Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘books’

The Age of Doubt (and The Day of Hope). Christopher Lane’s New Book on Agnosticism

Posted by spritzophrenia on May 7, 2011

Christopher Lane has recently released a book, The Age of Doubt, on doubt and agnosticism (surprise!). He’s adapted a chapter for New Humanist (UK), which I’ve excerpted below. But first, for those who saw my last post, an update on my sister, Carol.

Carol had her surgery yesterday, and the news post-op is much better than we thought. The colon tumor has been removed, and the ??? in her ovary was not, in fact, cancer. It was removed and her ovary is still intact. No other new signs of cancer were found, so that’s good news too.

She’s walking around a lot today, as that’s a requirement to aid the healing of the colon. Apparently it heals very fast, perhaps in 48 hours. In a couple of weeks she’ll be starting chemotherapy to get the small tumors in her liver. So all in all, the news is very positive.

That’s the hope. Here’s Christopher Lane on doubt:

Our culture has become impoverished by certainty. In our overheated climate of polarised public debate, we give less credence to uncertainty; yet the crises that preoccupy us – including religious extremism – demand that we tolerate increasing amounts of it.

Doubt and its religious cousin agnosticism, a word rarely heard nowadays, may have fallen out of fashion, but they have much to teach us, despite the disdain of Richard Dawkins, who famously wrote in The God Delusion: “I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.” He also quotes approvingly Quentin de la Bédoyère, science editor of the Catholic Herald, who in 2006 wrote that the Catholic historian Hugh Ross Williamson respected firm religious belief and certain unbelief, but “reserved his contempt for the wishy-washy boneless mediocrities who flapped around in the middle.”

To see doubters and freethinkers such as Herbert Spencer, Leslie Stephen, George Eliot, Thomas Huxley (who coined the word “agnostic”) and Darwin himself mocked in this way, given their intense engagement with complex human issues, only highlights the boldness of their thinking and the intellectual hubris of today’s unbridled certainty. The stridency of both Dawkins and de la Bédoyère misses how these and other Victorian intellectuals saw doubt as a creative force – inseparable from belief, thought, and debate, and a much-needed antidote to fanaticism and zealotry.

Ironically, it was the Victorians, often dismissed as prudish and uptight, who led the way to an open-mindedness and engagement with ambiguity that stands in stark contrast to the impoverishment of contemporary thinking about religious doubt and belief.

Fifteen years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, the Scottish editor, writer, and publisher Robert Chambers anonymously brought out a book called Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844). In it he argued that the progressive evolution of species was fully compatible with God-given laws. Vestiges reached a transatlantic and cross-European audience far larger than David Hume could secure with broadly compatible claims in the mid-18th century. Among Chambers’ fascinated, sometimes horrified, readers were Queen Victoria, Abraham Lincoln, Alfred Tennyson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Florence Nightingale, Benjamin Disraeli and Charles Darwin. The book became a widespread topic of conversation across Britain in particular.
[Interesting: Darwin wasn’t the first to have a concept of evolution, only one of the first to come up with a successful model of how it might work. Apart from Chambers, there was another chap who’s often regarded as a co-inventor of evolution, whose name escapes me. Can anyone remind me?]


[As a sociologist, I find Herbet Spencer’s inclusion illuminating:] One of the most prominent thinkers to advance [the agnostic] claim was Herbert Spencer. The polymath sociologist, philosopher and biologist argued in First Principles (1862) that religion and science must grapple with “the Unknowable”, a blind spot in human understanding that faith had once seemed to fill.

Despite his forceful defence of Darwin and agnosticism, however, [Thomas] Huxley did not embrace full-blown atheism. He acknowledged “a pretty strong conviction that the problem [of existence] was insoluble”, a position that asks doubt and intellectual inquiry to replace hedging, complacency and anything resembling easy acquiescence.

A more astute contemporary thinker than Dawkins on the issue of agnosticism, in its broadest, existential sense, is the American playwright John Patrick Shanley. In the preface to his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt (also a film), he argues that “doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite – it is a passionate exercise.” While such questioning takes us past a point of comfort, he claims, it is “doubt (so often experienced initially as weakness) that changes things”, and thus represents “nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the Present”.

