hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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 The Untethered Soul

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 9, 2015

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond YourselfThe Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Untethered Soul is a unique book and it obviously means a lot to a whole lot of people because I’ve never seen a book with a higher rating on Goodreads than this one. Yet I had some problems with it. For that, I’m a little embarrassed, to be honest. Nonetheless, I did.

First of all, I don’t normally pick up too many spiritual books to read. I bought this one on the recommendation of a relative. And I found it intriguing. 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. He writes of the “monkey man,” the person inside your head who makes your life miserable and how you can go about silencing him and attaining your true freedom. Yet at the same time, his instructions for doing this seem to me — but apparently not to others — to be rather vague, as though the reader already knows some of the steps for going about this. For instance, if your heart is closed, you’ll be hurt by things. You need to open your heart to attain true happiness. Um, okay. How exactly do you “open your heart?” Cause I don’t know how. I don’t think it’s as easy as just that.

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 the later chapters, he starts to get pretty redundant. Actually, he is pretty much throughout the entire book, but it becomes more noticeable in the later chapters. He also starts talking more about God, which is the subject of his last chapter. I actually got something out of this, although I’m not sure I agree with everything he asserts.

Singer believes one can become totally free and totally happy, but in order to do so, one has to seemingly completely clear oneself of any distractions and thoughts of virtually anything, becoming a nonhuman organism (in my words). That doesn’t appeal to me. I think that’s a weakness of both the book and his approach.

The Untethered Soul is an ambitious book and parts of it are quite good, but I think some of it’s pretty vague, some of it’s pretty damn difficult to actually accomplish, some of it’s boringly redundant, and it might be a little overrated by some. I’m glad I read it and I might reread it again at some point, but it’s not the greatest book ever written. Nonetheless, recommended.

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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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A Review of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 19, 2014

Paul: The Mind of the ApostlePaul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I FINALLY finished this book! It took me forever because it’s fairly dry and the content doesn’t interest me as much as that in some other books. Still, this was a fairly interesting book to read. The author is apparently an agnostic or atheist and ensures one understands he believed Jesus was a Jew with no intention of starting a religion, and undoubtedly not the son of God or God himself. If you’re a Christian and you can get past that, you’re good to go. This book presents Paul as THE founder of Christianity and THE individual responsible for asserting Jesus was the Messiah, gone to glory in the clouds, and returning again some day — soon. The author asserts Paul thought Jesus was returning in a matter of months or years, thus the urgency in some of his letters.

When I read nonfiction books, I don’t underline passages — I turn over page corners so I can go back and catch important portions of the text. Normally I will have turned over 10-20 pages in a typical nonfiction book. In this book, I must have turned over 50 pages or more. I often quote from these passages, but I obviously can’t do that here — I don’t have the time or inclination.

Wilson asserts that Paul was a traveling tent maker and that’s how he supported himself, along with donations. He also calls into question whether Paul was a one time Pharisee or not. He alludes to Paul’s potential homosexuality, in his nonstop efforts to force sexual morality on people and in his almost loving letters to Timothy and other men who were his followers. Yes, sacrilege, I know. Still, interesting stuff. Wilson writes,

“Old-fashioned liberal Protestants detected in the Gospels the seeds of modern feminism — Talitha cumi, Damsel arise, became the motto of Victorian Christian feminists. The Jesus of the Gospels outraged Jewish opinion by speaking to the woman at the well of Samaria, and by offering forgiveness to the prostitute who, though she had sinned much, had also loved much. Impossible, says such wisdom, to imagine the misogynist puritanical Paul extending such forgiveness, nor being so much at ease with the opposite sex.”

We also get in-depth details on Paul’s travels here and their context, which I found really helpful. You also get a history lesson on Rome, at the time, and the state of the Jews. Wilson additionally delves into other religions and gleefully admits to Paul having stolen some traditions from paganism for Christianity.

Wilson is pretty hard on Luke and his book of Acts. He asserts much of it is contradictory to Paul’s own writings and probably made up. And his arguments, which I can’t paraphrase here, are good. (I didn’t know Luke was a Gentile.) Wilson also deals with Paul’s intent focus on evangelizing and converting Gentiles, something he argues Peter and James were opposed to. Of Luke, the author writes,

“By the time Luke writes up the story, perhaps twenty years or more later, it must be obvious that the Lord has not come and that all Paul’s immediate prophesies and predictions about the nature of the world and God’s purpose for it, have been not just slightly off beam, not open to interpretation, but plumb wrong. Christianity — not a word which Paul ever used — will have to sort out the contradictions of all that. It it Luke’s dull task to smooth over the cracks and hide the glaring discrepancies in his story, and to persuade ‘dear Theophilus’, some Roman magistrate or bigwig, that the Christians are safe, good citizens. As Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem shows, he was none of these things.”

Wilson deals with Paul’s end, which we don’t know, and for that he takes umbrage. He asserts that Paul could have been acquitted by Nero or some other Roman official, he could have been made a martyr, as many people believe, or — this is Wilson’s own belief — he could have been let go and traveled to Spain, starting churches, but dying in oblivion.

I’m going to end my review with Wilson’s final (and long) paragraph in the book, because I think it’s a good synthesis of what he is trying to accomplish in writing this book.

“It could be seen, then, that the essence of the Gospels, the thing which makes them so distinctive, and such powerful spiritual texts, namely the notion of a spiritual savior, at odds with his own kind and his own people, but whose death on the cross was a sacrifice for sin, is a wholly Pauline creation. The strange contrarieties which make the Jesus of the Gospels such a memorable figure — named his insistence on peace and kindness in all his more notably plausible of ‘authentic’ sayings, and his virulent abuse of Pharisees, his Mother, and the temple authorities on the other — could point less to a split personality in the actual historical Jesus, and more to the distinctive nature of Paul’s spiritual preoccupations a generation later. Even in this respect, therefore, Paul seems a more dominant figure in the New Testament tradition than Jesus himself. The Jesus of the Gospels, if not the creation of Paul, is in some sense the result of Paul. We can therefore say that if Paul had not existed it is very unlikely that we should have had any of the Gospels in their present form. The very word ‘gospel’, like the phrase ‘the New Testament’ itself, are ones which we first read in Paul’s writings. And though, as this book has shown, there were many individuals involved in the evolution of Christianity, the aspects which distinguish it from Judaism, and indeed make it incompatible with Judaism, are Paul’s unique contribution. It is for this reason that we can say that Paul, and not Jesus — was — if any one was — the ‘Founder of Christianity’.”

Interesting, thought provoking book. Recommended.

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