Archive for category religion

What do I need to add to my list of ‘books to read’? (list below)

Books I Want To Read


1984 – Orwell
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
Animal Farm – George Orwell
At the Mountains of Madness – Lovecraft
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoyevsky
Contact – Carl Sagan
The Crucible – Arthur Miller
The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Tolstoy
Dhalgren –  Samuel Delany
The Divine Comedy – Dante
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Engines of God – Jack McDevitt
Faust – Goethe
Fear and Trembling – Kierkegaard
Frankenstein – Mary Shelly
Galapagos – Kurt Vonnegut
Gateway – Frederik Pohl
A Good Man Is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor
Great Expectations – Dickens
Hamlet – Shakespeare
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
King Lear – Shakespeare
Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
Light in August – Faulkner
Lolita – Nabakov
The Luzhin Defense – Nabakov
The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Moby Dick – Melville
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Nausea – Sartre
The Odyssey – Homer
The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway
One Day in the LIfe of Ivan Denisovich – Solzhenitsyn
Pale Fire – Nabakov
Paradise Lost – Milton
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
The Plague – Camus
The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Rainbow’s End – Vernor Vinge
Ubik – Philip K. Dick
The Rama Series – Arthur C. Clarke
The Road – McCarthy
The Sirens of Titan – Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five – Vonnegut
Song of Kali – Dan SImmons
The Sorrows of Young Werther – Goethe
The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Nietzsche
The Stranger – Camus
Stranger In A Strange Land – Heinlein
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Trial – Kafka
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Watership Down – Richard Adams
Wizard – John Varley

[“(VSI)” indicates that the book is part of Oxford Press’ “Very Short Introduction” series.]

After Religion – Vattimo
After Theory – Terry Eagleton
Authentic Happiness – Seligman
Beyond Good and Evil – Nietzsche
Beyond the Pleasure Principle – Freud
The Birth of Tragedy – Nietzsche
Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
The Brain (VSI)
A Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
A Brief History of Western Philosophy – Robert Solomon
Christ – Jack Miles
Christian Spirituality – Alilster McGrath
Civilization and its Discontents – Freud
Confessions – St. Augustine
Consciousness Explained – Dennett
Critique of Religion and Philosophy – Walter Kaufmann
De Anima – Aristotle
The Death of God and the Meaning of Life – Julian Young
Desire – William B. Irvine
The Ego and the Id – Freud
Either/Or – Kierkegaard
The Elements of Style – Strunk and White
Enchiridion – Epictetus
Existentialism, from Dostoyevsky to Sartre – Kaufmann
Existentialism is a Humanism – Sartre
Finite and Infinite Games – James P. Carse
Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Freedom Evolves – Dennett
Freud and Beyond, a history of psychoanalysis – Mitchell and Black
God – Etienne Gilson
God, a biography – Jack Miles
The God We Never Knew – Marcus Borg
Godel Escher Bach – Hofstader
The Good Life – William B. Irvine
Greek Mythology – Edith Hamilton
Hegel – (Solomon or Kaufmann or Singer)
A History of Christian Thought – Paul Tillich
A History of Christianity – Paul Johnson
A History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
I Am A Strange Loop – Douglas Hofstader
I and Thou – Martin Buber
Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis – Freud
Jesus, a biography – Paul Johnson
Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes – Bailey
The Koran
Man and His Symbols – Carl Jung
Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl
The Many Faces of Realism – Putnam
Mathematics (VSI)
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Metaphysics and the Idea of God – Pannenberg
Modern Philosophy – Roger Scruton
Modernism – Christopher Butler
Naming and Necessity – Kripke
A New History of Western Philosophy – Anthony Kenny
New Seeds of Contemplation – Thomas Merton
On Belief – Zizek
On Writing – Stephen King
Paul – N.T. Wright
A People’s History of the World
Philosophical Investigations – Wittgenstein
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature – Rorty
The Philosophy of Science (VSI)
Postmodern Theory – Best and Kellner
Pragmatism – William James
The Pragmatism Reader – Talisse and Aikin
Principles of Mathematical Philosophy – Russell
Psychology (VSI)
Quantum Physics (VSI)
Rapt – Gallagher
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time – Marcus Borg
The Resurrection of the Son of God – N.T. Wright
The Right to Write − Cameron
The Secular Age – Charles Taylor
The Singularity Is Near – Ray Kurzweil
Sources of Self – Taylor
Spirituality for Skeptics – Robert Solomon
The Story of Christian Theology – Roger E. Olson
The Story of Thought – Bryan Magee
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn
Stumbling on Happiness – Daniel Goldman
The Symbolism of Evil – Paul Ricoeur
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tsu
Truth and Method – Gadamer
The Unity of Knowledge – E. O. Wilson
Varieties of Religious Experience – William James
The View from Nowhere – Nagel
Walden – Thoreau
The World as Will and Representation – Schopenhauer
Your Memory – Kenneth Higbee



