I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the different religious philosophies of the modern world, including not only Christianity, Judaism, Islam, the Mormons and other major religions, but less known ones as well. The author provides a clear explanation of the major beliefs of each religion, and gives plenty of additional references for those wanting to study them in more depth.
Though written from a Christian perspective, I think this book does a good job of presenting facts mixed with academic analysis. There are quite a few pictures, but they don’t add a lot to the understanding of the religions. What’s more helpful is the timelines, which show key dates and events, and the summary at the end of each chapter showing websites and recommended reading for more information.
I learned a lot of interesting things from this book. Some clarified questions I had; others raised questions in my mind as to how people could accept particular teachings or beliefs. For example:
1. The Catholic pope has a confessor, and is not considered sinless. His infallibility relates only to his “role as a teacher and defender of the faith.” (p. 589)
2. The founder of Christian Science didn’t think it was important whether Jesus existed or not. (p. 107)
3. Buddhists believe there is no God. (p. 49)
4. Jewish law forbids cremation. (p. 311)
5. Some Church of Christ believers think instrumental music in worship services is satanic and based on pagan rituals. (p. 535)
6. Mormons believe that Jesus visited the natives of the Americas after his resurrection. (p. 365)
There are some groups mentioned that aren’t what I’d call true religions, like the Branch Davidians, Freemasons, and the New Age movement. Within the larger religious groups, there are also many smaller groups. All in all, it’s amazing how much some religions have in common, and yet there is a huge difference in what is perceived as the “truth.” Some of it is also rather shocking. The author doesn’t gloss over the persecution and abuse many people have faced due to their religious beliefs; he also points out how some leaders have abused their followers.
There is a lot of information to absorb, so it took me several days to get through the whole book. I had to look up a few words, like eschatology, but I really enjoyed reading this and will be keeping it to refer back to later.
Here’s where to find the product info for Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions, by James A. Beverley: http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0785244913
Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson provided this book for review. The opinion expressed is my own.