Why Religion Matters Book Summary

Why Religion Matters Book Summary - Why Religion Matters...

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Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief, Huston Smith, 2001, San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers. Summary Huston Smith is undoubtedly the foremost scholar of comparative religion, most famous for his bestselling book The World's Religions (1991) and for the five-part Emmy-nominated PBS television series with Bill Moyers on "The Wisdom of Faith" (1996). His publications and video series demonstrate that he is not simply a student of comparative religion in the library, but a keen participant observer in the communities of various religions. Clearly he thinks that many religions share a common core of ancient, elemental, and valuable world wisdom which address ultimate questions including values, virtues, meaning, and purpose in life (Smith 1991, 1992). In Why Religion Matters Smith assess the human spirit in an age of disbelief to explain just why religion does really matter. His basic thesis or argument is that: "We have dropped Transcendence not because we have discovered something that proves it nonexistent. We have merely lowered our gaze" (p. 217). In other words, religion has not been disproved or rendered outmoded by either science or philosophy, rather humans simply have been increasingly preoccupied with the material side of existence, either just to survive physically, or else in the misplaced pursuit of fulfillment through technology and consumerism (48). The book is divided into two parts, Part I on "Modernity's Tunnel" and Part II on "The Light at the Tunnel's End." The metaphorical tunnel is composed of scientism as the floor, higher education as the left wall, the media as the roof, and the law as its right wall. Scientism pivots on the misplaced and myopic faith that science is the best, or even only way, to understand the world (positivism), and that matter is the foundation of all existence (materialism and reductionism)(60, 62, 64, 84-85). This reflects naturalism, the idea that nature is all there is, and that nature is devoid of anything that might be called spirit (12). According to Smith, the problem is not science per se, but a gross misreading of it (5). Smith (59) writes that: "Science is on balance good, whereas nothing good can be said for scientism." Some scientists, for example, pursue Darwinism as if it were a religion and become tyrannically dogmatic about it (77-78). Religion and science are contending for the future human mind, humanity's sense of reality, truth, and meaning is at stake. Yet ultimately most humans crave much more than simply everyday experience in an exclusively material world. Smith asserts that religion has held and continues to hold an important place in the life of most individuals and all societies (xiv). In the end, modernity is unsatisfying. Neither evolution nor secularization have extinguished the need and desire for religion. As Smith observes, reality is intolerable for most humans when it is devoid of all spiritual, metaphysical dimension (41). Organisms
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This note was uploaded on 04/28/2011 for the course ANTH 444 taught by Professor Sponsel during the Spring '11 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.

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Why Religion Matters Book Summary - Why Religion Matters...

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