The New Atheist Game

Just find someone less educated and qualified than you are to defend their beliefs, and debate them! This time? Christopher Hitchens against baptist minister Al Sharpton debate the existence of God. I’m sure there’s much to learn from a Vanity Fair journalist and a college dropout verbally fumbling over the nature of religious epistemology, metaphysics, and metaethics.

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Look to the right and save a human life

You’ll notice a new category of links called Saving Lives. At the moment there is one link there, though I think that it will gradually accrue more. I want to tell you about the link that is there though, because it will take you to the website of an organization that needs your money, and I want you to give it to them. I’ll tell you why.

Here’s how it works. The link will take you to a page for a charity called the Mocha Club, a terribly named humanitarian organization based on the obviously true premise that if many people give a regular, small amount of money (say, the price of a mocha…), that amounts to a big pile of money that can be put to some use. What they do is take that regluar, small donation and put it toward a worthy cause of your choice. All of the causes they’ve adopted center on the needs of African people, and fall broadly under the following headings:

Child Mothers – The Lords Resistance Army, a rebel militia group of rapist and pillagers, regular rolls into villages, slaughters the men, burns the home, rape and/or kill the women, and take whatever they want. That includes children. Especially young girls. These girls stay with the LRA as sex slaves until they grow ugly, die, have too many children, escape, or become too expensive to feed, at which point they are discarded. These discarded women, all of whom have children, collect into communities where there aren’t many men, jobs,  necessities of life, or job opportunities, and, when you’ve lived as a roaming sex slave for years, it’s very difficult to transition to a live of self-sustinance. The Mocha Club (MC) takes your money, and puts it toward meeting whatever needs arise for these women and their children.

HIV/AIDS – Statistics: in some African countries, one in three people has HIV. 66% of the worlds HIV positive population lives in Africa, and 6,300 people die per day from HIV in Africa. Aside from the gut-wrenching pain this causes for other humans, it also causes constant economic instability. MC takes your money, and gives medication to those affected, educates Africans on the nature of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (a lot of them don’t know that if you use a condom or just don’t have sex, you won’t get it), and create job opportunities for communities and individuals hurt by all this.

Education – People groups are different in Africa. Over there there is a large population of street children, who have no home, real family, jobs, or education. There are also refugees from war-torn areas, and generally poor people who can’t afford school. MC takes your cash, and builds schools, pays teachers, feeds students, and provides free education to all these people who will never otherwise be able to pull themselves out of the economic hell hole they were born into. They get educated, so they form real, guided goals, get a real job, and don’t have to eat trash any more. The most significant thing is that these people, when they grow up, are far more impassioned about these issues than you and I will ever be, and they effect serious change then. There’s a story on the site about a former street child who is now going to law school to work shaping the legal system in African countries so these issues are dealt with by the government, whose job it is to guide the society away from this insanity.

Job Creation – Job needs are desparate in Africa. For us that means people with college degrees end up working at Lowes selling paint. For them it means women are forced to pimp themselves out to eat and make rent, or otherwise become homeless. MC takes your donation and makes jobs for these people. I don’t know exactly how that works, but they see results.

