The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable

The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable

The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable

The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable

Synopsis

The United States is one of the most highly educated societies on earth, and also one of the most religious. In The God Problem, Robert Wuthnow examines how middle class Americans juggle the seemingly paradoxical relationship between faith and reason.

Based on exceptionally rich and candid interviews with approximately two hundred people from various faiths, this book dispels the most common explanations: that Americans are adept at keeping religion and intellect separate, or that they are a nation of "joiners." Instead, Wuthnow argues, we do this--not by coming up with rational proofs for the existence of God--but by adopting subtle usages of language that keep us from making unreasonable claims about God. In an illuminating narrative that reveals the complex negotiations many undertake in order to be religious in the modern world, Wuthnow probes the ways of talking that occur in prayers, in discussions about God, in views of heaven, in understandings of natural catastrophes and personal tragedies, and in attempts to reconcile faith with science.

Excerpt

The message of this book is that we can learn something important about faith by listening closely to the language people use in talking about their faith. One would think we could pretty much take that for granted. But scholarship on American religion has somehow assumed that talk is cheap and for this reason tried to understand faith by focusing on just about everything except what people say about it. Pollsters put their own words in people’s mouths by firing questions at them over the telephone and then purport to understand American religion from the 15 percent or so of the people in their sample who actually responded. Historical and ethnographic studies focus on the practice of faith within particular communities. But it is hard to know what people practice unless we also talk to them about the meaning of their faith.

Listening closely to people talking about their faith requires paying attention not only to what they say but also to how they say it. The techniques that facilitate doing this are called discourse analysis. Considerable advances have been made over the past two decades in . . .

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