Loyal Rue. Religion is Not About God. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Hardcover, 392 pages.
Loyal Rue, a two-time Templeton Award winner and a professor of philosophy and religion, is using a naturalistic model of religion to explain what presumably all nonreligious folk have known for a long time: Religion is not about God but about human beings. Coming from an intensely religious family background, the author, Rue professes to have an agnostic stance, though from some of his comments one may conclude that he firmly sides with scientific materialism. Still, he means to be respectful of theological and other religious beliefs and believers. Even as he dismisses supernaturalist explanations of religion, he argues that religion by and large is a good thing.
His twin methodological credos are that a general theory of religion is possible and that a naturalist interpretation of the religious life and phenomena is best. He relies heavily on science and in particular on the scientific model of evolution and as might be expected sees religious doctrine as a form of myth making, or story telling.
When it comes to what I would call the spiritual core of religion—mystical realization–Rue predictably fishes for a neurophysiological explanation and settles on d’Aquili-Newberg’s explanation of mystical states. As he affirms: “I will suggest that the techniques of esoteric piety represent a strategy for goading some of the strings of human nature (or rather, brain structures and circuits) into playing on themselves” (p. 300). So, the great mystics or realizers of Hinduism and Buddhism accomplished little more than the effects of tickling their brain.
This is scientific materialism at its worst. The author clearly has never had the good fortune of encountering a genuine Yoga master who is capable of a lot more than self-stimulating his or her own cerebrum. But Rue’s naturalistic model would force him to explain even the most sublime realization and its field effect on others in reductionistic terms. Or else he would have his mind impacted sufficiently to want to scrap materialism altogether.
This criticism does not diminish the validity of the book’s central thesis that religion is about humans rather than ultimate Reality. This is in fact an argument made even by the great spiritual realizers. In order to attain enlightenment, according to them, we must go beyond all the “myths” of the ego-driven mind, including the bulwark of religion and their own teachings. At the same time, they would readily agree with Rue that religion is largely a benign affair—unless, of course, it incites to hatred and violence.
Most likely, this book will attract those who are already converted to a non- supernaturalist view of religion. They would presumably enjoy and benefit from Rue’s ruminations, which are erudite and well argued. Those whose faith is weak should expect to be disturbed by this sobering work, but in a good way—so long as they don’t make the ideology of scientific materialism into their new religion. Those (probably few) readers who have a strong background in mind training may see some of their wrong notions exposed and swept away, and this would obviously be to their profit, so that they can pursue the spiritual path with even greater clarity.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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