Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stinky Stuff

I guess I should really call this one 'Sensitive Nose and Gag Reflex' but I like a little bit of alliteration. One of my pet peeves is that I have a sensitive sense of smell, and it has a tendency of picking up unpleasant-smelling stuff very strongly. Another reason why I'm not into pot - the stuff smells God-awful. Make it smell like roses or chocolate and I might reconsider my stance. Tobacco smoke is another big one. I'm more or less immune to the Canadian variation, but watch out when I'm in the States! Not very pleasant. This sense of smell is linked to my gag reflex. It does not take much to set me off, and I do not enjoy dry heaving my brains out.
And then there's the sickeningly musty smell of age. I cannot be in an antique store for very long, before my stomach starts making signs for me to get out before something disgusting happens. I mention this because I am trying to get through a book written and published in the 1960's, and my sense of smell is on the warpath whenever I open this book. After a few pages, I either have to close the book or pinch my nose with a free hand so I don't have to breathe in the smell of aging paper. That or I just breathe in through my mouth, but that doesn't work for very long, and I catch a whiff and start feeling nauseated.
As a result, I don't often hang around those book sales the Children's Hospital hold every few months. Just too many old books for one sense of smell. I also don't have too many old books on my shelves. I'll give most of my books away in time as it is, preferring the library over my own cache. Unfortunately, I find a lot of old books at the library - hence the reason for my posting today. Perhaps I can find the same information in a newer book. We'll see how long I last with this book. Maybe I can ask the library to get a more recent reprint - if such exists. Call it a case for weeding. Libraries do it all the time. I should know.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Locke, stock, and barrel

Okay, I know that's a pretty corny and well-used title, but I couldn't resist. I finished reading a biography on John Locke and started reading about David Hume's 'philosophical politics', and decided I had something to say. The division of church and state is something that's been taking a few hits these days, what with people trying to bring back morning prayers and prayer in general to the school system. There was a time when church and state were not on either sides of a wide gulf. One has only to look to Ireland to see the whole Catholic vs. Protestant ordeal and know that church and state intermingle better than most would think. It was like this in England as well during Locke's day (and even before), what with Popish plots and Protestant plots against whichever king or queen was in power back then. Look back far enough, and the ghosts of QE1 and Queen Mary rise up. Queen Mary had tons of Protestants killed, while QE1 did the exact same thing to as many Catholics.
By Locke's day, the rampant bloodshed had calmed down, but loyalty to a specific religion was still a huge factor in advancement in the British world. 'Popery' was wrong when a Protestant ruler was in charge, and when a Catholic ruler was in charge, the Protestants were in the wrong. People still spent time in the Tower of London based on what they believed or who they followed. Locke himself had to escape to Holland for a while following one of these famous plots. Not a bad thing, considering he suffered from asthma and the smog in London was brutal in those days. (It wasn't really that good during the early 1900's either, but moving on...)
Things were not nailed down and set in stone like they are now. QE2 is of the Anglican (Protestant) Church, and nobody in their right mind would dream of trying to bring her down. Then again, her power is severely limited by the British Government, and government is no longer based on religion, like it was in the days of Whigs vs. Tories. The Middle East is now the only place where groups go at each other based on religion, but I can discuss Muslim vs. Israeli another time. Still, things are more or less nailed down, and I have to wonder what would happen if this was not the case.
There's a lot to be said for religious tolerance, which is what Locke was calling for, and I am grateful that he and many others called and continue to call for it. Still, life would be a little more interesting if things weren't so set in stone, I think.

Friday, July 18, 2008


One plot twist I'm getting a little sick of in Fantasy novels is the Prophecy plot. You see it in most Fantasy novels -- the one where the hero is destined to either doom or save his world depending on what he does. Much of the Fantasy series I've read (perhaps this is a failing on my part) bring this tired old chestnut out (Dune and its progeny, Belgariad and Malloreon, Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time, the Thomas Covenant novels). Destiny is a fascinating concept to address, and certainly worth the ink to write about, but I'm getting a little sick of reading a book and finding that the hero was destined from the dawn of time to do something heroic and vanquish some ancient evil. Where did this fascination with prophecy come from?
I'm no stranger to the Old Testament, and a book I was reading recently -- about the OT prophets and their prophecies -- got me thinking very hard about this business. Fellows like Ezekiel, Joel, Hosea, Malachi, and of course Jeremiah roamed the Old Testament world warning the Hebrews that a vengeful, bitter-hearted God was watching their every move, ready to crush and damn the daylights out of them at the first sign of betrayal. You can also find prophecy in the New Testament, with the coming of the Messiah. He was destined to save the New Testament world (and all the worlds since then) by sacrificing himself.
This leads me to wonder how many times the Messiah can be recreated in Fantasy. Some books out there don't take this route of prophecy, and I applaud them. Be original for once, folks. I appeal to the writers of today and tomorrow to avoid this well-trod path and study destiny in some other way. Also, if there's anyone who can suggest some awesome novels that have nothing to do with prophecy, please let me know. Thank you.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Losing my religion?

