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Where exactly, is Heaven?


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Showing 201-225 of 242 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2012 11:17:00 AM PDT
Sounds kind of like the Baha'i Faith in many ways. They meet every 19 days, often in people's homes. There is no clergy. They do have a handful of Temples around the world that are open to peoples of all faiths.

Posted on Jun 8, 2012 11:54:36 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Daniel -
"I hope I don't sound derisory here, but I suspect that the sort of "liberal" religion you represent is really the result of the Enlightenment's forcing religion to draw its claws in."

Or, looking at it another way, the state of the religion before the Enlightenment had more to do with Empire and its continuation than with actual belief and conviction. Before Constantine Christianity was, if not enlightened, at least a matter of deep conviction rather than enforcement. There is no conflict between the religion of Jesus and Paul and the revelations of the Enlightenment. This has been established thoroughly by people of conviction and scholarly exactitude. It is not that there is no supernatural belief and language and principle in early Christianity, but rather that there is an essence that can be expressed without the supernatural language.

Remember that everyone then believed in various shades of what we would call the supernatural. Galileo's bread and butter was teaching astrology to doctors, so that they could figure out the influences of the stars on their patients and treatments. The real question when examining those old stories is what is the meaning that they thought the supposed supernatural events conveyed. What, in particular, is conveyed about the nature of our deepest values, of what is sacred, of what holds transcendant claim to our loyalties and aspirations?

The Enlightenment and subsequent scientific developments cleared away supernaturalism as a way of explaining and as a framework for thinking about the mechanisms of our world. It also brought us religious tolerance, though that probably had more to do with the devastation of the Wars of Religion. So in that sense, I would agree it caused Christianity to retract its "claws". But I don't know how anyone could read the New Testament and think that claws had anything to do with the essence of Christianity.

"No religion that can require its members to murder dissenters, even in theory, can be condoned, whitewashed, or sympathized with."

Presumably you maintain the same for the current regime in China. But you would not suggest that they abandon their Chinese culture. Only that they learn to take on board such vital principles as human rights, democracy and checks and balances. The dialogue will continue until they reform. A similar dialogue should take place with Islam, but not in the futile belief that "we" will enforce our views on "them", but rather as a clarification process about how they see their faith intertwined with all of their ideals, and how they see it possible to sort out the tensions.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2012 12:45:50 PM PDT
Judy Bell says:
Yes I am aware of them and I respect what they do and what their intention is.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2012 12:57:33 PM PDT
Brian Curtis says:
"There is no clergy."

That fact alone earns them points in my book.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2012 1:40:26 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Not mine. Granted we could get by with fewer clergy, but paid professionals both for pastoral care and for careful understanding of the depth of a teaching are essential to good functioning of a faith community. You wouldn't even want science without science teachers, and it can be gotten from a book. Faith is about the whole of a person's life and the ways it fits together, or doesn't, and thus much more difficult to transmit with written "instructions".

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 9, 2012 9:19:14 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 9, 2012 9:23:51 AM PDT
As regards early Christianity, I have to go with people like Robert Eisenman and Hyam Maccoby -- "Early Christianity" can be defined any number of ways, but it originally might have been described as a breakaway sect of Greek speaking "Septuagint" Jews who'd become convinced by Paul that the Messiah was not political, but spiritual, and that he'd already come and gone. In effect Paul was trying to create a sect that would get along well enough with the Romans, and for the most part it DID. To be "Messiah" was to be violently anti-Roman, so Paul clearly pulled, while preaching, the neat trick of blaming the crucifixion on "the Jews," i.e., the Aramaic-speaking rubes from "the old country," rather than the bourgeois sophisticates who'd read Philo. Early Christianity had claws, all right, but not toward Gentiles. However, it's clear that Christianity wasn't very political until Constantine. The opposite is true of Islam -- in some ways it's so radically different from Christianity that it may as well be from another galaxy.

As regards China -- VERY different. "China" is not a religion that gives orders to subjugate Christians and Jews. Further, "Islam" is such a broad area of discussion that putting anything consistent down in one post is nearly impossible. Ayaan is surely eight in claiming "There is really only one thing called 'Islam,' and that is Islam. There are, however, two kinds of Muslims -- the minority, who follow the Koran out to its inevitable conclusion, and the majority, who for whatever reasons they may happen to have, do not." It may be remarked here that whenever I get in a discussion like this, it often gets gummed up -- sometimes on purpose -- by the confusion of "Islam" with "Muslims."

