Stephen Prothero and Reviews of “God is Not One”

Earlier this year, several blogs participated in a review tour for Stephen Prothero’s book, God is not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Rule the World and Why Their Differences Matter. Here’s a quote from the introduction.

To claim that all religions are the same is to misunderstand that each tradition attempts to solve a different aspect of the human condition. For example:

  • Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
  • Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
  • Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
  • Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is enlightenment
  • Hinduism: the problem is the endless cycle of reincarnation / the solution is release
  • Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is our return back to God and to our true home

When we gloss over these differences we fail to appreciate each religion on its own terms.

The book appears to be a survey and not an apologetic. This Lutheran reviewer said she wanted more from the Christianity chapter “wishing I could add to further clarification regarding . . . consequences that 95 theses had on the world.” Unfortunately, the list of blogs doesn’t link directly to the reviews, save one. So here’s a link to a review from someone who disagrees with the book’s central premise.

Muezzin musings

Circa 1500, David and Goliath as painted by Venetian artist Titian. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

In response to tremendous public clamor, I shall share my views on the Cordoba Islamic Center near Ground Zero.

My views are kind of mixed, but mostly negative.

When I first heard about it, I thought, “What’s the big deal? It’s not directly on the 9/11 site. It’s just a mosque.”

But things I’ve been reading and hearing on the radio suggest that it’s not just a mosque, and that the very name is a statement of Islamic triumphalism.

I don’t know. I’m suspicious of conservative paranoia, but I’m also aware that symbolism is a very big deal with Muslims.

The thought that keeps recurring to me is, “We are told again and again, when dealing with the Islamic world, that it’s tremendously important to be sensitive to the feelings of Muslims.

“So how come that doesn’t work both ways? How come Muslims have no obligation to be sensitive to the feelings of 9/11 victims?” Continue reading Muezzin musings

Odds and ends

Haven’t got much tonight. My lawn mowing (the rainy summer has made our grass situation in Minnesota almost tropical) took longer than usual, and no insights illuminated my meditations as I mowed.

Here’s a piece from Gene Edward Veith’s Cranach blog, which links to a further article by Anne Applebaum about Tom Sawyer, and how what was recognized as normal boyhood behavior in Mark Twain’s time, is labeled a personality disorder and medicated in ours.

I mention this purely as a matter of justice, having no personal dog in the fight. I myself was a quiet and compliant child, the kind of kid Tom and Huck would have tied to a tree and then left to his own devices, laughing as they ran off.

About the only other thought I have
is one concerning the same-sex marriage dispute.

The side that favors the redefinition of marriage constantly appeals (or this is my perception) to science. They have science and reason on their side, they insist, while traditional marriage defenders have nothing but tradition and fear.

But doesn’t it take a certain amount of plain faith to be completely certain that abandoning a cultural template which has been universal as far back in human history as we can look, will surely have no adverse effects whatever? Is that not also an assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen?

Impulsive, madcap me

I’ve gone a little nuts in the last two days, and it bothers me a bit. I expect it’s a sign of oncoming dementia.

What I mean is, I spent money on two things that were not absolutely necessary for me to have, and which were not books.

First of all, I replaced my cell phone. I’ve had my old, bare-bones one for several years now, and had been thinking it was time to replace it. My service provider offered a very good deal on a new Nokia. It has a camera, which is cool, though I don’t think I actually have the technology to upload its pictures anywhere. (Remember, I’m paying 10 cents a minute for calls on this thing. How many pictures do I take that are worth a dime?)

Also, it’s got a flip cover. So at long last, I have a Captain Kirk phone. This is extremely satisfying to my inner Sheldon Cooper.

Also, I’ve registered for the Vinland Seminar in Chicago, in October. Because of my acquaintance with some of the organizers, and my long-distance acquaintance with one of the speakers, Prof. Torgrim Titlestad (who did me the honor of mentioning one of my books in a couple of his), I decided I ought to go. It will be an opportunity to rub shoulders with some experts in the field of Viking studies, in particular Prof. Birgitta Wallace, who used to be the chief archaeologist at the Leif Eriksson Dig in Newfoundland. She carries the eternal honor of finding the butternuts. And if you don’t know what that means, you should research it.

Also I have permission to hawk my books there, so maybe I can make back part of my expenses.

Next week, I’ll probably run off to Vegas and get married. I’ll keep you posted.

DVD Review: “Burn Notice”

It’s a mark of my monumental self-absorption that I make so bold as to review the wonderful USA Network series, “Burn Notice” (thanks to S.T. Karnick of The American Culture for bringing it to my attention), since I’m too cheap to pay for cable, and all of you probably knew about it long before I did. But I’m watching the DVDs now on my Netflix account, and I’m so enthusiastic I’ve got to say something. Quite a lot, actually.

The premise of “Burn Notice” is that the hero, Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan), is a spy who has come under suspicion in the agency, and so has been “burned”—that is, dumped in a city, with no money, credit, or legal identity, so to speak marooned.

