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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Heart of Religion

In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah recounts these words from the Lord in chapter 58:6-9
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."
In The Heart of Religion:  Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and The Experience of God's Love, two social scientists and a theologian have come together to share an extensive study of 1,200 men and women from across the United States that sheds light on how Americans wake up to the reality of divine love and how that transformative experience expresses itself in concrete acts of benevolence.

The Authors:

Matthew T. Lee is a Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Akron. He is Vice President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and served as Vice President of the Center for Restorative Justice of North Central Ohio. He was the project director and co-principal investigator on the "Flame of Love" Project, which focuses on the "Great Commandment"-loving and knowing God's love and then reaching out to love others.

Margaret Poloma, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology, University of Akron. She has written extensively about religious experience in contemporary American society including pioneering studies on prayer, Pentecostalism, contemporary revivals, and divine healing.  She is the author of "Main Street Mystics", among other books.

Stephen Post, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics in the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (SUNY). He is also the President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and the author of "The Hidden Gifts of Helping".  He is President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, founded in 2001 with a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation and devoted to high-level scientific research on unselfish love.

While much of The Heart of Religion reads like a dry textbook, there are some nuggets of clear truth like the quote below if the reader has the patience to get to them:
"Living in a dynamic relationship with an all-loving and all-powerful God has the potential to permeate all aspects of a believer's life.  It redefines common assumptions of costs and benefits from 'What's in this for me?' to 'How does this fit into a bigger plan?'  It also has the power to transform negative self-concepts into positive ones as it imprints daily life with deeper purpose that is tied to a divine calling."
The main problem I had with the material presented in The Heart of Religion is this:  God is spoken of as if He is some ethereal being "out there somewhere" whose love is supposed to motivate us to serve others in some way and only after we have had some "mountain moving" experience with Him.  The book's authors do not present (or barely mention for that matter) a clear picture of Jesus as God's Son Who has made the way for our relationship with God in the first place.  Since their conclusions were a result of interviews with men and women from across the United States, this saddens me even more.  Somewhere along the way, I'm afraid many people have missed a clear picture of the gospel.

You can check out the book on by going HERE.

Thank you B&B Media Group, Inc. for sending me a complimentary copy of the book for the purpose of this review.