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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Book Review: The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 17, 2018

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National InterestThe Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest by Walter A. McDougall

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn’t like this book. And my criticisms are probably unfair, because the author most likely accomplished what he set out to do. I think I merely misinterpreted or misunderstand the primary thrust of where the thesis was going. I had been hoping for a general history of America’s “civil religion” over the years through the present, but especially focusing on the Reagan years through the present, and I guess I expected some analysis which would frankly be somewhat critical of the present situation.

Now before you jump on me to tell me that that is exactly what happened in this book, let me admit that I gave up and stopped reading before I got too far in. So if the author did what I expected, it’s my own fault for giving up. However, I literally have hundreds of books here waiting to be read, and I’m in the middle of reading over 100 at the present, so I really don’t have the time or patience for authors who micromanage their topics to death, particularly when a layman’s book is being somewhat treated as an academic book. Because this was detailed freaking history starting in the 1600s, going excruciatingly slow, unbelievably boring, and to be honest, while it’s fine for historical authors to be objective and not have an agenda, on the whole, the very title of this book implied a definite agenda, one with which I’d probably agree. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell what the author felt, believed, perceived, was advocating — nothing!!! — as he proceeded to regale the reader with amazingly boring trivial shit! And trust me, I don’t claim to be the smartest person around, but I’m not entirely dumb either. For instance, I’m presently reading books in fields such as public policy, nuclear engineering, religion (especially the primary theistic ones), atheism, philosophy, history, business, blockchain technology, network engineering, espionage, biographies, science, fiction, poetry, cryptography, culture, international relations, think tanks, hardware, software development, health, machine learning, AI, electronic warfare, limited nuclear warfare, radar signal processing, management consulting, quantum mechanics & quantum computing, among other topics. Trust me — I can handle details, I can handle boredom, I can handle a lot of “difficult” material. Sometimes I want to quit reading a couple of these other book — one nuclear engineering book is killing me, and one book on microwave RF design is boring — but I rarely have any questions as to the thesis of the books, the authors’ stances or where they stand on issues, what their agendas are, etc. And while I obviously know sometimes you have to work hard to reach certain points, this damn book simply seemed pointless to me. Mere American religious and political history. Ho hum. Pretty much know those fields already. By heart. I thought this would be a little more cutting edge, and again, perhaps it is, but dammit, give me a reason to reach the point in your book where you venture into uncharted territory! Otherwise, I’ve got better, more educational, more stimulating, more challenging books to read — piles of them. So for those of you who read this book in its entirety and came away impressed, please enlighten me as to why I am mistaken in my response to the book. In any event, I can’t possibly recommend this book. I’m sure there are alternatives that do a much better job. I’m extremely disappointed. Two stars.

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Some Short Book Reviews

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 25, 2018

I have a ton of books to review, ideally as many as possible before the end of the year. And my health has been extremely bad, so it’s hard for me to find the time, energy or inspiration to write any. However, today I got a few knocked out, leaving me with just over 150 more (!), so I thought I’d post them all here in one blog post, as they’re all fairly short. Cheers!

 

Forged: Writing in the Name of GodForged: Writing in the Name of God by Bart D. Ehrman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this a fascinating book and really loved it. Much of it was new to me when I started, but for some reason, I set it aside for awhile while I read other books. And some of these other books went on to assert some of the same things I found Ehrman referring to when I later picked up the book to finish. That doesn’t diminish the research or quality of the material, but it does mean some of it isn’t as “original” as I had previously thought, which is the reason I’ve knocked it down from five stars to four. Still, if you want to learn the “real” story of many of the books of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, when they were actually written, who did and did not actually author so many of the books, this is an excellent source. Definitely recommended.

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God Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs FailGod Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs Fail by J.D. Brucker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short book is decent, not bad, and makes good and legitimate points. The author’s sections include 1. The Absence of Eternity, 2. The Birth of Ignorance, 3. The Flawed Logic in Modern Miracles, 4. The Error in Faith-Based Morality, 5. The Myth of Intelligent Design, 6. The Imaginary End, and 7. My Fall from “Grace.”

While I enjoyed reading it, however, I couldn’t help but think that these are largely issues that have already been addressed, mostly in more detail, depth, and intellectual mastery, by other authors out there, so aside from my feeling good about seeing another (reader-friendly) atheistic book on the market, I don’t feel like it truly contributes too much, certainly little new. Thus, while again I enjoyed it, I can’t help but view it as an average book, and am thus giving it three stars. If you have not yet read Barker, Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and some of the others, this may be a good intro, but I would quickly move on to the meatier resources out there. Cautiously recommended.

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The Templars: The Secret History RevealedThe Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard for me to decide what I think about this book. For virtually my entire life, I’ve heard and read rumors, stories, and myths about the mysterious Knights Templar, and most people know about the Holy Grail and have heard stories that the organization continues to secretly exist to the present day. When I got this book, I wasn’t exactly looking for or expecting to find these stories were justified. However, while I admittedly did enjoy learning about how the Templars were founded, and for what reasons, and the qualities one had to have and the sacrifices one had to make in order to become one, this book then quickly turned into basically a dry textbook of history, places, several events, politics, culminating in a very disappointing (for me) end to what had been an admirable organization, complete with confessions tortured out of the Templars who had been arrested due to political BS between the King of France and the Pope. It was further disappointing to learn that at least some of the confessions were true, as in the Templars’ secret initiation rites, which I cannot believe were original, had degraded into something undeserving of the name and purpose of the organization, and personal requirements and standards had been lowered to recruit new members, thus making for a lack of morals in some that would have probably gotten an original Templar killed by his fellows. It was also disappointing to learn of such a once-splendid organization’s demise, and as the primary author was granted access to the “secret” Vatican files, it’s highly likely that the reports of its termination as an organization are and were indeed true, thus destroying my youthful fantasies of a super-secret organization existing over the centuries to the present, exercising power in all sorts of areas. Like I originally stated, I knew that was essentially a myth, but it was still disappointing to read the historical truth.

