Not sure I why I checked this out—from the university library, no less—but I am glad for the small mercy that am reading it as an adult, because it giNot sure I why I checked this out—from the university library, no less—but I am glad for the small mercy that am reading it as an adult, because it gives me a yet another chance to purge this garbage from my system. As an adult, I can forgive Chick his pernicious scribblings. After all, he comes from a place of, presumably, good intentions—wanting to "save" all of the lost billions who do not agree with (his idiosyncratic interpretation of) the Christian gospel. I can safely forgive him from the perspective of an adult who has escaped the gravity well of his didactic comic books.
For the kid in me though, who grew up surrounded by Chick tracts while buried soul-deep in the trauma of being adopted, forgiving is not so easy. These books, with their constant reminders of the worthlessness of each and every "sinner" (i.e., human being) in the eyes of God, worked in tandem with the fundamentalist fringe Lutheran theology of my folks' church and my core fear of never being good enough to earn another's love, to make me into the middle-aged sack of shame that I am today. Thanks Jack!
I will leave you with the wisdom of Bill Hicks, who while not himself adopted by fundies, clearly intuited my predickament:
"I was adopted by pro-life Christians when I was a kid. [Mimes gunshots] Does my penis make me a bad boy? That's what they told me!" Please, give me the Satan-worshiping family down the block … the ones that have the good albums.
"Not what I expected," is how my wife and I both summarized this funny, quirky, once-probably-groundbreaking novel about, well, a hot dog sta3.5 stars
"Not what I expected," is how my wife and I both summarized this funny, quirky, once-probably-groundbreaking novel about, well, a hot dog stand in Washington's Skagit Valley and the Second Coming (sort of) of Christ. Robbins is a great stylist, falling in the literary yarrow stalks somewhere between Vonnegut and Pynchon, and his characters engage in many engrossing and substantive-if-stoned philosophical conversations, but because most of the action in the story happens off-screen the plot is somewhat lacking. This book was probably a lot funnier and more provocative when it was published 45 years ago, back before the "bad Christianity killed good paganism" meme got a little stale and dogmatic. ...more
No surprises that this book was written by someone in the advertising field, since the book is all style and no substance. I could easily write a simiNo surprises that this book was written by someone in the advertising field, since the book is all style and no substance. I could easily write a similarly trite piece of crap about advertising and PR that boils down to, "Lots of folks wonder why there are ads. I have not done any research or serious thinking about advertising, but I think ads are swell. Here's a cute picture to illustrate my love of ads. I guess ads are just there for some reason. Some folks like ads, some folks don't like ads, some folks even hate ads. Is hating ads a form of loving ads? Can there be a world without ads? Here's another cute picture to illustrate that question. And. Then. The. Conclusion. Will. Be. One. Word. Per. Page. Spread. Against. A. Colored. Background."
Seriously. Arden has done zero research in religious studies, philosophy, science, etc., and apparently has no qualms about charging readers $13 a pop to read his shallow "explanations" of God, religion, atheism, etc. Astonishingly he reveals that the basis of his own faith in God (defined so broadly as to include pretty much anything), aka his being vaguely "spiritual" instead of religious, was watching a particularly beautiful sunset. Nothing substantial here, nothing about, e.g., spiritual practice, applied religious psychology, why there are different religions, why science and religion don't always get along. I would have expected more from my undergraduate religious studies students in their essays.
I might have been easier on this book if I hadn't finished such a stunner, on many of the same topics, immediately beforehand. Alas, this was not to be. Instead, I get to compare the glib musings of an advertising exec with the thoughts of an author whose philosophical button-pushing is backed up by some intellectual and existential weight. If you want serious answers to what used to be considered serious questions, look elsewhere. This is a mediocre undergrad essay, albeit a moderately well designed, modestly visually interesting essay, on "God as whatever is most important to you." ...more
I remembered reading this book in my junior history seminar in undergrad, along with the Iliad and the Aeneid, but I didn't remember the book itself.I remembered reading this book in my junior history seminar in undergrad, along with the Iliad and the Aeneid, but I didn't remember the book itself. After I re-read it in February 2015 (in part to see the relation, if any, of the eponymous hero to the similarly named hero of Stephen King's Dark Tower series), the reason for not remembering it is obvious—it just isn't memorable.
As other reviewers have noted, this "epic" poem is more or less a placeholder between the larger epics that precede and follow it chronologically, in much the same way that the time period it reflects is seen as something of a placeholder between antiquity and modernity.
The plot of the story is fairly simple: one Christian noble betrays another to Muslim treachery on the borderlands between "Spain" and "France"; the one whom is betrayed, Roland, holds off calling for reinforcements until it is too late; the reinforcements, in the form of Charlemagne (conflated with William the Conqueror in the poem), arrive in time to kick Muslim/Saracen/pagan ass (setting a precedent, at least rhetorically, for the next millennium); and divine justice allows Charlemagne to hold the betrayer and his kin to account.
The poem is interesting in what it reveals about the changing sense of Christian (and national) identity in Middle Age Europe and about the hostility toward and utter lack of understanding of Islam on the part of Christendom (the hostility is somewhat understandable in light of the rapid spread of Islam in the 8th century; the ignorance was downright laughable). ...more
The following reviews of this unintentionally appropriately titled volume may be read aloud in a fake, broad, Paul Hogan-esque Australian acZero stars
The following reviews of this unintentionally appropriately titled volume may be read aloud in a fake, broad, Paul Hogan-esque Australian accent to great comedic effect. One may also choose to make the accent slightly more nasal and "Kiwi" in character so that you can imagine an alternate universe in which Ray Comfort wrote this book instead, if that makes you more comfortable.
If God did not mean what He said in Genesis, then how could one trust Him in the rest of the Scriptures?
