Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Book Club Update: Skinny Legs and All: September

So, I made it through the first book in my book club. Boy did I pick a tough one to start with. This is the second Robbins book I have read and this one is much more philosophy driven than the other (Still Life with Woodpecker). One review I read said this was a horrible book to introduce someone to Robbins (sorry Pang!). After 150 pages and me still reading thinking "when is the story going to start!" I wanted to give up, but I kept on going anyhow and ended up really liking the book at the end, the story that is, some of the veils were too forced and took too long to come about.

Robbins deals with a lot of issues in this book like sex, money, religion, ignorance, art, to name a few. The section I found interesting was the section where the 6th veil falls and he discusses his view of religions that have a fixation with the afterlife. A quote from the book struck me because it reminded me of a discussion I had with Collin a while back. Actually I have been having this conversation all over the place for some reason, and its a personal thing where people are asking me what I think about religion in my life and how I feel about an afterlife. I took this quote in a personal way, so please don't misconstrue this to read me as attacking religions because that's not my intent. I really just was taken by surprise with this quote because it ties back to what I have been saying about my personal life.

Here it is: "to emphasize the afterlife is to deny life. To concentrate on heaven is to create hell."

While Robbins views here are a bit fanatical perhaps, in lesser degrees I have been hearing this topic around and it strikes a cord with me for several reasons (see my response in the comments, I go into this in detail, which I should have done to start with if I was going to write about it at all). Robbins personifies this idea with the character Reverend Buddy who wants to blow up the Temple of the Rock in Jerusalem to hasten the coming of the Lord and bring the apocalypse.

Another of Robbins' favorite topics is sex. He is graphic and sometimes shockingly blunt in his approach but he does have some interesting theories. Robbins postulates (more than once) that men do not in fact enjoy sex as much as they let on. They feel the need to constantly seek it and make a show of seeking it to assert masculinity but he theorizes that the reverse is true for women. That women actually enjoy it much more than they let on. In fact, he thinks they enjoy it more than men do. I will say though, he gives no real evidence to support this idea, perhaps this is a reflection of Robbins' own feelings. One thing is for sure, he loves writing about the nitty gritty, because as I recall there was plenty of it in Still Life also.

There is a whole lot I could get into with this book, but unless you have read it, it wont mean a thing to you. i had planning on having questions here for the readers and I to answer but as this book wasn't really a success (Pang doesn't like it, aka isn't done, and I told Annie not to bother because the first 150 pages was so boring), Lets just move on to the next book. Pang will be hosting the next book so keep a lookout for the next one, and I will remind you when she posts it.


Tess said...

I find the quote rather vague. Are you (or Robbins) saying that yes, an afterlife, heaven, and hell exist but to concern yourself with them is to waste your time?-Or, that none of them exist at all? I can't help but find it reckless regardless- especially the first part- "to emphasize the afterlife is to deny life." I can't help but know the opposite. Eternal life and salvation through Christ is the single most important thing in my life- and it's a very current/present/day to day relationship with real life meaning in the present. My Christian spirituality does not deny life- current or eternal. To have a relationship with your Creator or be spiritual does NOT imply the religious stereotype Robbins's Reverend Buddy represents. C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters deals with this misconception- and how eternity is directly tied to the present- it is that present that we, as God's children, are called to live our lives. It is pure assumption and stereotype that to concern oneself with the afterlife will lead to 'denial of life' behavior. I might go so far to suggest that to deny or ignore the 'after life' is to deny any possible salvation or eternal life, or to tell God that you simply don't need His help. If I were to ignore, or merely focus less on the afterlife, it would seem awfully reckless to gamble with eternity and salvation.

Of course, if one was to deny the existence of heaven, hell, God or any sense of afterlife, than my argument wouldn't make any matter at all- and neither would the quote. The quote seems to assume some acknowledgment of afterlife, heaven, and hell- but simply refuses to address them. And of course, it bases itself on quite a few assumptions & stereotypes of religion in general.

I didn't write this to offend or annoy, or even to change minds- simply to clarify, since I found the quote to be rooted in the stereotype that anyone 'religious' is like Robbins's Reverend character- which I would take offense at (or that Christian spirituality would encourage such behavior). I hope that my response if anything gave you a bit of insight into another viewpoint and lifestyle... :)

PS- pear cake looked delicious- must be the new thing, I pulled like 5 different pear cake, pie, custard, dessert recipes in the past month!!

Lacey said...

First off, Im sorry for offending you. I see now I didn't even at all describe the significance of this quote to me, and that just left you with nothing to go on but that I believed these words through and through. Let me try to repair this one.
I didn't go into much of the book here but his quote really comes back to the issues in the middle east and the bloodshed and violence over Israel, and the misconception that attaining this small chunk of land, their holy land, somehow excuses or even promotes the violence that has been going on for decades. Buddy, in this story, promotes the violence and tries to insight more violence in an attempt to destroy the other religions by bringing the last coming of the lord, which will scourge away any unfaithful, which includes the muslims and jews who fight in this area.
What I think he warns against here is fanaticism (which applies to both sides, religious or not) or the concept that just because your people are going to heaven means its okay for the nonbelievers to bicker amongst themselves and destroy each other( of course I don't think you believe this but there are people that do. People that think we should just ignore all the bickering and let them destroy themselves. People that would supply them weapons, but then wonder at the magnitude of the bloodshed and throw their hands up in defeat, much like our government has done) Like all those people whose response to the middle east is "just nuke them" because they can't wrap their head around another group of people with different beliefs that drive them to do unthinkable things. Again, I think Robbins goes too far here to center this all on religion because it can apply to nonreligous people too. Our inability to view each other as all one people and to use or dismiss violence because of this. In a way, Robbins just presents this whole thing to us from a different perspective and says, hey look at it from this light, if it were a Christian promoting all this violence. For most Americans this is an easier perspective to look through. And all the characters of the book are horrified that Buddy would even suggest it. But maybe that was just how I took it and Robbins is really just trying to be a jerk.
I personally, think that Robbins is too harsh in his opinions, that he goes too far with his judgement (a big part of why I think this particular book was a bad one for this club, its too opinionated and harsh) but the reason the quote struck me is because I have been hearing it more lately, in different forms, and talking about the concept with several different people.
Reading over what I wrote now I realize I gave the wrong impression with my wording here. When I said in a nutshell that is what I had been talking about, I didn't really include my feeling on Robbins wording. Its ironic but in his description of the fanatical he comes off as fanatical himself. Of course your relationship with God doesn't hinder life. This is part of what I don't like about Robbins, he's too dramatic. But I think what Robbins is trying to say here or maybe is just what it makes me think is the differences between the religions (ie if you don't take Jesus as the savior you are not going to heaven) automatically leaves out millions of people who are then delegated to hell. I have always had a problem with this, even as a kid. I remember having a crush on a jewish kid in middle school and asking my pastor if he would go to heaven and he told me that unfortunately he would not because he didn't take jesus as the savior. That's when I really opted out of religion altogether.
For ME, focusing on heaven created hell, because if I accepted heaven as my reward, if I embraced Jesus, that meant that other people that I cared for, who were totally devoted to their religion (he was orthodox) would not be granted the same reward. Making heaven real makes hell real. Robbins is trying to be more blunt and cruel here, but this quote struck a cord with me because of my experiences. I should have explained this all, but I didn't want to get into my personal life, but I see now that not explaining just made a mess.
Further, to go back to how I said I had been talking to Collin about this recently. He asked me to explain my view of life, what I thought about existence and my experience with it. I told him, just as I told you, that I don't believe in God and I don't choose to follow any religion. The question I always get when I say this is "but what do you think happens after death." And my answer is, nothing. Nothing happens. I want to be cremated, chemical free and deposited into the earth so that my nutrients and flesh can be recycled into the ground and that's it. What that means for me is that this, life right now, is all that I have and I am totally ok with that. Because for me, to know that I have an afterlife ahead of me, an eternity, does not appeal to me. I need to enjoy what I have right now, and not focus on something that to me (im being really honest here so please dont be offended) is imperfect and broken. Heaven is not a reward to me, life is. This is what has meaning to me. If your relationship with God makes you cherish every moment of life then that's great Tess, Im happy for you, truly. But it doesn't for me. And that's why the quote caught my attention. I took it out of context and applied it to my life, and in that way, yes, it does make sense to me.
I can see a lot of good in Christianity and religions in general, the morals and lessons that can be demonstrated through the church, but that still does not make it any more attractive to me as something to commit my life to. If there is a God, and I don't know if there is or not, I would like to hope that he would understand our helplessness in understanding the universe and that he would judge a person on the way they lived their lives and not wether they went to church or followed certain beliefs. I would hope (again this is a little blunt so sorry) that I would be granted into heaven before a child molesting priest, who believed with all his heart, and asked for forgiveness, but yet lived a base dirty life. That example seems a little prickly, but do you see what Im saying? I intend to live a good life, an honest one, and if there are people who would live a dishonest life and still somehow be more likely to go to heaven than me, then there is something wrong with that picture in my opinion. Maybe that is reckless but it's how I feel really.
Im glad you wrote that because it brought to my attention that I just threw a loose one out there and didn't explain its relevance at all. You are right, the quote is rooted in stereotype, Robbins is way outfield. But I can find meaning in this quote on a personal level without applying it to you or anyone else. Admitting heaven means admitting hell and that is not something I am willing or interested in doing. I feel that I can have a full satisfying life without religion or belief in God, and if that life means Im going to hell, I just cant accept any part of it. Im not afraid of their being no afterlife, and I wont let fear lead me into things that I don't agree with completely.
Its entirely possible that I have said more that needs explaining and fleshing out so let me know if you spot anything. Again, Im sorry. I'm sure reading that post was conflicting and maddening. I hope I have explained this well enough to put you at some ease, even though I know we disagree here. I just want you to be assured that I was not trying to mock you with that quote or belittle you. It struck me in a way more personal way than I was ready to explain (also I thought no one would be interested in reading all that) so I should have just reserved it for a time and place that I was ready to explain it in.

