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Religious Tolerance logo


2004-January to June

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The current month's recommendation is located elsewhere.

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"What Christians Think about Homosexuality: Six representative viewpoints"

Amazon.com describes this book: "An objective description of all Christian points of view on Homosexuality, what the biblical and theological bases for each are, how they are criticized and how they answer their critics."

Rating: The book received five stars, the maximum rating, from all six customer reviewers. This is an usually high rating.

Our comments: At least one national survey of conservative Christians has shown that the debate over equal rights for homosexuals -- including the right to marry -- is of more concern than any other "hot" topic with religious or moral content. Many information sources give only one viewpoint on gay/lesbian/bisexual rights. Our web site compares and contrasts the most common position taken by very conservative Christians with that promoted by almost all gays, lesbians, religious liberals, secularists, mental health professionals and human sexuality researchers. These two positions differ greatly on whether homosexuality is a behavior or an orientation; chosen or unchosen, fixed or changeable; normal and natural for a small percentage of adults or intrinsically  abnormal and unnatural; immoral or morally neutral.

This book goes way beyond other sources of information on homosexuality. Holben describes six different and contrasting viewpoints widely held by Christians, which he titles:

  1. Condemnation
  2. A promise of healing
  3. A call to costly discipleship
  4. Pastoral accomodation
  5. Affirmation
  6. Liberation.
The same range of viewpoints are found in most other religions, with conservative wings tending to the lower numbered viewpoints, and liberal wings promoting the higher numbers. So too with many Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, secularists, etc.

The author does not reveal his own belief about which viewpoint is "correct." He does not endorse any of them. One reviewer noted that: "An interesting feature of the book is that positions 'speak' to each other, countering and clarifying arguments."

Excerpts from reader's comments:

bullet"Holben's treatment of my denomination's position(s) is articulate, precise, and spot-on accurate, even to technical vocabulary and fairly abstruse theological concepts."
bullet"This is the best book on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality that's out there. In fact, I would say that if you are only going to read one book on the subject, this has to be the one."
bullet"I have never seen a book of this kind. In six chapters it covers a continuum of viewpoints on homosexuality, from far right to far left--while endorsing none."
bullet"In a remarkably even-handed way (the author takes no position) he has drawn from the seminal thinkers representing six distinct perspectives..., spanning the most conservative to the most liberal, and significant points in between."
bullet"L.R. Holben has written an elegant and readable book about oneof the most difficult and contentious issues facing the ChristianChurch today. His work makes a substantial contribution in the service of an accurate understanding of widely differing positions and honest, informed dialogue between those who hold these positions.

Author: Lawrence Robert Holben
Title: "What Christians Think about Homosexuality: Six representative viewpoints"
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Bibal Press
ISBN: 0941037835
Release date: 1999
Pages: 320
Cost: List: U.S.$24.95. Amazon Marketplace has a number of vendors that occasionally sell surplus new and used copies at much lower prices.

As of 2004-JUL, Amazon offers free shipping for orders to U.S. addresses in excess of $25.00. You simply select "Super Saver Shipping" when you go to the Amazon checkout.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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"God against the Gods: The history of the war between monotheism and polytheism"

Leslie Ankers reviewed this book for Amazon.com:

She titles this review "A legacy of religious tolerance."

She writes, in part: This book covers the idea of religious tolerance as largely practiced by the Pagans of the ancient world; the one trip into monotheism by an Egyptian Pharaoh, Akhenaton, and his worship of the sun disc, The Aton; the Jewish religion and how it changed over a vast period of time; and the beginning of the Christian religion until the death of the Emperor Julian in 363 C.E. He navigates the waters of history, to contrast the legacy of religious tolerance of the polytheistic world with the exclusion and intolerance that often comes with the practice of monotheism.

This book contains a prologue entitled The Everlasting Fire (The Dark Side of Monotheism, the Bright Side of Polytheism). It is then divided up into two books.

Book One is called The God That Failed and contains four chapters. These chapters are:


Chapter 1: Against All the Gods of Egypt (A Young Pharaoh's Experiment in Monotheism and Why it Failed);


Chapter 2: What Did Pagans Do? (The Case Against Classical Paganism - And Why It Was Wrong);


Chapter 3: Terror and True Belief (The Jewish King Who Reinvented the Faith of Ancient Israel);


Chapter 4: Confessors and Traitors (Pagans and Christians Go to War in Ancient Rome).

Book Two contains six chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are:


Chapter 5: In This Sign, Conquer (The Curious Encounter of Christ and Constantine in the Struggle for the Roman Crown);


Chapter 6: The Harlot in the Bishop's Bed (The War Within the Christian Church over the Divinity of Christ);


Chapter 7: The Ruler of the Whole World (The Invention of the Totalitarian State by the First Christian Emperor of Rome);


Chapter 8: The Orphans of Macellum (The Christian Prince Who Survived A Blood Purge and Struggled for the Restoration of Paganism);


Chapter 9: The Secret Pagan (Gods, Empresses, and Julian's Unlikely Rise to the Imperial Throne);


Chapter 10: Behold, the Rivers Are Running Backwards (The Pagan Counterrevolution of the Emperor Julian); and


Epilogue: The Handless Scribe (The Price of Victory of the One True God).

The book also contains a map of the empire of Constantine and Julian, a chronology, a list of major historical figures, notes, bibliography and an index.

Author: Jonathan Kirsch, a book columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of a number of best-selling books, including "The Harlot by the Side of the Road," and "The Woman Who Laughed at God."
Title: "God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism"
Edition: Only hardcover, so far
Publisher: Viking Press
ISBN: 0670032867
Release date: 2004-MAR
Pages: 336
Cost: List: U.S.$25.95. Amazon.com sells it for $18.16. Amazon Marketplace has a number of vendors that sell surplus new and used copies for less.

As of 2004-JUL, Amazon offers free shipping for orders to U.S. addresses in excess of $25.00. You simply select "Super Saver Shipping" when you go to the Amazon checkout.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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"If Grace is true: Why God will save every person"

About the authors and their spiritual journeys:

One of the authors, Philip Gulley, is a Quaker minister and author. The other, James Mulholland, is a theologian who has been involved in both the American Baptist, United Methodist, and Quaker denominations. Both were taught as children that only a small percentage of humans would be saved and attain heaven after death. The vast majority will be sent for endless punishment in Hell for all eternity. They retained this belief into adulthood. Then one of the authors -- they don't identify which -- had a spiritual crisis when asked to deliver the eulogy for a woman who had died in her late 30s. She was deserted by her father at the age of three, was abused in her family of origin, abused and finally abandoned by her husband, suffered the death of her child, and became involved in alcohol and other drugs. Then she began to turn her life around. She moved to a new town, found a job, bought a car, bought a house, and decided to start looking for a church to attend. A few months later, she died of a heart attack. The author's faith was shaken. Surely God would not "invite Sally to his home, then slam the door as she stood at the threshold. It seemed like a cruel joke." He started on a spiritual journey which ended with his conviction that all will be saved and attain heaven. This is the religious concept of Universalism -- long a Christian heresy. That conviction led to this book.

Amazon.com offers the following editorial review of this book:

"What happens after we die? Philip Gulley and James Mulholland grew up believing that only a chosen few would be saved and go to heaven, while most people would be damned. Even while studying to become pastors, they maintained this traditional view of human destiny. But as they experienced the pain and joy of their parishioners, each of these pastors began to hear a small but insistent voice speaking to them of God's boundless love and extravagant grace, calling them to a new understanding of divine will and human destiny. As each sought to be faithful to their experience of a loving God whose grace is unlimited and unconditional, both men arrived separately at the same truth: God will save every person....Now I have a new formula. It too is simple and clear. It is the most compelling truth I've ever known. It is changing my life. It is changing how I talk about God. It is changing how I think about myself. It is changing how I treat other people. It brings me untold joy, peace, and hope. This truth is the best news I've ever heard, ever believed, and ever shared. I believe God will save every person."

Authors: Philip Gulley & James Mulholland
Title: "If Grace is True"
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Harper SanFrancisco
ISBN: 006251704X
Release date: 2003
Pages: 240
Cost: List: U.S.$16.07

As of 2004-mar, Amazon offers free shipping for orders to U.S. addresses in excess of $25.00. You simply select "Super Saver Shipping" when you go to the Amazon checkout.

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

This essay continues below.

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Holy Writ as Oral Lit

I found this book to be quite fascinating. Alan Dundes is one of the world's leading authorities on folklore. He is a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California.

Conservative Christians normally view the Bible as "God's Word" and believe that God inspired its authors to write inerrant text. Many believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Bible -- from personal experience. They also believe that many of the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus who took part in his ministry. Mainline and liberal theologians generally believe that much of the material in the Bible originally circulated as folklore -- that is, as orally transmitted literature -- before it was written decades later by authors who were not witnesses of the events. They believe that the stories were, in some cases, later modified by copyists, editors, and redactors into the form that we see today.

Dundes does not argue that the Bible contains folklore. He believes that it is folklore. He notes many cases where the same event or belief is explained in multiple locations. Each description is different from the other, in the numbers used, the names employed, and sequence. These natural variations are a strong indicator that the written text was originally derived from folklore.

Author: Alan Dundes.
Title: "Holy Writ as Oral Lit"
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
ISBN: 0847691985
Release date:
Pages: 129
Cost: List: U.S.$21.95

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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How the idea of religious toleration came to the West

The following is an excerpt from the American Library Association's Booklist review: "Americans who regard Islamic fundamentalists as peculiarly intolerant have much to learn from distinguished historian Zagorin, whose insightful research reminds us that for centuries no religionists persecuted heresy more ferociously than did Christians. In an analysis rich in narrative detail, Zagorin recounts the difficult and often perilous labors of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century advocates of religious toleration, who challenged the West's terrible tradition of coercive orthodoxy. Though most early reformers valued dissent only long enough to create Protestant versions of the Catholic Inquisition, Zagorin's chronicle shows why followers of Luther and Calvin ultimately faced difficult questions about the state's traditional role as guardian of creedal uniformity."

Amazon.com's review states: "Perez Zagorin takes readers to a time when both the Catholic Church and the main new Protestant denominations embraced a policy of endorsing religious persecution, coercing unity, and, with the state's help, mercilessly crushing dissent and heresy. This position had its roots in certain intellectual and religious traditions, which Zagorin traces before showing how out of the same traditions came the beginnings of pluralism in the West....A far-reaching and incisive discussion of the major writers, thinkers, and controversies responsible for the emergence of religious tolerance in Western society--from the Enlightenment through the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights--this original and richly nuanced work constitutes an essential chapter in the intellectual history of the modern world."

Author: Perez Zagorin.
Title: "How the idea of religious toleration came to the West"
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Princeton University Press
ISBN: 0691092702
Release date: 2003-OCT
Pages: 371
Cost: List: U.S.$29.95

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Lost Christianities:

The battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew, by Bart D. Ehrman

If you ask the average Christian to explain the history of the Christian movement, they will probably describe how the apostles created a unified faith. Then, starting during the Middle Ages, it began to fragment into the thousands of Christian faith groups that we see today. But the historical record indicates that there was an amazing diversity of belief within Christianity from its earliest decades. Only one group, Pauline Christianity, survived to form "proto-orthodoxy." It later became the Christian faith.

Elaine Pagles of Princeton University comments: "This book offers a fascinating introduction to an astonishing range of 'lost Christianities' that flourished at the time when the Christian movement began. Bart Ehrman has the rate gift of communicating scholarship in writing that is lively, enjoyable and accessible."

Elizabeth Clark of Duke University comments: "Highly readable and based on up-to-date scholarship. Ehrman's book provides an excellent introduction to early Christianity's diversity and the means by which early orthodoxy and the New Testament canon, developed from it. This lively study will prove eye-opening to a wide variety of readers."

Amazon reviewer Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty wrote: "If you like mysteries, true detective stories, and historical controversies, Professor Ehrman's newest book is just right for you. It is about early Christianity, or more accurately, early 'Christianities.' Why the plural? Simply because in the first centuries after Christ, there was no one single group which could be called the authentic 'Christian' religion. There was, instead, a diversity of Christian groups, each with its own beliefs, practices, and sacred texts. There was no New Testament. There were many other books, gospels, epistles, and so forth, other than those that would eventually become the New Testament as we know it today. These other books were widely read and fervently followed by various groups of early Christians."

Editor: Bart D. Ehrman
Title: "Lost Christianities: The battle for scripture and the faiths we never knew"
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Release date: 2003-SEP
Pages: 336
Cost: List: U.S.$21.00  

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Continue with book selections from the second half of 2004

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This graphic lists the most popular religious & spiritual books currently being sold by Amazon.com:

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Copyright © 2004 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JAN
Latest update: 2004-SEP-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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