Does God Live in the Suburbs? by Myer Bloom, 346pp, $(AUD)34.95
In Eureka Street, 28 March 2008
An antidote to blokish certainties on religion
When I think of people talking about religions, I see blokes in dark suits … They may be for religion in general, or against all religions, or for their own religion and against others. But they are all dead earnest, and succeed in making religion seem both strange and incomprehensible to us amateurs.
So this unpretentious collection of interviews is welcome in its simplicity and artlessness. The editor arranged to have adherents of many religious groups interviewed. They were asked to reply to simple questions about their beliefs, their religious practices and symbols, their ethical framework and their attitude to contemporary Australian society. They are amiable and leisurely in their replies.
The question posed in the title of this book – whether God lives in the burbs – remains hanging. The participants, whether from mainline Churches, Eastern religious traditions or more modern beliefs, are articulate but use words that find common ground with readers unfamiliar with their beliefs. They invite others into a world in which their distinctive beliefs and practices are everyday, not strange. They do a much better job of communicating than most of the professionals in their groups.
These stories of ordinary believers are striking for two apparently conflicting reasons. First, they hang together. People’s faith, religious symbols and daily lives appear to be part of a coherent whole. Whether or not their religious leaders would agree with the large picture they present, they find it persuasive and workable.
… most striking in most of the accounts is that they are open-ended and contain happily unresolved questions. The believers take their faith seriously, but wrestle with how they are to live in a world where their convictions are a minority taste. Almost all of them are positive in the way they see people with different convictions. They recognise that they drift in the same boat.
Although the people interviewed in this book come across as religious people, they appeal more strongly as people you might like to have living next door. They are ordinary people in whose life religious faith and practice seem helpful. They also appear to be good and even nice people, if niceness suggests that their goodness is ordinary.
In Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 2008
This overview of 23 religions in Australia uses a simple technique. Find an ordinary person (i.e. not a theologian) who is practising a particular religion, ask them intelligent questions (history, beliefs, values, rituals, meaning of God) about their faith and then transcribe and edit the interview so it represents a fair statement of the religion through the eyes of an ordinary believer.
Bloom offers no commentary and, typically, lets the interviewees range freely across their chosen faith.
This is a rare and unusual insight into religion in modern, secular Australia.