Menand is a fantastic writer. This book is a series of profiles of individuals and movements that have shaped American culture. Each chapter draws the reader into the next. I enjoyed this book as much as The Metaphysical Club. The narrator for this volume is far superior to the one used for TMC.
The Audible label says the book is unabridged but it is not. Many chapters are not included. I wrote to Audible and they acknowledged that the book is indeed abridged. Two weeks have passed since I received their acknowledgement and they have not changed the labeling on the site so beware.
Dowd's conclusions (insofar as they're decipherable) seem consistent with a desire to retain the engine of religion--what could broadly be called the existential urge--without having to invoke a God as the object of religious sentiment. Dowd's God is a personification of the universe as a whole and he views the universe as a living organism that is made conscious through the large mammalian brains of homo sapiens (as far as we know).
Unfortunately, Dowd does both religion and science a disservice. Religion without God is unintelligible and science with sentimentality is diluted. Dowd's narrative ends up being far too thick on sentimentality and much too thin on substance. Dowd doesn’t argue for his positions, he preaches them. As with any sermon, one either chooses to accept it or reject it. In this sense, Dowd is going to be much more palatable to the religious mindset than the scientific. Anyone looking for a religious version of Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth should look elsewhere (James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience is a good alternate).
For those who have ears to hear, Dowd’s narrative is also quite condescending to positions he finds anachronistic and outdated. He reads the text well and his voice has an uplifting and friendly tone and cadence. But his message is clear: get up to speed or you will be culpable for the world’s problems. Dowd casts himself as a visionary who sees where things will end up and has a sort of friendly contempt for those who remain stuck on a pre-enlightened worldview (in both science and religion). Audio quality and production are top notch and Dowd as narrator is excellent.
Given Boyd's education and exposure to both theology and philosophy, this book is surprising in that it's written as if Christianity has absolutely no historical or theological history. Boyd's Christianity is a hyper-feminized, abstract, and confusing amalgam of imprecise axioms based on Boyd's view of the Bible. Favorite catch-phrases like "looks like Jesus" and terms like "love" are barely defined but used prolifically to the point of diluting overuse. Boyd apparently eschews any type of conflict in a book where his major premise purports to tell us how to live.
Most egregious is his apparent lack of any awareness of church history, philosophical history, or philosophical or theological categories. His book stands, as it were, alone in the heavens as an untethered--and therefore entirely inapplicable--collection of wishful thoughts. There's no semblance of an anthropology or even an epistemology that could give his arguments a foundation and his readers a basis for understanding his claims. By stringing together quotations from the Bible interwoven with superficial, moral-sounding axioms, Boyd hopes to knit a worldview but falls far short. Christians, apparently, are to be disconnected entirely from this world that God made (the Kingdom of the World) so that they can live a life that "looks like Christ" in the Kingdom of God.
Boyd takes dualism almost to the edge of Gnosticism and leaves no place for man qua man. Boyd's book is self-contradictory in some parts and incoherent in others. At the same time, his thesis, insofar as it's comprehensible, does have merit. No one in their right mind would embrace war and death, hate and injustice, abuse and violence. But eschewing these is human, not exclusively Christian.
To add injury upon insult, the narrator for this audio book can only be described as grating. His tonal timbre is hollow-sounding and his reading cadence is dispassionate and homiletical.
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