ISLAM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

God’s Shadow (Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World)

By: Alan Mikhail

Narrated by: James Cameron Stewart

Alan Mikhail (Author, Chace Family Professor of History, Chair Dept. of History at Yale.)

Alan Mikhails’s “God’s Shadow” speculates on the historic impact of the Ottoman Empire on the rise of the Islamic religion and its conflict with Christianity. His book is well received by the public but panned by some who believe Mikhail’s scholarship is more speculative than factual. That criticism seems well earned when the last chapter of Mikahail’s book summarizes his opinion about Islam’s past and future.

What is surprising to this reviewer is not Mikhails’s speculation about Islam’s future but his failure to explore Ottoman history’s success in diminishing Shite Muslim growth while hugely increasing Sunni Muslim Islamic influence.

When Muhammed, the founder of Islam, dies, he leaves no heir to Allah’s teaching. In not leaving an heir, a split occurs between those who argue only a direct descendant of Muhammed, not a mere follower, can be a leader of the faith.

Shite Muslims believe an heir to Muhammed’s leadership can only be to a male descendant of the Muhammed’ family. Sunni’s argue Islamic leadership is based on any man who demonstrates success and ability to spread the faith.

It is estimated that 85% to 90% of religious believers in the Islamic faith are Sunni. Only Iran and Iraq have a Shite majority while other nation-states are principally Sunni.

Sultan Bayezid II (1447-1512, reign 1481-1512.)

The spread of the Muslim religion is laid at the feet of Sultan Selim I. He is one of the sons of Sultan Bayezid II who gains control of what is known as the Ottoman Empire.

“God’s Shadow” recounts the rise of the Ottoman Empire which is the primary cause of Sunni growth in the Middle East. A major part of Mikhail’s book is about Selim I because he is the leader that conquers and combines most of the Muslim world into the Ottoman Empire.

An interesting opinion of Mikhail is the role of harems in the Islamic world. He argues male heirs are a primary function of the harem. Once a male is born to a concubine of a Sultan, Mikhail suggests further conjugal relations cease. Every born male is a potential Sultan.

This naturally leads to a competition and often death of male heirs who are chosen by the acting Sultan to be his replacement. “God’s Shadow” tells the history of a younger son who disagrees with Sultan Bayezid II’s choice and successfully replaces that choice by force. Selim I ascends the throne of Sultan despite his father’s choice of heir. Selim’s road to hegemonic Sultan is through the conquering of nations beyond Istanbul and the Balkans, to Hungary on the north, Egypt on the south, Algeria on the west, and Iraq on the East.

Selim I (1470-1520, 9th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire-reigned from April 1512-September 1520.)

An apocryphal story told by Mikhail is that, in the earlier years of Selim I’s conquests, he is presented a colored map of the then-known world that shows nations beyond the Ottoman Empire. Selim I  tears the map in half because he is satisfied with what he has done. Mikhail notes that incident occurs in Selim’s earlier years because when a later map shows the Americas, Selim suggests more is to be done. A fundamental argument made by Mikhail is that the growth of the Ottoman Empire is the precursor of modern governance.

In the final chapter of Mikhail’s book, a step beyond reason or history is taken. Mikhail posits Selim’s reign and the rise of the Islamic religion presages future dominance of Islam in the world. He argues by 2070 Islam will be the dominant religion of the world. That seems hyperbolic when the role of religion in the world is arguably in decline. Mikhail compounds hyperbola by suggesting the world’s reaction to Islam has been a foil to create Christian and democratic nations. The growth of Christianity and democracy are patently more than a reaction to the religion of Islam.

This is an unfortunate digression for Mikhail because he makes a good historical case for the Islamic religion’s tolerance of other faiths in the face of historically murderous Catholic Crusades. On the other hand, many atrocities accompany Selim I’s expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Mikhail notes Selim’s soldiers are compensated by plunder and rape when ordered to invade new territories. And of course, there is the faction of the Muslim faith that carried out the death of over 2,000 people on 9/11/21 in America.

Interestingly, Mikhail offers an encomium to President Erdogan in Turkey by praising him for resurrecting the legend of Selim I in a bridge dedication.

Erdogan is revivifying the Islamic religion in Turkey even though its history was dramatically changed by Ataturk who turned Turkey into a secular rather than Islamic state.

