Member Reviews

I am not sure what I was expecting here (this wasn’t it so this review probably reflects that). While I am not a relies scholar, I have a fair amount of experience with several different religious traditions, to the point of at least reading the scriptures that are generally believed to define them as well as engaging comparative studies of them (in fact I am a fan of Dr Campbell’s work). This is specifically true for the three (3) religions chosen by the author to make his point: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism (which are actually community cohorts and not specific cults or sects like the author seems to imply). This makes his seven (7) rants on how we just don’t understand religion (because there is not common definition that applies to all religions) really strange … especially given that he doesn’t seem to offer any positive representations of what religion is … only what it is not. And from my experience, he was almost entirely incorrect with his critiques that mostly rely on showing that specific sects within a religion don’t agree with each other therefore there is no common definition … additionally he seems to have no concept of what a credal religion actually is, since he confidently states no such thing exists (despite evoking this term later on in the book).

Then we get to myth 2 about hierarchies where, after a rather twisted and confused examination of the orthodox churches, declares that they are not hierarchical because they can’t force their interpretations and dogmas on each other (ignoring the hierarchies within each). To be fair, there ARE non hierarchical christian churches … organized by a congregational governance … but even they have a pastor and elders. Still … there were certainly better examples out there that could have been revealed with a little more extensive research (perhaps the reform tradition). Additional his critique of Myth #3 seems to be entirely ignorant of how acculturation/appropriation and syncretism actually work within a religious context. The main premise here appears to be that since many religions share certain elements, it is difficult to distinguish one religion from another (a completely untenable position for the examples provided). About the only concept I can agree with the author on is his comparison of religion to language (I would go further and say that religion IS a language). Regardless … in each of his attempts to debunk common myths about religion, the author basically fails to identify areas of commonality and thereby illustrates either a lack of understanding of the example religions, or is an intentionally misdirecting the argument based on multiple logical fallacies, common biases or misapplied tropes.

That is not to say that there are not any interesting facts here (which saves this book some being completely panned); only that they are selected and curated to support (or at least not undermine) generalized, and often rather dubious, opinions with regard to how we understand religion. I was especially entertained by the author’s attempt to use the etymology of the word religion to support the idea that the word has racist elements in its current usage. The chapter on contracting spiritualism and mysticism with religion was also quite strange to me … having engaged in all three at one time or another and being familiar with Venn Diagrams, I don’t struggle with this nearly as much as the author appears to do. There is also some decent information regarding the presumed conflict between religion and science … although this is primarily an issue in some sects of the abrahamic religions … so I would have used the term faith vs science instead; however, this is a position that I, and most folks around me, have held for quite some time.

The last two myths discussed actually represent ongoing debates that I have recently witnessed and the author does bring up some solid points with respect to what is uniquely an element of religion and what is simply human nature. Where previous support had a decided wag the dog approach, here the argument tries to look at the nature of humanity and illustrates how religion, or more appropriately religious elements, are appropriated to rationalize and justify abhorrent social behaviors targeting outsiders. The underlying theme here is that a secular society in not inherently better or worse than a religious society … which, while true is still an odd point since in most societies that I am aware of, there is an overlapping spectrum for both and the author just finished explaining why they are actually not opposed to each other (and can co-exist with each other).

Myth #1 - Religions Are Determined by a Series of Dogmatic Beliefs and Well-defined Rules of Conduct That Adherents Must Follow
Myth #2 - Religions Are Structured Hierarchically
Myth #3 - Religions Can Be Clearly Distinguished, Based on Their Beliefs, Rules, and Structures

Interlude - On the Definition, Origin, and Racists Dimensions of the Word :Religion”

Myth #4 - Spirituality and Mysticism Contrast with Religion
Myth #5 - Science and Religion Are at Odds with Each Other
Myth #6 - Religions Are Dangerous Because Their Irrational Truth Claims Inevitably Provoke
Myth #7 - A Secular Society Is Completely Different (and Inherently Better) That a Religious Society


I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Religion #NetGalley

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This was certainly an unusual book. At places I could not put it down and others I found it too slow almost to the point of boring. I would highly recommend this book to any student of religion as it explores the myths that occur in religions everywhere. It was very interesting to read the multi religious ideas and also the fact that perhaps no-one really knows what being religious means. The cross overs of faiths where they would like to believe that they are unique and not just a newly invented group of people.
It is a well written book with great explanations.

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This book posits that even though the majority of people think that they know what religion is about and what the core tenets of them are we actually don’t. The author goes over myths about what makes up religion and why those aren’t actually true.

Overall I did like this book. The author goes into a lot of details about each of the religion myths that he sees around modern and ancient religion alike. Most of the different concepts are interesting and I liked reading about them. My problem is that the book can be very clinical and detached at points. It took me longer than I wanted to read this because I was bored in several sections. I don’t think I was the ideal audience for this but I’m glad I read it. Recommend for fans of nonfiction and fans of religious nonfiction specifically.

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Jonas Atlas' book, "Religion: Reality Behind the Myths," offers a captivating and illuminating exploration of the intricate relationship between religion and society. Drawing on his expertise as a seasoned scholar of religion, Atlas provides profound insights into various religious traditions, such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, delivering a distinctive perspective on how religion operates within society.

One of the book's most compelling arguments put forth by Atlas is the need to debunk common misconceptions surrounding religion. He contends that assumptions claiming religion is primarily based on faith, conflicting with science, and causing societal violence are unfounded. Atlas offers concrete examples from diverse religious traditions to showcase how religion can harmonize with science, foster peace, and even coexist with other belief systems.

Moreover, Atlas challenges the contemporary dichotomy between the secular and the religious, asserting that these two realms are not necessarily mutually exclusive. He presents a fresh outlook on the essence of religion, positing that it encompasses more than mere belief or doctrine; it also encompasses practices, rituals, and a sense of community and belonging.

Atlas' writing is lucid, succinct, and accessible, rendering the book a valuable resource for both scholars and general readers. His arguments are persuasive, and his use of tangible examples provides readers with a profound comprehension of religion's role in society. Furthermore, Atlas' extensive experience in the field of religion and his interdisciplinary approach to the subject matter render this book a significant contribution to the realm of religious studies.

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