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About the Book

For fifteen years, bestselling author Michael Shermer has written a column in Scientific American magazine that synthesizes scientific concepts and theory for a general audience. His trademark combination of deep scientific understanding and entertaining writing style has thrilled his huge and devoted audience for years. Now, in SKE?TIC, seventy-five of these columns are available together for the first time; a welcome addition for his fans and a stimulating introduction for new readers.

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About this week’s feature

Most Americans continue to grow up without thinking very deeply about other religions (other than mocking them on a superficial basis), and never question the assumptions of their own faith. In this week’s eSkeptic, Donald Prothero reviews Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted Look at Belief and Tradition Around the World, by Seth Andrews, in which he does all that, and more.

All Sacred Cows

by Donald Prothero

Those of us who have read extensively in the field of comparative religion are pretty familiar with many of the bizarre beliefs and practices of religions and cultures all over the world. But most Americans are alarmingly insular and unaware of other cultures and religions, especially if they’ve been raised in a small rural town and taught to think only one way by their church. Even in the relatively liberal Presbyterian church where I was raised, serious discussions of other religions were taboo. It was not until high school church groups that I heard about other “cult” religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Scientologists, and that exposure was simply to mock and condemn their belief systems, without any close examination of the absurdities we were expected to believe. Most Americans continue to grow up without thinking very deeply about other religions (other than mocking them on a superficial basis), and never question the assumptions of their own faith.

Seth Andrews came from such a background. Raised in a strict fundamentalist church and sheltered from exposure to any ideas about religion or science that might shake his faith, he went through life without questioning any of it until he was an adult. As he recounts in his previous autobiographical book Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason (which I reviewed), Andrews was making a living as a DJ on a Christian rock station, still deeply in the faith and insulated from doubt, until a series of events (deaths of beloved Christian rock musicians, 9/11, and switching to a secular radio station) opened his eyes and changed his perspective. Now he runs the very successful Thinking Atheist podcast and produces a number of outstanding videos for YouTube. Thus, Andrews comes to the study of comparative religions and cultures as a layman, rather than a scholar, with a background much like the rest of the fundamentalists in this country who are so vocal about pushing creationism in our schools and affecting our political process. […]

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