I finished reading David Copperfield on the Kindle a few days ago.
I’m not an English major, and so I’m not going to pretend to be one. I’m not going tI finished reading David Copperfield on the Kindle a few days ago.
I’m not an English major, and so I’m not going to pretend to be one. I’m not going to discuss what themes the book touches on, what category it fits in, or generally dissect it to the point where it’s more monotonous than fun.
I read the book because I wanted to, not because I had to write a paper about it.
I must say, first of all, that this has got to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. The vivid descriptions of the characters were just fun to read. One particularly meek man was described like this: “He was so extremely conciliatory in his manner that he seemed to apologize to the very newspaper for taking the liberty of reading it.”
Some of the scenes in the novel are amazingly vivid and memorable. The hilarious and tense scene towards the end where one of the main villains is taken down was one, and of course just about every scene involving David’s aunt is too.
Dickens is a master of suspense. He does it through subtle premonitions in the book. You might not even really notice them as you’re reading. But it sure had an effect on me: I had trouble putting the book down, and stayed up later than I should have on more than one night to keep reading another chapter or three.
Like any good book, this one left me to think even after I was done reading it, and left me wanting to read it again. Right now.
There are some practical downsides to it, though. It was written in the 1850s, and some of the vocabulary and British legal, business, and monetary discussions are strange to a modern casual American audience. Nevertheless, with the exception of the particularly verbose Mr. Micawber, you can probably make it through without a dictionary, though one will be handy. I read it on the Kindle, which integrates a dictionary and makes it very easy to look up words. I learned that a nosegay is a bouquet of showy flowers. And that Mr. Micawber was fond of using words obsolete since the 17th century, according to the Kindle. If you remember that “pecuniary emoluments” refers to a salary, you’ll be doing OK.
The other thing that occasionally bugged me was that the narrator (David) would comment on some sort of gesture, or comment that wasn’t very direct, and then say something like, “But she didn’t need to be more explicit, because I understood the meaning perfectly.” Well, sometimes I didn’t. Though I usually figured it out after a bit. I was never quite sure if Dickens was being intentionally needling to the reader, or if an 1850s British reader would have figured out the meaning perfectly well. But that was part of the fun of it, I think.
This was, for the most part, a witty and hilarious light read. I haven't read anything as funny for some time. It was full of stereotypes of the BritiThis was, for the most part, a witty and hilarious light read. I haven't read anything as funny for some time. It was full of stereotypes of the British, the Germans, the Americans, the French, and anybody else they could think of, but it was all in good fun.
The last two chapters were more serious, and oddly prescient given that World War I broke out little more than a decade after it was written....more
There are a lot of issues raised by this short work, and it's hard to write a summary of it.
One theme is the notion of questioning our beliefs, whatevThere are a lot of issues raised by this short work, and it's hard to write a summary of it.
One theme is the notion of questioning our beliefs, whatever they may pertain to: civil society, democracy, government, patriotism, family, religion, ethics, even death.
Socrates, through his questioning, often seems to burst the bubble of long-held beliefs in the people he talks with. He seems to be inviting us to ask of ourselves: "Am I really sure about that? On what grounds?" He also would approve of us relentlessly asking that of others. Let's understand why we believe something, not just believe it blindly. His contemporaries appeal to religion frequently, but appear to rarely question WHY they appeal to religion or if their understanding of religion is correct.
As with Plato's Euthyphro, this seems to speak well to contemporary life. We have a lot of debates today where people on all sides fail to step back and question themselves, fail to seriously consider the arguments of others, and display merely an unshakable self-confidence in their own beliefs that frankly I can't understand.
Another thing that rings through to today is that Aristotle thought he was doing people (or, at the very least, society) a favor by pointing out flaws in people's thinking. Those people's egos were wounded, and lashed out in anger. A lot of people today are incredibly defensive if fundamental assumptions are questioned.
Socrates also claimed that he was the wisest man alive because he knew that he had no knowledge of any significance, while everyone around him thought themselves well-versed in some topic or another.
Ironically, Socrates displayed remarkable confidence in the Oracle's response, and in his philosophy of death; neither of which are entirely clear-cut questions.
If I think back to fond memories of being with my dad during my childhood, there’s one thing that always comes back first. It’s those late summer evenIf I think back to fond memories of being with my dad during my childhood, there’s one thing that always comes back first. It’s those late summer evenings outside. Dad often had outdoor projects going on of some sort. I’d go out there hanging around, maybe chatting, maybe playing with cats, or maybe doing something of my own.
Dad often had an old AM radio sitting around and would be listening to a baseball game while working. As it got darker, lights would come on, and the bugs would start flying near them. Sometimes dad would be working just inside the barn, and the bugs would start flying in there, while some light poured out the big front door. There’s something about that scratchy AM signal, the evening slowly getting darker, the slow pace of the baseball game, and just being around dad and a peripheral part of whatever he was doing that stirs a wonderfully fond recollection in me.
I don’t remember the specifics of any one of those times, nor do I really remember how often it happened, but it does stick with me.
We’ve had a routine in our house, starting early enough that neither of our boys know anything different, where right before bed, I read a book and sing a song to each of them individually.
Last November, I was looking for some books to challenge Jacob a little more than what we had been reading. I found The Complete Winnie the Pooh used for $4 on Amazon. This contains the original A. A. Milne stories, not the Disney series. It had a few line drawings, but there were many pages without any. It’s 352 pages and written in a rather dated form of British English. So for all these reasons, I wasn’t sure if Jacob would like it. But it was $4 so I bought it.
And Jacob was hooked. Each evening, we start bedtime with looking at the “map” of the 100-acre forest, just inside the cover. He gets to pick out 4 things for me to describe, and then we turn to our story. We usually read somewhere between 2 and 5 pages at bedtime, depending on how well he got ready without wasting time. And then we sing.
A. A. Milne has his Pooh character make up songs throughout the book. They are printed with words only, no tune, so I make up a tune for them as we go. Jacob has taken to requesting these songs for his bedtime song as well.
Jacob always gets to choose his bedtime story, and sometimes he chooses a different one — but about 75% of the time, it’s been Pooh.
A few weeks ago, he started noticing that we were almost to the end. He got very concerned, asking what we’d do next. I suggested a different book, which he didn’t like. Then I pointed out that we could restart the Pooh stories from the beginning, which was exciting for him.
Last night, we finished the book. The very last story was an interesting one, suggesting Christopher Robin growing up and no longer having imaginary adventures with the animals, but making Pooh promise to always be there for him. I don’t think Jacob caught onto that meaning, though. When we finished it, we had this conversation:
Jacob: “Dad, is that the end?”
Jacob, getting a big smile: “Yay! So can we start back at the beginning tomorrow?”
Jacob then gave a clap, shouted “Yay!” again, and was a very happy boy.
Sometimes I wonder what our boys will remember in 25 years of their fun times with me. I don’t know if Jacob will remember all the days reading about the animals in the 100-acre wood when he was 4, or maybe he’ll remember watching train and combine videos, or playing radio hide-and-seek, or maybe something entirely different.
But I have no doubt that I will remember sitting on the couch in his room, holding him on my lap, and reading a 350-page book to a loving 4-year-old. As Pooh aptly put it, “Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
Uncubicled starts out with one of the best beginnings of any book I've read. It's hilarious, totally predictable in places, and completely UNpredictabUncubicled starts out with one of the best beginnings of any book I've read. It's hilarious, totally predictable in places, and completely UNpredictable in others, and the mystery starts from the very beginning.
The book is thoroughly gripping, and usually hard to put down. Plot twists and turns abound, and a fair number of jarring revelations occur. There is humor, too, especially in the first third of the book.
The book has a nonlinear timeline. At times, this is made somewhat explicit: "Monday 5PM" might occur earlier in the book than "Monday 2:13PM". At times, it is less explicit. It's an interesting device, but overused. I found myself almost wanting to take notes sometimes: I'd pick up the book, see a chapter number and a random time staring at me, and have to flip back to prior chapters to compare timestamps to see where this fit in to the chronology.
As the book progresses, these jumps in place and time are often used to introduce the backstory of a character. At first, that was interesting and sometimes even heightened the suspense. But by the time we shifted from a gripping scene to suddenly a farm in Indiana some hours earlier, it has passed from interesting, through annoying, all the way to downright frustrating. I usually took my cue to stop reading Uncubicled at those points, instead of staying up later into the night to find out what happens as I would have otherwise. It was too annoying to be ripped out of an engaging plot for awhile, frustrating at having to keep the chronology straight in my mind. Though I can't deny it was an effective and interesting device at times, it was just overused.
I found the ending a real letdown. I'm not one of those people that tends to enjoy a book where you think everything has been resolved, and then on the last page or two suddenly realize that it hasn't. I would have been happier if it ended before the epilogue. As it is, I feel like I'm being suckered into reading the sequel. Which I will probably do anyway, though with less enthusiasm than if I hadn't been suckered into it. And I say that even though a sequel doesn't exist yet. It feels THAT strongly.
In all, it feels like one of the recent James Bond movies: so action-packed, time- and place-shifting, that it holds your attention, but never lets you really figure out what the story even is until later. I'm not sure I really like that.
But, I've got to say this: the author strikes me as a really interesting guy. Josh has some novel ways of promoting the book and making his entrance into the world of publishing. I hope he continues writing, continues working in unconventional ways. Although I'm not giving this an entirely glowing review, I think it *is* a promising first novel for Josh. I hope he keeps at it, and I look forward to reading his future work.
As to the rating: at the beginning of the book, I thought I'd be giving it 5 stars. By the time I got to the end, it was a debate between three or four.