This is a well-researched, and professionally written history of a fascinating organization that was quite powerful for several hundred years and which still interests numerous people til this day. The writing gets fairly dry at times, even boring, but there’s enough good details and history in it to make it worth reading. I’d give this book a solid four stars and state that it’s recommended.

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Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing GameSid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game by Josh Katzowitz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always heard about Sid Gillman my whole life, and about how he “invented” football’s passing game. Yet when the great coaches are mentioned, he’s rarely, if ever, included. I’ve always wanted to know why, and I’ve always wanted to know some real details about him. Thus my excitement when I found this book some time back. I held on to it, like it was a treasure, waiting for the “right” moment to break it open and revel in its contents. So I finally did break it open, after waiting a very long time. And didn’t finish it. Because I didn’t enjoy it. I found it, and Gillman himself, tremendously disappointing. It was frankly a disillusioning read.

Gillman does indeed deserve credit for “inventing” the passing game, and he revolutionized the game of football forever. He quite possibly was an offensive genius. He was a lifelong workaholic. He tutored assistants who went on to amazing careers, like Don Shula and Chuck Noll. You could see elements of his game in the way they coached and won. So why isn’t Gillman typically included in discussions of the great coaches? Maybe it was because he never won a Super Bowl, which is a legitimate point, although he did a good deal of his coaching before Super Bowls existed. Maybe it’s also because he was a giant asshole of a person, unlikeable to almost anyone who ever met him. I hated him from about the 10th page on. And in terms of this book, I felt it was boring, redundant, didn’t exactly go to great lengths to argue for his greatness, although it made some efforts, and it kind of felt like the book went out of its way to ensure I’ll never include Gillman in a discussion of the greatest coaches, and nor will anyone else. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention – I tend to doubt it – but that’s what happened with me. I feel the book could have been a lot better, and possibly if a more experienced, more talented writer had been writing such a book, perhaps the outcome could have been different. However, the best I can do is give it two stars and state that I definitely do not recommend this book at all.

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Well, that’s all for now. I had hoped to do more today, but I feel terrible and I’m glad I got to do any at all. However, some of the ones I have lined up are on Japan at the end of WW II, religion, theism, the NSA, changing American military power and foreign policy, nuclear weapons, Biblical archaeology and how much of the Bible it supports as well as shows to be false, atheism, hockey, the history of Rome, the current and future status of the US and China, spies, American classism, the spread of theistic religions, Sparta, nuclear politics, think tanks, and much more. I hope to get to as many of these as I can. Please bear with me and be patient, and thanks for reading what I put down here. I truly appreciate it. Cheers!

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A Review of Deconversion: a Journey from Religion to Reason

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 5, 2018

Deconverted: a Journey from Religion to ReasonDeconverted: a Journey from Religion to Reason by Seth Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book! Seth Andrews lived my own exact life growing up, and we were both traumatized by the same types of things (the movie, “Thief In The Night!”), and we were both fundies/evangelicals for much of our younger lives before we both started asking ourselves some questions, before asking others, and began reading and researching, and while Andrews reached his conclusions and belief system before I did, I admire his resolve and his courage for “coming out” as an atheist in a strong Bible Belt city, because I live in the biggest Bible Belt city in America (I believe it was so named last year…), and unless you’re a Red State Republican bible thumper here, you don’t really feel very welcome in this city, and while I haven’t spent years as an out and out atheist as Andrews has, I may as well, because when I’m not on my feet “praising the lord,” I stick out like a sore thumb, and it can make one very uncomfortable. Yes, there there are “liberal” Christians here, as well as a few Muslims, about 25 Jews, possibly a few Hindus, although I haven’t seen any, some agnostics, some atheists, but no place to really gather and not be in church, because the only alternative is the Unitarian CHURCH, and while it’s a catchall for all beliefs and while they tend to make fun of fundies, it’s still called a “church,” so that kind of defeats the purpose. I’m reading Dawkins, Hitchins, Barker, George W Smith, and others right now, and it’s been really refreshing, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, like I’ve been liberated, and I have Barker and Seth Andrews to thank in many ways, because unlike Hitchins, they’ve BEEN there, they understand, they know what it’s like to “deconvert” and how traumatic that can be for so many reasons, and I have found this book very helpful and very freeing and I recommend it for anyone going through a similar process or who has questions, doubts, etc. It helps fill it the holes, or flesh out the holes one finds gaping wide open in the christian bible. And the stress is not on what one believes, but what one doesn’t believe, unlike what many people think. Atheism is merely “a lack of belief in a god” or supernatural being, etc. It’s NOT a philosophical antithetical belief system, although individual atheists can choose to have antithetical beliefs or any belief they want; it pushes no life agenda, just ration, reason, being a good person, and a lack of belief in a god. That’s it, that’s all. It’s very simple. If there is no rational evidence to convince you that a god exists, you are thus not obligated to believe in a god, nor should anyone else. Very simple. Sure, you can go full blown philosophical and George W Smith does that, but it’s not necessary, and you can find out why by reading most of these authors and finding out in less than 10 minutes. In any event, I’m elated I came across this book and now I listen to the author’s podcasts and have found help, comfort, and entertainment in them. Strongly recommended for those encountering spiritual doubts….

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Republicans Can’t Be Christians — Sorry!

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 1, 2016

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-like-jesus-disciples_us_583e48d7e4b04fcaa4d5bd72?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-like-jesus-disciples_us_583e48d7e4b04fcaa4d5bd72?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

 

Oh, holy shit! If this doesn’t discredit ALL CHRISTIANS in everyone’s eyes, than what will? Trump a disciple of Jesus? Trump EVERY disciple of Jesus rolled into one? Are the Christians going totally insane now? At this point, with 81% of all white evangelicals having voted for Trump, it’s obvious to me that today’s Christians have sold out, have sold their souls to the Republican Party and to Fox News, do not care about Jesus or his teachings, especially about “love,” “the poor” and caring for them, loving your neighbor as yourself, treating everyone — including immigrants!!! — as equals (Remember the story of the Good Samaritan they always teach in church? Do the Christians ever learn anything from that, considering the Samaritan was from a group of unacceptable immigrant types Trump and his Christian/Republican friends would have thrown out of the country by now, showing their great Christian love and compassion?), about healing the sick — for free, dammit! — and healing the sick occurs a lot in the New Testament, but apparently Christians/Republicans must skip over those parts of the Bible … if they ever actually read their Bibles. What about believers of other religions? The Old Testament God would have had his Israelites go kill all of them. He was permanently pissed off, in a bad mood, and ready to kill everyone who was on his shit list. That’s why so many fundies like OT God. But see, I don’t believe in OT God. Not anymore. I was brought up to believe in him. I was brought up to “love” (hate) and fear (yep!) him. That’s how the “Church” controls you, controls the Christians in its clutches. But I threw that out the window decades ago. There’s no room in my life for brain washing, mind numbing, soul destroying bullshit like that. I feel that God, if there is a god — and I often wonder — created all people and if he does love people, he loves them all equally, no matter what their color, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else like that is. And I really think Jesus would support that. He said the most important commandment was to love your brother like yourself. He didn’t say white brother. He didn’t say straight brother. He didn’t say that person must definitely be a male. Yet, our wonderful Republican Christians pretty much hate all other religions, and if you go by Trump and his followers, and 81% of white Christians do, then they all hate Muslims especially, even though there are two billion of them in the world today. Hating two billion of God’s children is sure to make God proud of you, his personal representative on earth, showing the rest of us just how great it is to be a Christian and what a loving, tolerant religion it is. Not. Christians, I’m not convinced God would approve of you actively hating two billion of his children and acting to work against them in one way or another, at a minimum, to keep any of them from entering our country, a nation of immigrants, a nation where each and every one of our families have come from other countries through immigration, something we’re now trying to deny people of a different religion, and most of them a different ethnicity, just because they’re not white Christians and therefore not acceptable. I’m becoming more and more convinced that it is literally impossible to be a current Republican, especially a Trump Republican, and a true Christian at the same time. No true follower of Jesus and his teachings would ever endorse what Trump and the current Republican party stand for. They simply clash too much. Today’s Republicans stand for hatred, not love, helping the rich and hurting the poor, screwing the sick, starting or sustaining violence and wars, something Jesus symbolically taught Peter he wouldn’t have supported on the night of his arrest, Republican oppression of women, while it’s clear in the New Testament that some of the most important disciples to help Paul were women and the first people to be given knowledge and proof of a risen Jesus were women, Republican hatred, repression of and oppression of virtually all minorities, especially black people, while New Testament Christians had members of all races, including Jews, obviously, other Middle Easterners, Africans, Romans, Greeks and other Europeans, even Asians and apparently far Eastern people. Jesus welcomed people from all demographics. God made everyone, let’s not forget that. It seems that most of today’s Christians/Republicans have, unless he did it to create slaves for them? Cause I honestly don’t know what their thinking is regarding God’s motivation for creating minorities since they obviously hate, resent, repress, oppress, and abuse them so brutally and have for centuries. How do today’s Christians justify this? Cause I just read an article yesterday that basically said that it was white, rural, Christian, mostly poor voters who just put Trump in office, as well as many of these other Republican freaks who want to destroy the country and the world, and that pretty much every single one of them are white Christian racists, whether overt or not, as well as anti-education (did God tell us he wanted us to be stupid?), anti-“liberal,” (cause obviously *I’m* the bad guy here, right? Cause I’m an educated liberal “elite.” Shit. Pretty much every Republican political leader has an impressive college education. Trump has an Ivy League education!). But I’m getting off topic. Today’s Republicans can’t be Christians because they all want revenge and vengeance for everything. Long jail terms! Stiffer prison sentences! Three strikes! Death penalty! Hell yeah! Oh, what did the Bible say? Vengeance is mine says the Lord? Judge not lest ye be judged? I often wonder if today’s Christians have ever read the Bible. My bet is, maybe a few Psalms, some books of the Old Testament, cause God is pretty pissed there and a pissed God is pretty rad. Maybe a couple of key New Testament verses. Not much else. Of course they’ve all had Sodom and Gomorrah drilled into their heads all their lives, so they hate gays more than anything on earth, homosexuality, the controversial and debatable alleged sin in Sodom thought of as the abominable sin. But do they ever stop to think about how many times Jesus mentioned homosexuality in his teachings? Zero. Never. Paul did. A couple of times.Paul was somewhat sex obsessed. Paul had issues, IMO. Jesus never brought it up. Also, how many times did Jesus condemn abortion, the other major Christian topic of hatred? Zero. None. Never mentioned it. It is mentioned in the Bible, I believe, although I’m willing to be wrong on that, but the Jews had/have an interesting take on things like that and things like the question of when does life begin. Republican Christians have been fighting for decades to get the courts to make it the law of the land that life begins at conception. But that’s not what Jews God’s chosen people, believe. And remember, they base ALL of their religious/moral/ethical beliefs on what is written in the Torah/Old Testament, etc. Jews believe life does not begin until a baby is actually born, has come out of its mother’s body and has taken its first breath on its own. With that first breath on its own, life has then begun for that baby. And not a moment before. Think about that. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. They didn’t exist at the time, obviously, and he didn’t come to earth to start a new religion anyway. Paul founded the Christian religion, based in large part on the teachings of Jesus. But Jesus had nothing to do with it himself. He was a practicing Jew. He worshiped in the synagogue on Shabbat. Thus, he would have shared this belief. For Jesus, life would have begun at birth, not conception. Therefore, abortion is acceptable to Jews. It always has been. I’m no religious historian, but I’m under the impression that this stance dates back centuries, possibly and probably pre-dating Jesus. If so, he would have known of this Jewish stance on abortion and since he never once mentioned it or certainly spoke out on it, it’s safe to assume he agreed with it and endorsed it. My point is that at a minimum, topics like helping the poor (the most frequent topic Jesus ever spoke about), taking care of the sick and the helpless, healing others, PAYING TAXES!, praying, faith, giving one’s wealth, riches, and possessions away to follow God, having the right priorities, forgiveness, peace, doing away with religious hypocrites (like current Republican Christians), and compassion were all infinitely more important to him and his teachings and followers than trendy conservative Christian hot topics like homosexuality and abortion, as well as many other current Christian topics that I don’t think represent Jesus or his teachings.

