On page 303 of Albert Camus's windy, long-form essay on the nature of rebellion, the failures of religion, Nihilism and Marxism, he approaches the poiOn page 303 of Albert Camus's windy, long-form essay on the nature of rebellion, the failures of religion, Nihilism and Marxism, he approaches the point:
"Man can master in himself everything that should be mastered. He should rectify in creation everything that can be rectified. And after he has done so, children will still die unjustly even in a perfect society. Even by his greatest effort man can only propose to diminish arithmetically the sufferings of the world. But the injustice and the suffering of the world will remain and, no matter how limited they are, they will not cease to be an outrage. Dimitri Karamazov's cry of 'Why?' will continue to resound; art and rebellion will die only with the last man."
My gripe with this book has less to do with any specific disagreement with its content than an inability to justify why Camus needed three hundred pages to state the obvious. I'm aware the danger of this critique lurks in anachronism or an under appreciation for philosophy in general. For me, the mark of genius is not only the possession of knowledge, though that's a part of it. It's the ability to transmit that knowledge in a way that illuminates something about the universe––and to do it in a coherent, timely fashion (i.e. utility). I'll bet students working on an MA in philosophy might get some miles out of this. For the rest of us, try a Kindle Single.
As I waded section to section, it usually felt like I understood the basic point. How the sprawling asides fit together is anyone's guess; Camus has much love for the trees but very little for the forest. He will rarely if ever reiterate a point, or demonstrate how it in conjunction with a previous subject advances his thesis. This kind of obfuscation is typical of academic writing, a mutated subset of Standard English someone (I think it might have been David Foster Wallace, or if not, it should have been) called Academicese. You'll be hanging on to the bloated prose by your fingernails when all of the sudden you'll hit a sinkhole like:
"A revolutionary action which wishes to be coherent in terms of its origins should be embodied in an active consent to the relative. It would express fidelity to the human condition. Uncompromising as to its means, it would accept an approximation as far as its ends are concerned and, so that the approximation should become more and more accurately defined, it would allow absolute freedom of speech. Thus it would preserve the common existence that justifies its insurrection." -The Rebel 290
What, if anything, the above passage is meant to convey is, as before, anyone's guess. And if there is some enlightened soul out there who can offer a simple explanation, please do, but expect my ready reply: "Why didn't Camus say that?"
I have a soft spot for absurdism but a very limited understanding of Camus, which in spite of everything I hope to fix. In fairness, there are some very profound moments in this work, mostly when Al lets himself go a little and serves his philosophizing with a side of the transcendent. These occasional moments of illumination are almost worth the slog.
"The world is divine because the world is inconsequential. That is why art alone, by being equally inconsequential, is capable of grasping it. It is impossible to give a clear account of the world, but art can teach us to reproduce it––just as the world reproduces itself in the course of its eternal gyrations. The primordial sea indefatigably repeats the same words and casts up the same astonished beings on the same seashore. But at least he who consents to his own return and to the return of all things, who becomes and echo and an exalted echo, participates in the divinity of the world." -The Rebel 73
There's not much I can add to the general consensus about this book. It's a straightforward introductory text on the major tenants of Buddhism bundledThere's not much I can add to the general consensus about this book. It's a straightforward introductory text on the major tenants of Buddhism bundled together with highlights from a few important texts all Buddhist sects share in common. It's concise and effective, which is all that can be expected. No doubt there are rooms filled with detailed accounts of doctrinal disputes and the Religion (with a capital 'R') that sprung up around the figure of the Buddha. Rahula sidesteps these lesser schisms in favor of the major points––the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the doctrine of no-self, etc. I stumbled around for awhile looking for a book like this, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is trying to get an aerial view of a major world religion without coming down for a hundred pitstops. ...more
Offering a review of this religious text is going to be useless for three reasons.
Reason #1. I read the first half or so in August, forgot about it whOffering a review of this religious text is going to be useless for three reasons.
Reason #1. I read the first half or so in August, forgot about it while I drowned myself in other reading for six months, and then returned to the text right about when Krishna undergoes his theophanic transformation--you know, the part where Arjuna "saw in that universal form unlimited mouths, unlimited eyes, unlimited wondrous visions. The form was decorated with many celestial ornaments and bore many divine upraised weapons. He wore celestial garlands and garments, and many divine scents were smeared over His body. All was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, all-expanding."
If this is true, no way I'm going to fuck with this guy.
Reason #2. I'm not a Hindu, and at present I have no plans to convert.
