Who do you know?

Just last week I finished up reading Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. The book  is not new. It has been around since 2007/2008.

In short, it’s based on the Gallup World Poll data and is one of the largest data collection surveys in history. The goal is to let people speak for themselves, rather than the more typical portrayal that is given by pundits or pop culture. There’s a lot of value in it. So I’d commend it to you as a starting point for reflection and discussions.

But what I really wanted to get at it is something more basic than what’s in the book. I guess, in some sense, it is a replacement for the book. Rather than having some massive study representative of billions of people tell you what the world thinks, my question is this:

Who do you know? What do they think? 

There are many perceived conflicts in the world. Whether along religious lines or political or social issues or even theological issues, there are a whole host of opportunities to find some group of people with whom you are at odds.

I’m in no way dismissing the importance of any of these stands. Oftentimes disagreements are truly over serious issues. There are many weighty debates. Not every dispute is petty trifling. They often emerge because people hold sincere beliefs. They stand for something.

But I wonder what we know of those on the other side?

Or, as I asked above, who do you know?

Have you ever spent time with those with whom you disagree? Have you sat down for a conversation? Not a debate, but just talked about life? Have you ever “loved your neighbor” (to put it in Biblical terms)?

We can start by reading a book – to tell us “what a billion Muslims really think” – but maybe, just maybe, we’d all be better off we knew what even just one person thought.

The Last Plea Bargain by Randy Singer

The Last Plea Bargain
by Randy Singer

In case you didn’t see it check out the book trailer I shared earlier. Interested? Now onto the review.

Randy Singer is a gifted writer and story-teller who writes with an insider’s perspective. Sure most of us have seen our fair share of Law and Order but that doesn’t give you the kind of knowledge that an experienced trial-lawyer like Randy Singer brings to the table.

The Last Plea Bargain starts with the death of the former showgirl and young wife of Caleb Tate, one of the most famous defense lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. The circumstances look suspicious. A young prosecutor, Jamie Brock, who is known for her insistence on taking her cases to trial and not settling for a plea bargain that lessens the punishment for a criminal simply to grease the wheels of the justice system, takes this case as her personal mission. Not simply to seek justice for the victim, but also because Caleb Tate, the lawyer, also defended the man Jamie is convinced murdered her mother and nearly killed father just a few years earlier.

The story takes you through her own quest for justice while struggling to keep from falling prey to simply seeking vengeance. It reveals her own personal struggle, made even more difficult when she is confronted with unexpected revelations. She is left without knowing who to turn to for help. She is forced to question the very things and people she has most trusted in life.

The story is great. It will draw you in. It will keep you guessing right to the very end.

Also, one of the elements I had most appreciated about previous books I had read by Randy Singer was his ability to take a particular social issue (for example responsibility for gun control) and put it in narrative that forces you to question your presuppositions on the topic. The Last Plea Bargain does this as well with the issue of the death penalty. This issue just jumped back into the public consciousness with Amnesty International’s release of their 2011 report on the global use of capital punishment with the USA at #5. Where do you stand on this issue? Why? The narrative of the Last Plea Bargain will take you into the issue and examine the logic and emotions on both sides of the debate.

To speak critically though, a few of the  turns in the plot seemed a little forced. While plausible they were just a bit of a stretch in my opinion. There is a skill an author has that keeps you guessing, unable to predict the end all along, yet once you get to the end you think back and say “ahh!! how did I not see that?” I didn’t feel like that was the case here. The turns came but not as tightly wound as I would have preferred.

In the end it is a wonderful book. I would gladly recommend it for someone looking for an enjoyable and exciting legal novel.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free evaluation copy of this book from Tyndale House. I did not receive any monetary payment nor was I required to write a positive review. I hope my comments about the book will help you evaluate whether or not the book is worth purchasing and reading.

Trailer: The Last Plea Bargain

One of the fun things I’ve been able to do as part of this blog is to review a number of interesting books. Soon I will be posting a full review of The Last Plea Bargain as part of a blog tour for Tyndale House. Next week I’ll be posting some excerpts of a Q&A with the author Randy Singer. Also, I will share some links to other bloggers’ reviews of this book.

Until then, here is the trailer for The Last Plea Bargain:

Interested? You can pick up the book at Amazon here: The Last Plea Bargain

Review: God’s Century

Last fall I read the book God’s Century. I really benefited from the book and felt the authors did a very good job of analyzing the role that religious actors can and do play in international affairs. They also provide a theoretical framework for helping to understand why a particular religious group in a particular setting acts the way that it does.

I wrote a review for e-International Relations and you can view it in full there: Review – God’s Century

Here is the conclusion to my review:

What will the next century look like? Will it be appropriate to label it “God’s Century?” We can’t know for sure but the trends appear to indicate that religion and religious actors will be significant in the shaping of the political landscape. Toft, Philpott, and Shah offer insight that governments would be wise to heed in their policies and actions. The final chapter is structured around their 10 Rules for Surviving God’s Century directed specifically at Western politicians and policy makers that is summarized in their conclusion:

“Only if policymakers in the United States and other Western societies come to understand that religion matters and how religion matters in global politics will they enjoy strategic success in engaging those contexts – including their own countries – where God’s political comeback will not soon be reversed.” (4716)

More than Neutral

Life over the last few weeks has been filled with lots of reading of articles on the issue of secularism, particularly in the Turkish context, but also in general. Now some people might find this rather dry. Sometimes it admittedly is, but overall I actually enjoy it. Which is good since I have plenty more reading and writing to do on the topic over the next few months.

Today I read an article that I found referenced on The Immanent Frame, which is a blog/site that is a collaboration of a number of individuals who are thinking on issues of secularism, which is really concerned with religion in public life.

This comes from an article by Craig Calhoun published in The Hedgehog Review and he makes a really important observation that secularism is not necessarily something neutral or an absence, merely what is left once you subtract religion. It adds something. Whether you consider it an ideology or a worldview or a constitionual approach or whatever you would like to label it.

So why does this matter? It matters because if it is simply an absence then there is not really anything to talk about. But if it is more than neutral then it is something that needs to be discussed and considered and understood. It is an issue and it is worth considering because it is prevalent in a number of areas, in western society I think we almost assume it and forget that it is there until we come into contact with someone who has not accepted it. This is where issues of controversy arise.

So the point of this post? Realize that your particular worldview, be it secular or otherwise, may not be the universal worldview, not everyone adopts the same approach. So it is necessary to ask some of the foundational questions to understand why the stances we may adopt towards issues vary so widely.