An aside. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear some quote or two coming from that absolute insane “Christian” leader, Pat Robertson. I think if there was ever a famous public figure claiming to represent God in current times who consistently just gets it WRONG every single damn time, it’s him. For decades, he has advocated conspiracy theories of all types, no matter how crazy. He has called for our country to assassinate another countries’ leaders. (Seriously??? WWJD? Does he really think Jesus would approve of that? If so, why? Where in the Bible did he get that idea?)  He has called for violence against abortion doctors, for overt sustained discrimination against gays, crying out for Christian backlash to the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage. He constantly makes pronouncements like God is going to destroy America because we allow homosexuals to marry or God’s going to allow one country or another to attack or invade America as a way of punishing us for our love of gays or every time there’s a natural disaster, such as Katrina, Robertson’s on TV announcing it’s God’s judgement on America for one sin or another and oh yeah, this is great, every time there’s a mass shooting, he’s right there on TV doing God’s will, blaming it on America’s failing morals, how we don’t pray in schools anymore – – I can see Republican God getting so pissed off at no prayer in schools that he sends gunmen to schools across America for mass shootings to pay back the damn liberals running this country, even though it’s a Republican Congress, a conservative Supreme Court, a mostly Republican country in terms of Red states and governors, etc. Yeah, it’s the damn liberals in charge. You know, the same ones who can never pass common sense gun laws that might stop these sorts of things and save dozens of lives because powerful groups like the Christian Republican NRA and its politicians all over the country constantly block any law of any sort from ever passing that would ever help save lives and stop mass shootings. Cause Republican Christians know that Jesus would undoubtedly carry an AR15 with him if he were around today. One of his dozens of guns he would own. The fact that he was unarmed while alive and told his followers to put their weapons away when he was threatened apparently is meaningless to these people. Jesus was not a passivist. He would kick ass and take names!  — Anyway, Robertson. An example to America, at least the rest of us, of what today’s Republican Christians are and have become over the years — crazy, violent, hateful, intolerant, bigoted, spiteful, vindictive, mean spirited, and someone who shows no desire to follow Jesus’s teachings to care for the poor, to feed them, to heal them, to care for them, cause Obamacare is obviously of the devil himself since a black Democratic president came up with it, even though it was originally inspired by rich, white, religious Republican governor with great success. That doesn’t matter, because the president who made it a national program and law is a Democrat and, even worse, black. Therefore, it’s evil and must be repealed. Even though it pretty much does what Jesus called for us to do. That’s secondary. There are more important things at stake here. To Robertson and his ilk.

Anyway, Jesus did mention feeding and caring for the poor dozens and dozens of times though. And he did mention how hard it would be for rich people to get into heaven. Like practically impossible. Which makes me feel pretty good about Trump’s ultimate destination. And Robertson. And all other well off Christian Republicans. Cause although they’re convinced they know where they’re going when they die, I’ve got a pretty good idea they’ll end up surprised. Cause I don’t view them as Christians. And I don’t think God does either. In the end, it will be Jesus who will say, “Get away from me. I don’t know you.” New Testament, by the way. In case you’re a Christian. I assume you haven’t read that part of the Bible, since it’s not about getting rich or hating people or attacking our enemies or hurting as many people as we can. Yay Christians! Yay Republicans! Enjoy each other’s company. In hell.

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A Review of A New Earth

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 1, 2016

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's PurposeA New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth is an interesting New Age spiritual enlightenment book marrying eastern and western religious traditions and beliefs and focusing on a couple of core areas: the ego and pain. Tolle spends the first half of the book discussing the ego as it relates to humanity, to identity, to its many different “faces,” and then ends this discussion with a section titled “Incontrovertible Proof of Immortality,” which I hope is in jest, because it’s anything but that to me. The book then transitions into discussing pain, as in emotions and the ego up front, followed by pain and the body and later, breaking free of the “pain-body.” Later chapters discuss finding out who you really are, falling below and rising above thought, inner body awareness, and the book culminates in an awakening of an inner purpose.

All in all, not too bad. But also, not much new here either. We’ve seen some of this stuff before. And really, not my usual cup of tea, I’m the first to admit. I’ve read western theology, philosophy from most eras (the existentialists remain my favorite), and some eastern spirituality, and I’ve gotten the least out of the latter thus far in my life. I’ve had the most trouble with the first, but I understand it the most because I was raised in that tradition. That doesn’t mean I easily accept it; I don’t. It just means I understand it. I also understand many philosophers throughout history, or should I say western philosophers, to be candid. I haven’t always understood the eastern mystics. Now, Tolle is not a mystic, nor would he claim to be. Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, he’s Michael Singer-lite. Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul, which was published in 2007 and which has profoundly influenced many people around the world, seems to me to be a similar work, with a similar message, but a deeper one, a little more thoughtful. In my review of that work of about a year ago, I wrote that

“Singer has some interesting concepts. He wants people to stop suffering, to be free, to find their consciousness, to become self aware, to attain true enlightenment. In that regard, it’s largely an Eastern religious book, although Singer tries to “Westernize” it by mentioning Jesus (and other spiritual leaders) throughout the book. He begins with the voice in your head that is always talking to you, your own, always second-guessing you, offering you advice, often wrong, etc. He writes that if the person behind this voice were on the sofa beside you, you would kick him out in a heartbeat, thinking him crazy. Not a bad point.”

So how is that similar? Simple. Tolle is constantly name-dropping spiritual leaders from different faiths, most especially Jesus. Tolle wants us to be free of our pain, to overcome our ego’s boundaries, meet the pain-body, and break free. Regarding the voice on the sofa, that’s merely the ego. Simple. Tolle is Singer-lite. But while Tolle’s book is an easy read, see what I wrote about Singer’s:

“The book, while small and apparently easy to understand for many, seems fairly heavy to me. Perhaps that’s because I’m stupid, although I’ve read an awful lot of philosophy over the years, but there’s an awful lot of advice here, some of it quite good when you can follow it. And if I were to follow it, I’d have to read this book some five or six times to just be able to even try to follow all of the advice he gives. I can’t do it with one reading. I tried out some of the things in the early chapters and it’s quite difficult.”

In fairness to Tolle, his book was published first, in 2005. So perhaps it’s fair to speculate that it was Singer who read Tolle and took his work, adapted it, and made it deeper, stronger, more informed. Who knows? But in any event, the two books are suspiciously alike, Singer’s deeper and more difficult to digest and understand. It seems to me that if you read one of them, you certainly don’t need to read both. There’s a great deal of redundancy. I would choose Singer. Is this a bad book? No. Is it groundbreaking? No. Is it the best of its type? Absolutely not. Is it worth reading? Perhaps. Maybe. If you enjoy such books, then I guess I would recommend it. It couldn’t hurt to read it and you might learn some interesting things that would benefit you. And by all means, I’m obviously no expert on the subject. If this is your field or your area of interest, research the book and read other reviews. You might find that you’ll really like the book, even though it didn’t do much for me. Three stars. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 18, 2015

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary FaithMeeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith by Marcus J. Borg
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

For a long time now, I’ve heard that Marcus Borg is THE intellectual theologian of liberal Christians and as a result, I’ve been wanting to read some of his work. See, I was born into a strict evangelical, near fundie, home and grew up indoctrinated in evangelical tenants, taught to fear and hate “liberal” Christians, who weren’t actual Christians at all and who were going to hell. By the time I reached college, I was so disgusted with my religion, I left the church – went as far away as I could – and stayed away for two decades. Sometime in my mid to late 30s, for some unknown reason, I felt drawn back to God and the church and explored my old church and others like it because I knew no better. And I was overwhelmed by the judgmentalness, intolerance, dogma, right wing politics, hatred of the poor, and obsession with wealth. Literally, in my old church, the richest man in town went to “our church,” the mayor went to “our church,” a state senator went to “our church,” the governor was an elder at “our church,” a congressman went to “our church,” 5,000 people went to “our church” which had a huge campus you needed a map for and a budget in the tens of millions. It was truly disgusting. I’ve read what Jesus taught and did while he lived and these people certainly didn’t reflect that, in my opinion. So, it took a long time, I guess because I’m stupid, but I finally figured out I’m not an evangelical in my 40s and went looking for a new church. And found a home in a mainline church. Which seems to teach what Jesus taught, unlike the evangelicals and fundies. Now, in all honesty, even though I know Jesus wouldn’t approve, evangelicals repulse and disgust me and I can’t stand them and can’t stand to be around their arrogant, I’m-better-than-you, I’m-the-only-person-saved, yuppie asses. If there is a hell, I personally think most of them will wind up there. But then I sound too much like them, so maybe I better retract that statement.

Anyway, Borg. I got this book and started reading eagerly. And to my astonishment, I was beyond disappointed. I was appalled. Borg is literally bone headed stupid. He’s a dumbass of the first degree. He’s not a “real” Christian, in my opinion, probably doesn’t even know what one is, and this book is a sham. Even though I view myself as a fairly liberal Christian, I’m afraid I’m going to probably come across sounding like my old evangelical self in this review. And that disturbs me.

