When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs

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About the Author:
Charles Kimball is a professor of comparative religion at Wake Forest University

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Overview


About the Author:
Charles Kimball is a professor of comparative religion at Wake Forest University

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Mike Smith
“[R]eadable, well researched, well written and compelling.”
Reverend - Ken Sehested
"Effectively confronts, analyzes and explores the maddeningly diffuse forms of religious impulse..."
Chicago Tribune
“Kimball is well suited to his task, writing with a perspective forged in experience.”
Baptists Today
“Kimball...displays a fair hand in assessing how the world’s leading religions can be used for both good and evil.”
Fellowship Magazine
“[T]imely and persuasive . . . . deserves to be widely read.”
Publishers Weekly
By now it's commonplace to remark that more violence than good has been committed in the name of religion. The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian strife confirm this age-old aphorism. Wake Forest religion professor Kimball has made something of a career out of speaking about the ways in which religion becomes evil. Every religion has the capacity to work either for good or evil, and he contends that there are five warning signs that we can recognize when religion moves toward the latter. Whenever a religion emphasizes that it holds the absolute truth-the one path to God or the only correct way of reading a sacred text-to the exclusion of the truth claims of all other religions and cultures, that religion is becoming evil. Other warning signs include blind obedience to religious leaders, apocalyptic belief that the end time will occur through a particular religion, the use of malevolent ends to achieve religious goals (e.g., the Crusades) and the declaration of holy war. Kimball focuses primarily on the three major Western monotheistic religions, although his examples also include new religious movements such as the People's Temple, Aum Shinrikyo and the Branch Davidians. Religion can resist becoming evil by practicing an inclusiveness that allows each tradition to retain its distinctiveness while it works for the common good. Kimball's clear and steady voice provides a helpful guide for those trying to understand why evil is perpetrated in the name of religion. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Chicago Tribune
“Kimball is well suited to his task, writing with a perspective forged in experience.”
Fellowship Magazine
“[T]imely and persuasive . . . . deserves to be widely read.”
Baptists Today
“Kimball...displays a fair hand in assessing how the world’s leading religions can be used for both good and evil.”
Walter Harrelson
“A wise, perceptive, and fair assessment ... Just the book for today’s and tomorrow’s journey of faith.”
Diana L. Eck
“A bold, powerful, truth-telling analysis of the ways in which religions can become destructive.”
Clifton Kirkpatrick
“I cannot imagine a more timely or insightful book for the time in whichwe live.”
Bill J. Leonard
“Dr. Kimball writes insightfully and prophetically... The book will inform and stimulate...”
John L. Esposito
“Required reading for all who would understand the age in which we live.”
Hardy Clemons
“There are few people as uniquely equipped to speak to our need for understanding world religions and faith.”
Kenneth Cracknell
“Exactly the book that is needed right now.....Clear, passionate, and full of wisdom...”
Carl W. Ernst
“A powerful and even-handed moral analysis of the abuses that are found in all major religious traditions.”
John Berthrong
“A great deal of insight ....”
Robert Neralich
“As long as there are writers as relentlessly honest as Kimball, there will always be ground for hope...”
Wayne Holst
“Well-reasoned and focused.”
Cecile S. Holmes
“[A] thought-provoking analysis.”
Rev. Ken Sehested
“Effectively confronts, analyzes and explores the maddeningly diffuse forms of religious impulse...”
Mike Smith
“[R]eadable, well researched, well written and compelling.”
Arthur Hertzberg
“Charles Kimball has uttered a cry that resonates like ‘a fire bell in the night.’ ”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061552014
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/26/2008
  • Series: Plus Series
  • Edition description: Revised and Updated Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 318,769
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Kimball is a professor of comparative religion at Wake Forest University. An ordained Baptist minister who received his doctorate from Harvard University in comparative religion with specialization in Islamic studies, Dr. Kimball is the author of three books about religion in the Middle East.

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Read an Excerpt

When Religion Becomes Evil

Five Warning Signs
By Charles Kimball

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Charles Kimball All right reserved. ISBN: 0060556102

Chapter One

Is Religion the Problem?

Religion is a central feature of human life. We all see many indications of it every day, and we all know it when we see it. But religion is surprisingly difficult to define adequately. To illustrate the complex, multidimensional nature of religion, I sometimes present students in my Introduction to Religion course with the following assignment on the first day of class: "Take the next few minutes and write a brief definition for religion." What happens next is predictable. After excitedly removing paper from a backpack or notebook and placing pen in hand, the confident facial expressions begin to give way to awkward puzzlement. Some smile nervously; many avoid eye contact. Clearly, these bright students know what religion is. Many seem to be embarrassed by their inability to articulate a cogent definition.

