Book review - The Trouble with God: Building the Republic of Heaven

Questioning Church
Belief and Unbelief
Image of a person standing on a hillside looking at sky and mountains
David Boulton

Book review by Michael Miller

Subtitled “Building the Republic of Heaven”, The Trouble with God begins by tracing David’s journey from childhood within a Plymouth Brethren household, (where his parents were suspect by the congregation because they shopped at the “socialist” Co-op!), to his adult Quaker-humanist beliefs. On the way he goes on to describe, in elegant and at times very witty prose, the historical development of God ideas, showing for example how the early Canaanite tribal Elohim i.e. “the gods” became the High or Sky God El of the northern tribes of Israel, who was then conflated with the Yahweh of the southern tribes, hence producing the two-sided personality of God as portrayed in the Old Testament as alternately vengeful and merciful; ”The newly united tribes of Israel have come to need a bigger god than El, who was merely chairman of the local council of gods. Yahweh fits the bill. He is the greatest and mightiest of gods, a wonder-worker above all wonder-workers.”

Part three of the book explores the development of the concept of humanism in all its varieties with its different nuances on opposite sides of the Atlantic. He explains the idea of radical religious humanism as espoused by Don Cupitt and explored within the Sea of Faith Network, and explores the difference between the liberal modernist approach to Biblical exegesis and the post modernist language based understanding – “In the beginning was the Word….”. “The reasonably well-read, reflective reader has come to understand the Bible stories as literature, and essentially as fictions. Some of these fictions relate to historical events, places and people…..”. However, “by recognising them as fictions and myths we can press the old, old stories back into service” as conveying meanings.

David asks, “Can you be a thoroughgoing radical religious humanist and still go to church….?” And answers, “it is precisely the non-realist and instrumentalist approach to religion that makes such participation possible.” So a thought provoking and challenging book which will help you develop and clarify your own ideas and understanding, yet done with a lovely mix of scholarship, gentleness and humour!


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