Sin for beginners

Ned Flanders: I’ve done everything the Bible says — even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! TRIBAL TABOOS Sin goes back to the earliest days of humanity; it was not called sin then, but breaking a taboo. These taboos were put in place for practical reasons, rather than spiritual reasons — incest, fouling waterholes, and killing clan members were not good for the tribe. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have elevated taboos into sin: a crime against God. In Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, the closest they get to the concept of sin is that wrong deeds have to be purged, usually by some unpleasant process. ORIGINAL SIN When God created humans, She gave them an instruction: do not eat from the apple tree (the tree of knowledge). But Adam and Eve disobeyed, thus they became the first sinners and — rather unjustly — all who were born after them were declared to be sinners from the moment of birth. That doesn’t leave us with much free-will! At least with Islam they do not believe everyone is cursed with original sin. We each create our own sin by ‘disobedience to God’, rather than inherit it. The concept of original sin did not appear… Continue reading

Best American Books, part 1

PART 2     PART 3 I have concentrated on books that have been popular over the years, books that have had an impact on society, books that have resounded in our thoughts, words, and actions. Books can influence a whole nation even if only a small number of people have read these books. Ideas spread like Twitter at a football match. These are the books that have shaped the American national identity. The books listed are a variety of  fiction, non-fiction, and auto/biography, but mostly fiction. They are in alphabetical order, not according to how valuable they are.   A FAREWELL TO ARMS Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms is a novel written by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant (“Tenente”) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. A Farewell to Arms focuses on a romance between the expatriate American Henry and an English V.A.D. cadre, Catherine Barkley, against the backdrop of the First World War, cynical soldiers, fighting and the displacement of populations. The publication of this, Hemingway’s bleakest novel, cemented his stature as a modern… Continue reading

Best American books, part 2

PART 1     PART 3 LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN James Agee and photographer Walker Evans The book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men grew out of an assignment the two men accepted in 1936 to produce a magazine article on the conditions among white sharecropper families in the U.S. South during the “Dust Bowl”. It was the time of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs designed to help the poorest segments of the society. Agee and Evans spent eight weeks that summer researching their assignment, mainly among three white share-cropping families mired in desperate poverty. They returned with Evans’ portfolio of stark images—of families with gaunt faces, adults and children huddled in bare shacks before dusty yards in the Depression-era nowhere of the deep south—and Agee’s detailed notes. As he remarks in the book’s preface, the original assignment was to produce a “photographic and verbal record of the daily living and environment of an average white family of tenant farmers”. However, as the Literary Encyclopedia points out, “Agee ultimately conceived of the project as a work of several volumes to be entitled Three Tenant Families, though only the first volume, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was… Continue reading

Best American books, part 3

PART 1     PART 2 THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG, Norman Mailer Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and unforgettable classic about convicted killer Gary Gilmore now in a brand-new edition. Arguably the greatest book from America’s most heroically ambitious writer, THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG follows the short, blighted life of Gary Gilmore who became famous after he robbed two men in 1976 and killed them in cold blood. After being tried and convicted, he immediately insisted on being executed for his crime. To do so, he fought a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. And that fight for the right to die is what made him famous. Mailer tells not only Gilmore’s story, but those of the men and women caught in the web of his life and drawn into his procession toward the firing squad. All with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscape and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah. THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG is a trip down the wrong side of the tracks to the deepest source of American loneliness and violence. It is a towering achievement-impossible to put down, impossible to forget.   THE FATEFUL TRIANGLE,  Noam Chomsky… Continue reading