Fortunately, he’s burned in Miami, his old home town, where he has considerable human resources Continue reading DVD Review: “Burn Notice”

More stuff from the future

Judge Holding Gavel

Here’s something I fully expect to see in my lifetime, in an editorial in some newspaper (if newspapers still exist by then):

There has been a lot of impassioned demagogery in recent days over the latest decision of the U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals. It seems to me what’s needed here is less emotion and more reasoned analysis. Let’s look at the facts.

The reality is, in the more than two centuries since our Constitution was drafted, great changes have been made in the culture of the United States. The Founding Fathers, for all their reputed brilliance, weren’t a very diverse group. They were without exception products of northern European culture and the Christian religion, whatever their personal beliefs might have been. They shared certain prejudices (referred to in the Declaration of Independence, some years earlier, as “self-evident” truths) that had not been greatly tested in the parochial environment in which they lived their lives.

Since that time, America has been marvelously enriched by the entrance of millions of immigrants, many of whom have come from cultures and traditions very different from that of the West. Some of these minority groups have very different attitudes to matters of governance and justice than those traditional in our country.

If our new neighbors have no trust in democracy, but feel more comfortable with a hereditary monarch, who are we to insist our way is better?

If our new neighbors see no sense in our legal system (and let’s be honest, it’s hard not to sympathize), but prefer, let’s say, trial by ordeal, can we truly be sure our approach is superior?

If our new neighbors want to continue ancient traditions of arranged marriages, or human slavery, is it really appropriate for “native born Americans,” carrying as we do the immense burden of guilt arising from our shameful, imperialistic history, to forbid such time-honored practices?

Certainly not.

And for that reason, Judge ________ ___________ was well justified last week, in declaring the U.S. Constitution unconstitutional.

Doktor Luther is Back

What’s that roar of clarity and wit you hear on the horizon? It’s Doktor Luther criticizing the movies. Yes, he’s back, and he’s on Twitter. To wit:

  • Lutherans who have not read Bo Giertz’s “Hammer of God” should be forced to wash Joel Osteen’s wife’s car for a year.
  • That also goes for the works of Lars Walker, despite his retrograde fashion sense.
  • If you don’t buy this book now, I will find you and sit on you. Fascinating and sad.
  • This guy created 20 rooms out of 350 sq. ft. He should be a Marvel superhero or something: Efficiency Man.

You’ve been blessed, haven’t you? Yes, you have.

Laws, Norse and Godwin’s

I don’t think I need to expound here on what I think about yesterday’s decision by a U.S. District judge that California’s Proposition Eight marriage protection measure is unconstitutional. The judge’s name is Walker, which is (I hope) irrelevant. I’m not sure that it’s also irrelevant that he’s an open homosexual (appointed by the first President Bush—thanks again, George).

It’s tempting to call the whole thing unfair because the judge must have been biased. But if the judge were heterosexual, would that be less biased (though I’d expect a straight Ninth District judge to rule pretty much the same way)?

Any issue of gender has to be one where it’s hard to find anybody neutral. I don’t think we have a lot of eunuch judges available (though my knowledge of judges is limited).

But it reminds me of another issue involved in Njal’s Saga, about which I wrote yesterday. A common way of settling a legal dispute in the sagas (I’ve used it several times in my novels, because it cuts through a lot of red tape) is to offer “self-judgment.” Self-judgment is an option when you’re up against another man and have a sneaking suspicion you’re in the wrong, or that you’re representing someone who’s in the wrong. You can’t apologize, because that isn’t done in an honor-based culture. But if your opponent is an honorable man, it can be a shrewd strategy to offer him self-judgment—to say, “Set your own price on your injuries, and I’ll pay it.”

Offering self-judgment pays a compliment to your opponent (you’re publicly demonstrating that you consider him fair-minded. And if he asks an outrageous fine, he’ll forfeit some of the honor you’ve just paid him).

I don’t think Judge Vaughn Walker is someone I’d offer self-judgment to.

One further item—
my Australian friend Hal Colebatch has a new column up at The American Spectator. It’s called “Don’t Be Scared of Godwin’s So-Called Law,” and deals with the common “rule” (which I’ve never known liberals to observe for themselves) that it’s always out of order to bring Nazis into a political discussion. Colebatch says, oh no it isn’t.

Try mentioning to a euthanasia advocate that the Nazi extermination program started off as an exercise in medical euthanasia. And as for suggesting that Jews and Israel are in danger of a second holocaust if Muslim extremists have their way, just wait for: “Godwin’s Law!” “Godwin’s law!” repeated with a kind of witless assumption of superiority reminiscent of school playground chants.

Worth reading.

Njal come back now, ya hear?

