HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Religions of America
Author: Leo Rosten
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, republished in 1975)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Rosten, Leo. Religions of America (originally copyrighted in 1952 by Cowles Magazines and Broadcasting Inc.; fifth edition published in 1963 by Simon and Schuster Inc., Rockefeller Center, 630 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10010). Originally a series of article in Look Magazine, this book came to me along with the rest of my grandfather’s library after he died. It is divided into two main parts. The first twenty chapters are articles written by leaders of various main religious groups in the United States, including Baptists, Catholics, Christian Scientists, Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Lutherans, Methodists, Mormons, Presbyterians, Protestants (in general), Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Unitarians, along with chapters on “What Is an Agnostic,” whether a scientist can believe in God (the scientist who wrote the article said, “Yes,” but his answers make it quite plain that he is a modernist), and the 66 million Americans who do not belong to any church.
These articles explain the “Religious Beliefs” of these different groups, allowing each group to describe itself. A number of questions are raised and answered, such as sin, salvation, the Trinity, the virgin birth, worship, heaven and hell, divorce, and birth control, among others. Part Two is an almanac of religion in our nation, with statistics about church membership, American clergy, religious education, religion in American history, and the role of religion in contemporary American life. There is also a list of selected resources and reference aids. The book was last updated in 1975. For example, the original text of “What Is a Baptist?” was written by the late William B. Lipphard. Many new answers (to new or old questions) have been supplied for the revised edition by Dr. Frank A. Sharp. One of the complaints that some have about this book is that much of the information is outdated. Of course the statistics have changed, and denominations do sometimes alter their beliefs, but the vast majority of the information is still valid. Besides, if any further revisions are to be made, Leo Rosten won’t be able to make them because he died in 1997.
Another complaint is that the information about the different denominational beliefs is far too short and not detailed enough. However, it is not intended to give a complete doctrinal survey, but simply a general overview. Still others objected to the fact that it left out a lot of religions, especially Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, but it does have the main ones historically related to this nation. I have used this book often in sermons and classes to identify the beliefs of the different groups. For example, the Congregationalist representative in answering the question “Do Congregational Christians believe in the virgin birth?” responded, “Probably the majority do not….The fact of Christ, and not the manner in which he was born, is held to be of dominant importance.” Of course, if we can’t trust what the Bible says about the virgin birth of Christ, how can we trust anything that it says about Christ—or any other subject for that matter? I normally don’t review purely “religious” books on this blog, but this one has a lot of valuable material for anyone who is interested in or studying about the historic role of religion in America.