Jon said...

I think the quote just didn't quite match what you meant, Lacey. It just happened to sound familiar and you were struck by seeing it written down. I think it's certainly worth noting that it's possible to have a belief in Heaven and Hell separate from a belief of the rules and guidelines laid out by a specific religion as to who gets in or not. I personally don't believe that good people can't get into Heaven for not holding a specific belief in a religion. There are far too many different religions in the world that do include many very good people. Who doesn't think Ghandi belongs in Heaven? The quote from Robbins just sounds too fundamentalist--he either has a closed mind or just wants to sell books. I think both of you explained your views on the matter very well.

Tess said...

Lacey- don't be too worried- I wasn't that offended, and I didn't that you really had any intention of doing so. What you wrote just struck me (especially since it related to what we'd talked about Monday in a Bible study), and I felt compelled to share my view; I'm glad you you clarified where you were coming from.

I personally agree with Jon about Robbins- I think he's trying to sell books. I do agree with you about fanaticism. What you (and Robbins) describe is by no means ever acceptable. A lot of Christians try to justify it by looking at the Old Testament- which is rife with battle scenes and God smiting peoples' enemies. But- Jesus changed all that. Jesus's death on the cross set us free from the law. Ultimately, the gospel proclaims love for everyone - even those who do the most terrible things. After all, Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He didn't come here just to save some, He really did come for everyone. I can't possibly accept that anywhere in that message violence is acceptable. As you mentioned as well- I also can't find anything that would allow a 'let's just nuke them all' mentality. Fanaticism- in both extremes, like you said- is never good (except for baked goods maybe lol).

As for the rest of your view, it doesn't need any further explaining. It's a very common one. As for the people who don't accept Jesus as their savior part- NO ONE makes that judgement except God. How dare any of us suppose to think that we could know someone else's salvation, to point and condemn another without knowing their heart. That is between them and God. However, I as a Christian I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, the truth. Jesus does say "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." Do I believe you have to know Christ to get to heaven? That's what it says to me- but I don't dare suppose to know just what that means. Would someone who doesn' t know Christ before they die here on earth go to hell? I really hope not, I really do. But again- it's not my place to judge anyone or make that call, that's between them and God. As for the 'good people' issue, this might sound pessimistic, and I hope I don't offend yall- I don't mean to. I really don't think any of us are 'good people.' We are all liars. We are all greedy. We all hate- whether or not we like to admit it. Whether or not we act on our feelings, they are in our hearts. Even the most devout Christians have done truly horrible things. Paul used to persecute Christians before he became one; he was a murderer. David had Bathsheba's husband sent to the front lines so that he could sleep with her while he was gone; he was an adulterer. Peter actually denied knowing Christ three times the night of the crucifixion- this one sounds strange, but regardless of religion, it's pretty incredible to think that he knew and walked daily with Jesus, was TOLD that he was going to deny knowing him (which he insisted he never would) and then went right ahead and did it 12 hours later. We are all sinners. And I don't think it matters to God how big those sins are, because regardless, we are not the loving selfless creatures He wants us to be. It might sound really negative, but we ALL need grace in this life- regardless of if we live a 'good' life by society's standards. I also think the 'good people' thing is interesting on another level. We like to think people (ourselves included) are 'good' by labeling what we have not done. We haven't murdered, we never stole, etc... But what about the good that we haven't done either? What about the countless hours we spend self-absorbed when so many people in this world need help? What about the money we spend on ourselves when so many people need so much in this world? Very few have led lives truly dedicated to serving their fellow man. Which is why Christianity makes so much sense to me. None of us can really keep any religious law- truly in our hearts. Christianity doesn't require you to live by the law- it's all about accepting the sacrifice Christ made for you and repenting of your sins. That might be hard to swallow, but I believe that I need God's grace and forgiveness just every bit as much as a serial killer and rapist. Accepting the reality of heaven and hell (and God) is scary regardless- I agree with you on that Lacey for sure.

I hope that wasn't a huge downer- I really do believe people are good; after all, I believe we were made in God's image. But I also believe that we're all sinners, and we all need His grace. Again, does that mean I think you must accept Christ to get to heaven? When I read the Word, that's what I hear, but I don't think it is ANY human's place to say yes or no. It is God, and God alone, who holds that judgement. Yes, I hope as many people as possible will find eternal life in heaven.

I hope I didn't offend you guys- again, I just felt called to respond to what you said, largely because we do have different views, and I think discussing differences in opinion is usually beneficial for both sides. I hope I didn't sound preachy, because it wasn't my intent. As I said, I'm not trying to offend or change minds, just present my view and reactions to what you said. I feel a need to sort of 'stand up' and apologize so often for Christianity because of the many horrible things done under it's banner. I may not have specifically done or supported those events, ideas, actions, and feelings, but I am sorry for them reardless. I am glad that you explained the quote better and surrounded it with more context. It did make more sense after your response :). I'm sure we'll agree to disagree regarding the quote regardless, but I'm glad we both explained our views a little more fully. :)

Lacey said...

No offense was taken here. In fact, its really interesting to have you explain it because it IS so important to you and because you know it so well, you can describe it in a way that makes it very easy and interesting to read without being preachy.
The idea of a "good person" certainly is a complex one because it varies from culture to culture and even person to person and changes across time. No one is perfect, and we all know society sure isn't.
You are right that we often judge goodness on what people do not do, and that truly we should focus on what we do do, because there is always more to be done. I am always inspired and impressed with your community outreach programs, like building houses for the needy. One of my profs this term is a preacher in town and since I have been getting into cooking so much, I asked him if we could host a Thanksgiving dinner at his church for needy people in our area. We still need to work out the specifics (like if there are even enough needy in the area who would need it) but hopefully we can pull this off. That is one thing I really liked about the church was that it provided opportunities for me to work with other people, because I have always been of the opinion that we don't all have the same opportunities or tools at our disposal, so some of us need an extra hand.

Tess said...

The Thanksgiving dinner idea is a great one! There was a friend of mine here a year ago who was involved in the coolest thing. Every Saturday they met in one of the huge parks here and had a big potluck lunch. While it was all of their friends hanging out (they brought frisbees and the like), they invited the homeless and needy in the area to it every time. Not only was it a lot of fun regardless (who doesn't like lots of food and frisbee in the park?), it was a chance to open their hearts to others who might need a helping hand. Plus, they provided more than just food- they talked, listened, played, and relaxed with those people too. :) Just thought you might find that interesting too. If the Thanksgiving dinner doesn't work out, you could always do something like that. :)

Lacey said...

Question about some Christian terminology: What is the Word exactly? Is that the whole Bible? just the New Testament? Just what Jesus actually said? If it isn't the whole Bible, does the Word have more importance or take precedence over say the Old Testament?

That potluck lunch is a really cool idea. We would have to forgo the frisbee idea though. Jon and I were playing pick-up games every wednesday and sunday for a while. In the begining, like last year, it was all people we knew, and it was no problem at all keeping it no contact because we were all careful. This year, a few week back, I got plowed into twice in one night by kids I didn't know, who were not being careful. Last week Jon collided with a guy and ended up in the hospital that night with a bruised lung, causing him to cough up blood, and a fractured rib. So no more frisbee for us unfortunately, at least not a game anyhow.

Pang said...

whoa! i absolutely hated this book. is that bad, sorry Lacey. i never finished it...