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 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

Exit Visa: how they got out alive

EXIT VISA is a factual novel about the aftermath of the Vietnam war, a vivid and gripping narrative, it chronicles the horrors experienced by those who fled after the fall of Saigon.  We have all seen movies about Vietnam, but have you ever noticed, none of them tell you what happened after the war ended? What happened to the population when the communists took over? Why did hundreds of thousands of people flee? What happened in Kampuchea that led to two million people dying?   EXIT VISA gives vivid descriptions of the last days of the Vietnam war; the murder of the Kampucheans during Year Zero; working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail; living in Saigon after the communists took over; the fleeing of ‘boat people’ from Vietnam; the boat journey to Malaysia; resettlement in Australia. This is one of the few books published (in English) that describes these events through Vietnamese eyes.    In this novel a young schoolteacher and her family flee the approaching communist army. A brutal and corrupt police sergeant bribes his way out of Saigon and onto a jet. An elderly jeweller watches in despair as the city and people he loves are destroyed. A Khmer… Continue reading

Restless in wartime

Book Review: Restless by William Boyd (2006) Although this is a novel of espionage set during the Second World War, there is little of the James Bond stuff in it. The novel deals mostly with propaganda. The main effort was to draw America into the war. Britain was under siege, struggling to fight off the Nazis. Britain needed all the help it could get. America was reluctant to get involved in another European war. Whatever Roosevelt thought hardly mattered. Congress and the public wanted nothing to do with another European war. Besides it was 3,000 miles away, it was not an American problem. The job of the British espionage unit was to convince Americans that it was not just a European problem, but a world problem. I found it intriguing the way false stories were spread. They would concoct a story —  something the Nazis were supposed to have done, something that was detrimental or insulting to Americans. Then they would get it published, or radio presented, in some minor news outlet in America. Once that was done, they would send it out again with an American dateline. Before long it would be picked up by other news agencies, no… Continue reading