Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille

“Religion”, according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.”  In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy:  from the seamless immanence of animality, to the shattered world of objects, and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of sacrifice.  Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through the destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order – war.

It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the world of Philosophy and it was extremely fortuitous that I decided to start here.  It’s hard to know what to expect from Bataille, a writer on such diverse subjects as mysticism, the surreal, poetry, and erotica.

Bataille was an atheist so naturally a book entitled Theory of Religion was always going to pique my interest.  The title in in itself is misleading, this is not about organised religion as we would think of it today but something more ancient, an innate need to separate the physical from the spiritual.

The more naturalistic elements of understanding the divine are explored, The severance from our animal ancestors through evolution, but with a wish to retain a connection despite community being favoured over the competitive singular. Continue reading “Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille”

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A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch

How did the cult around an obscure spiritual teacher from Nazareth in the first century come to be the world’s biggest religion, with a third of humanity its followers?  This epic, acclaimed history follows the story of Christianity around the globe, from ancient Palestine to contemporary China.  encompassing wars, empires, reformers, apostles, sects and crusaders, it shows how Christianity has brought humanity to the most terrible acts of cruelty – and inspired its most sublime accomplishments.

Any book starting off with some etymology between Hebrew and Greek words automatically tell me that this was going to be a good book, and so it proved over 1016 pages of small print.  Its dense on facts but in a good way and has some gorgeous photos.  I learned a lot and have a lot more questions.

Is it a complete history of Christianity? No, as MacCullough is quick to establish.  I wonder if there can be such a thing, like a complete history of the Mediterranean, it just seems way too complex for a single volume, or even a single lifetime of work.  What the reader does get though is a fair, balanced and comprehensive view between supposition and fact, by a good historian who occasionally drops in a bit of dry humour along the way.

There is plenty of depth here, hundreds of names and dates, and bouncing around between time frames but it never feels overwhelming and with short chapters focussing on specifics – of both Eastern and Western churches, then beyond –  it is an easily readable if turbulent book. Continue reading “A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch”

Murdering Books

There exists in my house a shelf which I call The Bookshelf of Guilt.  It’s reserved for all those really thick tomes that I usually avoid, not because I don’t want to read them but because they are so Big.  It’s easy to spend years shying away from these massive books that sit judging you every time you pick a ‘normal’ sized book.

Reason suggests that reading shorter books will allow you to experience more now, and will also mean more time to read the longer books ‘sometime later on’.  Let’s be honest it won’t happen, with that reasoning.

I set myself a goal to read one such big book a year, mainly because people gravitate to the largest book on a shelf and without fail ask if I have read it.  That was half the reason I got around to reading War and Peace. Choosing this time was fairly easy. The Brothers Karamazov, and The Mysteries of Paris were in the early running, to name but two but I finally I narrowed it down to a couple of philosophy books in the end.

After so many recent fiction reads it seemed sensible to mix things up a bit. My next read was chosen from the non fiction pile, and finally came down to either: Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy or Diarmaid MacCulloch’s A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Continue reading “Murdering Books”

Man, Myth, Messiah – Rice Broocks

Did Jesus really exist? Is there real historical evidence that demonstrates that he lived and actually said and did the things the Gospels record? Is there any validity to the speculative claims that the Jesus story was a myth borrowed from a variety of pagan cultures of the ancient world?

In this follow-up to the book God’s Not Dead (which inspired the movie), Man, Myth, Messiah looks at the evidence for the historical Jesus and exposes the notions of skeptics that Jesus was a contrived figure of ancient mythology. It also looks at the reliability of the Gospel records as well as the evidence for the resurrection that validates his identity as the promised Messiah.

Recently I watched God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, the third film in the franchise and surprisingly watchable compared to the cartoonish nature of the first two films, but they are a subject for another post, should anybody want it (comment below!).

I have a lot to say on this book.  I chose to read this as a neutral in order to be fair to the material and ideas shown.  Whatever debates the reader chooses to engage with in his or her short life, there should always be challenging questions asked and the sources for any position should be scrutinised for veracity.

For that reason I had a lot of problems with this book, which was also adapted for a film God’s Not Dead 2, and like its predecessor (which I watched twice) and accompanying book (God’s Not Dead), the art of misdirection in the text is as amusing as it is offensive.

In the introduction about a Newsweek article he read which said we knew little about Jesus historically, Broocks states:

It was predictably written from a skeptical perspective with little pretense to hide the bias. 

I hoped that this book would be an open look at both sides of the debate, weighing evidence against challenging argument, however the opposite was true and clear after not too many pages.  Page ten to be precise.  My problems with this work were numerous. Continue reading “Man, Myth, Messiah – Rice Broocks”

Thought and Sport

Recently I have been making an attempt to widen my reading even more and so want to get back into reading Philosophy again.  In my researching for things to make this post interesting, it quickly and unsurprisingly descended into just watching Monty Python videos.  And from that, this post now exists…or does it, really?

Philosophy is something that could drive a person to the drink but thankfully the lighter side distracted me before the decision to finally plump for Soren Kierkegaard and John Stuart Mill to join the reading pile.  All I need now is the right sort of drinking frame of mind to really get the most out of them.

Basic Ideas For Living

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It needs to be reiterated everyday.  Always listen to all sides of an argument, base your opinions on the facts, not the hearsay and seek out what may be being censored (for those who censor are surely losing the argument).  Never react to the headline, always call out those that base their politics on them, and constantly question what you think you know.

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Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak

A brutal re-imagining of the Gospel story, Next Year in Jerusalem follows the footsteps of Yeshua Bar-Yosif–an illiterate, epileptic, bastard son of a Roman soldier on his ill-fated life journey through a land racked by terror.

As first century Judea bleeds from the oppression of Roman rule and the violent uprisings against it, Yeshua, tormented by familial guilt for abandoning his mother, eventually forms his own family of travelers who preach for peace and compassion in the face of internecine savagery. Their wanderings lead to encounters with false prophets, assassins, and a rapidly growing movement of extremist rebels whose leader Bar-Abbas’ mission is to expel the Romans and establish an ethnocentric theocracy. Chance sends both Yeshua and Bar-Abbas to the court of Pontius Pilate–the dipsomaniac Governor obsessed with leaving a name for himself in the scrolls of history–and the outcome of that meeting seals the fate of the world for the next two millennia.

With urgent parallels to contemporary issues of religious war, this book is both a lament and a warning. It is also a story about the passage of time, the nature of memory, and of mankind’s inherent yearning for life everlasting.

When a HBO researcher gets in touch and asks if you want to review his book, it’s a no brainer so this week I have been spending my time back in Biblical days, enjoying an interesting alternative and to some controversial version of the Gospels which has plenty of interesting theories about those accounts and will certainly inspire plenty of debate.

There is much to intrigue the reader about this book, including plenty of subversion to the original biblical stories as well as a solid depiction of the brutal world of the time, a land torn with rival beliefs which will resonate with readers today as we still see the effects of those ripples all around us.

The main characters of Yeshua and Pilate get plenty of backstory, their memories, philosophies and motivations are established quickly and explored in-depth.  Yeshua is seen as vulnerable, conflicted and frequently unsure of himself and his beliefs, whilst Pilate – the more intriguing of the two character for me – is lost,all alone in his own existential nightmare. Continue reading “Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak”