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Lesley Hazleton is an award-winning author whose work focuses on the intersection of religion and politics. She reported on the Middle East from Jerusalem for more than a dozen years and has written for Time, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper's, The Nation, and The New mostra'n més Republic, among others. Her most recent books are The First Muslim and After the Prophet, which was a finalist for a PEN Center USA Literary Award. Hazleton lives in Seattle and blogs as the Accidental Theologist (accidentaltheologist.com). mostra'n menys

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I loved this book, it was the very best kind of non-fiction: engaging, entertaining, informative.

Things that made the book great:

1. The story itself is damn fascinating.
2. The writing was wonderful, it truly felt like a story rather than a historical account.
3. There was a good amount of tie-in with modern times, explaining how specific events or teachings or symbols turn into what we know today (I especially liked learning about how Muslim women came to wear the veil, which was a situation that every high schooler understands).


This book is especially useful for Americans because none of this is covered in our public schools' history classes, unlike the Catholic/Protestant split, which is covered extensively.
… (més)
 
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blueskygreentrees | Hi ha 11 ressenyes més | Jul 30, 2023 |
Right from the offset, you can tell this book is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. For starters, the writing style is casual for a historical non-fiction book. It makes the book more engaging but I'm sure it'll also result in purists frothing at the mouth. Secondly, the narrative is colored by the author's thoughts and opinions at multiple points. Third, there's a distinct Shia bias throughout the text. Lastly, post-Karbala, the book is rather poorly developed.

And you know what? It's still a good read! For all it's faults, it's pretty informative and provides a great serial account of the events that led to the division between the two sects. Recommended if this is not the only book you plan to read on the Shia-Sunni conflict.… (més)
 
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talalsyed | Hi ha 11 ressenyes més | Jul 22, 2023 |
Whenever I comment on something having to do with religion, I like to be open and state that I am an atheist, particularly if the author plans to discuss atheists. I urge people to look up "atheist" in Wikipedia and follow the links to see something of the variety of beliefs that fall under, or are similar to, that category. In particular, there are strong atheists and weak atheists, neither of who believe in any deities, but weak atheists might not declare that there definitely aren't any. I prefer some of the broader definitions, such as an atheist is a person who does not not have a system of beliefs about god(s) [George H. Smith, I believe], or, Sir John Cheke who in 1540 "coined the use of the word 'Atheists' to describe people who do not 'care whether there be a God or no [...].'" (I work this in whenever I can, because so many people have such a rigid definition of atheism.) The second definition would include agnostics and the third might, but most don't seem to want to be lumped with atheists. This brings up the question: why, in large part, don't agnostics like atheists? Is it that they are repulsed by the militancy of some atheists (understandable), or is it because atheists have a definite, if variable, opinion on the existence of god(s)?

Hazleton equates agnostic with "freethinker", but the latter term is is older (c.1700 vs 1860s) and is broader, although agnostics are certainly freethinkers. While reading this book, I kept thinking about Thomas Henry Huxley, who coined the term. He felt surrounded by people who were certain that they had the ultimate truth, whereas he didn't think that he did (or likely that they did), so that is how he described himself.

Sometimes Hazleton seems a little militant to me in insisting that hers is the best way, in a minor way as when she tells us how she feels about mystery stories, but I am a little irritated when she asks if anyone with a memory rereads such a book? I think it's pretty obvious from Sherlockians and other enthusiasts that they do. In addition to being wrong, did it occur to Hazleton that other people get different things out of books than she does? Further, after consulting several websites, Mysteries are the 4th-6th most popular genre. Tactically speaking, does it seem like an intelligent plan to deliberately go off on a tangent to insult millions of readers?

More significantly, she states: "If there is one thing that can really be said with any certainty about God, it is that the name is utterly insufficient to the concept," but wouldn't that depend upon one's concept, or what God one was talking about? Millions of people in the West are turning to Neo-Paganism, although I cannot say how they envision their gods. To be something of an igtheist, it seems to me that we have entirely too many ill-defined homonyms for God, which is why I refer to the God whom I have thought the most about as the God of the Four Omnis (omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibenevolent.) Hazleton dismisses what one might call the Anthropomorphic God in chapter Two, "The Three-Letter Word." Then there is more than one version of God As Being Itself, the Deist God, the Pantheist God, the Panentheist God, and the Incomprehensibly Transcendent God, more than one of which various Christians claim to be the true God (I can't speak for anyone else.). I don't believe that any of these exist, but none of them interest me enough to have really thought about them. I am also skeptical that many of the traits that she praises are particularly or exclusively agnostic. Hazleton argues that the argument, summed up in the Epicurean paradox, that God cannot be both omnipotent and good, applies only to Christianity; actually I think it applies to all the Abrahamic faiths, which include most of the world's people. I don't know if it applies to other religions, with their polytheism, lack of an almighty god, and simply different view of the relationship between gods and the universe or conception of god(s). Hazleton argues that there could be an evil god, and I'm sure that somewhere, someone has worshiped one, but I find that weak - as atheists argue, Bertrand Russell's china tea pot could be circling the sun, or there could be a planet inhabited by unicorns, but I'd want evidence, other than not being able to prove that there isn't. The burden of proof is on the person asserting the existence of something that cannot be empirically proven, not on the skeptic to prove that it doesn't exist.

