This is a wonderful dark fantasy, and hearing the author read it is probably the best way to experience it. I agree with some criticisms I've read tha...moreThis is a wonderful dark fantasy, and hearing the author read it is probably the best way to experience it. I agree with some criticisms I've read that he doesn't develop the sense of place as well as he could, but the story as story, the reflections on childhood, and the metaphysics hinted at throughout, are all wonderful. I don't use the word "delight" very often, but hearing Gaiman narrate this story was exactly that.(less)
This is one of the definitive works on Native American spirituality and the metaphysics underlying those beliefs. Brown starts by acknowledging that t...moreThis is one of the definitive works on Native American spirituality and the metaphysics underlying those beliefs. Brown starts by acknowledging that there is no single Native American spirituality or belief system and that it would be impossible to define or describe Native American religions in generalities. Nevertheless, Brown attempts to do just that by sketching the broad outlines common to each culture, which he then explores in more detail by examining specific examples from a range of cultures (though an emphasis on beliefs of the Plains Indians is obvious and probably unavoidable given Brown's extensive work with Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux holy man).
In the first chapter, Brown provides five general principles that distinguish Native American belief systems. He spends the rest of the text examining these principles through specific cultures, artistic expressions, and ceremonies.
The principles are:
1) There is no separation between sacred and secular; "religion" is not separated from everyday life.
2) Words have a special potency or force (and by extension, songs and ceremonies channel that force to greatest effectiveness).
3) Natural materials also possess a distinct potency, and therefore the created object is not merely a symbol of a certain power, it is the power itself. Furthermore, there is no separation between art and craft.
4) Time and process are cyclical and reciprocal (as opposed to unidirectional); we are not moving from a past forward into a future, we are participating in a great and interconnected cycle.
5) The forms and forces of the natural environment are all interrelated (and humanity is part of that connection, not separate from it). Thus, pragmatic interaction with the natural world is always informed by a sacred understanding of it.
Brown's analysis is clear and concise, and he manages to convey a great deal of insight in a surprisingly thin volume.(less)
Rogers covers a wide range of ideas related to the dark holiday, particularly given the book's length. It also helps that he writes well, so you breez...moreRogers covers a wide range of ideas related to the dark holiday, particularly given the book's length. It also helps that he writes well, so you breeze easily through even some of the more fact-and-figure intensive sections. Interesting, informative, and a great October read.
The book addresses the origins of Halloween, its history in Britain and North America, its similarities to Mexico's "Day of the Dead," urban legends and popular reactions to the holiday, its representation in Hollywood, current celebration trends, and some guesses about the holiday's future.(less)
I consider this one of the more important books that I’ve read on the subject. This is not because I agree with everything Harris has to say, but beca...moreI consider this one of the more important books that I’ve read on the subject. This is not because I agree with everything Harris has to say, but because he does his job well (make a clear argument, address implications and objections, provide support, extend the discussion) and because he’s addressing issues that really matter, and matter right now.
Harris’ main contention is that, by making belief a topic that is off limits to public discussion in terms of reason and accountability, we allow these beliefs to drive us, globally, closer and closer to catastrophe.
Harris is calling for exactly what the title of his book suggests. He “believes” (and provides some compelling arguments along the way) that many of our religious beliefs are so dangerous that they will eventually lead to our mutual destruction.
He also condemns religious tolerance because it misses an important point: beliefs have actual consequences. The reason we cannot just “let others believe what they want to believe” is that many of these beliefs have political, social, and military consequences. If you literally believe that God has granted you a certain patch of land, for instance, that belief may very well lead to the deaths of children. Therefore, Harris argues that we should focus on the reasons behind a person’s beliefs. If s/he can provide sound reasons to support a belief, fine. If not, then we should not respect that belief, and we certainly shouldn’t go to war over it.
Though his stance against religious doctrine is harsh, Harris is not discounting a spiritual dimension. In his words:
"This is not to say that the deepest concerns of the faithful, whether moderate or extreme, are trivial or even misguided … There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life." (16)
How we come to terms with this dimension is desperately important, though, and what we come to believe about this dimension should be supported by (or at least not contradicted by) reason and observation.
"As long as a person maintains that his beliefs represent an actual state of the world … he must believe that his beliefs are a consequence of the way the world is. This, by definition, leaves him vulnerable to new evidence. Indeed, if there were no conceivable change in the world that could get a person to question his religious beliefs, this would prove that his beliefs were not predicated upon his taking any state of the world into account. He could not claim, therefore, to be representing the world at all." (63)
Beyond this brief sketch, the reasoning behind his major assertions are quite involved and each worthy of further consideration. His chapters deal with the following:
- The nature of belief (one of the most interesting, and a chapter to which I will likely return to explore further … its implications go far beyond religion)
- The history of conflict grounded in religious differences
- A specific examination of Islam
- A specific examination of Judaism and Christianity
- Non-religious reasons for ethical behavior (grounded in “the happiness and suffering of sentient creatures” and in which he repudiates moral relativism and pacifism; another chapter worthy of further discussion)
- A brief consideration of the nature of consciousness (and in which the book takes a surprisingly mystic/Buddhist turn)(less)