Review by Karl Verhoven
After her successful, down to Earth introduction to philosophy in comics form, where should Margreet de Heer head next? Well, she is a theology graduate and both parents were ministers, but even so religion is a troublesome subject, with the potential to offend some people no matter how delicately handled. After an introduction giving life to those fears and explaining her own religious background, de Heer dives in with the neat parable seen in the sample art concerning the three major Western faiths.
De Heer attempts to ensure her books are all-encompassing, so Religion not only supplies the history and essential roots of all religious belief, but is packed with facts of interest to anyone with an open mind. Look up how many Jews there are in the world, for a starter. As the earliest of world’s five major religions, Judaism is the first to be explored, after which a chapter is taken to explain the other four (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam). This is handled as concisely as possible, with de Heer constantly surprising with the way in which she compresses vast subjects into one easily understood illustration or page. She explains why millions of people around the world accept the core beliefs of their faith, although de Heer’s view would be these ought to be open to challenge, just like everything else in life.
For fundamentalists of any stripe there’ll be a core contradiction to de Heer’s book. It takes a sardonic, jokey approach, pointing out some ridiculous literalisms and hypocrisies, and to some that will be irreverent at the very least, yet young people are far more likely to connect with her methods than any amount of forced learning. That’s a fundamentally good thing. Other calling out of fundamentalist interpretation is honest, and in one case brave, and nor is there any shying away of mistakes made in the name of religion, with a critical chorus appearing throughout to comment on the failings of others.
Religion closes with a look at how traditional values clash with the modern world, starting with the attitudes of the five major religions to women, assessed via categories of doctrine, history and modern practice. There are surprises, for all non-Muslims, Mohammed’s enlightened views about women being one. Some might consider de Heer generous in her scoring, but she closes with “at it’s core every religion preaches equality of man and woman as well as respect, understanding and love for each other”. If only such tolerance was accepted by all adherents. Unlike a dispassionate chronicle, de Heer’s personal interjections, sprinkled throughout, offer the informed comment of someone who’s taken the time to consider and formulate their beliefs, which isn’t the case for most of us, even if we profess to follow a religion. Her own conclusion, perhaps summed up by “Life is for enjoying, not for regret and obsessions”, is that we all have self-awareness, and aren’t bound by the narrow religious restrictions of organisations. Tolerance is all, and it’s possible to sift the wisdom from strictures that no longer apply if we keep asking questions.
While personal honesty and revelation is common to all de Heer’s projects, it’s most relevant to religion, and she’s a fantastic guide. Would it be heresy to suggest that instead of just learning about the religion most associated with their state, every twelve year old able to read is given Religion – a Discovery in Comics?