Lane’s full essay is here and the book The Age of Doubt is at Amazon.

Even in the last day I’ve had new subscribers to this blog– thankyou. It really flatters me that forty-five people value my thoughts enough to want to be updated when there’s something new. If you haven’t yet subscribed, it’s easy, just enter your email in the box at the left.

Doubt, Hope; let me conclude with the trivial. Today we hired a car seat for the impending arrival of baby (7 weeks or so away), test played the new board game my son Master T is working on and I bought some new clothes. It’s strange how new clothes can make one feel so much better. Not that I was feeling bad, I’m refreshingly happy these days. (Note to self: Get new depression meds on Monday.) Sometimes maybe it’s best to ignore the big picture and enjoy the small things in life.

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Split Enz | Poor Boy

Posted in agnostic, hardship, personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Physically Impossible?

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 19, 2010

Here, as promised, is Hugh Ross’ rebuttal of the ideas in Frank Tipler’s “The Physics of Immortality”. You might want to check the first post to refresh yourself.

It is hard to treat these FAP [Final Anthropic Principle] and Omega Point hypotheses seriously. In The New York Review of Books, noted critic Martin Gardner offerred this evaluation of Barrow and Tipler’s work:

“What should we make of this quartet of WAP, SAP, PAP, and FAP? In my not so humble opinion I think the last principle is best called CRAP, the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle.”

Ross goes on to criticise the theory in two scientific areas:

Warning: Journalist does not understand what they are writing about.

Insufficient Memory

Tipler grossly overestimates the role of human memory and the future capability of computers. Just as computers cannot function with memory banks only, so, too, the human mind and human consciousness do not operate by memory alone. While remarkable advances in computer technology are taking place now, the laws of physics impose predictable finite limits on future computer hardware. As Roger Penrose has documented rigorously in The Emperor’s New Mind and Shadows of the Mind, these limits do not even permit the duplication of human consciousness let alone the fantastic capabilities Tipler Suggests.

Let me butt in here, by wondering what those currently engaged in AI research would think of that last statement? I’ve just read an intriguing book about the MIT research with Cog and Kismet, and what implications this has for human consciousness and God.

Expansion of the Universe

Tipler’s cosmic model on which his whole premise rests is now out of date. It depends on the universe possessing enough matter to force the universe into a future stage of collapse. But … measurements in 1999 and 2000 establish that only three-tenths of the mass necessary to force a future collapse of the universe exists. Moreover, the measured value for the space energy density term guarantees that the universe not only will expand forever, it will expand at an exponentially increasing rate.

Science aside, i’ll also note Ross’s objections to

Moral Perfectablity of Humans

Apparently according to Tipler, future computers will give everyone perfect morality by exposing them to game theory. “Consider, however, that if Tipler’s proposal were true, the better people comprehend game theory, the less propensity they would exhibit to commit evil. Unfortunately for Tipler, no such correlation is in evidence”. [Ross]

Relational Bliss

[Tipler] produces an equation to “prove” that this computer generated cosmic utopia will bring a woman to every man and a man to every woman capable of delivering 100,000 times the impact and satisfaction of the most fulfilling partner each can imagine in life as we know it. … Evidently, many people have never tasted any greater delight than what sexual experience can bring.

In an article for the Skeptical Inquirer, Gardner again brandished his satiric knives:

“I leave it to the reader to decide whether they should opt for OPT (Omega Point Theology) as a new scientific religion superior to Scientology – one destined to elevate Tipler to the rank of a prophet greater than L.Ron Hubbard – or opt for the view that OPT is a wild fantasy generated by too much reading of science fiction.”

