Sunday, May 21, 2017

Simple Book Review: "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" (2014)

This book is not a quick read, but worth the investment of time (it took me a month and a book in between to finished reading it. 466+ pages) and money (RM51.80). If you are not bothered by reality and willing to face the uncomfortable truth about human race from the writer’s perspectives, this book is for you. It is brilliantly written, challenging, humorous at time and totally non-politically correct. To appreciate a book you need to have an open-mind and critical thinking. Don’t believe everything you read and – don’t simply condemn that you don’t know in depth.

Okay, Sapiens first published in 2014. It is a critically acclaimed international best-seller. Mark Zuckerberg and ex-president Obama were among influential people that recommended this book. In it Harari tracks the evolution of Homo Sapiens from hunter-gatherers into self-empowered “gods” of the future (which he expounds more in his second book, Homo Deus). He focuses on the 3 great revolutions of human history: #1 Cognitive, #2 Agricultural and #3 Scientific.  

We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers,” writes Harari, historian from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He continues, “And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.”

What I like about Harari is that when he doesn’t have any real answer to certain topics, he just say ‘I don’t know’ and then outline 3 to 4 possible theories or reasons and ask us to decide for ourselves. But when he really know the topics very well – as historian, he is also very good with scientific knowledge – he writes with simplicity, clear and clarity. Jared Diamond similarly fascinated: “Here is a simple reason why Sapiens has risen explosively to the ranks of an international bestseller. It tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in unforgettably vivid language. You will love it!” Yes, you will.

This book is divided into 4 parts and 20 chapters. Part 1, 2, 3, and the last chapter are my favourites, especially part 3 entitled The Unification of Humankind where Harari claims that commerce (money), empires (nations) and universal religions are the three secrets of success that virtually bring every sapiens (humankind) on every continent into the global world we live in today. He ends this book with an afterward entitled The Animal that Became a God. He argues that we have become more powerful than ever before “but have very little idea what to do with all that power.” We seem to be more irresponsible than ever. “Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one.” We are the ones that wreaking havoc on wildlife, ecosystem and environments. With a question, he ends this book: “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

Fire gave us power
Gossip helped us cooperate
Agriculture made us hungry for more
Mythology maintained law and order
Money gave us something we can really trust
Contradictions created culture
Science made us deadly

A must read!

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Jesus' Leadership #6 Request for Noble Things

In thinking about the leaders in the Bible, I began to study their prayer requests. Many of them had opportunities when God said, “I will give you whatever you ask.” How did these people replied to God’s offer? To my surprise, I noticed that all of them asked only for noble things:

Abraham’s request: “Help me follow you”
Moses’s request: “Help me free your people”
David’s request: “Help me slay the giant for our people”
Esther’s request: “Help me save these people”
Solomon’s request: “Give me wisdom to rule your people”
Isaiah’s request: “Give me clean lips to speak your words”
Peter’s request: “Help me feed Your sheep”
Jesus’s request: “Help me show them You Father”

There is one verse that says, “The noble person plan only noble things” (Isaiah 32:8). Jesus was a leader who requested only noble things. People asked him for healing, for forgiveness, for love from God because they knew that he can, he is noble. Once he claimed the verses from Isaiah 61 as his mission: “[God] has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty to the captives… to comfort all those who mourn, and to give them for ashes a garland… for a mourning robe the oil of gladness, for despondency, praise.” Jesus asked for noble things.

Noble is such a beautiful word, but one doesn’t hear it mentioned very much anymore. I never heard preachers preach a sermon on “How to Be a Noble Man.” Stephen R. Covey doesn’t carry articles on “7 Highly Effective Noble People.” This book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill might not have sold so well if it had been titled Think and Grow Noble.

I think people are basically noble at the core. As for me, I’m going to think about noble things such as how to contribute more to the noble causes in the world. Maybe, if we each think about it more, we, like other leaders in the past, can become nobility. We should ask for noble things just as Jesus asked for noble things.

How can you do noble things to the world today?
*Taken from Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership (1995) by Laurie Beth Jones without permission. I have added Bible verses, cut and modified some material for smooth, short and comprehensive reading.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Simple Book Review: "Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible and Eternal Torment" (2014)

Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible and Eternal Torment (2014)
by Jon M. Sweeney

First, not all the books that I read is what I agree with; and secondly, if I were to read only the ones that I already agree with, I’ll become the most close-minded person and unworthy orthodox. Always challenge your own assumptions and beliefs. The truth remain the truth but the way you perceives and comprehend it can be change overtime. That’s growth, not heretic.

Okay… the book. Well, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. Maybe I should reflect on it some more. For now though, my initial impression is a positive one. But I'm not sure that I agree with all that Sweeney writes. That we have misunderstood and misapplied the teachings of hell – I totally agree! That there is a clear development of the concept of hell through myths (especially, Greek mythology), Socrates, Plato, Hesiod, Virgil, the Old Testament, the New, Thomas Aquinas and even the Quran – will all the evidences in this book and elsewhere – I somewhat agreed (say 80%). The peak of this evolution of hell, the writer argue, is attributed to the greatest influencer of all: Dante’s Inferno. Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante, was a major Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. He is famous for his work The Divine Comedy poet-trilogy [#1 Inferno (Hell), #2 Purgatorio (Purgatory), and #3 Paradiso (Heaven)].

By the way, none of this is particularly new for me. However, I'm not quite comfortable with the author's take on Psalm’s afterlife which is more hopeless compare to Paul’s afterlife version that is more optimistic, body-soul arguments, Plato’s influences in Jesus’s teachings, the allegorical nature of Satan and mythical concept of hell (one of it in which he said that ‘Hell’ is Christian’s term that may differ in nature, location and functions from ‘Sheol’, ‘Hades’ and ‘Tartarus’ which are used in Greek mythology) and with the actual influence of Dante on our more recent views of hell. Dante’s imagination of the underworld or the 9 circles of hell? Interesting, but get the hell out of here!

Sweeney writes explicitly that most of Dante’s sources were the stuff of myth, legend, philosophy, ancient religions and the politics of his day. But the good thing about this book is that he doesn’t start with Dante, he starts with Genesis. The bad thing is… sometime some of his arguments are not clear and very vague. Well, this book is divided into 13 chapters and a conclusion:

#1 In the Beginning
#2 The Ancient Underworld
#3 The Awful Underworld Psalm
#4 The God Hades
#5 Virgil and Myth of Empire
#6 When the Soul Went Immortal
#7 Plato and the Myth of Er
#8 Jesus, Hades, and a Pit Just Outside Jerusalem
#9 Inventing Holy Saturday
#10 Medieval Apocalyptic!
#11 Dancing on a Pin
#12 Dante with a Quran by His Side?
#13 The Sublime Order of the Universe
Conclusion: Is There a Future for Hell?

I like how he ends this book by asking the future for ‘hell’, his three complaints about Dante and his wrathful ideas, the connection of hell and religious violence (and how hell has inspired many people to do good. But out of fear?), his challenge on which God do we choose (can we do that?) and his faith as Catholic. “God is the real one,” he summaries, “the one I have come to know and understand, and that God has nothing to do with medieval Hell.”
[Actually price of this book is RM72.00, but I bought it from BookXcess for only RM17.90]

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