Saturday, October 4, 2014

WAKING UP by Sam Harris

Prominent atheist Sam Harris is making headlines from his debate with Ben Affleck over Islam on the Bill Maher show. To hear his latest audiobook WAKING UP, and audio samples of his other books, click on the title. It's read by the author. 


More controversy regarding the Catholic church can be found in another book... One amazing fact about the novel The DaVinci Code is that it was so controversial that there were classes on the controversy at churches around the world, and at colleges, and dozens of books were written about the controversy afterward. Why is this amazing? Because it was a novel, a work of fiction. Dan Brown was silent during the controversy, avoiding interviews, allowing sales to accumulate to such a degree that the novel eventually sold more copies than any in history. Did Brown make the story up? Yes. He based it on arcane facts, but also on fabrication and poetic license. It shows that if you challenge religious history, and add a dimension of drama and originality of expression, everyone wants in on it. Now comes a new book, one which claims not to be fiction, but a biography of Jesus. Its author is not in hiding, as Brown was. And it is even more controversial. How so? Because in ZEALOT--The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, author Reza Aslan has offered both contextual and historical evidence that both the Catholic and Protestant faiths are in error regarding Jesus. He shows that Catholic insistence on Peter as champion of Christianity after Jesus died rests solely on one verse, while arcane historical records and over a dozen verses show that James (the brother of Christ) was designated the true leader of the faith. "On this rock I will build my church" referred not to all of Christianity in Peter's case, but merely to one church. Likewise, the letters of Paul, adopted by Protestants to establish the alternative to Catholic doctrine, were denounced by James and other apostles, who chastised Paul for trying to hijack the faith. Paul was called "the enemy," and bitterly fought to pull the reins away from James (and into his own control.) There's more. According to Aslan, Jesus was but one of many would-be messiahs who claimed divinity and authority over corrupt and bloody practices, and were then crucified for challenging Roman rule. What Jesus had, he says, was the best story, later tweaked by followers plugging all the holes in it (and writing decades after the disputed facts.) What does it mean that Peter and Paul are here discounted in favor of James? It means that all those robed priests and prosperity gospel televangelists out there are wrong. (Read James 1:11 to see why.) It also means that Aslan's book is far more controversial than The DaVinci Code had ever hoped to be. As narrated by the author, this book should incite strong emotions from all sides, especially since the author is a religious historian who has meticulously researched the subject for twenty years (and is a professor of Islamic studies to boot!) I use the phrase "should incite" for many reasons. In our own cultural context, of course, we are more intrigued by drama, conspiracy, and special effects. We dispute all dry facts as relative and unknowable, including global warming and the age of the Earth. Foundational religious history is obscure to us, lost in time and interpretation. All we have left is faith, dependent on emotions. So it's not likely that any book without the dimension of sensational Hollywood fiction will go viral. Although maybe it should. To wit, it's not just a story and its controversy that matters, but how it is told...and by whom. In the age of commercial spin where we live, and where corporate CEOs control us instead of Emperors, manufactured perception is reality, and style wins over content every time.

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