ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?”

Religion 531 cover art

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

You Are Much More Powerful Than You Think You Are—And, Unfortunately, Are Totally Responsible For What Happens In Your Life.

You are NOT a physical being with a Spiritual nature. You are a Spiritual being that happens to be in a physical body at the moment. It is almost certain you have lived many physical lives. Your mission (and everyone else’s) is to return to God as an eternal companion to him. You do this by learning what brings you closer to God and what moves you farther away. In this book, you will learn:

  • God judges no one—You are your own moral agent—You will reap everything you sow
  • Whether you are religious or not, you are on your ‘correct’ path, for all paths lead to God
  • In 325 CE, a schism split ‘Christianity’ into those who believed in the ‘Mystical’ Jesus and those who believed in the ‘Mythical’ Jesus—the ‘Mythical’ believers won
  • Long lost, and recently rediscovered, writings indicate the ‘Mystical’ Jesus is a better choice
  • The ‘Mystical’ Jesus taught reincarnation, Karma, The Law of Return and other long-suppressed truths
  • Jesus did not start the Christian religion you practice

REVIEW:

Many books on religion are a minefield of biases, whether the author is conscious or unconscious of that fact. Refreshingly, Josephus the Scribe is extremely up-front about his goals from the very beginning of Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It? (I’ll shorten the title to Religion 531 from here on in this review). I always read introductions, without fail, because they are critical to my trust and faith in a book’s content, in that I can’t quite relax into a book until I know I grasp the author’s intent and baseline character. In his introduction, Josephus lays out his relationship to the facts (discoverer, not proprietor) and the analyses within the book. He both acknowledges his credentials and admits that credentials do very little to persuade those who disagree with the facts as written. So, by the time he gets around to saying:

Forty years of work experience, particularly those with the federal government, coupled with an extensive informal study of many religions, reinforced what I learned in college and illustrated repeatedly how ‘good intentions’ get derailed by bureaucracy and dissent.

… I believe him. I believe that he is not setting out to (as I’ve heard often during my childhood about those outside of Christianity) “undermine the Church.” (Capitalized to represent the entirety of orthodox believers, according to whatever the speaker took to be orthodox.) Even on my first read-through of his introduction, I understood that Josephus’ goal was to lay out the commonalities and shared beliefs between groups that have been divided from each other in public debate for eons, and to provide perhaps some talking points for those wishing to build bridges between various faith-based groups. In fact, later in his “About This Book” section, Josephus writes that “You do not have to deny your faith (whatever it is) to learn from this book. […] This book attempts to identify some of the common threads that are woven through all.”

In my mind, that’s an admirable goal.

As a reviewer’s job, my question is to ask if he achieved that goal so that you can feel equally as confident as I do in reading that introduction.

Let’s talk about the book in terms of clarity first. I appreciated Josephus’ warning (in “How to Read This Book”) that “The concepts in this book are difficult to follow. They are also difficult to explain.” A part of me, the sassy teenage daughter part, wants to roll my eyes (just a little bit) at his need to defend the book’s existence as-is, but mostly I’m grateful for the warning. He might as well have posted a big warning sign: IT GETS COMPLICATED. Which, well, that fits with the way life is working out, doesn’t it? “It is also likely that you will need to go back to previous pages of the book to understand fully concepts that you are reading in later pages,” Josephus writes: “This is expected, as absorbing a new way of thinking is tough.”

What is this new way of thinking? It’s not “scholarly,” as the author points out, but it is primary-text-driven. As he also notes that he’s primarily anticipating that his readers will mostly be Christians (presumably, protestant ones), it’s also not an attempt to “validate or refute” existing understandings. Josephus is clearly attempting to slow down the tendency to leap for an Apologetics-driven reading when his stated goal is to simply get people thinking and to a place of connection.

In some ways, the book’s structure is a hybrid between something like a traditional devotional book and a philosophy textbook for those looking for something more digestible than Plato or Kant. Each chapter is short, between roughly 5 and 15 pages long, excepting only the chapter on “What Does This All Mean?” which is broken out in 1 to 2-page bite-sized chunks. The opening Table of Contents and the closing Index are your friends, since some chapters are indeed worth revisiting as Josephus’ thoughts circle back later on. (I suggest sticking a post-it note there to make them easy to find. I don’t dog-ear books, but if you’re okay with me gasping in horror, go ahead and you do you! JOKING.) The book is fantastically easy to navigate.

Religion 531 is extremely accessible when it comes to voice as well as structure. Sentences are short and to the point, as well as what my writer friends like to call “voicy.” That is, there’s a lot of personality on the page, with humor and emphasis writ large on the page using punctuation, asides, and metaphors. Not all of the paragraphs are short, but they are all way shorter than you will find in typical textbooks and philosophy books. (Thank you, Josephus!) I love a good and to-the-point paragraph. The only stylistic choice that gives me pause is Josephus’ regular use of quotation marks (“”) to set apart words or expressions tied to common religious principles or beliefs. It can make him come off as skeptical, even though it would overall appear that he is nothing of the sort.

I reserve the right not to step into the minefield of attempting to review this book on the merit of its religious or religion-adjacent points. As a child of Christian missionaries, I know exactly how fraught that can be, no matter who I’m’ in conversation with. I am growing increasingly immune to taking offense when someone disagrees with me on arguments (I’m not naturally good at it) pertaining to the Deep Things (my umbrella term for faith, mental health, relationships, human nature, natural history, and science)–but in large part I can thank my brother-in-law’s family for making it clear to me that many people in this world just naturally love debate, love pushing thought to the outer edge of the envelope, and arguing over topics without taking them personally. I think Josephus would love having dinner with that side of the family. (You’re welcome to sub in for me at the next reunion, Josephus!)

If you’re more like me and prone to care very deeply about these things and feel utterly wrecked when the ground shifts underfoot, I still think it’s worth going on the adventure (or roller-coaster ride, depending) that is Religion 531. You just might want to take it slow and remember, always, that Josephus’ goal is to expand both your mental and emotional vocabulary for thinking about and connecting over items of faith. That’s an admirable goal, but he leaves the success in your hands!

That’s pretty brave, I think.

IN SUMMARY:

Josephus the Scribe tackles the core tenets of world religions, with an emphasis on modern protestant Christianity, in an attempt to broaden readers’ understandings and possibilities for connection over matters of faith in an easy-to-read, voicy book that isn’t afraid to ask big questions.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?  wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Josephus the Scribe’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’ll be wrapping up A Sense of Urgency for my next review! It has been a process working through these two books side-by-side, but a very enriching one. Watch this space!

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

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