Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jesus for the non religious - John Shelby Spong

This book is more appropriately titled as Jesus for the religious rather than the non religious as I think they will benefit more. Spong a christian bishop of 45 years has evidently concluded that his religion as practised today is far removed from what Jesus (within whom he sees God) taught or experienced. And he goes through and tries to interpret the various miracles that are now treated as literal. He dismisses the concepts of virgin birth, prayers answered, walking on water, even the resurrection as not literally true and point's out time and time again how these events seem to have been copied from jewish tradition with his explanation of that people tried to interpret what they experienced using the only language they knew. He tries to maintain that only after you discard all the various miracles that have accrued around Jesus, can you truly understand the message and even see God.
It is an interesting book and good enough to be read by people who believe in other religions too. Religious people mostly believe that questioning their faith is a sin, is somehow wrong, makes you weaker, takes you on the path to atheism/hell. This ofcourse is absurd. Faith that cannot stand the test of rigorous questioning should be discarded. And this is what Spong believes as well.
He also mentions christianity's irony now. Jesus was the breaker of all traditions, the unifier but now Christianity is the opposite, everyone want to stick to their traditions and the segregation found in Christianity itself is quite startling (The one place where blacks are still noticably segregated from whites is the black and white churches).
Spong however makes the same mistakes that most liberal religious people do. If some of the thing's in your religion's holy book are metaphors/ made up/ interpretations/ just plain lies then how do you know which is or which isn't? e.g. One of his point's is that Jesus didnt discriminate against the Gentile's and points to passages demonstrating it. But if some of the other passages are not literally true , how can we be sure this literally happened? He also avoid's some of the harder questions e.g. How does the concept of Jesus get reconciled with the concept of hell? And if say he does see God in jesus, does he also see God in say the Buddha who also shares some commonality in the tradition breaker, unifier? or does his devotion blind him to the other great teachings that exist?
The book is good though and people of other religions too should read it and see if they can question and investigate their faith as Spong does. I dont agree with all his conclusions but I respect them which is more than what I can say for the Pope!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How would you move mount fuji - William Poundstone

There is an internet answer to the title of this book - How would you move mount fuji. It's I would tell it a touching story about a boy and his bunny (the bunny dies). Im sure that answer wont get you hired at Microsoft. This book deals with the puzzle questions that Microsoft asks some of the candidates which interview with it. The puzzles are good though I've heard some before and some I've heard for the first time (needless to say I could only solve a couple myself without referring to the answers). The more interesting bit of the book is the discussion on Why most candidates dislike these questions and whether this is a fair way to judge candidates (Also why do question's like What motivates you, Or what are your good qualities get a free pass though the answers to these are rehearsed and mean nothing). As pointed out in this book , this is a decent way for freshers who have no experience to be questioned on. I dont think it's appropriate to ask experienced people this (disclaimer I have some experience :) ) - or in other words dont ask me these questions !. Sometimes I'm glad that in my childhood I did read Martin Gardener and I'm glad that Mindsport lifted a lot of it's riddles from the west , so I'm familiar with some of these!.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The End of Faith : Sam Harris

Sam Harris argues eloquently to leave religion and faith behind, pointing out various problems with the three major religions. As also with his other book, the faithful will be hard pressed to come up with meaningful arguments to counter Harris and would probably dismiss his arguments off hand. A good read but ultimately wont convince the religious and the devout because as usual Harris is appealing to reason which as history show's isnt very effective against religion.