That's the question that drives "Doctor" Ken Ham's anti-evolutionary evangelism, and it is basically the same question I first heard from my father at age 9 or 10 when I brought the Time-Life book on human evolution home from the public library. That's when I was personally introduced to the evolution-creation "debate," a formative moment in my spiritual and intellectual life.
Remember, public libraries are part of Satan's anti-God plan to expose your children to more than one book!
I'll refer the interested and truly open-minded reader to Ancient's review of the book, because it makes all the points I want to make with clarity and wit. That said, and since this is after all my review of the book, I will follow "Dr." Ham's lead and make a few rambling, and possibly incoherent, observations.
Ham is profoundly inconsistent in his application of skepticism. As Ancient notes, Ham approaches the science of evolution with a level of skepticism befitting David Hume, constantly reminding the reader that scientists, just like creationists, have biases and presuppositions which inform their interpretations of the evidence at hand. Fair enough, and also obvious enough to someone who has been exposed to cultural anthropology, contemporary philosophy, postmodernism, and/or critical theory. The difference between Ham's biases and those of "evolutionists," though, is that his biases aren't really biases because they are based on the Bible, which is a transcript dictated by God, and not merely a collection of human opinions and interpretations. (That would come as a surprise to any actual Bible scholar, who knows that, whatever else the Bible is, it is a collection of texts from dozens of human authors, inspired or otherwise, spanning a millennium or more.) In other words, he's 100% skeptical of anything "evolutiony," and 0% skeptical of his understanding of the Bible (though, in his defense, he is at least open and honest about this double-standard). His cynical exploitation of the "loopholes" in open-minded and tolerant approaches to truth reminds me a lot of modern so-called conservatives, with their, "Well, if you aren't tolerant of my intolerance, I guess that means you aren't so tolerant after all, nyuk nyuk nyuk."
Ham displays the ignorance of the either-or, black-or-white, zero-sum thinker. Either it is Godless "molecules-to-man" evolution or it is a literal six, 24-hour day creation with God at the drawing board.
Available most everywhere through Satan's devious interlibrary loan program.
Either one is a Christian who believes precisely what Ken does, or one is adrift on the confusing sea of mere human opinion. Either one believes in the moral absolutes of the Bible (as interpreted and promulgated by white people in the mid-20th century) or one is a kid-raping, antinomian, "if it feels good do it," Satanic, secular, evolutionist pagan. Seriously.
Or Christians and evolutionists could, you know, find middle ground with one another in love, friendship, and our shared basic humanity. And a couple of drinks never hurts.
The book is riddled with these Manichean dichotomies, between "human opinion" and "God's word," or between "secular presuppositions" and "Christian presuppositions," which is perfectly fine if you're reading this to make yourself feel good about your inane belief system in a world that is leaving you behind (i.e., you are "under massive attack") but not so good if you actually want to engage with complex issues facing a complex society made up of not simply Christian creationists and secular evolutionists, but also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Daoists, and all sorts of other people with their own different, nuanced understandings of human and cosmic origins.
It's as if you believe that all people in the world live either in New York City or in Los Angeles and nowhere else—it is well within your rights to believe that, as demonstrably incorrect as it may be, but when you tell the folks in Newark, NJ, that they actually live in LA because they don't live in NYC (or vice versa), and then try to update everyone's maps accordingly, you'll encounter some justifiable pushback (i.e., "bashing" in the fundie lexicon) from the folks in Newark, NYC, LA, Rand McNally, and elsewhere.
And don't forget that the Bible is the sole basis for determining what is right and wrong! Here, for example, is the Biblical basis for right and wrong as practiced in the antebellum South:
Ham makes all sorts of patently absurd claims, like insisting repeatedly that racism is a result of Darwin's theory of natural selection. I guess as an Australian by birth, Ham didn't know that the Confederate States of America justified its racist slave society by appeals to Christianity and the Bible, and not Darwin. Or he's simply full of shit.
Notice the lack of reference to Darwin in this Biblical "vindication of Southern racism slavery."
I wonder if "scriptural" here refers to On the Origin of Species or to that whole absolute Christian morals thing Ham keeps harping about.
And there is no mention made of Darwin or evolution or millions of years here either. Weird. I guess they hadn't read Ham's book yet.
One might suspect that this image of the good Southern Christians he discussed has been Photoshopped to insinuate that they did not support interracial marriage on the Biblical grounds that there is only one human race, all children of Adam. But you would be wrong. This is a picture of staunch Southern evolutionists with their anti-Biblical racism! Tricked ya!
Ham claims that logic, uniformity and morality are uniquely Christian principles, which would come as a surprise to Greek and Indian philosophers who invented logic and were pondering ethics for centuries before the Son of Man first wet his manger. Ham actually refers to these Greeks as "evolutionists" because they believed in a bunch of gods rather than in a single God; yeah, that kinda lost me too. He also wants to "de-Greekizify" (or something) modern secular evolutionist types, though, which I guess means getting them to accept all the evidence that the Bible is a book and Ham thinks God wrote it. Or something. This book was like a fucking fever dream, honestly.
Ham insists that the only justification for marriage and monogamous fidelity is the Christian Bible, and that without it, we would just be rutting in the streets. That's news to my wife of the past fifteen years, an atheist who believes strongly in monogamy and fidelity. I guess Ken Ham hasn't heard of love or commitment, or if he has, he wrongly thinks they originated with the Bible.
This species of birds developed life-long, monogamous, Christian marriages after being prayed over (and preyed upon) by Christian missionaries.
He asserts that the Biblical story of the Flood is more plausible than similar Babylonian stories because it is self-evidently sensible (LOL!), instead of grotesque and silly. He actually cites an AiG "research" paper which "proves" that Utnapishtim's ark, The Preserver of Life, couldn't have worked, unlike the highly plausible gopher wood floating zoo which schematics are detailed in Genesis. Stoopid Babylonians!
In short, he's like the infantile Christian chuckleheads who sidestep the implausibility of a talking snake in Genesis by noting that the Bible actually says talking serpent, as if that nitpicking attention to semantic detail somehow lends credibility to the whole "talking animal" stumbling block part of the story.
Review #2 The author could have saved a great deal of time and paper by reducing his argument to the following:
1. The Bible is true and accurate in all matters.
2. Anything which contradicts the Bible is false.
3. Evolution/millions of years contradicts the Bible, therefore evolution/millions of years is false.
4. All evidence that clearly supports the facts of evolution/millions of years is invalid because it contradicts the Bible.
5. The Bible is the basis of everything good and right. All other religions, philosophies, and worldviews are all more or less the same "secular, evolutionist, anti-God philosophy."
6. Without the Bible, there is no basis for any sort of value judgments; the sole alternative to a morality rooted in Biblical young earth creationism is "anything-goes" nihilism.
7. All conservative shibboleths (e.g., abortion, gay marriage, smoking grass, thinking for yourself, refusal to kowtow reflexively to authority, etc.) result more or less from evolution/millions of years and its "anti-God" philosophy.
8. To keep young people Christian, and therefore morally conservative, there must be an "all-out war" on evolution/millions of years, which means an assault on education, on science, on critical thinking, and on the modern secular worldview that holds such things in high esteem.
The more I read this book, the more contempt I felt for the Bible, for the kind of Christians who believe this shit (including my folks—sorry 'bout that, please stop giving me these books for my birthday), and for conservative "thinking" in general. Good job Ken! If you keep going, you'll end up creating more atheists than Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens combined. Woot!
The cartoon below, from the book, illustrates Ham's view of science, in which we all see the same evidence, except that the "evolutionist" sees it through a filter made of "human opinion" while the creation "scientist" sees it through a commitment to the proposition that the evidence must concur with the Bible.
This next cartoon illustrates my take on the difference between real science and creation "science." In real science, conclusions are arrived at more or less a posteriori, in reliance on observations, data, inferences, and otherwise uncontroversial basic facts about material reality; in creation science, by their own admission, it is the reverse, so that the observations, inferences, etc., must conform with the foregone conclusion that the Bible is 100% accurate.
Here's how the difference between those two views plays out, in general. Does one of these seem basically saner than the other?
Of course scientists have biases, of course career and social pressures keep some scientists from confessing all of their own personal beliefs, and of course paradigms change. Scientists are people with jobs and concerns other than pure research, and science itself is not about absolute proof, but about plausibility and making as much sense of evidence as one can without recourse to additional hypotheses (like God) whenever possible. (Without any irony, if you know the history of science, you can blame that approach on a Christian, and not on an evolutionist.) Scientists also have to provide evidence for the claims they make; simply because the rest of us don't know about or understand that evidence doesn't make it any less valid. And the creationists out there really need to get a handle on the words "theory" and "theoretical," which don't mean "something I pulled out of my ass." This video, a bit inflammatory and grouchy I admit (though after reading this book, I'm more grouchy than normal), reveals how absurdly Ham's ilk must twist the facts of the matter to reach agreement with the Scripture. And how the facts really do support evolution over creation, unequivocally.
So glad I could finally throw it across the room when I finished. ...more
The first question many of my friends will ask is, "Why on earth did you read this, Thom?" To that I will answer that the creation-evolution "debate"The first question many of my friends will ask is, "Why on earth did you read this, Thom?" To that I will answer that the creation-evolution "debate" has been central to my life since I brought home the Time-Life book on human evolution from the Decatur public library, and my parents explained to me that it was all lies because it contradicted their literal reading of the Bible. To them, as to the author of this book, you must take all of the Bible literally if you are to take any of the Bible seriously. And, just like this author, they posed what should have been a nuanced question in the terms of a dichotomous false choice: either God made the universe just like it says in Genesis chapter 1, or it "just happened." (More on my problems with that false choice below.) The resulting dilemma lead me to study biology and religion in college, where I was convinced of the truth of biological evolution and the absurdity of reading the Bible as a science textbook (if not of reading the Bible, period).
The book begins with some fairly tame observations about the apparent oddness of our world, in terms of its seeming "fine-tunedness" for the existence of life. Some have speculated that this implies the existence of a fine-tuner; others that there is some sort of "anthropic principle" built into the fabric of the cosmos; and still others that this simply means that the puddle that formed in a crack in the sidewalk is astonished to find that the crack was "perfectly tuned" to form that particular puddle.
Then the author goes on to remind readers that scientists are human beings, with biases and cognitive filters, and that oftentimes what is regarded as "scientific truth" to one generation is later revealed to be hogwash thanks to further exploration and experimentation. Again, by itself, this would be a welcome reminder to scientists and the rest of us to be a bit more humble in our pronouncements about "truth with a capital T"; in this case, though, the intention isn't to inspire humility but to sow doubt about the methods and conclusions of science.
As the book proceeds, this intention becomes increasingly apparent, at about the same rate as that at which the absurdities mount. On p. 81, in one of the end-of-chapter "Just For Fun" exercises, the author says, "If someone wants to know why you think Evolution cannot have happened in the plant or animal world, ask him to read [a book refuting evolution by a Bible publisher]," as if handing someone a book is the same as explaining your own thoughts on a subject. (But when you're used to mindlessly parroting "The Book," or more accurately, your pastor's reading of "The Book," this is standard operating procedure.)
