Kimball spends the bulk of the book unpacking religion’s potential for evil, reserving the last chapter for a briefer discussion of how religion at its best may offer the only lasting hope for a peaceful world.
Kimball insists we must accept that religion “is arguably the most powerful and pervasive force in human society.” He then spends the bulk of the book unpacking religion’s potential for evil, reserving the last chapter for a briefer discussion of how religion at its best may offer the only lasting hope for a peaceful world.
According to Kimball, religions tilt toward evil when they succumb to any of five dynamics: absolute truth claims that lead to exclusivism; blind obedience to charismatic religious leaders; using powers of the state to establish an “ideal” society; acting on the belief that the end justifies the means; and declaring holy war. Destruction of cultures, dehumanizing one’s opponents, violence, ethnic cleansing and the like are the results.
Kimball dips into the history of five traditions to support his claims: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist. His analyses are thorough and persuasive.
Yet Kimball does not call for the abolition of religion in favor of a “secular” approach to community building. Instead, he argues that healthy religions provide the basis for building community across cultural lines. As he puts it, “Now, perhaps more than ever, religious people must transcend narrowly defined self-interest and seek new ways to live out what is noblest and best in their faith traditions.”
How? Kimball briefly examines three paradigms religious people bring to the table when dealing with other religions: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. Many readers will be surprised that he finds genuine potential for good within each of the three options. Provided people of different religions focus on “working together for the common good,” Kimball believes grounds exist for developing meaningful partnerships and mutual respect.
When Religion Becomes Evil is readable, well researched, well written and compelling. The publishing world continues to churn out books in response to the current world situation. If you can read only one book, When Religion Becomes Evil might well be the best of the lot.
Mike Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
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