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Geoff Crocker (Bristol UK)

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Daniel Stein, Interpreter
Daniel Stein, Interpreter
by Ludmila Ulitskaya
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In praise of virtue, 22 Jan. 2015
Around the core life story of Daniel Stein, Ludmila Ulitskaya skilfully assembles a montage of other personal stories. Some are presented through extensive correspondence, others as brief glimpses. There is a wide disparate set of characters, and the chronology is rather haphazard, which can sometimes be confusing. Nevertheless, in this mirage of snippets, Ulitskaya successfully conveys insight into how people encountered and responded to major social event, as well as minor everyday personal relationship. She includes deep and meaningful characterisation of the Jewish diaspora in Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and the US. Nazi atrocities and the Jewish/Arab conflict are rendered poignantly from detailed personal perspective. Daniel Stein incarnates the Jewish/Christian synthesis, and noble human values. He is the Christ motif of the account. He knows the Pope, forgives the Nazi, embraces the needy, but is eventually denounced by the institution when he challenges its dogma. His work collapses with his death, but we hope that his values live on.


The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion
The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion
by Philip Clayton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £30.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, interesting, and important, 27 Dec. 2014
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In this excellent, inspiring, and hugely relevant volume, 13 philosophers, scientists and theologians debate the concept of emergence. The physical world generates higher level systems, but are these fully explained by, predicted from, and reducible to the originating physical state? Or is there an ontology of emergent entities which require higher level analysis, and exert downward causation?

Philip Clayton follows Michael Polanyi in proposing the irreducibility of personhood (p15, 312). David Chalmers writes that ‘consciousness alone is a strongly emergent phenomena, since its nature is not deducible from physical facts’ (p246). George Ellis argues for ‘a richer ontology than simple physicalism’, pointing out that ‘goals, symbols and expectations are all strongly emergent phenomena that are causally effective, but are certainly not derivative from physics or chemistry’ (p104). Michael Silberstein agrees that ‘mental properties are not fully determined by the neurochemical properties of underlying brain states’. He opts for ‘ontological emergence (which) does violate causal closure of the physical’ (p204). For Arthur Peacocke ‘mental properties are …epistemologically irreducible to physical neurological ones’ (p267). Flock behaviour affects birds, and group behaviour humans. Lynne Rothschild applies the ‘salt’ test of the unpredictability of saltiness from sodium and chlorine to claim that ‘emergent phenomena are unpredictable’ and furthermore that ‘if emergence exists, absolute reductionism fails’ (p156). She argues that ‘life can never be truly understood from only a reductionist perspective’ (p163).

Paul Davies however points out that ‘strong emergence over-determines a Newtonian system’ (p46). Neils Henrik Gregersen writes that all emergents are also resultants (p285) so that reductionism survives. There are no new entities or forces at the emergent level. Terrence Deacon proposes a complex circle of causality whereby an ‘amplification dynamic’ yields emergent phenomena and ‘decries using emergence as an anti-reductionist code word in holistic criticisms of standard explanations’ which he regards as ‘pointless semantic debates’ (p123). For Jaegwon Kim, physicalism survives undented by emergence (p189-202).

In one sense, physicalism has it, in that there are no emergent properties without physical matter. But it cannot yet unambiguously determine life. Moreover, whilst physicalism generates and hosts emergent properties, they cannot yet be explained physically. And even if they could, this does not necessarily mean that they should then be perceived physically. A musical tune can be fully explained by reductionist physicalism, but is still perceived as emergent. Human consciousness cannot yet be explained physically, but, if it is, will still retain its own ontology.

We are still more than our molecules, and can still develop our being as intellectual, emotional, and spiritual beings, and not just as physical bodies.

Geoff Crocker
Editor ‘Atheist Spirituality’ web site


A Song for Issy Bradley
A Song for Issy Bradley
by Carys Bray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How religion fails humanity, 15 Dec. 2014
Drawing from her detailed personal experience, Carys Bray devastatingly dissects the Mormon religion, showing the irrelevance of its beliefs, and the distortion its power structures wreak on its members’ lives. Its attempts to address death, sex, truth, marriage, education and contemporary culture are all abject failures. Her study of grief is deeply moving, and in the end, it is facing this reality together which unites the Bradley family, rather than the Mormon church. It’s sensitively written with recognisable and convincing deep insight into common human hopes, hurts, and dilemmas.


The Spiritual City: Theology, Spirituality, and the Urban
The Spiritual City: Theology, Spirituality, and the Urban
by Philip Sheldrake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A too narrow hermeneutic, 9 Dec. 2014
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Compared to the broad inclusive treatment of spirituality in his ‘Spirituality, a very short introduction’, Philip Sheldrake develops a narrow restrictive hermeneutic in ‘The Spiritual City’. The book is almost exclusively, and intensively, about orthodox Christian theology and spirituality, and almost nothing about city. We are told what the Bible says, what Augustine says, and what monasticism, Benedict, and Ignatius might offer for urban spirituality. Bewildered secular atheists may well think that the Bible and St Augustine know as much about the modern city as they do about the motor car or virtual life on the Internet. Orthodox doctrines of sin (p32), of the incarnation (p123) and the trinity (p146) are wrung hard for relevance to the theme. Examples are brief and historic - God save us from Calvin’s Geneva, which Sheldrake reports uncritically (p85).

Sheldrake loses himself in this Christian theology and spirituality for its own sake, and fails to incarnate it meaningfully for city life. Apart from a welcome critique of Le Corbusier, (any brief visit to Le Havre compared to the nearby beauty of Honfleur, will confirm the desolate soulless city landscape he championed), there is little else about the city itself.

The city is driven by economies of scale in housing, sanitation, production, retailing etc. It is initially functional and needs the emotional and spiritual. Anonymity, unmanageable scale, overbearing infrastructure, loss of identity, the city as reified independent artefact, all confront, constrain, and perplex the citizen. Cities provide and impose their pattern of living; they do not facilitate expression of living. Sheldrake treats none of this adequately.

Sheldrake includes no study of or reflection on contemporary city data. Some comparative profile and life experience of New York, Manila, Mumbai, Birmingham would help. Are US cities, European cities and Asian cities quintessentially different (eg maybe continental European cities have more substantial civic life)? If so, then why, and what to do etc…

If Sheldrake is looking for ‘any form of shared belief’ (p2) to inform urban spirituality, then he will have to be far wider in his coverage of spirituality, and apply it to real city situations.


Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative
Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative
by Jerome A. Stone
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent comprehensive review of religious naturalism thinking, 8 Dec. 2014
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Jerome Stone provides a comprehensive literature review and a compelling case for religious naturalism. Nature offers ‘minimalist transcendence’, for example, of awe, wonder, gratitude and reverence. George Santayana’s differential between facts and ideals generates scope for hope and aspiration, and hence for moral transformation, which is a role for prayer. ‘Gods are the representation of our ideals’ (p25). Piety is retrospective ; spirituality is prospective, (p34). We create deity (p40). Dewey’s God is ‘the furtherance of good in human life’ (p50). We can appreciate the ‘power and possibilities inherent in the nature of things’ (p54). Emergence challenges dualism and reductionism. Spirit opens up interpretive prospects (p218).

However, nature is morally ambiguous and insufficient. Nature may be a source of power rather than of goodness. ‘Right and wrong are determined by human interests’ (p27). Religious naturalism has to include human consciousness and conscience. In a secular atheist world, we need a new concept of human created religion to nurture and sustain the human spirit and human spirituality.

Geoff Crocker
Editor web site ‘Atheist Spirituality’


Spirituality: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Spirituality: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Philip Sheldrake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, readable, informative, interesting, and relevant, 26 Nov. 2014
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This is an excellent introduction to, and call for, spirituality. Our consumer society and reductionist philosophy have left us with a materialist rationalist physical world with no account of our metaphysical being, whether intellectual, emotional, or spiritual.

Philip Sheldrake presents overviews of religious and secular spirituality, offering a useful typology of ascetic, mystical, activist and prophetic spirituality. We are more spiritually aware in childhood, than we are later in life (p61). Spirituality is holistic, transformative, meaningful, coherent, heuristic, creative, individual and communal. It examines self, develops self, but transcends self. It invokes the sacred. It is a discipline. It gives us identity. Its hallmark is virtue.


The Arch and the Butterfly
The Arch and the Butterfly
by Mohammed Achaari
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting impressions of Morocco in transition, 21 Nov. 2014
This is a mesmerising impressionistic rendering of the turmoil and turbulence of transition in Morocco. It’s a heady mix of architectural heritage, family lineage, cultural assimilation, medieval feudal religion, contemporary feudal mafia property gangs, seething suppressed sexuality, terrorism etc. It even includes an ‘I interviewed José Saramago’ chapter though this seems a pointless conceit. It gives insight into how the Moroccan intelligentsia experience this fast moving melange.

Mohammed Achaari writes a personal narrative through this social swirl. But he fails to persuade that his story is of interest, is different to reading anyone else’s personal experience or diary. As he writes himself ‘When I finished writing…I realised it was not a novel. It was simply Ibrahim’s life….story’ (p211), or ‘All you have to do is to let your imagination run freely and write an unprecedented love story…a kind of literary fantasy’ (p227). I’m not convinced this suffices, and as a result, the book is interesting but not engaging.


Brother of Sleep
Brother of Sleep
by Robert Schneider
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.59

4.0 out of 5 stars An alternative vulgar world, 15 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Brother of Sleep (Paperback)
God did not want people to live in the alpine village of Eschberg. Their living there was blighted, their lives crippled, their hope lost, their love denied. Horror repeatedly visited them, fire destroyed them. They themselves acted cruelly, exploitatively, rapaciously, and maliciously. In this medieval vulgar world, life defaults to the malignant rather than to the benign. Even the improbable redemptive gift of music bestowed on Elias Johannes Alder, though acclaimed beyond Eschberg, is doomed within Eschberg.

Robert Schneider very powerfully creates this malignant world and raises the question of why our world should be otherwise, should be willed by some God to be more often good than it is awful?


The Gardener from Ochakov (Vintage)
The Gardener from Ochakov (Vintage)
by Andrey Kurkov
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Life in a dysfunctional society, 6 Nov. 2014
This is a fun and enjoyable read. Igor’s time travel between 1957 Soviet Ochakov and the present day shows the continuity of Ukrainian culture in communist and capitalist guise. In one case wine is stolen from the local factory and sold in the public market, whilst in the contemporary scene the computer hacker gets rich by blackmail, with brutal retaliation. Even the honest hard working gardener is tainted with corrupt behaviour. Life is about petty crime, criminal gun power, tricking your way through a dysfunctional social system.


Subtly Worded (Pushkin Collection)
Subtly Worded (Pushkin Collection)
by Teffi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.70

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtly worded, short, deep, engaging studies, 29 Oct. 2014
This is a collection of engaging, charming, and telling short stories. Here are deep studies of human pretence (The Hat, One of Us), hypocrisy (A Radiant Easter), brutality (The Corsican), self-deception (Will Power), jealousy (Jealousy), prejudice (The Kind that Walk), undeterred love (The Dog), madness and suicide (Thy Will), blindness (The Blind One), an intense study of death (And Time Was No More), life through the Russian revolution, meetings with Rasputin and Tolstoy. They capture an era, the effects of revolutionary change, and the depth of the human spirit. They evoke a deep thoughtful response.


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