30 January 2014

Review of God's Problem by Bart Ehrman

God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We SufferGod's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good introduction to theodicy. Ehrman gives a broad and fairly thorough overview of what the Bible says about suffering. I like that he is not satisfied with the pat answers that are usually given for why people suffer.

Ultimately, I'm not satisfied with those answers, either and this idea of suffering was a key reason in my own leaving the Church and Christianity. This is not to say that I am an enemy of Christianity, but like Ehrman, I take an agnostic stance when it comes to the ideas of gods and spirits and other supernatural ideas.

I try to keep an open mind, and I have to be careful not to get set in one mindset; I appreciate Ehrman's way of presenting his discussion of this important subject: he didn't try to make those who believe the pat answers look ignorant or foolish, like so many militant atheist/agnostics do. He actually has an open mind, and with his current knowledge he makes many good points, all based on what is in the Bible.

The main thing, I think, is to start a dialogue and Ehrman has made an excellent starting place for such a dialogue.

This book resonates with me because many of the things Ehrman writes are similar or exactly my own thoughts, and it is always good to know that one is not alone when it comes to important issues and sometimes controversial topics.

If you wonder why the God of the Bible allows suffering and/or you're not satisfied with the pat and often parroted answers, you could do worse than to read this book. You may, as I did, walk away with more questions, but that is fine if you remember that the only thing that is certain in this world is uncertainty. We don't always have to have an answer.

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27 January 2014

Review of Volume 1 of Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom

Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom - Volume 1 SutraModern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom - Volume 1 Sutra by Kelsang Gyatso
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a good overview and practical manual for learning to walk the Buddhist path. It's similar to The Words of My Perfect Teacher: A Complete Translation of a Classic Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism (Sacred Literature Trust Series) , but this has more actual examples of meditations to use in daily practice.

(It is Volume 1 of 3, all of which were free on Amazon.com at the time I got my copy.)

If you are even a little interested in Buddhism in general, and/or Tibetan Buddhism in particular (esp. as it has evolved in our time and in the "West"), this is an excellent place to start.

It covers several levels, which I have only found similarly in the Dalai Lama's Becoming Enlightened . Here they are laid out in a way that was more clear to me.

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14 January 2014

Review of Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Near-Death Experience and Journey into the AfterlifeProof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Near-Death Experience and Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can understand where Dr. Alexander is coming from in this book. He was a materialist science-based doctor, who occasionally attending church, but had no real belief in a deity or an afterlife. Then, after his coma, he believes his experiences while in coma to be "real." He believes that he met God/the creator, and was given many "answers" to questions, etc.

My problem with this is: all of what he says sounds very much like a mixture of several of the world's religions: Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, mostly. This does not discount his experience, but like all experience, it is subjective and if he (along with anyone else who "believes" his words) gets caught by those words or becomes attached to those experiences, he is then in essence following a new religion.

Some of the things he said "felt" true to me, in other words, I didn't get a definite "NO! That's a lie and that can't be true." For example: he said something along the lines that all the universe is based on love and compassion.  That is a Buddhist idea with which I agree.  But, that does not validate Alexander's experiences. Who am I? Other things in his experiences were just too convenient; I won't say what they are because I don't what to spoil the book for anyone else.

What it really comes down to for me is that if you need this kind of "proof" you probably won't accept it, in much the same way that Dr. Alexander did not accept the ideas and experiences of others who had had NDEs before he did. Any experience that CANNOT be replicated, tested, and ultimately be disproved, is NOT scientific; Dr. Alexander, a self-proclaimed scientist, should have known this and that he seems to overlook that gives me pause. He also claims that his NDE was not like others, which then, negates the idea that it indeed had been replicated. There does not seem to be enough knowledge of the causes of these experiences, and given that they are often similar is not enough to prove them outright.

The author states that science is not giving enough attention to this area, i.e. consciousness. The problem is that which I mentioned above: the experience cannot be duplicated and so there is nothing for science to do. True science is based on hypotheses that can be tested; how can I (if I were a scientist) test, i.e. replicate Eben Alexander's experience? How can anyone do that without being in exactly the same situation? The answer is, they can't. Each of those factors: the problem that caused the coma, the coma itself, the exact drugs that were used to treat the problem, the environment, etc.: all those have to be duplicated and get the same result (his experience). Given that what caused his coma is extremely rare, it is unlikely that anyone will have the same or even a similar experience anytime soon. There is no way to test and thus, no way to prove the experience was, as Eben Alexander says, "real."

That being said, they cannot be disproved, either, at least not at our current ability. So, the best stance for me is agnostic, as it was before I read this book. I'm not convinced by his story. You may be, and that is your prerogative. You will have to read it and make up your own mind.

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11 January 2014

Talent is Made, You Can Make It!

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How. by Daniel Coyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an amazing book. I like the way Coyle breaks down brilliance in several fields. He makes the points that what we usually consider to be genius or talent is actually a combination of several factors, including (most importantly) deep practice. Daniel Coyle went to several talent hotbeds, as he called them, and talked to master teachers, coaches, etc., and observed several students in several areas: sports, music, etc.

If you're interested in how talent is developed, this is a good read. I would recommend it for anyone who liked Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. Or anyone interested in success in any field.

This is one that I want to read, again and again.

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