Category Archives: Lectures

SCIENCE FICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

How Great Science Fiction Workshow-great-science-fiction-works

Written by: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Professor Gary K. Wolfe

 (REVIEW IRONICALLY WRITTEN THE DAY AFTER DONALD TRUMP’S ELECTION AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.)

GARY WOLFE (AMERICAN WRITER, PROFESSOR, EDITOR, CRITIC OF SCIENCE FICTION)
GARY WOLFE (AMERICAN WRITER, PROFESSOR, EDITOR, CRITIC OF SCIENCE FICTION)

“How Great Science Fiction Works” is a rapid-fire exploration of what Professor Gary Wolfe argues is great science fiction.  No work of science fiction has achieved the heights of great literature represented by authors like Dostoevsky, Austin, Dickens, Nabokov, Roth, and others.  However, Wolfe shows that science fiction fires imagination by taking readers outside the boundaries of day-to-day human’ existence.

the roadRarely does a work of science fiction create characters that evoke deep emotion in a reader, or understanding about the individual.  Though one may feel a passing sympathy for the plight of Frankenstein or shed a tear for the fate of a child and his father in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, a reader moves on to think about the story’s societal implication.

DOSTOEVSKY'S MURDER OF THE PAWN BROKER IN "CRIME AND PUNISHMENT"
DOSTOEVSKY’S MURDER OF THE PAWN BROKER IN “CRIME AND PUNISHMENT”

Science fiction creates characters in alternative realities.  The societal outcomes of imprecisely understood scientific discoveries make science fiction work.  Adding action to an alternative reality, enhances a work of science fiction, but not in the same way as a murder of a pawn broker in “Crime and Punishment”.  Science fiction’ actions are not focused on a character’s individual insight but on revealing more about an alternative reality based on partly understood science.  Science fiction’s action is not to evoke individual emotion like revulsion, love, guilt, or hate in a reader.  Character development is not a primary objective of science fiction writers (not to suggest these authors are incapable of eliciting those emotive qualities but character development is a secondary objective).  Science fiction drives to illustrate societal change from discoveries that go beyond current scientific proof or knowledge.

Names of science fiction writers and their stories are spread throughout the lectures, some well-known and others less famous.  Few readers have not heard of Shelley, Verne, Orwell, Herbert, Wells, Heinlein, Bradbury, and Asimov.  For the non-science fiction amateur, tidbits of information are offered by Wolfe.  Information like Asimov’s “Foundation” series being based on the history of Gibbons’ “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”.  Also, Wolfe recounts the “War of the Worlds” to explain that, contrary to myth, there is never a city-wide panic caused by Orson Wells’ 1938 telling of the tale in a radio broadcast.

A.E. VAN VOGT (1912-2000, CANADIAN BORN SCIENCE FICTION WRITER)
A.E. VAN VOGT (1912-2000, CANADIAN BORN SCIENCE FICTION WRITER)
KONSTANTIN TSIOLKOVSKY (1857-1935, RUSSIAN ROCKET SCIENTIST AND SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR)
KONSTANTIN TSIOLKOVSKY (1857-1935, RUSSIAN ROCKET SCIENTIST AND SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR)

For knowledgeable fans, Wolfe resurrects vintage science fiction stories like “Slan” (a book about a race of super beings) by A. E. Van Vogt and the development of space-ship science fiction by Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.  Of course, no lecture series on science fiction is complete without robot and cyber science stories.  Karel Capek, a Czech writer, and later Isaac Asimov, are early writers in those categories.

Another category noted by Wolfe is planetary exploration and earth invasions (noted above in Wells narration of “War of the Worlds”).  Wolfe suggests WWI and the earlier Franco-Prussian war leads to apocalyptic science fiction stories.  The advent of mechanized murder is first recognized in the 1870-71 war.

FRANKO-PRUSSIAN WAR, BATTLE OF MARSLE TOUR VIONVILLE, AUGUST 16, 1870
FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, BATTLE OF MARSLE TOUR VIONVILLE, AUGUST 16, 1870
MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851, AUTHOR OF FRANKENSTEIN, WIFE OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY)
MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851, AUTHOR OF FRANKENSTEIN, WIFE OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY)

Professor Wolfe surveys the field of science fiction from its beginning with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” through today’s authors.  Wolfe describes some science fiction that slips in and out of fantasy with thematic cohesiveness that ranges from religion, to science, to philosophy.

