Bad Faith: The Dangers of Religious Extremism. By Nell J. Kressel. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007. 327pp. $26.00.
Neil Kressel's book is a wide reaching and comprehensive analysis of faith which harms others, particularly terrorism. The discussions range from attempting to define "religious extremist" to evidence that every faith has its extremists to evaluating how sacred books are interpreted to the psychology of extremists to speculation about what might be done to prevent extremism. It is well written and a book appropriate for the educated person as well as the expert.
The analyses are thoughtful. For example, in the examination of the role of a faith's scriptures, he documents that no one takes all of their scrihPtures with equal seriousness. He. raises the question of how people choose which scriptures to take seriously. Of course people are taught to prioritize some scriptures, but why do some people select different scriptures than commonly taught, and even start new groups based on the shift in which scriptures are deemed important? This is a seldom investigated, question that is vital, for pyschological and sociologlcal understanding of religious extremists.
Scriptures themselves are, due to different people choosing different ones as important, seldom treated as important per se. Kressel is, from my social psychologist perspective, typical of our culture which treats beliefs themselves as unimportant. And yet it seems important that Jesus' second commandment was to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lk. 10:27), and he defined "neighbor" with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29-37) where the "good guy is from a religious/cultural group that people despised. And Paul adds that in Christ there is "neither Greek nor jew, slave nor free (Gal.3:28; Col. 3:11) and tells a slave owner to welcome a returning slave as he would welcome Paul himself (Phil. 17). These are powerful antidotes to the ethnocentrism of extremism and may be one reason it is difficult, as Kressel points out, to find a Christian terrorist group.
The multiple choices as to what scriptures to emphasize in the same sacred books are treated in only a modern perspective, even though examples from other eras--such as the religious wars in Europe--are mentioned. It would be interesting to see a more historical approach consider the...