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The New Believers

Rachael Kohn, The New Believers, Re-imagining God, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2003 (Available at Unity Books, Wellington) reviewed by Lloyd Geering.

A few years ago, on my way to USA via Sydney, I was interviewed by an ABC journalist who greatly impressed me with her ability to ask intelligent questions on religious issues. Last year in Sydney she interviewed me again for her regular programme, “The Spirit of Things”. Her name, Rachael Kohn, betrays her Jewish background but before entering broadcasting some fifteen years ago she pursued an academic career. In her native Canada she gained degrees up to doctoral level in sociology, New Testament and Rabbinics. Then she lectured in Religious Studies in Canada, Britain and Australia. All this has made her the most qualified and intelligent interviewer on religious topics in Australasia and she now presents two regular radio programmes. It is a pity we have nothing like them in New Zealand.

On this last occasion she introduced me to her own book, The New Believers, written partly on the basis of her interviews with some leading religious figures and partly out of her experience in visiting new centres of religious interest. Here she takes us on a religious safari where she finds what she calls ‘the free-flowing exploration of spirituality and the charting of new frontiers’.

The burgeoning of new age spirituality can be a minefield for the uninformed but with skill and insight Rachel distinguishes clearly between the fraudsters and self-styled messiahs on the one hand and, on what she calls ‘the fine and deep-thinking’ individuals who are pioneering spiritual paths they believe to be more relevant to the world they live in.

I learned quite a lot from this book. I had not realised, for example, that lurking beneath the surface of the fanciful tale The Wizard of Oz, its theosophist author, L. Frank Baum, was ‘consciously reflecting the scientific rationalism which had seriously questioned the received beliefs in a personal God’?

Rachel introduces us to a great variety of people within the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and even secular worlds, who are re-imagining God or inventing new forms of spirituality. I was particularly interested in the various new movements emerging in the Jewish world

The feminist revival of the goddess, Joseph Campbell’s emphasis on the role of myth, the Gaia movement’s concern with the saving of the planet, the renewed interest in the Jewish Kabbalah, the influence of Freud, Jung and Rudolf Steiner, the Dalai Lama, Don Cupitt, and Hans Küng’s Global Ethic are only a few of the topics discussed.

Members of the SoF will find this book both interesting and informative. Because of her knowledge and experience Rachel has been able to present her material with the empathy of a neutral scholar and to offer a clear and balanced appraisal.

Lloyd Geering.

[Readers with web access should go to the ABC website at http://abc.net.au/rn/relig/spirit/ and listen to recorded broadcasts of “The Spirit of Things” or read transcripts. They may also marvel at how much better the listening public of Australia are served than are we - ed]