DIANETICS PUBLISHED MAY 9, 1950
DIANETICS PUBLISHED MAY 9, 1950

L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction’ writing leads to the pseudo-science of Dianetics that morphs into a religion called Scientology; attracting famous people like John Travolta and Tom Cruise.  Wolfe reflects on science fiction’s history and how category’ markers mature as it grows.  What is meant by markers are discoveries; i.e. like an alien artifact on earth, an imaginatively created alien planet, or an invading alien force that precipitates human actions or reactions.

MARY SHELLEY'S ORIGINAL INSIDE COVERS FOR FRANKESTEIN
MARY SHELLEY’S ORIGINAL INSIDE COVERS FOR FRANKESTEIN
PAOLO BACIGALUPI (AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITER, WON HUGO, NEBULA, AND SEVERAL OTHER AWARDS.)
PAOLO BACIGALUPI (AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITER, WON HUGO, NEBULA, AND SEVERAL OTHER AWARDS.)

Moving on to the sixties, Wolf notes science fiction addresses nuclear war and its destruction of civilization.  In the seventies, nuclear war fears are replaced with stories about environmental destruction caused by insecticides, tainted food and water, and other disasters.  “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi is noted as a modern science fiction writer that raises issues of global warming and writes about the exploitative use of the Colorado river by Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona.  At the end of his lectures, Wolfe speculates about science fiction’s future.

Wolfe offers a lot of information about the origin and growth of Science Fiction and recounts interesting stories drawn on new scientific discoveries that are only imprecisely understood by experts in the field; let alone, society at large.  Though this genre of fiction may not reach the level of Pulitzer Prize recognition, it certainly entertains its readers.  Fans of science fiction and dabblers in the science of the 21st century will be entertained by Professor Wolfe’s lectures.

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UGLY AMERICAN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You AreCustoms of the World

Written by: The Great Courses

Narration by:  Professor David Livermore

DAVID LIVERMORE (PROFESSOR, AUTHOR, Ph.D IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION FROM MICHIGAN STATE)
DAVID LIVERMORE (PROFESSOR, AUTHOR, Ph.D IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION FROM MICHIGAN STATE)

As an American traveling to other countries, there is a nervousness about being classified as an “ugly American”.  Buying and listening to the Great Course’s lectures titled “Customs of the World” is a reflection of that nervousness.

Americans are generally ignorant of other cultures; partly because of a failure to learn much about American history.  Add ignorance of world geography and other languages to American education and the “ugly…” appellation bares truth.    This lecture series only scratches the surface of most American traveler’s cultural ignorance.  Worse, it fails to make listeners any less nervous about being bad representatives of America.

American cultural ignorance begins in kindergarten and is reinforced by an education system that ignores foreign languages until it is too late for young brains to proficiently adapt to more than one language. Nearly all post-industrial nations require a passable understanding of English before graduating from high school, but not America.  To make foreign cultural ignorance even worse, America’s understanding of other national cultures is filtered by English-only’ bias.

Livermore begins his lectures with a statement that “…culture matters…”.  He regales American listeners with platitudes about cultural intelligence.  He begins by presuming most Americans are ignorant of other citizen’s cultures which is probably true.  But, Livermore suggests that ignorance can largely be overcome by listening and not proactively engaging conversation with non-Americans.  How is that unique?  That suggestion is as true for an American meeting any stranger; regardless of their culture.

Next, Livermore suggests the importance of understanding the predominate religion of other nations.  Certainly that is relevant but it is equally relevant in one’s approach to some Americans in our own country.  Finally, there is Livermore’s caution of stereotyping people based on what is said to be common in particular cultures.  Again, that is a fault that exists in America among people in our own culture; e.g. black American’s perceptions of white American’s, American Latinos perceptions of black or white Americans, and vice versa.