In brief, it seems to me that Muslims in Dar-al-Harb and the ones in Dar-al-Islam are in very different sociological positions, because they're in different places on the globe. Further, the ones "over here" are in very different states of acclimatization and often have very different sympathies. The whole matter of how westerners and Muslims deal with each other will take centuries to work out. And t may never completely work out at all. As Paul Fregozi and M. J. Akbar both maintain, they've been in a state of declared and undeclared war with Christendom since the beginning, and this won't stop tomorrow, no matter how good everyone's intentions, because jihad is religious war, ordered in the Koran. Dar-al-Islam's on a collision course with contemporary reality, and the shock-waves are already going through the place.

Posted on Jun 9, 2012 2:31:17 PM PDT
Where exactly, is Heaven?

- Somewhere in Scarlett Johansson's underwear...

Posted on Jun 9, 2012 3:40:00 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Daniel Schaeffer -

Interesting version of early Christianity. There is some truth in it, IMO, but you make it sound like Paul set out to portray Jesus as Messiah. The problem with this is that every indication we have (except the inferences of Mr. Eisenman and Mr. Maccoby) is that Jesus defined himself as a non-political Messiah.

Quite reasonably Paul may have picked up on this as a practical opportunity, but the notion that his rendition of it was designed primarily to extend Jewish monotheism while not offending the Romans is also rather troublesome. Paul underwent serious hardships for his mission. He apparently pushed his "sect" into the face of the Romans, if the Acts is to be believed. This is not some L. Ron Hubbard type, sitting back trying to rake in the dough on a well-marketed religious package. Furthermore, his core message in the letter to the Romans, that "all have sinned" and "the wages of sin is death" is not what you would call a slick marketing appeal.

I feel safe in saying Paul did not blame the crucifixion on the Jews. The fourth Gospel ("John") does that, as did Paul's friend Luke in the Acts, but there is no indication that Paul intended such a blaming. In his writings the one who is consistently "blamed" is himself, for persecuting Christians. He was indeed kind of intent on setting aside Jewish observances, especially circumcision, but he was clearly not the only one who believed that was appropriate or who considered it a step inward to the "true" worship of God.

Christians, at least in the first two centuries C.E., do not seem to have attacked Jews. You may be right that there were some attacks before Constantine, but their provenance is disputable - Jews may have attacked first. There seems to have been some tension over the Jews' "privilege" (they were taxed for it) of refusing to take part in public worship of Roman deities and swearing by the Emperor's divine self. The main other behavior that got Christians in trouble in the first two hundred years seems to have been exempting themselves from family obligations, most notably women's obligation to marry.

Regarding Islam, you distinguish between Muslim behavior when they are in the majority from behavior when they are in the minority. I am sure there is some truth to that (it would be true of virtually any group, would it not?) but the renewal going on in Europe is far deeper and more comprehensive than required to avoid giving offense, and is better explained as the influence of humanist ideals (much like some of the civilizing tendencies on Christianity). I think that you will not find Muslims in India taking anything like the same track. They are militant, though not in the same frustrated mode that reacts against unanswerable technological superiority. What they are not, really, is modernizing.

My only point about China is that demonization is useless and toxic, while dialogue is likely to be productive. Taken out of the context of religious antagonism, this is not too difficult to see. But in fact it is likely to be just as true across a religious divide.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2012 12:07:20 AM PDT
Cauchy3-Book 30-Poems
Recto or verso who read my books.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2012 12:11:40 AM PDT
Dont not misue your serious logic toi one who dont. No scientific evidents as miracles for those water wines, water floors and 5 biscuits and 2 fishes. You need more than 5 piles of biscuits and 2 largest sharks tom be sufficienjt

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012 8:45:15 AM PDT
I see no reason to think that the Gospels are in any way historically accurate. Since Mark was written in a language that Jesus probably never spoke, among other reasons, that "tradition" was undoubtedly started AFTER Paul -- who as nearly everyone points out didn't seem to know much about Jesus' history, except what little he'd gotten from James, with whom he clearly disagreed far more thoroughly than he wants us to think. In any case, The-Jesus-as-Stoic-preacher would have been loved by both the Romans and the Sanhedrin, so that image makes no sense. Finally, it doesn't explain the "hard sayings," "I come not to bring peace but the sword" being the most famous, while they all would sound splendid out of the mouth of a revolutionary, don't you think?

Further, Paul DOES blame the Jews in the notorious "1 Thessa. II, 13-17," in which he calls the Jews "murderers of Christ and the enemies of all mankind." Christians have done handstands trying to explain why this is an interpolation, but given Paul's other snotty remarks about Jews, I've never been convinced. Come to think of it, such people remind me of the moderate muslims who tell me that the story of Asma bint Marwan, the famous "If one of you leave the religion kill him," etc., are also interpolations, have to be taken in context, have been misunderstood by haters of iIslam, don't apply now, etc.

