current war on Islamofascism. With historical analysis and by connecting the dots of events and trends, Podhoretz very convincingly shows that we are only in the very early stages of what promises to be a very long war, and that Iraq is only the second front, the second scene, so to speak, of the first act of a five-act play. Much of the history, in hindsight, reads like the odyssey of a ship of fools, until the pronouncement of the Bush Doctrine and its four pillars that he describes in detail. Then he comments on the history of the forces of anti-war and anti-American appeasement in their various forms both at home and abroad and how imperative it is to defeat them in order to have any chance for the ultimate victory that is necessary for the survival of the West as we know it. (Hint: as he suggests, only one outcome of the election in November will suffice, because these forces have irreparably damaged one major political party. For details, see Zell Miller.)