~ Hugh Ross The Creator and the Cosmos pp 166,167

Tipler’s not the only one to make mileage out of quantum physics, but at least he’s a qualified scientist. I like this comment from Amazon so much, I’m going to repeat it:

Quantum Physics is the new magic. I’ve noticed from hanging out on philosophy forums online, that Quantum Physics is the new magic. There’s a quantum theory of consciousness, quantum this, quantum that. Everything can be proven with Quantum Physics. So some places have a sort of Godwin’s Law that you can’t use Quantum Physics as proof of anything — unless you yourself have a strong background in the subject. Of course, this doesn’t quite apply, as Tipler is a mathematical physicist, but his writings certainly remind me of all the Quantum Physics-as-magic posts I’ve seen written online.

Interestingly, some early quantum physicists speculated on how their theories might speak to our ideas about consciousness, but others in the same period (eg Einstein and Bohr) were equally opposed to these suggestions. Here’s some articles that helped me understand some of the ways people get quantum physics wrong:
* Chopra Mangles Quantum Mechanics – Again
* Wikipedia on Quantum Mysticism
* Quantum Quackery
* Far Out, Man. But Is it Quantum Physics?
* Thinking About Quantum Mysticism

I see at least two interesting things from Ross’s rebuttal. I’m not qualified to comment on the physics, but maybe the full range of human life can’t be modelled in a computer? And what about Ross’s contention that even with better education, we still display far too much evil in our lives?

.

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Posted in cosmology, God, Physics, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

From The Book of Atheist Spirituality

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 12, 2010

I think the reviewer who suggested The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality should be read along with the current offerings from Dawkins, Dennet et al was right. It’s fairly erudite, as one would expect from a French philosopher, but also readable, especially if one has a basic grasp of this field. I think believers as well as atheists would find this book worthwhile.

I won’t consider here whether he makes a good case for his question Can There Be An Atheist Spirituality?, especially as I haven’t finished it yet. I did find his writing enjoyable and stimulating so before the book goes back to the library I’ll drop in a few quotes:

As shown in the first chapter, we are finite beings who open on to infinity. It can now be added: we are ephemeral beings who open on to eternity, and relative beings who open on to the absolute. This ‘openness’ is the spirit itself. Metaphysics means thinking about these things; spirituality means experiencing them, exercising them, living them.

night sky

This is what distinguishes spirituality from religion, which is merely one of its possible forms. … All religions involve spirituality, at least to some extent, but all forms of spirituality are not religious. Whether or not you believe in God, the supernatural or the sacred, you are confronted with the infinite, the eternal and the absolute – and with yourself. Nature suffices. The truth suffices. Our own transitory finiteness suffices. …

To be an atheist is not to deny the existence of the absolute; rather, it is to deny its transcendance, its spirituality, its personality. It is to deny that the absolute is God. But to be not-God is not to not be! Otherwise we ourselves and the world itself, would not be!

Does the word absolute bother you? I understand. I, too, long shied away from it. Indeed, nothing prevents you from replacing it with another. Being? Nature? Becoming? With or without a capital letter? Everyone is free to choose their own vocabulary and I know of none that are faultless.

If we decide to take the word spirituality in its more restricted sense, we shall need to go further and higher: at its utmost, spiritual life verges on mysticism.

Here again, it too me a long time to accept the latter word. To my suspicious ears, it had a religious or irrational ring to it. Eventually, however, I was forced to acknowledge that it was the only word that fitted.

~ Andre Comte-Sponville, quotes from pp 136 – 141

Read more by me on this topic here.

Some music to help you feel spiritual? Carbon Based Lifeforms:

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Posted in atheism, Philosophy, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

When Courage Takes Flight

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 5, 2010

“I admire anyone who has the guts to write anything at all”, said admired writer and novelist E.B White.

Randy’s This Year You Write Your Novel reminded me to pull Ralph Keyes’ The Courage To Write off my bookshelf. I’m not a huge fan of books on writing. It’s too easy to think ABOUT writing, than to actually sit down and write. Nevertheless, this book is exactly what I need when I want to be distracted. It inspires me.

Keyes contends that writing is an act of courage. Check out what these other not-so-obscure authors have to say:

“All my life, I’ve been frightened at the moment I sit down to write” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one” – John Steinbeck

“Blank pages inspire me with terror” – Margaret Atwood

Keyes says,

We like to imagine White on his New England farm dashing off lighthearted essays and charming books for children when he wasn’t slopping hogs or chopping wood. In fact, White worried over every word. He rewrote pieces twenty times or more and sometimes pleaded with the post-master to return a just-mailed manuscript so he could punch up its ending or rewrite the lead.

In addition to being a consummate rewriter, White was a gifted procrastinator.

Procrastination is the sap that drips from the gnarled branch of anxiety. I think the tree is rooted in fear. Recently I linked anxiety to my periodic depressions. This is a good thing as my therapist and I are going to have a field day, and it may yield results in my writing. If I can gain insight and lick this, I hope the days when I want to complete that assignment but decide to “just give the kitchen sink one last polish” will be fewer. We are not alone. Procrastination, anxiety and fear are much more common to writers than I realised.

So when the blank page is staring at you, what to do? William Moon once advised a group of aspiring writers, “Anything you can do to trick yourself out of panicking, do it”. When you’re afraid to write try some of these:

* Give yourself permission to just do one small part.
Tell yourself you’ll just write one sentence and then give up. You might be surprised to find yourself achieving just a little more.

* Give yourself guilt-free time out.
At university my friend Nathan “knew” when he just wasn’t going to sit down and study. Rather than mope about the house in a miasma of guilt, he gave himself permission to go to the cinema – and not to feel guilty. He reasoned it was a better use of his time to enjoy a movie than to feel guilty all afternoon and achieve nothing.

* Develop the space where you write so it works for you.
Do you like to sit in your kitchen and write in pencil? Do you like to write with a glass of wine? Do you like to write naked? Whatever works for you will help lower anxiety.

* Do something different.
This is a foil to the previous point. If you sit to write, try standing for a change. Or lying in bed. Or writing on the back of envelopes, if you normally type at a keyboard.

* Use fear as an ally.
Anxiety can give a heightened perception that can yield great insight and great writing. Bad days are sometimes easier to write about than good days.

* Try prayer or meditation. If you’re spiritual, starting with a period of unburdening and relaxation may help. Many studies have shown this can calm practitioners.

* Acquire Ralph Keyes’ book.
He suggests solutions as well as detailing the foibles of the great and the lowly. If you’re going to read a book about how to write, it might as well be a good one. (I’ll take that kickback now, Ralph.)

Above all, take heart: “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”, according to Martin Luther King Jr. If salvation is in the hands of such as these, surely we can handle a mere pencil and paper? The comments are waiting: Go, write now.

Jonathan Elliot writes at Spritzophrenia where he mangles the interface between spirituality, personal development and humor.

First published as a guest post on Randy Murray’s blog. Thanks Randy!

Posted in Off Topic, writing | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Showing My Hand – The Meaning of Life

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 21, 2010

For twenty years, off and on, I’ve thought about writing a book on The Meaning of Life. Last year I decided to work more explicitly towards that goal, and this blog is part of my journey towards publishing. Here’s The Meaning of Life – Part One, for example. I really value your input and constructive criticism.

I had thought I’d call my book simply, “The Meaning of Life”. However, in my research I’ve just discovered a book in the library, published only a few years ago by a UK professor of English titled “The Meaning of Life”. Aargh! Robbed! Beaten to my goal! 😉

Actually, I’m feeling quite content and rather phlegmatic. Let’s face it, it’s a big question and there’s room for all. I haven’t read his book yet, but I feel my hand somewhat forced. Before reading it, I want to note down my general ideas for structuring my book, lest I be accused of plagiarism.

42 Meaning of Life
42 – I know, I don’t get it either 😉

Big caveats: This is the beginning of a work in progress, largely in note form, misses out a lot, and will no doubt change over the course of the project. This post is abandoned, rather than finished. (Hopefully the rest of my blog is more readable – eg my stuff on Atheist Spirituality). That said, here’s a preview:


Book structure.
I’m intending to make it personal as well as philosophical? How to pitch it? Academic versus popular is tricky. I want pictures! eg Engineers versus Physicists versus Philosophers

[Edit: I now think the structure will be more short vignettes, but the content will be similar, so will leave this here.]

