Calendars mined with emotion: 1-2-12
Remembering Mother Seton: 1-4-12

Some books for a new year: 1-3-12

The other day on Fareed Zakaria's CNN show "GPS," this math puzzle was offered:

Why ReligionThe combined cost of a bat and ball is $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does each cost?

(I'll wait for you. . .)

OK. If you said the bat costs $1.00 and the ball a dime, you're wrong. With those figures, the bat is only 90 cents more than the ball, not a buck. So the correct answer is that the bat costs $1.05 and the ball a nickel.

The point being made by Zakaria's guest with that puzzle is that even though we are capable of thinking fast, there are times when we'd do better to do the difficult work of thinking slow.

In some ways, that's also the argument of a book I want to introduce you to today, Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not, by Robert N. McCauley.

The author, who teaches at Emory University, argues that "natural cognition occurs when, straightaway and without reflection, human beings seem to grasp something complex about their environment."

And, he says, they quite often -- unlike the opening example I used today -- get it right.

This kind of intuitive thinking, McCauley argues, is characteristic of religion and religious thought. We seem to know instinctively that there is something grander than ourselves, something of which we are merely a small part.

Science, by contrast, requires slow, careful -- call it unnatural -- thinking, as evidenced by the GPS puzzle. Science is relatively new in the human experience and its way of proceeding is, he argues, goes against the grain of how we've usually made our way through life.

"That religion predates both literacy and the dawn of human history, that it arises in every human culture, and that it reappears and persists even when it is forcefully hampered, all indicate that it relies on institutional support far less than appearances suggest. The contrast with science could not be much starker.

"First, science is rare. Few people in the history of our species have carried out scientific investigations. Even more obviously, the kind of social and political conditions for the enduring pursuit of science. . .have been scare historically and remain uncommon to this day. If its continuing pursuit began with the ancient Greeks, science still counts as a relative newcomer in our species' history. Few ppeople have carried out scientific investigations because few societies have established the social arrangements necessary for its persistence."

Beyond that, he argues, science is on shaky ground politically, given that some of our leaders make political points by denying what science shows us -- such as climate change and evolution. Not only that, McCauley says, but "nothing about human nature would ever prevent the loss of science again."

Well, the book is not an especially easy read. Its language tends toward academese but the points it raises are worth our (slow) pondering.

In keeping with my previous announcement that I'd be doing fewer book reviews but would, nonetheless, at least mention some new books that I think might be worth your time, here's just such a list:

Care-to-Share* I Care to Share, by Debi Stewart. This Missouri author helped her mother to care for her father at the end of his life. This is a manual to use when you are asked to give such care to others. A dollar from the sale of each book goes to St. Luke's Hospice, which provided end-of-life care for her father. For the book's Web site, click here. And for the book's Facebook page, click here.

Roger Williams* Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, by John M. Barry. This is an exploration of the church-state separation issue in the U.S. through a look at the life of Roger Williams, whose very name means religious freedom.

* Living in the Light: Follow Your Inner Guidance to Create a New Life and a New World, by Shakti Gawain. This is the 25th anniversary edition of this book, which has been read by millions. If you'd like to sample the author's words in her brief New Year's message on YouTube, click here.

* Shaped by the Cross: Meditations on the Sufferings of Jesus, by Ken Gire. This is a devotional book for the upcoming Christian liturgical season of Lent, and it focuses on Michelangelo's Pieta.

* Angels in My Hair: The True Story of a Modern-Day Irish Mystic, by Lorna Byrne. This volume, with a new afterward, now is out in paperback. The author says she's been seeing angels and talking to them since she was an infant.

* Heart to Heart: A Cardinal Newman Prayer Book, by John Henry Newman. This is a wide-ranging collection of prayers by the famous cardinal.

* Homies + Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America, by Robert Brenneman. This is the story of gang members who turned to evangelical Christianity.

* Free Indeed: A Message of Hope, by Stephanie S. Ackerman. A tiny book about a woman's promise to God to change.

Now go read.

* * *


A court in Israel has ruled against a man who asked that he be listed officially as having "no religion." It sounds weird, and is, but it's more complicated than it seems at first. How much better, at least in principle, if governments have no need to know what religion people follow.


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