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Strange Gods [Ebook] ➠ Strange Gods Author Susan Jacoby – Natus-physiotherapy.co.uk In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a p In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty first century “religious marketplace” in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once nothing has been important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one’s choice or to reject belief in God altogether   Focusing on the long tense convergence of Judaism Christianity and Islam—each claiming possession of absolute truth—Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion unto torture and death and the friendly persuasion of political advantage economic opportunism and interreligious marriage Moving through time continents and cultures—the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiuity the Spanish Inuisition John Calvin’s dour theocracy Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters’ religion—the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W Bush The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies notably Stalinist Communism with their own truth claims   Finally Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West’s religious past she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values radical Islamists are persecuting Christians many other Muslims and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages With pages of black and white illustrations.


10 thoughts on “Strange Gods

  1. Jenna Jenna says:

    Religious people like to cite conversion stories as proof that their religion is the One True Religion Of course they cite conversion stories to their religion and not the ones from it to something else Growing up I'd hear stories told from the pulpit of new converts and how they proved that our specific brand of christianity fundamentalist baptist was the one true one as opposed to all the others like Methodists Pentecostals Presbyterians and especially those evil idol worshipping Catholics not to mention all the non Christian religions which were all by default Satanism I highly doubt any preacher decided to tell of my reversion to atheism we are each of us born atheist as proof that their beliefs are bat shit crazy and that I couldn't possibly have learned to think for myself and reject their lunacy if atheism wasn't the right path to take Indeed according to their logic I would still believe that the earth is about 6000 years old evolution by natural selection didn't happen there were days and nights on earth before the sun even existed Talking snakes talking donkeys virgin births unicorns Let's not forget the story of the 600 year old man who rounded up two of every species of animal on earth seven for some kinds and put them on a big boat that he built yes at the ripe old age of 600 and then somehow redistributed all those animals to Australia and Antarctica North America South America to all the CORNERS of the earth after it rained so hard that water covered the entire earth even all the mountains Shall I go on? No I think you get the picture though this is just a tiny sampling of the absurdities I was taught to believe and came to reject Suffice to say one cannot claim that someone's conversion to their religion is proof of its accuracy unless that person is also prepared to say that the opposite is also true that someone leaving their religion is proof of its fallaciousnessAre there reasons people might convert other than that a divine being led them to the One True Religion? In Strange Gods A Secular History of Conversion Susan Jacoby looks at conversion stories from a secular standpoint She discusses various reasons people have and do switch religions not all of them even having to do with the person themself believing they've found the right religion Beginning with the conversions of the two most influential converts to Christianity Paul and Augustine Ms Jacoby takes us into the lives of many people through the centuries who have left the gods of their parents and found new ones For some conversions are engendered by deep spiritual and emotional conviction Many most? others convert for numerous other reasons including•Improved economic circumstances•Marriage to someone of another faith and harmony within the family•Fear of deathtorture if one does not convert•Social advantage•Desire to be part of a communityThough many Christians like to claim that the success of Christians in converting others is proof that the Christian God is the right one to believe in they often fail to acknowledge that perhaps the majority of those converts did not have much choice in the matter They do not wax poetic from the pulpit about slaveholders in the Antebellum South forcing their human chattel to worship the Christian god They do not sing the praises of the Inuisitors who murdered those who were not Christian They do not even like to admit that a vast number of converts throughout the ages converted to Christianity only because by not doing so they would have been tortured or killed For some their reasons for converting are benign such as falling in love with someone of another faith or wanting to be a part of a community but these all go to show that conversion to one's religion is no guarantor that the religion is true in any senseSusan Jacoby discusses the conversions of several people throughout history who converted not just to various sects of Christianity but also to paganism from Christianity as was the case for the Roman emperor Julian Islam and Judaism She delves into the myriad reasons for their conversions Though Ms Jacoby tends towards verbosity and the book is at times pedantic and dense it is still an accessible read Religious believers might find her style off putting as evidenced by a couple negative reviews I read but secular people and those who aren't offended by people who don't accept their particular religious beliefs will appreciate this book's exploration into religious conversion Philosophical scholarly and rich in historical detail those interested in why people believe will find this book immensely interesting