First of all, Borg grew up Lutheran. And didn’t really know too much about Christianity, even by his own admission. He began having doubts at a young age, like many people. However, unlike many people who wonder why God allows horrors to happen to “innocent” people, he wondered how God could be everywhere when he was clearly up in Heaven. Which strikes me as odd. Just odd.

He went to college, I believe at a Lutheran school. And experienced enough doubts to become a closet agnostic. And then a closet atheist. And so, logically (sarcasm intended), he went to seminary. Where he had four life changing experiences that changed his mind forever and brought him back to Christianity. As he wrote this, I eagerly waited to read about them. Imagine my shock and disappointment when he NEVER even wrote what they were, not one of them. What the hell? What is that about? Bizarre!

So Borg went on to become a religious studies professor at Oregon State University where he did “research” on historic Christianity and Jesus and came up with some “startling” conclusions. Bear in mind, it took him some 40 years or so to realize this and he’s announcing this publicly in this book – he’s come to the realization that Christianity is not about works or deeds or following commandments or belief or sacraments. Instead it’s simply about having a personal relationship with God! With God! Unreal!!! Can you believe that? I knew that at age four. Ask ANY evangelical child of five years or so and they’ll be able to tell you that. And yet Borg had to study and research and dedicate years to come up with this mind blowing conclusion that he is illuminating the world with, one which most of the world already knows. His stupidity is unsurpassed.

This book then goes on to talk about Jesus. Sort of. It talks about “pre-Easter” and “post-Easter” Jesus. See, pre-Easter Jesus is historical. Post-Easter Jesus probably didn’t exist and is metaphorical. Not possible. Jesus was a “spirit person.” A holy man, but you can’t say that, because holy means spiritual and that’s not cool and of course it’s not PC to say “man,” so spirit person it is. And here’s another startling revelation Borg comes to. Jesus was compassionate! Wow! Borg, you sure are brilliant. However, that’s not all. Oh no. See, Borg talks about wisdom, how important it is in the Bible, how it was present at the beginning of creation, how it connotes with Jesus himself. He then goes on to say that the Greek word for wisdom is the feminine noun, “Sophia.” So he does this neat little trick of quoting several Bible verses, substituting “Sophia” for “wisdom” wherever he finds it, thus making it feminine, yet proving nothing. Except in his own mind. See, he equates wisdom with God. And since wisdom is equated with God and since wisdom is female, therefore God is a woman. Yep. And Jesus was therefore not the Son of God the Father, but the Mother. Not that Jesus was the Son of anyone, nor was he God, nor was he part of the Trinity, cause all of that’s bullshit for Borg. Not possible. Pure metaphor, if not outright lie. I honestly don’t have a problem with a genderless god. In fact, that’s how I view God. But probably due to my ingrained evangelical upbringing, I have a major problem with God as woman. Unless I’m mistaken, God is a patriarchal god throughout the Bible, worshiped as such by his people, a patriarchal people, and worshiped as a male god by Christians throughout the centuries. Now I admit, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, but I’m unwilling to simply throw that out and change God to a woman just to be PC. I have a woman pastor at my church, so I obviously don’t have a problem with female religious leadership, but in my opinion, both the Old and New Testaments clearly define the female role in society and it’s certainly not to be a matriarchal culture, like it or not, fair or not. Sorry, but true.

Even though I was near the end of the book, after this chapter and after the preceding showcases of utter ignorance and stupidity, I decided not to finish the last few pages of the book. And I’m deleting all of the other Borg books I have on my Amazon wish list. To me, he’s a pathetic fraud and no intellectual. To me, he wouldn’t know Christianity if it bit him on the butt. I’ll be content to read liberal Christian authors like Rob Bell and Brian McClaren. While reading reviews of this highly rated book, I came across a highly placed one star review that sums up a lot of what I think about this book and I’m going to quote it in its entirety, giving credit to the author, but doing so without his permission. I hope he won’t mind.

Oct 04, 2012 Webster Bull rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: faith
Two Episcopalians whom I respect told me I should read this book. Both said that it frames Jesus in a way that makes sense to them. It does not make sense to me.

The non-sense begins with the whole notion of needing to frame Jesus to make him palatable for our liberal, postmodern, science-driven culture. Which is what Lutheran theologian Marcus Borg does in this popular book whose cover claims “Over 250,000 Sold!”

Borg says that we need to look at our images of Jesus, and if we don’t like them, come up with our own. Better yet, adopt Borg’s images, for which he provides up-to-the-minute scholarly reasons. He is the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion at Oregon State University.

Borg doesn’t buy the image of Jesus as divine savior. So out it goes. He doesn’t particularly like the image of Jesus as a teacher either, because it leads, he claims, to a moralistic image of the Christian life.

Instead, he asks us to “image” Jesus as a spirit person. (Why does “image” have to be a verb? For that matter, who made “narratival” an adjective?)

What, you ask, is a “spirit person”? It is Borg’s gender-inclusive term for what used to be known, in the dark ages, as a holy man. Spirit, of course, is that shapeless something so many of us take for granted, the noun form of the comfy, empty, all-embracing adjective “spiritual.” Heaven forbid that anyone should be “religious”! But at least we’ve learned something earthshaking: Jesus was a holy man! Except that we shouldn’t refer to him as a man.

Next, Borg asks us to “image” Jesus as compassionate. What a breakthrough idea! This leads to a discussion of the Jewish “purity system” and how Jesus broke down this system, which of course suggests that we, in our compassion, should break down any and all cultural norms.

Yet the idea of “compassion” overturning cultural norms involves Borg in a circular logic he doesn’t admit. If you overturn the old norms for new ones, shouldn’t the new ones become new targets of our “compassion”? But he is so determined to make Jesus politically correct that logic goes out the window.

Here’s another revolutionary image of Jesus we are asked to embrace: He was a sage! He was a “teacher of wisdom”! This leads to a long disquisition on the Greek word for wisdom, Sophia, and the fact that it is a feminine noun. Soon enough we are asked to envision God as feminine and “womb-like.” Borg retranslates passages from the Book of Wisdom, substituting Sophia. The amusing results speak for themselves:

“Sophia cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance tot he city gates she speaks . . . ” And so on. Pretty soon, we are asked to consider Jesus Christ’s feminine qualities:

“In what sense is Christ the wisdom of (and from) God? In particular, are we to understand ‘wisdom of God’ in these verses [from St. Paul] as resonating with the nuances of divine Sophia? It is possible, and if so, it means that Paul spoke of Jesus as the Sophia of and from God.”

Later: “For Paul, Jesus is the embodiment of Sophia.” So the Lord is actually a woman in a man’s body? Isn’t that what’s meant by transgendered? Wow, I never thought of Jesus that way!

Borg ends this flight of theological fancy by analyzing the three “Macro-Stories of Scripture.” (For Borg, everything is narratival!) Two macro-stories are acceptable to him: the Exodus narrative and the story of exile and return surrounding the Babylonian captivity. The third is not so acceptable, however: the “priestly story,” the whole idea that “the priest is the one who makes us right with God by offering sacrifice on our behalf.” To take this story seriously means taking sin seriously, and guilt, and forgiveness. Let Borg speak for himself:

“This story is very hard to believe. The notion that God’s only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that God could not forgive us without that having happened, and that we are saved by believing this story, is simply incredible. Taken metaphorically, this story can be very powerful. But taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message. To many people, it simply makes no sense, and I think we need to be straightforward about that.”

The author throws out so much of the baby Jesus with the bathwater that there’s very little left of Him. Arguing against the “purity system,” Borg ends with a Jesus who has been air-brushed clean of any possibly offensive qualities, like his manhood, for example. Though Borg says he is searching for the historical Jesus, he ends with nothing but images, thinking apparently that only a politically correct, sanitized, insubstantial Jesus can bring skeptics back to church.

Which of course is why the mainline Protestant denominations are shrinking every week. There’s no there there, and nothing left of Jesus, man or God.



Needless to say, this book is most certainly NOT recommended under any circumstance. Unless you’re a transgender, feminist liberal Christian, at which point you’ll probably like it….

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A Review of Misquoting Jesus

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 1, 2015

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyMisquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Misquoting Jesus through carefully and thoughtfully and concluded it was an excellent book written by an author who clearly knows of which he speaks. Before I started reading it, I had read a number of reviews online, some supportive, some negative. The negative ones seemed to say that, yes, well, everyone knows there have been changes in the Bible over the years. Big deal. They’re minor and they don’t change the overall theme of the Bible. Well, after reading this book, I beg to differ. Like the author, I grew up believing the Bible was the inherent word of God – God’s chosen words as inspired to be written by several select human authors. You had to believe everything. Of course, as I grew older, I began to have doubts. For instance, take all of Leviticus. No one stones their children for being disobedient, people eat shrimp and bacon, men cut their hair and beards, etc. But if you followed the Bible like you were supposed to, you couldn’t do those things, right? So that prepared me for the cherry picking that Christians do with the Bible left and right to suit whatever agenda they have. So textual changes can make a big deal, yes, especially when non-changes like those in Leviticus make a big or non-big deal, depending on how you view things.

Before, I go any further, let me state that I view myself as a Christian. A liberal one, not a fundie or even an evangelical, which is what I grew up as, but still, a Bible reading and respecting Christian. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate though.

Early in this book, just to show people what sort of things they’ll be exposed to, Ehrman shows us some discrepancies. He calls them mistakes. These include when Mark says Jesus was killed the day after the Passover meal, yet John says he died the day before it. And Luke indicating that Mary and Joseph had come to Nazareth a month after going to Bethlehem, while Matthew says they went to Egypt. And in Galations, when Paul says he did not go to Jerusalem after his conversion, while the book of Acts says that’s the first thing he did upon leaving Damascus. And on and on.

So what happened to the Bible? Who changed it and why? Well, the author would have us believe that scribes, both professional and nonprofessional, made numerous changes, both unintentional and intentional over the course of centuries and that as these manuscripts were handed down as gospel, the changes were handed down, so that there was no longer any possible way to know what it was the authors of the Bible and specifically the New Testament wrote. He goes into elaborate detail on the details of scribes having to copy letter by letter books (letters) of the New Testament, as well as other documents, and showed that many of these scribes were barely literate themselves, if at all. One example of unintentional changes were that Greek at the time was written without spaces between words, so that a particular phrase that was meant to have meant one thing, could have actually meant something else when copied or transcribed or translated later on. Intentional changes were made by people who, perhaps, wanted to include an agenda against women in the church when none, perhaps, may have existed in the original texts.