The Problem of Definitions and the Limits of Our Perspectives

The problem of defining religion is a good point of departure for this book as well. The word religion evokes a wide variety of images, ideas, practices, beliefs, and experiences - some positive and some negative. Putting these disparate elements into a coherent frame ofreference is no small task. It takes some effort. It forces us to step back and reflect on our presuppositions. Most people, for instance, assume that religion involves human thinking about or engagement with God, gods, or some less personal understanding of ultimate reality. They might well envision individual or communal responses to the transcendent, such as prayer, worship services, rituals, moral codes, and so on. Some people naturally think immediately of the life and teachings of Jesus or the Buddha when they think of religion; others might picture the pope or Billy Graham or Mother Teresa in their mind's eye. To complicate the picture further, personal experiences factor in as well. An individual may think of her confirmation or his bar mitzvah. If she or he has had some negative personal history with "organized" religion, then that, too, will surely figure prominently into the presuppositions.

The word religion also conjures up images of destructive or even cruel behavior. Assumptions about religion now include violent actions rooted in intolerance or abuse of power. During the year following the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Americans were inundated with media images of Islamic suicide bombers, Hindu fanatics attacking Muslims (and vice versa) in Northern India, and Christian clergy being arrested and escorted to jail on charges of criminal sexual misconduct.

Many of our current associations with religion are changing, in part because our vantage point is significantly different from that of the generations before us. Although the world has always been religiously diverse, we have a much more conscious awareness of religious pluralism today. Unlike a nineteenth-century Christian living in Europe or the United States, who may only have heard or read about people called Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, a twenty-first-century Western Christian experiences their presence through social interaction and television images that pour in daily. Put another way, Rudyard Kipling's famous line "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet" may have made sense in the nineteenth century but not today. North and South have joined East and West in a system of globalization Kipling could not have imagined.

Whether or not we have wrestled consciously with issues of particularity and pluralism, at some level we are aware that religion is a complex component of human life. We know that religion encompasses much more than our own particular tradition or personal experience. Like the students in Religion 101, most of us have many ideas and images about religion. Some come from experience; some come from personal observation or media images; some ideas have been passed on culturally in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Putting the diverse elements into a broader framework for understanding, however, turns out to be more challenging than most people expect. Many of us don't make a concerted effort until we feel the need to do so. Frequently, we operate instead with a kind of "detailed ignorance" about religion.

The field of economics provides a good analogy for our understanding of religion and its role in the world. Many of us know a fair bit about economic realities. We invest enough time and energy, hopefully, to avoid making poor economic decisions about homes, investments, and retirement plans. Few of us have PhDs in economics, however. Few of us are able to make sense of the daily onslaught of economic numbers and at the same time place those in a larger, global, economic context. When something destabilizing occurs, it may force us to look again at how we have allocated our retirement funds or whether it is wise to buy a new house or car in a volatile market. Uncertainty exposes the gaps in our understanding, and so we tend to pay more attention, to ask more questions, to think more broadly about the economic realm and how it affects us personally. We may not become experts, but many of us will certainly make a concerted effort to learn enough about the details and the bigger picture so we don't make costly decisions unwittingly.

World events at the outset of the new millennium provide an impetus to take a step back and think more broadly about religion and the turbulent forces connected with religion in our world.

Regardless of one's personal views about religion, the comparative study of religion offers an effective way to tackle the problem of detailed ignorance.

Help From the Comparative Study of Religion

A common method for understanding world religions involves a fair-minded, descriptive approach. Gathering data and organizing the facts about a particular religion is a reasonable place to start. We witnessed this in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Journalists, religious and political leaders, and many non-Muslim citizens were anxious to understand what was going on and why. Although Islam is a global religion and Muslim activists and countries have appeared often in the news for several decades, many people discovered how little they actually knew about the world's second largest religion.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball
Copyright © 2003 by Charles Kimball
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Revised Edition     v
Introduction     1
Is Religion the Problem?     15
Absolute Truth Claims     49
Blind Obedience     81
Establishing the "Ideal" Time     110
The End Justifies Any Means     137
Declaring Holy War     166
An Inclusive Faith Rooted in a Tradition     199
Acknowledgments     229
Glossary of Key Terms     233
Notes     245
Selected Bibliography     267
Index     269
Plus     281
Afterword     282
Reader's Guide     290
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Chapter One

Is Religion the Problem?