One other comment: the Kindle version had somewhat odd formatting. There was no indication of a new paragraph: no indentation, no line breaks. It made it hard to read at first, though I adjusted by the end. Still, that ought to be fixed.
Highly recommended to anyone. I'm glad I read it. ...more
I started to write this review last night, and went looking for Wil Wheaton's blog, where many of the stories came from, so I can link to it from my rI started to write this review last night, and went looking for Wil Wheaton's blog, where many of the stories came from, so I can link to it from my review.
It was getting late, I was tired, and so I was a bit disoriented for a few seconds when I saw my own words flash up on the screen. At the time, his most recent story had excerpted my review of paper books. Wow, I thought. This never happens when I'm about to review Dickens. And actually, it's never happened before, ever. I'll admit to owning a big grin when I saw that one of my favorite authors liked one of my blog posts.
And Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite authors for sure. I enjoy reading others too, of course, but Wil's writing is something I can really identify with like no other. My parents were never in a London debtor's prison like Dickens' were; I was never a promising medical student like A. C. Doyle. But I was, and am, a geek, and Wil Wheaton captures that more perfectly than anyone. After I read Just a Geek a few years ago, I gave it to my wife to read, claiming it would help her understand me better. I think it did.
In The Happiest Days of Our Lives, Wil recounts memories of his childhood, and of more recent days. He talks of flashbacks to his elementary school days, when he and his classmates tried to have the coolest Star Wars action figures (for me: calculator watches). Or how his aunt introduced him to D&D, which reminded me of how my uncle got me interested in computers. Teaching himself D&D was an escape for the geeky kid that wasn't good at sports, as teaching myself Pascal and C was for me. Between us, the names and activities are different, but the story is the same.
I particularly appreciated Wil's reflections on his teenage years. Like him, at that age, I often found myself as the youngest person in a room full of adults. Yet I was still a teenager, and like any teenager, did some things that I look back on with some embarrassment now. Wil was completely honest with himself -- he admitted crashing a golf cart on the Paramount studio lot, for instance, but also reminds me that he was a teenager then. He recognizes that he didn't always make the best choices and wasn't always successful with what he did, but isn't ashamed of himself either. That's helpful for me to remember; I shouldn't be unreasonably harsh on my 16-year-old self, and need to remember that I had to be a teenager too.
I also identify with him as a dad. He wrote of counting the days until he could teach his boys about D&D, about passing on being a geek to his sons. I've had a similar excitement about being able to help Jacob build his first computer. Already Jacob, who is 3, loves using the manual typewriter I cleaned up for him, and spent an hour using the adding machine I dug out on Sunday while I was watching the boys. (I regret that I didn't have time to take it apart and show him how it worked right then when he asked). And perhaps his 2nd-favorite present of Christmas was the $3.50 large-button calculator with solar cell power I got him as an impulse buy at the pharmacy the other day. He is particularly enamored with the square root button because a single press replaces all the numbers on the screen with completely different numbers!
I can't find the exact passage now, but Wil wrote at one point about his transition from a career in acting to a career in writing. He said that he likes the feeling he gets when his writing can touch people. He's been able to redefine himself not as a guy that "used to be an actor on Star Trek" but a person that is a good author, now. I agree, and think his best work has been done with a keyboard instead of a camera.
And that leaves me wondering where my career will take me. Yes, I'm an author, but of technical books. Authors of technical books rarely touch people's hearts. There's a reason we read Shakespeare and Dickens in literature classes, but no high school English teacher has ever assigned Newton's Opticks, despite its incredible importance to the world. Newton revolutionized science, mathematics, and philosophy, but Opticks doesn't speak to the modern heart like Romeo and Jiuliet still does. Generations of people have learned more about the world from Shakespeare than from Newton.
I don't have Wil's gift for writing such touching stories. I've only been able to even approach that sort of thing once or twice, and it certainly won't make a career for me.
Like Wil, I'm rarely the youngest person in the room anymore. His days of being a famous teenage actor on a scifi series are long gone, as are mine of single-handedly defeating entire teams at jr. high programming contests. (OK, that's a stretch, but at the time it sure felt exciting.) But unlike him, I'm not completely content with my niche yet. I blog about being a geek in rural Kansas, where there still aren't many. I'm a dad, with an incredible family. And I write about programming, volunteer for Debian and a few other causes, and have a surprisingly satisfying job working for a company that builds lawn mowers. And yet, I have this unshakable feeling of unsettledness. That I need to stop and think more about what I really want to do with my life, perhaps cultivate some talents I don't yet have, or perhaps find a way to make my current path more meaningful.
So I will take Wil's book as a challenge, to all those that were once sure of what their lives would look like, and are less sure with each passing year: take a chance, and make it yours.
And on that score, perhaps I've done more than I had realized at first. Terah and I took a big chance moving to Kansas, and another one when we bought my grandparents' run-down house to fix up and live in. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to pause every few years and ask the question: "Do I still like the direction I'm heading? Can I change it?"