  2. Mikey B. Mikey B. says:

    This book covers an enormous range of history; however sometimes it can be lengthy and pedantic The overall theme is the coercion of religious conversion which can range from opportunistic as in blending into the majority religion – or convert otherwise you face annihilation which goes on in our current eraThe author provides examples where the history of Roman Catholicism has been altered and re written demonstrating that conversion was not as pleasant and voluntary as the Church would have us believe Several historical examples of conversion are brought upAugustineBishop Paul of BurgosJohn DonneMargaret FellHeinrich HeineEdith SteinPeter CartwrightMuhammad AliThe author Susan Jacoby is an atheist but she has none of the loud rhetoric of Christopher Hitchens She tends to dwell on the positive aspects of the “freedom of religion” and the purported separation of church and state in the United States I felt she mistakenly minimizes the strong influence that the religious right has had in the last fifty years in America on restricting the rights of women access to birth control muzzling Planned Parenthood clinics restrictions on abortion demanding Christian Biblical doctrine in schools like the Ten Commandments and a growing influence on foreign policy


  3. George George says:

    ERUDITE RECONDITE INTERESTING AND INFORMATIVE “Religious conversion is an irresistible subject for a secularist or an atheist precisely because so much human energy throughout recorded history has been expended on persuading or forcing large numbers of people to replace belief in one supernatural mystery with another” Kindle Locations 410 412Susan Jacoby is one of my favorite contemporary freethinkers Her books always illuminate always elucidate and always make me wish I’d studied harder and was smarter than I am Especially on the subject of religious historyReading “Strange Gods A Secular History of Conversion helped some with the feeling smarter part It offers a very well researched introduction to religious history and to the role that conversion— forced spiritual journey and of convenience—has played over the millenniaI especially enjoyed the last three chapters— Part VII The Way We Live Now; particularly the stories of Muhammad Ali’s conversion when he joined the Nation of Islam and of the personal exchanges between him and Bertrand Russell in the late 1960s These chapters raised my ratingRecommendation I suspect the secular perspective is an acuired taste and might be offputting for some That said Strange Gods is a great choice for all freedom of conscience fans and it might just whet the curiousity “Nullius in verba take no one’s word for it” Kindle Locations 4205 4206Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group Kindle Edition 512 pages 9208 Kindle Locations


  4. Ryan Bell Ryan Bell says:

    Here is a link to my conversation with the author


  5. Steven Meyers Steven Meyers says:

    ‘Strange Gods’ is the fifth book I’ve read by Ms Jacoby I’ve come to trust her judgment The lifelong atheist has addressed important topics such as the myth and marketing of the new old age America’s odd celebration of anti intellectualism a history of American secularism and a biography about Robert Ingersoll They are all written in a thought provoking approachable manner but demand your concentration The same can be said about ‘Strange Gods A Secular History of Conversion’ which was published in 2016 While Ms Jacoby does make snarky remarks the book is not dripping with vitriol ‘Strange Gods’ is not some godless rant in an effort to persuade the reader to ditch their faith It is a reasoned serious work backed with reputable sources and presented from a secular perspective Her argument is that conversions are typically a gradual process and social factors play an important role but there have been many periods where draconian force was used to uickly make believers switch sacred teams Her presentation highlights important historical conversions that had long term conseuences It focuses on the three major religions Judaism Christianity and Islam and their impact on the Western world Many of the people or events in the book did not even sound remotely familiar to me However there are some notable ones such as the Spanish Inuisition the Reformation the Enlightenment and the Second Great Awakening It also includes the huge impact of the printing press; state sanctioned religions; the forced Christianization of American slaves; the long history of anti Jewish sentiment and discrimination; the dangerous positions that high profile secularists put themselves when uestioning church doctrines; why the Catholic Church eventually shifted from papal infallibility towards a present day ecumenical approach; how the various faiths still try to whitewash their less than holy histories; the growth of liberal Protestantism and evangelical fundamentalism in the United States; the conflicts arising from intermarriages; America’s religious pluralism; and an interesting analysis of Muhammad Ali’s conversion to Islam Lord knows the freuent power struggles between the different faiths certainly led to an overabundance of imprisonments tortures and gruesome deaths The Catholic Church comes under review simply because they retained power over the other religions for a longer period of time However Ms Jacoby shows that whenever the shoe was on the other foot other religious factions and faiths were than willing to go on their own holy warpath in an effort to exterminate or convert nonbelievers I especially enjoyed the author’s last chapter “Darkness Visible” despite me not totally agreeing with her take on Karen Armstrong’s insights The book includes eight pages of black and white photos‘Strange Gods’ is not a book for the casual reader It’s very likely you will develop MEGO My Eyes Glaze Over Syndrome if you don’t have a keen interest in the subject matter No uestion the author is strutting around with one of the big brains and gives a clear eyed secular presentation The book drives home the point that “Free religious choice was the exception not the rule for most of Western history and the history of monotheism” and religious oppression and terrorism still plays a part of all three major faiths I learned a great deal from reading it It’s yet another history book that shows religion has inflicted a breathtaking amount of harm pain and death to people simply because they were not of the “right” faith It took guts to write ‘Strange Gods’ Good for her


  6. Lydia Lydia says:

    I was worried this would be a real snoozer as I started it in the car with my husband when it was my turn to drive and he almost immediately fell asleep but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it I'm not sure whether listening to this audiobook was an opportunity to learn things I was never taught in school to actually bother to learn for the first time things I ignored when it was presented to me initially or to relearn what I've forgotten probably all of the above but I feel much informed of religious history for having read itMs Jacoby clearly has a perspective that of an atheist and completely fails to hide her derision for belief in any afterlife if any attempt was made at all I can see why religious folks would take offense at some of the language that is used here but would hope they would stick it out with the book anyway As a proud member of the ELCA I definitely think this book was worth reading and I also think that the United States and the world in general would be a much better place if people would genuinely engage with religious philosophy in the context of historyThis book was perfect for where I'm at in my personal spiritual journey and I highly recommend it It is extremely academic though know what you're getting into I think the audiobook was perfect in this regard While at times I would have appreciated having time to reflect and reread the tendency to do so can prevent me from making progress in challenging books The audio marched on and so did my progress and learning in spite of myself and the much appreciated challenges to my perspective this book provided


  7. Kate Elliott Kate Elliott says:

    Fairly good history but what a condescending tone She doesn't really respect the emotional nuance of religious experience This tightness makes her approach brittle The book could have been much dynamic if she had railed less and took time to seek to understand


  8. Jeff Jeff says:

    I received this book as a gift and dove into it with high hopes which were unfortunately dashed by the endThe book itself has a solid premise it constitutes an argument that the vast majority of religious conversion experiences have little to do with the intensely personal crisis of conscience commonly reported by people of faith and everything to do with the social familial and political pressures of the convert's interpersonal environment that coerced conversions whether by the sword or by the in laws or by the material advantage to be gained from going along with the majority opinion are the overwhelming normAs a confirmed atheist I am uite ready to accept this message however it could have been much better argued and structuredStructurally the book considers vignettes of four periods of religious upheaval the Christianization of the Roman Empire; the Christianization of Iberia after the Reconuista; the Reformation on the Continent and in Anglicanizing England; and in the United States from Pilgrim times to the present The astute reader will have observed that the only religious conversions really being considered in depth are into or out of various Christian faiths The author acknowledges this and admittedly a global perspective might have reuired a longer book but it's tough to generalize the point the way the author would like given that focusStructurally each period is explored by mini biographies of one or two converts of some significance to intellectual history This is an interesting perspective but structurally probably a mistake the stories are engaging but to the extent that the book wants to argue for a thesis it's difficult to generalize from anecdotes; and to the extent that the book aims to be edutainment the mini biographies are too short and shallow and too guided by the need to support the surounding thesis to be really satisfying This is especially the case as they become increasingly cursory for recent figuresSimilarly the book relies uite a bit on asides from the author's own personal history as a child of many generations of conversions of expediency from Judaism to Lutheranism to Catholicism I'm not one to oppose an author having a strong authorial voice but this discussion often threatens to be interesting than the main flow of the text which can be uite repetitive recapitulating points and going on rhetorical flights in a way not unfamiliar to this reviewer but perhaps less becoming in a book that went through an editorial process unknown to this reviewI'm not uite prepared to say the book belongs in the category of interesting nonfiction that should have been a long form essay but I think you could write a much cogently supported book by scrapping the attempts to summarize the life story and religious views of John Donne in ten pages and instead introducing something about the fascinating way the repeated waves of conversion worked in Southeast Asia for instanceWhere the book really falls apart is in the final third Here the thesis expands as was promised in the introduction to discuss the religion of Stalinism Now I have no beef with treating Stalinistdictatorship as an autocratic belief system that would tolerate no dissent; but there's plenty of conflation of Stalinism with Communism generally and the author starts to play very fast and loose with what exactly constitutes religion Is it a book about merely the enforcement of ideology by autocratic governments? Or by mobs of one's peers? Or something else?Is it a book about freedom of conscience? It certainly seems to think so given the way it lionizes Enlightenment ideals and the United States as an exemplar thereof; and one which stresses an American exceptionalist narrative talking about the importance of de jure support for religious toleration This becomes especially phenomenally problematic in the epilogue where theauthor essentially goes on a twenty page rant about Muslims as a terrorist force hoodwinked by religious fanaticism She stresses that religious believers particularly these religious believers do believe their claims to religious superiority the preceding four hundred pages talking about ways religious claims have been used to enforce social conformity indeed defining enforced social conformity as religious belief notwithstanding She makes a direct comparison between ISIS' atrocities and the massacres of Jews in the Rhineland by mobs of First Crusaders the image of people desperately sheltering in a church while somehow seeing American religious tolerance as untroubled by the issuance of an 1838 executive order by the governor of Missouri calling for Mormons' extermination or explusion from the state No comparison is drawn between thereligiously? misogynistically? motivated murder of Hypatia of Alexandria and the lynching of Joseph Smith in IllinoisNow Jacoby is commendably careful to note the existence of Christian and Jewish terrorists too from ancient times to this; but considering she has just written a book depicting religious profession as a means and medium of social control to suddenly suggest deep seated conviction as the principal motivating factor of members of one particular religious polity is at the very least remarkably inconsistent How could the Spanish Inuisition have been motivated by theological doctrine when its main targets were conversos suspected of insufficiently fervent Catholicism those who had generally already shown willingness to endorse whatever doctrine the State decreed and simply weren't believed or accepted? To claim that Whittaker Chambers' source religion was Stalinism a movement indisputably about the political and social control of one faction within one country however deeply believed by its supporters and then to ignore the extent to which ISIS' or bin Laden's religious professions serve merely as gloss for their politically motivated intolerance ofdifference and attempts to exert control is to completely overlook the way that religious identity functions as an ultimately arbitrary identity marker and is used to justify terror and murder against the Other generally regardless of whatever ultimately arbitrary theological disputes may be ginned up as an excuseAll that said the book does serve as a solid atheist critiue of the commingling of religious political and social authority The wonder in her narrative is that anyone ever fails to convert under social pressure although again this comes down to uestions not of theology but of cultural identity Jacoby is unuestionably right that removing the power to oppress removing any trace of temporal power or authority from religious institutions is essential for a just and fair society; which is why it is such a shame to see her devolve into such a reactionary conclusion from an otherwise insightful bookMoreover the book serves as an essential reminder of how ubiuitous acts that could be considered genocide have been throughout recorded European history From the anti pagan pogroms and assassinations of the late Roman empire to the Albigensian Crusade of the 1200s 200000 to 1 million killed at a time when the world population was perhaps 400 million to the expulsion and torturous murders of Jews and converts from Judaism and Islam in Reconuered Spain to the extirpation of the Huguenots in France from 2 million people in 1572 to 100000 by 1700 and the near universal practice of kidnapping children of non Catholic religions to be raised by the socially dominant group part of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide definition European history is full of potent reminders of the evil that takes over when people are convinced of the need to purify their societies Jacoby would probably blame religious ideology for these acts but ideological compliance has never been enough to stop them she wrote a whole book about how conversions are always compelled and compelled conversions never trusted Instead I would argue that we all need to be aware of this history and be constantly on guard for the tendency in the human heart to hate and fear and if given the chance destroy the Other whatever the excuseEdit What I'm trying to say is I am exceedingly frustrated by this because of the internal contradiction of which the author seems unaware Here she has written an entire book whose underlying premise is that religious conversion and thereby religious belief has never been about personal conscience but rather about social conformity and group identity As such the content of that belief is irrelevant religious violence derives not from theological positions per se but from the generalized attempt to enforce social conformity and inter group power struggle The remarkable part of the story that people ever clung to their religious beliefs in the face of oppression makes sense when we see that act as an assertion of identity All the long history of religious genocides documented here are not about the theological content of religion but an assertion of power from the powerful and an attempt to establish a homogenous society They just happen to lean on religion as a convenient excuseThis dynamic would have been far obvious if the author had expanded her perspective and considered religious traditions other than a subset of the Abrahamic the waves of Hinduism Confucianism and Islam in Southeast Asia for instance Even Buddhism despite its easygoing accepting non dogmatic reputation in the West can become violent and intolerant in the hands of those who wish to use it to exert social control We cannot locate the genocide and cultural extermination of ISIS within the content of Muslim theology any than we can locate the genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar at the hands of ultranationalist Buddhists within the content of Buddhist theology It does not matter that both groups of oppressors are believers or that their beliefs are presumably sincere the beliefs are motivated by are an underlying outgrowth of the desire for social controlThat Jacoby has missed this in favor of yet another rant about Sharia is a tragedy