Reason #3. There are really smart people who love/understand this epic tale in its historical, religious, and political context.
I ain't one of them.
So, with all that said, I'm glad I read it. Further study would be required to get more than a "Oh, this sounds like Buddhist tenant X!" or "This is trippy!" exclamations out of me. ...more
When reading the Bible, you're not engaging in an activity 'normal people' do with their 'normal books.' The Bible isn't normal. It's an enigma. It'sWhen reading the Bible, you're not engaging in an activity 'normal people' do with their 'normal books.' The Bible isn't normal. It's an enigma. It's something out of place in our time, out of context. Produced in a literary world unlike our own, it's not strictly history and not strictly fiction. The challenge of understanding which is which, or when and why it was written is pretty well insurmountable with the helping hand of modern archaeology, but a damned nightmare without it.
Archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman have put their heads together to provide the common man a survey of recent findings on the historicity of the Old Testament. What they have to offer is probably not a shock to scholars in the field, but it will be a fundamentalist nut shot. The picture of ancient Israel is different today than it was to us even a hundred years ago, and vastly different than the world the Bible portrays. Having dispensed with the fantastic legends of wandering wilderness hordes fleeing Egypt and lighting military campaigns through Canaan, the actual history of Israel unfolds very differently when looked at through the ruins.
Finkelstein and Silberman present firm challenges to more generally accepted popular notions. There is no evidence to suggest that a mass exodus of Hebrew slaves two million strong piled into Canaan one day (as it would have come as quite a surprise to the string of Egyptian army fortifications already in the country at the time). In fact, it seems now that what became Israel emerged naturally out of the existing population. Further on, if David ruled from Jerusalem, he did so from what amounted to little more than a hilltop village, later transformed in the minds of Judahite authors into the seat of a United Monarchy. And the monotheism it represented was more likely a later development around the time the Torah was being composed.
These and other iconoclastic revelations weave together 'Archaeology's new vision of ancient Israel and the origin of its sacred texts.' There still debate to be had on various topics, and those debates are happening, but in order to appreciate the biblical narrative, knowing its historical context––its real historical context––is invaluable.
The Bible Unearthed is not an overly challenging read. Written for an audience not already versed in biblical history or scholarship, it presents the biblical version of events and then attempts to address the level of accuracy––which differs throughout––with the help of archaeological findings. Finkelstein and Silberman draw on a wealth of sources from the ancient Near East, illuminating their theories with the best evidence available. The whole truth may never be known about any ancient civilization, but through science we can glimpse that world, and hopefully then come to a better understanding of it....more
When you look at the bedrock texts of civilization, there is one we continually come back to. It is the bible. No one can have a serious discussion abWhen you look at the bedrock texts of civilization, there is one we continually come back to. It is the bible. No one can have a serious discussion about ancient history without it making an appearance. The same goes for Monotheism or the Western world. Some people believe it was given by God, others by men who thought they spoke for God. It contains discussions and themes on almost every topic: origins, history, divinity, philosophy, eternity, and the meaning of life. For a book so read and analyzed, what continues to puzzle us even at this very hour is a staggering question: Who the hell wrote it?
Richard Friedman's popular treatment of biblical scholarship cracks open the lid on this mystery. Tradition tells us many things about the authorship of the bible, but few facts. They say Moses wrote the five books of the Torah. Joshua wrote Joshua. The list goes on. What we began to notice some three hundred years ago is that there was massive problems with these theories. Moses wrote the Torah, yet it includes his funeral. He calls himself "the humblest man on earth" and references places that did not exist in his day. Many books contain uses of speech like "to this day" which connote a large gap of time between the writing and the events it describes.
The years wore on. We began to wonder about other things. Why is it that the same stories appear twice, three, or even four times, sometimes back to back (Gen 1), and usually the stories aren't a perfect match? Occasionally it appears as if there are two stories being crammed together in the same narrative (ie: the flood). As our questions grew and fermented, so did our abilities in linguistics and archaeology. As the 1700s bled away into a new century, and another that followed, a theory grew that began answering many of these questions. The theory is the Documentary Hypothesis, reigning champion of historical-critical biblical scholarship.
This book is a beginner's guide to this area of research. I have had a passing acquaintance with it for awhile, but this book was very helpful in narrowing down they whys and wherefores behind the hypothesis. Essentially it has been determined through exhaustive research that there are at least four sources and one redactor that have produced the Torah and histories of the old testament. As for who they were, and why they wrote, you might find yourself surprised by where the evidence points. You'll find the stories of dueling kingdoms, rival priesthoods, and religious reforms that spurred the formation of the bible. Friedman opens up the world of ancient Israel, and provides the much needed context in order to extract the authors from the source.
