Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The End of Faith?

I've just finished reading The End of Faith, by Sam Harris, which I picked up in a bookstore on Dupont Circle while traveling on business in DC last week. Sam Harris is apparently a philosophy grad who is getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience, "studying the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty," according to the back cover.

He writes an impressive book, I must say. Since I am married to an agnostic who is the son of an agnostic, I figure it behooves me to pay attention to the opposition, even if I start off as a hard sell.

The basic tenet of the book, as I surmise, is that religion -- any religion -- that cannot prove its claims scientifically has no claim to anyone's belief. Harris also claims (correctly) that religion has become an inappropriate subject for criticism in the modern world ... a taboo subject, particularly as far as Islam goes (he presents a rather devastating summary of Islamic beliefs, which I am not qualified to critique). And he states, again correctly, that what's wrong with religious fundamentalism of any sort is its fundamentals: belief in the inerrance of its sacred texts, belief in their divine authorship, and rigid adherence to norms and rules which are essentially tribal in nature.

I cannot disagree with any of this, except the requirement of scientific proof. I think it is unlikely that we will ever have scientific proof of God's existence. I have also been reading Bishop Spong with great attention recently, and I agree with him that the gospels are unreliable as narratives of fact.

But is it all about fact? As homo sapiens, conversant in whatever languages we speak, we should be comfortable with simile and metaphor. With symbols.

I think something important happened on Easter morning. I'm not sure what it was, but I'm not sure that matters.

I think the Buddha was enlightened beneath his tree.

I think most religions have a slice of the pie. But I can't "prove" any of it.

But that doesn't impede my intuition, my belief.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chomping at the bit

Calendar-wise, it's spring. In terms of temperature, it's spring (68 degrees today, 74 tomorrow, in the high 60s or low 70s for the extended forecast).

The frost/freeze tables have me hamstrung. The popular wisdom I absorbed from my granny is that you never, never plant outside until May 15th. She was a great storyteller, and one story she loved to tell was the one about Pop-Pop's planting 60 tomato plants on the 20th of April, and how they perished in a late-season snowstorm.

But that was before global warming, I guess. The frost/freeze tables I consulted today suggested that our last freeze will probably occur by April 15th.

This would not be an issue, were the morning-glory babies not taking over my basement. I started them on March 15th, under lights, and they're now a foot tall, curling around each other and looking somewhere, anywhere, for an anchor to latch onto. I really want to plant them outside.

In the end, it's a judgment call, just like when I took my kids out of Catholic school and sent them to public school (this worked brilliantly for my daughter; not so much for my son). So tomorrow night will probably find me installing the babies on the porch in their container, training their tendrils around the garden obelisk which stands 84 inches high above them.

Or, maybe not. I might chicken out!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

From the sublime to the offensive!

I've just finished reading Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ, his comparison of Buddhism and Christianity. What a delight it was -- I want to read more of his work. I felt elevated to a new plane of ecumenism! I've added a new link to the Plum Village Practice Center, where I got the photograph to the right. I'll be doing a lot more reading on Buddhism. I know I have lots to learn to learn from all religious traditions.

Well, maybe not all.

Thanks to MadPriest for his post on 3/29, alerting us to more words of wisdom spoken by my own personal nemesis. Pastor Rick Warren's enlightened stance on LGBT issues was quoted in the Monitor, published in Uganda, in the issue for that same day. I looked it up in Westlaw, and I think it's worth quoting in full (just for that full, rancid, fundamentalist flavor):

Famed American pastor, Dr Rick Warren has said he supports the decision by Ugandan bishops to boycott the forthcoming Lamebth [ sic] conference in England, United Kingdom.

The conference brings together Bishops of the Anglican Communion from all 38 Provinces of the Communion every 10 years.

"The Church of England is wrong and I support the Church of Uganda (CoU) on the boycott,"Dr Warren said on Thursday shortly after arriving in Uganda.

The Bishops are protesting the Church of England's tolerance a
[sic] homosexuality. Announcing the boycott in February, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi said that Uganda's action had been prompted by the invitation of bishops of The US Episcopal Church (TEC) who in 2003 elected as bishop, Gene Robinson, a divorced man living in an active homosexual relationship.

Rev. Orombi said the Archbishops of all the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion strongly opposed the election of Gene Robinson as bishop - and in a meeting shortly after the election "warned that, if they proceeded with the consecration, their action would "tear the fabric of the Anglican Communion at its deepest level."

Dr Warren said that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. "We shall not tolerate this aspect at all," Dr Warren said.

Gosh! My head is spinning! From Nhat Hanh's book on the best attributes of Christianity and Buddhism to the prime example of Christianity at its worst (equaled only, perhaps, by the crusades and the Middle East policy of the Bush administration). How does this troglodyte continue to get into print? Why go to Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, if you're ready to throw other people under the bus? It's enough to make Jesus weep.

Go to MadPriest's post mentioned above to see some very unflattering pictures of Uncle Rick. Pastor Warren, crawl back into your primordial muck-hole, please, and take your offensive attitudes with you. The Episcopal Church does not need your help. I already know of a perfectly good one you've ruined!


Thanks to a dear friend (you know who you are!) who did the Photoshop stuff above!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

An evening with ... Thich Nhat Hahn

I have a good friend at work who has just introduced me to Thich Nhat Hanh -- his books, I mean, though I wouldn't mind meeting him in person. I have read only one so far: Living Buddha, Living Christ. I found it lucidly written and valuable for its comparison of Buddhism and Christianity. It has made me want to read more on Buddhism.

One especially thought-provoking excerpt is below:

"Some waves on the ocean are high and some are low. Waves appear to be born and to die. But if we look more deeply, we see that the waves, although coming and going, are also water, which is always there. Notions like high and low, birth and death can be applied to waves, but water is free of such distinctions. Enlightenment for a wave is the moment the wave realizes that it is water. At that moment, all fear of death disappears." (p. 138)

In a Christian context, if I were able to remember, every minute, that I am God's beloved child, that he is never separated from me, that I am never far from his watchful eyes, what troubles I could endure with a calm heart!

But it's remembering it that's the difficult part!