I have put off writing this review for quite some time as I've been resisting outing the thoughts I have in my head regarding religion. I know, I was...moreI have put off writing this review for quite some time as I've been resisting outing the thoughts I have in my head regarding religion. I know, I was pretty candid when reviewing The Varieties of Scientific Experience, and very outspoken when reviewing Butler's Parables. But something about how I felt about this book just seemed much more personal.
The premise of this book is simple (if emotionally loaded). Atheists, when rejecting religion, tend to reject all the trappings and buildings and holidays and ceremonies as well. But de Botton urges us to take another look. Very few of these things have a direct relationship to the miraculous supernatural that atheists turn their noses up at. And those ceremonies have evolved over hundreds, maybe thousands of years of human history, to appeal to parts of our psyche, to make us feel less alone, to encourage community, humility, giving us ways to acknowledge our shortcomings... Why should we give all those things up? And how can we recreate them without appealing to gods to do the heavy lifting?
As always, I enjoy de Botton's writing style, thought it seems like there is a section in every book that makes me grind my teeth. In this book it was a section on the useful applications of the doctrine of original sin. But overall, I am very sympathetic to his position. I want shrines to generosity, altars of loneliness. I want the experience of singing hymns together without having to sing theology that I don't believe in. But then, even de Botton admires the function of congregations to create community between people from different walks of life. What if we could somehow transform the nature of those congregations so that they could unite people of different faiths as well? So that Christians, Jews, atheists, Buddhists, etc., could come together, learn more about each other, and be united by their common humanity?
Yes, this is Nikki Giovanni's vision from "Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea," and I am well aware of the theological objections to "cafeteria spirituality." At this moment, though, after reading this book, the idea makes me happy.(less)
Finally! I have reached the end of the epic saga that is Tezuka's Buddha. This last installment was in places so difficult to read that it made me bri...moreFinally! I have reached the end of the epic saga that is Tezuka's Buddha. This last installment was in places so difficult to read that it made me briefly think fondly of the Old Testament slash-and-burn leave-no-woman-or-child-alive style of warfare. The never-ending cycles of revenge are beyond heartbreaking. How can anyone speak of peace or compassion in such a world?
But somehow, Buddha did. And the fact that he could stay true to his message, in the face of all he saw, all he suffered, makes it all the more inspiring.
This series as a whole is a must read for fans of graphic novels and compassion everywhere.(less)
Impulse buy at Tuesday Books in Williamston. Clearly the intersection between modern physics and religion is on my mind lately. This book is a collect...moreImpulse buy at Tuesday Books in Williamston. Clearly the intersection between modern physics and religion is on my mind lately. This book is a collection of interviews by Tippett with leading scientists. Not all are physicists, there are also medical doctors, scientists studying revenge, stress, depression. Tippett asks these scientists on the cutting edge of their respective fields how their developing understanding affects their understanding of religion and the universe. So it serves as a sort of sampler of the current world of science.
There's a lot that I really liked about this book. I appreciated the variety even as I tended to be more interested in the physicists and the chapter on Darwin and evolution. I really loved the interview with V.V. Raman, whose Hindi beliefs appreciate multiple ways of knowing, asking, understanding.
At the same time, this book had me frequently grinding my teeth. If someone said something that Tippett found particularly insightful, you were going to know all about it. Certainly it would appear in the transcript of the interview, of course. But additionally, each interview was proceeded by an introduction. Not just an introduction of the person being interviewed, because that appeared in the chapter itself. But an introduction before the chapter, that summarized the work of the interviewee, the interview itself, and touched on individual points and sometimes quotes from the interview. Then also there was an introduction to the entire book that did the same things. By the time you're reading those engaging points within the interviews, you're (or at least I) was like, "Yes, Yes! I remember the time!"
As I complained to everyone within earshot, it was suggested to me multiple times that I just skip the introductions, but that's cheating, and I couldn't force myself to do it. Seriously. Did she write the book over many months and forget that she had already quoted exactly that excerpt before? Could Penguin, in this age of e-books and cost-cutting, just not be bothered to assign this book an editor?
All the repetition made me feel like I'd easily be able to find all the interesting ideas that sparked things in my brain, but now I can't. One of these days, I'll get over my aversion to marking books. (At least some books.)
Despite my frustration, and despite the occasional tripping of my woo-alarm, I highly recommend this book. Just maybe, you know, skip the introductions. (less)
I had been wanting to read this book since it first came out in 2006. First, it took me a while to procure a copy. Then, I convinced myself that I had...moreI had been wanting to read this book since it first came out in 2006. First, it took me a while to procure a copy. Then, I convinced myself that I had to read James's The Varieties of Religious Experience first. For whatever reason, nas much as I was interested in James's work, I just could make any headway. (Perhaps it's because the edition I own is a bulky tome, and I just got sick of carting it around.)
