Robert Fawcett. The Major Religions of the World…Revisited. Denver: WRF Publishing Company, 2008. $19.95. 233 pgs.
What is religion and why are there so many different expressions of religion in the world? More importantly, asks informed layman Robert Fawcett, is to ask what the role of each religion is in the world. The Major Religions of the World….Revisited provides for the inquisitive and curious reader a plethora of “30,000 foot” analyses of some of the major religions one can find in the world: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Sprinkled also throughout the book is reference to lesser known religions or philosophers such as Taoism, and various other “isms” that one might encounter in daily life.
I can see this book being used as a helpful tool in a small group at a church (or temple, synagogue, mosque) or used as a book study for a group of individuals interested in getting a readable account of various religions. It is a good springboard for people to search out answers to their growing expanse of questions on their own. Fawcett readily admits that he does not have all the answers and a primary reason for writing the book in the first place was to learn more himself. This amount of humility and honesty is rare for religious authors. It is a refreshing example of a glimpse into an honest seeker of Truth who acknowledges his own finiteness yet one who possesses a hunger and thirst for that very knowledge and Truth.
To the seasoned reader, there were a number of concerns in the book that raised an eyebrow. Literarily, Fawcett’s “voice” in the book comes out too “conversational”. By this I mean that his style of writing is such that it looks more like dictation from a voice recorder rather than the effort of making one’s writing style different than the way he might speak. For example, the use of swear words, slang words, and overuse of the first person narrative. There were also a number of undocumented quotations and instances of, “I read/heard somewhere that…” and not naming a particular source. These stylistic idiosyncrasies could take away from the seriousness of the subject matter and more so take away some of the credibility of the author. If Fawcett were to “re-typify” the book into more of an autobiographical book filled with informed knowledge and information about the religions, that would be great. It is rare that in a truly academic work will you see the use of this kind of language and structure. Once again, for some readers this might knock some of the credibility away from the book and the author.
There were also a number of occasions where this reviewer would read a section and raise an eyebrow as to its factual basis. It should be known for those who study religion, is that most things are debatable, and often times debated. By this I mean that some of the theology or doctrines or teachings of any of the religions that are discussed in the book could be objected to. Perhaps most surprisingly to some readers of the book, Christianity is no exception to this and is often times more of a culprit than the others. Theological dialogue within the religions themselves are enough to cover a plethora of reading material and study for a person’s lifetime and beyond…let alone to study each of the other religions and how they coincide. In discussing the issue of salvation in Christian theology (for example) you could be in a room with ten other people and find ten other viewpoints of salvation than your own.
This is not to say, however, that each of these viewpoints are necessarily all right…nor are they all necessarily wrong. They are simply viewpoints, different ways of reading Scripture or understanding God and God’s relation to Man. It is important to note, of course, that this is not “relativism” (which happens to be one target of Fawcett’s “Secular Gods”…more on this soon); but rather there is the recognition that an absolute truth exists, but perhaps the mystery of that truth (i.e. how much God has chosen to reveal at this time) might trump each particular viewpoint. Perhaps there are kernels of truth to each viewpoint in theology, but how that viewpoint is expressed, or how it is lived out or even taught, might differ from its neighboring position. All that to say, Fawcett did an excellent job of attempting to trap the “main things” of theology and each religious system under a net and explain each religion and theological “main thing” from that “30,000 foot” working of a 200+ page book. This task indeed, is commendable.
One of the things that I appreciated most about this book was the section on “Secular Gods” as a religion, of sorts, that a person might encounter in their daily lives. Everything from hedonism, to secular humanism, to relativism, and all other kinds of “isms” we might find are very much intertwined into our culture and often times we do not think of them as anything to concern ourselves with….they simply “are” or “the way it is”. But Fawcett challenges the reader to consider the implications of these various “isms” and the philosophical consequences that they surmount to. We need to be aware of how these “Secular Gods” creep into our own thinking and actions and can sometimes distort our own objective thinking about our own religion or about God.
Despite some tinkering here and there with the literary structure and the overall “voice” of the book, this is a helpful and timely book that can help Christians or others interested in religion to gain a firm foundation on the basics and foundations of such. Fawcett readily admits that he is not trying to add yet another book to the ever-expanding (and overpopulated) literary conversation about religion and God. Rather, he hopes to compile his own studying and thinking about religion into an accessible book that everyone can understand and glean from. He has certainly done this, and might I add, HAS contributed to the conversation about religion and God; because this conversation is never-ending and it is always good to add one more voice and perspective to the bunch as we all continue to seek after God and learn about the roles of religions which inhabit our world.