Friday, September 20, 2013

The Great Partnership (book)

The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for MeaningThe Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning by Jonathan Sacks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book description: Writing with his usual grace and fluency, Jonathan Sacks moves beyond the tired arguments of militant atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens, to explore how religion has always played a valuable part in human culture and far from being dismissed as redundant, must be allowed to temper and develop scientific understanding in order for us to be fully human. Ranging around the world to draw comparisons from different cultures, and delving deep into the history of language and of western civilisation, Jonathan Sacks shows how the predominance of science-oriented thinking is embedded deeply even in our religious understanding, and calls on us to recognise the centrality of relationship to true religion, and thus to see how this core value of relationship is essential if we are to avoid the natural tendency for science to rule our lives rather than fulfilling its promise to set us free.

My review: This is a brilliant discourse on the relationship between science, faith, and religion. It should be read by three groups of people: 1) religious fundamentalists who have rejected science; 2) secular fundamentalists who have rejected religion; and 3) everyone in between.

The author, Jonathan Sacks, Baron Sacks, Kt is the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. His Hebrew name is Yaakov Zvi.

In THE GREAT PARTNERSHIP Sacks rejects the extremism of both religious and secular fundamentalists who wish to but an unbreachable barrier between religion and science. And unlike Stephen J Gould's suggestion that religion and science should be kept separate, Sacks argues for a complementarity (a partnership) between them.

This book is one of the most clearly articulated discussions on why both science and religion are necessary to maintain a full humanity and the way in which both need each other to avoid extremism. My finger was almost worn out with all the highlighting I was song on my Kindle. Sacks is very, very widely read, a deep thinker, and yet writes in a beautiful, easy-to-read narrative style making profound and memorable statements simply.

His essential point is that science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. The idea is simple but extremists on both ends of the alleged science vs religion divide have burdened this idea with some very destructive unhealthy nonsense. Sacks is gently critical of both religious and secular fundamentalists appealing for a respectful conversation which, all too often, neither side are willing to engage in.

I can't speak highly enough of this book. It's one of the best I've read for ages. In fact, I nearly didn't read it, thinking that there can't be much more to say on the topic given the myriad books and debates on the topic. But I took the plunge and was incredibly rewarded. If you have any issues regarding the relationship between religion and science - whether you are an atheist or a “believer” - don't miss this brilliant, thought provoking read. It's easily digested meat for the mind!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Joshuanism (book)

Joshuanism: A Path Beyond Christianity by Michael Vito Tosto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book description: In this conversational, theological book, Tosto details a new spiritual approach for knowing God in the 21st century. This new approach is called Joshuanism, an evolved expression of Christianity (though it draws from other sources as well, such as Buddhism, existentialism, psychology, and science), rooted in the same son of God Christianity worships: Jesus. Yet in this case, we are approaching him with a fresh, unencumbered perspective, preferring to call on him by his Hebrew name: Joshua. Thus, Joshuanism.

My review: Michael Vito Tosto wants to start a new movement. By writing this book he has made a start. The new movement is Joshuanism - based on the Hebrew transliteration of the name for Jesus. Joshuanism is intended to be an alternative to Christianity which he considers to have lost its way in fulfilling the teachings of Joshua (Jesus). The author's new movement is intended to appeal to those who are disaffected by Christianity or who perhaps have previously had nothing to do with Christianity, but are attracted by the teachings of Joshua. The reason for using Jesus’ Hebrew name is to avoid all the various negative connotations that are associated with the name “Jesus”.

Joshuanism is structured around some carefully articulated elements: The Ten Tenets of Joshuanism; The Eight Immovables of Joshuanism; and The Joshuanism Creed. There's nothing new in this “new” version of Christianity (for that is essentially what it is). There is nothing offered that has not been suggested in other writings or theologies that have, in some form or other, critiqued some of the negative features of some forms of Christianity. Even the suggestion that Zen meditation be practiced by Joshuans is hardly innovative. What is new is the way the author has synthesised it into his own system. Tosto writes in a conversational style and he is articulate and provocative - particularly for those who haven't heard these ideas before. He has also come up with some contemporary terminology (eg the Extraction for the church; the Table for the gathering together of beleivers) which often make more sense than some of the ancient terminology some Christians stick to. The book is engaging reading and does provide the opportunity for reflection on one’s own beliefs and values in relation to Christianity.

There is, however, some cause for concern. I do not want to review the whole system of thought that makes up Joshuanism. But I would like to reproduce the list of the Eight Immovables of Joshuanism. Here they are:

  1. A belief in God
  2. A belief in the Singular Relationship (The Father, The Son, and the Soul of Godliness)
  3. A decision to view God’s Son as Joshua rather than as Jesus
  4. Acceptance of the Ten Tenets of Joshuanism
  5. Acceptance of the Joshuanism Creed
  6. A decision to gather together with other Joshuans in a definitely Joshuan way
  7. A decision to practice the Five Elements
  8. A decision to read primarily The Joshuan Pages version of the New Testament [a paraphrases Tosto is currently working on]
Notice that these are called the “immovables”. In this context, I assume immovable means non-negotiable. In other words, a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is non-negotiable. You must decide to view Jesus as Joshua - that's non-negotiable. There is a creed that is non-negotiable. You must decide to practice the Five Elements (spiritual disciplines) - non-negotiable. And you must decide to primarily read Tosto’s paraphrased New Testament - that's non-negotiable.
It always bothers me when people start telling me I must believe certain things and do certain things in order to be included in a group. The irony of this in regard to Joshuanism is that Tosto has taken great and repeated pains to affirm what he calls Diversified Uniformity. This is defined as “a proviso within Joshuanism stating that aside from the Eight Immovables, the Joshuan can hold any theological or zo√™ological view and still be considered a Joshuan.”

The moment any group starts setting up non-negotiables that determine when you're in or out then, however you might say it, it's no different to any other denomination of Christianity that has existed. Creeds haven't had a good history within Christianity. They've always been used to make judgments on others - despite plans not to use them as such.
Perhaps of most concern is the non-negotiable decision required to primarily read Tosto’s paraphrase of the New Testament. Why this? Why would anyone wish to make what someone reads non-negotiable? Providing even implicit primacy to any one version (or paraphrase in this case) seems to imbue it with an inappropriate authority - particularly when it is the product of one person’s interpretation.

Enough said. There are some elements of Joshuanism that are attractive and reasonable. In fact, the majority of the book is probably a very positive representation of the best of Christianity. It is naive, however, to think that producing yet another system with its own creeds, disciplines and doctrines is going to solve the problems of other similar attempts.
So ... worth a read but, like all ideas, think critically before jumping on board any new bandwagon. Adopt what is good and realise that anything good can also be distorted when human fallibility is part of the equation.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

On Guard (book)

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and PrecisionOn Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Description: This concise guide is filled with illustrations, sidebars, and memorizable steps to help Christians stand their ground and defend their faith with reason and precision. In his engaging style, Dr. Craig offers four arguments for God’s existence, defends the historicity of Jesus’ personal claims and resurrection, addresses the problem of suffering, and shows why religious relativism doesn’t work. Along the way, he shares his story of following God’s call in his own life.


My Review: William Lane Craig is a very sophisticated apologist for Christianity and this book is a very sophisticated argument first, for the existence of God and, second, for the historicity of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.

The philosophical arguments for the existence of “God” were the most interesting and compelling in the book. Craig is a professional philosopher who studied under John Hick. The topic of his PhD was Liebniz's cosmological argument for the existence of “God”. And his careful and articulate presentation of the argument and refutation of major criticisms is very persuasive and logically coherent. In addition to these arguments, Craig also presents a moral argument for God's existence.

Craig also studied under the NT scholar Wolfhart Pannenberg and he draws on Pannenberg's scholarship in mounting an argument for the historicity of Jesus Christ.

For me, the philosophical arguments were excellent. I didn't enjoy the arguments for Christ's historicity as much - I have more questions about those than the philosophical arguments. And I thought his justification of Christian claims to exclusivity of salvation through Christ could have been better.
William Lane Craig is a frequent target of atheists and there are times I agree with some of the those criticisms. I can't help believing, however, that some of those criticisms are based on a misunderstanding of Craig's arguments.

If you are looking for a clear, articulate defence of (specifically) Christian belief in the existence of God and the historicity of Christ then this book is a good place to start - for believers and non-believers alike.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Earthquake Bird (book)

The Earthquake BirdThe Earthquake Bird by Susanna Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book description: A haunting first novel set in Tokyo, "The Earthquake Bird" reveals a murder on its first page and takes its readers into the mind of the chief suspect, Lucy Fly -- a young vulnerable English girl living and working in Tokyo as a translator. Lucy grew up in England, and still harbors painful memories of her childhood in Yorkshire. Only her fascination with music and language provide her with a final break from her past, allowing her to move to Tokyo and start a new life as a translator of technical books. There, she begins an intensely erotic affair with a brilliant and secretive photographer named Teiji. But when Lucy befriends Lily Bridges, a young woman who has also fled trouble in Yorkshire, her life begins to unravel. Lucy doesn't like being reminded of what she left behind in England. Nor does she like Teiji's friendship with Lily. Now the police have accused her of killing Lily, because it is becoming apparent that Lucy has had the motive, the means, and the opportunity.

My review: What an intriguing crime story - nothing like any crime I've read before. The crime is very much secondary to the character telling us of the events. The story starts off with Lucy being arrested and, while she is being interrogated, she tells of her life and events leading up to the crime. Some readers will hate the ending - I loved it - and I won't say more about it than that. Hard to believe this was the author's first novel. Not only that, she won an award for it. Beautifully written and the way she writes about Tokyo makes me want to go there and visit! Heartrending and deeply emotional, I couldn't wait to see how it turned out - and wish there was more now it’s over!

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