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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations: A New TranslationMeditations: A New Translation by Marcus Aurelius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marcus Aurelius must have been a prolific reader. He sure was a prolific note-taker, for these meditations are surely his study-notes(?- after all he was a ‘philosopher’ from age 12). I don’t know of the publishing system at the time but where are the detailed footnotes and references? Marcus Aurelius is quite a wise man or at least he read enough wise men. He sure nailed it as far as boring a reader is concerned. No better way to establish your book’s wisdom quotient.

I am being needlessly caustic of course(do note my rating above). The book is quotable in almost every page and is good to dip in to now and then, you might well find an aphorism that fits the mood just right every time. And that is why the book is a classic and so well-loved.

Don’t read it as a scholar, you will end up like this reviewer. As I said earlier – He is like the wisdom of ages. Aargh 🙂 Not that it is all bad – it is like reading an old uncles’s notes after he has been preaching to you all your life.

Good that I am a stoic too. All ills are imaginary. Yes.

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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion

Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of ReligionMinds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion by Todd Tremlin

My Rating★★★★☆

Non-scholarly musings on a Scholarly work

So it is then established that Gods, Religious concepts and Rituals are natural effervescences of the kind of mind that we posses, parasitic on our cognitive processes. It (our minds) is uniquely suited to imbibe them.

Mark though: We cannot (yet) make a claim that our minds WILL produce Gods and Religions and Rituals if left to themselves (though historical evidence might indicate that this could well be the case) but only that our minds cannot avoid the God Meme once exposed to it. Our society is very efficient at ensuring that.

An Atheist or an Agnostic is in this way, in this fundamental cognitive aspect of the nature of our cognitive construction, indistinguishable from a Theist – once exposed to a God concept they cannot but let their mind’s velcro stick to those burs forever.

The Theist adheres to a theological notion, the Agnostic to a scientific/skeptic’s credo and an Atheist to his own brand of faith in a new-found Religion of Science (reminding one of the Buddhists who tried to go nuclear (agnostic) and ended up as theistic in daily life).

But, we do have two brains inside us (yes, that is quite a ‘new’ finding too)) as Daniel Kahneman elaborates in his new book (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and only our rational brain system (read pathway) can entertain these abstract concepts. Our emotional/instinctive (read pathway) brain will still repeatedly resort to the God Concept we are familial (thus familiar) with in most of our our “on-line” thinking – that is in our daily (non-abstract-thinking) life.

“Deal with it”, the message is: We are all the same – Theists, Agnostics, Atheists or whatever we call ourselves, we are all in the same boat believing in the same agencies “on-line” and professing different versions of our pet abstractions “off-line”.

Not even managing to fool ourselves.

Disclaimer:

The above review is not a summation of the book but more a running with the ball tossed by it. The book is a study and an overview of the new Science of the Cognitive Study of Religion and deals with Religion in a new way – as a cognitive by-product of our psychology and our evolution. It is thoroughly fascinating and can lead to all sorts of ideas just as any new science should.

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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Thoughts

 

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Yo, Claudio

I, ClaudiusI, Claudius by Robert Graves

My Rating★★★★★

The review I really have in mind will be attempted for this book only after I finish reading Claudius the God (to quench the burning curiosity of how this ‘Clau-Clau-Claudius’, a man, who in the first shock of being made emperor had this outrageous thought come rushing to his mind – “So, I’m Emperor, am I? What nonsense! But at least I’ll be able to make people read my books now.”, will conduct himself as a God-Emperor), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, so that I can apply the same criteria for reviewing any work of history, as suggested by Claudius (original source for much of Pliny’s work) himself, through Livius and Pollio (all works unfortunately lost).

Meanwhile, have a short and enjoyable snapshot sampling of the book by going through the-easy-to-follow family tree given below. Ah, the tales that can be told while tracing those lines…

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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Book Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon By Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, #1)Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

After promising Saladin that I’ll be reviewing the book within a week of its coming out, I stand ashamed that it took me this long to get to it. Probably the reason was that in spite of all the acclaim I had heard heaped on it, I knew in my heart that ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ is still an out and out ‘Sword And Sorcery’ fantasy genre novel and I had made a conscious decision to stay away from genre novels. But now that I have just finished reading it, I have to admit that I am reminded of why I love the fantasy genre above all others. It is because authors like Saladin can bring alive characters and situations and bathe them in all the fantastic magic imaginable and still make them all appear so real and so part of our world. The world-weariness of the fat old codger with the big belly, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and the internal conflicts of the scrawny zealot, Raseed and the other quirks of every character speaks directly to us and the characters come alive in vivid detail, especially since the author takes care to not spare us the coarser details as well.

