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Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

Collaborate in choosing our next NON-FICTION book for group discussion within this forum. A minimum of 5 posts is necessary to participate here!
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Chris OConnor

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Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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Q1 2007 Freethinker Book SuggestionsThis thread is for making FREETHINKER nonfiction book suggestions for 1st Quarter of 2007 (January, February & March). This is something new for us here on BookTalk, but it is probably long overdue. We are dedicating 1 nonfiction book each quarter to subjects that advance the principles of freethought. And that is what this thread is all about. If your book suggestion doesn't pertain to freethought issues please use the above Q1 2007 Nonfiction Book Suggestions thread. In time we'll try to define things a bit more so that nobody is wondering what is meant by "books of interest to freethinkers." If you're a freethinker you probably know what subjects are clearly important to freethinkers.Important1. Provide the title, author, copied and pasted review or summary, and a link to Amazon where we can read more. 2. Please comment on other people's suggestions. This is probably the most important thing you can do. Don't make a suggestion and then vanish. Be ACTIVE in this thread.So what FREETHOUGHT nonfiction books would you like to read and discuss for Q1, 2007? Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 9/15/06 6:22 pm
MadArchitect

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Re: Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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Philosophy and Social Hope, by Richard RortyProbably the best recommendation for making this book a quarterly selection comes from Rorty's description of his pragmatist beliefs in the book's third essay:"Pragmatists think that there are two advantages to antiessentialism. The first is that adopting it makes it impossible to formulate a lot of the traditional philosophical problems. The second is that adopting it makes it easier to come to terms with Darwin."This is a book I've suggested in the past for our traditional non-fiction readings, and I'm actually reading it right now, but if it gets chosen I'll certainly read it again and participate. It's a collection of philosophical essays Rorty directed at a broad audience, and the over-riding theme is pragmatism. That's an interesting topic for me, as I didn't know much about the actual tenants of philosophical pragmatism until I picked up this book.The other thing I can say in favor of the book is that Rorty's ideas are compelling precisely where I disagree with them most. The book is extremely well-written and eloquent; despite embracing a broad audience, he explains his subject well without ever condescending or pandering. And I'm interested in how Rorty's arguments will be received by the freethinkers on this site. They could be very popular; at the same time, I can see parts you guys might have some difficulty reconciling to your own views. I think that's the sort of challenge we ought to be looking for with these freethought readings -- looking at ideas that have much in common with what we already believe, but which are different enough to provoke some thought and debate.
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Re: Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen ArmstrongAmazon.comArmstrong, a British journalist and former nun, guides us along one of the most elusive and fascinating quests of all time--the search for God. Like all beloved historians, Armstrong entertains us with deft storytelling, astounding research, and makes us feel a greater appreciation for the present because we better understand our past. Be warned: A History of God is not a tidy linear history. Rather, we learn that the definition of God is constantly being repeated, altered, discarded, and resurrected through the ages, responding to its followers' practical concerns rather than to mystical mandates. Armstrong also shows us how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have overlapped and influenced one another, gently challenging the secularist history of each of these religions. --Gail HudsonFrom Publishers WeeklyThis searching, profound comparative history of the three major monotheistic faiths fearlessly illuminates the sociopolitical ground in which religious ideas take root, blossom and mutate. Armstrong, a British broadcaster, commentator on religious affairs and former Roman Catholic nun, argues that Judaism, Christianity and Islam each developed the idea of a personal God, which has helped believers to mature as full human beings. Yet Armstrong also acknowledges that the idea of a personal God can be dangerous, encouraging us to judge, condemn and marginalize others. Recognizing this, each of the three monotheisms, in their different ways, developed a mystical tradition grounded in a realization that our human idea of God is merely a symbol of an ineffable reality. To Armstrong, modern, aggressively righteous fundamentalists of all three faiths represent "a retreat from God." She views as inevitable a move away from the idea of a personal God who behaves like a larger version of ourselves, and welcomes the grouping of believers toward a notion of God that "works for us in the empirical age."I read Armstrong's The Battle for God years ago, and found it very informative though somewhat too detailed.Regarding Philosophy and Social Hope, I read Rorty's Achieving Our Country a few months ago had a mixed reaction to it. Parts of it were worthwhile, but other parts were difficult to follow, mainly because of my lack of familiarity with John Dewey and Walt Whitman, whose ideas he was discussing.
MadArchitect

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Re: Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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"Philosophy and Social Hope" is aimed at a broader audience, and he's careful to explain the basic tenants of the philosophers he discussed.I'm not thrilled at the prospect of reading another Karen Armstrong book.
MadArchitect

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Re: Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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I have another suggestion to make, but first I wanted to throw in one more argument for why we should consider "Philosophy and Social Hope": its diversity. The third section of the book is a consideration of some practical applications of pragmatism, and it takes the reader through some diverse social territory. There are, for instance, essays devoted to considering the impact of pragmatism on the legal profession, and its impact on education. Discussing those essays will allow us to touch on a variety of topics, adding texture to the discussion and giving people a broad range of things to talk about so that just about everyone should have access to some topic that interests them.
MadArchitect

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Re: Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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My session timed out yesterday before I got to make my book suggestions, so here it is. While browsing through a book store the other day I happened on this book and thought that it would fit in well with a freethought reading:On Dialogue: An Essay in Free Thought, by Robert GrudinOf course, the "Free Thought" part of the title is an obvious tie-in to our project here, but the more interesting part, I think, is the "Dialogue", since a site like BookTalk is nothing without dialogue.
Federika22