Wil Wheaton gives me lots to think about, in the form of easy-to-read reflections on his own life. I heartily recommend both Just a Geek and The Happiest Days of Our Lives.
(And that has nothing to do with the fact that the Ubuntu machine he used to write the book probably had installed on it a few pieces of code that I wrote, I promise you.)
Most of the book deals with things we already know yet never learn.
-- Huston Smith
This is perhaps one of the most enlightening books I've ever read, and yet I feel like I've only grasped a small bit of its meaning. It is with that warning that I attempt this review.
I should add at the outset that this is one of those books where no matter what you expect it to be, after reading it, you will find that it wasn't what you expected.
I heartily recommend it to everyone, from the devoutly religious to the devoutly atheistic.
Science and Scientism
Smith begins with a discussion of science and scientism. He is a forceful defender of science and of the work of scientists in general. But he is careful to separate science from scientism. Paraphrased, he defines scientism as the belief that science is the only (or the best) route to truth about everything. He points out that, through no explicit fault of scientists, scientism has become so ingrained in our modern psyche that even theologians have started thinking in terms of it.
Yet there are some pretty glaring flaws in scientism, particularly where it comes to matters of philosophy, conscience, meaning, and religion. Smith argues that the foundation of science is the controlled experiment and logical inferences derived from it. He then proceeds to make strong case that it is not possible for humans to set up a controlled experiment to either prove or disprove the existence of something "more" than our material world -- a transcendence, a metaphysical reality, a spirit, a God. We, with our existence trapped in this finite world, cannot possibly hope to capture and control something so much more than us in every way: intelligence, versatility, and "finiteness". Thus science can't even address the question.
That hasn't stopped people from claiming that religion is just a helpful delusion, for instance, despite not being able to prove whether it is in fact a delusion or reality.
Smith then asks us to indulge a moment in considering two different worldviews: one the "science-only" worldview so common these days, and the other a more traditional religious worldview with a rightful place for science. He defers supporting evidence for each for later chapters.
The science-only worldview is pretty familiar to many, and I have even heard parts of it articulated in comments left on this blog. It goes roughly like this: The universe is x billions of years old. It is, so far as we presently know, a vast expanse with mostly dead matter. Earth is the only exception, which contains some living organisms and even sentient beings, though these make up a small fraction of even the earth. This life arrived by accident through physical and biological processes, some of which are well-understood and some aren't. In the end, the universe will again become entirely dead, as our planet will be incinerated when our sun goes nova. Or, in any case, the entire universe will eventually expire in one of various ways. This worldview suggests that it is an accident that we are here and that we have consciousness, and that our actions have no ultimate meaning because the earth will eventually be incinerated anyhow.
The traditional worldview holds the opposite: that instead of having our origins in the tiniest and simplest of building blocks, and eventually improving over time, we should more properly think of ourselves as being derived from something greater than ourselves. That greater something is part of our world, but something much bigger than it too. It does not rule out science, but neither is it something that science can ever explain. It suggests that our lives have a purpose, that our work has meaning, and that there are ultimate ends to seek.
Smith is a scholar of world religions, and draws on his considerable experience to point out that virtually all world religions, before the Enlightenment, drew essentially the same picture of our world and the "more". He reminds us -- though perhaps less effectively than Marcus Borg -- that there are other ways of knowing truth besides science, and suggests that we pay attention to what the vast majority of humanity had to say about the nature of existence before a human invention started to squelch the story.
The book is filled with personal stories (Smith spent at least a decade each researching and practicing at least four different religions), quotes, and insights. I consider it the most enlightening book on religion I have yet read. Smith has more than a passing familiarity with physics, and the physicists in the crowd will probably be delighted at his discussions of quantum mechanics and the claim that "nonlocality provides us with the first level platform since modern science arose on which scientists and theologians can continue their discussions."
One passage reads like this:
Again I will let Henry Stapp say it: “Everything we [now:] know about Nature is in accord with the idea that the fundamental process of Nature lies outside space-time, but generates events that can be located in space-time.” Stapp does not mention matter, but his phrase “space-time” implies it, for physics locks the three together.
He says that quantum theory of course can't prove that there is a God, but that recent research seems to disprove the old notion that, given enough time, all questions will be answerable by science.
Even if you disagree with every one of Smith's conclusions, you'll be along for a fascinating ride through physics, biology, philosophy, and innumerable religions. One of my favorite anecdotes concerns noted physicist David Bohm (who studied under Oppenheimer and worked with Einstein, among others). He gave a lecture at one point, apparently touching on his hidden variable theories to a great extent. At its conclusion, a senior physics professor asked derivisely, "What does all this philosophy have to do with physics?" Bohm replied, "I do not make that distinction."
How's that for something to ponder?
The book is fun to read, and the stories make it all the moreso.
However, it is not a light read. Houston Smith wrote this near the beginning, without any hint of irony:
The first of these differences is that Gass’s is an aristocratic book, written for the literary elite, whereas mine is as plebeian as I can render its not always simple arguments.
I can think of a few simpler ways to express that thought. In any case, it isn't light reading, but it is accessible even if you, like me, have little formal training in philosophy, theology, or quantum physics.
I would do such a poor job trying to paraphrase Smith's main points that I haven't even really attempted to do so here. Get the book -- you'll be in for a treat.
Incidentally, I had been thinking of buying the book for awhile. What finally made me do so was an NPR story about how he helped preserve the sound of the Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir back in 1964, when he (of course) was sleeping in a monastery in the Himalayas and awoke to investigate "something transcendent" -- the "holiest sound I have ever heard."
I pressed the Buy button for the Kindle edition a few minutes later....more
I am really torn about how many stars to give this one.
I very nearly put it down halfway through, never to finish it. I begin to thing that P. G. WodeI am really torn about how many stars to give this one.
I very nearly put it down halfway through, never to finish it. I begin to thing that P. G. Wodehouse is the Robert Jordan of the comic novel: he writes an excellent ending, but the set-up is 200% longer than it should be and either tedium-laced or cringe-worthy. (Compare this to my review of The Shadow Rising).
The first 2/3 or so of the book had some mildly amusing parts, but overall was tedious. Wooster thought himself smart and got himself into one pickle after another. I enjoyed some of the telegram conversations, but would have given the book 1 or 2 stars based on that part.
Then we arrive at the scene at the school awards ceremony. I don't want to put a spoiler, but that is one of the funniest scenes I have ever read, funnier even than Three Men on the Bummel. I was laughing so hard I had to put the book down, and the laughter rather annoyed my wife. She, having not read the tedious setup, didn't understand the humor behind the scene. Ah well. At that moment I would have given it 5 stars.
The resolution afterwards was also fun. So overall, I am compromising and giving the book three stars. I enjoyed it, but thought the short stories in My Man Jeeves worked better than one single full-length story....more
I know I've been on something of a religion streak on the blog of late, and this will be the last such post for awhile.
I first hear of Harvey Cox's boI know I've been on something of a religion streak on the blog of late, and this will be the last such post for awhile.
I first hear of Harvey Cox's book The Future of Faith during an excellent hour-long interview with NPR's Diane Rehm. It was intriguing enough that I bought the Kindle edition of the book and read it.
The title of the book is both very accurate and rather misleading. A lot of the book -- and, to me, the most fascinating parts of it -- focus on the history of faith. Cox's repeated point is that we are only now regaining a notion of faith that the earliest Christians had, and it is a notion that happens to be compatible with modern science and incompatible with fundamentalism and intolerance in all its stripes.
Throughout this post, it should be understood that quotes or passages are from the book. Cox is so quotable that a good chunk of this review will be showing you some of his quotes, with a bit of discussion around them. I very much enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.
Faith vs. Belief
It is true that for many people "faith" and "belief" are just two words for the same thing. But they are not the same ... and it is important to clarify the difference. Faith is about deep-seated confidence. In everyday speech we usually apply it to people we trust or the values we treasure... a matter of what the Hebrews spoke of as the "heart."
Belief, on the other hand, is more like opinion. We often use the term to express a degree of uncertainty ... We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something that is vital for the way we live.
This is an important distinction, and if you stop and think about it, Cox is arguing with a common notion about faith almost from page 1. Faith isn't about intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It's about what we hold dear, what we think works for us in life.
Creeds are clusters of beliefs. But Christianity is not a history of creeds. It is the story of a people of faith who sometimes cobbled together creeds out of beliefs. It is also the history of equally faithful people who questioned, altered, and discarded those same creeds ... But both the doctrinal canons and the architectural constructions are means to an end. Making either the defining element warps the underlying reality of faith.
Cox here reinforces the point that Christianity isn't about believing certain statements, and it isn't even about a literal (or not) reading of the Bible. It's what C. S. Lewis talked about as the inward transformation in onesself. Creeds, such as the Nicene Creed, are rather irrelevant to him.
Cox separates the history of Christianity into three periods: the age of faith, stretching from the time of Jesus only a few centuries until Constantine; the age of belief, stretching from Constantine until the 20th century; and the age of the spirit, now dawning. During the age of faith, "their sharing in the living Spirit of Christ united Christians with each other, and 'faith' meant hope and assurance in the dawning of a new era of freedom, healing, and compassion that Jesus had demonstrated." Cox makes the point that doctrinal questions just weren't all that important back then, and though differences existed, they weren't considered to be fundamental to the religion. "Confidence in Christ was their primary orientation, and hope for his [earthly:] Kingdom their motivating drive." Further, he argues that the age of the spirit is a return to this earlier age, albeit with modern twists.
Christianity is growing faster than it ever has before, but mainly outside the West and in movements that accent spiritual experience, discipleship, and hope; pay scant attention to creeds; and flourish without hierarchies. We are now witnessing the beginning of a 'post-Constantinian era.'"
Cox describes a person that described himself as "a practicing Christian, not always a believing one." He suggests that the belief/non-believer statement is a disservice to Christianity and to other religions. He then quoted a Catholic bishop as saying: "The line between belief and unbelief runs through the middle of each one of us, including myself, a bishop of the church." In other words, "The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it."
Faith and Belief in Bible reading
Creation myths such as ... the first chapters of Genesis were not primarily composed to answer the "how" or "when" questions. They are not scientific accounts, even though their poetical language, when read literally (which is always a mistake), may sound that way. Rather, they grapple ... with the linked mysteries of both why there is a universe and what our place in it is ... They are more like lyrical cantatas, symphonies of symbols through which humans have tried to make sense of their place in the world...
This is where the distinction between faith and belief is vital. These stories are -- literally -- "not to be believed." They are, rather, artifacts human beings have crafted to try to wring some meaning from the mystery. They are not themselves the mystery.
I liken this to Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park. If you were to read it 1000 years in the future, it might not have been conveniently shelved above the word "fiction." Would a reader in the future know that it was not meant to be a literal description of facts? I think sometimes we make this mistake when we read the Bible. Note, though, that although we all understand that Jurassic Park wasn't meant to be a literal description of facts, it seems to have been valued by quite a large part of society. And it didn't even address big mysteries.
Cox argues against ridding ourselves of the creation myths, suggesting that they are an important reminder that we are similar to humans who grappled with the same big questions centuries ago as we do today.
The ill-advised transmuting of symbols into a curious kind of "facts" has created an immense obstacle to faith for many thoughtful people. Instead of helping them confront the great mystery, it has effectively prevented them from doing so ... the objective knowledge science rightly insists on is not the only kind of knowledge human beings need ... Faith, although it is evoked by the mystery that surrounds us, is not the mystery itself.
Constantine and the Age of Belief
One of the most devastating blunders made by the church, especially as the Age of Belief began, was to insist that the Spirit is present only in believers.
Cox spends a lot of time covering the very interesting topic of how and why the church moved to the Age of Belief. His central thesis is that money, power, and prestige were primarily responsible, and that an unrighteous collusion between bishops and Constantine, each using Christianity for their own purposes, finally made it happen. This is very interesting stuff, but this post is too long already, so I will not spend a lot of time on it. I found the Council of Nicea to be particularly interesting, considering that the Nicean Creed came about partially by exile or execution of those Christians that disagreed with it. Cox also points out that "there never was a single 'early Christianity'; there were many, and the idea of 'heresy' was unknown."
The time is ripe to retrieve the term "Way" for Christianity and "followers of the Way" for Christians. It is at once more accurate, more original, and more contemporary than "believers."
To the future
Cox describes attending a meeting of the church in Hong Kong in 2003, and uses it as a metaphor for the future of faith:
Their idea of interfaith dialogue was to work with their fellow Asians of whatever religion to advance the Kingdom that Jesus had inspired them, as Christians, to strive for, regardless of what the others called it. They were neither "fundamentalist" nor "modernist." They seemed more attuned to the element of mystery at the core of Christianity and to its vision of justice. They were also clearly impatient with many of the disputes that preoccupy the different wings of the American churches."
I found this book to be both enlightening and informative. I highly recommend it, even if you disagree with some of Cox's conclusions. It is a fascinating view into how the world's largest religion evolved over the years, and a candid look at the mistakes it has made in that time.
My first book by Asimov. I was pretty hooked. I enjoyed how Asimov kept the plot moving, and engaging, without resorting to lots of battle scenes. It'My first book by Asimov. I was pretty hooked. I enjoyed how Asimov kept the plot moving, and engaging, without resorting to lots of battle scenes. It's got me hooked enough to read more in the series.
The parallels to our own experience, particularly when it comes to stagnant civilizations, use of religion by those in power, etc., are quite telling, and if I had time, I'd write a few pages about it. I quite enjoyed that.
I am somewhat disappointed, though, at how little space is devoted to the characters. It felt as just as I was getting to know them, we jump ahead a few decades. Perhaps that's just me coming off reading Wheel of Time, but I do enjoy characters with lots of depth....more
I bought this book because it was free in the Kindle store for a spell. I'm glad I didn't pay anything for it.
Overall, my problem with this book is twI bought this book because it was free in the Kindle store for a spell. I'm glad I didn't pay anything for it.
Overall, my problem with this book is twofold: 1) it takes an unquestioning literalist view of the entire Bible, and 2) it demonstrates a severe lack of intellectual curiosity throughout.
I maintain that the result is worse than no study guide whatsoever.
