Morris Berman begins his exploration of the "hidden history" of the West with a discussion of the nemo, a word he borrows from John Fowles's AristosMorris Berman begins his exploration of the "hidden history" of the West with a discussion of the nemo, a word he borrows from John Fowles's Aristos which connotes the sense of non-existence at the core of the existential condition. The experience of this nemo, according to Berman, results from a developmental split between the felt sense of embodiment ("somatic awareness") and the mental self image that comes from how others see us ("specular awareness"). Berman uses the history of mirrors and the human relationship to animals to demonstrate how this split has led historically to a de-valuation of somatic, embodied experience, a consequent preference for "cognitively top-heavy" abstraction, and various attempts to heal the breach between the two.
The core of the book is an exploration of four different periods in Western history—the origins of Christianity and Gnosticism, the Cathar/Albigensian heresy in Southern France, the origins of science in the practice of alchemy, and the modern phenomenon of Nazism. Berman investigates how these periods relate to the suppression of the body in favor of the abstracted intellect and to the return of that suppressed somatic experience in different forms (e.g,. Gnostic mysticism, romantic love, scientific abstraction, and Nazi mass murder).
Finally, Berman looks at our prospects for the future. Since the abstraction/experience split and our attempts to smooth it over are still going strong in modern Western societies, Berman fears the potential for a resurgence of fascism. (Given the tenor of the 21st century so far, it would seem that his fears are well founded.) Instead of advocating another mystical or political attempt to heal over the split and to fill in the nemo, Berman discusses the possibility of a "gesture of balance"—learning to accept the split and the feeling of the nemo without being compelled to fill it in or smooth it over. This radical acceptance of the gap might be the key to "resolving" the gap altogether.
In short, this is a book that demands serious attention from students of history, politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, and also for those dedicated to pursuing a spiritual path....more
After reading two fairly profound, novel-length, "comic book" story arcs, I was expecting to that this collection of short stories would be filler, liAfter reading two fairly profound, novel-length, "comic book" story arcs, I was expecting to that this collection of short stories would be filler, light stuff that Gaiman could crank out while catching his breath, preparing for the next run. Boy, was I wrong.
The first story in this collection, "Three Septembers and a January," brought me to tears as I read it on my lunch break. It tells the story of one Joshua Abraham Norton, the first and only Emperor of the United States, a man whose waking dream saved him from utter despair and whose holy madness inspires many of us to this day. Gaiman does him honor with this story.
"Thermidor" introduces the reader to Orpheus, son of Dream, in a tale about Robespierre's Reign of Terror, the ironic effort to effect the Age of Reason through terror. Heads will roll!
Werewolves. Subtle rendered, hinted at, glimpsed out of the corner of the eye until the very end, but werewolves nonetheless. These People and their history and customs are the focus of the third story, "The Hunt," a tale of the Old Country told by grandfather to granddaughter.
"August" explains much about the life and deeds of the First Citizen of Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, by interweaving imperial conquest and childhood sexual abuse. I wonder how this one went down with classicists.
My least favorite story in the collection, "Soft Places," is more hallucinogenic than the others (hence the title). G.K. Chesterton (whom I can identify only thanks to Gene Wolfe's introduction), Marco Polo, Fiddler's Green, and Dream meet in the sands of the Desert of Lop. But of course, it's "really" a dream...
A retelling of the myth of "Orpheus" juxtaposes classical symbolism with contemporary style and imagery, and does a great job at it. Gaiman shows he can write a relatively straightforward story and yet suggest visual imagery which "problematizes" that same narrative.
"Parliament of Rooks" takes a little boy's dream, and uses it to discuss Adam and Eve via the classic DC Comics spooky comic narrators Cain and Abel. The reader learns about the three wives of Adam, from the Midrashic account of the Creation; about how the two brothers got neighboring houses, one of Mystery and the other of Secrets; and about the differences between a murder of crows and a parliament of rooks.
"Ramadan" concludes the volume with a haunting tale of Haroun al-Raschid, the sultan of Baghdad at the height of its prominence and power. Gaiman trenchantly connects the myth, legend, and dream of the Baghdad of Ali Baba and flying carpets with the then-contemporary (and, sadly, now-contemporary) bombed out modern metropolis.
