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Dangerous Religious Ideas

Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and IslamDangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Rachel S. Mikva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Associate Pastor Katie Miller had Rachel Mikva for a seminary class, which was my connection to finding out about this excellent volume. And excellent it is. Mikva argues that any religious idea can be dangerous. Religious ideas have great power to help and bring meaning, but they can also be used to exploit, divide, and cause violence. And it isn't just the ideas of religious extremists, even the ideas of moderates and liberals. So what to do?

We must cultivate self-critical religion. And fortunately Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all always had self-critical aspects to the tradition. And Mikva highlights those in this book.

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The Satanic Verses

The Satanic VersesThe Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I started reading Rushdie in my young adulthood in the nineties and have enjoyed many of his novels. He used to be one of the few writers whose new books I would buy in hardback when they were released (in a period where I didn't spend money on books like I do now). But I had never read this notorious novel. Last year I saw a copy in the church book sale and finally picked it up.

But I must say it is a disappointment. It's too long. Too rambling. Too disjointed. It's highly ambitious and succeeds in parts but not in the whole.

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Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition

Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian TraditionSeeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition by Hans Boersma
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Indeed, whenever and wherever we see truth, goodness, and beauty, it is as though the eschaton comes cascading into our lives and we receive a glimpse of God's beauty in Christ."

That's a fine sentence. I can imagine it will appear in a sermon sometime.

This book is a thorough (sometimes too thorough I think) review of the theology of the beatific vision, focused on a handful of key figures in Christian history. The most interesting, to me, chapters were on Protestant versions, as one doesn't usually think of this as a prominent Protestant doctrine. Chapters on Calvin, the Puritans, and Edwards showed that Protestant theology has neglected an important idea.

By the end Boersma seems to be supporting an idealistic metaphysics that I find odd. But the book was substantive and informative.

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Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding / Concerning the Principles of MoralsEnquiries Concerning the Human Understanding / Concerning the Principles of Morals by David Hume
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been 25 years since I last read Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. I don't remember being all that engaged or impressed by it before. Nor is my old copy all that marked up. At the time I directed more attention and interest to the first enquiry.

But this time reading Hume I found it delightful. It is an enjoyable reading experience. Both enjoyable because engagingly well written and enjoyable intellectually, to reflect on the ideas presented.

I particularly liked Hume's emphasis on the pleasing social virtues that make life easier and more enjoyable. For instance, he describes entering a well-0rdered home as a guest and how the very site of the way the room is arranged and decorated "presents us with the pleasing ideas of ease, satisfaction, and enjoyment." Then the family enters and their "freedom, ease, confidence, and calm enjoyment" express their happiness and excite the sympathies of the guest, bringing the prospect of a joyful visit.

If you need a pick-me-up about positive emotions leading to a good social life, then take the time to read some Hume.

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Deaths of Despair

Deaths of Despair and the Future of CapitalismDeaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Case & Deaton were alarmed by numbers related to the opioid epidemic and further researched showed a rise in white middle class mortality in the United States after a century of decline and with no corresponding rise in comparable nations. What to explain this?

They conclude a loss of a way-of-life that brought meaning and economic stability.

And for them the primary cause is neither globalization or inequality, though those are both part of the narrative, but the American health care system.

The book concludes with their ideas on what we need to do.

The analysis is interesting and persuasive. I scored the book lower because it's not really an enjoyable read. It also seemed longer than necessary.

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Philippine Myths, Legends, and Folktales

Philippine Myths, Legends, and FolktalesPhilippine Myths, Legends, and Folktales by Maximo D Ramos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Humans made from corn meal is the most interesting takeaway from reading this book of mythology and folktales. An enjoyable read full of monsters, handsome princes, beautiful princesses, magical creatures, hidden treasures, and poor people who get lucky or unlucky with their encounters in the forest.

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Apollo's Arrow

Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We LiveApollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In one volume Christakis helps to make sense of the year we have all just endured, approaching from many angles. Here is a review of the medical science and our quickly developing understanding of the virus. He also presents the history of the outbreak beginning last fall in Wuhan and spreading around the world. He sets this virus within the broader historical setting of other plagues and pandemics. He reviews the various kinds of public health measures, evaluating their use this year and their justifications. And he also discusses the wider social and moral impacts, how the virus has impacted mental health, economics, education, racial disparities, etc. He shows how plagues are accompanied by epidemics of grief, fear, and lies. He also shows how our species has evolved critical tools to respond to plagues and how we have marshalled these tools this year in ways that will bring the pandemic to an end. In the final chapter he discusses the difference between the medical and social ends of the pandemic.

I found this an important read for drawing together in one place so much of the disparate information and impacts of this pandemic.

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