Erdogan seems an odd choice for comparison to Selim I’s Islamic reign based on a personal perception of this critic’s visit to Turkey. Erdogan seems much less a revered leader by the public than Ataturk, let alone Selim I depicted in “God’s Shadow”.

MIDDLE EAST AGENDAS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Black Wave (Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry)

By: Kim Ghattas

Narrated by: Kim Ghattas, Nan McNamara

Kim Ghattas (Author, Dutch Lebanese Journalist for the BBC)

               Kim Ghattas capsulizes the causes of cultural and religious conflict in the Middle East. Her complex explanation of politics in the Middle East shows the importance of religious freedom and the negative consequence of mixing religion in nation-state governance.  Ghattas’s intimate understanding and experience in the Middle East illustrates how ignorant America has been in confronting Middle Eastern leaders in their struggle for peace in their own countries.

              “Black Wave” is a difficult book to summarize.  Some reader/listeners will conclude from Gattis’s book that the heart of Middle Eastern conflict is religious intolerance.  However, it is not religion itself but political leaders who distort religious belief for personal power that roils the world.  America has its own religious zealotry, but it is tempered by a political culture that demands freedom of religion, independent of political governance.  It does not keep American political leaders from distorting religion for their own agendas, but it tempers its potential for state acceptance of orchestrated violence.

Osama bin Laden used religion to justify his directed murder of innocents.  He sought political power at the expense of religion. 

              Ghattas dances around America’s bungled effort to democratize the Middle East.  Some would argue Iran democratically elected an Imam to lead their country. Ghattas notes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia clearly fears popularly elected leaders.

In ancient times, the middle east is known as Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Empire, and Babylonia (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and today’s Saudi Arabia). 

America’s self-interest has made many enemies in the Middle East.  America is a cultural and political baby in respect to the ancient cultures of the Middle East. The birth of the Islamic religion dates to 7th century in Saudi Arabia. 

As is true of all religions that have stood the test of time, the Islamic religion has broken into different factions that consider themselves Islamic but with different interpretations of their faith. 

The added dimension of poverty, cultural identity, and economic inequality encourage belief in religion. A religious believer’s purpose in the world is to gain some peace in this world, with hope for eternal life in the next. Therein lies the source of much violence within and among all countries of the world. There can be little peace in a world where people are being indiscriminately murdered, starving and treated unequally.

An example of how violent and unfair nations can be is Syrian leaders’ murder of its own people.

Ghattas explains there are two major versions of the Islamic religion in the Middle East.  One is Sunni, the other is Shite. 

              The hegemon for the Sunni Islamic religion lies in several countries but its center of power is Saudi Arabia.  The center of power for Shite belief is Iran.  “Black Wave” recounts a history of both power centers and how they use religious belief to increase their influence and power in the Middle East.

  Ghattas argues religious interpretation is a tool used by Saudi Arabian’ and Iranian’ leadership to gain power and influence in the Middle East.  Ghattas infers the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia do not believe in peaceful coexistence but in hegemonic power.  They use the Islamic religion to maintain control of their power.  When state power is threatened, their leaders’ resort to interpretations of Islam that preserve their control. 

Citizens of any country may be murdered by zealots, domestic terrorists, or foreign invaders. Leaders seeking power care little for those who believe in an afterlife or the luxury of their current life as long as they are obedient servants of the state.

Ghattas recounts many examples of Middle Eastern leadership that show little concern for their citizens, e.g., Saudi Arabia’s murder and dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi, Syria‘s gassing of Syrian citizens, and Iran’s imprisonment and torture of citizens who choose not to follow political leaders’ interpretations of the Koran.

              Ghattas’s book implies the consequence of American ignorance of Islamic beliefs victimizes the poor, powerless, and disenfranchised.  A western country that does not understand the subtlety of religious beliefs in the Middle East has little influence on the course of events.  With a better understanding of Islamic faith and how it is being used by Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is some hope for peace. 

Understanding and acceptance of those who fervently believe in a religion, along with economic opportunity for those who are victimized by hardship and/or violence, offers some hope for peace.  Without understanding of foreign cultures and economic assistance for those victimized, world conflagration is an ever-present danger. One must ask oneself–how wise is it to use political policy or trade to victimize the poor and disenfranchised?