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Constantine's Sword by James CarrollAmazon.comConstantine's Sword is a sprawling work of history, theology, and personal confession by James Carroll (the author of An American Requiem, among many others). Carroll begins his landmark project by describing contemporary Catholic remembrances of the Holocaust and the Church's intolerable legacy of hostility towards Jews. He then surveys Catholic anti-Judaism beginning with the New Testament and proceeding through the early Church, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Enlightenment, and World War II, before concluding with "A Call for Vatican III," a Church council that would make meaningful repentance for an entrenched tradition of hatred. Carroll's prescriptions for repentance, continued in a powerful epilogue, are bracingly concrete: "there is no apology for Holy Week preaching that prompted pogroms until Holy Week liturgies, sermons, and readings have been purged of the anti-Jewish slanders that sent the mobs rushing out of church.... Forgiveness for the sin of anti-Semitism presumes a promise to dismantle all that makes it possible." Carroll's personal reflections as an American Catholic infuse his historical narrative, and although his reflections are sometimes unnecessarily detailed, they are admirable for the principle they express: "I find myself unable to accuse my Church of any sin that I cannot equally accuse myself of," he writes. Carroll's judgments on the Church are rightly harsh, even agonizing. And yet his vision for a future rapprochement between Christians and Jews is hopeful, in part because he personally has come to understand the deep connections between Israel and the Church: "Jesus offers me, a non-Jew, access to the biblical hope that was his birthright as a son of Israel." --Michael Joseph GrossBoston Magazine : "Whatever the solution, in the end, unsderstanding the conflict is half the battle. It's a battle Carroll wins in this historical tome."Boston Globe : "Carroll, whose love for the catholic church...is not only matched by a lovingly critical eye...but an urgent plea that Rome set another course."Atlantic Monthly : "A triumph, a tragic tale beautifully told. . .a welcome throwback to an age when history was a branch of literature. . ."--Charles R. MorrisTime Magazine : "Fascinating, brave and sometimes infuriating."The New York Times Review of Books : "Remarkable. . . A book of a deeper sort. . ."--Andrew SullivanPublishers Weekly, Starred : "Sweeping. . . This magisterial work will satisfy Jewish and Christian readers alike, challenging both to a renewed conversation."I read most of this not very long ago. As Carroll reconfigured his catholicism this is still a "God" book, but one that takes an interesting and controversial look at the history of the Church. I think that this book would be a good refresher of Christian history and would spark a lot of conversation!!
Saint Gasoline

Re: Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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I'd like to second Madarchitect's choice. Rorty is a good read, even though I rather dislike his more "post-modern" side. It will certainly provoke interesting discussion and debate. At least, I know it will between Mad and I!Anyway, I'd like to nominate Secret Origins of the Bible by Tim Callahan.Editorial ReviewsBook Description
tomiichi

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Very good suggestion Gasoline... looks intriguing.
MadArchitect

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Re: Q1 2007 Freethinker Book Suggestions

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This looks like an interesting read, particularly in light of ongoing current events, and it has fairly sterling credentials.Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, by Jessica SternFrom Publishers WeeklyStern, a former fellow on terrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations (and the inspiration for Nicole Kidman's character in The Peacemaker), makes the issue personal by depicting her encounters with religious terrorists around the world. Her definition of "religious terrorism" is comprehensive, encompassing the growing Muslim jihad in Indonesia, militant Palestinians and zealous Israelis, and Americans who kill abortion doctors in the name of Christ. Given the opportunity to articulate their positions, these and other subjects surprise not by their vehemence but by their relative normality, making it all the more curious that many of them eventually elect to strike against their opponents with deadly force. Explaining the "how" therefore becomes as important as explaining the "why," and the book carefully outlines the ways in which militant leaders of all denominations find recruits among the disenfranchised and recondition them, often under cultlike conditions, stoking their zealotry to the point of suicide and murder. Coupled with additional research, Stern's firsthand encounters bring a valuable and much-needed perspective to the problem of religious violence, and she identifies several increasingly broad threats, including the extent to which many governments will tolerate or even sponsor militant religious groups to further their own political agendas. For all the material damage terrorist acts cause, Stern argues, we should understand religious militance as a form of psychological warfare, calculated to bolster the faithful and strike "spiritual dread" in the unbelievers; the most effective counterstrategy is thus not violence but nonviolent techniques such as psychological counterwarfare and the reaffimation of our own values.Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. From The New Yorker This sophisticated examination of religiously motivated terrorism is a welcome antidote to the armchair analyses of Islamic extremism that surfaced in the wake of September 11th. Stern spent five years interviewing religious terrorists of all stripes, including anti-abortion crusaders, Hamas leaders, and militants in Pakistan and Indonesia. She found men and women who were driven not by nihilistic rage or lunacy but by a deep faith in the justice of their causes and in the possibility of transforming the world through violence. That faith, Stern suggests, is fuelled by poverty, repression, and a sense of humiliation, and then exploited by "inspirational leaders" who turn confused people into killers. The West cannot fight terror by intelligence and military means alone, she argues; a "smarter realpolitik approach" toward the developing world would use policy to deprive terrorists of not only funding and weapons but potential recruits. Copyright
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