  9. Ayman Fadel Ayman Fadel says:

    Full review with hyperlinks formatting here you like me grew up receiving religious education you likely encountered conversion stories For Muslims an important topic of our weekend school education in the United States is the siirah biography gospel of the Messenger Muhammad ﷺ It is replete with stories of how courageous and noble individuals beginning with his wife Khadija and cousin `Ali recognized him as God's Messenger Implicitly and explicitly those who rejected him were cruel and venalSusan Jacoby examines how European Christians told stories about conversion which under the scrutiny of modern historical method reveal how those stories concealed varying degrees of coercion and how the post fascist Catholic Church has attempted to shift blame away from itself for the most grievous period of coercion the enslavement and murder of six million Jews by Nazi GermanyShe ends the book discussing the United States's contemporary attitude towards conversion and implications for atheists like herself While the number of practicingprofessing atheists has grown rapidly in the 21st century Jacoby is concerned that a far greater number of Americans particularly those who self identify as No religious affiliation or Spiritual but not religious are in fact atheists who are coerced into concealment She hopes that of these people will declare for atheism and educate their children about religion so that they will not as low information consumers fall prey to religion later in lifeBeing accused of intending to murder our non Muslim neighbors we Muslims often point to this passage of the ur'anلا إكراه في الدينThere is no compulsion in religionThere are other texts which also urge Muslims protect the rights of non MuslimsNevertheless I assume that a historian could follow Jacoby's methodology and write a similar history of coerced conversions to Islam from the time of the Messenger ﷺ through the era of decolonization and post independent states It particularly galls me that many Muslims preachers in the United States will claim that the existence of a Muslim majority in Indonesia is proof that Islam never spread by the sword Of course none of these preachers know anything about the history of Southeast Asia especially East Timor and the killings targeting Chinese largest non Muslim minority in 1965 Were they to learn of these atrocities the majority of whose victims were non Muslims they would claim they were the result of Muslims following secular ideologies not Islam Sounds familiar to the Catholic Church's claims regarding the Holocaust doesn't it?While I don't believe Islam mandates these gross human rights violations and while I don't consider the actions of the so called Islamic State Daesh to be in conformity with my understanding of Islam after reading this book I've decided not to argue the point with the proselytizers of atheism as long as they don't advocate USA militarism I have decided to be a voice arguing for disestablishment of religion in the United States where I live and if anybody from a Muslim majority country asks me I'd recommend it follow the path of the United States government in avoiding establishment of religion and restricting its practice


  10. Jill Meyer Jill Meyer says:

    Susan Jacoby's Strange Gods A Secular History of Conversion is a bit of a mish mash Now that's not said in a bad way; Jacoby tries to cover the topic from Augustine to Mohammed Ali and his daughter with stops in England France Spain and Egypt in between What Jacoby is trying to say I think is that as long as there have been religious belief there have been conversions both to and away from those beliefs And if she's not right then I don't know what would be the point of the bookSusan Jacoby herself the daughter of a man who converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism upon marrying Susan's mother looks at how conversions can be of coersion by threats of death Spain or opportunity where the ease of shedding an old religion in this case Judaism in 19th and 20th century Europe will give the converter entrance into higher social and economic rank Or like Jacoby's father; his conversion was an attempt to make a family together with his wife But and this is a big but conversion to a dominant religion doesn't always bring safety Edith Stein is only one of many Jewish converts to Catholicism whose new religion didn't protect her from being sent from the convent straight to Auschwitz But the Jewish Christian conversions are not the only ones she covers She links history with societal events to make her pointsI'm giving Jacoby's book four stars instead of five only because I think she does try to cover too much Her writing is lively and I found the book uite interesting And curiously she and I both had Jewish fathers at Dartmouth at the same time


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