Working Title:
42 Is Not Enough:
The Meaning of Life

“God is dead! And we have killed him!” – Nietzsche

“How can anyone discover what life means?
It is too deep for us, too hard to understand.
But I devoted myself to knowledge and study;
I was determined to find wisdom and the
answers to my questions”
– Ecclesiastes (The Bible)

“‘If life was devoid of realities there would be no meaning to life’, my father wrote in one of his forewords to his book, in Hindi” – Sri Bachchan, Indian actor.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” – Joy J. Golliver

1. Welcome to Your Life
(Introduction)

My intentions, biases and background. (Perhaps to be unpacked through the book.) I’m an open agnostic, or perhaps a theistic agnostic or a deist.
This book is only the story so far. I’d like to revisit it in 20 years and update or change it. After all, I have neglected major religions like Hinduism, and I can’t possibly fairly evaluate everything. Look at how big the religion and philosophy sections in public libraries are! The dangers of guru-ism?

Having said that, I do think there are less than a dozen major worldview alternatives, eg atheism, theism, polytheism, pantheism, monism… And few options within those are realistic, eg polytheism is just too unlikely imo. Within theism, Mormonism, for example, is just too unbelievable. US archaeology alone destroys it. Sorry Mormons 😦

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors. I feel uncomfortable criticising a spiritual path from the outside so I’m relying on those writing from the inside. I also acknowledge the large number of good, moral people in any worldview.

Music! Supertramp | The Logical Song That song really affected me and made me think, from a young age.

Feel free to skip straight to my answer, although it will be more fully understood in the context of other things.

“If everybody contemplates the infinite instead of fixing the drains, many of us will die of cholera.” ~John Rich

2. There’s no Escape
(The “feel” of the meaning of life)

It’s a universal question, and arguably the motivator behind the spiritual search. Atheist spirituality.
“God is dead. We have killed him” – Nietzsche. But this is a tragedy that N spent his life trying to overcome, not the triumphalism of some atheists. See nihilism. My experiences / thinking as a youth.

Humour – Monty Python’s film, Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” – Douglas Adams

42 – note it’s called the big question of “life, the universe and everything”. Doesn’t mention the meaning of life, tho’ it’s implied?

Note 42 is the result of asking the wrong question. It’s worth considering is asking “what’s the meaning of life?” the wrong question too? (thanks Randy Murray for this).

The motivation for the search. Nihilism, atheism. Not all, or even most atheists end up nihilists, but it’s a strong pull for me.

To look in the eye of meaningless-ness is to feel the horror of being
“Cast out upon 40,000 fathoms of the deep” – Joseph Conrad??

3. Unpacking The Question
(What do we mean by ‘meaning’?)

What does “The Meaning of Life” (MoL) actually mean?
Distinguish between ‘meaning’, ‘purpose’ and ‘significance’. See my The Meaning of Life – Part One
Some people think that the question is a non-question, eg Marty at AtheistClimber. I respectfully disagree (as per my comments in his blog).

Animals and the meaning of life – dolphins, higher primates. Is intelligence alone the measure of value? No.

I think unpacking the question actually leads to a lot of insight into what the answer might be.

4. The Invisible Hand
(Theism)

Concentrating mainly on Christianity, as that’s my background but will also reference Islam and Judaism where I can. Judaism does consider the question to a degree. Victor Frankl was Jewish, although his conclusions in “Man’s Search for Meaning” do not require any spiritual point of view.

My previous conclusion that meaning is found “in God”, and later “in Jesus”. But what does that actually mean? Is it coherent? Probably not.

Conclusion: Surprisingly, even if God exists, it may not give an answer to the meaning of life. “God” cannot be a meaningful answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?”

Perhaps God needs a meaning of life too? Perhaps all “intelligent life” does?

5. If You See the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him
(Mysticism/The East)

So far, I don’t think the concept of the meaning of life is actually addressed by Buddhism. (Buddhist friends, please help?)
This leads to the interesting idea that MoL is a Western (theist influenced?) idea. My attempts at meditation. Ultimately, I don’t think Buddhism is intellectually helpful.