Biblical literalists will no doubt get a nosebleed contending something like this, but for those of you who are interested in the history behind the world's unrivaled bestseller, take a look at the core modern theory of where it came from....more
Ever since reading Misquoting Jesus, I have been a fan of Bart Ehrman's. His books have the refreshing quality of being both informative and unpretentEver since reading Misquoting Jesus, I have been a fan of Bart Ehrman's. His books have the refreshing quality of being both informative and unpretentious. He doesn't bother with constructing academic or flowery prose, but is instead content to let simplicity carry the day. I believe his reward is a considerably larger audience than most authors in his field enjoy.
The thesis of this book is that the bible provides us with a number of views on suffering, and some of them are contradictory. You don't need to read much further than that before we run into a problem. What is the bible? As most reasonably aware people already know, the bible isn't a book. It's a collection of books, fables, poems, wisdom literature, apocalypses, borrowed myths, pseudepigrapha, historical and pseudo-historical narrative. To call the views within it 'contradictory' is only a point if your active assumption is that sixty-six books authored by different people––and sometimes a single book is the product of several sources––are all conspiring to make a cogent point about why we suffer. You might as well accuse your local newspaper being self-contradictory.
Even so, God's Problem is not so easily dismissed. More apparent than the so-called contradictions is the individual stupidity and absurdity of the different views. Take the Classical view, which is that people suffer as a result of their sins, and the righteous do not suffer, but rather are rewarded. What an insane and stupid concept. A man I work with has a son with leukemia. The child is three. I could bore you with the details, but to meet a child who is suffering from the effects of this alleged 'Intelligent Design' is enough to put this disgusting idea to rest.
My personal favorite part of the book was Ehrman's ballistic deconstruction of the book of Job. Job is a book I have long considered to be one of the most immoral and repugnant stories about suffering ever crafted by human hands, or as it happens, a couple pairs of human hands. One of the most basic techniques you learn about in the study of literature is dramatic irony. It is essentially what happens when a viewer knows more than the character does in a given scene. If you have just read that an axe murderer is hiding in a closet and that the protagonist is about to open the door for his coat, viola, dramatic irony.
The book of Job is only profound insofar that you forget the beginning and ignore the end. There once was a rich man who came upon a sudden tragedy. An evil supernatural force conspired to have his flocks and herds destroyed, his ten children murdered, and his body stricken with sores and boils. His friends come to console him and to reason with him as to the cause of his suffering. Perhaps he sinned? Perhaps he did it without knowing? Eventually God himself makes an appearance in what has to be one of the more underwhelming Deus ex machina scenes in history. According to God, the reason Job suffers is that God does not owe him a damn explanation for anything. He's God. You don't like it? You're SOL. Job says, "Oh yeah, you're right," and God rewards him by giving him ten new children, kind of like how you'd get your girlfriend a new puppy if the old one died.
What the deranged sadist of an author seemed to forget was that the audience had already been given the explanation for Job's suffering on page one. God, having nothing worthwhile to do, is approached by 'The Adversary' who places a friendly celestial wager. The only reason that Job loves God, he says, is that God gives him everything. Take that away, and he'd tell you to f&^k off. So the God character, who already foreknows the outcome of the wager, who can not be bettered one iota by winning it or deprived of anything by losing it, driven by psychotic disregard for the wellbeing of an innocent man, allows unspeakable misery and cruelty to fall on Job. The reader is perfectly aware of this throughout the entire narrative, making it both overlong and the ending a complete failure at every level.
If there is a highlight to biblical musings on suffering, it is Ecclesiastes, the most human, poetic, and beautiful book in the bible. I won't go into a soliloquy on it, but I will recommend that every literate person find a way to read it at least once.
I appreciated this book, which is a habit of mine when it comes to Ehrman's work. He brings the expertise of a scholar as well as an understanding of his audience and an unapologetic openness. There is no answer from Ehrman on why we suffer. Which is good, because there is no answer in the bible, either. There are plenty of hypotheses to go around, and maybe one day there will be a final reckoning, but the importance is what we do to stop it. With our science, our money, our time, our economy––what we humans do to better our world. As the saying goes...
"A single pair of hands at work is worth more than a million clasped in prayer."