I was going to dedicate today's post entirely to St. John of the Cross' 'Dark Night of the Soul' but I came across a book that needed discussing. This is going to be a 'good news, bad news' sort of entry, I think. Let me start with the good news, which is that I read 'Dark Night of the Soul'. I read it last year and decided that I wanted to re-read it. St. John of the Cross, a legendary Christian mystic, suggests that we all go through our own 'dark night' or crisis of faith at least once in a lifetime, and he details this transformation of the soul in this wonderful book he wrote. The soul, or the anima, is female in his account, and she goes through several tests of faith where she has to abandon material concerns and fully become one with God.
The concept of 'lover and the beloved becoming one' is one that mystics of all religions return to again and again. I have seen this concept in the works of Rumi as well, and he constantly returns to the union of lover and the beloved. The soul becoming one with God and losing itself to God. It sounds rather Buddhist as well. The soul becoming one with Nirvana and losing its own identity. It is this incredible and oft-discussed concept that really impresses me. Before the soul can become one with God, however, it must go through doubts and agonies to free itself of all the sins and other impurities that keep it separate. St. John of the Cross details the soul's struggles very well. We have all struggled with the Seven Deadly Sins and countless doubts about our own sense of faith and piety. Without a doubt, I will be reading this book again before long. It serves as a good yardstick to determine where I am in my own spiritual journey.
From good news to not-so-good now. I finished reading a book called 'God: the Evidence' by Patrick Glynn, and I was a little disappointed by it. This professor Glynn started out in his adult life by turning atheist and skeptic. He accepted that God was dead and that Reason, not Faith, would always win out. When he made his choice, Science was there to back him up. Science and Spirituality have been interesting neighbours for hundreds of years, with Science burning brighter for a while in the 20th century. However, Science's most recent discoveries (Quantum physics) are starting to come up with things Faith knew hundreds of years ago.
Glynn, starting to realize this for himself, did a 180 and embraced Faith fervently, revising his opinion on Reason.
His book struck me as a little one-sided; championing Faith and snubbing his nose at Reason. I would accept some of his results from 'scientific' studies if the results weren't from 30+ year old tests. The book I read was done in the late 1990's, but that's no excuse to use tests and material from the 1970's. If a man is going to try and reconcile the two sides, be as recent as possible, okay? My apologies if I have come across a little harsh, but Glynn messed this attempt up. To top it all off, the book was too short as well. Have a little respect for both neighbours, sir! People will be arguing about Reason and Faith for centuries to come, I expect, so one day, there will be a book out there that will do the two sides more justice. I have a reasonable amount of faith that this will happen.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Dialogues, paradox, and stuff

It took me a while, but I finally broke through to the end of David Hume's 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion'. This copy I read came from the library, but I have the piece in a big thick book I got when I took my 'Intro to Philosophy' course several years ago. I plan to revisit it in a little while. It would have taken me less time to get through had the Introduction in the book not been longer than the discussion itself. That's the trouble with in-depth critiques and observations in Philosophy. The Introduction is usually much longer than the real meat of the book. The Introduction was also much more confusing at times than the real meat of the book was. Philosophers. I don't really see myself as much of a philosopher, and this time, I'm glad I don't.
Hume, as some folks might know, did not have much faith in religion. He was raised a Calvinist, and I understand that a Calvinist house is very strict and forbidding. If there's anyone out there who can suggest otherwise to me, please do. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion' for several reasons. One does not see the 'dialogue' method used much. Plato was very fond of this method; considering that was how he observed Socrates work, it stands to reason he would use this method. I admire Hume's use of the method.
I also was happy to get a look at what I call 'the major paradox in life and belief'. Evil and God are discussed in this paradox. If God is willing but not able to end Evil, He is impotent; If God is able but not willing, He is cruel; If God is both willing and able, why does Evil exist? Philosophers and theologians have been debating this paradox for millennia and they will debate it for millennia to come. I guess, in the end, everyone who comes into contact with this paradox has to accept that the answer can only come from within. We just have to accept it, I guess.
By the way, I might not have quoted the paradox correctly. If I got it wrong and someone would like to correct me, please do.
Happy Fourth of July to Americans around the world! That's all for me.