Perspectives and practice in diverse religious traditions
Peter Riddell & Beverly Smith Riddell (Editors)
Category: Doctrine and Theology
Fourteen fascinating chapters and fourteen gifted contributors. Yes, there are only thirteen 'chapters', but the 'Introduction' supplied by the two editors is a must-read before starting on the main body of the book. Angels and Demons is most certainly not a re-write of Billy Graham's 1975 book about angels (Angels: God's Secret Agents). Here we have experts writing on angels and demons in Hinduism, Islam, African Traditional Religion and Christianity. There are two chapters on Pentecostalism (one on African Pentecostalism and demons, neatly balanced by another on Pentecostals and angels: Kay notes the trend in the mid twentieth century to identify UFOs with extraterrestrials and possibly also angels), and Nigel Scotland of Gloucestershire University writes on 'the charismatic devil: demonology in charismatic Christianity.' That's heady stuff.
The final two chapters carry the most intriguing titles: 'Satanism and the heavymetal subculture', by Professor Chris Partridge, and 'Not just halos and horns: angels and demons in Western pop culture', by Amy Summers-Minette. Add to this rich mix three chapters on Islam (and I've still not listed the titles of all fourteen chapters) and it becomes obvious that this is a book to buy, to study, and to learn from.
With such a wealth of genuinely fascinating material, it is difficult to know where to focus a review. Perhaps perversely I've chosen the one chapter of the book which seems not to deal either with angels or with demons, Ruth Bradby's 'Coping with the nonexistent: A Course in Miracles and Evil'. The Course she refers to is in fact a book of more than a thousand pages, which has sold millions worldwide.
The 'Scriber' of the Course, Helen Schucman, claims that it was 'channelled' - produced through her but without owing anything to her knowledge, experience or understanding. In fact, it is a melange of Buddhism (and maya, illusion), Advaita Hinduism (and monism), Christian Science (and a denial of the existence of suffering), plus a radically re-interpreted Christianity, the mix improbably glued together with psychology (Schucman was Associate Professor of Psychology at New York's Columbia University). According to the Course there is only one reality, God. Everything else is illusory, including suffering. The 'miracle' promised in the title of the book is the experience of choosing to recognise this truth, and so to be released from ideas of evil, sin, judgement. It follows that 'the undoing of the crucifixion of God's Son is the work of the redemption.' (p.218)
A key concept is choice, the right to choose whether or not to believe in the existence of the illusory world. But as Bradby points out, 'the question remains: can a starving Darfur tribesman in Sudan, who has been driven from his home, be helped by the understanding that he has a choice of how to view his situation?' (p.227). As Kenneth Wapnick, one of the leading proponents of the movement that has grown out of the Course, has lamely admitted, 'the Course is not interested in trying to improve the dream. It only works to change the mind of the dreamer.' (p.228). Tragically life for most people is not a dream: it is a nightmare.
Here is a book containing enough new and challenging material to satisfy the most demanding critic. Difficult sometimes, often illuminating, always interesting. Something to annoy you, much to inform you, and even the occasional something to amuse you. But there are times when amusement (p.90) turns to incredulity and dismay when one realises the heights and depths of human credulity.
Peter Cotterell, April 2007
Peter Cotterell is a former Principal of London Bible College (now London School of Theology) and is currently Associate Senior Lecturer at the London School of Theology Centre for Islamic Studies. He is co-author with Peter Riddell of Islam in Conflict: Past, Present and Future (IVP, 2003).
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.Order from www.christianbookshops.org
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