Much blood has been spilled and is still being spilled over the question, Is there such a thing as a true religion? To answer No, is to give up on religion. To answer Yes seems dangerous and naive. Yet there is a way of understanding religion that avoids the danger and is both emotionally and intellectually satisfying.
All of Charles Thomas Taylor's previous writings have attempted to reveal the universal rational foundation that undergirds all of the various ethical, political, and economic systems that best nurture human existence. With a latent recognition that the presence of symbolism in other areas of human concern, such as in religion or the fine arts, essentially communicates ethical value, Taylor presents his new book to consider the current relevance or irrelevance of religion and art for the ethical life. An appreciation of beauty in nature and art is generally applauded, not as a substitute for that sense of sensual and emotional gratification that inevitably proceeds from successful rational endeavor toward the satisfaction of human needs, but as a supplemental source of pleasure and happiness. The outcome of Taylor's evaluation of the experience of religion in human affairs does not fare quite as well, for reasons that he lays out in systematic detail. Although the book may be seen as offering some new and original ideas in either sphere of human concern, it is essentially a work of cultural anthropology that attempts to integrate, or not to integrate in some cases, the peripheral concerns of religion and aesthetics with a central ethical vision for the future of our species.
Already hailed as a landmark in contemporary Catholic theology, Jesus Symbol of God surveys scriptural data, the key moments in the development of doctrine, and the distinctive horizons of our contemporary world to develop a comprehensive and systematic christology for our time. The task of christology is to explain what it means to say that Jesus is the bearer and revealer of God in the Christian community, the decisive mediation of God's salvation -- or, in other words, the symbol of God.
Although this work is written from a Christian viewpoint, it also presents the symbolic visions of the non-believer. The symbolic examination of God helps us to uncover what it means to be human, and where we are heading as a species. Symbols aid in conveying the abstract ideas that human languages are too limited to express. In the broadest sense, God symbolizes all the mysteries of existence. Any thinking person must ask the question, 'what is the ultimate significance of this frail and vulnerable flesh that clothes the human ego?' God symbolizes these important mysteries, and beckons us to approach him for answers.
Why do many people think religion is subjective? Or symbolic? Or non-rational? This book brings together eighteen important twentieth-century essays on these questions, by authors ranging from Ludwig Wittgenstein to Richard Rorty and Clifford Geertz. The editors show that such questions are both quite modern and powerfully influential in our Western thinking about religious belief. Moreover, they lead directly into the three most popular theories that attempt to make sense of religion: positivism, functionalism, and relativism. Selecting essays that represent each of these three theoretical positions, Frankenberry and Penner trace their incoherence and argue for a new method and theory for understanding religious beliefs.