I’m still working my way through John Marks’ Reasons to Believe: One Man’s Journey among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind, and Bruce Bartlett’s Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past. These books have lots of jewels, let me tell you, and I will be sharing them with my readers in days to come.
If I follow my reading schedule, I’ll have these books finished this week. That’s why I checked out some more books in my trip today to downtown Cincinnati. There were many books that appeared somewhat interesting, but they didn’t exactly grab me. One was a biography of Condi Rice. Another was a psychological profile of Clarence Thomas. And then there’s that biography of Ariel Sharon that I keep passing, but never check out. Maybe some other time!
There were three books that grabbed me, in the sense that they looked enjoyable and worthwhile to read. Here they are, along with an explanation of why they intrigued me:
1. Gabriel Cohen, A Buddhist Path through Divorce (Philadelphia: De Capo Press, 2008).
This is about a man whose marriage fell apart, and he found comfort in Buddhism. Buddhism is a popular religion among many who are burned out by conservative Christianity. I’ve met lots of people from Bible belt Protestantism and Roman Catholicism who say, “I consider myself a Buddhist.”
They usually strike me as people who have inner peace. Their religion seems very serene. I feel a sense of relaxation when I hear them talk about going out into nature on retreats for meditation. And I can somewhat understand Buddhism’s appeal, for the religion has a certain mysterious quality, being from the east and all. Still, I don’t comprehend how anyone can find comfort in a religion that lacks a personal God. Granted, I may sometimes view God as intrusive, inflexible, and authoritarian, but, on the whole, I want him around as a personal presence–one who loves, nurtures, and comforts.
I once watched a documentary about the popular TV series, Dallas. The guy who played Bobby Ewing, Patrick Duffy, is a Buddhist, and his religion helped him after his parents got killed in a robbery. My problem was that he passively accepted their death as a natural part of life. There was no sorrow, none that I could see. His religion seemed to suck his emotions right out of him, making him somewhat of a vulcan.
And, from my undergraduate study of Buddhism, that’s my impression of what it’s all about: it wants us to get rid of all desire and attachments. And that should take care of all our greed, lust, envy, and disappointment. It reminds me of what Yoda tells Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, when Anakin expresses fear that someone close to him may die: “Mourn them not, miss them not!” But that kind of life strikes me as so GRAY. No desires? No attachments? At least Christianity allows us to find happiness in a personal relationship with Jesus. It offers rewards, both in this life and also the life to come. In essence, Christianity compensates us for our lost greed and lust by emphasizing something positive. It does not just suppress the negative.
But my image of Buddhism may not be completely accurate. I know a man who is a Zen Buddhist monk, and he has a beautiful wife and an adorable child. (He told me with a wink that he’s becoming more conservative now that he’s a parent!) He apparently has happiness!
This book appeals to me because I love spiritual autobiographies, and I think this is an opportunity for me to enjoy a good story while learning about Buddhism. And, in the process, maybe I can understand why more Americans are becoming drawn to it!
2. David Klinghoffer, How Would God Vote? Why the Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative (New York: Doubleday, 2008). David Klinghoffer is a religious Jew who is also a political conservative. If memory serves me correctly, he even defended Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. One of my Jewish professors cannot stand him, even though he does admire another Jewish conservative, Michael Medved.
This book piqued my interest because it not only covers gay marriage and the death penalty, which have some pretty clear proof-texts backing up the conservative side. Rather, it also discusses immigration, the environment, poverty, and health care. And I’m interested in why he thinks the Bible favors the conservative side on those issues. Regarding poverty and (indirectly) health care, the Torah presents something like a welfare system, in that the ancient Israelites were to collect a tithe for the poor every three years, as well as leave the corners of their fields for the poor. And that wasn’t voluntary charity! It was mandated, like taxes! For the environment, the Hebrew Bible celebrates God’s creation and exhorts human beings to be good stewards. On immigration, the Torah told ancient Israel to love the stranger. And so I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what Klinghoffer does with these motifs!
3. Victor Kuligin, Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006). This sounds like a book that I would write, but, as I looked through it, I saw that it’s not. The author, a Christian professor in Namibia, doesn’t seem to complain about Jesus’ apparently problematic statements, but he attempts to justify them after thoughtful reflection. Maybe he’ll offer some new thoughts that I’ve never encountered.
I’ll keep you posted!