Reading lists and library adventures

Hey folks, so I picked up a bunch of books from the library. It’s been a while since I’ve been blogging, but hopefully I’ll have more time to do so this summer. New ideas are brewing in my head, and hopefully new directions…

For the meantime, we can start with the books. I’m always checking out the latest books, as well as the forgotten ones. In my last librarian adventure, I discovered these…

1. Darwin’s Angels: a new but obscure book, written as an “angelic riposte” to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. It’s written by John Cornwell, who playfully but intellectually writes from the perspective of an angel. Overall, he goes through Dawkin’s major premises to ensure he’s getting them correctly, then proceeds to offer alternatives and the friendliest criticisms I’ve read so far. The author is writing from a relieving point of view. He does not partake in religious fundamentalism, but instead uses two thousand years of philosophical and theological traditions. One of the major responses to Dawkins’ arguments favors religion as something more like the arts than literalism. As a criticism to Cornwell, it would be fairer to acknowledge that not everyone appreciates the more subtle, esoteric dimensions to religion. In fact, many people often use religion as a more “exoteric” or surface literalism in which to help explain their world, and bind their society together. Religion has many forms, interwoven into society. That being said, I think that if we understand the benefits and pitfalls of religion, these sort of “faith vs. science” debates would hardly be prevalent.

He cites many authors, articulating and politely insisting that Dawkins review his arguments. There are times where he is sharply critical of his opponent, but compared to the level of bitterness that I felt was in The God Delusion, it’s really not too bad. Overall, I recommend this brief and intelligence response to Dawkins. It’s a relief from the constant polarization of faith vs. science so rampant in contemporary discussions. Here’s a good example,

Speaking inadequately of God, however, does not mean that religious believers never strive to articulate, and understand, as far as their intellects will carry them, even the deepest mysteries of faith. I note, however, that whenever you refer to the mystery of, for example, the Trinity – by which Christians believe there are three persons in the one God – you get abusive: you call it a “weird thing,” and you go on to write that believers “are not meant to understand.” Finally you lecture your readers: “Don’t even try to understand one of these, for the attempt might destroy it.” You add that believers think that they “gain fulfillment in calling it a mystery.” Go and sit in the reading room of the Oxford theology faculty library sometime. You might get a very weird feeling indeed when you look around and see the tiers and tiers of books dedicated to just such attempts to understand Trinity, and a great many other mysteries besides.”

2. Science fiction has always been an interest of mine. One of the latest projects it attempting to write some myself, so I’ve collected a few books to get tips on storytelling: Ben Bova’s “Venus,” Ursula LeGuin’s “The Telling” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “Cradle.” I’m not sure if I’ll read these through-and-through, or skim them for inspiration. We’ll see!

3. Eihei Dogen; Mystical Realist. This is a thick book, covering the philosophy of Zen Master Dogen with excellent detail. It’s written more like a western-philosophy book: attention to details, careful explanation, intellectual and analytical. Yet it also has an equally balanced expression of art, creativity and wisdom that words can’t hold. I’d never read much of Dogen’s philosophy before, but from what I’ve learned so far, it’s fascinating! Dogen taught that words and intellectual understanding shouldn’t be entirely shunned, nor should it be used as a “tool” for enlightenment or ultimate reality. Words themselves were expressions of ultimate truth. To Dogen, everything is a teacher. In that way, the Buddhist scriptures were especially a beautiful flowering of “spirit.” Even delusions, imagination, flights of fancy or as a common term, “sky flowers” – were all expressions of ultimate reality. Instead of seeing these things as objects to avoid, he saw them as inherently connected to emptiness and creation, void and manifestation. He likened the world to a dream, and thus dreams, he argued, were not so bad. They had the potential help radically transform our consciousness.

This wisdom or ultimate ground of “being” extended not only to sentient creatures such as ourselves, but non-sentient beings. Rocks, mountains, the Earth and other planets – grass, trees, entire forests. Life and non-life were expressions of ultimate reality. Dogen taught that everything was both illusion and reality, emptiness and form. There was a non-duality here that perhaps other Buddhist schools may have under-appreciated. Language, in particular, was seen more favorably to Dogen. Makes sense! After all, much of what we have to communicate is through words. If we speak from a “non-dual” perspective, could or words not be powerfully transformative? Words then would not just be technical nuances to help other minds, but flowers of the mind, each according to their nature – reality and illusion as one. More on Dogen later…

4.Becoming Enlightened. This book, by the Dalai Lama is written in a much simpler language, but eloquent nonetheless. The Dalai Lama is usually very humble with his words, but they carry a lot of wisdom with them. I haven’t had a chance to really delve into this book yet, but something about it drew me to it. Some books appear to have a life of their own, illuminating points for us to connect with throughout life. This might be one of them. More on this one later, too.

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