Review of 'Saving God: Religion After Idolatry' by Mark Johnston
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2009.10.06, October 2009
Paper - Abstract

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  1. "Johnston (Mark) - Saving God: Religion after Idolatry" is a rich and provocative book. It aims to "save God" from idolatrous believers, who take God to be largely concerned with the welfare and destiny of human creatures. Banning idolatry, Johnston is led to a panentheistic conception of "the Highest One," who (or which) is not separable from Nature. With echoes of Spinoza and, to a lesser extent, Whitehead, Johnston takes Supernaturalism to be spiritually irrelevant, as well as idolatrous1.
  2. Idolatry is a very broad category for Johnston. It includes supernaturalism as well as superstition, worship of false gods and graven images, perverse worship and projection of our own desires onto the object of worship, servility to another's will, "anthropomorphic accretions of this or that historic faith" onto the Highest One, "hope for a Cosmic Intervener who might confer special worldly advantages on his favorites," and more.
  3. Neither a work of philosophy nor of academic theology, Saving God is "offered as the expression of a certain sensibility". The sensibility is one of a confirmed naturalist (the natural world as "causally complete and self-contained") who has serious religious impulses. The natural world is all that there is, but understood properly, it can be seen as "the site of the sacred".
  4. The path to this conclusion is fascinating. I'll summarize it in the following paragraphs.
  5. ….
  6. Despite these worries and disagreements, I found Saving God to be original, complex and insightful. (See, for example, Johnston's well-founded hostility to "ready to wear righteousness".) However one reacts to Johnston's naturalistic reinterpretation of Christianity and the other monotheisms, one may still applaud his rejection of idolatrous uses of religion to serve human ends.


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