Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who Needs God?

Who Needs God?
© 1989 Harold Kushner
208 pages

In God's Problem, author Bart Ehrman reccommended Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People and Kushner in general. I decided to follow up on the recommendation and read the strangely-titled Who Needs God this week. I say "strangely titled", for while Kushner is writing to two audiences -- those who have a "spiritual life", but spurn organized religion, and those who live ethically without regard to ideas of god -- the book seems to be aimed more at the former. For Kushner, the ideas of God and religion are one -- even though he sees religion as a human construction, formed to meet human needs and doing so through community.

The book consists of chapters detailing religion's contributions to human happiness, although allowing plenty of room for mentions of its excesses. Some themes include: providing a worldview that makes sense of the world; giving people something to revere, thus allowing for mystery; accounting for suffering; providing community; providing a source of inner strength, and a few others. My problem with this book was not that I don't think these things aren't valuable, but that I don't see them as being the sole property of religion. Confusing the matter is the nebulous definition of religion. If naturalistic humanism does what Kushner claims the world religions do, does that mean it is a religion?

Although I disagree with Kushner on a number of issues in the book, I rather liked reading him: he seems like a kindly old grandfather author. His "mistakes" seem honest, not blind ones made by adherence to ideology. He is definitely more concerned with spirituality, personal growth, and community than he is with perpeutating old ideas, but he does think they have their place in keeping people grounded to their culture. (The extent to which we "need" to associate with our culture is a matter for further thought.) I think if Kushner had defined terms at the beginning, this book would have made a lot more sense. As it is, all I can say is that I disliked some elements and liked some elements. The problem is that they're so mixed together that I can't point them out.


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