Steve Allen is America’s own Man For All Seasons: There’s very little that he has not done. Now, he enters some rather controversial territory by taking a scholarly look at what must be the most misunderstood group of documents of all time — the Bible. Using logic (and a healthy dose of skepticism) rather than childish/unquestioning/dogmatic orthodoxy, he examines various aspects of Christian so-called “ethics” and “morals”; pointing out instances (in the entry “WAR”, for example) where the ideals espoused by people who call themselves “Christians” tend to fall by the wayside when circumstances would seem to demand that they keep to those ideals even more.
He also gives detailed analyses of a number of individual books within the Bible, some of which are devastating in their criticism. (His look at the rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19 is especially thought-provoking even in its harshness.)
This reader wishes that he would publish a third tome in this vein as soon as possible!
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I don’t think anyone could read this book and not come to the conclusion that Steve Allen was one of the most all-around intelligent and talented public figures of the 20th century. He was truly a worldly scholar. What’s more amazing to me is Allen’s methodology, relying largely on his own readings and observations from Gideon’s Bibles in hotel rooms while on the road.
Allen has long been a man of clear social, moral, and political conscience. He goes to great lengths in this book to keep from confusing the separate aspects of his thought except where it is applicable, and does so to a wonderful effect. His explanations of Biblical persons, places and passages, their history and deeper meanings are written in the truest glory of a rational spirituality the world has yet to realize. Furthermore, his analysis of social issues supposedly stemming from the Bible shows his ability to handle controversial topics carefully while not pulling punches with adversarial positions.
Never once did I feel like I was not dealing with a scholar on these subjects. The decades of work Allen has put into clarifying his own thoughts in these matters shines like a light tower over a dark, foggy sea. This, to my eyes, is the greatest book of its type since Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason,” and in many ways it’s better. It not only illuminates what a genius he really was, but also how simple and necessary critical thought is to every one of us.
And to the reviewer who gave this book one star, it is sadly obvious that you did *not* read this book at all. The foreword and introduction alone state that Allen was raised in a strict Irish-Catholic household, was a Catholic until his early 30s when he was excommunicated for his second marriage, and thereafter attended Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles with his wife Jayne and their son. He even makes quite clear in the book that non-belief, to him, is more irrational than belief. But then again, ’twill always be the scholars first who are rooted out as heretics.
If you’ve ever had questions about the teachings and record of Christianity but still maintain your faith, this book comes to you as highly recommended as possible. It tears down walls and builds spirits.
In the introductory notes, Allen says that he hurried this book to press because the rise in fundamentalism had been especially active at the time of publication. I wish that he had spent a little more time on it, to clarify and reorganize his thoughts on some topics. Often, a paragraph seemingly unrelated to the surrounding matter seems to pop up for no reason.
The essays themselves are interesting, and at times thought-provoking. (Especially for anyone who has never put any serious thought into the Bible.) For readers already familiar with the errors and inconsistencies in the Bible, Allens book is interesting, but not particularly ground-breaking.
Overall, a good book, simply because it describes in clear language the insurmountable problems that face Biblical Literalism. Too bad that Allen didn’t structure the book as an argument instead of as an encyclopedia — by the end, the force of the subject matter gets somewhat muted by its repetitiveness and scattershot layout.