The author asks for evidence of "transitional species," but when presented with a pretty clear case of one in the form of Archaeopteryx, the author denies that its hybrid reptile-bird characteristics provide the evidence he seeks. It was "definitely a bird," he asserts, that just happened to have a lot of reptilian qualities. (Why wasn't it "definitely" a reptile with a lot of bird qualities? And what does the author base his "definitive" opinion upon, other than inference, which he elsewhere condemns biologists for using in lieu of evidence?) What he wants to see, in terms of transitional species, is a fossil that captures the transition in process, which is as absurd as wanting to watch a film by looking at a single photograph. A more accurate assessment of the fossil record is that it is like a comic strip in which many panels are missing. You can infer the change from the arrangement of the panels, while the absence of many panels makes those inferences challenging and tentative.
Then the author goes off the rails completely, and reveals that he doesn't actually understand the science involved at all when he explains that homology is not good evidence for biological evolution. He argues that homology is simply evidence of a basic plan that is expressed in many variations; so, for example, the fins of an icthyosaur, a shark, and a dolphin are all similar, and thus are all varying expressions of this "basic plan." But in stating this, the author clearly confuses homology with analogy; homology is where the same anatomical structures have been modified for different functions, as in the human hand, whale flipper, and bat wing, whereas analogy suggests precisely the opposite: a similar function arrived at from different anatomical structures, as in the pectoral fins of icthyosaurs, sharks, and dolphins, which have radically different anatomies. The similarity, for biologists, is explained by the phenomenon of convergent evolution, in which similar environmental constraints lead different structures to arrive at similar forms and functions. Of course, the author has to mock college zoologists at the end of the same chapter, apparently because those stupid zoologists try to understand their subject matter and teach it to their students!
I don't have the time or energy to provide a point-by-point rebuttal to the author's ignorance of the biological sciences ("Here's the Proof!"). Instead, I want to return to the false choice with which I opened this review—that either God created the world or it "just happened." (I won't belabor my wife's point that the explanatory difference between "it just happened" and "God did it" is effectively zero.) The author's book is an exercise in what used to be called "natural theology," which is an attempt to prove that the universe had an intelligent designer by examining that designer's alleged handiwork. To my way of thinking, Scottish Enlightenment thinker David Hume effectively neutralized the efforts of natural theology in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. He (or rather one of his characters in the dialogue) points out that "it's either God or an accident" is a false choice which he takes to result from a failure of the imagination—why, he asks, couldn't the universe be the literal child of a previous universe, hatched from a cosmic egg, or a structure built by a presumably unintelligent designer, much as a web is made by a spider without that spider having studied engineering in college. (Of course, the author would cite eggs and spider webs as further evidence of a designer, but that simply begs the question.) Modern readers could also invoke alternate explanations of causality and "creation" like Prigogine's dissipative structures, Maturana and Varela's autopoiesis, and the Buddhist notion of Pratītyasamutpāda. One of Hume's characters then asserts that, if we're using the universe as evidence for the existence of God, the presence of so much suffering and death in the world certainly argues against an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent creator. (There are entire libraries of Christian theology that wrestle with this problem, which is known as the "argument from suffering.")
But let's set Hume aside and assume that the author is right, and that the natural world shows evidence of an intelligent designer. Nothing in the natural world supports the contention that this intelligent designer is the God of the Abrahamic faiths (and, in fact, the argument from suffering provides some good challenges to that contention). To prove that the author reverts to "revealed theology," which takes us fully outside the realm of science and back to faith. He "proves" that the Bible is absolutely true because of the 100% accuracy rate of Biblical prophecy, and he arrives at this accuracy rate by forcing prophecies and fulfillments in a Procrustean bed where all the inconvenient, erm, inaccuracies get unceremoniously lopped off. (For example, the Hebrew bible does not predict a virgin birth, because the Hebrew word used is "maiden" rather than "virgin," and it certainly failed in its prediction that the messiah would be a king in the line of David, unless we radically redefine what we mean by king, which is what the apologists do. Again, you can believe those mutilated predictions if you want, but you can't credibly cite them as "evidence.")
In short, if you want to drive your kids away from your faith, share this book with them and insist that they believe it 100%. They will realize, like I did, that the choice with which they are presented leaves them with only two alternatives: (1) believe in God and reject science, or (2) believe in science and reject God. The dumb kids will stay in the faith, the smarter ones will leave, and the lucky ones may stumble onto the vast middle ground between those two options (perhaps by studying biology and religion in college). And as science demonstrates its explanatory power by, well, explaining things, that choice will become clearer and clearer, if not any easier or less painful. This book, and many others like it, will create more atheists that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris could ever dream to create. And that needn't be the case....more
With a twinkle in his jolly old Archdruid eye, JMG set out to make an easy buck off the 2012 apocalypse by writing a book on how the 2012 apocalypse iWith a twinkle in his jolly old Archdruid eye, JMG set out to make an easy buck off the 2012 apocalypse by writing a book on how the 2012 apocalypse is hooey. This book presents a breezy history of the very idea of the apocalypse, of the notion that at some point (usually quite soon) the world and history would end, once and for all.
While I didn't seriously believe Terence McKenna's TimeWave Zero prediction about the end of time in 2012, I'd known about this obscure prophecy for decades before it became a pop cultural meme. Looking forward to 2012 provided me some comfort in the wake of the Y2K and millennial nonevents and the all-too-real events of 9/11/2001. I say comfort because I was raised in a home with a father who was exploring the apocalyptic fringes of Pentacostal Christianity, and so there has always been a part of me that expects the world to end right fucking now.
This image hung in my dad's workshop. It depicts the Rapture.
This is like the Episode 1 version of the previous picture, with a new and improved Jesus and 25% more resurrected Christians in glorified bodies.
This one's kinda pretty, with a New Agey feel and a Tibetan color scheme.
This is like the Periodic Table of Rapturology.