WHAT THE DEVIL

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Living with the Devil ( A Meditation on Good and Evil)

By: Stephen Batchelor

Narrated by: Stephen Batchelor

Stephen Batchelor (Author, Scottish Buddhist, teacher.)

Stephen Batchelor offers a view of religion and reality in an attempt to move beyond the “let it be” implication of a meditative life.  Batchelor places Buddhism in the context of most religions’ beliefs.  He explains Buddhism personifies the devil as a master of seven dimensions of heaven. 

The devil assigns one of the seven heaven’ disciples to inspire sin in human life.  That disciple is Mara who is directed by the devil to seduce Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism. Mara assumes the visage of a woman but fails to distract Siddhartha from “the way” and, like Christ in Christian belief, Siddhartha becomes a symbol and guide for humanity.

Image of Mara who takes the image of a woman to seduce Gautama Buddha, (Siddhartha).

Batchelor explains Buddhism is the door to “the way” which recognizes the devil as a part of life’s yin and yang.  Hardship and death are part of life.  Those seeking eternal life delude themselves.  It is not possible to have life without death.  It is not possible to have “the way”, a path without evil because evil defines good by being its opposite.  This leads to a “let it be” mentality of those who meditate on “the way”.  Batchelor is not condoning the evil of violence, destruction, or death but explains its role in defining “the way”. Therein lies a criticism by some.

Buddhist guidance is described as “the way”  by Batchelor. 

One presumes, it is the same “way” referred to in the adventures of Disney Studio’s “The Mandalorian”. 

Batchelor describes the path that most of humanity takes is deflected in the same way as a human walking with one leg shorter than another.  The path of humanity is circular which suggests why history seems to repeat itself. (To paraphrase Mark Twain–history may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.)

One who is not a Buddhist is not comforted by Batchelor’s explanation of “the way” or his acknowledged acceptance of living with the devil.  Batchelor, like Buddha, Jesus Christ, and a Divinity, may be correct in their knowledge about human life but it does not give one comfort.  It proffers fear that violence and destruction is to be tolerated by humanity because it is a part of living life as a human being. 

Batchelor implies homelessness, despair, and human degradation are incurable and acceptable because the devil’s work helps define “the way”. 

Accepting Buddhism seems to encourage meditation at the expense of human effort to give succor to those in need.  All religions and societies should be focused on social and economic equality for all.  Accepting less is failure. “The devil made me do it” is a cop out. 

BUDDHISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Being Peace

By: Thich Nhat Hanh

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerrini

Thích Nhất Hạnh (Author, Buddhist Monk, Zen Master, Political Activist.)

“Being Peace” is a layman’s introduction to Buddhist belief.  Thích Nhất Hạnh offers a “let it be” philosophy of life while being a political activist.  Hanh’s philosophy of peace comes through meditation. Hanh finds through meditation human life is found to be neither good nor bad. 

There is no evil in Hanh’s world.  In one sense that reminds one of Christian’s belief in “turning the other cheek”.  The difference is that Christian’s believe there is evil in the world, and it must be punished.

Hanh tells a story of a Sudanese pirate that rapes a girl-child and throws her into the sea to drown.  Hanh suggests he could have become a Sudanese sea pirate by having experienced Sudanese poverty and depredation.  Hanh’s view is that the circumstances of life and environment create miscreants, rapists, and murderers.

Contrary to belief in evil and punishment for moral transgression, Hanh finds empathy for those who pillage, torture, murder, and rape. 

Hanh’s solution is to accept Buddhist belief in peace through meditation.  In accepting life as it is, evil doers disappear.  This is certainly an oversimplification of Hanh’s teaching. 

Hanh notes world leaders squander world resources that could be used to create and sustain peace for all people in the world.  He decries wasted dollars for military defense.  His argument is predicated on abundance that is unevenly distributed.

Hanh lives through the French and American atrocities in Vietnam.  

Hanh undoubtedly observed the senseless murder of innocents by both western powers and communists.  

Ironically, until more recently, Hanh was banned from Vietnam because of the crowds he attracted to his teaching.  Fear of competition from someone independent of the government frightens communist bureaucrats.  Hahn is now allowed in Vietnam, but his forums are restricted to small groups of believers.

Money, power, and prestige seduce the poor, middle class, and rich, whether in a democracy or autocracy.  There are few exceptions–maybe only Buddhist meditators, and Socratic philosophers–not the general public.

Hanh’s book is insightful but inadequate when measured against the innate nature of humankind.  On a personal level, one can accept the value of meditation in seeing things as they are and how they should be.  However, on a global level, it is difficult to imagine broad acceptance of meditation.

TIBET

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Eat the Buddha

By: Barbara Demick

                                       Narrated by : Cassandra Campbell

Barbara Demick gives listeners a picture of Tibet with a darkness that rivals the narrative she creates for North Korea in “Nothing to Envy”. 

“Eat the Buddha” is a reminder of China’s insistence on Tibet’s acceptance of Communist authority in the face of Buddhist and Tibetan ethnic and religious identity.  Like the Uyghurs in mainland China, Tibetans practice a religion that conflicts with Communist atheism.  Unlike Islamist Uyghurs, Buddhists eschew violence against oppressors.

Demick addresses self-immolation as an example of Tibetan protest which does not harm others but only one self. Well over 100 men and 28 women have set themselves aflame.

Self-immolation remains a form of protest that reaches the youth of Tibet in the suicide of Tsewang Norbu, a Tibetan pop star, who sets himself on fire in front of the Potala Palace on February 25th, 2022.

Tsewang Norbu (Tibetan pop star–self-immolation in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.)

Demick bases “Eat the Buddha” on living seven years in Beijing, with personal visits to Tibet. She interviews Tibetans and Chinese, including the Dalia Lama who is exiled in India. 

Demick interviews many who consider Buddhist teaching a positive and integral part of their lives and culture. 

Demick’s history of the treatment of Tibetan citizens under Maoist communism reminds one of America’s treatment of Indian tribes in America.  Mao tries to erase Tibet’s nomadic culture by murdering Tibetan leaders and excommunicating the Dali Llama. Mao’s object is to thwart the influence of Buddhist religious belief and indoctrinate Tibetan citizens into the ways of Communism.

Mao era attack of Buddhism during the Cultural Revolution.

Demick tells the story of Maoist cadre’s eviction and eventual murder of a regional Tibetan King and his wife during the cultural revolution.  The daughter of the former King is one of Demick’s many interviews.  The irony of this daughter’s experience with Chinese culture offers both positive and negative memories of her early life in Tibet.  She adapts to Chinese doctrine but eventually becomes an assistant to the exiled Dali Lama in India.  She cannot abandon her Tibetan cultural beliefs.

Tibetan demonstration in 2020.

Mao, and today’s Chinese leaders, believe any ethnic self-identification, other than Communist party doctrine, conflicts with the State. 

Like America’s treatment of Indians, China’s leaders use carrots and sticks to integrate Tibetans into Communist doctrine and Chinese culture. 

Rather than accepting culture difference, both America and China suppress their ethnic minorities.  However, the suppression is qualitatively different. The significant difference is that China sees minority ethnicity and religion as a direct threat to Communist ideals.  In contrast, American history implies ethnicity and religious difference are an evolutionary characteristic, bending toward freedom and equality.  That does not make American history less violent, but it suggests hope for something better than China’s expectation of ethnic and religious absorption by Communism.

Demick suggests Tibet is currently in the carrot stage of influence by the Chinese government.  Having personally traveled to Tibet in 2019, much of what Demick describes about the modernization of Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, is obvious. 

The restoration of the Potala Palace by the Chinese government is astonishingly beautiful.  It is the burial place of past Dalai Lamas.  Though it is no longer a practicing Buddhist temple, it is a tacit acknowledgement by China of Tibetan culture.

The last chapters of Demick’s book acknowledge her extensive research. She notes Tibetans are better off now than they were during the Mao years.  However, she explains Tibetans do not have the same economic opportunity as the ethnic Chinese.  It is important to be Chinese and even more important to be a member of the Communist party. (Our guide in a trip to China and Tibet reinforces the value of being enrolled in the Communist party. Though he abjures the tragedy of Tiananmen Square, he has a slender hope to join the Communist Party because of the opportunity if would afford him and his family.)

Demick infers Tibetans face the same discrimination as American minorities (these pics are not of Tibetans but American Asians attacked by non-Asian Americans in 2021), and presumably the same discrimination felt by many women in the world.

In Demick’s interviews of the Dalai Lama, she finds he is optimistic about Tibet’s future and survival as a Buddhist haven.  The Dalai Lama continues to negotiate with China’s leaders with hope of a return to Tibet.  (He was exiled in the 1950s by Mao’s government. That exile remains in place.)   His successor is to be chosen by the Gaden Phodrang Trust, an India-based group set up by the current Dalai Lama. However, the Chinese government says it will approve the Dalai Lama’s successor.  The Buddhist belief is that the Dalai Lama must be a reincarnation of former Dali Lamas.

GADEN PHODRANG FOUNDATION OF THE DALAI LAMA

Demick writes of a Padme Dalai Lama in Tibet with a marginal explanation of their importance in Buddhism. The Padme Dalai Lama plays an important role in selecting the next Dalai Lama. The Padme Dalai Lama is second in the hierarchy of primary Dalai Lamas. A Padme Dalai Lama is identified (chosen) by a current Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama chose a 6 year old boy but he was taken by the Chinese government after his selection. Demick explains the Chinese government chose to select the next Tibetan Padme Dalai Lama despite the 14th Dalai Lama’s choice. No one with certainty knows of the Padme Dalai’s fate.  Some suggest he is now a college graduate living an anonymous life. Theoretically, today there are two living Padme Dalai Lamas.

Today’s Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.  He is the 14th Dalai Lama. As of this writing, he is 86 years old.

Pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama are forbidden in China. Demick notes that a travel book in her carry on luggage is confiscated by a Chinese Airport inspector as she returns to the United States in 2o20. The confiscation is because the travel book had a picture of the Buddhist leader.

Demick draws an interesting picture of Tibet. It reveals both the truth and weakness of one historian’s view of China and Tibet. It is founded on the truth of what a number of Tibetans remember of the Mao’ years and the current relationship of China and Tibet. As is true of all books of history, China’s and Tibet’s past is not perfectly clear and the future, at best, becomes a cloudy past.

LIVING LIFE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Until the End of Time

By: Brian Greene  

Narrated by Brian Greene

Author, (American Theoretical Physicist)

There is a great deal to unpack in Brian Greene’s “Until the End of Time”.  As is true of many of Greene’s scientific observations, much of his self-effacing intelligence and science-based opinion is lost in the ignorance of his listeners (more specifically, this listener).  However, where Greene’s beliefs intersect with one’s limited knowledge, his theory of the ending of time and life is immensely rewarding and enlightening.

Greene does not argue there is no God. However, he suggests modern science shows there is no reason for God to exist to create life. 

To Greene, there is more verifiable proof of life in science than verifiable proof of God in either science or religion.

In Greene’s thought, God and religion may have a great deal to do with sustaining human life, but in ways more sociological than religious.  Weather one is a believer, atheist, or agnostic makes no difference to Greene.  He carefully constructs an explanation of how science shows life may have come into existence, why stories of life may explain belief in God, and why humans are fundamentally different from other forms of life.  The fundamental point of “…the End of Time” has to do with human mortality.  Human mortality lies at the core of Greene’s view of time and life.

Greene suggests the laws of physics founded by luminaries like Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger offer evidence for the basis for life on earth, with or without God.  Greene explains the principle of thermodynamics, the fundamental science of energy that creates and sustains life. 

Greene explains–the physics of energy (thermodynamics) ensures eventual death.  All life is pre-determined by the fundamental law of entropy.  The fate of time and life began with a bang.  This singular event disbursed tightly organized atomistic particles into a continually less organized space.

Greene notes that all forms of life are subject to entropy, a gradual decline from order to disorder.  Greene argues that entropy acts at an atomistic level to determine the fate of all living things. Greene suggest laws of quantum mechanics determine the course of life for all “living” things.

To Greene, humankind is free to make choices.  However, he argues humankind does not have free will.  The physics of science show that all living things cannot choose to live forever.  Humans can choose how to live, what to think, who to love, who to hate but they cannot choose one Nano second longer than what is dictated by the fundamental law of entropy.

Greene notes the science of Darwinian evolution and genetic inheritance is a relevant reinforcement of his argument for the inevitable extinction of life.  The entropy accompanying human habitation is evident in pollution of the air we breath and the water we drink.    (Though Greene does not address advances in genetic inheritance through gene manipulation, genetic manipulation does not negate Greene’s overriding concept of entropy.)

Just as earth’s environment slowly degrades, genetic inheritance as a process will eventually lead to extinction.  Humans, just as dinosaur’s, sabre tooth tigers, and Dodo birds will disappear. All life adapts to change until the speed of environmental change becomes greater than the speed of evolutionary adaptation.

Greene agues humankind’s recognition of mortality shapes lives as consequentially as evolution. The significance of Greene’s argument is that religion is founded on acknowledgement of eventual death.  Knowing that one cannot live forever, creates the desire for something beyond death.  Greene elaborates by arguing that human lack of control over natural events compels creation of stories about a Supreme Being. *

The big picture in “Until the End of Time” is that the world and life is heading for an end.   Based on the science of physics, there is an “…End of Time” for humankind, based on the immutable and experimentally proven laws of thermodynamics.  Entropy is evident in the science of quantum mechanics (the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles), and the science of a continually expanding universe.

What does this mean to us?  Humans still make their own choices on how to live, love, and hate in their lifetimes.  The singer, Bobby McFerrin, suggests “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.  Others suggest the meaning of life is to live in the moment.  Brian Greene suggests it is up to you.  Our lives and death may be pre-determined, but we have freedom to choose how we live, love, and work.

In re-thinking Greene’s belief in the physics of entropy, one wonders about the concept of energy never being destroyed. Einstein’s formula of E=MC2 implies our corporal bodies may die but atoms transmogrify. What does that suggest about the entropy of human life?

* Greene acknowledges the slim possibility of Devine existence but considers it much less probable based on the discipline of science and the existence of entropy.  Greene does not discount the comfort religion offers humankind, including the rituals that help one cope with life and the passing of loved ones.

GNOSTICISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog
The Gnostic Gospels
By: Elaine Pagels
Narrated by Lorna Raver

Elaine Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She has a Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University. Modern Library calls Pagels’ book, “The Gnostic Gospels” one of the 100 most important books of the twentieth century.

Like the beginning of a story of adventure and mystery, Pagels recounts the discovery of a fifty-two text collection of papyrus sheets recounting the beginnings of the Christian church.

For all religious organizations and particularly the Christian church, “The Gnostic Gospels” shakes the foundation of institutional religion.

According to Pagels, the Coptic text of “The Gnostic Gospels” show that in the near-beginnings of the Christian religion there were questions about who Jesus was and what he was about.

  • Was Jesus simply a prophet or the Son of God?
  • Was he preaching for the creation of a religion ?
  • Were historical facts manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution?
  • Was Mary Magdalene a conjugal companion or disciple?

Pagels’ interpretation of “The Gnostic Gospels” suggests Jesus was a prophet; that his life story was manipulated to create a religious hierarchal institution, and that Mary Magdalene was a disciple.

A fundamental theme of “The Gnostic Gospels” is that the “Kingdom of God” is present within every human being, then and now, and that self-knowledge is the source of admittance to grace.

If one believes this teaching, it does not mean one must abandon organized religion but it redefines the role of the church.

Pagels’ interpretation of the “Gnostic Gospels” implies the role of the church is not to ritualize admittance to the “Kingdom of God” by christening mankind or bludgeoning all who do not accept a church’s vision of religion.

It suggests the church’s role is to aid personal revelation. Maybe Dostoevsky’s parable of “The Grand Inquisitor” is more insight than imagination.

Doubt remains at the conclusion of “The Gnostic Gospels”, even after reading Pagels’ insightful interpretation. Gnostic documentation is distant from “witnesses to the truth”. “The Gnostic Gospels” were written 300 or 400 years after Jesus’s time.

RELIGIOUS BELIEF

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Brothers Karamazov

By: Fyodor Dostoevsky (Translated by Constance Garnett)

Narrated by Frederick Davidson

A re-listening of one of Dostoevsky’s masterpieces reminds one of why it is considered a classic. 

My first review of “The Brothers Karamazov” focuses on Dostoevsky’s prescient view of psychology

Re-listening reprises its deeply religious overtone and its depiction of how some novelists view and reinforce inequality of the sexes.

Vasily Kachalov as Ivan Karmazov.

The role of religion in life is vivified by Ivan Karamazov, the 4th son and brother of the Karamazov family. 

Depiction of Alyosha Karamazov.

Ivan tells his youngest brother, Alyosha, of an imagined poem.  It is named “The Grand Inquisitor”.  It is a story of the return of Christ noted in the Christian bible as the second coming. 

