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Piven, J.S. (2009). The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 4 vols. Edited by J. Harold Ellens. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007, 1209 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(4):713-719.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(4):713-719

The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 4 vols. Edited by J. Harold Ellens. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007, 1209 pp.

Review by:
J. S. Piven, Ph.D.

In response to the devastating attacks on 9/11, works on terrorism and religion have saturated popular culture, academia, the media, and the Internet. Among the flurry of opinions and debates is The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Edited by J. Harold Ellens, this recently released four-volume anthology seeks resolute understanding of why so much religion is violent and how benign forms of worship may be rescued from vengeful theological aberration.

Sadly, the articles collected in the anthology vary immensely in erudition. To summarize just a few: Yale professor John Collins's piece on “The Zeal of Phinehas” elegantly demonstrates the justification for violence in the Bible while arguing that books do not actually kill people; we must look to other motives for violence than a mere text. Another superlative article is Johan Vos's “Splitting and Violence in the New Testament: Psychoanalytic Approaches to the Revelation of John and the Letters of Paul,” which debates those who see the biblical texts as inner voyages of discovery, healing, integration, or self-realization. Vos argues that there is no trace of the depressive position in Revelation, but rather an abundance of destructive splitting, intolerance of ambiguity, and spiritual violence instead of hope (vol. 2, p. 191).

There are numerous other excellent works in this collection, but also many that are far less scholarly. Some of them are so personal as to focus more on the author than on ideas. One author writes of his “generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression, for which [he is] medicated” (vol. 2, p. 200f). Some may find such openness and humility appealing, others will find it an unscholarly, superfluous nuisance, and may find such colloquialisms as “yada, yada, yada” (p. 215) deterring.

Other articles are intriguing but simplistic or reductive.

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

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