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As I’ve researched the many roads humanity has taken trying to find the truth, one of the most attractive has always been Buddhism. Its balanced approach has a lot going for it. I agree with its premise that reality is an illusion. But after that, we diverge on most critical issues. (I’m aware that there are many types of Buddhism, and most of my study has been in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, but I believe most of this will apply to most schools, and generally to Hinduism as well.)

Buddhism says that reality is an illusion. No debates there. But what should we do about that fact? The Buddhist answer in large is that reality is something to rise above and escape. The material world is flawed and is necessarily suffering. It is Life’s goal to stop the cycle.

A agree reality is an illusion, just as art is an illusion, literature, games, and every other creation of the mind are illusions. When I sit with my family and play Monopoly, I do not demonstrate enlightenment by declaring it “illusion” and walking away. I do not need to be “freed” of the game’s constant cycle around the board. Of course it’s an illusion; that’s the point. That’s what makes it so enjoyable, even when I’m losing. I agree with the Buddhist that failure to see the game for what it is leads to suffering. But we disagree on whether one should stop playing.
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Ben Simpson has an interesting question under “Gospel Tracts a Thing of the Past?”

Is the tract still a viable means by which to communicate the gospel?  Or, has it ever been?  What are your thoughts on tracts?

He also suggests that the Blog may be the modern replacement for the tract. For anyone unfamiliar with tracts, they are generally short cartoon books that evangelize Christianity in the most propagandist terms you can imagine. They’re often focused on raising strong emotions and fear of damnation and Hell. Associating homosexuality, other religions and drug use with demonic influence is a common theme. Chick Publications is a leading producer. Read the rest of this entry »

Life out of balance. Unbalanced life.

It is time for a change. Five months since I’ve come here. At first it was because I was ready to change what drums I beat upon. For a time I had little to say on these things. Then it became habit to stay away. And then came unbalance.

We have so many roles in life. Worker, philosopher, lover, volunteer, parent. And I had all these balls flying in the air, and I was pretty happy with it all. We’ve built most of the huge treehouse, I’ve convinced dozens of people to fly to Ireland to rent a castle with me, I’ve had a great time camping with my oldest son, I finally replaced the kitchen door. But for a while now, I’ve let The Job take over. Out of balance.

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It is right to give thanks and blessing when we eat. Food is so important, and so much goes into providing it, that mealtimes are an important time to stop for a moment and give thanks. It is also the easiest of rituals to introduce into our lives, and the importance of ritual is something we’ve lost track of in the modern, Western world. Read the rest of this entry »

As promised, I’ve posted my full review of The God Delusion.

I’ve been quiet here for a couple of weeks, but mostly because I’ve been spending my blogging energy chatting elsewhere. For those interested in following along on some of the discussions, or curious about what blogs I find interesting, here are some of the more interesting ones:

Upcoming here: Review of The Black Hole War, a book I didn’t plan to review here but has some interesting religious implications; review of The Art of Reading Scripture; a bit longer discussion of The God Delusion; and some early thoughts on my current reading: What’s So Great about Christianity, one of the better Christian Apoligetics I’ve read (outside his poorly researched critiques of evolution). I’m only a quarter of the way through. I still want to throw it at a wall sometimes, and I think he misinterprets a lot of history, but he brings actual facts to the discussion (which is very unusual) and makes several arguments that are worthy of actual debate. He’s even changed my thinking on some aspects of Christianity’s historic influence on Western society (I think his argument makes a better case that Western society has had a great influence on Protestantism, but I’ll go into that deeper later). If you want a very interesting and comprehensive discussion of this book, see Ken Ponder’s review on Amazon.

And I want to finally get back to some discussions about pantheism itself. I’ve been so distracted with so many interesting books.

I was reminded again of the modern church’s unbiblical views on marriage. If one were to believe in a Christ-like life, you could look to Jesus as an exemplar, and say that men and women should not marry because Jesus did not marry. But of course this is weak evidence. One might also say that people should not wear polyester because Jesus did not wear polyester. I think there are many places that modern Christians are the opposite of Christ-like, but that’s not the strong Biblical evidence against marriage.

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So I’m about a quarter of the way through The God Delusion, and I should go ahead and get this out of the way: Yes, Richard Dawkins is a meanie head. I’m sure that I would be remiss in my review if I didn’t acknowledge it. That does seem to be the primary complaint against his book by most reviewers, and it’s true. He never once says “with all due respect” when objecting to non-science making scientific claims. And it’s extremely difficult to have a Theistic God and not eventually make a scientific claim, because Theistic Gods tend to meddle, and when they meddle they change the universe in ways we should, at least in theory, be able to detect. And if we can detect it, we can apply science. If it’s impossible to detect the meddling, then God looks pantheistic, which is the one kind of religion that Dawkins is OK with. Obviously I am too, and on these points Dawkins and I would likely only disagree on terminology, shades of meaning, and around the periphery. I’ll see as I continue in the book.

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This is my fourth and final part of my review of Mere Christianity. If you’d like to skip the somewhat long-winded first three parts, this also has a good summary of my thoughts on the book and could be read alone (and is the shortest to boot).

For a book that I don’t think adds a lot of value, I spent a lot of time on it. I did that because it’s one of the most common books I’ve seen used to try to convert people, and as a self-proclaimed rational argument, it is such a bad argument. It is so lauded by those who agree with it that I feel it needed a thorough discussion.

But now I think I will move onto some books that I actually think are valuable. Most likely Bart Ehrman’s The Lost Christianities, which is one of the first books a seeker should read if interested in the early history of Christianity, the rise of the proto-Orthodox, why the Canonical Gospels are the best historical records we have about the life of Jesus, and yet why they are still terrible records.

I always knew I would write this here, but I thought it would be much later. A dear friend said something, though, and I felt I should say something in response.

I can offer reason and hope, but I cannot take away fear. And in love, I cannot ask others to ignore it. Fear is very real, and the most powerful defense human ideas have evolved to protect themselves. Do not listen to that. Do not question that. Do not think that. Or. Else.

I cannot promise that Hell is not real. I cannot promise that you will not some day stand before Allah or Jehovah or Osiris. That you will not suffer Ammit or Tartarus or Niflhel. A hundred gods stand before us and say, Worship me or I will torture you. Follow me or I will abandon you. Only me or I will cast you out.

Forever. Let us be clear what is on the line if we’re wrong. Perhaps we will be lucky and we will only be reborn a toad. But perhaps we will eat from Zaqqum for all eternity, burning our guts like molten brass. I am quite certain more people today believe I will spend eternity in Jahannam than in Hell. On which square do I place Pascal’s Wager? Read the rest of this entry »