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Winston D. Jen

Member Since 2008

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  • 11 reviews
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  • Has Christianity Failed You?

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By Ravi Zacharias
    • Narrated By Ravi Zacharias
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (134)
    Performance
    (88)
    Story
    (86)

    This book is for the Christian and skeptic alike. Is Christianity a mindless game hurling us into the storms of life, or are the instructions so detailed that we can know well enough what the storm will be like, who is in control, and what to do when on solid ground? In the end, is it Christianity that has failed, or is it the Church - as God's representative - that has failed?

    Patricia says: "I am a new big fan of Ravi Zacharias!"
    "Nonsense and Callous Bile"
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    What would have made Has Christianity Failed You? better?

    Honest in place of arrogance. Evidence instead of blindly assuming the bible to be true.


    What could Ravi Zacharias have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Done research and not made nonsensensical accusations such as "atheism is a religion."


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Disappointment and incredulity.


    Any additional comments?

    During his introduction, Ravi regales us with a story about his family's Border Collie, GK, named after one of their favourite authors, GK Chesterton. Immediately I was struck by their callous attitude in forcing a member of their family to suffer the ravages of a natural death from cancer rather than put it quietly and peacefully to sleep. Sadly, Ravi takes a similar stance when he addresses the readers in the greater part of this book.

    The author attempts to delineate "true" Christianity from the Christianity practiced in some churches today, and blames this for the reason people are leaving it in droves. He won't even entertain the idea that Christianity is false. The superficial saving grace in his book is his call to churches to be more supportive and understanding of those who have fallen away and "sinned" (a vacuous religious concept to begin with). He criticises the liberal media for condemning the Pope's stance unequivocally condemning contraception, asking if they would show compassion to someone who had used a condom and contracted HIV. In doing so, Ravi is denying the human impulse towards pleasure, one that he believes his god bestowed upon us, and is giving tacit support to a Puritanical worldview that has made the AIDS crisis worse. Condoms reduce the rate of HIV transmission, this is an undeniable fact. Why he would lend succour to a malicious jerk who covered up and perpetuated child rape and indirect murder speaks volumes about the author. Perhaps he should write a new book on his own shortcomings and failures as an apologist and evangelical preacher.

    Ravi claims that although his god is sovereign, he has also blessed us with free will. Anyone who has read Exodus should know that this is nonsense. A god who would violate Pharoah's free will to shunt himself up onto a pedestal and cause further gratuitous suffering is not only a deity brimming with malfeasance, but has no respect for free will. On a related note, Ravi complains that if one amputee was cured, this would be unfair to all other amputees, and we would demand more evidence and miracles. What, you mean like what allegedly occurred in the Old Testament? This flimsy excuse holds no water, especially since his god is supposedly all-powerful and could never get weary.

    Ravi holds his personal experience (a supposed visit from Jesus while he was hospitalized after a suicide attempt). A cursory examination of NDEs, OBEs and similar experiences reveals that the only religious experiences humans experience is based on the religions that they were raised in. Why don't we see Muslims visited by Buddha or Krishna? I do not doubt Ravi's sincerity when he recounts this, but as he concedes, that doesn't prove the existence of his god. I would bet my life that Ravi would not place the same credence that he places in his own experience that he would place on the personal experiences of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. And besides, if his god is willing to reveal himself, it would be a simple matter to replicate such revelatory experiences for everyone on the planet. But we don't see this. It is very rare for adults who have been raised in religion to break free of the religion they were brought up in. Capital punishment for apostasy doesn't account for all of this, and the benefits of Christian missions and "charities" often do more harm than good. Myths and edicts about how to deal with "witches" have caused African villages to murder their children. The baggage that burdens Christianity and its teachings often end up doing more harm than good. And as for the bible, I found it quite telling that Zacharias does not mention whether or not he is a biblical literalist or whether some verses were not divinely inspired, in his view. And he doesn't even come close to explaining why we can trust the bible, since it was written by fallible humans, rehashed and manipulated depending on the era and translators. Perhaps simply thinks that the sheer quantity of obfuscation he spews forth will be enough to convince the reader.

    He initially attempts to tackle arguments for the validity of theism over naturalism. He immediately falls flat at the starting gate by appealing to the sheer unlikeliness of life arising from random chance, and mentions monkeys randomly mashing keys until they produce the works of Shakespeare. According to him, the chances are too high for it to occur naturally during the alleged age of the universe. What he doesn't realise is that incredibly unlikely things occur every day - every person, every sperm and egg combination, is one in several hundred million. Add the chances of our parents meeting, and the thousands of human generations throughout our 200,000-year history, and the odds are far more unlikely than the "astronomical" odds Ravi mentions.

    He also rails against secularism and "relativism", although situational ethics would be a better descriptor for what he is decrying here. Moral differences generally stem from the plurality of upbringings and the lack of complete information available or willing to be considered by parties in a given situation. When information is more detailed and situations and players considered more deeply, concurrence towards a single moral outcome is more likely, no matter who is considering the issue. That is why, for example, support for the right to die has risen considerably in Western countries over the past few decades, even in countries that have a majority of Christians, such as Australia.