But suddenly, this summer, it was time. We'd been watching Cosmos together as a family, and while I found the first episode a little tedious, I've just been rapturously in love with it since then. Additionally, some recent conversations at Impression 5 about the big questions of physics have had me eyeing the science shelves of my collection much more seriously when I get home.
So in I dove. This book started out magnificently. Full of the awe at the grandeur of the universe that Sagan was always so enthusiastic about. And the first half contains absolutely gorgeous illustrations. I can hardly imagine anyone not being swept up in Sagan's sense of wonder. Well, anyone not too busy being offended by Sagan's skeptical approach to the claims of the religions of the world. Seriously. I got done with this book thinking I had no business going to church ever again. I'm still recovering.
Anyway, a third of my way into this book, I ran around declaring that this was going to be one of my top ten favorite nonfiction books of all time. Now that I'm finished, I'm not so sure. The problem seems to be a disconnect between what I was hoping for in this book, and what Sagan's intent was in giving these lectures. I eagerly sought out this book to understand better Sagan's spiritual understanding of the universe. To get a glimpse of how his scientific quest sustained and uplifted him. But of course, Sagan's faith? belief? understanding? propelled him further -- to action.
The final chapter focused on the likelihood of the human race exterminating itself before taking the next steps into the stars. Specifically, he focused on the nightmare scenario of nuclear holocaust. Which just felt dated. I know, I know, there are still enough nuclear warheads on this plant to blow us all up several times over, but the sense of urgency seems to have passed. Maybe we're deluding ourselves, but it no longer seems as likely a scenario. It seems much more likely to me, today, that if we are going to destroy ourselves, it will be through climate change/ecosystem collapse -- another concern that was near and dear to Sagan's heart. But the central idea of his conclusion -- that we much unite our religious and scientific efforts in the name of saving ourselves, remains powerful and true.
One of the most delightful features of the book was the excerpts from the transcripts of the Q&A sessions from this lecture series that concludes the book. It was wonderful to read his responses to multiple questioners who tried to back him into various corners -- his answers were always respectful, always assertive, always thoughtful. It did a good deal to pull me out of the funk of the "we're all gonna die" chapter. But still, I am left with the disquieting feeling -- what more could I be doing to protect the future of the human race?(less)
This volume is once again treading on familiar ground - how religious practices and precepts are twisted by those interested in amassing power. It sta...moreThis volume is once again treading on familiar ground - how religious practices and precepts are twisted by those interested in amassing power. It started out simple enough. Individual men -- monks, commoners, princes, being moved by Buddha's teachings and devoting themselves to follow him. Then, as more powerful, teaching monks joined him, their followers joined him as well. Until there are thousands. Now that it's no longer a handful of followers, sitting at Buddha's side on a hill somewhere, there is a hunger for rules, for organization, for lines of power, demarcations of rank and status, and for right of succession.
All too familiar.
This volume is filled with tragedies that you can see coming a mile away. And a few, I suspect, that you can't.
There is a quote on the front of this book: "These translations should do for that great glorious mystic Hafiz what Coleman Barks' translations have d...moreThere is a quote on the front of this book: "These translations should do for that great glorious mystic Hafiz what Coleman Barks' translations have done for Rumi. Seekers on all paths will benefit from the radiance they emit."
What more to say than that? These poems come from the same spiritual tradition as Rumi, the same sort of ecstatic state of delirious love. And the translations are in the same spirit as Barks'. Not just a literal translation from Farsi to English, but also a poetic translation into a more modern form. These are wonderful.(less)
Some of these illustrations are so wonderful and amazing. And yet, to me at least, the poetry itself is so evocative that some of the pictures, lovely...moreSome of these illustrations are so wonderful and amazing. And yet, to me at least, the poetry itself is so evocative that some of the pictures, lovely as they are, actually limit the images already springing forth from my mind. But some are so wonderful.
This really is one of my favorite books of all time. I have opened it up again and again and again. It was especially important to me my senior year i...moreThis really is one of my favorite books of all time. I have opened it up again and again and again. It was especially important to me my senior year in college. I will always love Rumi, and Coleman Barks.(less)
Those who dislike the more supernatural elements of the Buddha series should perhaps consider skipping this volume entirely, as it is largely the stor...moreThose who dislike the more supernatural elements of the Buddha series should perhaps consider skipping this volume entirely, as it is largely the story of Ananda, a man chosen by a devil to find and kill Buddha, and so is given invincibility at a very young age. Magic abounds in this volume, making it feel more like a traditional graphic novel and less like a biography, religious in nature or not. On the bright side, this volume is less violent than recent volumes, and causes less despair at the eternal grinding misery of the human condition.