I’ve seen the artifact pictured above, in an exhibition. It’s one of the main reasons we believe the Vikings wore “nasal” helmets like the one I wear, even though none of that sort from the period has ever been found in Scandinavia.

I’d seen it pictured in books many times before I saw the real thing. Its size surprised me. It’s only about as big as a man’s thumb, an object somebody probably carved for fun out of a piece of antler, for no reason other than to pass the time.

A friend who reads this blog recently complimented me, in a personal note, on my “erudition” in Viking studies. I suppose I know a fair bit, when graded on the curve (I describe myself as a knowledgeable amateur), but I keep getting surprised by things.

Grim of Grim’s Hall has been moderating a reading of Njal’s Saga this summer, over at his blog. I drop in my two cents now and then, but I’m constrained slightly by the fact that a lot of things that confuse ordinary readers actually confuse me just as much. Especially when it comes to Norse law. Continue reading Njal come back now, ya hear?

The mud does not stick, this time

A few weeks back I wrote about a matter in the church which I attend, which has drawn national attention. I think it’s appropriate for me to follow that story up now, as our congregation has finished its investigation and the principle figure involved is speaking publicly again.

First of all, to name names, my church is Hope Lutheran Church of Minneapolis, and the subject of the story is our senior pastor, Tom Brock. Pastor Brock fought a long battle with The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Not Be Named, over issues like women’s ordination, abortion, and homosexual marriage, before finally encouraging withdrawal from that church body and affiliation with ours a few years back. He has a cable television show, and a local radio talk show, in which he discusses religious issues. Through these outlets he has made himself fairly prominent, and indeed (as we have seen) a target.

A local homosexual publication called Lavender Magazine heard a rumor that Pastor Brock was attending a Catholic support group called Courage, a group for men struggling against same-sex attraction. A freelance reporter then posed as a prospective member, attended a meeting, and wrote an article for Lavender, in which he insinuated that Pastor Brock was leading a secret “gay” life. This move has been “viewed by many as journalistically unethical,” according to this AP story on the One News Now website.

Gee, ya think? Breaking the confidentiality of a Twelve Step Program?

Pastor Brock was placed on leave of absence while our congregation conducted an inquiry.

He appeared before the congregation again this past Sunday. He and members of the elders explained that he has been exonerated by their investigation. Among other things, they spoke, with his permission, with people in the Courage group in whom he had confided. They can find no evidence that he has been living a secret sex life. They are satisfied that Pastor Brock is celibate, which is all we ask of any man dealing with this difficult problem.

Reports that Pastor Brock was “back in the pulpit” last Sunday are technically true, but misleading. He did occupy the physical space behind the pulpit when he talked, but he didn’t deliver the sermon. He will be preaching again, but not right away. His intention is to resign as Senior Pastor but stay on staff, concentrating on the radio and television outreach that put him in the crosshairs in the first place.

I know Pastor Brock to say hello to. I do not know him well. But I shook his hand on my way out of the sanctuary, and told him he’s a hero to me.

My way or the Seg-way

Me on my Segway. Artist’s conception.

So I had a birthday recently, and my family gathered on Saturday to make a big deal of it. In their own, uniquely Walker way, of course.

The perfect Walker celebration involves finding an activity that’s a) something the subject’s interested in, b) fun, and c) slightly humiliating.

They found the perfect thing. First of all, it was a tour of St. Paul, the more colorful of our Twin Cities (there are two of them, reading from left to right, in case you’re wondering). Secondly, it was a history tour—right down my alley. Thirdly (and this was the clincher) it was a Segway tour, giving me (and, to be fair, all of us) the opportunity to look like dorks on the hallowed avenues of our state’s capitol.

It was a huge success. Honestly, my conservative, hidebound reservations about the Segway remain firmly in place. But it would be vain to deny that the things are easy to learn and a whole lot more fun than you think they’ll be.

The wonderful thing about a Segway is that it’s intuitive. You lean forward and it goes forward. You straighten up and it stops. Lean back (just a little) and it goes into reverse. You lean on the handlebar to go right or left. Because the machine senses your movements, and there’s no intermediate stage of controls and levers, it soon starts feeling like a part of you. When you have to yield it up at the end of your allotted time, you miss it, like an amputated (if numb) limb.

I hasten to add that this has not turned me into a “small is beautiful” greenie. The trouble with the Segway is that fun is about all it’s good for. When I ask myself, “What’s this marvelous device in service of?” the only answer I can come up with is, a showy toy for people with a lot of surplus money. It’s a cheap way (cheap in mileage, not in initial cost) to get around town, but most of us carry things when we travel, often bulky things. You can hang a backpack on a Segway, but that’s about the limit of its carrying capacity (I wonder if they sell a trailer).

My hope for the Segway is that American ingenuity can find a way to translate this cool technology into something actually useful—a new generation of wheelchairs, for instance. This is too good to languish as a rich man’s toy.

To my family, in any case, thanks for a very enjoyable day.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture