Living with the Gods, by Neil MacGregor

Second paragraph of third chapter (and the quote it introduces):

There is great significance in having water at the entrance to this cathedral [Salisbury], for in Christian theology the water of baptism serves as the door through which every Christian enters not just the faith but the whole Christian community, past, present and future. For the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, the baptismal waters are the very ‘water of life’ itself:

“They purify us. It’s about the journey to the Promised Land, passing through the waters of the Red Sea. We come out the other side of the font, as it were, and into the nave of the cathedral, where the community gathers to celebrate the Eucharist. We’re called individually, but we gather together. And this is about the whole church, not just this cathedral. Becoming a Christian, you are baptised into the worldwide church so that, belonging here, you belong in all times and all places.”

A lovely book, based on a BBC Radio series of the same name, lavishly illustrated (as the radio cannot be) with photographs of art and architecture, and enriched by quotes from commentators who know what they are talking about. Some people like to simply dismiss religion as at best a distraction and at worst a force for conflict and division; MacGregor doesn’t shy away from that side of things, but he goes deep into what religious people are actually doing – symbolism, practice, history, politics. He draws some very interesting parallels between religions separated by continents and centuries.

I found it a very healthy perspective on what is and isn’t unique to each of the main strands of world belief. It’s also a surprisingly light read, despite its length and weight, perhaps because of its origin as radio scripts. Recommended. You can get it here.

This was top of my pile of books acquired in 2018. Next there is The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton.