clopedia effectively covers both types and so
much more besides. It accomplishes this by
casting a wide net that reveals a preference for
quantity of A–Z entries
over depth in the case of
most entries. The aver-
age length of an article
is hardly more than one
full page, which is only
Articles for Catechism and
Jesus Christ, for example,
are limited to a single page each, which is
surprisingly light. There are rare exceptions,
such as the nine-page treatment of Christian
education in the ancient world.
Entries focus heavily on people and places.
Personalities with at least some influence in
the field include people like Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin, and Thomas
Merton (as well as many lesser-knowns). The
geographical coverage highlights seemingly
every meaningful region in the world: Australia, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Uganda,
and approximately 100 others. More than 25
denominational groups are profiled as well,
including Assemblies of God, Lutheran, and
Mennonite groups. Many of the groups covered predate the “denominational era,” such
as the ancient schools of Alexandria, Caesarea,
Ephesus, and Rome. And speaking of schools,
more than 60 universities and seminaries receive special attention.
True researchers in the field will appreciate
the encyclopedia’s scope extending well past
people and places. The content and message
of Christian education is dealt with systematically (e.g., Atonement, Baptism, Holiness,
Ethics). Methodology is explored in a variety
of ways, too, covering mentoring, different
learning styles, pedagogy, and small groups.
Demographic entries include numerous aspects of working with children, adolescents,
and families. Accompanying each article
are approximately five references for further
study. In sum, this specialty set has no serious
rivals in the reference realm, and it is highly
recommended for academic and religious collections. —Wade Osburn
Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a
By David Silverman.
Dec. 2015. 320p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $26.99
You know you are in for a good time when
an author finds it necessary to clarify repeatedly that he is not, in fact, an asshole.
Silverman is clear on that here. He presents
his arguments and personal reasons for being
an atheist before launching into his real concern: learning to speak of organized religion
with the utter disdain he feels it deserves.
Silverman does not present any new argu-
The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos
ments in support of atheism; what he wants
to inspire is a movement and methodology
he dubs “firebrand atheism.” Religion, to a
firebrand, is malevolent enough that it does
not deserve any modicum of respect, and he
will not sugarcoat his opinion on the mat-
ter. Firebrands also fight for equality for all,
whether at interfaith gatherings or at public
monuments. Fighting God is ultimately a call
to atheists to emerge from the shadows and
to proudly claim the label of “atheist” with
the same relish Silverman has. Potentially
controversial but a nice balance for collec-
tions that strive to represent all points of
view. —Christine Engel
By Howard Bloom.
Feb. 2016. 708p. Prometheus, $28 (9781616145514);
paper, $21 (9781633881426); e-book, $12.99
Scholar Bloom (The Genius of the Beast,
2009) addresses the question whether a god
or supernatural power is required in order
to explain the vastness, complexity, and creativity of the cosmos. He seeks a naturalistic
explanation for the workings of the cosmos
in lieu of relying on “bearded deities, divine
designers, and holy minds in the sky.” Indeed, Bloom believes that some of Western
science’s laws and unquestioned assumptions
ineluctably require a divine explanation.
This is the god problem of the book’s title.
So, he proceeds to take his readers through
a history of Western science, mathematics,
and philosophy, suggesting when and how
we got it wrong. While that is no easy task,
Bloom engages heady material with enthusiasm, even when his unrelentingly folksy style
wears a bit thin. Scientific experts will have
to debate the merits of Bloom’s views on, say,
entropy and sociality and the conclusions
he draws. Even assuming he is correct on
all counts, a “bearded and bathrobed” god
only becomes unnecessary, not impossible.
The Golden Rule & the Games People
Play: The Ultimate Strategy for a
By Rami Shapiro.
Nov. 2015. SkyLight Paths, (9781594735981). 177.
Shapiro, a rabbi and author of books on
spirituality across different religious traditions, turns an interested gaze on the Golden
Rule, some form of which appears in every
religion and culture. But Shapiro wonders
why, if the rule is so prevalent and esteemed,
it is so easily ignored. Using tenets of game
theory, he explains that in finite, zero-sum
games like football, where the goal is to win,
it makes little sense to apply the Golden
Rule. However, in infinite, non–zero sum
games—life-affirming situations like keeping
friendships and protecting relationships—
nothing makes more sense than the rule.
Although there is some repetition here, Shapiro writes engagingly, and his efforts to show
how practicing the Golden Rule makes life
more satisfying and sustainable are welcome.
When he ventures into wider territory—how
The Good Book: Writers Reflect on
the rule might be employed globally, for
instance—the conversation becomes more
complex and thought provoking. Finally, he
reminds readers that if the Golden Rule fails
to apply to the kind and quality of the game
being played, it might be time to look at the
game. —Ilene Cooper
Favorite Bible Passages.
Ed. by Andrew Blauner.
Nov. 2015. 320p. Simon & Schuster, $27
Writers reflecting on the Bible is a time-honored tradition, but anthologist Blauner
has done a particularly good
job of choosing an eclectic
group of commentators,
who offer mostly insightful and often very personal
thoughts about their favorite
biblical passages. The book
begins with an introduction
by New Yorker
contributor and author Adam Gopnik, who throws a
bit of an elitist stink bomb at the Bible with
his insistence that “as history and revelation
its stories have long ago fallen away.” He redeems himself as he discusses different ways
in which the Bible can be read. As if to contradict Gopnik, many of the authors here
(including everyone from Tobias Wolff to
Reverend Al Sharpton)—some of whom have
written about religious subjects before, others
not—share with readers why a particular biblical portion resonates with them while also
showing how the texts continually lend themselves to new interpretations. Case in point:
the bracing opening piece by Avi Steinberg,
who reimagines the snake in the garden as a
brother of Adam. Edwidge Danticat writes
movingly about reading the Bible with her
mother as she dies from ovarian cancer and
finding solace in, ironically, the dark imagery of Revelations after her mother passes.
Even contributors Cokie Roberts and Steve
Roberts, who have written often about their
Catholic-Jewish marriage, add freshness to
that theme by linking it to the story of Ruth.
An often inspiring and always interesting collection. —Ilene Cooper
Here and There: Leaving Hasidism,
Keeping My Family.
By Chaya Deitsch.
2015. 224p. Schocken, $26 (9780805243178); e-book
There have been several recent books about
people leaving an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and the heartache that such a transition
entails, often with the fallen away having to
cut all family ties. So it’s refreshing to read a
memoir in which, though the author struggles
internally with her decision, her family accepts
her choice. We know this because the book
begins as Deitsch returns to Crown Heights,
Brooklyn, the epicenter of the Lubavitcher
movement, for a funeral. She’s been trying to
write a history of the remarkable women in
her family but realizes the story she needs to
write is her own. From childhood, Deitsch felt