Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Big Book Read #16

Paranormal State – My Journey Into the Unknown

By Ryan Buell

The show Paranormal State is one of my guilty pleasures. I am easily scared but for some reason that does not deter me from watching shows about ghosts and other nasties that go bump in the night. Every now and then you need a book like this.

Buell created PRS (The Paranormal Research Society) in his college days at Penn State (hence the title ‘Paranormal State’) and has continued to travel around the country with his team to investigate, and often shout at, the noises and shadows that torment the homeowners.

Buell’s book chronicles the first year of making the show. He goes into detail on many of their cases and succeeded very well in making me jump at the slightest noise while reading this in my living room. But, Buell also talks about his use of psychics on cases (he’s very skeptical) as well as addressing the criticisms of his use of religious language and imagery (Buell is a devout Roman Catholic) on cases.

What drew me to the show was the emphasis on helping the families deal with their problems and not just simple ghost hunting. This distinction is made often in the book and you can tell Buell is very sensitive to families dealing with the paranormal due to his childhood experiences. His skepticism is not always apparent on the show but is discussed at length in the book, which was nice. Not every noise or shadow is a ghoul out to get you!

I read this book to get a good scare, and I was not disappointed. What I did not expect was a deeper look at Buell’s life, which as it turns out has not been all that easy. His terrifying paranormal experiences as a child, largely ignored by his family, has greatly influenced how he approaches cases. He also discusses the backlash he received by members of the clergy after he came out as bisexual. It was an interesting read and satisfied my creepy desire to be frightened.

Big Book Read #15

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn’t
By: Stephen Prothero

304 Pages

It’s been several weeks since I finished Religious Literacy so I’m afraid my review may be more vague than I had originally hoped.

Stephen Prothero is a professor of Religion at Boston University. I was lucky enough to be be in attendance when he was the speaker for Theology on Tap way back in 2008. His book American Jesus had just come out and his talk was pretty darn interesting.

Religious Literacy discusses the religious literacy, or more accurately, the religious illiteracy demonstrated by the majority of Americans today. The book discusses the religious literacy of colonial and early post-revolutionary America, its descent into religious illiteracy and his prescription for how to make it all better.

The book also contains a religious literacy quiz, which Prothero gives all his students at the beginning of class. In his mind, the students (and we the readers) should be able to answer these questions, but the sad fact is the majority of his students cannot answer many correctly. What’s even more disturbing is that these questions are EASY.

A few sample questions:

Name the four Gospels.

Name a sacred text of Hinduism.

Name the Ten Commandments.

Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t too that well. I managed to come out above average according to his classroom results, but overall the outcome was embarrassing.

This book not only taught me a ton about the history of religious literacy in America (I never knew what The Great Awakening and The Second Great Awakening were) but inspired me to learn more on my own. Immediately after finishing this book I bought a giant book on the history of Christianity and another on the Histories of Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto. Next on the list will be Islam.

I’d recommend this book to everyone.