The book that the King James Bible was founded on was the Johannine Comma by Erasmus. The author takes great pains to show its flaws. Meanwhile, there were those who were intent upon translating the Greek New Testament and providing scholarship for it. One such person, John Mill of Queens College, Oxford, spent 30 years back in the seventeenth century compiling a list of “variations,” or discrepancies (or mistakes) in the various manuscripts he had available to him, dating back to the oldest texts available. He found over 30,000 discrepancies! That’s right – 30,000. The author then goes on to say that currently, we possess over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, 57 times as many as Mill, and that there are now known to be between 200,000 and 400,000 discrepancies in the New Testament, or more words than exist in it. It’s stunning. If that doesn’t show that the Bible is NOT the inherent word of God, I don’t know what will. And if you follow that logic, then if it’s not, then how can you believe any of it, or know what to believe or not believe?

I had meant to write a much more detailed review, but feel that I’d never finish with it. Hopefully I’ve made my point. The author certainly made his with me. Needless to say, he no longer thinks the Bible is the inherent word of God, and I’m not sure I do either, or that I have for some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain words of God – just that it was written by people and they can make mistakes over the course of centuries. I’d strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject.

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A Review of Small Gods

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 17, 2014

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Small Gods is an excellent book, a great stand alone Discworld novel that is hard to put down. It’s a great satirical take on organized religion and it has a lot to say about it. Pratchett handles it as deftly as he handles other serious subject matter, with humor and grace. The man’s a genius!

Brutha is a novice in service of the Great God Om in the land of Omnia. With all of the priests and bishops and forced devotion to Om, along with the evil Quisition, it’s meant to be a satire of Catholicism, as well as probably some other religions too. One day Brutha is gardening when he hears a voice. No one else can seem to hear it, but hear it he does. Where is it coming from? A tortoise. What is the tortoise? The Great God Om. Yep. Everyone thought that when Om presented himself to humanity, it would be in the form of a bull or lion or other fierce creature, since there’s a lot of smiting in Omnia, but nope, he’s a tortoise and none too happy about it. And so an adventure begins. Brutha is the only person who can hear Om and also the only person who actually believes in him, as it’s become second nature to everyone else and they no longer truly BELIEVE. And then there’s Vorbis. Vorbis is the leader of the Quisition and as such is dreaded and feared by all. He truly loves torture. He sends an Omnian “brother” to a neighboring country, gets him killed, and uses it as an excuse to go attack said neighboring country. He takes along Brutha for his fantastic memory. Things don’t go as planned and Brutha is forced to flee along with the other Omnians. He and Om wander through the desert with Vorbis, who knocks Brutha out and carries him into Omnia, where he’s going to be crowned the eighth Prophet while declaring Brutha a bishop. Meanwhile, there’s an underground movement ready to attack, and all of the neighboring countries are sailing to Omnia to wipe it out once and for all. Justice is served when Vorbis dies, but Brutha convinces everyone else to lay down their arms and seek peace. One of the classic scenes in the novel occurs when the dead Vorbis “awakes” to see Death and the following exchange takes place:

Death paused. “YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE, he said, THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?

Yes. Yes, of course.

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Classic. Vorbis can’t stand to be alone and now he’s in a deserted desert for eternity. Very funny. There are lots of other funny parts too. One of the songs Brutha sings early in the book is called “He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron.” Hahahaha! Also, lots of instances of things happening in church history and of certain writings. To wit, “In the Year of the Lenient Vegetable the Bishop Kreeblephor converted a demon by the power of reason alone.” “There was the crusade against the Hodgsonites….” “And the Subjugation of the Melchiorites. And the Resolving of the false prophet Zeb. And the Correction of the Ashelians, and the Shriving –” — well, you get the picture. Utterly hilarious. Makes Christianity look completely absurd, but in a fun way.

There’s a lot about belief in this book, and a lot about God and gods. The more people believe, the greater the god. Brutha finds that his devoted belief is shaken, by his god, no less, as well as other so-called believers. And it does him a world of good. So I guess the lesson is we shouldn’t take everything we’re fed too literally or at face value. The philosophers in this book are the true thinkers and yet they are doubters. Pratchett’s good. This book is both serious and hilarious at the same time. It’s a great Discworld novel and I strongly recommend it.

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Our Little Church | SouthernHon

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 28, 2014

Our Little Church | SouthernHon.

My wife wrote this about our little church and the dilemma we face….

 

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Church Vestry

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 31, 2014

Last month, I was elected to my church’s vestry for 2014. I was installed at the beginning of the month. There are nine of us on the vestry and we work closely with the rector on behalf of the church. Among other things, we oversee the budget and finances of the church, the church grounds, membership, liturgy, giving, volunteerism, and much more. Today I’m going on a vestry retreat at Sewanee up in the Tennessee mountains. I’m not sure what to expect, but I hope it will be good. This will be the first time Gretchen and I have spent a night apart since we’ve been married. Next week, we go to Knoxville for the diocesian convention of East Tennessee. I’ll be going to seminars and I guess the group will be voting on things. I’m really not sure what my role will be on the vestry. You have four officers — the senior warden, junior warden, clerk, and treasurer, and the treasurer slot was already taken when we met this month. Someone volunteered to be clerk, which no one wanted to do, and we were all very relieved when she volunteered. I nominated someone for senior warden and he was elected. I voted for the person who was elected junior warden. So where does that leave me? I’m the youngest person on the vestry. I’m also on the marketing committee and am the church webmaster, so I feel involved, but since being on the vestry is essentially a leadership role, I’m unsure how to lead. I’m fairly new to the church. I’ve only been going for two years, having migrated from a different, far more conservative, denomination and I’m quite happy here. We were married here and we’ve made friends. It’s a small church, but we like it. I realize I’m rambling, but I guess I’m just hoping to find out just what my role as vestry member will be at this retreat. Cheers!

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