Religion is a central feature of human life. We all see many indications of it every day, and we all know it when we see it. But religion is surprisingly difficult to define adequately. To illustrate the complex, multidimensional nature of religion, I sometimes present students in my Introduction to Religion course with the following assignment on the first day of class: "Take the next few minutes and write a brief definition for religion." What happens next is predictable. After excitedly removing paper from a backpack or notebook and placing pen in hand, the confident facial expressions begin to give way to awkward puzzlement. Some smile nervously; many avoid eye contact. Clearly, these bright students know what religion is. Many seem to be embarrassed by their inability to articulate a cogent definition.

The Problem of Definitions and the Limits of Our Perspectives

The problem of defining religion is a good point of departure for this book as well. The word religion evokes a wide variety of images, ideas, practices, beliefs, and experiences -- some positive and some negative. Putting these disparate elements into a coherent frame of reference is no small task. It takes some effort. It forces us to step back and reflect on our presuppositions. Most people, for instance, assume that religion involves human thinking about or engagement with God, gods, or some less personal understanding of ultimate reality. They might well envision individual or communal responses to the transcendent, such as prayer, worship services, rituals, moral codes, and so on. Some people naturally think immediately of the life and teachings of Jesus or the Buddha when they think of religion; others might picture the pope or Billy Graham or Mother Teresa in their mind's eye. To complicate the picture further, personal experiences factor in as well. An individual may think of her confirmation or his bar mitzvah. If she or he has had some negative personal history with "organized" religion, then that, too, will surely figure prominently into the presuppositions.

The word religion also conjures up images of destructive or even cruel behavior. Assumptions about religion now include violent actions rooted in intolerance or abuse of power. During the year following the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Americans were inundated with media images of Islamic suicide bombers, Hindu fanatics attacking Muslims (and vice versa) in Northern India, and Christian clergy being arrested and escorted to jail on charges of criminal sexual misconduct.

Many of our current associations with religion are changing, in part because our vantage point is significantly different from that of the generations before us. Although the world has always been religiously diverse, we have a much more conscious awareness of religious pluralism today. Unlike a nineteenth-century Christian living in Europe or the United States, who may only have heard or read about people called Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, a twenty-first-century Western Christian experiences their presence through social interaction and television images that pour in daily. Put another way, Rudyard Kipling's famous line "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet" may have made sense in the nineteenth century but not today. North and South have joined East and West in a system of globalization Kipling could not have imagined.

Whether or not we have wrestled consciously with issues of particularity and pluralism, at some level we are aware that religion is a complex component of human life. We know that religion encompasses much more than our own particular tradition or personal experience. Like the students in Religion 101, most of us have many ideas and images about religion. Some come from experience; some come from personal observation or media images; some ideas have been passed on culturally in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Putting the diverse elements into a broader framework for understanding, however, turns out to be more challenging than most people expect. Many of us don't make a concerted effort until we feel the need to do so. Frequently, we operate instead with a kind of "detailed ignorance" about religion.

The field of economics provides a good analogy for our understanding of religion and its role in the world. Many of us know a fair bit about economic realities. We invest enough time and energy, hopefully, to avoid making poor economic decisions about homes, investments, and retirement plans. Few of us have PhDs in economics, however. Few of us are able to make sense of the daily onslaught of economic numbers and at the same time place those in a larger, global, economic context. When something destabilizing occurs, it may force us to look again at how we have allocated our retirement funds or whether it is wise to buy a new house or car in a volatile market. Uncertainty exposes the gaps in our understanding, and so we tend to pay more attention, to ask more questions, to think more broadly about the economic realm and how it affects us personally. We may not become experts, but many of us will certainly make a concerted effort to learn enough about the details and the bigger picture so we don't make costly decisions unwittingly.

World events at the outset of the new millennium provide an impetus to take a step back and think more broadly about religion and the turbulent forces connected with religion in our world.

Regardless of one's personal views about religion, the comparative study of religion offers an effective way to tackle the problem of detailed ignorance.

Help From the Comparative Study of Religion

A common method for understanding world religions involves a fair-minded, descriptive approach. Gathering data and organizing the facts about a particular religion is a reasonable place to start. We witnessed this in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Journalists, religious and political leaders, and many non-Muslim citizens were anxious to understand what was going on and why. Although Islam is a global religion and Muslim activists and countries have appeared often in the news for several decades, many people discovered how little they actually knew about the world's second largest religion.

When Religion Becomes Evil. Copyright © by Charles Kimball. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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