Orphan Care – This is pretty self-explanatory. There are tons of orphans in Africa who no one is providing for, and MC takes the money you give them and provides for these fellow humans.

Sudan Regrowth – In the Darfur region of Sudan, at least 400,000 people have been killed in civil violence, and two million people have been displaced, fleeing their violent region to live in displacement camps. These camp sites are chosen out of immediate necessity, not because they are well suited to sustain large numbers of people (or people in general). In many of these camps there is little water, food, etc. and people suffer and die there. That’s the first half of the problem. The second half is that, because of all this murder and displacement, kids get left behind. In a village called Nayamlel, there is an orphanage of four hundred children who need food, water and education as well. The orpganage is largely staffed by former sex slaves, who also have these needs, and don’t get paid much at all (which, for them, means an almost insignificant amount of money). MC takes their money and, most importantly, digs wells for people who have been dying of thirst and disease from living off the only water there, which is regularly dirtied by animals and their funk and excrement. MC also pays for the food for these kids in the orphanage and the needs of the displaced people, like malaria medicine.

Sudan Regrowth is the project this group, The Fountain, is supporting, though you’re welcome to start a group of your own. It seems like this one is the broadest cause, since it provides food, medicine, shelter, water, and partially, education to people. That’s why I chose it.

Well, here are the logistics. The Mocha Club figures you drink mochas, and that they cost about $3.50 (fifteen cents less than a grande mocha at Starbucks, where I’m writing this). They want you to give them the costs of two mochas ($7) a month, or some increment of that ($14, $21, $28, etc.). You give them your debit card info, choose an increment and date for it to be billed to you regularly, and you’re done. Lives saved. And you can email them and quit donating whenever you want. It’s pretty hassle-free. Listening to one of their spokesmen last night, he was absolutely adamant that one person’s regular seven bucks literally saves at least one human being from dying, and this dude doesn’t even work for them, he’s a major private donor himself. So, from what I read and hear, this group is the real deal. So, please click the link on the right and join The Fountain (dig wells…fountain…get it?), and swallow your gall and mention this to other people and ask them to join it too so someone like you won’t die. I’ll be forgoing posting for several days so that this stays on the top so feel free to direct people here to learn about it.

[Note: When you join, please comment here and say so.]

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Absolutely baffling

I came across this blog post last night while scrolling through Al Gore’s gift to humanity with a friend of mine. It’s basically a compilation of interviews of anti-abortion activists responding to the question, If abortion should be illegal, what should the punishment be for women who have abortions? I (and I think my friend also) was utterly appalled at the responses, and their singular nature. Though I myself am a strong “anti-abortionist” (is anyone a pro-abortionist?), the apparently poorly-founded fervency of these people for a cause I’m also behind is frightening.

So, what should be the penalty for normal cases of abortion (assuming it were made illegal)? [non-rhetorical question]

It seems to me that, in the vocabulary of our legal system, abortion is normally first degree murder, since it is  premeditated, malicious, unjust killing of a human person, and should be classified as such, and recieve the same penalty; something like long-term imprisonment or death.

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A Christian on Prop 8, and Gay Marriage

So everyone knows that California recently passed a proposal to modify the state constitution so as to only recognize marriages between men and women. Prop 8 was considered by most conservatives, and most Christians, to be a real victory in a battle over tradition, and (somewhat separately) morality. I, myself, am a Christian, and I’m probably ‘conservative’ (whatever that term means – it probably means that I think homosexuality is in some way a bad thing, which I do). But, I probably wouldn’t have voted for Prop 8 if I were a Californian. I’m not sure that it should have been passed, or that its passing was much of a victory over anything. Let me explain, because each state is eventually going to have to go through the same thing California just went through, and we need to be thinking about how we should respond when that controversy knocks on our door.

