Book Review: Belief & Unbelief by Barbara G. Walker


By George B. Kauffman

Despite the Mother’s Day publicity, our country has dropped from 31st in 2014 to 33rd place in the world’s best places to be a mother according to the 2015 Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Index. Norway is first, whereas Somalia came in last.

Washington, D.C., is the most dangerous city in the developed world and has the highest infant mortality rate of the world’s richest capitals. The United States also has the highest maternal death rates in the developed world with women facing a one in 1,800 risk of maternal death.

Thus Belief & Unbelief, the latest book by Barbara G. Walker, the bestselling author of The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, named Book of the Year by the London Times, and past winner of the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Heroine Award, which proclaims “Womanhood Beyond Religion,” is particularly timely. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Walker is an artist, journalist, dancer teacher, designer, wife and mother, mentor of women’s spirituality groups, researcher, lecturer and author of 24 books and numerous articles on comparative religion, history, mythology, symbolism and mineral lore.

Walker’s copiously referenced book consists of 22 new essays that explain in detail how religion has been perverted from its naturalistic roots in the celebration of new life to a patriarchal orgy of violence. The following is an overview of some of Walker’s essays:

  1. “Believing the Unbelievable.” Why are human beings so prone to believing the unbelievable, trusting the improbable, convinced by the very eccentricity of the impossible?
  1. “God the Monster.” In my childhood Sunday School, I wanted to know why an all-powerful God couldn’t save his own son. Fundamentalists still tell kids, “You’re going to Hell if you don’t conform,” but any psychologist knows that imaginary threats are not the key to good behavior.
  1. “Before Patriarchy.” The absurd mythologies presented in sacred literature were written by patriarchal revisionists. Actually, many ancient beliefs connected superior intellect and magical skills with the female, based on the premise that only women possessed the ability to create life.
  1. “The Three Ages of Woman.” Even as a modern society that finds the term “old crone” pejorative, elder women are learning to celebrate themselves and menopause rituals, finding a new awareness of the feminine spirit.
  1. “Gnosticism: A Short History.” The conviction that one has the only true gnosis (mystical knowledge of the doings of gods and the secrets of salvation) in regard to resurrection and the afterlife seems to be most perilous to the lives of others in the current life.
  1. “Religion as the Root of Sexism.” The myth of Eve’s guilt for disobedient apple eating in the Garden of Eden, bringing death to the world, might be the vilest lie ever perpetrated.
  1. “Women and War.” Although mothers usually have a profound conviction that anything potentially destructive to their children’s well-being is a moral evil, they can be induced to support a war effort dedicated to the endangerment of their own children and those of other mothers who happen to live in the realm of the enemy.
  1. “Family and the Future.” When conservatives deplore the decline of “family values,” they mean their own version of a family: a man ruling his wife and children with God-given authority. However, there is a fast-spreading tendency among women to reject remote, violent male deities with their crusades, witch-hunts, inquisitions and battlefield invocations. The doleful history of religious sexism has made it clear that the God created in the image of man has promoted more cruelty than any other single cause. Walker imagines a return to the original, best traditions of religion as a metaphor for the wonder of the universe.

Belief & Unbelief by Barbara G. Walker, Humanist Press, Washington, DC, 2014, Paperback, $18.99. ISBN 978-0-931779-56-5

*****

George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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