These is not the sort of judgemental statements that I expect from someone declaring an admiration for uncertainty, doubt, and the limitations of comprehension. My teachers insisted that one should never use an expression similar to, "in my opinion," because it's obvious that it is. I disagree - one should use such expressions not to inform listeners that one is giving one's own opinion, but to inform them that one recognizes that it is one's own opinion. On the other hand, T.H. Huxley, who came to embrace the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog," and referred to himself as "Science's Gladiator-General," knew a thing or two about staunchly defending his views. Hazleton also equates being spiritual but not religious (SPNR) as a form of agnosticism - while some put it under "Faith (other)". I haven't the faintest idea what SBNR means, although I've read definitions, so I leave it to such people to comment on the issue.

This is a combination of memoir and personal manifesto; the reader looking to learn about Agnostics as a group won't learn much. Hazleton, who seems to have been everywhere and done everything, tells us her thought on various subjects. Having been raised to believe that ambiguity and ambivalence are part of the human condition, I agree with a lot of what she says. I think that contingency is important, although I also agree with Daniel Dennett and Simon Conway Morris, that somethings are generally likely to come to pass, although the details rely on contingency. Dennett's example was that even if he and Stephen Gould had never been born, there would still be someone in their respective academic positions. Conway Morris notes that animals who live in similar environmental niches have similar adaptations, even if they are unrelated.

One of the ways that I use the word "believe," is to refer to hypotheses to navigate the uncertain, the unknown and unknowable. Like Hazleton, i separate the words faith and belief, although I use them in an opposite fashion. Hazleton thinks that a believer becomes defined by by their belief, whereas "faith offers anything but self-satisfaction." I think that she is losing the point that she made in the beginning of the chapter: to believe and to believe in are different. Personally, I think it is the other way around. Merriam-Webster says that "faith" actually conveys more certitude (which Hazleton is free to ignore if she likes). I simply cannot imagine using faith in some of the same sentences that I use belief or believe. I believe that there is probably life on other planets, mostly because it's an indescribably big universe, and I don't imagine that anything in it is truly unique. (In view of the leaps that people have made when I say that: bacteria is alive, and I did NOT say that high-tech aliens are flying around Earth in spaceships.) I can't imagine saying, "I have faith that there is life on other planets, nor would I say that I believe in life on other planets.

In chapter Five, "Making Meaning," Hazleton talks about the human tendency to find meaning in thing, even when they are seemingly random. She says: "Such questions have been studied by Yale psychologists, who found that a majority of religious people believe that the major in their lives [...] happen for a reason. This was hardly a surprise. The surprise came when the researchers found that a majority of atheists thought the same, even if they attributed the turn of events to fate instead of divine will." That certainly surprises me, and I found it odd that there was no mention of agnostics, who presumably wouldn't do that, according to Hazleton's view of a real agnostic. I think that this needed a footnote - I have read through Hazleton's bibliography several times without spotting a title that this is likely to come from. According to a Pew Forum study, November 19, 2021 "Few Americans Blame God or Say Faith Has Been Shaken Amid Pandemic, Other Tragedies : Most U.S. adults say bad things just happen, and that people are often the reason briefly:
67% of Christian agree or somewhat agree that suffering strengthens people, compared to 26% of atheists, 34% of agnostics and 55% other unaffiliated;
85% of Christians agree or somewhat agree that sometimes bad things just happen, compared to 93% of atheists, 94% of agnostics; and 85% other unaffiliated;
76% of Christians agree or somewhat agree that suffering is mostly a consequence of people's own actions, compared to 43% of atheists, 54% of agnostics, and 69% other unaffiliated;
68% of Christians agree or somewhat agree that suffering is mostly a result of the way society is structured, compared to 75% of atheists, 77% of agnostics, and 71% other affiliated.
(The Pew study was conducted after this book was published.)

I particularly liked the beginning of Chapter Six, "The Sense of an Ending." Hazleton, cornered at a cocktail party by someone talking about science abolishing death, asked what was wrong with dying. As Hazleton suggests, I am not afraid of being dead and I don't think that living longer without a good quality of life is to be encouraged. I was on an atheist blog once, and a lot of people agree with me, although we also agreed that the process of dying is pretty scary. I'm not interested in conquering death, I think conquering aging is a much better goal.

Then the chapter descended into what I consider to be treacle with "reasons" why we psychologically need death. The knowledge of death makes life, which would otherwise be flat and featureless, more precious and intense. Does Hazleton only climb mountains, cross deserts, and kayak because she knows that she is going to die? Life without death is like a circle without a circumference? (Meaning what?) We need endings? She left out we need to make space for new people. I keep hearing things like this, so I have to suppose that they make sense to many people, but I see it as Pollyanna-like, trying to ascribe meaning and value to something that doesn't have either, but simply is. (See chapter Five, "Making Meaning")

Chapter seven, "Everything and More," about the near incomprehensibility of infinity and the very large and the very small is a wonderful chapter. Yes, it's incredibly frustrating and marvelously sublime. It exists utterly without us and we glimpse it only through our little bubbles of subjectivity, although those who focus on it, can see so much more, even though it is only a fragment of reality.
… (més)
 
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PuddinTame | Jun 8, 2023 |
Sometimes nonfiction books can drag. Not this one. The book was information, yet entertaining, throughout. As I was reading, I kept think that this book would make an amazing movie or television show.
½
 
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bb.reads | Hi ha 5 ressenyes més | Feb 8, 2023 |

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