Yet think she must; she knew at last the number on the dreadful door of fantasy, the threshold to the escape that was no escape; she knew that for her the greatest sin now and in the future was to delude herself. It had been a long lesson but she had learned it. Either you think – or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.
– My favourite passage from Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I’ve completely neglected the side of me that needs to be reading, learning and contemplating and not just doing all the time. Fortunately I’ve come across two books that captured my attention and I think they may interest some of you. If you care to join me in reading either one I’d love to discuss them.
The first is The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley.
The second is Philosophers Without Gods edited by Louise M. Antony.
I’ve just begun both of these but they seem very promising. If you’d like to read along and discuss one or both of them just let me know in the comments. If there is some interest I will create a discussion post for each of them.
Happy New Year!
I want to share with you a link to a free online book that may interest some of you. It is a story about a loss of faith - but so much more. It’s called An Examination of the Pearl and the scope of it is staggering to me. Click on the Table of Contents and then click on items listed there and you’ll see how exhaustive this book really is! He covers any biblical or doctrinal issue you can imagine. If you’re in the doubting stage of your faith then this book is required reading!
I thought I’d give you the author’s words from the first page so that you can get an idea what the book is about:
The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as comparing the Kingdom of God to a merchant who found a valuable pearl and sold all that he had in order to buy it. No merchant of fine pearls would ever buy one that he had not examined carefully. To take the supreme leap of selling all for the price of one particular pearl would require that merchant to have either found it flawless after detailed examination, or to enter blindly into what might well turn out to be a bad bargain out of impulse, emotion, or deceit.
This book is an honest and unflinching examination of the pearl that Conservative Laestadianism puts on offer as the Kingdom of God. It is a study not just of that obscure revival movement from 19th century Lapland, but also of Martin Luther, fundamentalist and sectarian Christianity, and the Bible itself.
About 18 centuries ago, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “If our faith is such that it is destroyed by force of argument, then let it be destroyed; for it will have been proved that we do not possess the truth.” Many dare not take the risk to their faith, or the faith of those under their influence, of reading or allowing the reading of anything critical about what they supposedly believe. But is that really faith in anything other than the others in the fold who are themselves just repeating the old slogans? They, too, are all too often ignoring the facts about their own unexamined faith that is itself supported only by the claims of others.
There are many such unexamined and fearful faiths competing in the marketplace of religion, some of them also claiming to be the truth outside of which no one will be saved. And without critical reflection like that found in this book, each one is a self-sustaining doctrinal bubble that quivers unsteadily in the air, vulnerable to being poked by the slightest intrusion of fact.
I’d love for you to check it out and to let me know what you think of it: An Examination of the Pearl
A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent van Gogh. I prefer to think that the planet needs athletes, philosophers, sex symbols, painters, scientists; it needs the warmhearted, the hardhearted, the coldhearted, and the weakhearted. It needs those who can devote their lives to studying how many droplets of water are secreted by the salivary glands of dogs under which circumstances, and it needs those who can capture the passing impression of cherry blossoms in a fourteen-syllable poem or devote twenty-five pages to the dissection of a small boy’s feelings as he lies in bed in the dark waiting for his mother to kiss him goodnight . . . Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.
From Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
You have to read this book:
The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions: A secular history of the One True Faiths by William Hopper
[I think the newest version is called the New World Order version which is the one I have.]
Seriously hilarious throughout and yet really, really informative at the same time. My family kept wondering what I was laughing out loud about! I learned a lot about the major world religions and had a blast doing it.
The only unfortunate thing is that there are quite a few typos and editing issues. It’s too bad because the book is amazing and deserves better. But don’t let that deter you from reading it!
After you read a book like this it’s easy to see why us atheists just laugh and toss all the religions out the window. It really shines a light on the absurdity of it all.
These aren’t quotes from the book, but are some that came to my mind regarding studying world religions:
“Study one religion and you’ll be hooked for life. Study two religions, and you’re done in an hour.” (from here)
“Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.” – Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, Part 1
“We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” Richard Dawkins
[FYI: Here's the book's website: http://heathensguide.com/]
Just read this book and absolutely loved it. Had to recommend it to you.
Several years ago, on a flight from New York to California, I had the good fortune to sit next to a psychologist named Dan Gilbert. He had a shiny bald head, an irrepressible good humor, and we talked (or, more accurately, he talked) from at least the Hudson to the Rockies–and I was completely charmed. He had the wonderful quality many academics have–which is that he was interested in the kinds of questions that all of us care about but never have the time or opportunity to explore. He had also had a quality that is rare among academics. He had the ability to translate his work for people who were outside his world.
Now Gilbert has written a book about his psychological research. It is called Stumbling on Happiness, and reading it reminded me of that plane ride long ago. It is a delight to read. Gilbert is charming and funnyand has a rare gift for making very complicated ideas come alive.
Stumbling on Happinessis a book about a very simple but powerful idea. What distinguishes us as human beings from other animals is our ability to predict the future–or rather, our interest in predicting the future. We spend a great deal of our waking life imagining what it would be like to be this way or that way, or to do this or that, or taste or buy or experience some state or feeling or thing. We do that for good reasons: it is what allows us to shape our life. And it is by trying to exert some control over our futures that we attempt to be happy. But by any objective measure, we are really bad at that predictive function. We’re terrible at knowing how we will feel a day or a month or year from now, and even worse at knowing what will and will not bring us that cherished happiness. Gilbert sets out to figure what that’s so: why we are so terrible at something that would seem to be so extraordinarily important?
In making his case, Gilbert walks us through a series of fascinating–and in some ways troubling–facts about the way our minds work. In particular, Gilbert is interested in delineating the shortcomings of imagination. We’re far too accepting of the conclusions of our imaginations. Our imaginations aren’t particularly imaginative. Our imaginations are really bad at telling us how we will think when the future finally comes. And our personal experiences aren’t nearly as good at correcting these errors as we might think.
I suppose that I really should go on at this point, and talk in more detail about what Gilbert means by that–and how his argument unfolds. But I feel like that might ruin the experience of reading Stumbling on Happiness. This is a psychological detective story about one of the great mysteries of our lives. If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me. –Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve always been a book lover and I’m betting many of you are as well. I was thinking that once a month I’d check in to see what some of you out there are reading. It will be interesting and might give us books to add to our reading list. Doesn’t matter to me if it’s related to religion or not. Might be helpful if we provide a bit of a description, but not necessary. Feel free to share your thoughts about the books if you’re far enough into them – or come back and post your thoughts once you’re done.
Right now I’m reading The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. I read it during my deconversion at some point but wanted to read it again to refresh my memory. I’ll likely be doing some posts about it once I’m finished. Here’s a description from Wikipedia:
The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolutionaryThomas Paine, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible, the central sacred text of Christianity. Published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807, it was a bestseller in the United States, where it caused a short-lived deistic revival. British audiences, however, fearing increased political radicalism as a result of the French Revolution, received it with more hostility. The Age of Reason presents common deistic arguments; for example, it highlights what Paine saw as corruption of the Christian Church and criticizes its efforts to acquire political power. Paine advocates reason in the place of revelation, leading him to reject miracles and to view the Bible as an ordinary piece of literature rather than as a divinely inspired text. It promotes natural religion and argues for the existence of a creator-God.
Most of Paine’s arguments had long been available to the educated elite, but by presenting them in an engaging and irreverent style, he made deism appealing and accessible to a mass audience. The book was also inexpensive, putting it within the reach of a large number of buyers. Fearing the spread of what they viewed as potentially revolutionary ideas, the British government prosecuted printers and booksellers who tried to publish and distribute it. Paine nevertheless inspired and guided many British freethinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Just started Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman:
… Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think and the way we make choices. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities – and also the faults and biases – of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and our choices.
I’m giving these discussions their own category – What We’re Reading – so it will be easy for people to come back to these posts easily when they are looking for book ideas and discussions.
Now your turn!
I read Thomas Paine’s, The Age of Reason, back when I was in the middle of my doubting and searching. Persto and Nate have both reminded me what a great book it is and I’ve decided it’s worth reading it again. It’s actually the first full book that I’m reading on our tablet (I know – I’m way behind the times! It’s been hard to give up my love for holding a real book though!). I can’t promise when I’ll finish, but if anyone was thinking of reading it (and if you’re in the doubting stage it’s a must-read), then join me and we can discuss it once we’re done. It’s easy to find a free download online.
Fabulous excerpt from Penn Jillette’s new book via The Friendly Atheist:
I have this book in my hands:
Reading this book now was great timing. After I’d written this post I had a lot of second thoughts. Something about it really bothered me. I didn’t really feel I’d tackled Zacharias’ arguments well. There was something missing. One of the main points that Zacharias weaves throughout the entire chapter is that life is meaningless without a god to explain it and to give it purpose (and in his view it must also follow that it is the Christian God.) He presents this as though it is fact and I was a bit lost as to how to answer him even though I had found purpose in my post-christian life.
Well this book has brought some clarity for me. The author, Dan Barker, is also the author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. He is a former minister and Christian songwriter who renounced all religion and now is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Godless book really helped me when I was searching for answers.
The Good Atheist is mostly a book of quotes and short biographies of atheists who have had no problem finding purpose in many different areas of society. But the first part where he talks about the concept of purpose was a great read. I wish I’d read it when I was struggling with this topic. He made some really good points that I hadn’t thought of before.
The book is partly in response to The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. When Barker finally got around to reading Warren’s book he was appalled by the notion that in order to have purpose in our life we need to lead a life of servitude (to god). I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms before. I know Christians pride themselves on being slaves of Christ – but have we really thought about what that means and what it says about our purpose?
So I’ll just go through and share the parts from the first part of the book that I underlined. As I said before, the second half is filled with wonderful quotes from a wide variety of atheists, past and present. I’d encourage you to buy the book especially if you’re struggling with this issue.
“I don’t believe in God, but even if he did exist, and even if he did save my life, I’d find it hard to imagine that he would be the kind of creature who would demand that I submit to his will.” (p. 27)
“If there were such a God, demanding servants kneel before him, glorifying his name, why should we respect him? Even if we were oppressed people who wanted to avoid the wrath of a ruler who had the power to punish and kill, we might pretend to go along by kissing the feet of our oppressor, but why should anyone think such a master deserves to be admired?
Suppose I decided to breed children as slaves. What would you think of me? Yes, there would be purpose involved, but it would be my own selfish purpose of needing to be doted and waited upon. Those children would exist for my satisfaction, with no free purpose of their own. That would make me an egotistical monster.” (p. 27)
“The forced or mandated subjugation of ‘inferior people’ by a ‘superior person’ is evidence that the ruler is actually insecure, scared of any possible challenge to his authority, jealous of any praise not directed at his person, craving all the attention, fearful of freedom, nervous about rebellion – otherwise, why coerce or demand submission? If there truly were an all-powerful and unchallengeable god, why would he need or want to be worshipped? What is he afraid of? In any master/slave or dictator/servant arrangement, I wonder who is more fearful – the sovereign or the subjects?” (p. 28)
“Asking, ‘If there is no God, what is the purpose of life?’ is like asking, ‘If there is no master, whose slave will I be?’ “ (p. 29)
“Who made the rule that existence is meaningless if it is free?” (p. 29)
“Purpose is striving for a goal, intentionally aiming at a target. Purpose is life.” (p. 30)
“Hoping for a heaven without struggle is longing for a life without purpose. There is no purpose in glory. Glorifying God is not a problem to solve. Why does he need to be glorified? If he does, his life lacks something, and that would be an embarrassing admission for a perfect being to make. Striving to fulfill that need in his empty life might give him purpose, but not us. To glorify is to fatten up someone’s ego. Why do that? Are you afraid you will be killed, hurt or denied a blessing if you don’t help the ‘Lord and Master’ feel great? If so, you are being manipulated to meet someone else’s need.” (p. 33)
“It wasn’t until I got out of the master/slave business that I learned what true purpose is. It comes from solving real problems, not phoney ones such as ‘how can I be saved?’ ” (p. 35)
“The demand for a purpose of life is a cry of discontent. To reach outside your life for meaning is to abandon the value of what is inside your life. It is to diminish and deny the value of life itself. It is to be embarrassed at who you really are. Transcendence is the ultimate put-down of humanity.” (p. 36)