Livermore proceeds by offering stereotypical characteristics of other countries’ citizens with examples of Nordic, Germanic, Eastern European, Latin European, Latin American, Confucian Asian, South Asian, Sub-Saharan African, and Arab cultures.  Livermore compounds one’s fear of being classified as an “ugly American” with platitudes like “People from many cultures are uncomfortable talking about themselves with a stranger…”  How is that a revelation?  The same discomfort exists in most cultures.

Livermore’s admonition to research other countries histories is important when traveling.  Having some understanding of a country’s history helps one communicate with citizens of a different country.  Research tempers one’s conversation and decreases the possibility of embarrassing oneself or the person being asked questions.  Livermore notes some fundamental differences between cultures like that which is collectivist (socialist or communist), another that is individualistic (democratic or egalitarian), or one that is totalitarian.  Livermore is quite correct in suggesting cultures are different and can lead to gross misunderstandings but common sense is as likely to ameliorate an “ugly American” persona as these audio book’ lectures.

Livermore’s suggestion that Americans need to raise their cultural IQ-s is certainly relevant but his lectures fail to go beyond common sense platitudes.  American cultural IQ-s will remain low as long as research commitments and language arts are relegated to high school and college classes.  At best, Livermore raises the issue of American cultural ignorance.  He does little to reduce it.  The potential for being an “ugly American” is extant both inside and outside the United States.

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A FOURTH DIMENSION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Mysteries of Modern Physics: TimeMysteries of Modern Physics--Time By: Professor Sean Carroll

The Great Courses: Physics

SEAN CARROLL
PROFESSOR SEAN CARROLL

Time, as a fourth dimension, is a mystery that Professor Sean Carroll partly unravels in a lecture series titled Mysteries of Modern Physics. Carroll helps Physics’ dilettantes, like this essayist; broaden understanding of the mechanics of the universe; albeit at the cost of some confusion and a headache.

Carroll defines words that are commonly understood by Physics’ students and vaguely or not understood by everyone else. He defines time’s arrow, entropy, and the second law of thermodynamics. Each definition offers insight to the mystery of time.

Time’s arrow seems to say you cannot remember the future, and you cannot un-break an egg. Time is thought to “only” allow recall of the past and experience of the present. However, Carroll suggests our current acceptance of “only one direction for time” may be wrong. Carroll explains that a combination of physics’ laws would not be violated if the arrow of time changes direction. It may be possible to remember the future; also, quantum theory’s laws of probability suggest a chance for reversing events of a cracked egg.

Carroll offers an explanation of how current quantum theory of the micro-world may suggest times’ arrow is reversible; i.e. Carroll’s explanation revolves around an undiscovered unified-field-theory that combines classic Newton/Einstein’ physics with quantum theory.

Carroll explains that entropy is a law of nature that posits all organization of things and beings degenerates into disorder.

This disorder is magnified by the second law of thermodynamics that says disorder is compounded by increases in the sum of all entropies of a participating system. The example given by Carroll is the impossibility of a perfect transfer of energy by an engine designed to provide power. In all engine designs, even though energy is always conserved, power is lost because the second law of thermodynamics shows that some energy escapes (an added entropy) in the power production process.

Because of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, the macro-world reinforces observational belief that the arrow of time only goes in one direction. Carroll raises the question of the big bang and a singular event that suggests a period of time when entropy is either reversed or static; i.e. a time when more order than disorder is created. It seems, when the big bang occurred, entropy became the disorder of the universe and times arrow appears to point in only one direction. But, Carroll asks, what is there in space before the big bang? Carroll suggests prior to the big bang, the laws of entropy did not apply.

The answer may lay in future discoveries about dark energy and dark matter, two elements that make up 70% of the known universe. A step in that journey was made at CERN with the discovery of Higgs-Boson, an element of dark matter that gives form to all that we see.

Time remains a mystery at the end of Carroll’s lectures. Travel to the future seems a possibility. Travel to the past seems a logical impossibility.

Carroll speculates on the idea of a multiverse caused by periodic reversals of the arrow of time; i.e. reversals which create new universes from new big bangs. There is much more in Carroll’s lectures that tickle synapses and light dendrites of a listener’s mind.

