Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: The Story of Our Time by Robert Atkinson

While each spiritual and religious tradition includes detailed beliefs and practices that promote the spiritual life, it is only in the mystical branches of those traditions that a deeper path to oneness is laid out. The mystic path is meant to lead us to union with the source of our being. Teasdale implies that we don't have to be part of any one [of] those traditions to have this same deep desire, or urge. It is an all-human trait, or characteristic, to want to seek union with the deepest part of who we are that comes from and connects us to our Creator, or to all of creation. - Robert Atkinson, The Story of Our Time

My denomination's website used to feature a discussion forum where people could log on and engage in conversation with each other about different topics. Some of these were topical, whether of current events or some faith-related issue, while others were more light-hearted in nature where people could swap snippets of their lives and get to know each other.

For a time, the theological conversations tended to be the most heated. It would bring together a variety of people whose views spanned the spectrum, and as many internet-based interactions go, civility and understanding was not always in abundance. In those days I was much more on the conservative side of things and regularly got mixed up with one or two people who were far more progressive.

I recall one person in particular who tended to go on long flourishing diatribes regarding the movement of all humanity toward wholeness of existence and understanding. Maybe if I could somehow recover those postings I'd appreciate them more now, but at the time they seemed so overloaded with nice mystical-sounding phrases that sounded impressive and nice and might have meant something to the person writing them but just read like hyper-spiritual nonsense.

Those words about unity and wholeness might have meant something, but they were so weighted down by jargon that they didn't translate.

The first thing that a spirituality book--a good, engaging one--needs to do is discern between what will translate to readers and what will just sound like hyper-spiritual nonsense.

The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness by Robert Atkinson seems to have too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

It starts out well enough, with observations about how much we don't realize who interconnected we really are. We're more comfortable with dualities, he says; we're used to them because we're told to think in those terms by so many people and entities and media outlets. But once we change such thinking, he observes, "we will want to see [this oneness and wholeness] everywhere" (p. 11). To Atkinson's credit, his premise is clear: how much more could humanity benefit from realizing how much those of different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs have in common.

It's when he expounds on his point that he weighs his arguments down by the same issues that beset many spirituality books and that put me off to those internet conversations. When taken in small doses, The Story of Our Time makes its points decently, but more than a few pages will yield a certain amount of repetition and, for me anyway, fatigue.

Atkinson moves from our giving into duality to appealing to a combination of reason and seeking the commonality among religious belief systems to work toward greater purpose and shared goals. He appeals to a variety of traditions to accomplish this, including Ba'Hai and Native spirituality, as well as a discussion of Darwinian theory and appeal to human instinct and behavior.

When taken slow, a reader should be able to understand each of these concepts. But if their experience is anything like mine, their eyes might glaze over after a chapter or so.

Maybe I've read too many spirituality books and I'm judging this one unfairly. Atkinson's aims are admirable and clear. At times it gets tripped up by the execution. But curious readers are free to judge for themselves.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)