Saturday, September 01, 2012

New Books: 1) Marcus Borg, 2) Three Testaments and 3) The Trouble With Atheists

Marcus Borg's new book, Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order of the Books That Were Written was published yesterday. An issue with the book will be how to date particular books of the New Testament (he dates Luke Acts to the second century, for example) since dating the NT books is a contested topic. I will be reading it but in the meantime, this blurb caught my eye:

“The most helpful thing that Borg has to offer is a contextual introduction to each of the 27 books of the New Testament . . . An eminently readable and eye-opening addition to religion shelves, as well as a new and fascinating way to read the New Testament.” (Booklist (starred review) )
Publishers Weekly reports on Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel and Quran, edited by Brian Brown,  published by Rowman & Littlefield, with content licensed from the Jewish Publication Society, Sheed & Ward, and Kazi Publications. The book brings together the Abrahamic scriptures for the first time, according to Brown, in a single volume. A launch tour kicks off at Ground Zero in New York on Sept. 9, and a 9/11 event in Washington, D.C., at the Canadian Embassy gather diplomats from around the world. Similar events are planned for Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. The tour then moves on to Toronto for a finale at the Royal Ontario Museum. Said Brian Brown, “Despite its academic patina, we believe this book may be of great interest to the American public as it moves forward in religious understanding.”

NYC people: the main event is on September 9th at 2pm at St Peter's Church near Ground Zero opened by Al-Jazeera and closed by HuffPo. There are panelists, presentations and representatives of various religious groups. 

And finally, a lovely explanation of his book Unapologetic: Why Despite Everything Christianity Can Make Surprising Emotional Sense  by Francis Spufford in the Guardian today in which he describes aspects of his faith and an argument he and his wife had that was unrelenting and unresolved. Then someone played the Adagio of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto as a result of which he reflects on the quality of mercy:

it is not music that denies anything. It offers a strong, absolutely calm rejoicing, but it does not pretend there is no sorrow. On the contrary, it sounds as if it comes from a world where sorrow is perfectly ordinary, but still there is more to be said.
I had heard it lots of times, but this time it felt to me like news. It said: everything you fear is true. And yet. And yet. Everything you have done wrong, you have really done wrong. And yet. And yet. The world is wider than you fear it is, wider than the repeating rigmaroles in your mind, and it has this in it, as truly as it contains your unhappiness. Shut up and listen, and let yourself count, just a little bit, on a calm that you do not have to be able to make for yourself, because here it is, freely offered. There is more going on here than what you deserve, or don't deserve. There is this as well. And it played the tune again, with all the cares in the world.
The novelist Richard Powers has written that the Clarinet Concerto sounds the way mercy would sound, and that's exactly how I experienced it in 1997.

So to me, what I felt listening to Mozart in 1997 is not some wishy-washy metaphor for an idea I believe in, and it's not a front behind which the real business of belief is going on: it's the thing itself. My belief is made of, built up from, sustained by, emotions like that. That's what makes it real. I do, of course, also have an interpretation of what happened to me in the cafĂ© which is just as much a scaffolding of ideas as any theologian or Richard Dawkins could desire. I think – note the verb "think" – that I was not being targeted with a timely rendition of the Clarinet Concerto by a deity who micro-manages the cosmos and causes all the events in it to happen (which would make said deity an immoral scumbag, considering the nature of many of those events). I think that Mozart, two centuries earlier, had succeeded in creating a beautiful and accurate report of an aspect of reality. I think that the reason reality is that way – that it is in some ultimate sense merciful as well as being a set of physical processes all running along on their own without hope of appeal, all the way up from quantum mechanics to the relative velocity of galaxies by way of "blundering, low and horridly cruel" biology (Darwin) – is that the universe is sustained by a continual and infinitely patient act of love.

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