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PHILOSOPHERS OF MORAL THOUGHT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Modern Scholar: Ethics: A History of Moral ThoughtETHICS-A HISTORY OF MORAL THOUGHT By: Peter Kreeft

Lectures by Kreeft

PETER KREEFT (PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY AT BOSTON COLLEGE AND THE KING'S COLLEGE)
PETER KREEFT (PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY AT BOSTON COLLEGE AND THE KING’S COLLEGE)

Professor Kreeft, in The Modern Scholar’ lectures, offers stories of interesting philosophers and what they think they know about moral thought. Ethics: A History of Moral Thought is a whirlwind tour of how philosophers define ethics. It begins in antiquity and continues through tomorrow. What one hears in these lectures may be accepted and practiced in life tomorrow or never; if never, one is seemingly confirming belief in free choice, but not much more. As a warning to the curious, the tour is circular. The tour ends as it begins.

SOCRETES (DEATH IN 339 BC AT ESTIMATED AGE OF 71)
SOCRETES (DEATH IN 339 BC AT ESTIMATED AGE OF 71)

Wisdom is characterized by Socrates as—“I Know Something That I Know Nothing”. Kreeft recounts Socrates’ story of being told by Apollo’s Oracle that he is the wisest man on earth. Socrates does not believe what he is told. He proceeds to prove the Oracle’s error by asking questions of wise men in his day. In the process of questioning, Socrates finds no one can convincingly answer the questions he asks. Socrates concludes the Oracle is right. He is the wisest man in the world because he knows that he knows nothing. Others say they know, explain what they know; believe in what they know, but show (from Socrates’ questions) they know nothing.

THOMAS AQUINAS (ITALIAN DOMINICAN FRIAR & PHILOSOPHER-THEOLOGIAN 1225-1274)
THOMAS AQUINAS (ITALIAN DOMINICAN FRIAR & PHILOSOPHER-THEOLOGIAN 1225-1274)

Kreeft moves on from the ancients to Aquinas (1225-1274), Machiavelli (1469-1527), Hobbes (1588-1679), Locke (1632-1704), Rousseau (1712-1778), and Sartre (1905-1980) to reveal the truth of Socrates’ aphorism. Each of these philosophers open new doors of explanation to human ethics but each door leads to partially empty rooms. Aquinas acknowledges happiness as a goal in life but happiness is defined by union with God, the Father of divine virtue. The cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. Aquinas believes, to the degree humankind follows the cardinal virtues, he/she finds happiness. The logical extension of this philosophy is that there is no chance of happiness without union with God, a God defined by its believers–a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, who?

NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI (1469-1527)
NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI (1469-1527)

Kreeft explains that Machiavelli removes the idea of virtue and ethics from the concept of happiness and suggests the exercise of power is the source of happiness. Machiavelli views mankind as innately evil with happiness as reward from the pragmatic use of power; power gathered by any means necessary. Machiavelli argues that being feared is more important than being loved. Might makes right in Machiavelli’s observation of the world; virtue is superfluous in the face of force. The logical extension of this philosophy is tyranny of the many by the few.

THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)
THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)

Kreeft notes that Hobbes believes, like Machiavelli, mankind is innately evil. However, Hobbes suggests societies form into communities to mitigate human’ evil through the creation of laws exercised by a great Leviathan, a powerful monster. The logical extension of Hobbes belief is big governments proscribe laws to mitigate mankind’s inherent evil. In contrast to Hobbes, Kreeft explains John Locke’s philosophy.

JOHN LOCKE (ENGLISH PHILOSOPHER & PHYSICIAN-FATHER OF CLASSICAL LIBERALISM 1632-1704)
JOHN LOCKE (ENGLISH PHILOSOPHER & PHYSICIAN-FATHER OF CLASSICAL LIBERALISM 1632-1704)

Locke argues that mankind is basically good and freedom-to-compete in a marketplace for goods and property will result in a balanced community of interests. The logical consequence of Locke’s philosophy is smaller government but only theoretical happiness because competition generates win/lose consequences that amplify community’ inequity.