    In attempting to bolster his case for the truth of Christianity, he mentions William Lane Craig. This is a feeble attempt. Anyone who has seen Craig debate should know that intellectual rigour is not his strong suit. The opposite, in fact. Craig has mentioned several times that if the evidence should go against Christianity and the "internal witness of the holy spirit", the latter should take precedence against the former. Such an apologist, who decries the scientific method as being based on "the shifting sands of evidence and argument" himself uses arguments, and has therefore undermined at least half of his own case. There is no such thing as "reasonable faith", and few demonstrate this better than Craig himself. Baseless claims such as "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" don't help him either. There's no evidence for Zeus, Thor or the Greek pantheon, and yet we don't see shills like Craig writing long-winded apologetics for them.

    Ravi's chapter on prayer is the longest, and perhaps the worst. In this rambling, incoherent pile of flopped justifications, excuses and blame-shifting, Ravi redefines prayer, and what Jesus "really meant" when he said "knock, and the door shall be opened." Prayer isn't supposed to work "instantaneously or magically." Well, then why pray?! It would seem that Ravi doesn't seem to realise that he is making his god out to be a highly skilled huckster, by redefining his promises and covenants to suit himself.

    In the final chapter, Ravi arrogantly assumes that anyone who has reached that point has understood that Christianity has not failed them, but people and/or institutions such as the church have. Well, all I have to say about this is that the actions of those who purport to act in god's name reflect either well or poorly on that deity, and any deity who would not clearly make his will and endorsements known to all is responsible for the impressions made by such believers (assuming, of course, that such a deity exists in the first place). Ravi attempts to gloss over the shortcomings of the CEO, using the employees as scapegoats. He rails against Islam and their mighty birth rate (implying that Christians must outbreed and out-brainwash them), and in a further act of incoherence and mental gymnastics, Ravi mentions the declining fish stocks worldwide. We cannot fix a perceived problem by making it worse. Woman's suffrage in the Muslim world is the only way to both stop the tide of Muslim takeover that he fears, and the scythe of overpopulation that will destroy us from within.

    5 of 65 people found this review helpful
  • The Handmaid's Tale

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs)
    • By Margaret Atwood
    • Narrated By Claire Danes
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4054)
    Performance
    (3661)
    Story
    (3689)

    Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name....

    Emily - Audible says: "My Top Pick for 2012"
    "Riveting. Terrifying. Plausibly Disconcerting."
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    Set in the United States after a nuclear holoocaust leaving the vast majority dead or sterile, The Handmaid's Tale is a glimpse beyond the looking glass into a world almost too terrifying to comprehend. Narrated through the eyes of Offred, a brood mare for the Commander, Atwood paints a vivid tale about the horrors of misogyny under a theocratic dictatorship.

    The writing is gripping and sharp. Brutally descriptive (yet minimalistic) sentences underscore the profound inhumanity of societies that have abandoned compassion in favour of mere pragmatic, practical, ends-justify-the-means policies that have rendered half of the population to act as expendable labour for the other half. Sleep is not always readily available, and the hangman's noose is never more than a failed duty away.

    Women, save those fortunate enough to be pregnant or married to those in authority, are treated as abject slaves, valued only for their instrumental values. Thusly treated as means, they are preserved rather than respected. All means for suicide such as ceiling fans and hooks have been painstakingly removed. For that matter, so are their names, with the women being referred to only with respect to their owners. Offred. Ofglen. Even a woman's name, Martha, has been appropriated for use as maids. Their station signifies their lack of fertility, which has led to a loss in her value in this futuristic living nightmare. Individuality has been all but eradicated, and gossip is now a luxury. The parallels with the world today, especially the Middle East, are too obvious to overlook, and this is probably intentional. The audiobook is impeccable, with Claire Danes' deadpan reading adding near-copious quantities of tension and foreboding to the mix.

    Before being allowed to leave the "boarding house", Offred is required to don garments that shroud her from sight. Her rank is designated by her the colour of her dress, red. If her Commander was to tire of his wife and elect Offred for this honour, she would be garbed in blue. The Commander himself wears black. If that wasn't enough, she is perpetually shadowed by another human incubator, who functions as her spy. Offred, likewise, functions as her companion's spy. Things only get worse as the details of this alternate/possible future are revealed. Each new page is akin to a door inside an authentic haunted house. From the first chapter, a sense that there are no happy endings for these oppressed slaves is engraved into the reader's consciousness.

    This is a must-have book, and belongs beside 1984 and Brave New World. This apotheosis of literary talent should not be overlooked.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 50 mins)
    • By Richard Carrier
    • Narrated By Richard Carrier
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (133)
    Performance
    (122)
    Story
    (120)

    Dr. Richard Carrier, world-renowned philosopher and historian, explains the four reasons he does not accept the Christian religion, describing four facts of the world that, had they been different, he would believe. Those four reasons are God's silence, God's inaction, the lack of evidence, and the way the universe looks exactly like a godless universe would, and not at all like a Christian universe would, even down to its very structure. Dr. Carrier addresses all the usual replies to these claims.

    Winston D. Jen says: "Four Foundational Pillars Demolished"
    "Four Foundational Pillars Demolished"
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    As Carrier states in his introduction, he is willing and able to change his position if evidence were forthcoming. Unlike creationists and certain brands of apologists (like William Lane Craig) who steadfastly refuse to let the evidence lead them to truth but seek to force the evidence to lead them to their pre-established biases towards their particular faith. Take this quote from Craig during his debate with Mark Smith. In response to a hypothetical question,

    "Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let’s pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb."

    Craig's unabashedly honest reply (which, ironically, reveals the depth of his deceit, was, and I am paraphrasing:

    "Yes, I would still believe. The internal witness of the holy spirit trumps any and all external evidence against Christianity."

    Also, from Reasonable Faith, page 35-36:

    "When a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God."

    Carrier immediately sets himself out from his opponents by a candid description of his position and a glimpse into his profound intellectual rigour and integrity.

    A quick read at under 100 pages, the evidence and reasoning provided are sound. This is no hollow chest-beating piece from a sophist attempting to sell snake-oil as diamonds. This is a clear, level-headed and fair analysis of why religion has yet to prove itself true and must spread through violence and indoctrination. Furthermore, as these flaws within Christianity can be linked and pointed to

    The author's first argument is from divine hiddenness and silence. Why does god refrain from telling humanity his plan? Why are there so many Christian and Muslim sects if god has a single message and plan for the world?

    Common rebuttals appeal to free will, which is completely inadequate for explaining why religious believers, who have clearly NOT CHOSEN to reject or deny god's message, receive such conflicting and inconsistent messages. Wouldn't the Mormons, Hindus, Muslims all receive the same revelation? Based on the Christian belief held by most adherents (and demonstrated by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity), god's plan is for humans to fix a fallen world. Funnily enough, his actions (or more accurately, the lack thereof) completely belie his goals. Let's not forget that god is (allegedly) NOT the author of confusion, as illustrated in 1 Corinthians 14:33. CS Lewis, among others, have claimed that our conscience is the method by which god speaks to us, which again does not address the different moral conclusions reached by so many believers and non-believers.

    Free will doesn't explain why he supposedly appear to prominent characters in the Old Testament. As Carrier states, physicists do not nullify the free will of those who seek out more information about the big bang or any other theory. A loving god would, likewise, ensure that everyone had the correct message before simply giving up on them as lost causes. As such, the basic claims of Christianity have been disproven by reality.

    Other arguments include god's inaction. A god (or any supernatural causes) are unnecessary to explain the natural laws of the universe or why bad things happen. For if there was a tri-omni god, there would be no evil or suffering. Creation would begin and end with heavenly bliss. Free will fails to defeat this for obvious reasons (and less obvious ones, such as the difference between free will and free action), most prominent among them the fact that humans routinely deny freedom to those who harm others.

    Fine tuning fails because a god would not need to fine tune the universe for life. This argument, while instinctively pleasing and convincing upon first blush, ignores the vast amount of the universe that is NOT conducive to any life, let alone human life. Without civilisation, we wouldn't have been able to propagate as successfully as we have. Why would a god allow his cherished creation to dwindle to a mere 10,000 and teeter on the brink of extinction? Not only is this atrocious design, but demeans the scientists and altruists throughout history who have striven to make life better.

    The use of mathematics further solidifies Carrier's position, although it will likely seem too esoteric for those who have not taken courses in probability.

    For further essays by Carrier, I encourage you to read the following compilations.

    The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails

    The End of Christianity

    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 22 mins)
    • By Darrel Ray
    • Narrated By Darrel Ray
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (108)
    Performance
    (101)
    Story
    (100)

    For thousands of years, religion has woven its way through societies and people as if it were part and parcel to that society or person. In large measure it was left unexplained and unchallenged, it simply existed. Those who attempted to challenge and expose religion were often persecuted, excommunicated, shunned, or even executed. It could be fatal to explain that which the church, priest, or imam said was unexplainable. Before the germ, viral, and parasite theory of disease, physicians had no tools to understand disease and its propagation.

    Donovan Baker says: "A Viral Metaphor with Evidence"
    "An Excellent, Intricate Analogy with Tangible Hope"
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    Renowned psychologist Darrel Ray likens religion to a virus in this complex yet accessible tome. One of his first examples is the Toxoplasma Gandii parasite, which will override a mouse's instinctive fear of all things feline and seek out their natural enemy (the parasite can only reproduce inside cats). Likewise with the god virus, religion can cause humans to commit genetic suicide (think terrorist bombers, priests and nuns) in the service of their religion. The overreaching theme of the book is that religion (and those most heavily infected with the virus) do not care about their flock. All they care about is spreading their religion, and damn the consequences. As a fundamentalist Baptist for two decades, Ray is perfectly placed to examine and dissect the flawed arguments and effective tactics of religion. And, as a psychologist, he is able to give an objective, scientific illustration of why religions act in the way they do, how they have become so extravagantly successful, and what can be done to combat it.

    Darrel Ray opens his book (written for non-believers) with a suggestion: talk to a Christian friend and ask their permission to record and/or transcribe the conversation. Ask them to explain their theistic beliefs in detail. Then, a few days or weeks later, repeat their statement of faith to them after replacing Jesus with Mohammed. The inescapable conclusion is that while religious individuals can see through the gimmicks and nonsensical arguments of every other religion (and schisms within their own, such as Mormonism). These schisms and inconsistent beliefs are not only powerful evidence against the truth of any one religion, but have also led to countless intra-faith and inter-faith conflicts throughout human history.

    Chapter One details the spread of viruses in the natural world and through cultures. Viruses are spread by vectors (mosquitoes for malaria, priests, imams and rabbis for religion). Because of the enormous investment of time and money that training these individuals require, the virus will instinctively protect its vectors in the face of scandals. The recent surfeit of child rape atrocities in the Catholic church is a contemporary case study here. Religions will frequently use meaningless rituals to reinforce their beliefs in the mind of their believers. Why would Islam require five daily prayers (facing Mecca, no less) if their deity was actually real? Why the cultural and social practice of weekly sermons and proscriptions against masturbation in many religions? If it's good for the virus, it will spread and remain as long as it remains useful. They also tend to be very specific as to what constitutes "charity" (the ACLU typically doesn't qualify). Contradictions are rife, but the virus neuter's its host's capacity for critical thinking and reason (except where "heathen" faiths are concerned). Martyrs can be profitable "fruit" for sects, as was the case of Joseph Smith and Mormonism.

    Chapter Two details religion's natural tendency for schisms and conflict. Sunnis and Shi'ites just can't seem to get along. Al Qaeda seems to loathe both groups equally. As an example, Iran has tried to keep fundamentalist Islam contained, but it continues to flare up violently on occasion. Religions can be grouped into three categories - parasitic, symbiotic and a hybrid of the two. All religions have some tangible benefits for their societies; they would not have survived very long without them. Jehovah's Witnesses can be very parasitic at times, especially since their dogma forbids blood transfusions. The harm that this can cause led to Russia clamping down on their religious practices to protect children and families from splitting apart.

    Chapter Three begins with a description of early tribal religions and how it is the goal of most religions (at least in Europe and the US today) to seize control of the state (which will lead to further control as the two institutions become indistinguishable). Not only does this violate the protections of the US Constitution, but if successful, would threaten the religious freedom of every religion not in power. The myth of religious organisations doing more good than secular ones is smashed to smithereens here. Studies have shown that only around 5% of donations to churches and other religious institutions actually goes to benefit impoverished individuals (building wells, farming, education etc.). The vast majority is wasted on bibles (unless you're a goat), preaching, church buildings and instilling religious rituals and teachings, which have no benefit here on Earth.

    By stark contrast, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and other charities motivated by a desire to reduce suffering spend close to 80% on directly helping communities, with most of the remainder on administrative costs. No plush, extravagant mansions for these altruists.

    Chapter Four deals with repressive sexual teachings, and how they can instill individuals with guilt (which is covered in detail later) for normal desires such as masturbating and fantasising about attractive adults. The contradictory messages of religion are shown here, and are so transparent all but the most brainwashed (or willfully ignorant) can and will see them. Misogyny and emotional blackmail are also rife.

    I would go through the chapters individually, but I'm already starting to ramble. It is safe to say that scientific education is the best vaccine we have against theism, as showcased in Japan and Europe, where creationism has been held at bay, more or less. When dealing with the infected, be polite and do not ridicule their beliefs. Notice when they have put up a wall or are unwilling to discuss certain subjects. This will often be in a different tone, glance or personality. When dealing with grief, be tactful, and put your own skepticism aside to comfort them. If they need a priest or rabbi at their deathbed, arrange for it. Compassion is crucial in such situations. Honesty is once again the best policy; do not indicate that you might be interested in converting (unless, of course, you actually are).

    The myth of objective religious morality is exposed as a fraud and a sham. Not only do evangelical Christians divorce more frequently than atheists and agnostics, but their own preachers, held up as paragons of virtue, often and even when they fall (Satan must really be going after them since he's doing such a good job of winning souls for Christ). Furthermore, even such things as the definition of "murder" have changed through history. In Old Testament times, certainly, it was not murder to beat your slave so badly that he or she died after a few sunsets. Black lynchings were accepted in racist portions of America in past decades. As Matt Dillahunty eloquently put it, religion has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Enlightenment ideals led to more humans laws and compassionate societies, not religious edicts that cannot be empirically verified and must be taken on faith.

    This book is a must-read for anyone incredulous or concerned at religion's pernicious and near-ubiquitous influence in modern society.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Robert D. Hare
    • Narrated By Paul Boehmer
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (483)
    Performance
    (424)
    Story
    (426)

    Most people are both repelled and intrigued by the images of cold-blooded, conscienceless murderers that increasingly populate our movies, television programs, and newspaper headlines. With their flagrant criminal violation of society's rules, serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are among the most dramatic examples of the psychopath. Individuals with this personality disorder are fully aware of the consequences of their actions and know the difference between right and wrong....

    Douglas says: "When I gave up on books that supposedly would..."
    "Viscerally Chilling"
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    A well-written and detailed account of the worst human beings in society, Without Conscience is based on decades of case-studies and psychological research. Despite this technical and esoteric foundation, Hare has created a very listenable and engrossing tome of psychology's recent discoveries in this arena.

    Alongside a gruesome and terrifying introduction (in which Hare briefly describes the most iniquitous, egregious and brutal crimes of psychopaths) is Hare's clarion call for awareness and action. Not only do they blend in among society and appear more "genuine" than human beings with a conscience, but they can manipulate even the criminal justice system into paying them exorbitant sums for revealing the bodies of their victims (this is not in any sense rare; one villainous woman who murdered her children to be with a man who did not wish to raise children attempted to paint herself as the victim). Unchecked and manipulative psychopaths tend to end up as puppet masters in their own despotism, and having a democratic government is no barrier to them, as the 20th century proved all too well.

    Chapter 1 details Hare's experience with a psychopath who was, perhaps, the best liar in the world. While the pranks he played on the then-greenhorn Hare were generally inconveniencing as opposed to violent, they still revealed an inability to empathise (or even an interest in empathising) with others. Years later, when Hare met Ray while he at a university, Ray's silver tongue effortlessly glided from one lie to the next, claiming to have been Hare's assistant. Ray's versatility and lack of even a remote sense of guilt allowed him to deceive everyone he came into contact with.

    Ariel and Alice feature prominently as twins with polar opposite temperaments and behaviour. While Ariel was a perfect angel by any metric, Alice was delinquent, violent, impulsive and saw her parents as nothings more than crutches to lean on and people to exploit. Cigarettes and marijuana were normal for her in high school, and she gave up on college after less than two years.

    Chapter 2 defines psychopathy in objective terms, from glibness and charm to anti-social behaviour to indifference in the face of others' suffering. Being manipulative and charming to nearly supernatural (and certainly incredulous) extents enables them to indulge in another trait - social parasitism, being waited on hand and foot by individuals who believe their every word (at least for a while).

    The following two chapters describe the characteristics of psychopaths in superb detail. As Hare mentioned in his introduction, everyone has dealt with these individuals, and after a thorough read, one might suspect which acquaintances and "friends" are psychopaths, although a definitive diagnosis is impossible without substantial training or access to an fMRI device.

    Predictably, psychopaths often turn to crime, their manipulative and deceitful talents being excellent for manipulating others to do the deeds and enable them to keep their hands clean. Their invariable egotism and arrogance makes them almost certain to defect in prisoner dilemma scenarios, going free while hanging their temporary partners out to dry.

    In addition to case studies, Hare analyses films and novels based on psychopaths, with biting insights from his work in the field. These not only provide a wealth of information into the minds of individuals and why some can become utterly enamoured with the monster within, but also into how society views these monsters, contrasted with what they actually are. There certainly is no stereotype for the face of a sociopath, and anyone from any race, culture or ideology could be one. Fortunately, they are a minuscule minority, and it is possible to detect these aberrations.

    The most crucial and important tools I gleaned from this book were two very simple but effective ways. Firstly, one must be watchful for stories that seem too good to be true, or almost too conspiratorial or alluring to believe. These will almost always have an air of plausibility about them. Secondly, discard your intuitive naivete about people. Trust must always be earned, never granted as a default. Psychopaths are always all too willing and able to exploit this tendency.

    As Hare describes eloquently in his final paragraphs, as the technology of society progresses to include home-made explosives and automatic weapons, identifying, isolating and treating these anomalies becomes more crucial than ever before.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Emotional Intelligence

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 36 mins)
    • By Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.
    • Narrated By Barrett Whitener
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (981)
    Performance
    (383)
    Story
    (386)

    Is IQ destiny? Not nearly as much as we think. This fascinating and persuasive program argues that our view of human intelligence is far too narrow, ignoring a crucial range of abilities - emotional intelligence - that matter immensely in terms of how we do in life.

    Stephanie says: "Good info, hard to listen sometimes"
    "Taming the Amygdala (and that's just for starters)"
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    Whitener talks like an android, but it doesn't detract too much from the audiobook.

    Before embarking on his gargantuan research project (which includes several meta-analyses and decades of research, galloped along by recent advances in brain imaging technology) Daniel Goleman writes a compelling and convincing case, eschewing jargon and esoteric terminology for a more humanistic and compassionate argument. He was not overreacting when he saw American society looming towards a cliff of violence, signs of which included school shootings. All over the world, children are doing worse on matters of emotional literacy and acumen. This, combined with a natural tendency towards aggression in some children, puts them at risk of precipitating the next Columbine massacre. More and more children exhibit signs of depression, secrecy, isolation, delinquency, drug use and violent tendencies.

    The book does begins with a look at the amygdala (which is the seat of basic emotions and instinct), hypothalamus (which controls involuntary movements and produces hormones) and the neocortex, which is most developed in humans and allows us to reason deeply and profoundly, to the extent of having thoughts and feelings about our thoughts and feelings.

    A gruesome and tragic emotional hijacking sets the stage for the importance of research into identifying and solving problems wrought by mismanaged impulses. After all, the word "emotion" comes from the Greek word meaning "to move." Our emotions have an almost ironclad hold on us.

    While IQ was traditionally thought of as the crucial and all-encompassing ingredient of success, Project Spectrum has turned this finding on its head, with its research into multiple intelligences including leadership and social awareness. This can be observed in children in elementary school and is a better predictor of future success than IQ. For instance, a young girl who knows how to pair her classmates into best friend groupings and identify their favourite toys has the talents for negotiation and peaceful conflict resolution. The foundational pillars of empathy can be seen at work.

    Mastering a musical instrument or honing one's natural gift for tennis or any other sport depends, more than anything else, on a child's desire to excel. Parents who push their own selfish aspirations onto their offspring will only foster bitterness, frustration and resentment in their children. The marshmallow restraint test, conducted on young children and followed-up decades later in life, proved an excellent predictor of self-control (which also happens to be one of the key components of learning HOW to learn).

    Conversely, child rapists and sociopaths have no connections or concern for others, and as such, become glib liars and are adept at making up horrific justifications for their ghoulish and barbaric deeds. These emotional cavemen seem to be impervious to psychotherapy at present.

    Dedicating oneself to charity work was shown to be an excellent remedy for anxiety and stress, but was also one of the least utilised options that was used by participants in studies. SEL classes offer hope to change this for the better in the future, and countries such as Singapore have already begun such programs. As anxiety and stress (disproportionate pressure and worry) can lead to an early death, there is a strong incentive for even adults to change their behaviour. A decade before Barbara Ehrenreich revealed the defeatism and victim-blaming that Norman Vincent Peale-style positive thinking can engender. Realism, compassion and companionship are far more crucial. Simply having someone with you who is willing to help shoulder one's burdens can even reduce repeat heart attacks and extend the lives of cancer patients.

    Relationships at work and in love are more similar than we might think, and something as simple as listening, repeating the other party's concerns, and taking breaks when necessary can prevent minor spats from exploding into divorce, termination of employment, or worse. And, as one could expect, parents who arbitrarily and randomly punish their children encourage their kids to emulate such behaviour (which can be seen even in young toddlers), become bullies, and link punishment to getting caught rather than hurting others. This emulation-instinct is so powerful that it can and will override a toddler's natural empathy, which, under normal circumstances, prevent them from continuing to clobber a child who is already hurt and whimpering.

    Counterintuitively, playing games such as "Purdy", where children re-enacted a school shooting (the perpetrator was named Purdy) can help them deal with trauma by exerting imagined control over a gruesome situation. Some Holocaust survivors were also observed to have recovered, at least in part, from the ever-present images of the terror and atrocities they experienced and witnessed. Therapy can give the individual control over their fears and traumas to the degree that they will never be held captive to them again.

    The book concludes with a hopeful look at the future and the possible fruits of research into brain plasticity and the promises of new technology. I wish Goleman and his research crew all the best in their endeavours.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Attack of the Theocrats!: How the Religious Right Harms Us All - and What We Can Do About It

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Sean Faircloth
    • Narrated By Sean Faircloth, Richard Dawkins
    Overall
    (176)
    Performance
    (162)
    Story
    (165)

    At no time in history has the United States had such a high percentage of theocratic members of Congress - those who expressly endorse religious bias in law. Just as ominously, especially for those who share the values and views of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, at no other time have religious fundamentalists effectively had veto power over one of the country's two major political parties. As Sean Faircloth argues in this deeply sobering yet highly engaging book, this has led to the crumbling of the country's most cherished founding principle - the wall of separation between church and state.

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    Concerned by faith-based initiatives, tax and regulatory exemptions for Christian "charities" (but which are conspicuously absent for the other religions out there, including Hinduism, which predates Judaism), Faircloth summons his biting sarcasm and thorough research skills for a well-reasoned clarion call to action. Although most of the theocrats he takes to task are Republicans, he does criticise Barack Obama for failing to remain faithful (no pun intended) to a pre-election promise.

    Chock full of trustworthy sources, Faircloth reveals that unfair, unequal legal standards are applied; one for the religious, and one for everyone else. Faith harming (in some cases degenerating to faith murder) by religious parents who believe in sin, lies by the Reagan administration linking pornography to violence, blackmailing foreign aid recipients on the condition that they forbid reproductive education for women are just the tip of this perniciously polluted iceberg.

    Perhaps most importantly, every issue identified by Faircloth here is paired with a reasonable solution that will provide real, tangible benefits for everyone, not just those who share a particular philosophy.

    Chapter 1

    Separation of church and state is being torn asunder. The First Amendment is being misconstrued and lied about.

    Jefferson explicitly stated the Founding Fathers' desire for a WALL of separation (which likely led to Texas attempting to remove him from the state's textbooks). There are numerous cases of faith torture and murder (when parents refuse to get their children even the most rudimentary care) are conducted under the banner of special exemptions for religiously-based "conscientious" objections. One particularly ghastly incident involved a child developing a tumour the size of a baseball on their shoulder. "Special" rights are a common "justification" used to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. This misses the essence of the issue - love and informed, consenting adults. Religious verses are used to justify and promote violence. Let's face it, "Do not kill" is vastly outnumbered by edicts demanding the opposite in the book of Exodus by several dozen orders of magnitude. Rick Warren equated Michael Schiavo to Nazis. Caring more for the brain dead than for those who can still suffer will do that to one's moral sensibilities. Churches are rarely audited by the IRS, which only allows them to flout their loopholes in ever more brazen fashions, including setting up their ministers and their families in lavish multi-million dollar McMansions. Religious groups can fire whoever they wish, even in states with anti-discrimination laws. Numerous politicians advocate mandatory creation classes

    Unregulated church businesses (inc. gyms, treatment centres, etc) are exempt from the usual regulatory standards, leading to atrocious treatment of toddlers in religious daycare centres.

    Chapter 2 deals with the founding fathers' actual intentions, private writings, and, crucially, the Treaty of Tripoli, which explicitly states that the US is not founded on Christianity. Sorry Turek, you lose. Most of the Fathers would never be elected to Congress, let alone the Presidency, today.

    Chapter 3 is the longest, and in my estimation, the most crucial. It shows how laws that give special privileges and unearned exemptions to religious organisations hurts everybody, including Christians.

    Emergency contraception is being denied to women because pharmacists can cite "religious objections" to dispensing contraceptives. The gag rule and hurdles to women's reproductive rights in foreign countries, under penalty of losing crucial aid, leads to back-alley abortions and death for women. This must be repealed. At present, the rule's enforcement depends solely on who sits in the Whitehouse. Abstinence-only "education" continues to be funded, despite their proven failure, leading to higher rates of STDs/unwanted pregnancies/abortions. If pro-lifers truly wanted to reduce abortion rates (and help teens make mature decisions concerning sex) they would ditch this nonsense. But they don't. Opposition to ESCR, even when embryos would be discarded otherwise, further reveals their hypocrisy and inverted sense of priorities. Death with Dignity legislation (well overdue) in Oregon and Washington is based on compassion and individual choice. The sooner a federal law is passed permitting this final right, the better. Faith harming/murder is explored in greater detail, as are religious nurseries and day care centres. James Dobson & Daniel Pearl's abusive parenting policies are derived directly from the bible, showing how useless the "good" book is for raising children.

