God Hates

God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right
by Rebecca Barrett-Fox

BX 6480 .T67 B37 2016

“The congregants thanked God that they weren’t like all those hopeless people outside the church, bound for hell. So the Westboro Baptist Church’s Sunday service began, and Rebecca Barrett-Fox, a curious observer, wondered why anyone would seek spiritual sustenance through other people’s damnation. It is a question that piques many a witness to Westboro’s more visible activity – the “GOD HATES FAGS” picketing of funerals. In God Hates, sociologist Barrett-Fox takes us behind the scenes of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church. The first full ethnography of this infamous presence on America’s Religious Right, her book situates the church’s story in the context of American religious history – and reveals as much about the uneasy state of Christian practice in our day as it does about the workings of the Westboro Church and Fred Phelps, its founder.

God Hates traces WBC’s theological beliefs to a brand of hyper-Calvinist thought reaching back to the Puritans – an extreme Calvinism, emphasizing predestination, that has proved as off-putting as Westboro’s actions, even for other Baptists. And yet, in examining Westboro’s role in conservative politics and its contentious relationship with other fundamentalist activist groups, Barrett-Fox reveals how the church’s message of national doom in fact reflects beliefs at the core of much of the Religious Right’s rhetoric. Westboro’s aggressively offensive public activities actually serve to soften the antigay theology of more mainstream conservative religious activism. With an eye to the church’s protests at military funerals, she also considers why the public has responded so differently to these than to Westboro’s anti-LGBT picketing.

With its history of Westboro Baptist Church and its founder, and its profiles of defectors, this book offers a complex, close-up view of a phenomenon on the fringes of American Christianity – and a broader, disturbing view of the mainstream theology it at once masks and reflects.”
– publisher description

Believers, Thinkers, and Founders

Believers, Thinkers, and Founders: How We Came to Be One Nation Under God by Kevin Seamus Hasson

BR 516 .H327 2016

“In Believers, Thinkers, and Founders: How We Came to Be One Nation Under God, Kevin Seamus Hasson – founder and president emeritus of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – offers a refreshing resolution to a familiar conundrum: If there is real religious freedom in America, how is it that our government keeps invoking God? He’s everywhere – from our currency to the Pledge of Allegiance. Isn’t that all entirely too religious? And just whose God are we talking about anyway? If we are intellectually honest, shouldn’t we scrub all these references to God from our public life?

Yet the Declaration of Independence says that god is the source of our rights. “The traditional position,” writes Hasson, “is that our fundamental human rights – including those secured by the First Amendment – are endowed to us by the Creator, and that it would be perilous to permit the government ever to repudiate that point.” America has steadfastly repeated that for more than two hundred years, throughout all branches and levels of government.

To say that there is no Creator who endows us with rights, Hasson argues, “is to do more than simply tinker with one of the most famous one-liners in history; it is to change the starting point of our whole explanation of who we are as Americans, and, ultimately, why our government is a limited one in the first place.”

What to do?

Hasson looks closely at the nation’s founding and sees a solution in the classical distinction between faith and reason. The existence of God, he points out, can traditionally be known by reason alone, while who God is can only be seen in faith. By recognizing the distinction between the “self-evident” Creator referred to in the Declaration of Independence and God as revealed in our faith traditions, we can move past the culture wars that plague us. In short, Hasson argues that we can have a robust First Amendment without abandoning our natural rights.

In Believers, Thinkers, and Founders, Hasson examines that idea while looking at a host of issues – including the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer at public events, and the Declaration of Independence – as he demonstrates how we can still be one nation under God.”
– publisher description

A None’s Story

A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism & Islam
by Corinna Nicolaou

BL 73 .N53 A3 2016

“The rising population known as “nones” for its members’ lack of religious affiliation is changing American society, politics, and culture. Many nones believe in God and even visit places of worship, but they do not identify with a specific faith or belong to a spiritual community. Corinna Nicolaou is a none, and in this layered narrative, she describes what it is like for her and thousands of others to live without religion or to be spiritual without committing to a specific faith.

Nicolaou tours America’s major traditional religions to see what, if anything, one might lack without God. She moves through Christianity’s denominations, learning their tenets and worshiping alongside their followers. She travels to Los Angeles to immerse herself in Judaism, Berkeley to educate herself about Buddhism, and Dallas and Washington, D.C., to familiarize herself with Islam. She explores what light they can shed on the fears and failings of her past, and these encounters prove the significant role religion still plays in modern life. They also exemplify the vibrant relationship between religion and American culture and the enduring value it provides to immigrants and outsiders. Though she remains a devout none, Nicolaou’s experiences reveal points of contact between the religious and the unaffiliated, suggesting that nones may be radically revising the practice of faith in contemporary times.”
– publisher description

Witches of America

Witches of America by Alex Mar

BP 605 .N46 M325 2015

“When most people hear the word “witches,” they think of horror films and Halloween, but to the nearly one million Americans who practice Paganism today, witchcraft is a nature-worshipping, polytheistic, and very real religion. So Alex Mar discovers when she sets out to film a documentary and finds herself drawn deep into the world of present-day magic.

Witches of America follows Mar on her immersive five-year trip into the occult, charting modern Paganism from its roots in 1950s England to its current American mecca in the San Francisco Bay Area; from a gathering of more than a thousand witches in the Illinois woods to the New Orleans branch of one of the world’s most influential magical societies. Along the way she takes part in dozens of rituals and becomes involved with a wild array of characters: a government employee who founds a California priesthood dedicated to a Celtic goddess of war; American disciples of Aleister Crowley, whose elaborate ceremonies turn the Catholic mass on its head; second-wave feminist Wiccans who practice a radical separatist witchcraft; a growing “mystery cult” whose initiates trace their rites back to a blind shaman in rural Oregon. This sprawling magical community compels Mar to confront what she believes is possible – or hopes might be.

With keen intelligence and wit, Mar illuminates the world of witchcraft while grappling in fresh and unexpected ways with the question underlying every faith: Why do we choose to believe in anything at all? Whether evangelical Christian, Pagan priestess, or atheist, each of us craves a system of meaning to give structure to our lives. Sometimes we just find it in unexpected places.”
– publisher description

One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds

One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds: Spirituality, Identity, and Resistance across Islamic Lands
by Raymond William Baker

BP 161.3 .B344 2015

“By all measures, the late twentieth century was a time of dramatic decline for the Islamic world, the Ummah, particularly its Arab heartland. Sober Muslim voices regularly describe their current state as the worst in the 1,400-year history of Islam. Yet, precisely at this time of unprecedented material vulnerability, Islam has emerged as a civilizational force strong enough to challenge the imposition of Western – particularly American – homogenizing power on Muslim peoples. This is the central paradox of Islam today: At a time of such unprecedented weakness in one sense, how has the Islamic Awakening, a broad and diverse movement of contemporary Islamic renewal, emerged as such a resilient and powerful transnational force, and what implications does it have for the West? In One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds Raymond William Baker addresses this question.

Two things are clear, Baker argues: Islam’s unexpected strength in recent decades does not originate from official political, economic, or religious institutions, nor can it be explained by focusing exclusively on the often criminal assertions of violent, marginal groups. While extremists monopolize the international press and the scholarly journals, those who live and work in the Islamic world know that the vast majority of Muslims reject their reckless calls to violence and look elsewhere for guidance.

Baker shows that extremists draw their energy and support not from contributions to the reinterpretation and revival of Islamic beliefs and practices but from the hatreds engendered by the brutalities of failed Arab regimes and destructive Western policies in Islamic lands. His persuasive analysis of the Islamic world identifies centrists as the revitalizing force of Islam, saying that they are responsible for constructing a modern, cohesive Islamic identity that is a force to be reckoned with.”
– publisher description

Saving Sex

Saving Sex

Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism by Amy DeRogatis

BR 1642 .U6 D47 2015

“When it comes to evangelicals and sex, it seems, whatever the question, the answer is “no.” In Saving Sex, Amy DeRogatis argues that this could not be further from the truth. Demolishing the myth of evangelicals as anti-sex, she shows that American evangelicals claim that fabulous sex – in the right context – is a divinely-sanctioned, spiritual act.

For decades, evangelical sex education has been a thriving industry. Evangelical couples have sought advice from Christian psychologists and marriage counselors, purchased millions of copies of faith-based “sexual guidebooks,” and consulted magazines, pamphlets, websites, blogs, and podcasts on a vast array of sexual topics, including human anatomy, STDs – sometimes known as “Sexually Transmitted Demons” – varieties of sexual pleasure, role-play, and sex toys, all from a decidedly biblical angle. DeRogatis discusses a wide range of evidence, from purity literature for young evangelicals to sex manuals for married couples to “deliverance manuals,” which instruct believers in how to expel demons that enter the body through sexual sin. Evangelicals have at times attempted to co-opt the language of female empowerment, emphasizing mutual consent and female sexual pleasure while insisting that the key to marital sexual happiness depends on maintaining traditional gender roles based on the literal interpretation of scripture.

Saving Sex is a long-overdue exploration of evangelicals’ surprising and often-misunderstood beliefs about sex – who can do what, when, and why – and of the many ways in which they try to bring those beliefs to bear on American culture.”
– publisher description

Faith vs. Fact

Faith vs. Fact

Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible by Jerry A. Coyne

BL 240.3 .C69 2015

“The last five hundred years have seen monumental conflicts between science and faith, from Galileo’s sentence to lifetime house arrest in 1632 over his claim of a Sun-centered solar system to the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial,” the titanic clash between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan over whether a high-school teacher could tell his students that humans had evolved (the jury said no). Schoolteachers in 2015 are still battling to teach evolution; long-conquered childhood diseases are reappearing because of religious objections to inoculation; despite legal victories, there are still vicious battles over abortion, assisted suicide, and homosexuality; and scientists fearing for their federal funding (controlled by climate-change-denying congressional committees) cling to “accommodationism” as a refuge – can’t we just tolerate each other’s beliefs and get along that way?

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne could not be clearer: his answer is “Absolutely not.” Science and religion are incompatible because they have different methods for getting knowledge about reality, have different ways of assessing the reliability of that knowledge, and, in the end, arrive at conflicting conclusions about the universe. “Knowledge” acquired by religion is at odds not only with scientific knowledge but with that professed by other religions. In the end, religion’s methods, unlike those of science, are useless for understanding reality.

Using the clear-eyed, rational methodology of a world-class scientist, Coyne dismantles every claim to explaining the physical world, and the life in it, that religion proposes, from Genesis on. While science relies on observation, reason, testing, and experiment, methods that have led to tremendous progress, religion’s methods are based on faith – belief in things for which there is no evidence, insufficient evidence, or even counter-evidence – as well as on dogma, authority, and “confirmation bias,” the tendency to see as true what you want to be true. Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm – to individuals and to our planet – in mistaking faith for fact in making the most important decisions about the world we live in.”
– publisher description