MAURICE QUENTIN de LA TOUR AKA ROUSSEAU (1712-1778 - AGE AT DEATH 66)
MAURICE QUENTIN de LA TOUR AKA ROUSSEAU (1712-1778 – AGE AT DEATH 66)

Next, Krefft’s analysis of Rousseau opens a door to the French Revolution with the idea of “The Social Contract”. Rousseau believes in the innate goodness of man and argues for the rights of assembly and representative government to establish standards for the common good. The consequence of that belief is mobocracy in the “Great Terror” of the French Revolution.

JEAN-PAUL CHARLES AYMARD SARTRE (FRENCH PHILOSOPHER 1905-1980)
JEAN-PAUL CHARLES AYMARD SARTRE (FRENCH PHILOSOPHER 1905-1980)

In more modern times, the rise of Sartre’s philosophy brings ethics into the 20th century. Krefft describes Sartre’s philosophy as relativist. Sartre is an atheist. He argues that the world is indifferent to all life forms. People are free but their freedom comes with responsibility. Without God, all things are permissible but the individual bares the consequence of his/her action. Sartre believes everything is defined by relationship to an “other”. Sartre suggests human beings live in a state of oppression. (Riesman, a sociologist, wrote a book titled “The Lonely Crowd” that exemplifies Sartre’s concept of oppression) Sartre argues that one can only break that bond by recognizing the oppression and choosing independent self-actualization or authenticity. This is an existentialist philosophy that demands knowledge and understanding of oneself. Every person is his/her own god. Ethics are situation-ally determined with individual’ acceptance of responsibility; every person is an island. A logical extension of this ethical belief is that societies breed iniquity, distort truth, and leave every person on their own path to happiness.  Sartre endorses the opinion of Dostoevsky’s protagonist in Brothers Karamazov that says there is no God; therefore everything is permissible, including murder of his hedonistic father.

From Krefft’s lectures, one begins to believe human beings are good and bad by nature. Aside from “Knowing One’s Self” and “Knowing that I Know Nothing”, there is no philosophy that adequately defines virtue or ethics that would predict any kind of utopian future.  If happiness is the goal of life, its attainment by an individual or a society remains a mystery.

Nearing the end of Krefft’s lectures, he addresses the attempts of science to define morality and ethics. Krefft acknowledges the idea of observational analysis, dating back to Machiavelli’s views of history but the scientific movement gains momentum with David Hume (1711-1776), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and John Stewart Mill (1806-1873). It seems these three users of the scientific method provide little light in their analysis of morality and ethics.  Their contribution is in the use of scientific method to understand normative standards of society.

Finally, Krefft lightly covers eastern philosophy’s approach to morality and ethics. One fundamental difference between western and eastern beliefs is eastern belief in reincarnation versus western belief in a one way ride. A second fundamental difference is eastern-cultural’ belief that human beings are both good and bad while western’ culture believes humans try to be good but are seduced by evil. The gods of many eastern religions are good and bad (with the exception of the Muslim religion) while western religion shows God as only good. Krefft suggests an eastern religion may pass a dying person on the sidewalk because of feared interference with reincarnation. In contrast, a westerner passes a dying person to not be involved–or with a belief that a dying person’s problem is not a passer-by’s problem.

Krefft notes that eastern philosophy is by nature a “let be” view of life with a concerted effort to leave worldly concerns to their own destiny. Western philosophy is more proactively involved in defining and practicing, or failing to practice, morality and ethics.

By the end of Professor Krefft’s lectures a listener returns to Socrates suggestion; i.e. “Know thyself” because “The unexamined life is not worth living”. What you believe is what you believe. Krefft suggests we should always seek to understand why we believe what we believe.

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DIGITIZATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Digital Future SeriesDigital Future Series-Library of Congress Series on the Digital Future:Collection

By David Weinberger, Brewster Kahle, Juan Pablo Pax, Brian Cantwell Smith

Public Lectures 

This is a two-part lecture series.  The subject is digitization–how the information age is changing; how it affects the way people think; and how digitization impacts human understanding.

DAVID WEINBERGER (PHILOSOPHER, TECHNOLGIST & PUNDIT)
DAVID WEINBERGER (PHILOSOPHER, TECHNOLGIST & PUNDIT)

There it is–“I want to know what is on your mind.”  David Weinberger believes digitization revolutionizes knowledge. As the world of information becomes more digitized, information spreads world-wide on the internet.

