Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Corner: Broken Words by Jonathan Dudley

For this edition of the book corner, I read Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics, by Jonathan Dudley. For me this was a little bit of a break from my usual focus, because I do try to keep the focus on Canadian content here. There are a lot of blogs on the internet talking about abortion and reproductive rights/justice from an American POV and I'm trying to provide something a little different.

However, on the other side of that is the unsettling fact that the political landscape in Canada is growing ever more reminiscent of that of the USA. We are always a few years behind and a few notches less extreme, but our destinies as nations are so intertwined that it is probably pretty foolish to not pay attention to what is going on down there; like it or not, it's coming our way. So I think this book is, in a roundabout way, relevant to my focus.

I have read a few books about this kind of thing - the dangers of religious fundamentalism, the terrifying influence of Evangelical Christians on US politics - especially during my hardcore atheist days. One reason I began to get frustrated with the genre was that it's very much about preaching to the choir. So an element of Broken Words that I really liked was that the author was very upfront about his upbringing as an evangelical Christian, and is not afraid to incorporate that into the book. It is clear that he still believes in God and considers himself a Christian; instead of modelling a contemptuous atheism to readers, he shows a moderate understanding of his religion that coexists peacefully with his medical studies and his scientific knowledge and political views.

The book tackles the four big points of contention for Evangelical Christianity: gay marriage, evolution, abortion and the environment. Constant throughout is the theme of interpretation: for every Bible verse commonly used to support the Evangelical position, Dudley comes up with three or four that could just as easily be interpreted to oppose it. But the book is not an argument, nor is it about showing how "they" are wrong. What it is, is an exposure of the current Evangelical position as one invented for almost entirely political reasons, a fascinating (recent!) history of the ways in which religion has been used to control the American political landscape.

I suppose it will not shock you that I liked this book, but there you go. I will say that it is a refreshing take on a somewhat tired theme, and I would much rather read this than someone more established and maddeningly cynical, like Hitchens or Dawkins (although I would really rather read anything than Hitchens, because "not hating women" is a criterion I like to set for the authors I read). It is not, as I expected, yet another rallying cry for the atheist movement; it is a measured, thoughtful exploration of the difference between personal spirituality, and the religious manipulation of the public. I think some Christians might like it.

This appears to be Dudley's first book and there are certain touches that give it away - he is at times a bit too earnest, at other times a little too abstract. But he has a good "voice" and seems to have found himself a decent editor, and I for one hope to be hearing more from him in the future.

Eight fetus cookies out of ten.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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