History Offers a View of Nature
Living in upstate New York, I’ve acclimated to this 2011 winter’s zero degree weather by reading books inside the warmer house, with a kitty on my lap. I’ve just finished reading:
• The History of God, by Karen Armstrong
• A People’s History of the World, by Christ Harman
• The Stuff of Thought, a history of language, by Steven Pinker
It’s only a coincidence the books fall into the genre of history, but they fascinatingly complemented one another, keeping my interest piqued.
Karen Armstrong’s research into the knowledge of God and its impact on the worlds three main religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, severed theology from eternity. Theologies are human-made and fluctuate as often as the weather. The History of God seemed to agree with my opinion that outmoded doctrines and restrictive traditions bring disrepute to religions. Armstrong warns against fundamentalism and encourages faith-a faith and audacity to exchange human ideologies for transcendent views of God, reality.
Harman’s book, A People’s History of the World, is fat, pregnant with social and political history apparently forming and reforming human nature. Discourses on religion and God are scattered throughout the book, pointing to the probability that the people’s way of life, health, and systems of government indirectly mimic their concept of God, some good, some not so good.
Reading Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought was like scuba-diving. It required serious exertion and concentration; resisting a ponderous oxygen tank from pulling you backward; remembering to breathe counter-intuitively through your mouth, and, abstaining from immediate verbal expressions when glimpsing an awesome view, in order not to swallow a mouthful of salty water. The history of language is entirely different from the history of words and Pinker analyzed language from many perspectives, concluding there is no complete adequate language to convey truth. Pinker is amazingly practical, humorous, and realistic.
I recommend The History of God to readers who are interested in reconciling religion to God. Religion can be beneficial when not mistaken for truth.
I recommend A People’s History of the World to readers on the verge of escaping the prison of repeating deadening past activity.
I recommend The Stuff of Thought to people who value the open-mindedness of an educated engaging author.
My conclusion: History serves as a window into nature. But readers must decide which nature. Trying to understand the human nature is as promising as understanding falling snow. Admittedly, snow is no longer considered a miracle but is now known as a component of the water cycle. But this knowledge is plagued by human concerns. Too little snow causes droughts. Too much snow is a pain to deal with on the roads. Knowledge of the human nature is not satisfying.
The human struggle against concerns, hunger, suffering, and mind-numbing traditions cease only as I use history as a window into the spiritual nature. And, I did find evidence of spirituality in these good reads! Bravery, balance, insight, hindsight, compassion, morality, reform, honesty, integrity were not only obvious, but also inspiring, to the point I felt the reality of the spiritual nature.