The same report about an incident in Syria can be seen on Youtube, read in the New York Times, viewed on CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, Al Jazeera, or heard and seen on Syrian resident blogs/pictures/text messages.  Additionally, that Syrian incident is contextualized by digitized books written by former ambassadors and pundits of the Middle East.

Weinberger believes knowing what is on the collective mind of humanity liberates truth. Weinberger suggests one person’s report about something is less likely to be true than many people’s reports.

Weinberger may be right about digitization’s potential for revealing truth.  On the other hand, what human being is likely to sift through all that information to glean truth?  Maybe a few, like the brilliant conceptual physicist, Richard Feynman.  But reading and listening to a plethora of media is no substitute for the hard work of personal analytic thought; even in the digitized world.

One might argue that truth will be revealed in the evolution of digitization.  A software program invented to accumulate digitized versions of perceived events may glean truth from an infinite information source, the internet. However, it is the individual mind that accepts or rejects individual or collective information.

The internet invades the lives of all people that have access to its virtual world.  It affects the way people think.  In one sense, it liberates the capacity of one’s mind by offering recall of facts that escape cognitive memory.  On the other hand, it offers a forum for distraction, lies, and confusion because of its capacity to manipulate thought. More information offered by digitization may confuse rather than reveal truth.

Distraction, lies, and noise from the internet is magnified by digitization. Opportunities for like-minded sociopaths to join together or, more ominously, act out to attack society are offered a platform to spew adherent’s beliefs. The consequence is a social categorization that reminds one of Dennis Leery’s belief in LSD that led some to tune-in and drop-out in the 1960s.

On the other hand, digitization offers great educational opportunities. The Open Content Alliance (OCA) is a digitized library initiative, started by Google, that has the potential of bringing books to the entire world at minimum cost. Google is planning to digitize every book written in the history of the world.

BREWSTER KAHLE (DIGITAL LIBRARIAN, COMPUTER ENGINEER, INTERNET ENTREPRENEUR)Brewster Kahle is an Internet Archive Librarian at the forefront of a movement to bring books to the world by providing bound copies of digitized books with mobile library’s.  Bookmobiles, filled with digitized books that can be reprinted and bound, have visited Menlo Park and Berkeley, CA, Salt Lake City, Ut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Md, Washington DC, India, and more recently, Africa.

Interestingly, it is possible to digitize your own books as can be seen in the following “do it yourself” video:

One cannot deny that digitization is impacting human understanding.  It may be truth is better revealed in social media.  One can choose to ignore social media, the internet, and digitization but it is counter intuitive to believe less information is better than more. Luddites that choose to ignore the modern world of social media will be left behind.  Some suggest it is not a question of information overload but a question of filtering.  As Richard Feynman noted, knowledge improvement is hard work.  There are no short cuts.

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WITNESS TO THE TRUTH

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Modern Scholar: Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Lectures By Frank E. Peters

 Narrated by Frank E. Peters 

Organized religion is a puzzle wrapped in a conundrum.  The puzzle lies in a common religious belief that says there is only one God; the conundrum is that the three largest one-God’ religions refuse to peacefully accept their differences and either kill or banish those who do not follow their beliefs.  Which among the three have witnesses to the truth?

PROFESSOR FRANK E. PETERS

Frank E. Peters is a 1961 PhD graduate in Islamic Studies from Princeton with a BA and Masters degree in Greek and Latin from St. Louis University.  Peters chronologically recounts the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  All three religions have text to provide a foundation for their beliefs.  Jews rely on the “Torah”, which is a part of the “Old Testament”; Christians rely on the “Old Testament” as modified and expanded by the “New Testament”; Islam relies on the “Quran” which is codified by a Caliph twenty years after the death of Muhammad.

THE TORAH
NEW TESTAMENT
QURAN

The irony of these texts is that none were written in the time religious events happened.  The accuracy of respective texts is based on faith in the accuracy of disciple’s recollections.  (Of course, some say it is not a matter of recollection but Divine guidance.)  A further irony is that all three religions believe that Abraham is the founding patriarch.