    Chapter 4 concerns sexual morality, true morality (harm vs benefits) and the hypocrisy of so-called pro-family groups (and let's not forget Ted Haggard). He is quite right to lambast the excessively PC left-wingers such as Andrea Dworkin.

    A repressive, Victorian-era (some would say Puritan) approach to sex is not healthy. Fortunately, it did not lead to Bill Clinton's defeat in 1996.

    And that's just the first half of the book. The second begins with fifty of the most vile, hateful and extreme "faithful" fundamentalists in Congress, who wield a disproportionate amount of power over all other Americans. Anti-gay hatred, tinfoil-esque conspiracies and whack-job tea party succor are just the appetizer. This book is a much-needed wake-up call to America in the 21st century, and we all owe Faircloth and debt of gratitude for writing this book.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Letter to a Christian Nation

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 56 mins)
    • By Sam Harris
    • Narrated By Jordan Bridges
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (888)
    Performance
    (353)
    Story
    (358)

    "Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next 50 years," writes Sam Harris. "Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this...should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency."

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    "The Hypocrisy of Christianity and Revealed"
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    Who could forget the devastation wreaked upon thousands of innocent people and a prime symbol of capitalism and modern achievement that took place on September 11, 2001? Certainly not I. What some people, religious moderates in particular, seem unable or unwilling to accept, is that acts of violence such as the cruel, unctuous and calculated murder of what were considered "oppressors" and "infidels" were motivated entirely by religious brainwashing. Education and intelligence are no guarantee of inoculation; many of the hijackers had a tertiary education.

    Harris begins with a bold claim; that Christianity and its policies are murderous. It is a claim amply supported by the evidence (the Catholic's anti-condom policy in Africa being a prime example, to say nothing of the myriad religious wars being fought today). He concedes and shows great respect for Jainism, which is objectively more moral and compatible with peace in today's modern world. Jainism influenced Mahatma Gandhi (and MLK's non-violent protests by extension). The hypocrisies of Christianity are examined in detail, particularly the religious right's stance against the HPV vaccine (the virus was considered a deterrent against teenage and pre-marital intercourse by the most outlandish Republicans), abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Essentially, Christians worship a hypocritical tyrant who cares nothing for blastocysts, which are naturally aborted via miscarriages in the majority of pregnancies. Harris could have bolstered his case with Exodus 21:22, but his point is still substantial and yet to be refuted.

    "Mother" Teresa is given a harsh yet fair beating. As Hitchens eloquently put it, she was allied with poverty itself, not the poor who had to endure it. Her opposition towards analgesics and contraception ensured that women in third-world countries remained oppressed and uneducated. Her primitive morality and blind acceptance of Church dogma in relation to abortion has left her emotionally stunted and quagmired in the first stage of moral development (rewards and punishments/blind obedience to authority). By considering fertilised eggs to be the moral equivalent of fully-developed children, her priorities are, by definition, backwards. Such paradigms prevent otherwise compassionate human beings from working towards solving true moral problems, such as poverty, genocide and "honour" killings (which Harris rightfully treats with trenchant scorn in this book).

    Slavery is never condemned outright in the bible, and "Saint" Paul instructed slaves to be extra-nice to their Christian masters. This isn't morality. This is propaganda written by slave-owners who lived in the lap of luxury. Funnily enough, Ravi Zacharias does not even touch on the issue in The End of Reason (to the best of my recollection). If the blatant contradictions of the bible weren't enough, the admonishments and edicts of Jesus make something transparent - the atrocious laws and regulations of the old testament are not to be altered until all is fulfilled (and despite apologetic hand-wringing, there are no verses that support their claims that Jesus fulfilled all of the laws upon his return; obedience is a far cry from fulfillment). The glut of contradictions between the gospels, written decades after their supposed events, are enough by themselves to disprove the presence of a divine hand. Theologians have as yet been unable to explain why multiple gospels were required for the life of just one man. If he is as crucial to human history and salvation as his followers claim, the tomes could be expected to be wordier and less ambiguous, for starters.

    Harris is rightly concerned at the NAS' capitulation and deference to religion (understandable given that a sizable proportion of the US public rejects the fact of evolution). Although unstated, a Christian Taliban is feared and would result in grievously abhorrent consequences. Harris echoes Bill Maher's sentiments in Religulous: as a society, we must grow up or perish at the hands of fundamentalists.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Wizard's First Rule: Sword of Truth, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (34 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By Terry Goodkind
    • Narrated By Sam Tsoutsouvas
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4125)
    Performance
    (2510)
    Story
    (2544)

    In the aftermath of the brutal murder of his father, Richard Cypher encounters a mysterious woman, Kahlan Amnell, in his forest sanctuary. She seeks his help...and more. His world, his very beliefs, are shattered when ancient debts come due with thundering violence.

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    "Disappointing Mishmash from True Fantasy Epics"
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    This book is long winded and dull. To make things worse, it's difficult to follow at times. Goodkind must know this, as several pages after a major event a truncated description is offered for certain scenes. A case in point is the initial confrontation between Richard, Kahlan and the quad in chapter 2. On the same topic, I literally rolled my eyes when the villains were described as having "blonde hair and blue eyes." Great. This is obviously going to be a retelling of World War 2. There are a few mildly interesting philosophical dissertations thrown in, and I did find Richard and Kahlan to be fairly interesting. They were given adequate pages for exposition. Unfortunately, these are not constants; some philosophical conclusions are less than what one could expect in an introductory college course. "Power is neither good nor evil, it's the user who determines it." Well, duh. The writing is so dull at times as Goodkind spells everything out in minute detail for the reader. Dozens of pages are wasted on explaining what anyone with a primary school education could figure out. The "betrayal" is so obvious that anyone who hasn't fallen asleep during the first quarter of this book would have seen it coming about 500 pages ahead of time. The "big" reveal about Kahlan's true nature is a prime example. At least the final revelations were wrapped up fairly quickly.

    Unfortunately, the wise old wizard and evil villain are more one-dimensional than Emperor Palpatine. There's no reason to care about their motives or goals. The plot is hardly better, essentially ripped from The Lord of the Rings in whole cloth. The villain seeks three boxes of power, one of which will extinguish all life, one of which will claim his life, and one of which will grant him eternal power over life and death. The heroes must stop him, but not before 400 pages or so of wandering around while we are introduced to the various peoples of the world. None of these are very interesting. The Mud People are a tribe of hunter-gatherers, stuck in their ways and unwilling to embrace modernity because of one particularly stubborn elder who wields an incommensurate degree of power. And there's even a clone of Gollum to boot.

    Queen Milena and her daughter Violet are the evil stepmother and stepsister of the book. They enjoy tormenting people (innocent orphan Rachel among them) while serving as an example of the evils and horrors of communism (I guess Goodkind was fond of Ann Rand, too). The protagonist gets tortured for about 100 pages and gratuitous violence is thrown in, for what purpose I have no idea, but it didn't make reading this wall of text any easier or more fun.

    There are a few elements that are thrown in toward the end, such as the terror of ancient prophecies. I honestly cannot see them as anything other than gimmicks for readers to continue reading the tale, but after 800 pages of microscopic text, I would rather tear my fingernails out than subject myself to this experience again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Barbara Ehrenreich
    • Narrated By Kate Reading
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (253)
    Performance
    (102)
    Story
    (102)

    Americans are a "positive" people - cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity. In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal 19th-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude.

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    "Norman Peale was a Charlatan; Thanks You Barbara!!"
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    Barbara's fractally correct in every possible way here; one simply *cannot* choose to be happy. We would all be better off if we dismissed this blatant lie touted by Norman Vincent Peale. In her introduction, she addresses and clarifies the difference between hope (a natural, involuntary emotion we feel when things appear to be going our way, or, at the very least, appear to be improving) and optimism (a state of mind that can be cultivated through sufficient practice and expensive positivity seminars and/or prosperity gospel sermons). This is crucial - the positive charlatans of recent decades advocate forced optimism, not realistic, spontaneous, justified hope. This, obviously, would explain why on most happiness metrics, despite having a reputation has a "positive" country, the US scores deplorably. With an obscenely high poverty rate and prison population, this is hardly news to anyone living outside a cave. And, as Barbara astutely notes, positivity only works when it is not forced. Trying to impose happiness on oneself only leads to bitterness and a desire to rush home and switch off the Optimism Switch in one's head, for the culture of the US has been so polluted by positive thinking that many feel the only place they can be themselves (and realistic and/or pessimistic) is outside the gaze of others.

    She shows how right-wing demagogues often cite pithy positive thinking platitudes as an attempt to blame those in perpetual poverty. And as we all know, those who fail to "will" the cancer away are never the subject of happy positive thinking books. And perhaps worst of all, positive thinking removes all motivation to improve societies and living conditions. External conditions are almost always dismissed by these gurus and charlatans.

    Reading Smile or Die, I was reminded of a horribly callous sermon in Japan, where the pastor extolled the benefits of frugality and unequivocally spoke out against materialism. For his example du jour, he cited victims of the Haiti earthquake and how "happy" they were. Really? Is that the best they can do? If I lost everything and everyone I held dear in an earthquake, smiling might be the only way I could cope. It most certainly would not be a sign of happiness or satisfaction after going through such a grueling natural disaster.

    Positive thinking has a horrible dark side that would lead to the instant dismissal of any doctor who prescribed positivity in lieu of radiotherapy for cancer. As anyone with any experience with the bile that Pollyannas spew forth on a daily basis, one of their implied mantras is "if you fail, it's your own fault." Spare me, please. On a personal note, I particularly enjoyed Barbara's mention of the Despair website, built around the idea of counter-optimism with its Demotivational line of posters, mugs, plaques, etc.

    The author's research is impeccable. She unearths the deadly, fatalistic roots of positive thinking that came from the Calvinist branch of Christianity. Every word is enlightening and well worth reading.

    Barbara ends this book with a clarion call to reason, citing some of the most cruel, heartless and ignorant consequences of positive thinking, including that of Rhonda Byrne, who claimed that tsunamis could only happen to those who are "on the same frequency as the event."

    Everyone who has been deceived by positivity listen to read this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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