When Religion Becomes Lethal

reviewed by Kristine Morris

When Religion Becomes Lethal: The Explosive Mix of Politics and Religion in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

By Charles Kimball

Today, when even a small number of religious zealots can wreak havoc on a massive scale, we are beginning to admit that our conventional wisdom, including our understanding of other religions and worldviews, is dangerously inadequate. Here, Charles Kimball offers a new and more accurate way of thinking about and engaging issues of religion and politics.

An ordained Baptist minister, Kimball is presidential professor and director of religious studies at the university of oklahoma and an expert analyst on the intersection of religion and politics, Middle Eastern issues, Islam, and Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, with decades of experience as a peacemaker in the Middle East. He is the author of five books, including When Religion Becomes Evil. When Religion Becomes Lethal builds on his previous work and explores why religious belief — especially that based in the Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) — so often leads to violence.

Kimball provides an opportunity to step outside of the “us against them” mentality and take a fresh and unbiased look at the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. A 2001–2007 Gallup study of worldwide Muslim attitudes and beliefs, which took data from tens of thousands of people in some 35 countries with majority or large minority Muslim populations, revealed a rich diversity of people and opinions. Kimball suggests that part of what we must do is to stop seeing “the West” and “the Islamic world” as two monolithic and homogeneous entities. “They are neither,” he declares. But the Gallup study estimates that approximately seven percent of the global Muslim population can be classified as “politically radicalized,” and though this seems to be a small percentage, Kimball reminds us that it amounts to some 90 million people. “If only a fraction of those people continue to feel dominated, occupied, exploited, and disrespected by their own governments or by an external superpower like the united states, the potential for disaster is high.”

Kimball offers a much-needed historical perspective on Judaism, christianity, and Islam and the ways in which prevailing thought patterns contribute to the continuation of conflict, but his clear-sighted, engaging, and compassionate book is also hopeful and shows us ways to navigate the perilous times ahead to a safer and more peaceful future.

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