Category: Religion & Spirituality

hitchens1The title of this book is enough to cause a range of emotions in deist, agnostics and atheist.  Next to politics, religion is a subject which unites or divides, sometimes through the use of extreme violence. Today, when we think of religious fundamentalism, images of Islamic radicals readily come to mind causing us to forget that extremism exist is nearly every religion known to man.  In the United States, most deists are followers of monotheistic faiths.  Others are followers of polytheistic faiths and the remainder could be classified as agnostic, spiritual or even atheist.   Those who are atheist remain firm in their belief that God does not exist. But for deists, God does exist and is present all around us at all times.  But what if is there is no such thing as God?  Believers will find the mere mention of such a concept preposterous. But in all fairness, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell humanity what really happens when we die.  Furthermore, non-believers point to the world’s many ills as proof that an all-loving God is nothing more than make-believe.   Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) wrote at least thirty books, some of which like this, addressed religious faith.  Here, he takes on God and puts forth his argument that religion itself is the cause of many of the world’s ills.  One look at the cover will cause some to claim blasphemy and write Hitchens off as doomed and demented soul who surely found out when he died, that God does in fact exist.  Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, the book is a good discussion on the effect religion truly has on our lives.

In the book, Hitchens does not focus on one religion solely, he addresses multiple religions as he makes his argument.  He is clearly well-read and by his own admission, grew up in a Christian childhood.   His career has taken him to all parts of the world where he was able to examine other faiths up close. And the arguments he makes in the pages of this book are thought-provoking and it would extremely difficult for even the most ardent believers to ignore the many problems with religion that Hitchens discusses.   As a believer, when you think of your faith, it is seen in a positive light.  It helps people, gathers them together, provides answers and gives a sense of purpose.   But was that always the case and is religion even necessary to have all of the things that we seek through it?

There are thousands of gods worship throughout the world.   However, the most dominant religions are mainly monotheistic.  Jesus, Yahweh and Allah have claimed billions of followers world-wide.   Hinduism also claims a large number of followers who pray daily to the many Gods that are worshiped. In parts of Iran and the Middle East, Zoroastrianism is still practiced.   Exactly when each of these religions developed is lost to history.   Science tells us that man existed for thousands of years and that the planet is at least a four billion years old.  That forces the question, did God create man or did man create the Gods?  Furthermore, are Gods even necessary to live a full and purposeful life?

Hitchens pulls no punches in this book and makes his point clear that he truly believes religion poisons everything.   However what he does not do is tell anyone to give up their faith nor does he attempt to belittle anyone who believes in the Gods that he mentions.  And although he does believe that a world without religion would be better, he is mature enough to understand that some will continue to believe in the only religion they have ever known.   Atheists are often thought to be vile and vicious beings who want to rid the world of religion.  The opposite is usually the case.  Hitchens, like Richard Dawkins and others who have made a case against religion, is very rational and in no point in the book, does he use rhetoric to incite any type of violence or force anyone to become an atheist overnight.  Clearly, the decision to no longer believer or remain in the fold is up to the individual.  But what he does do, is provide examples from history of why he believes religion plays a negative role in society.  The book is a journey from mankind’s earliest known relationship with God all the way to the present and the growing numbers of people in the United States who have no religious affiliation at all.

I believe that is fairly obvious that in order to read this book an open mind is needed.  And I also believe that those who do purchase the book are either unwavering believers curious to see what Hitchens says and others who no longer believe or are on the path to living religion free. We all have to find our own path in life but if we need an honest and critical examination of the role of religion in society, this is a good place to start.

ISBN-10: 9780446697965
ISBN-13: 978-044669796

Religion & Spirituality

bgThroughout our lives we sometimes find ourselves in search of the meaning of life and where we go after our time on earth reaches its conclusion.  Religion has played a central role in the question, giving millions a sense of calm and relief that upon death, there is an afterlife awaiting us where we continue to live for an eternity.   There are those among us who do not believe in any God or Deity, but feel that it is up to humans to create heaven on earth.  Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are the world’s dominant religion with each having millions of followers.  There are thousands of other deities worshiped throughout the world and dozens of separate faiths. Hinduism reigns as one of the world’s oldest religions predating Christianity by thousands of years.  Its ancient scriptures are prized and studied for guidance through life by Hindus and others seeking spiritual enlightenment.  Among these cherished scriptures is The Bhavagad Gita, the classic of Indian spirituality that earned the love of readers world-wide.  It is rare for me to pick up any book on religion but I decided to give this a read following the completion of a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. (1904-1967)  Having finished the text I can see why it is loved by many.

Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), the  founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri in Northern California, translated the ancient text in an attempt to manifest its contents to a large world audience.   He died on October 26, 1999 but his work and life of commitment to the teachings of the Indian spiritual classics established his legacy.  Here he has translated one of the most popular classics, the book which was a personal favorite of Oppenheimer’s.  In fact, upon completion of the first atomic bomb, Oppenheimer quoted the Gita when he famously said “I am become death”.   The words by Oppenheimer, haunting in many aspects, sparked my interest in the text that touches deep on all of our spiritual beliefs.

Purists may not be fond of this version which contains extensive explanations by Easwaran.  But the explanations are necessary for those unfamiliar with Indian spiritualism and others reading the Gita for the first time. In fact, on more than one occasion, Easwaran explains that it is almost important to completely translate some things.  Regardless he does an outstanding job of making the book clear enough so that anyone can pick up the book and begin to learn instantly.   But what exactly is The Gita? The story begins as we join Sanjaya who tells the story of a discussion between Arjuna, who’s preparing for battle and Krishna, the God who rides with him but does not take part in the fight.  Arjuna has reservations about the war for he must confront and engage his relatives.  He is conflicted and questions his own existence.  Krishna, seeks to provide him with the answers he has and explain to him the truth path to wisdom.   Step by step Arjuna is given a course on the most important concepts that will shape his mind and guide his spirit.  As outsiders looking in, we follow along and explore the concepts of Atman, Brahman, Yoga, sannyasa, sattva, rajas and tamas among dozens of others critical to understanding the deeply spiritual purpose behind the Gita.

The beauty in the book is that it is not simply a book of rule and regulations.  In fact, there are no standard rituals at all. Krishna presents each concept and thorough explains the what it shapes our lives.  This in itself is what makes the book such a pleasure to read.  Krishna is clearly the all-knowing and all-powerful God but he never goes as far as to demand subjugation from Arjuna.  He explains things with profound wisdom and love and never loses patience with Arjuna or avoids discussion even the most complicated topics.  For the readers, Krishna is also talking to us so that we too may find help in our own lives as we travel the path to spiritual salvation.  And whether you believe in Allah, Christ or Vishnu, the words in this book are insightful and deeply moving.  The Gita is not just a manual or a discussion, but an important scripture about the love of life and one’s purpose in it.

ISBN-10: 1586380192
ISBN-13: 978-1586380199

Religion & Spirituality