SYMBOL OF THE THREE ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS

Jews identify Abraham as the founding patriarch in the “Book of Genesis” (one of the first five books in the “Old Testament”); Christians acknowledge the truth of the “Old Testament” as modified and expanded in the “New Testament”; and Islam relies on an oral communication from the spirit of Abraham to Muhammad.  Interestingly, Muhammad is the only disciple that cites direct communication with the spirit of Abraham; i.e. communication that is the source of the “Quran”.  The “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” are texts of recollections of religious events or documents while the “Quran” is a record of oral revelations to Muhammad by the spirit of Abraham.

All three religions are riven with openings for literal or figurative interpretation.  Peters offers the example of some Jews that argue seven days of creation is a figurative construct of unknown periods of time that might allow for evolution; some Christians accept mutability of time in the “Old Testament” without necessarily accepting evolution; and Islam allows changes in Koranic teaching based on chronological interpretation of oral communication by “lawyerly” investigators of human generations connected to Muhammad; i.e. a “who said that” investigations that search for relationships to Muhammad.

In the case of changing interpretation of the Quran, Peters also gives the example of an early statement in the Quran that accepts other religions and a later statement that says anyone who does not adopt the Islamic faith is an infidel and may be killed.  The “who said that” investigation begins with the later of the contradictory statements becoming religious law. If two statements in the Quran seem to be in conflict, the latest chronological statement (the closest to today’s date) is considered the correct one if it meets a “who said that” criteria.

Peters compares histories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  To be a Jew, one must have a Jewish mother.  In contrast, Christianity and Islam are religions of conversion through baptism and/or religious acceptance.  Judaism grew through lineage and monarchial rule with teaching and interpretation of religious texts by Rabbinic’ scholars that may have been descendants of pharaohs; Catholicism grew through association with the Roman Empire that endorsed Christianity as a religious hierarchical institution; with Bishops that rise to Pope within the umbrella of a secular empire.  Islam grew by becoming the State with Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina; i.e. Islam became the State without distinction between secular and religious law; i.e. the Islamic religion is the State.

MECCA

CHRISTIANITY

Peters does not take sides in his lectures on the three major monotheistic religions.  However, his presentation reinforces one’s belief that organized religion is a harbinger of death and destruction.  All three religions have or have had armies to enforce their religious beliefs.  Jews formed an army when Israel became a State; Christians fought the crusades by using nobleman that accepted the faith.  The Pope’s peace of 2012 is more a function of social constraint than religious tolerance; Turkish Islamist’s conducted a Jihad that killed thousands of Armenians (some say 1.5 million) in the early 20th century and Iran threatens destruction of Israel today.  All three organized religions have blood on their hands.

Even though one may fervently believe in God as the Prime Mover of the universe, organized religion is a 21st century obstacle to the Truth; i.e. a believer that seeks to be a “witness to the truth” can only stand and wait.  [contact-form-7 id=”4427″ title=”What did you think about the review?”]

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DANTE’S JOURNEY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Modern Scholar: Dante and His Divine ComedyThe Modern Scholar-Dante and His Divine Comedy

Lectures By Timothy B. Shutt – Narrated by Timothy B. Shutt

 Occasionally, Audible.com offers a discounted price on academic lectures about various literary, historical, and scientific events.  After reading “The Divine Comedy” (translated by Charles Norton) Professor Shutt’s lectures are a valuable guide to a better understanding of Dante’s masterpiece.

TIMOTHY B. SHUTT

The origin of the story seems simple but its meaning is complex and revelatory.  Dante Alighieri is a wealthy aristocrat that represents a major leadership faction in 13thcentury Italy, the

DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321)

“White Gulphs” which are vying for power with the Ghibelline.  Their conflict is over the integrity of the Pope in Rome at the time of relocation of the papal enclave to Avignon, France.  The move occurs in 1309 and lasts for 67 years.  Pope Boniface VIII sides with the Ghibelline to overthrow the Gulphs and

POPE BONIFACE VIII (1294-1303)

excommunicate Dante.  Dante loses his political position, his wealth, and coincidently, the life of the woman he loves, Beatrice.  These crushing events in Dante’s life compel him to complete and publish (between 1308 and his death in 1321) what Shutt calls the greatest single piece of literature ever written.

