The Religious Transaction
The Religious Transaction essentially examines whether following a religion, on a transactional basis, is actually worth the effort. The author, Timothy Chen, looks at four main aspects: the material transaction, the emotional transaction, the knowledge transaction, and the afterlife transaction. He examines each of these aspects in order to investigate whether there is a tangible benefit to practicing a religion. He explains how and why he has reached a particular conclusion. Also, while his main focus is Christianity, he does look at other faiths through the same prism.
For reasons pointed out in the book, Chen turned away from religion when it failed to measure up to his expectations or to provide the answers he was seeking. He did so during a long journey that led to his becoming what he termed “a fire insurance Christian” before giving up on his former beliefs altogether. Additionally, he points out that his exploration is more about asking if religion is worth the effort than about whether it is necessarily true. He does not set out to convince others to turn away from religion but instead seeks to provide a framework for determining whether religion is providing the benefits people expect or require.
This is a well-written and clearly structured book. I liked the fact that each chapter began with an introduction, followed by a lengthy discussion, and concluded with a summary of the main points. I also enjoyed learning about the author’s background and how that shaped his views on religion. However, while I am not a particularly religious person, I’m not sure I would evaluate all of my beliefs based on the idea of their transactional nature. Such an idea seems a bit too utilitarian to me. But I did like his examination regarding knowledge. I think many people will be inclined to agree with Chen’s view that Bible stories are simply stories based on legend or long-established and embellished oral histories.
I think this book will be most appreciated and accepted by those who are already questioning their faith in a particular religion or their beliefs in general, although I think anyone who reads it will be inclined to examine what they seek from religion and whether it provides the answers and guidance they desire. For those who are leaning away from religion, Chen offers some advice at the end on how to address what some might perceive as an empty space or void in their lives. He assures anyone reading the book that they too can find a rewarding life after religion, or without religious beliefs, if they so choose.
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