As I already said, I am morally opposed to homosexuality. I don’t think it’s good for humanity or morally right, and I think families with same-sex parents are unhealthy environments for children. So, at that moral level, I’m on the same page with most of the people who voted for Prop 8. Why then would I probably not vote for it? If I think something is immoral, unhealthy, and dangerous to children, wouldn’t I want it outlawed? The answer is no. Or, at least not necessarily. I don’t believe that just because something is morally wrong it should be illegal. In fact, there are tons of things that I think are truly morally wrong that I don’t think the state should step in and outlaw. For instance, rudeness, gluttony, fantasizing about another person when you’re married, gossip, promiscuity, white-lying, and many other things are all wrong, but I (and I bet most everyone else) would have a real problem if the government decided it was going to start regulating people’s diets or monitoring their thoughts for illicit fantasies.

So (unless you’re totalitarian-minded), if you agree that at least some of the above things are morally wrong, you will agree that just because something is immoral doesn’t necessarily mean the state ought to illegalize it. There’s a line somewhere, between things that ought to be legal (which includes some immoral things) and things that ought to be illegal (which includes both immoral and moral things – for instance, there’s nothing inherently immoral about driving on the left side of the road, but it’s certainly illegal, and should be here).  The question is, where do we draw that line, and why do I think maybe we should draw it to allow marriage between same-sex couples?

Well, to be honest, I’m just not sure why it should be illegal. I have a hard time coming up with a reason why it should be illegal that wouldn’t also make illegal some other things I don’t think should be outlawed. For instance, if we say that homosexual marriage should be illegal because it’s morally wrong, then we also ought to outlaw gluttony and illicit fantasizing, which is ridiculous. If we say it should be illegal because homosexuality is a sort of disorder that is psychologically unhealthy for the person who ‘has’ it, and is unhealthy for them to practice, then we should also outlaw phobias, but that’s stupid. If we say that it should be illegal because it poses a psychological threat to children, then we should also make it illegal for parents to let their children watch most horror movies, but that doesn’t seem like it should be illegal either. Probably the most common argument for illegalizing gay marriage is that it is not an ideal home life for children in general, but then neither is a divorced home an ideal home life, but the state certainly shouldn’t outlaw divorce.

So I basically have no good argument for making gay marriage illegal, and, because I believe in the principle ”innocent until proven guilty” (or in this case, ”legal until shown that it should be illegal”), I have to say that I wouldn’t vote for Prop 8 if it came to my state, and I don’t think anyone else should either until they have a good argument for why gay marriage should not be legalized. All in all, I’m not really opposed to outlawing gay marriage if there’s some good argument for it. I just don’t know of one. If you have an idea, feel free to throw it out.

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Getting to know the Church of Scientology

Here are a few super interesting links to some of the more important info on Scientology. The Church markets itself as a family-oriented, psychological self-help and humanitarian organization, but the core of Scientology’s beliefs and practices are much darker.

Here is a link to Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard (who was a moderately successful science fiction author before he started his religion) explaining Scientology’s view of the world. Apparently, many years ago the evil intergalactic warlord, Xenu, captured many of the citizens of his planet, flew them to earth in an airplane (minus the propellers), stacked their bodies up in or near volcanoes, blew them up with hydrogen bombs (not atom bombs mind you), and now the souls of these deceased aliens infest our minds and cause our psychological disorders, which only the Church of Scientology can cure, for a fee (but they use a sliding scale…whew). Thanks to Josh P.

Here is a documentary on how the Church of Scientology basically owns the city of Clearwater, Florida (including the police force). If you’ve ever been there and wondered what all the white lines on the ground are about, well…you’ll be appalled.

Here is the short version of the affidavit of Jesse Prince, a Scientology defector who was second in command of the senior branch of the Church of Scientology. His experience with the Church involved forced isolation from friends and family, a type of imprisonment, threats against his safety, and a forced abortion. You can also read the full affidavit here.

Hope you are as shocked and confused as rationality demands.

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The Gabriel Stone: a BIG deal for…well, everyone

Recently, a discovery was made that may, in a way, turn out to rival the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in its significance for the history of Christianity. That discovery has been popularly dubbed ‘the Gabriel Stone’, and it just may turn out to have roughly the same effect on liberal religion departments that another, much larger stone had on the dinosaurs: extinction. My fingers are crossed.