I still remember (though he doesn't) the time my dad explained to me that the world would end in 1992 because the dates in the Bible added up thusly. I became a stoner mystic in fall 1992. Coincidence? Jesus is like, "Dude, what took you so long?"
Waking up on December 22, 2012 was slightly weird. I had expected something after all, and nothing had happened. And yet something had happened. I had finally realized that I had responsibility for my own life, in a deep, fundamental way. That's what this book is actually all about. That and history.
Greer traces the apocalypse meme back to Zoroaster and a dysfunctional, as it turns out, reinterpretation of the cyclical procession of the equinoxes. The Jews picked it up during the Babylonian Captivity, Christianity was forged in the crucible of apocalyptic expectations, and Islam inherited the same family resemblance. Chinese Buddhists and Daoists picked it from up along the Silk Road, and later from Christian missionaries.
One of Greer's insights is that secular utopian thinking is a contemporary form of the apocalypse meme, of the notion that history can end and in fact has ended with us, here, now, in the perfect present moving into an ever more perfect future. It is a function of what Greer calls the myth of progress. And the meme, whether in religious or secular form, in apocalyptic or utopian drag, serves the same basic purpose, to assuage our own personal fears of change, of death, and of dying. And of taking responsibility to live in the face of those realities.
It's the emotional payoffs of apocalyptic faith here and now... that explain the extraordinary persistence of the meme over more than three thousand years of history. (197)
The apocalypse meme... encourages people to believe in promises of a kind that will never be fulfilled. (200)
The apocalypse meme is not really about the end of the world, or more precisely, it's not about the kind of end that the world, or humanity, or contemporary industrial civilization, or each of our lives, will actually have. At the center of the apocalypse meme is the insistence that those endings aren't for us—that, as Joseph Rutherford insisted, millions now living will never die. (207)
I developed a love-hate relationship with this author when I worked at San Francisco's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books. I loved her because sheI developed a love-hate relationship with this author when I worked at San Francisco's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books. I loved her because she had the audacity to create unwieldy books that would not fit on any standard-sized bookshelf, and I hated her for the very same reason.
Turns out that not only are these books nearly impossible to shelve, but their design "innovations" also make them challenging to read, particularly in the case of the current book, which is around the same size as a dorm room poster. So the outrageous design is strike one against this book. (Admittedly, the big doors comprising the front cover provide an interesting, and somewhat literal, entrée into the world of religious architecture, but the user-unfriendliness of the design overwhelmed its cleverness.)
It also seems that more effort was spent on designing the book than obtaining photographs and writing text, because the book, while enormous, didn't contain nearly enough imagery, and the text was less than inspiring. (The main review describes the writing as "lively"? Compared to what, I wonder? The book of Leviticus?) Two more strikes against the book.
The selection of churches (all Christian, by the way, if your definition of "Christian" is broad enough to include Mormons, Unitarians, and Christian Scientists; religious architectural awesomeness like the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, IL, was omitted) seemed pretty arbitrary, as did the order in which they were presented. You have masterpieces like Hagia Sophia, Chartres Cathedral, and even Unity Temple alongside forgettable monstrosities like Church on the Water. I would love to know how Dupré selected the churches she included.
Finally, the introductory interview with a contemporary church architect was so tedious and filled with art-babble (e.g., praising hideous architecture and elevating it to Chartres status) that I almost quit reading this book before I made it past the preamble. Maybe I should have taken the hint....more
I didn't know what to expect when I checked this out from the library, but I was pleasantly surprised, at least until the very end. Murphy takes The TI didn't know what to expect when I checked this out from the library, but I was pleasantly surprised, at least until the very end. Murphy takes The Truman Show as his model, but ups the ante by making the star of his reality show a clone of none other than Jesus Christ himself. Throw in a Herod-like media mogul who has no problem killing newborns and manipulating adults to achieve his banally evil ends, a conflicted 6'7" ex-IRA terrorist-turned-bodyguard who is the crux (no pun intended) of the story, and an in-your-face punk ethos which challenges every middle-class assumption, and you have the most engaging engagement with the gospels since Jésus de Montréal.
As a spiritual agnostic and former instructor of world religion with one foot in Chrstianity and the other in Buddhism, I found Murphy's religion-bad/science-good dichotomy overly simplistic (to say the least), but I appreciated it nonetheless with my tongue firmly in cheek. After all, I'm reading a comic, and not a serious work on theology or the philosophy of science. The glibly certain and nihilistic ending undermined the overall effect of the rest of the book, and brought the review down by a star, but until that point I thought the book rocked.
Many reviewers have questioned the realism of gullible TV audiences, limitless corporate power, and knuckleheaded Christian fundamentalists, and I honestly don't know what world these people live in; they must not shop at the same grocery stores as me. And while I think Yeshua ben Miriam would take exception with Murphy's atheism, I also suspect he would be down with the radical message of a punk rock Jesus: to break past those aspects of religion, media, politics, etc., that enslave our spirits and to seek truth wherever it is to be found. ...more
You have to admire the audacity of the man who wrote "The Declaration of Independence." Who else would take a knife and pot of glue to the very GospelYou have to admire the audacity of the man who wrote "The Declaration of Independence." Who else would take a knife and pot of glue to the very Gospels, and, with an intuitive hermeneutic rooted in his own Enlightenment-era deistic presumptions, attempt to strip away what he considered the "dung" and reveal the "diamonds" of Christ's teachings? Jefferson's attempts to find the universal, essential teachings of Jesus foreshadowed the higher critical approaches of the 19th century, and the 20th century's searches for the hypothetical Q sayings gospel and the "authentic" words of the "historical Jesus". Those facts, plus the insightful preface (by the late UU minister Forrest Church) and afterword (by the late scholar Jaroslav Pelikan), would, by themselves make this a four- or -five star book.
Unfortunately, since the only English translation of the Gospels that Jefferson had on hand was the King James Version, the resulting "Jefferson Bible" retains the usually impenetrable and too often stultifying language of that translation. He also didn't have access to gospel parallels, and evidently didn't think to look at the Gospels synoptically, because his redaction includes many duplicate stories and parables that make reading it more tedious than necessary. Finally, in reading through what remains of the Gospels, I began to see, for the first time, what many of my atheist friends have argued for some time: that there are fewer clear and flawless "diamonds" in Christ's teachings than Sunday school would leave one to believe. The import of many parables, even with interpretations provided, is lost on a modern reader (heck, it might have been lost on a 1st century reader), and the various discourses and teachings don't sum up to a comprehensive ethical or cosmological vision. This book left me wondering whether Jesus' ethics really were that profound (or even coherent!) after all, or if we just continue to assume so as inheritors of a tradition that insists on this as a fact, even after the obviously mythical elements get stripped away. ...more
After I finished The Quantum and the Lotus, I was drawn to this volume. Instead of a conversation between two individuals from two interesting backgAfter I finished The Quantum and the Lotus, I was drawn to this volume. Instead of a conversation between two individuals from two interesting backgrounds—a scientist turned Tibetan Buddhist and a scientist raised Vietnamese Buddhist—the conversation here is within one individual, and it seems on its face to be a much more challenging discourse than the one between "new physics" and Buddhism. Biologists seem to me to be far less amenable to "spiritual" themes than their peers in physics, particularly when those themes are explicitly theist and Christian.
I anticipated an interesting read. Alas, this was mostly a slog. Firstly, his take on evolution was weak. Wright accepts the fact that evolution occured/occurs pretty much as per biology textbooks, but rejects the concomitant philosophical naturalism (a "worldview") he dubs evolutionism. He lays out three possible views of evolution for Christians (all of whom he assumes to be conservative when it comes to "Scripture"): Young Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolutionary Theism, and affirms that the last is most in line with his own beliefs. He never acknowledges that Neo-Darwinian evolution is a major challenge to theistic faiths; not just because its explanation for where we all came from undermines the central importance of a Creator, but also because much apparent ugliness and cruelty in nature suggests that such a Creator, if one were to exist, would be malign rather than beneficent. Secondly, Wright discusses performing science as a "methodological naturalist," without going into much detail of what this looks like or what challenges it poses to the Christian scientist (not to be confused with the Christian Scientist). Third, these crucial issues were cursorily dealt with before the author went on to talk about (monolithic) Christian approaches to genetic engineering, population, global warming, etc.
Maybe this book will challenge the thinking of a Young Earth Creationist, or other blinkered fundamentalists, and open them up to accepting the fact of evolution. Maybe it will encourage another kid from a Christian home to continue to study and practice science. Those would good things. Otherwise, meh....more
**spoiler alert** I really wanted to like this alternate history version of Batman, set in a theocratic America with its origins in Oliver Cromwell's**spoiler alert** I really wanted to like this alternate history version of Batman, set in a theocratic America with its origins in Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth of England. Unfortunately, as noted in Sam Quixote's review, the plot is "mind-numbingly boring." Father Bruce Wayne loses his religion as he discovers his parents were murdered, not by a lone nut, but by a politico-religious conspiracy at the highest levels. Lots of familiar DC heroes are introduced and killed off along the way. I guess this could have been worse—it could have been the other Batman/Holy Terror....more
When I first encountered this book on the Waldenbooks new age shelf, I thought that Vedanta was a person, as in "the Gospel according to Matthew," etcWhen I first encountered this book on the Waldenbooks new age shelf, I thought that Vedanta was a person, as in "the Gospel according to Matthew," etc. (This was in 1989 or 1990, when I was high school senior in Decatur, IL; I discovered this book at the same time as the Bhagavad Gita, which at the time was mainly noteworthy because it rhymed with "pita," itself another "foreign" item intruding on my culturally impoverished youth. Sad but true.)
In the subsequent two-plus decades, I spent a lot of time and energy attempting to answer my dad's perennial question, "What do you believe?" I knew I didn't accept my family's fundamentalist Lutheran take on Christianity (and hadn't since the fateful day I brought home that book on human evolution from the public library, only to be told that science was a lie when it contradicted stories in the Bible). I also knew that atheism, at least as I understood and experienced it, was not for me—it seemed too easy an out for me to say, "Oh to hell with the Jesus thing." And so in college I studied science (specifically biology and anthropology) alongside religion, trying to figure it all out. Then I got a Master's degree studying Buddhism and contemplative aspects of other religious traditions, including the Christianity in which I had been reared. I gradually arrived at a (loosely held) worldview in which I affirmed the relevance of Jesus to my own life, just not on terms my parents would, or do, understand. That worldview is one in which Jesus is a yidam, Tibetan for "tutelary deity," a concept akin to the Hindu notion of the iṣṭa-devatā.