Mysticism? Christian Mystics? AW Tozer? (He now feels too hardline to me.) My few pagan / wiccan experiences? New Age worldview?


from http://offthemark.com

6. Both Beast and God
(Reason, Philosophy)

Am I a rationalist? Possibly, but there may be limits to reason (viz Bertrand Russell’s quote).

“To live alone one must be a beast or a god, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both – a philosopher.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

J P Moreland moving the question to being about value (in Scaling the Secular City) He’s a good philosopher, but I don’t think this satisfies. Although losing a sense of value is a consequence of loss of meaning for me.

Kai Neilsen and other atheist philosophers. The “new atheists” – Dawkins, Hitchens, et al (if I must! 😉 )

Philosophy is life’s dry-nurse, who can take care of us – but not suckle us. ~Soren Kierkegaard

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it. ~Bertrand Russell

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please – you can never have both. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains. ~Alfred North Whitehead

7. My Answer

I think the MoL is essentially found in living life. In life itself. (Not in biology, but in a human life lived.) Living, loving, enjoying sunsets, working to help others, playing a sport. Living itself has intrinsic meaning. (Or maybe not – that could be challenged.) Thus the specific meaning could be – in fact, must be – different for each person.

It’s the same conclusion Baggini came to, tho I came to it independently. But as he says, it’s not a great secret and you don’t have to be a great philosopher to figure it out. He is more eloquent than I am here:

“The only sense we can make of the idea that life has meaning is that there are some reasons to live rather than to die, and those reasons are to be found in the living of life itself. ”

Surprisingly, this is an answer that works for both theists and atheists.

(He also agrees with me that a religious worldview only makes a small difference to the outcome.)

“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” ~Andre Gide

8. How Then Shall We Live?
(Conclusion)

What life might be like, “living” the meaning of life.
This book is only the story so far. I may revisit it in 20 years and update or change it.

Bibliography
My working bibliography is here.

====

What do you think? Would you enjoy reading such a book? Please comment below. Ideas and helpful criticism are really welcome both on content and structure, or anything really.

Posted in agnostic, Meaning of Life, meta, writing | Tagged: , , , , | 31 Comments »

What I’m Reading

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 10, 2010

Bibliophiles might enjoy this post. It’s intended as a reference for myself and for the curious, and will help me with bibliographies for my writing. You can search the net for them yourself, I’m often too lazy to add a link. Started mid-June 2010, so is missing quite a bit! Suggestions for reading welcome. Can’t do this without your help 🙂

2011
Well, I haven’t been a good boy and updated this for a long time. Just a few for now.

Foucault, Michel. [1966]. (2002). The Order of Things. An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge.

Foucault, Michel. [1975]. (1995). Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books/Random House.

Foucault, Michel. [1976]. (1978). The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Translation Robert Hurley, London: Penguin.

Foucault, Michel. [1980]. “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self.” in Carrette, J. (ed.) (1999). Religion and Culture. By Michel Foucault. New York: Routledge.

Foucault, Michel. [1982]. “The Subject and Power.” in Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Rabinow, Paul. (1982). Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Brighton: The Harvester Press.

Foucault, Michel. [1983]. (2010). In The Government of Self and Others. Lectures at the Collège de France 1982-1983. (ed. Frederic Gros). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Foucault, Michel. (1998). Michel Foucault. Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology. ed. Faubion, James. New York: The New Press.

Can you tell I’ve been reading lots of Foucault this year? 😉

2010

Non Fiction
Vernon, Mark | After Atheism: Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life (agnostic theist)
Comte-Sponville, Andre | The Book of Atheist Spirituality (found it!)
Sallis, Zoe | Ten Eternal Questions (interviews people for their opinions)
Fukuyama, Francis | Our PostHuman Future (biotechnology and ethics. Some don’t like Fukuyama, but I thought it would lay the groundwork usefully.)
Lane Craig, William | No Easy Answers (Christian philosopher. doubt, failure etc)
Anne Lamott |Plan B
Elizabeth Gilbert | Eat, Pray, Love (populist hinduism for the west, soon to be a film. With Julia Roberts – blah. Very readable.)
Tomlinson, Dave | The Post Evangelical (seminal book)
Budd, Malcolm | Values of Art (philosophy of art)
Frankl, Victor | Man’s Search for Meaning (a classic work)
La Vey, Anton | The Satanic Bible (Dipped into. i Like it but tempted to put this under Fiction 😉 )
Various authors | The (Christian) Bible (used to know it very well, now just dip into it.)
Eagleton, Terry | The Meaning of Life (he wrote my book! – see Showing My Hand.)
Chapman, Colin | Christianity On Trial (Lion, 1981) (Christian author outlines options very well. Great quotes.)
Lemmy (w Janiss Garza) | White Line Fever (autobiography)
Timothy Keller | The Reason For God (Dutton, 2008) (mainly for his brief but useful discussion of rationalism)
Romy Shiller | You Never Know(autobiography of a friend and amazing woman)
Anthony Flew | The Presumption of Atheism (Flew when he was an atheist)
Anthony Flew | There Is A God (The book he’s written about his reasons for now thinking God exists.)
Sue Hamilton, Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Uni Press, 2001) Great little book.

Fiction
Niles, Chris | Vanished (thriller)
Stephenson, Neal | Snow Crash (classic cyberpunk, has great religion quotes which I didn’t know, it was just time-off reading)
The Historian (QUALITY vampire writing, which is rare)
Le Carre, John | The Mission Song (the master)
Di Filippo, Paul | Ribofunk (biologic sci fi. Good)
Ellis, Deodato (Marvel Comics) | Thunderbolts : Faith In Monsters . (Enjoyable amoralism)
Gail Simone, Eaglesham et al | Villains United (DC Comics, 2005) (evil heroes trying to become good? Blurs the lines.)
Eric ? | Savage Dragon
Richard Morgan | Thirteen (SF cybernoir action. One of my favourite authors. Also published as ‘Black Man’)

See also https://spritzophrenia.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/booklust/

And this. I’m not doing well at updating with all I’ve read @November 2010 😉

Want to Read
No doubt there will always be more in this list than I can actually manage.

Berry, R.J | Real Scientists, Real Faith: 17 Leading Scientists Reveal the Harmony Between Their Science and Their Faith scientists who are also theists
Adams, Douglas | The Meaning of Liff (and want to re-read his others for the ??th time)
Eric Reitan | Is God A Delusion: A Reply To Religion’s Cultured Despisers (liberal-ish christian? reply to the new atheists by a theist? philosopher)

Suggestions by Others
Shiller, Bryant | The 5th Option (proposed new options for origins of life. Thanks Romy.)
Aronson Living Without God (thanks Romansh.)
Mary O’Reilly | The Barn At The End of the World (The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd. Thanks Kimh)

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Monks With Guns: Discovering Buddhist Violence

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 17, 2010

Not long I ago I wrote on the Dark Side of Buddhism. Michael Jerryson has just published a book on Buddhist violence and writes about it here. It’s not the only book on Buddhist warfare, reader Austin kindly alerted me to Zen at War, and Zen War Stories. A review says “Most don’t realize the extent of Zen Buddhism’s complicity with the Japanese war machine and the horrors it unleashed on Southeast Asia.Michael Jerryson writes:

The publication of Buddhist Warfare, a book I co-edited with Mark Juergensmeyer, is a bittersweet experience as it marks the culmination of a journey that began with an exploration of the peaceful aspects of Buddhism only to end up chronicling portions of its dark side. This journey, which consumed much of the last six years of my life, began in 2003 when my wife and I spent a little over a year in Thailand. It was then that I began to research Buddhist social activism which was going to be the topic of my dissertation.

Rather than look to archives, I decided to speak with Buddhist monks and nuns on the ground. I interviewed monks protecting the forests from big business and villagers from dangerous pesticides; I met and began to chronicle the activities of the first fully ordained Thai Buddhist nun, Dhammananda Bhikkuni; and I met with Thai Buddhist monastic intellectuals.

monk with toy gun
Monk with toy gun, Bhutan 2008

Military Monks

Then in January 2004, violent attacks broke out in the southern provinces of Thailand, some of which were directed at Buddhist monks. These attacks and the numerous ones to follow shocked the country. But, since contemporary issues and my research interests seemed to be converging, I thought: what better way to study Buddhist activism than to observe Buddhist monks engaged in peacemaking?

Unfortunately, I found very little of this.

During my visits between 2006 and 2008, southern Thai monks shared the challenges of living in their fear-infested communities. All but a few concentrated on survival; peacemaking was the last thing on their minds.

The constant fear and violence took a toll on them. Monks talked about the guns they had bought and now kept at their bedsides. Others spoke heatedly about the violent militant attacks on Buddhist civilians and monasteries. Although the cause of the violence is multilayered—owing much to corruption, drug trade, and corporatization—many monks also felt Islam was to blame. In their minds, the conflict was anchored to the larger discussion of religious violence: Muslims against Buddhists.

One day after teaching an English class for Buddhist novices at a monastery a young monk came over and pulled back the folds of his robe to reveal a Smith & Wesson. I later learned that he was a military monk—one of many covert, fully ordained soldiers placed in monasteries throughout Thailand. To these monks, peacemaking requires militancy.

Since my initial realization in 2004, I began to look critically at my earlier perspective on Buddhism—one that shielded an extensive and historical dimension to Buddhist traditions: violence. Armed Buddhist monks in Thailand are not an exception to the rule; they are contemporary examples of a long historical precedence. For centuries monks have been at the helm, or armed in the ranks, of wars. How could this be the case? But more importantly, why did I (and many others) hold the belief that Buddhism=Peace (and that other religions, such as Islam, are more prone to violence)?

Buddhist Propaganda

It was then that I realized that I was a consumer of a very successful form of propaganda. Since the early 1900s, Buddhist monastic intellectuals such as Walpola Rahula, D. T. Suzuki, and Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, have labored to raise Western awareness of their cultures and traditions. In doing so, they presented specific aspects of their Buddhist traditions while leaving out others. These Buddhist monks were not alone in this portrayal of Buddhism. As Donald S. Lopez Jr. and others have poignantly shown, academics quickly followed suit, so that by the 1960s U.S popular culture no longer depicted Buddhist traditions as primitive, but as mystical.

Yet these mystical depictions did not remove the two-dimensional nature of Western understanding. And while it contributed to the history of Buddhism, this presentation of an otherworldly Buddhism ultimately robbed Buddhists of their humanity.

Thupten Tsering, the co-director of “Windhorse,” encapsulates the effects of two-dimensional portrayal in a 1999 interview with the New York Times. “They see Tibetans as cute, sweet, warmhearted. I tell people, when you cut me, I bleed just like you.”

In an effort to combat this view and to humanize Buddhists, then, Mark Juergensmeyer and I put together a collection of critical essays that illustrate the violent history of Buddhism across Mongolia, Tibet, Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India.

Our intention is not to argue that Buddhists are angry, violent people—but rather that Buddhists are people, and thus share the same human spectrum of emotions, which includes the penchant for violence.

Although the book only arrived at bookstores last month, it apparently touched some nerves in the academic community before its release. Some have objected to the cover [image right], which they feel is not an appropriate subject for Buddhism. Ironically, that is the very reason this collection of essays is so important: to address the apparent and widespread inability to acknowledge the violent side to religious traditions. It is this inability that robs its adherents of their humanity.

In a way, I wish I could return to that dream of Buddhist traditions as a purely peaceful, benevolent religion that lacks mortal failures and shortcomings. But I cannot. It is, ultimately, a selfish dream and it hurts other people in the process.

Buddhist Warfare certainly contributes to the broader discussion of religious violence, but on a more intimate and local level, I hope this collection will effect some significant change in the way Buddhism is perceived in the United States. Only time will tell.

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Thanks to my new readers, you may enjoy my more positive story: If you see the Buddha on the road, kiss him.

tful hahaha! Slut spillage on CA road.
listening to Wizzy Noise | Abyss

Posted in Buddhism, ethics, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »