The Problem of ISIS and Religious Fanaticism


Demilitarization would be nice, of course. Blow up all those munitions in far-flung deserts, toss the rifles into the sea, put the B-52s and Hornets and Raptors on display at the military museums, noting them all as relics of the bygone, violent infancy of human history.

But on the way to that rather starry-eyed but ultimately necessary development, it may be even more important that we engage in a process of deliteralization. Meaning that we learn to take all sacred texts and their often contradictory guidelines for human behavior with the proverbial grains of salt they require if we are to survive the fanaticism of religious zealots like ISIS, now that they’ve figured out how to organize armies and deploy big guns and use social media to spread their toxic message of hate around the world.

These thoughts occur as I grapple with the most recent essay (Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon, available here) by noted atheist Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nat...

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The Cry for Freedom in “The Adulterous Woman”

WomanBy LopesDossantos

She is sitting on a bus crossing the wintry Algerian desert, seated tight up against her slumbering merchant husband and surrounded by Arabs tucked deep into their burnooses to ward off the cold and the fine grains of sand that find their way through cracks in the vehicle. Suddenly, she notices a French soldier across the aisle who gives her a glance, carrying just a tinge of suggestion.

That glance and a couple of other feeling states to follow are about as far as the “adultery” in this story’s title ever goes, but it sets in motion a long and impassioned emotional storm inside our protagonist, with the reverberations extending far beyond this story and her life.

What transpires from there in Albert Camus’s 1957 short story, The Adulterous Woman, speaks in profound and enduring ways to the human condition. Which is why its mere 30 pages and few scenes carry such resonance for this and every other time.

The woman’s name is Janine, and she and her husband Marcel are French-Alg...

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The Delectable, Delicious, Delovely——and Inimitable——Cole Porter


I think Cole Porter is one of the great writers in history.

You’re the top!
You’re the Coliseum.
You’re the top!
You’re the Louvre Museum

Porter was that rare talent whose gifts and cultivations would surely have made him successful in most any form, but his upbringing, intelligence, tenacity and love of a well-turned phrase landed him in the music world as a major composer and lyricist.

Too bad for you, poetry and fiction!

There’s something wild about you child
That’s so contagious
Let’s be outrageous
Let’s misbehave!!!

Unlike many songwriting duos of his era (Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, George & Ira Gershwin), Porter was a team of one, writing both the lyrics and the uncannily catchy melodic ditties that make of his music such a joyous and memorable romp.

I get no kick from champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

Some get a kick from cocaine
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
That would bore me ter...

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It’s Life, Just Life: Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”

BoyInFountain ByCobalt123

Nothing much happens in Richard Linklater’s finely wrought film, Boyhood. No stabbings or shootings, no kidnaps or car wrecks designed to set the protagonists’ lives on a post-crisis course and get audience members’ guts churning. Linklater disdains virtually every conventional narrative technique out of Film 101’s playbook, going light on the trauma and minimalist on conflict.

And what he winds up with is one of the most absorbing movies in years.

Boyhood’s two hours and forty-four minutes of running time effortlessly depicts multiple lives as they play out over an actual nearly 12-year-span in various Texas locales. Meaning Linklater followed a real-life rather than movie calendar in assembling his main actors on an intermittent shooting schedule between the years 2002 and 2013.

It’s a daring and brilliant device, allowing us to watch the actors literally age in front of our eyes, sans elaborate makeup or tricky camera work...

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Father Bob and the Misapprehension of Spiritual Life

MeditatorBy MoyanBrenn

Way back in 1980-81, I spent one of the most stimulating years of my life in seminary, taking whatever classes I wanted at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. It was one of those “exploration in graduate theological education” programs: one year, no requirements, graze to your heart’s content among the consortium’s eight seminaries. There’s a synonym for all that, and here it is:


I spent pretty much the entire year enraptured, mostly reclining on my mattress-on-the-floor (the true graduate school bedding protocol) with a pile of books when I wasn’t running in the East Bay hills or walking the never-dull streets of Berkeley.

Grazing through the catalogs from the consortium’s eight seminaries before the start of the semester, one easy pick was a course in spirituality from Father Bob, a learned and engaging Jesuit who would pace the floor west to east at the front of the class talking off the top off his head about the great spiritual questions of the eons and wha...