Let me back up though. In 1985, a group of about 150 self-proclaimed religious scholars assembled with the intent of analyzing the earliest Christian writings to uncover the historical Jesus. Among the members of the Jesus Seminar, many of them seem to (quite unashamedly) believe that God doesn’t intervene in the world, and some are skeptical of even the existence of God. Inevitably then, the picture they paint of the true, historical Jesus is quite different from the Jesus one encounters in the New Testament. For a good explanation and defense of this position on Jesus, just download Thomas Sheehan’s Historical Jesus class from the Stanford iTunes U page. It’s free. Anyway:

At the heart of the Jesus Seminar’s picture of the historical Jesus is the belief that Jesus did not think of himself as the divinely-ordained Messiah, did not see his death as playing a saving role for humanity, and did not think of himself as divine in any sense. This picture of Jesus is largely supported, so says the Jesus Seminar, by the fact that there was absolutely no belief during Jesus’ day in a dying messiah, a resurrection of a single person, or a messiah whose death would bring about the salvation of the world. And, since these ideas didn’t exist in Jesus’ day, they must be inventions of the early church. So reasons the Jesus seminar. That’s important for the rest of this, so you might want to reread it to get it at the front of your mind. This ‘liberal’ (what a dumb term) picture of Jesus has nearly completely taken over university religious departments.

Well, enter the Gabriel Stone. Recently Israeli-Swedish artifacts collector, David Jeselsohn, had a piece of his private home collection examined by a scholar of ancient Judaism. What they discovered may start a revolution in religious thought, and one that may utterly destroy the Jesus Seminar’s conception of Jesus, along with the current picure of Jesus fed to most every student of religion in secular (and most ‘religious’) universities. Why?

Well, the Gabriel Stone, basically a large sheet of rock with several columns of Hebrew writing on it, documents a prophecy supposedly spoken by the angel Gabriel to an ambiguous Messianic figure who is facing execution. Now, execution would surely be taken as special kind of slap in the face by any messiah figure, since the messiah was supposed to be the one who would defeat the evil powers of the world (esp. the ones ruling over Israel) and establish Israel as God’s shining kingdom. Execution for Messiah by pagan authorities just isn’t normally thought of as part of the program. And this is the exact point made by most ‘liberal’ Jesus scholars who say that, since no one before Jesus believed that Messiah would die at the hands of his enemies, then the Christian idea that Jesus (the Messiah) was executed by Rome and later Resurrected by God must just be a story the early church made up. For the longest time, Christian scholars haven’t had much to say back either. Largely they’ve admitted that this was a new idea that began with Jesus. The Gabriel Stone, however, has something shocking to say here.

So far, having been dated around the late first century b.c.e. – just before Jesus – the prophecy of the angel Gabriel to the soon-to-die messiah includes the following (translated) statements:

In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice


In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.

It should be noted that the term live is spelled oddly, but Israel Knohl, professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, affirms that the spelling is in line with the era in which it was written. If this translation is accurate though (and it seems that no scholar has strongly contested the translation) the implications are massive. No longer can the same arguments be made that the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t take place, or that Jesus was a failed Messiah, and that the church made it all up. Why? Because those arguments are based on the idea that no one could have taken a dying Messiah seriously in the first century (including Jesus). If the Gabriel Stone is deemed authentic though, we now have irrefutable evidence that there did exist in ancient Judaism the idea that Messiah would suffer, die, and be vindicated (in three days!), and that this sequence of events would contribute to the salvation of Israel and the world.

The Jesus of the earliest Christian scriptures, then, will be found squarely rooted in the Judaism of his day, and can no longer be dismissed as a wishful fabrication of his first, broken-hearted followers, and so many who have (maybe honorably) lost their faith in the shadow of skepticism will be able to follow Jesus, the Messiah, with solid intellectual conscience.

So, I hope it’s legit. Even though, if the stone turns out to be a fake, it doesn’t hurt Christianity’s orthodox conception of Christ. It has been shown, very powerfully, by authors like N.T. Wright and Gary Habermas that the Jesus of scripture is not at all a fanciful fabrication of the early church, but is historically defensible.