There is a level of perfection in Ahmed’s style and narration that you can feel in every page. A tight, well polished reserve in the choice of words and in the slow construction of the plot. The plot is in reality not of central importance in the book. Ahmed spends more than three-quarters of the book developing his characters, making us inhabiting the heads of various characters as they travel about the city of Dhamsawaat, using these quiet spaces to put in vast details about the inner life of these characters and the outer complexity of the fictional city and its teeming complex life

Unfortunately, this strength of the book is also its weakness. The final climax can only be called anti-climactic in its lack of devoted pages as well as the lack of action, not to mention the lack of any real feeling of conclusion. There is no explanation provided for the existence of the evil they are battling or for the reason of its existence. I do not want to go into plot details here, but the fact that this is the first in the series should not be an excuse for so little to happen in the book. The characters are developed and primed for a series and the world-building is detailed and complete but the sense of anticipation or of denouement that would draw one back to a series or make one wait eagerly for the next edition is sadly lacking.

But then, as Ahmed makes clear in the last musings of Adoulla, this book was perhaps not intended to be an epic with world-changing climaxes and thundering, sky-splitting battles. Maybe the world-weariness and resignation of Adoulla is also the premise of the book – To remind us that no matter what you achieve, life still goes on with all the challenges still there, undiminished and after the night celebrating your greatest achievement, the next day again dawns and you have to trudge on.

If you are a fantasy fan who has been mourning the superficiality that permeates the genre and is on the lookout for a reflective and quiet but rich and satisfying read, this might be worth picking up. Don’t let the religious overtones and the constant allusions to God and the ‘Avenging Angel’ put you off too much, those are just a part of the magic world the characters inhabit and the book is not trying to convey any religious messages. The invocations from the Holy Book etc., serve as spells in Ahmed’s world and all are weapons of God in a drawn out struggle against the forces of evil which might reach an epic conclusion in some future book in the series. In fact, these religious allusions help in adding texture and credibility to the deeply arabic experience that Ahmed is trying to create. This adds to the rich Arabian atmosphere and the originality with which a glorious Muslim kingdom is painted along with the language, the addresses and the mannerisms will all provide for an authentic 12th Century Arabian Nights like experience.

For a debut author, Saladin Ahmed shows exceptional mastery of his craft and this book is unlikely to disappoint any serious reader who is looking for a bit more than a few swords slashing and spells misfiring. If nothing else, this book was a tuition class in plot and character development by Ahmed, maybe as a practical example to aid the people he helps through his Novel Critiques ad commentaries. This series and the world that Ahmed has created definitely has the potential to develop into something amazing. The groundwork has been lain in this first book and here is hoping that Saladin Ahmed manages to build a grand castle on it soon.

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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Book Review: The God Delusion – Why there almost certainly is no God?

The God DelusionThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The God Delusion – Why there almost certainly is no God?

I have been a big fan of Dawkins from the time I read The Selfish Gene. This book does nothing to damage that, even though it is not as logically cohesive as The Selfish Gene. The God Delusion is easier to argue with and maybe even win, if only in my mind. Dawkins argues mostly against the Christian God that created earth and knows nothing of the vast universe beyond. He remains silent about the God hypothesis that can arise from new physics and eastern cosmogonies.

I feel that while The Selfish Gene was a standalone book intended to convey a brilliant concept in a very articulate fashion to the general reader, The God Delusion is a more of a glorified pamphlet meant to be a handbook of reference for any atheist for the range of illogical, childish or even intelligent arguments that might be addressed to him. An atheist who reads and remembers a fair bit of The God Delusion will always be well equipped to blunt any argument against his position.

But this huge strength of the book is also its major flaw that demotes it much below the Selfish gene in my opinion. The Selfish gene is a must-read book that I would thrust in the hand of anyone I like – because I want them to learn from it, raise their consciousness or because I want to have a wonderful discussion with them. In contrast, the God Delusion is a book I would thrust in exasperation at someone with whom I am tired of arguing and would rather prefer them to go through Dawkins’ exhaustive repudiation of most arguments. That is the difference. The book would be useful if I want to convince someone or If I wanted to win an argument. But what if neither was ever my objective? It gives me no intrinsic value that is not situational. But then, perhaps I was never one of the intended audience of the book; the purpose of this book, is not to explain science. It is rather, as he tells us, “to raise consciousness”.

He also spends a lot of time debunking obvious fallacies and beliefs purely because they are prevalent. It might be important to show how silly they are, but I frankly was impatient to get on with it and not spend time on such obvious facts. Most of the arguments in the book are ones that I could have come up with too if I had sat down and though about it. True, Dawkins has made my job easier, but what if I am comfortable with not having the God Delusion and with the fact that a lot of people have? What if the formula of zeitgeist that Dawkins proposes about what is moral is applicable to religions too? After all, the religion of today is far from what it was in the 1900s. maybe religion too will evolve and become more and more liberal. The only genuinely useful sections in the book for me were the intriguing discussion on morals and that wonderful last chapter on model building. If only the rest of the book was as memorable.

I have a few other peeves with the book too – It condemns anyone who understand religion and science and takes the informed decision to be an agnostic. This condemnation by Dawkins of agnostics is perhaps my single biggest point of difference with Dawkins.

I have no problems with the debunking of the God Hypothesis as Dawkins defines ‘God’. But, his atheism goes into exactly those realms which he accuses religious fundamentalists to be going in.

He gives an example of a Priest who says that even though he has moments of reservation about the existence of a God, he keeps such doubts to himself and extols God’s virtues purely so that the common man is not mislead into doubt. Dawkins condemns this as intellectual and moral cowardice.

Then later, in a section titled ‘Why there almost certainly is no God’, he freely acknowledges that “most probably” God does not exist and then classifies himself as an agnostic leaning heavily towards atheism. Then he says that such agnostics should refrain from calling themselves agnostics as it will cause damage to the common people who want to support atheism. Is this not the same intellectual and moral cowardice? If you cannot in your own logic call yourself a full blown atheist, do not do that just to prove a point or to support a pet theory. If there ‘almost certainly’ is no god, then it is ‘almost certainly’ a ‘delusion’ to say that pure atheism is fully reasonable too.

Dawkins makes an appeal to closely define the meaning of the word “God”. But then, not matter how you define it, as long as the basis is in irrationality, the same principle is being attacked. And hence to say I believe in Science as the ultimate answer when it has so far been unsuccessful in furnishing one is just to substitute the term “Science” for “God”.

Of course I understand the value of people like Dawkins being there to be the vanguard for this change. And there is a real need for a spokesperson for the atheists when the other party has so many very vocal ones. But that does not mean that he should call for educated agnostics to brand themselves as atheists just to add religious fervor to the brand. All that is still no reason to call for making atheism an organized religion too. agree with all the points and the logical arguments of The God Delusion but I disagree with the spirit of the book which seems to convey that religion is the enemy for us to combat by organizing ourselves.

There are too many paradoxes and unknowns in nature which science is more and more throwing up its hands in utter confusion towards. What if the universe truly is ‘queerer than we can suppose’ as J. B. S. Haldane puts it? Dawkins manages to explain most phenomena with natural selection but dismisses the larger conundrums and paradoxes with the great sweeping idea called the ‘Anthropic principle‘. The Anthropic principle might be a good tool to stall an argument but is no authentic scientific theory as he pretends it to be. It would be the equivalent of saying that the clock is telling time correctly isn’t it, so that explains its form and function and hence it needs no designer. I just paraphrased above the argument Dawkins uses to prove that atheism is absolutely valid. Well, unless we resort to such rhetoric devices, it is not. And in the ‘belief spectrum’ ranging from radical theism to complete atheism, the only position we can take without resorting to faith is one of doubt – agnosticism.

In conclusion, my opinion is that pure atheism is not possible under present science and that is why agnosticism is the only reasonable position to take without slipping into blind belief in science after climbing out of blind belief in religion.

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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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