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Perfection or Oppression? Chasing Happiness With Epicurus and “The Giver”

Epicurus ByIanScott

So we heard from Kierkegaard a couple of posts ago, and his prescription for happiness, at least as it existed in his own mind. Kierkegaard largely turned his back on the pleasures and joys of this world (other than philosophy and religion), putting all his faith as well as his formidable intellectual capital into a vision of an afterlife that would ultimately reward the denial or disinterest in pedestrian earthly pleasures.

His philosophy is far more nuanced and rich with rhetoric than that brief summary suggests, but at base, Kierkegaard and a segment of Christianity that has at least partially mirrored his views aren’t overly enamored with this fallen world, regarding it as mere waystation and proving ground for the eternal joy to come.

Google tells me it’s about 1,725 miles from Copenhagen to Athens, but it’s a lot farther than that philosophically from Kierkegaard to another subject of this post, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, whose vision of how to live and what to value...

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Poem From the Night

No heaven above, no hell below,
Just this, this bliss and thunder.
To dance beneath the diamond sky
(Sing it, Bob Dylan)
With both hands shackled tight
Sightless, deaf and mute,
No maps no roads
Traversing nowhere at all
Because you’re home already.
(With a long way still to go…)

Kindness is the core,
The coin of every realm,
Hippocrates said it once
And it’s worth saying again:
First, do no harm.
His other dictum worth our time:
I will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption.

Yet who are we without our dose of those,
The mischief and corruption, I mean,
Adam and Eve in the Garden,
Knowing not who they were,
Innocent and none the wiser for it,
Dull beyond measure until that fateful bite.

Self-knowledge is a ferocity,
A stare into the abyss of a
Life waiting to be built,
One brick and breath after another,
Be with me Sisyphus in my daily labors,
Allow me happiness rolling this rock called love.

A notion for this day, this first day
Of all First Days still to come...

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Are You Happy? Is It Important? Grappling With Kierkegaard

KierkegaardMug ByThomasThomas

I am driving down the street in mid-afternoon and gaze about at a red light, noticing wispy striated clouds in the west, as if drawn with the finest paintbrush or exhaled with a baby’s breath. Something familiar and warm stirs inside.

On the back patio barbecuing, beer in hand, the temperature neither hot nor cold, warm nor cool, an ideal midpoint or no temperature, really, the air pillow-soft. A sparrow sits on the telephone line above, still as a statue for minutes on end, while my wife and daughter watch the ballgame on the other side of the patio slider, whooping with any hit from the home team.

This is it, I say to myself. It.

Assuming you are of able body, you always enjoy bowling and miniature golf, don’t you? Of course you do—it is impossible not to smile and laugh in multiples during these activities. Happy.

Irish music, go on, get up and do a jig, oh yes!

Happiness can be among the most elusive and relative qualities of human life. What makes a happy life can vary treme...

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The Difference Between Faith and Belief

SpiderWeb BySandy

I can pretty much trace my initial religious awakening to the fact that my (Catholic) dad married my (Lutheran) mom in defiance of Catholic precepts at the time that forthrightly declared only Catholics could enter heaven. (This view was actually restated by the recent Pope Benedict as late as 2007, though his successor has been sounding a far softer tone.)

When I was in third or fourth grade listening to the priest’s lecture on this matter in a religious education class, I thought of my kindly mom at home, denied entrance to heaven with us because she was reared in a different faith tradition.

This was such self-evident poppycock that I remember being not so much offended or outraged as I was dismissive.

The thought did not escape me that if the padre and his faith could be so blindingly wrong on such a simple and obvious matter…

Believing in a heaven where my mother was denied entrance required suspension of every shred of rationality and native reason my mere 8-year-old brain wa...

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Robert Ingersoll’s Eulogy of Walt Whitman


One of the happy occurrences of blogging is all the tangential roads one comes to in researching a particular topic—and the pleasurable travels down that road as one discovers and delights in the new and unexpected.

And so it has been this week as my intermittent meanderings down a road exploring “faith” led me, link by blessed link (truly, this is a chain that liberates rather than confines) to the wholly new knowledge that two of my favorite literary figures, Walt Whitman and Robert Ingersoll, were not only good friends but that Ingersoll, one of the renowned orators of his or any other time, actually delivered the eulogy at Whitman’s funeral in 1892.

And that it was duly transcribed and preserved for posterity and is now freely available on the Internet as the intellectual feast and profound artistic homage that it is, one great and expansive mind consorting with another in a sacred ritual of reverence and honor.

One that I am now going to very happily share with you.


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