Ivan offers a societal interpretation of the concept of God in his narrative poem.  He explains to his brother Alyosha–if the Son of God returns to earth and shows his divinity through miracle, the returning Christ would be captured by church elders and rejected as humankind’s Savior.

Christ’s capturer in Ivan’s poem is a wizened bishop (the Grand Inquisitor) who explains faith is more important than the second coming. 

The bishop explains the Church is commissioned by Christ’s Father to rule the world.  With God’s commission, “The Grand Inquisitor” argues the Church dutifully manages human sin and confession.  The inference is that a “second coming” will not successfully eradicate human sin because it is ineradicable.

The bishop argues the return of Christ is not as important as the church’s management of sin and its gift of hope to the people of the world. 

In contradiction of Ivan’s poem and his societal interpretation of religion, Dostoevsky creates Father Zosima.  Zosima tells his life story as a relatively wealthy young military officer who becomes a venerated monk. 

Despite a secular life of sin, Zosima requests forgiveness from those he has sinned against.  Because of his spiritual awakening, Zosima requests forgiveness, and with the help of a stranger’s confession, reconciles and accepts the word of God. 

Zosima recalls the truth of God who tests Job’s faith by allowing the devil to take all his earthly wealth, health, and family.  Job never gives up his faith in God. Zosima recounts reconciliation and forgiveness of Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery.  Zosima commits his remaining life to God with these two biblical parables.  Zosima’s life story foreshadows Ivan’s conversion from belief in the “…Grand Inquisitor” to belief in God’s truth.

For God’s believers, Dostoevsky argues the world will change just as Zosima changed.  The change will come from salvation based on repentance, confession, and acceptance of God’s truth. 

Dostoevsky suggests God’s truth is that no one should stand in judgement over another, each should pray for theirs, and their brother’s redemption. Zosima argues this change will come upon the world gradually based on a growing diminution of the human desire for money, power, and prestige.  Care for others becomes as great as care for oneself. To Dostoevsky, this is an evolutionary imperative based on the biblical word of God.

The truth Zosima refers to is that all men are created equal, they should be treated with respect, and forgiven for their inevitable sins. 

A blaring irony of “The Brothers Karamazov” is the reprehensible characterization of women.  Dostoevsky’s vision is patriarchal.  Women bare children keep the house and obey their husbands.  There is no room for women’s equality.  They are a mere rib of Man.

One might argue there has been progress for women since the 19th century, but women are still battered, women are generally paid less than men for the same work, and women are often treated like slaves.

“The Brothers Karamazov” is a classic. It is prescient for these times.  One might argue that more attention is being given today to sexual, ethnic, religious, and racial inequality.  However, progress is slow.  America has taken many steps back, and few steps forward. 

Dostoevsky’s “…Brothers Karamazov” is a reminder of Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote— “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Maybe, but this generation doubts its truth.

How long is too long?

God and Science

Audio-book Review 
By Chet Yarbrough 

(Blog:awalkingdelight) 
Website: chetyarbrough.blog 

The Big Picture 

BySean Carroll 

Narrated by Sean Carroll 

Sean Carroll (Author, theoretical physicist in quantum mechanics, gravity, and cosmology.)

Being a fan, Sean Carroll is usually a good source for understanding science but “The Big Picture” is not his best work. Traveling through centuries of discovery and science’ revisions is too broad a picture for a layman’s understanding.  Many attempts at clear communication about current physics fail to enlighten “The Big Picture”. 

Carroll does clarify the difference between “is” and “ought” that explains why science is important.  God may be the origin of life on earth but proof relying on faith is an “ought” without an “is”.  Science reduces knowledge to facts based on repeatable experiments and predictable results.  If experiments are conducted by different experimenters with the same results, what “is” becomes predictable and more likely correct. Carroll explains science deals with the world as it “is”; not how the world “ought” to be.   

Preachers preach a gospel based on what is not experimentally proven and only anecdotally predictable.  Anecdotes are not necessarily true or reliable because they are based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.  Numerous studies have shown that human cognition relies on brain patterning which influences, matches, or melds information stored in the brain. 

The consequence of patterning distorts reality.  Eye-witness accounts of events are notoriously misleading because of human patterning.   