I'm closing in on having read all the major atheist books in existence, I think. Out of all of them, this is the only one so far offering an inside loI'm closing in on having read all the major atheist books in existence, I think. Out of all of them, this is the only one so far offering an inside look at the evolutionary process of a fundamentalist evangelical Christian into a hardened atheist who eats children and celebrates Halloween twice a year. Deconversion stories all seem to share a common narrative arch––the most important aspect of which is a period of glaring ignorance and indoctrination followed by an awakening of the mind to other viewpoints and shortcomings of the believer's sacred text. Dan Barker narrates this very well. You know the story is honest because it lacks a climax, a rooftop shootout, a falling bridge, a last stand. The process of losing faith in faith is known to be a long one, or a journey of a thousand small steps. Barker's took him from fundamentalism to liberalism to atheism; from preacher to apostate.
Full disclosure: I skipped or skimmed some of the middle part of the book. I'm sorry, but there's just no way I can sit through the Kalaam Cosmological Argument again. Five hundred times is enough, and it's as flaccid and stupid as it was the first time I heard it. I also skipped the rants against biblical genocide. I've read the Old Testament. I know what's there.
Perhaps the strongest part of the book were the lists of biblical contradictions. The attempts to put together a coherent resurrection account was particularly concise and effective. Barker did a fine job demonstrating the evidence (or rather lack of it) for a historical Jesus, and painted a nice picture of the primary sources available from the time period. He wisely employed a number of apt metaphors to give a modern reader an understanding of the situation. Bart Ehrman outclasses him in his books, sure, but he's a professional historian. Barker's joining a pickup game well in progress, but he holds his own.
Ideally a number of sections could have been shortened. I don't bitch about overall length much when it comes to books. That's all relative anyway to what is needed. But 350 pages was a bit steep. He could have not listed every preacher he ever knew who was a closet atheist, or spend so many pages detailing his foundation's social efforts. I can't complain too much because I skimmed a lot of it, however for a book to get the holy grail of five stars, it needs to be aware of a reader––especially a religious one––who picked this up for a purpose other than finding out the modern history of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
All told, four stars. The deconversion story is a different species of the same genus, yet the overall effect is different than reading, say, Christopher Hitchens, who was born with a bottle of whisky in one hand and the other hoisting a finger at religion. ...more
Christians, here is what Dr. Ehrman will do for you. He'll pick you up at the airport on his own time and with his own car. He'll put your bags in theChristians, here is what Dr. Ehrman will do for you. He'll pick you up at the airport on his own time and with his own car. He'll put your bags in the trunk, engage you with small talk, and show you around town so you're comfortable. He knows what's going through your head, but once the surroundings are more familiar, maybe you'll loosen up. Then he'll explain why we have the Procedure. He knows it's scary, but by now you'll know that a lot of people have been through it. As you arrive at the facility with your nerves bubbling, he'll be the friendly voice in your head the whole way, always in tune with what you're feeling. Now it's time for the Procedure, and Dr. Ehrman knows that for some this is going to hurt. A lot.
But he'll start slow and keep it positive. Sure the gospels disagree on some stuff, but that's okay––they're by different authors with different views. Trying to mash them together into one supergospel steals away the message from the original and creates your own gospel completely different than what any one of the others has to say. Next you'll learn a harder truth to swallow: they're anonymous, and almost certainly not written by the people whose names have been plastered on the cover. As for the rest of the NT canon, forgeries and false attributions abound. The canon wasn't decided at one time by one group, but was the product of an extended campaign of debates and heresy hunts at the end of which the stronger faction controlled the draft, and often made their picks based upon theological positions. There were other books that on another day would have made it in and others that made it in which probably shouldn't have.
When the Procedure is over, Dr. Ehrman will walk you to the door and kiss you on the cheek. He'll remind you that he remained a devout Christian for a decade or so after his own Procedure before a completely separate issue led him to agnosticism. In fact, almost all reputable biblical scholars accept and are quite comfortable with the facts you've just been injected with. He'll remind you that the Procedure may have some side effects, but as you woozily make your way back to the airport, you'll begin to realize that knowing the facts is the only way to have an informed opinion about anything. And that's the only thing the Procedure was ever intended to do.
Jesus, Interrupted is the layman's guide to biblical scholarship taught at seminaries and historical institutes all throughout the Western world. As Ehrman frequently reminds us, nothing contained herein is particularly new or unknown by anyone who's bothered to look. Yet for some reason in the United States churchgoers are largely ignorant of the basic findings of the historical-critical method. This is a passionate and intensely readable remedy. The only real controversy to be found is in the book's subtitle, which like with Misquoting Jesus, were it not to have been placed on the cover half of Ehrman's critics would have vanished overnight.
What one does with the material is his or her own decision. Ehrman isn't a polemicist. He's a scholar whose sole purpose is to educate. Some will find the book's contents troubling, but if you can build a bridge across your river of tears and get over it, you'll be that much better off....more
In the wake of 9/11, atheists and freethinkers of all stripes finally had the springboard they needed to marshall the troops against religion. Sam HarIn the wake of 9/11, atheists and freethinkers of all stripes finally had the springboard they needed to marshall the troops against religion. Sam Harris was one of the earliest to enlist. His book The End of Faith posits what many already suspect: at the final reckoning it's going to be Islam or the West that survives, not both. With the steady increase of technology and weaponry, the likelihood that one fanatic could get his hands on a nuclear device and annihilate New York City in an instant is an increasingly sobering reality. Millions are in bondage to theocratic tyranny. In our own country science is under attack, legislation is crafted, and elections are secured on the basis of religious persuasion. A topic so pervasive should command strict attention and due diligence in our national conversation, yet for whatever reason a person's faith is seen as a private matter beyond dispute. Why, asks Harris? Indeed, why?
In addition to advocating the destruction of this taboo, Harris presents his readers with the enigma of faith itself. Why, to borrow from a famous book, is faith included in the company of hope and love? Why is the belief in something without evidence, pretending to know something you don't, to be certain of something you aren't, considered a moral virtue? It's obvious to anyone who gives the subject a moment's thought that by the weak standard of sola fide one could literally believe anything at all. Harris likes to use a clever argument in debates. Imagine with me that a friend were to approach you and claim that he knows he's destined to marry Angelina Jolie. Not only that, he has nothing to offer but his own faith in this proposition. Not overwhelming, is it? But it brings him comfort––and further, he wouldn't want to live in a world where he wasn't destined to marry one the richest, most beautiful women on the planet. How would you treat this claim? Would you respect it? Are we also to respect the pseudo history of the Mormon church, creation 'science,' and honor killings to cover a Muslim male's shame?
This work as a whole is a much stronger effort than his subsequent tract, Letter to a Christian Nation, which suffered from an audience-related strategic blunder. Sam makes a few mistakes here, to be sure. He once again conflates atheism with rationality in the same breath that he denies it as a worldview. Atheism can be arrived at by a number of means, rational or irrational, so to shrug off the horrors of the 20th century as religious backwash is underhanded and petty. He also has a hardon for Buddhism, which is fine, but in the waning pages he begins to adopt terms like 'mysticism' and 'spirituality' in a scientific sense. Bathing a pig still gives you hogwash, and the transcendent conversation he has with himself smacks entirely too much of woo for my tastes.
I liked the central themes here. Sam could have whittled this down a bit, but even after seeing him speak and debate a half a dozen times, this book was fresh and intellectually stimulating. Four stars. ...more
Because I'm a born again skeptic, I do my best to avoid the obligatory respectful concessions towards mystical texts,(My translation by R.B. Blakney)
Because I'm a born again skeptic, I do my best to avoid the obligatory respectful concessions towards mystical texts, especially ones that celebrate the 'wisdom of ancient China' on the cover. I arch an eyebrow at the thought that ancient peoples were in any way privy to profound revelations that have somehow escaped us modern folk, what with our freaky science and all. We do stand both technologically and philosophically on the shoulders of giants, but we must be so careful not to overdo it when trading in tenth-hand manuscripts from the demon haunted world.
The Tao Te Ching is a wonderful collection of ancient poetry, dealing with all manner of subjects from good government to personal happiness. The Way of Life or the Wise Man is one largely based around self denial and the loss of desire, concepts that find little practice in the West. The simplicity is charming, often profound, and its understandable why so many people would resonate with it.
As for myself, it depends which part we're talking about.
The world may be known Without leaving the house; The Way may be seen Apart from the windows. The further you go, The less you will know.
Passages like these demonstrate some of the deepest truths about human existence, but of course there's no accounting for bronze-age tyranny.
The ancients who were skilled in the Way Did not enlighten the people by their rule But had them ever held in ignorance: The more the folk know what is going on The harder it becomes to govern them.
Reveling in something like that is an embrace of evil as profound as anything else you'll read. Still, the one or two exceptions doesn't rule out a collection which may have been written by several hands. I was stirred by many pieces and would not hesitate in recommending this particular mystic text....more