So what does all of this rambling have to do with the book in question? Well, after having this book on my shelf for twenty years, and finally getting around to reading it, I found that my current worldview was more or less spelled out in these 126 pages. Perhaps I need not have taken the trip I took if only I had read it way back when, but then, of course, if I had read it 20 years ago, I wouldn't have gotten as much out of it (if anything at all). The decades of searching and pondering were, and are, my path. ...more
I started by saying that one of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that the problem of production has been solved. Thi
I started by saying that one of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that the problem of production has been solved. This illusion, I suggested, is mainly due to our inability to recognize that the modern industrial system, with all its intellectual sophistication, consumes the very basis on which it has been erected. To use the language of the economists, it lives on irreplaceable capital which it cheerfully treats as income. I specified three categories of such capital: fossil fuels, the tolerance margins of nature, and the human substance. Even if some readers should refuse to accept all three parts of my argument, I suggest that any one of them suffices to make my case. (21)
There is wisdom in smallness if only on account of the smallness and patchiness of human knowledge, which relies on experiment far more than on understanding. The greatest danger invariably arises from the ruthless application, on a vast scale, of partial knowledge such as we are currently witnessing in the application of nuclear energy, of the new chemistry in agriculture, of transportation technology, and countless other things. (37)
Above anything else there is need for a proper philosophy of work which understands work not as that which it has indeed become, an inhuman chore as soon as possible to be abolished by automation, but as something "decreed by Providence for the good of man's body and soul." Next to the family, it is work and the relationships established by work that are the true foundations of society. If the foundations are unsound, how could society be sound? And if society is sick, how could it fail to be a danger to peace? (38)
The market... represents only the surface of society and its significance relates to the momentary situation as it exists there and then. There is no probing into the depths of things, into the natural or social facts that lie behind them. In a sense, the market is the institutionalisation of individualism and non-responsibility. Neither buyer not seller is responsible for anything but himself. It would be "uneconomic" for a wealthy seller to reduce his prices to poor customers merely because they are in need, or for a wealthy buyer to pay an extra price merely because the supplier is poor. Equally, it would be "uneconomic" for a buyer to give preference to home-produced goods if imported goods are cheaper. He does not, and is not expected to, accept responsibility for the country's balance of payments. (46)
[T]he task of education [should] be, first and foremost, the transmission of ideas and values, of what to do with our lives. There is no doubt also the need to transmit know-how but this must take second place, for it is obviously somewhat foolhardy to put great powers into the hands of people without making sure that they have a reasonable idea of what to do with them. At present, there can be little doubt that the whole of mankind is in mortal danger, not because we are short of scientific and technological know-how, but because we tend to use it destructively, without wisdom. More education can help us only if it produces more wisdom. (86)
Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live. Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypotheses, useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the conduct of our lives or the interpretation of the world. If, therefore, a man seeks education because he feels estranged and bewildered, because his life seems to him empty and meaningless, he cannot get what he is seeking by studying any of the natural sciences, i.e. by acquiring "know-how." That study has its own value which I am not inclined to belittle; it tells him a great deal about how things work in nature or in engineering; but it tells him nothing about the meaning of life and can in no way cure his estrangement and secret despair. (92)
The ideas of the fathers in the nineteenth century have been visited on the third and fourth generations living in the second half of the twentieth century. To their originators, these ideas were simply the result of their intellectual processes. In the third and fourth generations, they have become the very tools and instruments through which the world is being experienced and interpreted. Those that bring forth new ideas are seldom ruled by them. But their ideas obtain power over men's lives in the third and fourth generations when they have become a part of that great mass of ideas, including language, which seeps into a person's mind during his "Dark Ages." (95)
The leading ideas of the nineteenth century, which claimed to do away with metaphysics, are themselves a bad, vicious, life-destroying type of metaphysics. We are suffering from them as if from a fatal disease. It is not true that knowledge is sorrow. But poisonous errors bring unlimited sorrow in the third and fourth generation. The errors are not in science but in the philosophy put forward in the name of science. (96–7)
The true problem of living—in politics, economics, education, marriage, etc.—are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites. They are divergent problems and have no solution in the ordinary sense of the word. They demand of man not merely the employment of his reasoning powers but the commitment of his whole personality. Naturally, spurious solutions, by way of a clever formula, are always being out forward; but they never work for long, because they invariably neglect one of the two opposites and thus lose the very quality of human life.... To have to grapple with divergent problems tends to be exhausting, worrying, and wearisome. Hence people try to avoid it and to run away from it. (104)
The most powerful ideas of the nineteenth century, as we have seen, have denied or at least obscured the whole concept of "levels of being" and the idea that some things are higher than others. This, of course, has meant the destruction of ethics, which is based on the distinction of good and evil, claiming that good is higher than evil. Again, the sins of the fathers are being visited on the third and fourth generations who now find themselves growing up without moral instruction of any kind. The men who conceived the idea that "morality is bunk" did so with a mind well-stocked with moral ideas. But the minds of the third and fourth generations are no longer well-stocked with such ideas: they are well-stocked with ideas conceived in the nineteenth century, namely, that "morality is bunk," that everything that appears to be "higher" is really nothing but something quite mean and vulgar. The resulting confusion is indescribable. (105)
What is to take the place of the soul- and life-destroying metaphysics inherited from the nineteenth century? The task of our generation, I have no doubt, is one of metaphysical reconstruction. It is not as if we had to invent anything new; at the same time, it is not good enough merely to revert to the old formulations. Our task—and the task of all education—is to understand the present world, the world in which we live and make our choices. (106–7)
The higher animals have an economic value because of their utility; but they have a meta-economic value in themselves. If I have a car, a man-made thing, I might quite legitimately argue that the best way to use it is never to bother about maintenance and simply run it to ruin. I may indeed have calculated that this is the most economical method of use. If the calculation is correct, nobody can criticise me for acting accordingly, for there is nothing about a man-made thing like a car. But if I have an animal&mdashy;be it only a calf or a hen—a living, sensitive creature, am I allowed to treat is as nothing but a utility? Am I allowed to run it to ruin? (113)
We know too much about ecology today to have any excuse for the many abuses that are currently going on in the management of the land, in the management of animals, in food storage, food processing, and in heedless urbanisation. If we permit them, this is not due to poverty, as if we could not afford to stop them; it is due to the fact that, as a society, we have no firm basis of belief in any meta-economic values, and when there is no such belief the economic calculus takes over. This is quite inevitable. How could it be otherwise? Nature, it has been said, abhors a vacuum, and when the available "spiritual space" is not filled by some higher motivation, then it will necessarily be filled by something lower—by the small, mean, calculating attitude to life which is rationalised in the economic calculus. (123)
As Gandhi said, the poor of the world cannot be helped by mass production, only by production by the masses. The system of mass production, based on sophisticated, highly capital-intensive, high energy-input dependent, and human labour-saving technology, presupposed that you are already rich, for a great deal of capital investment is needed to establish one single workplace. The system of production by the masses mobilises the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skilful hands, and supports them with first-class tools. The technology of mass production is inherently violent, ecologically damaging, self-defeating in terms of non-renewable resources, and stultifying for the human person. The technology of production by the masses, making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, is conducive to decentralisation, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines. I have named it intermediate technology to signify that is is vastly superior to the primitive technology of bygone ages but at the same time much simpler, cheaper, and freer than the supertechnology of the rich. (163)
Strange to say, the Sermon on the Mount gives pretty precise instructions on how to construct an outlook that could lead to an Economics of Survival. (166)
It is always possible to create small ultra-modern islands in a pre-industrial society. But such islands will then have to be defended, like fortresses, and provisioned, as it were, by helicopter from far away, or they will be flooded by the surrounding sea. Whatever happens, whether they do well or badly, they produce the "dual economy" of which I have spoken. They cannot be integrated into the surrounding society, and tend to destroy its cohesion. (177)
It is a strange fact that some people say that there are no technological choices. I read an article by a well-known economist from the U.S.A. who asserts that there is only one way of producing any particular commodity: the way of 1971 [i.e., the way of the present]. Had these commodities never been produced before? The basic things of life have been needed and produced since Adam left Paradise. He says that the only machinery that can be procured is the very latest. Now that is a different point and it may well be that the only machinery that can be procured easily is the latest. It is true that at any one time there is only one kind of machinery that tends to dominate the market and this creates the impression as if we had no choice and as if the amount of capital in a society determined the amount of employment it could have. Of course this is absurd. (226)
The idea of intermediate technology does not imply simply a "going back" in history to methods now outdated, although a systematic study of methods employed in the developing countries, say, a hundred years ago could indeed yield highly suggestive results. It is too often assumed that the achievement of western science, pure and applied, lies mainly in the apparatus and machinery that have been developed from it, and that a rejection of the apparatus and machinery would be tantamount to a rejection of science. This is an excessively superficial view. The real achievement lies in the accumulation of precise knowledge, and this knowledge can be applied in a great variety of ways, of which the current application in modern industry is only one. The development of an intermediate technology, therefore, means a genuine forward movement into new territory, where the enormous cost and complication of production methods for the sake of labour saving and job elimination is avoided and technology is made appropriate for labour-surplus societies. (198)
Everything becomes crystal clear after you have reduced realit to one—one only—of its thousand aspects. You know what to do—whatever produces profits; you know what to avoid—whatever reduces them or makes a loss. And there is at the same time a perfect measuring rod for the degree of success or failure. Let no one befog the issue by asking whether aa particular action is conducive to the wealth and well-being of society, whether it leads to moral, aesthetic, or cultural enrichment. Simply find out whether it pays; simply investigate whether there is an alternative that pays better. If there is, choose the alternative. (272–3)
1. In small-scale enterprise, private ownership is natural, fruitful, and just.
2. In a medium-scale enterprise, private ownership is already to a large extent functionally unnecessary. The idea of "property" becomes strained, unfruitful, and unjust. If there is only one owner or a small group of owners, there can be and should be, a voluntary surrender of privilege to the wider group of actual workers.... Such an act of generosity may be unlikely when there is a large number of anonymous shareholders, but legislation could pave the way even then.
3. In a large-scale enterprise, private ownership is a fiction for the purpose of enabling functionless owners to live parasitically on the labour of others. It is not only unjust but also an irrational element which distorts all relationships within the enterprise. (284)
Some inequalities of wealth and income are no doubt "natural" and functionally justifiable, and there are few people who do not spontaneously recognise this. But here again, as in all human affairs, it is a matter of scale. Excessive wealth, like power, tends to corrupt. Even if the rich are not "idle rich," even when they work harder than anyone else, they work differently, apply different standards, and are set apart from the common humanity. They corrupt themselves by practising greed, and they corrupt the rest of society by provoking envy. (298)
In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man. If only there were more and more wealth, everything else, it is thought, will fall into place. Money is considered to be all-powerful; if it could not actually buy non-material values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health, it could circumvent the need for them or compensate for their loss. The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have thus become the highest goals of the modern world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip-service may still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification; all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainments renders to the attainment of the highest.
This is the philosophy of materialism, and it is this philosophy—or metaphysic—which is now being challenged by events. There has never been a time, in any society in any part of the world, without its sages and teachers to challenge materialism and plead for a different order of priorities. (313&ndash4)
Everywhere people ask: "What can I actually do?" The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind. (318)
I enjoyed this novel far more than I initially expected, and especially relished the central sections, an astoundingly accurate reminiscence of a percI enjoyed this novel far more than I initially expected, and especially relished the central sections, an astoundingly accurate reminiscence of a perceptive adolescent's take on Christian, particularly Roman Catholic, theology. Those who endured confirmation classes of any sort as a teenager will appreciate Joyce's vividly imagined/remembered preachments and conversations on sin, hell, and God. As I was reading this novel, I remembered a night of drinking with my best friend noyoucmon, 15 or so years ago, in which we enjoyed a "hell off": I read descriptions of Tibetan Buddhist hells from Words of My Perfect Teacher, while he read from the present volume. Fun times. ...more
Lots of great material in this series of lectures, although most is about the study of religion in general and less about the specific discipline of cLots of great material in this series of lectures, although most is about the study of religion in general and less about the specific discipline of comparative religion. ...more