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Dangerous Religious Ideas reveals how faith traditions have always passed down tools for self-examination and debate, but all religious ideas—not just extremist ones—can cause harm, even as they also embody important moral teachings.
Scripture’s abiding relevance can inspire great goodness, such as welcoming the stranger and extending compassion for the poor. But its authority has also been wielded to defend slavery, marginalize LGBTQ individuals, ignore science, and justify violence. Grounded in close readings of scripture and tradition in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, religious scholar Rachel Mikva shows us that the Abrahamic religions have always been aware of their tremendous power both to harm and to heal. And so they have transmitted their sacred stories along with built-in tools–interpretive traditions–to do the necessary work of taking on dangerous religious ideas and fostering self-critical faith.
By exploring the themes of Scripture, Election, Reward, and Punishment, Mikva examines how the interpretive methodologies of these religions have identified and grappled with their perilous power and positive potential. Many readers presume that their understanding of scripture’s meaning is absolute, forgetting how these sacred texts and the history of interpretation have valued multiple perspectives and recognized ongoing rhythms of change. It’s not a modern phenomenon to debate the nature of truth, hold space open for doubt, value humility, and question our capacity to know things–especially about God and God’s will–with certainty. In fact, none of the traditions could remain vital or thrive together without a sustained practice of self-critique. Dangerous Religious Ideas reframes the way we talk about faith to create a space where public discussion of religion is more constructive, nuanced, and socially engaged.