Sunday, March 20, 2011

Recent Books

I thoroughly enjoyed "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright. I recommend it to anyone interested in reading about the development of the three Abrahamic religions from the point of view of cultural evolution.

Rather than "reduce" religion to a byproduct of natural selection, the author suggests that its continual adjustment to the facts on the ground, its continual evolution, is a sign of its relevance - that it has historically been an important resource in mankind's gradual but steady trend towards alignment with a real, objective (transcendent?) morality. "Transcendent morality" meaning that there is a universal behavioral trend which gives more fitness to a culture. Anyone familiar with Wright's writing will know that his favorite term is "non-zero sum-ness", meaning that a culture, made up of individuals of course, which finds the most symbiosis, the most "non-zero sum" relationships, between its individual members and with other cultures tends to have greater fitness - a greater tendency towards self-preservation. Wright's idea is that this transcendent moral code MIGHT be evidence of some sort of design - and he is careful to specify design not as a competitor to natural selection, but rather as the source of natural selection. But Wright is no dogmatist on specific conclusions. He simply says that if one is inclined to believe in an underlying purpose to existence, then this moral code that man is continually discovering through cultural evolution (two steps forward, one step back) could be used to support that idea - if one is so inclined.

But it is a great book even if one is not inclined to make such leaps. His stories of the development of these religions are very insightful. While he describes different innovations in religious thought as the product of perceived self-benefit, he is also respectful of the religious impulse which is describes in the words of William James - "the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto." A specific religious innovator (a Josiah, Paul or Mohammed) might be a true believer, not just a self-promoter. But the greater question is not "why did this thinker introduce this idea", but rather "why did this particular idea resonate within the cultural context of the time and become successful?"

Now I am enjoying "Papal Sin" by Garry Wills - a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, a Greek and Latin scholar, a staunch critic of the Catholic church, and a practicing Catholic. One of my favorite authors, even when I disagree a bit. His book "What Paul Meant" completely reintroduced me to the first century apostle. His retranslations of Paul's writing are refreshing and enlightening, stripping common English words from the text because the connotations we bring to the table are so different than those of a first century reader. He replaces "church" with "gathering" (there were no churches back then!). "apostle" becomes "emissary". And so forth. His goal is to recreate the same effect in reading today that the words would have had back then.

But I digress. "Papal Sin" is very enjoyable so far!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

World Turned Upside Down performed by Dick Gaughan

"You poor take courage. You rich take care. The world was made a common treasury for everyone to share."

This is another selection from Dick Gaughan's classic 1981 album "Handful of Earth."

"Song For Ireland"

This is a powerful song encapsulating the beauty and sadness of Irish culture and history (not sure about the montage). Dick Gaughan is my absolute favorite Celtic performer. He is incredibly expressive and thoughtful in his technique. I will be posting a few more. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Little Dragon - Bread!

Me: What does m-o-s-t spell?

LD: Most!

Me: What does h-o-s-t spell?

LD: Host!

Me: What does p-o-s-t spell?

LD: Post!

Me: What do you put in a toaster?

LD: Muffins!

Me: Um.....well..OK, but what else do you put in a toaster?

LD: Oh! Toast!

Me: (a relieved smile) Really?

LD: Yeeees.

Me: Why would you put toast in a toaster?

LD: Because "toast" is in its name - TOAST-er!

Me: Hmmm. But why put toast in a toaster if it's already toast?

LD: (questioning, suspicious look and then...) OH!

Me: So what do you put in a toaster???

LD: Waffles?