“The Big Picture” recounts the history of physics and how human understanding has evolved over the centuries.  Carroll explains how past discoveries based on science have evolved.  Newton lived in the same world as Einstein.  Both discovered fundamental truths about “The Big Picture”. 

Newton’s laws apply to earth’s realm.  Einstein’s laws apply to the universe.  Both are correct within their spheres.  Carroll notes neither Newton nor Einstein contradict the laws of physics, but their laws are confined by the earth or universe in which they are proven. 

Carroll believes all essential particles of the atom have been discovered.  This reminds one of the scientists in the late 19th century who said, “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes”. 

It is difficult not to enjoy Carroll’s way with words but with the unexplained essence of gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, it seems premature to suggest no new particle discoveries will change our view of the world and their impact on reality. 

ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

By: Christopher de Hamel

Narrated by Christopher de Hamel

Christopher de Hamel is a British academic librarian.  He is an expert on mediaeval manuscripts.  De Hamel takes listeners on an international journey to view ancient illuminated manuscripts.  

De Hamel’s peregrinations are fascinating, in part because of his excellent recitation.  But also because of interesting stories about manuscript’ provenance, purpose, and location.  (A listener’s regret–there are no illuminated manuscript’ plates in the audio book appendix. This review is meant to partially address that regret.)   

Illuminated manuscripts are held for safekeeping in controlled access libraries and museums around the world. These manuscripts are called “illuminated” because they were hand-made with images and script drawn in gold and silver. They were made by Western European scribes between 500 and 1600 CE (common era). 

They vary in size from as large as three feet tall (Codex Gigas with 310 leaves of vellum made from 160 donkeys) to one so small it could fit into the palm of one’s hand; e.g. the “Prayer Book of Claude de France” produced in the 16th century.

De Hamel reviews 12 manuscripts.  The most famous is the “Book of Kels” found in Ireland.  The most interesting might be the “Spinola Book of Hours” because the author plays a role in its discovery and collation.  The “Spinola Book of Hours” is a 16th century manuscript with 88 miniature paintings.  It is presently located in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The purpose of ancient manuscripts is to educate and enlighten medieval populations. Just as today, the greatest benefit is to the rich. The rich could afford the manuscripts but the poor were offered limited exposure through the few religious schools that served the poor. Many ancient manuscripts were used to teach the young how to read while educating them in the history of the world and the religion adhered to by royalty.

(The invention of the Guttenberg press in 1440 CE was the beginning of the end of the illuminated manuscript but the art of the handmade manuscript survives into the early 17th century.)

De Hamel tells 13 stories about 12 illuminated and one technically not-illuminated manuscript (the “Codex Amiatinus”). All entertain and inform interested listeners.

The following list shows de Hamel’s chosen manuscripts. An interesting manuscript that reflects on modern times is Tres Riches Heurees du Duc de Berry. It reflects on the Black Plague’s European devastation.

  1. BOOK OF DURROW (7th century book of hours, biblical tales and Virgil/Homeric tales, most well known. Located in Dublin @ Trinity College – is the oldest completed illuminated transcript)
  2. CODEX AMIATINUS (created by missionaries, 8th century, North Umbria creation. Bible.) technically not illuminated-no silver or gold.
  3. LINDISFARNE GOSPELS (Somehow saved) 8th century New Testament, stolen by the Vikings. Contains the gospes of Mark, John, Luke, and Matthew.)
  4. THE BOOK OF KELLS (most famous, 9th century, greatest of any era)
  5. ST. ALBANS PSALTER (12th century, detailed art work)
  6. MORGAN CRUSADER BIBLE (13th century) artistic masterpiece about the Old Testament crusades
  7. WESTMINISTER ABBEY BESTIARY (164 illustrations, 13th century, real and imaginary animals)
  8. THE BOOK OF HOURS OF JEANNE d’Evreux (14th century) life of Jesus.
  9. THE BLACK HOURS (15th century) created in Greece, purchased by Piermont Morgan and housed in the Morgan Museum in New York.
  10. TRES RICHES HEURES du Duc de Berry (15th century, master work, unfinished because of the plague.)
  11. Grimani Breviary (16th century, religious and secular stories, made in Flanders. Over 1600 pages – stories from the bible)
  12. PRAYER BOOK OF CLAUDE DE FRANCE (16th century) fit in the palm of one’s hand. Magnifying glass needed.