**spoiler alert** Good anthology for course on religion in science fiction.
"In the House of Sorrows," Poul Anderson -- a contemporary**spoiler alert** Good anthology for course on religion in science fiction.
"In the House of Sorrows," Poul Anderson -- a contemporary world with Zoroaster and Mithras instead of Moses and Jesus.
"Counting Potsherds," Harry Turtledove -- What if Athens, and with it the idea of popular government, had been crushed by the Persian armies of Xerxes the Great?
"Leapfrog," James P. Hogan -- also in one of Hogan's anthologies, wherein it is asserted that private industry and the free market are the ideal means for achieving interstellar travel.
"To the Promised Land," Robert Silverberg -- Roman Imperial Egypt, 2700+ years from the founding of Rome, and the Jews are set to follow a new Moses, a new Messiah, into the intersteller Promised Land.
"Bible Stories for Adults, No. 31: The Covenant," James Morrow -- YHWH is an artificial intelligence designed to piece together the shattered tablets of Moses and reveal to the world, for the first time, the Divine Commandments. But then the Son of Rust gets involved, and those simple rules are revealed to be more problematic than you might think.
"Waiting for the Olympians," Frederik Pohl -- another vision of a contemporary, global Roman Empire, in which a struggling science-rom (romance) author explores the notion of alternate history and sketches a world in which Chrestian-Judaenism becomes the dominant ideology.
Some other fun stories too. A solid alternate-history anthology.
The Phoenicians we learned about in grade school are a larger part of history than I would have first believed, and this approachable account attemptsThe Phoenicians we learned about in grade school are a larger part of history than I would have first believed, and this approachable account attempts to set the record straight.
This loosely affiliated band of nomadic Semites provided cedarwood for the pharaohs of Egypt and learned mastery of the Mediterranean Sea, and with it, international trade. Later they had many of their coastal lands invaded by another upstart band of Semites called "Israelites" (who knew the Phoenicians as "Canaanites," the name Phoenicians used for themselves). Subsequently King Hiram of Tyre, one of the main Phoenician city-states, provided cedar and craftsmen for King Solomon's temple, and the two groups of Semitic peoples lived in relative peace under one or another empire.
Semitic gods and goddesses made their way east and were incorporated into the Greek pantheon: Aphrodite, Heracles, Adonis, Dionysus. Even the name Europe was derived from the name of a mythic daughter of a Phoenician king who was kidnapped and ravished by Zeus. Even as the Hellenes replaced the Phoenicians as the kings of trade and of the sea, they did so using the alphabet invented by their rivals. Alexander the Great was finally able to conquer Tyre before he went on to conquer much of West Asia by building a bridge from the land to the fortified island. Even with Tyre out of the picture, however, the Phoenicians were not done influencing the West.
Carthage, a city-state in North Africa, was founded by Phoenicians (Poeni or Puni in Latin), and the general who led elephants across the Alps to wage war on Rome had a Semitic name, Hanni-Baal. Although Carthage was destroyed utterly by the Romans at the conclusion of the Third Punic War, the Carthaginians/Phoenicians left their mark on the island nation of Malta, the only European nation with a Semitic official language.
This was a fascinating history of a fascinating people whose descendants still live in Lebanon and Syria, albeit without the fame and recognition one might think they deserve. It is also a much needed reminder that the world has always been smaller than it seems and that those in power today aren't guaranteed power and fame tomorrow. ...more
Good book for a Religious Themes in Science Fiction-type course. What if Nietzsche's famous statement that "God is dead" was literally true? What if tGood book for a Religious Themes in Science Fiction-type course. What if Nietzsche's famous statement that "God is dead" was literally true? What if the Creator --- the two-mile tall, bearded, bephallused, vertebrate, bipedal Creator --- died of unknown causes and plunged into the sea? Would atheists see God's death as a victory or a failure (since His death means He really existed in the first place)? Would women see the death of the patriarchal Abrahamic God as a case of just deserts or would the fact that the male Creator WAS the prototypical human ("Man") lead to even worse times for women the world over? These are some of angles from which Morrow probes the theme of the death of God. The epic quality and maritime context echo *Moby Dick* and make for a compelling read. (It also didn't hurt that I read it as a break from the Aeneid, and so blazed through it in a couple sittings.)...more
In this, the second volume in his "Hinges of History" series, Thomas Cahill explicates the Torah and finds within it the first inklings of Western ideIn this, the second volume in his "Hinges of History" series, Thomas Cahill explicates the Torah and finds within it the first inklings of Western ideals (now taken for granted as simply "the way things are").
"Most of our best words, in fact--new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice--are the gifts of the Jews," Cahill concludes on p. 241.
The "gifts of the Jews" that Cahill discusses are limited almost exclusively to that form of Judaism which scholar Jacob Neusner calls "Biblical Judaism," the form of Judaism recorded in the Hebrew Bible and transmitted to humanity by way of Christianity, via its "Old Testament," in contrast to the "Rabbinical Judaism" of the Mishna and Talmuds:
The link between the mainstream traditions of the Western world and the traditions of the Jews shows itself at its weakest when we consider the many prescriptions in the Torah that will come to serve as the basis for halakha, the body of Jewish prescriptive law that is meant to govern every aspect of life and that has grown to enormous proportions from the late classical period to the present. (153)
It might go without saying that monotheism is a gift of the Jews (whatever minimal impact Akhenaten might have had not withstanding). What this means, though, is lost on those of us for whom monotheism, (or a unified worldview, at the least) is the status quo. Regarding the horrific scene from Genesis of child sacrifice averted, Cahill asks the core questions that have confronted all subsequent monotheists:
Can we open ourselves to the God who cannot be understood, who is beyond all our amulets and schemings, the God who rains on picnics, the God who allows human beings to be inhuman, who has sentenced us all to death? All the other gods are figments, sorry projections of human desires. Only this God is worth my life... For "there is no other." (86)
Monotheism, for Cahill, means not just the notion of one God, but an understanding of God, and of the universe, that is profoundly different from the pagan view of the gods as larger-than-life-human beings:
The religious center is no longer what it had been for the Sumerians and all other ancient cultures--impersonal manipulation by means of ritual prescriptions--but a face-to-face friendship with God. The new religion has been given shape through three generations of nomadic men and women who have ceased to bow down before idols or kings or any earthly image. They have learned, with many fits and starts, to depend on God--and no one else--this inscrutable, terrifying wilderness God. (90)
Of course, I would hardly describe what (almost) happens to Yitzhak (Isaac) as an ideal expression of "friendship with God" but as Cahill reminds the reader time and again, that is because I am approaching these gifts (including monotheism) as their long-time beneficiary and heir, forgetting how raw and radical this situation must have been at its inception.
Monotheism isn't simply about having one God in distinction to having many, according to Cahill, but also opens up new possibilities, new understandings of humanity's place in the cosmos and in history, indeed the experience of "newness" itself:
This God is the initiator: he encounters them, they do not encounter him. He begins the dialogue, and he will see it through. This God is profoundly different from them, not their projection or their pet, not the usual mythological creature whose intentions can be read in auguries or who can be controlled by human rituals. This God gives and takes beyond human reasoning or justification. Because his motives are not interpretable and his thoughts and actions are not forseeable, anything--and everything--is possible....Because all is possible, faith is possible, even necessary. (93-4)
Along with monotheism, and the idea of a personal relationship between individual human beings and their transcendent Creator, the Jews bequeath the gift of history and of a historical consciousness:
There are real differences--literary differences, differences of tone and taste, but, far more important, differences of substance and approach to material--between Gilgamesh and Exodus, and even between Gilgamesh and Genesis. The anonymous authors of Gilgamesh tell their story in the manner of a myth. There is no attempt to convince us that anything in the story ever took place in historical time.... The text of the Bible is full of clues that the authors are attempting to write history of some sort....there is in these tales a kind of specificity--a concreteness of detail, a concern to get things right--that convinces us that the writer has no doubt that each of the main events he chronicles happened....
We are looking here at one of the great turning points in the history of human sensibility--at an enormous value shift. What was real for the Sumerians (and for all other peoples but the Jews) was the Eternal. What was to become gradually real for the Jews and remains real for us is the here and now and the there and then.(126-8)
A new sense of history means a new sense of possibility, the unknowable, and of moral responsibility for the future:
For the Jews, history will be no less replete with moral lessons [than myth was for the ancients]. But the moral is not that history repeats itself but that it is always something new: a process unfolding throigh time, whose direction and end we cannot know, except insofar as God gives us some hint of what is to come.... We do not control the future; in a profound sense, even God does not control the future because it is the collective responsibility of those who are bringing about the future by their actions in the present (130-1)
The Jews gave us the first hint of the weekend, of a time without work, with its implicit valuation of freedom, education, creativity, and self-betterment:
No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. The God who made the universe and rested bids us to do the same, calling us to a weekly restoration of prayer, study, and recreation (or re-creation).... The connection to both freedom and creativity lie just below the surface of this commandment: leisure is appropriate to a free people, and this people so recently free find themselves quickly establishing this quiet weekly celebration of their freedom; leisure is the necessary ground of creativity, and a free people are free to imitate the creativity of God. The Sabbath is surely one of the simplest and sanest recommendations any god has ever made... (144)
Cahill sees in the stodgy old Ten Commandments ("a simple, incontestable thing to say that [they sound] banal. But for all our resourcefulness we have never yet managed to do [what is commanded]") a surprising freedom, much in the same way that students of Zen Buddhism discuss the freedom provided by the seemingly austere forms:
[T]his gift of the Commandments allows us to live in the present, in the here and now.... in this moment--and only in this moment--I am in control. This is the moment of choice, the moment when I decide whether I will plunge in the knife or not, take the treasure or not, begin to spin the liar's web or not. This is the moment when the past can be transformed and the future lit with radiance. And such a realization need bring neither regret nor anxiety but, if I keep the Commandments, true peace. But not the peace of death, not the peace of coming to terms with the Wheel. For in choosing what is right I am never more alive. (146)
Finally, the Jews gave us prophecy and with it the earliest notions of social justice and compassion:
[T]o serve God means to act with justice. One cannot pray and offer sacrifice while ignoring the poor, the beggars at the gates. But more radical still: if you have more than you need, you are a thief, for what you "own" is stolen from those who do not have enough. You are a murderer, who lives on the abundance that has been taken from the mouths of the starving. You are an idolator, for what you worship is not the true God. You are a whore, for you have bedded down with other gods, the gods of your own comfort and self-delusion... (214)
[T]he true prophet is the one who sees the future implicit in the present; and his authenticity is confirmed when his prophecy comes true. (226)
God wanted something other than blood and smoke, buildings and citadels. He wanted justice, mercy, humility. He wanted what was invisible. He wanted their hearts--not the outside, but the inside.
There is no way of exaggerating how strange a thought this was.... There was in every human being an "inside," which the Jews had never steadily adverted to before. Could God possibly mean that each of them was to be a king, a prophet, a priest in his own right?... Those who first thought these thoughts must have felt that a great thunderclap had shaken them to their roots. They could now look back over the whole of their history... and see that God had been leading them all along, from one insight to another, and telling them a story, "something new on earth," the story of themselves. (226-8)
This book, like its predecessor How the Irish Saved Civilization is an engaging read that brings some scholarly insights to a popular audience, but this work lacks the sparkling wit that made the former volume at times laugh out loud funny. (That is possibly because the Irish commentators were more ribald and carefree than the Hebrew chroniclers of the Tanakh, and so Cahill less funny--if more profound--material with which to work this time around.)
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)
[T]his book is part of a series on cultural impact. And the great question about Jesus must always be: Did he make a difference? Is our world--in the
[T]his book is part of a series on cultural impact. And the great question about Jesus must always be: Did he make a difference? Is our world--in the century that began with the Turkish genocide against the Armenians, reached its nadir with the "scientific" holocaust of six million Jews (and five million others), not to speak of the slaughter by their own governments of Russians and Chinese in the scores of millions, and now comes to its end with genocides in central Africa and "ethnic cleansings" in the Balkans that are still, horribly enough "in progress"--is our world any better than the one inhabited by the Celts and Romans of twenty-four centuries ago? Did the values preached by Jesus influence the Anglican Queen Elizabeth or her opponent the Catholic Earl O'Neill? Did she ever shudder at the carnage of her battlefields? Did he, even once, as he surveyed the hacked limbs, the gouged eyes, the grisly dying, ever wonder if there was another way? Do Christian values have any influence on the actions of Christians who on both sides of the English/Irish divide have continued to "fight the old fight again"? Did the life and death of Jesus make any difference to the denizens of first-century TransTiberim? Does he make any difference to the residents of today's Trastevere?
These are hard questions; some will no doubt label them unfair. But they must be posed at the outset. For if this Jesus, this figure professedly central to our whole culture, has had no effect, he has no place in a history of cultural effects. (8-9)
As we now stand at the entrance to the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications--if we had followed in the humble footsteps of a heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else's wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the levite--the world we inhabit would be a very different one. (185)
After all, it is the Bible, which carries a LOT of baggage. As the sacred scripture of over 1 billion people,The Bible is a difficult book to review.
After all, it is the Bible, which carries a LOT of baggage. As the sacred scripture of over 1 billion people, its impact on the lives and minds of those who view it as The Book is difficult for a secular reader to appreciate fully. Moreover its influence on two thousand years of human history and culture cannot be overstated. That said, it is not really a book for general reading, nor was it ever intended to be. It is hard to consider it a book at all; it is instead a particular edition of a library of texts, first transmitted orally and then written, spanning a time frame of a millennium and a half, dealing with the evolution of one religion and the formation of another. So instead of providing a flowing story-line with an overarching plot and character development, the Bible presents a tangle of poems, myths, hymns, aphoristic wisdom literature, cultural and historical narratives, prophetic exhortations for social justice, and theological fragments. Part of the challenge of reading the Bible as a whole is figuring out just what all these different parts can possibly mean: one their own, in relationship to one another, in their original contexts, and within my own 21st century USAmerican experience. Some of texts speak directly to "the Human Condition" and are as radical to the contemporary reader as they were to the powers and principalities of the times in which they were composed. Other texts seem relevant only to archaeologists and students of ancient history, and still other texts seem downright perverse and un-sacred; I honestly have some problems with my nine-year old reading the Bible because of the questions it raises (almost none of which have to do with God or theology).
I didn't really like the One Year format. Breaking the various texts into sections and then alternating the daily excerpts (in the order of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, Proverbs) made it difficult to maintain continuity in the readings. From what I have gathered online, there are resources to assist the reader in dividing the Bible into daily portions, and so I recommend trying that out with the Bible you already have or can obtain at any motel, second-hand store, or Campus Crusade give-away. I am also not so keen on the New Living Translation. While I am not a Bible scholar or an expert in translation, I have certain preferences and look to the NRSV as my "favorite" translation of the Bible, having used that while at university. The biases of the translating committee of the New Living Translation were pretty obvious in points (e.g., repeatedly translating "disciples" as "believers," and translating "the saints" as "other believers," etc.), and at other times the language lacked any sense of gravitas, sort of like the King James version in reverse.
I finally settled on two stars for the rating. The Bible deserves a couple of stars simply for being one of the main wellsprings of Western civilization, religion, and literature. I find many verses in the Bible to be amazing (5 stars) because of their beauty or insight or provocative quality, but others (too many) are difficult to understand or downright meaningless (2 stars, tops). Unfortunately way too much of the Bible was devoted to war, warriors, and war-making for my taste (not surprising, seeing that God is regularly referred to as the "LORD of Hosts" or "LORD of Heaven's Armies"), and many of God's proclamations reminded me too much of an abusive spouse, raging and forgiving, raging and forgiving. As with many other challenging books, this is another that I want to re-read and re-engage with, but I am going to read the Jewish Study Bible next time, maybe for 2012 or 2013....more
I remember buying this book in 1991 or 1992 at the Old Book Barn in Forsyth and feeling like I had theological nitroglycerin in my hands. I had recentI remember buying this book in 1991 or 1992 at the Old Book Barn in Forsyth and feeling like I had theological nitroglycerin in my hands. I had recently been introduced to the Documentary Hypothesis of Biblical origins, and I thought that this "retranslation" of one of the component texts/writers this theory invokes, "J," would be earth-shattering. Excitedly I placed it on mt bookself and there it sat for almost a quarter-century before I picked it up on impulse.
I honestly wish I had left it on the shelf as a totem, because now that I have read it, I don't need to keep it around. While the book does indeed present the titular "Book of J," the translation doesn't seem all that radical (though I did not read it side-by-side with the NRSV or other Bible translation to see the explicit differences). It was also hard to suspend 41 years of my own religious conditioning in reading these over-familiar stories, in order to see what Bloom sees, namely a secular, urbane, ironic writer of the stature of Shakespeare. I was expecting a book about the Documentary Hypothesis, and instead I got 100-plus pages of Bloom's assertions about a hypothetical writer about which no one knows anything; some folks might say I got what I came for. ...more
Time and again in history, multiple religions have existed within one another's spheres of influence, and consequently each tradition has generated muTime and again in history, multiple religions have existed within one another's spheres of influence, and consequently each tradition has generated multiple responses to these social realities of religious plurality. Scholar of Indian philosophy Coward herein recounts many of these responses on the part of two "Dharmic" traditions (Hinduism and Buddhism) and four Abrahamic religions—the Big Three of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and, interestingly (but not surprisingly, given the nature of the publisher), the Baha'i faith. The author highlights their successes and limitations alike. The conclusion sketches out what we may generally learn from and profit by in looking at the historical responses to religious pluralism on the part of these many faiths, and also suggests future directions for interfaith dialogue and relations.
Our study of how each religion has responded and is responding to the challenge of religious pluralism has identified three general themes and common principles: 1) that religious pluralism can best be understood in terms of a logic that sees the One manifesting as the many—transcendent reality phenomenalizing as the various religions; 2) that there is a common recognition of the instrumental quality of particular religious experience [i.e., religious experience is an "instrument" or means of effecting particular changes in the life of the experiencer]; and 3) that spirituality is identified and validated by the superimposing of one's own criterion upon other religions. (140)
As a first step, then, let us attempt to indicate some of the presuppositions upon which the religious dialogue of the future should be grounded. These presuppositions will be drawn inductively from our prior analysis of the present situation in religious pluralism. The seven key presuppositions are these: 1) that in all religions there is experience of a reality that transcends human conception; 2) that that reality is conceived in a plurality of ways both within each religion and among all religions and that the recognition of plurality is necessary both to safeguard religious freedom and to respect human limitations; 3) that the pluralistic forms of religion are instrumental in function; 4) that what is absolute and decisive in any religion is one's commitment to truth, yet one's grasp of truth is and remains limited; 5) that the Buddha's teaching of critical tolerance and moral compassion always must be observed; 6) that through self-critical dialogue we must penetrate ever further into our own particular experience of transcendent reality (and possibly into the transcendent reality of others); and 7) that within the plurality of our interfaith encounter a focus on "the suffering other" and "the suffering earth" can provide a shared starting point for a dialogue toward mutual cooperation and understanding. (153)
A basic prerequisite for future dialogue is that all participants have accurate information about each other's religion. Fulfilling this prerequisite is probably the single largest obstacle to the success of religious dialogue. The majority of people today are illiterate in their own religion as well as the religions of others. The academic discipline of religious studies has a a major role to play in overcoming this problem. Intellectual knowledge of the facts of all religions is needed—but alone that will not be sufficient. We will not be able to empathize with the sense of transcendent reality that the forms of religion seek to convey if only surface or intellectual knowledge is achieved. True empathy and understanding require that we learn each other's languages, for therein lie the important nuances of transcendent experience that are often lost in translation. The educational prerequisite for future dialogue is a stiff and serious one, requiring dedication and effort from all who would partake of this dialogue. (156)
This is an excellent, clearly written, solidly four-star primer on the subject of religious pluralism, and the tentative conclusions at which Coward arrives merit further contemplation and reflection on the part of scholars and believer-practitioners alike. What makes it a five-star book, in my estimation, is the author's incorporation into his conclusions of the "two truths" approach to religious truth claims propounded by Mahayana Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna—that religious truth claims are self-contradictory when taken as absolute truths, as can be shown through reductio ad absurdum, but are often quite useful and powerful when regarded as provisional and instrumental. In graduate school, we called this approach, which after Nāgārjuna was called Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka, the "Borg" of religious philosophy. But it doesn't assimilate different religions and philosophies so much as hoist them from their own petards, making everyone a little more humble and providing a good starting point for dialogue.
The tolerant but critical attitude of the Buddha towards the plurality of religious views is shaped into a rigorous philosophic approach by the Mādhyamika Buddhists. Like the Buddha, the Mādhyamika purpose in criticism is affirmative. The critical analysis of the beliefs of a religious view is not aimed at rejecting that religion or demonstrating its inferiority in relation to other religious views (including even other Buddhist views); rather the goal of Mādhyamika is the removal of ego-attachment to any religious philosophy or theology so that true spirituality can be experienced and lived....Philosophy, theology and scripture have useful roles to play as guides, as providing the contents for 'provisional faith'. But as soon as such viewpoints become attached to the ego and made absolute, they destroy the capacities for tolerance, objective criticism and compassionate action. The unending and often destructive history of philosophical/theological argument among religions and within particular religions is cited as evidence of the truth of the Buddha's insight. (133)
[The] universal human characteristic of ego-attachment to one's own position has been given much attention by Nāgārjuna and other Mādhyamika Buddhists. They approached the problem as follows. Because human beings are by nature ego-attached to their own view or theological position, no amount of arguing from an opposed position will have any effect. The theologians in question will simply reinterpret an objection or counter position in such a way as to fit their system. In other words, by the mechanism of projection they will attempt to force their opponents off certain presuppositions and on to theirs. And because the opponents will be attempting to do the same (all are ego-attached to their positions and cognitively cannot let go), an endless and unhelpful debate will ensue. With this psychological insight in hand, the model developed by the Mādhyamika Buddhists for theological debate was simple and devastating. The Mādhyamika entered the debate with no theological position. The aim was to understand the position of an opponent so completely that the Mādhyamika would be able to find the internal inconsistencies inevitably present in every theological system and then by reductio ad adsurdum argument bring the whole thing crashing down around the ears of the opponent. To be defeated by one's own system brings on a severe psychological shock—one that might even convince the theologian to give up theologizing permanently. And that, of course, was the very thing the Mādhyamika was hoping to accomplish. Once theologians put down their pens and let go of their favourite concepts, the way is cleared or emptied of intellectual obstacles so that they can finally see reality as a pure perception and live their lives appropriately. (150–1)
I really wish I liked this book more than I did, especially since I ordered a copy for my dad as a father's day gift based on my enjoyment of the firsI really wish I liked this book more than I did, especially since I ordered a copy for my dad as a father's day gift based on my enjoyment of the first 20 or so pages. Unfortunately, this book has too many problems that kept me appreciating it more fully. For one thing, Wolverton jettisoned almost everything interesting about his visual style when he created his illustrations for the Bible. Evidently, he, like so many other Christians, felt that silliness and reverence don't mix at all, and so he inserted the proverbial corncob up his butt whenever he sat down to sketch Holy Writ. His "grown-up" visual style isn't bad at first (and near the end, in the Apocalypse illustrations), but it wears thin quickly, especially when the reader gets to the middle of the book. At this point in his Bible illustration trajectory, Wolverton's budget dried up, and he was forced to replace full-page artwork with little visual "quotes" that just don't work. Because he really didn't do such a great job in selecting either the stories to illustrate or the images with which to illustrate them, the reader gets treated to lots of landscapes with shadowy figures in the distance, people with surprised looks on their faces, and drawings of piles of rocks. Why he chose to spend more effort illustrating the minor prophets than he did the classic stories of Jonah, Job, etc. left me scratching my head. If you need a comics adaptation of the Bible, check out R. Crumb's masterful look at Genesis and leave this one on the shelf. ...more
I've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook cameI've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook came out in a new edition---for $110!). In spite of its lack of much primary source material (which Philip Novak's collection of scriptures supplements), this is an excellent introduction to the major religions of the world, "our wisdom traditions." Smith's concise chapters describe the big religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity--as well as discussing the role of religion in the 21st century and providing tips on how to approach religions and religious diversity. The illustrations are the weakest part of the book. Some are excellent, others (like the image of Mahavira in the chapter on Buddhism) are out of place, and the heavy reliance on the paintings of Marc Chagall didn't make much sense when the religions of the world afford so much imagery. ...more
The series totally lost steam with this, the intended penultimate volume. Still wheels within wheels, but now they aStop the ride, I want to get off.
The series totally lost steam with this, the intended penultimate volume. Still wheels within wheels, but now they are turning aimlessly. And there was something absurd about the last chapter.
Seventeen years ago, when I first read the Dune saga up until this installment, a friend told me he thought that Herbert was senile when he wrote this one. After finishing it finally, I've got to wonder... ...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