 

95 THESES (OCTOBER 31, 1517)

Over a century before Martin Luther posts the “95 Theses”, objecting to the church’s sale of indulgences, the sale of “the word” is a preeminent issue in the conflict between the Gulphs and the Ghibelline.  Pope Boniface, though not specifically cited in “The Divine Comedy”, betrays the Gulph Christian community by siding with the Ghibelline; the Pope, in Dante’s view, is a traitor to his community.

In the pit of Dante’s despair, he creates an image of purgatory,

DANTE’S INFERNO

hell and heaven that crystallizes the meaning of human belief in the divine.  Dante’s epic poem describes heaven, purgatory, and hell as the soul of the poet Virgil guides Dante on an imagined journey from earth, to purgatory, to hell, and back-to the living.

VIRGIL AS GUIDE TO DANTE

Inferno, Canto 18 Virgil shows Dante the shade of Thaïs

Then said to me the Guide: “See that thou thrust
Thy visage somewhat farther in advance,
That with thine eyes thou well the face attain

Of that uncleanly and disheveled drab,
Who there doth scratch herself with filthy nails,
And crouches now, and now on foot is standing.

Thaïs the harlot is it, who replied
Unto her paramour, when he said, ‘Have I
Great gratitude from thee?’—‘Nay, marvelous;’

And herewith let our sight be satisfied.”

Dante meets the souls of the dead and explains where they are, what sin they have committed, what fate awaits them, and why some sins are greater than others.  Dante also reveals how all sins in life, before dying, may be forgiven with the grace of God.

One finds definitions and weights for sin, redemption, and end of earth-life in one of three fundamental places; i.e. purgatory, hell, or heaven.  All sins are not created equal but all humankind begins life in sin that can only be redeemed through good works, baptism, forgiveness, and the grace of God.  Good works alone will not absolve one from either eternal purgatory, or a period of cleansing through purgatory, before ascension to heaven.  It seems that all transgressions can be forgiven but only with a request for grace before death.  Sins have a weighted hierarchy; i.e. lust as the lesser; with being a traitor to one’s community the greatest sin of all.  Admittance to heaven also has a hierarchy.

Dante’s hell is hot and cold—just below the ninth and lowest circle of sin Dante sees Lucifer who dwells in an ice-cold wasteland.  The devil does not speak and has three stuffed mouths that eternally chew on the bodies of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas—the greatest traitors of Dante’s imagination.

DANTE’S 3 FACED DEVIL

After passing through the final depth of hell, Virgil guides Dante back to the beginning of the journey; here, Dante meets the soul of Beatrice. Virgil leaves, and Dante accompanies Beatrice on a journey to the stars; through the hierarchy of the heavens and to the presence of God.

BEATRICE

Dante’s heaven encompasses all that is known and unknown by man.  Dante journeys to the planets and the sun and sees God but through an inversion of time and space Dante finds that earth is the center of all that is God and that nothing exists that is not created by God.  Heaven is a circle of angels that dance and spin so fast that heaven and God are everywhere at all times and in all places.

A VISION OF DANTE’S HEAVEN

There are levels of heaven but all who are worthy will have eternal life at their chosen level.  Degrees of appreciation for one’s level in heaven have no meaning to those who dwell at higher or lower levels because they are happy in their place; without envy and with acceptance and grace for the imperfection of their souls.

VIDEO REPRESENTATION OF DANTE’S JOURNEY TO HEAVEN: http://www.youtube.com/embed/iwiHsKrAAGE” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Purgatory may be a way-station to heaven for a believer that is cleansed of their sin or an eternal home for the non-believer or pagan.  Hell is perdition for eternity with no surcease of pain or opportunity for escape.  Heaven is a place of eternal rest, peace, and love.

One is overwhelmed by Dante’s genius whether or not a believer.  Shutt gives one a better understanding of who Dante was and why “The Divine Comedy” is a classic.  [contact-form-7 id=”4427″ title=”What did you think about the review?”]

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