The fact that Christianity is a broad tent, and that the Bible has been read in various ways over the centuries and today, is lost to Halley. I do not mind the presentation of the literalist view if it were combined with other credible viewpoints past and present. But to assert that this is the ONLY way to read the Bible is doing a terrible disservice to a religion, and misrepresents it in a egregious fashion. Christianity has had a brief literalist bubble, and there is much that the thinking Christian can question about such an interpretation, which is perhaps why it is dying off.
Let me provide a few choice quotes.
"Accept the Bible just as it is, for exactly what it claims to be. Don't worry about the theories of the critics. The ingenious efforts of modern criticism to undermine the historical reliability of the Bible will pass..." It is terribly bothersome to me that a purported study guide is encouraging people trying to intellectually engage the Bible to suspend their intellect. For whom shall find Christianity relevant today if we cannot understand it in the context of modern science? Christianity ought not fear science, nor science religion; the two ought to be embraced together, and the religious can learn about the Bible from science.
Regarding the creation story: "How did the writer know what happened before man appeared? No doubt God revealed the remote past, as later the distant future was made known to the prophets." No mention of other viewpoints -- that it has strong parallels to other ancient creation myths, what science and philosophy have to say, etc. Even Wikipedia's Creation_myth page reminds us that the Church was not literalist.
In the introduction, it advances the view that the Bible is "God's own record of His dealings with people in His unfolding revelation of Himself to the human race... Nor do we know just how God directed these authors to write. But we believe and know that God did rect them and that these books therefore must be exactly what God wanted them to be."
That is of course a rather controversial view, though it was perhaps widely held in some circles. But it boggles the mind, and ignores, for one thing, the multiple ancient sources that modern Bible assemblers must attempt to synthesize to make a coherent book.
The only value I see in this book is a glimpse at the viewpoint of an earlier age. At that it may excel. As a guide for someone alive today -- frankly I am surprised that it has garnered such high reviews here.
I have nothing against literalists; I respect them even if I disagree. But to pretend that there isn't even a debate here borders on the dishonest, and certainly sidelines this book out of the "serious and useful scholarly work" bookshelf....more
It probably says something that I started this short book in early December and just finished it today.
The writing style was so gaudily pompous that IIt probably says something that I started this short book in early December and just finished it today.
The writing style was so gaudily pompous that I very nearly put it down several times. Yes, style of the times, I get that. But oh my goodness. The excessive verbosity was unintentionally hilarious a few times, but this guy makes even Dickens' Micawber look like a 3rd-grader.
It was an interesting book, but I felt the author was writing more to impress than to tell, and I felt turned off by that immensely. The first book I've read in a long time that I've not thought "that was pretty good" when I got to the end....more
It somehow feels a bit dodgy giving just three or four stars to something that has been considered a classic by so many, but here I go doing it anyhowIt somehow feels a bit dodgy giving just three or four stars to something that has been considered a classic by so many, but here I go doing it anyhow.
The good parts of the book were the setting and something of the insight into the thought processes of the imperial powers of the day. The vivid descriptions of the heat of India, the businesses of the day, were fun to read -- even though I resorted to Wikipedia afterwards to learn more about the exceedingly complex way that India was governed back in the day.
The bad part of it was that once you're about half way through, you know how it will end; the only question is exactly how you get there. Some people like this book because it is some sort of moral lesson; I think it is exceedingly lengthy for a moral lesson that could be communicated in a sentence or two.
I had given this book three stars, but decided to bump it to four upon reflection. It did keep my attention, wanting to find out how it ended up. But it was really quite a jarring read for a modern reader, and somewhat difficult to pick up as a result. I had thought that was a downside, but as I look back on it, I think it's a good thing....more
A few dud universes can really clutter up your basement.
- Neal Stephenson, "In The Beginning. . . was the Command Line"
What a fun read. It's about tec
A few dud universes can really clutter up your basement.
- Neal Stephenson, "In The Beginning. . . was the Command Line"
What a fun read. It's about technology, sure, but more about culture. Neal takes a good look at operating systems, why we get emotionally involved with them, and why Windows is still so popular. He does this with a grand detour to Disneyland, and a hefty dose of humor. The above quote was from near the end of the book, where he imagines hackers creating big bangs from the command line.
He starts out the book from some anecdotes from the early 1970s, when he had his first computer class in high school. His school didn't have a computer, but they did have a teletype (the physical kind that used paper) with a modem link to some university's system. But time on that system was so expensive that they couldn't just dial in and run things interactively. The teletype had a paper tape device. You'd type your commands in advance, and it would punch them out on the tape. Then when you dial in, it would replay the tape at "high speed".
Neal liked this because the stuff punched out of the tape were, actually, "bits" in both the literal and the mathematical sense. This, of course, led to a scene at the end of the schoolyear where a classmate dumped the bin of bits on the teacher, and Neal witnessed megabytes falling to the floor.
Although the book was written in 1999, and needs an update in some ways, it still speaks with a strong voice today -- and is now also an interesting look at what computing was like 10 years ago.
He had an analogy of car dealerships to operating systems. Microsoft had the big shiny dealership selling station wagons. Their image was all wrapped up in people feeling good about their purchase -- like they got something for their money. And he said that the Linux folks were selling tanks, illustrated with this exchange:
Hacker with bullhorn: "Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!"
Prospective station wagon buyer: "I know what you say is true...but...er...I don't know how to maintain a tank!"
Bullhorn: "You don't know how to maintain a station wagon either!"
Buyer: "But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to elevator music."
Bullhorn: "But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!"
Buyer: "Stay away from my house, you freak!"
Buyer: "Can't you see that everyone is buying station wagons?"
That doesn't mean that Stephenson is just a Linux apologetic. He points out that the CLI has its place, and has a true love-hate relationship with the text-based config files (remember XF86Config before the days of automatic modelines? Back when you had to get out a calculator and work some things out with pencil and paper, or else risk burning out your monitor?) He points out that some people want to just have the thing work reasonably well. They don't want control -- in fact, would gladly give it up if offered something reasonably pretty and reasonably functional.
He speaks to running Linux at times:
Sometimes when you finish working with a program and shut it down, you find that it has left behind a series of mild warnings and low-grade error messages in the command-line interface window from which you launched it. As if the software were chatting to you about how it was doing the whole time you were working with it.
Even if the application is imploding like a damaged submarine, it can still usually eke out a little S.O.S. message.
Or about booting Linux the first time, and noticing all sorts of cryptic messages on the console:
This is slightly alarming the first time you see it, but completely harmless.
I use emacs, which might be thought of as a thermonuclear word processor. . .
Microsoft Word, were devoted to features like mail merge, and the ability to embed feature-length motion pictures in corporate memoranda, were, in the case of emacs, focused with maniacal intensity on the deceptively simple-seeming problem of editing text. If you are a professional writer--i.e., if someone else is getting paid to worry about how your words are formatted and printed--emacs outshines all other editing software in approximately the same way that the noonday sun does the stars. It is not just bigger and brighter; it simply makes everything else vanish. For page layout and printing you can use TeX: a vast corpus of typesetting lore written in C and also available on the Net for free.
I love these vivid descriptions: programs secretly chatting with us, TeX being a "corpus of typesetting lore" rather than a program. Or how about this one: "Unix. . . is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic." Yes, my operating system is an oral history project, thankyouverymuch.
The book feels like a weird (but well-executed and well-written) cross between Douglas Adams and Cory Doctorow. Which makes is so indescribably awesome that I can't help but ending this review with a few more quotes.
Because Linux is not commercial--because it is, in fact, free, as well as rather difficult to obtain, install, and operate--it does not have to maintain any pretensions as to its reliability. Consequently, it is much more reliable.
what really sold me on it [Debian:] was its phenomenal bug database (http://www.debian.org/Bugs), which is a sort of interactive Doomsday Book of error, fallibility, and redemption.
It is simplicity itself. When had a problem with Debian in early January of 1997, I sent in a message describing the problem to firstname.lastname@example.org. My problem was promptly assigned a bug report number (#6518) and a severity level (the available choices being critical, grave, important, normal, fixed, and wishlist) and forwarded to mailing lists where Debian people hang out.
That should be our new slogan for bugs.debian.org: "Debian's interactive Doomsday Book of error, fallibility, and redemption."
Unix is hard to learn. The process of learning it is one of multiple small epiphanies. Typically you are just on the verge of inventing some necessary tool or utility when you realize that someone else has already invented it, and built it in, and this explains some odd file or directory or command that you have noticed but never really understood before.
I've been THERE countless times.
Note the obsessive use of abbreviations and avoidance of capital letters; this is a system invented by people to whom repetitive stress disorder is what black lung is to miners. Long names get worn down to three-letter nubbins, like stones smoothed by a river.
It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords, multiculturalism and diversity, are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or "honoring diversity" or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop judging each other-to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing ) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.
The stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments carved in immutable stone--the original command-line interface
Apparently this actually works to some degree, for police in many lands are now complaining that local arrestees are insisting on having their Miranda rights read to them, just like perps in American TV cop shows. When it's explained to them that they are in a different country, where those rights do not exist, they become outraged. Starsky and Hutch reruns, dubbed into diverse languages, may turn out, in the long run, to be a greater force for human rights than the Declaration of Independence.
Unix has always lurked provocatively in the background of the operating system wars, like the Russian Army.
An interesting read. I followed most of his reasoning. I found the section attempting to disprove miracles to have weak reasoning, even though I mostlAn interesting read. I followed most of his reasoning. I found the section attempting to disprove miracles to have weak reasoning, even though I mostly agree with his ultimate conclusion that religion is not testable by science. It was refreshing to see an Enlightenment thinker rebelling against the literalization of religion that was happening then, something that we are just now managing to escape from.
[ I read the Jonathan Bennett edition from earlymoderntexts.com :]...more