A suggestion: we've gotten far afield here, and I've done a number of reviews of books on religion by Eisenman, R. L. Fox, Faisal Rauf, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, John Esposito, and Ibn Warraq. Click them on, check them out, and perhaps we can move to another forum. Also, I've done a lot of posting recently in the "Infidel" forum with some very knowledgeable people. I'll check back later, because I don't want to irritate these other people.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012 10:11:27 AM PDT
Brian Curtis says:
I disagree. The only legitimate function of religion is charity work, and you don't need a professional preacher for that--just an office with a copy machine.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012 10:21:46 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Brian -

Community is charity work. Just like the family, how people experience community has crucial effects on how they relate to life and society.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2012 10:26:14 AM PDT
Bubba says:
A telephone and a desktop computer with relatively large hard drive would be good too; neither have to be fancy.

Posted on Jun 12, 2012 9:28:02 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Rodney Arnez Foley said (on Best 100):

Well said! Have any of us put forward the notion that the very definition of the word RELIGION is a mutually exclusive one? It is my understanding that it is an Old-French word carrying the meaning of of a 'binding back' or a 're-allegiance' to a way of life originally intended for the benefit of all. Would not this concept be singular and unique, tolerating no rivalry?

My answer, that wholeome benefit does not exclude different sources of benefit, is there, but now here, too.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2012 10:59:55 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 12, 2012 11:03:34 AM PDT
Well said, but a bit limited. The various oriental religions, especially Buddhism, do have aspects to them that are legitimately philosophical -- but don't seem to do much charity work, at least as far as I know. Consequently I can talk to a Buddhist or a Sikh and we get on fine, with no bad vibes, even if we're on different wavelengths. The theistic religions reverse this -- maybe they DO charity work, but they're all based on a metaphysical dualism that got blown to bits by Kant, and by now have little to offer but ethical nostrums that they claim are "revealed" and "natural law" simultaneously -- when they're clearly neither. The "Western" religions are trying to use TWO systems at once, and they clash. That's why the Christian intellectual is nearly as extinct as the mammoth. Who wants to live in a state of mauvais foi?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2012 2:40:28 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Daniel Schaeffer -
"That's why the Christian intellectual is nearly as extinct as the mammoth. Who wants to live in a state of mauvais foi? "

I see things somewhat differently. :)

Of course one can define "intellectual" in many ways, but it seems to me that people like John Dominic Crossan, Rowan Williams and Walter Brueggeman have a reasonable claim, as do Thomas Altizer, Jurgen Moltmann and, in a very public figure sort of way, Bill Moyers.

I think one could as easily pin "mauvais foi" these days on the supposed intellectuals forced to wander down aimless aisles of deconstructionism and Marxism to maintain credentials as intellectuals, as to the many religionists who accept the humility of a Barth or a C.S.Lewis in swallowing supernatural claims. (I mean honestly, miracles have as much credibility as garden-variety Marxism, and the accusation of not thinking for themselves applies to most of the academic left when it comes to anything to do with economics).

I think you should consider the possibility that the two systems clash because systems are inherently abstractions from the totality of reality. "Revelation" can be thought of as intuitive grasp of a principle without the ability to verify it, but with confirmation from inner assent or "resonance" with others (like deconstructionism resonates), while idealism and natural law can be thought of as finding a place in practical considerations for the ideals that we see as ultimately decisive. No supernatural language is necessary, and the two can both be the basis for a moral or spiritual system (leave metaphysics aside - it is pretty sterile and none of the many varieties have succeeded, religious or not).

Far from limitation to ethical "nostrums" religious thinkers have raised some of the dynamic ethical issues of the day, whether it be in bioethics or the boundary zones between inner perception of morality and formal systems of morality. Religious thinkers were quick to adapt ethical thought to new issues, identifying changes in sexual ethics due to the advent of contraception, for example, when a typical "intellectual" approach was to refuse to acknowledge that ethics had anything to do with sexuality. If one did not have all the prior thought that you have dismissed as "mauvais foi" to work with, one would be totally at sea in trying to work through such questions that sit at the core of human culture and society.

Nobody gets excited over the "clash" between relativity and quantum mechanics - we just don't know how to fit them together yet. Your glib dismissal of a social force that does a lot of charity work is (I will adapt my tone) more than a touch arrogant.

By the way, during the years I lived in Thailand I was made aware of schools and other charity work carried on by the Buddhist monks. They also had a problem (this was 5 years ago, about) with reports of sexual harassment and abuse by monks, mostly the temporary monks who were fulfilling their requirement as young men but really were itching to get back to the bright lights of Bangkok.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 8:08:22 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 13, 2012 8:14:34 AM PDT
My glib dismissal? I was acknowledging religion as a social force, or didn't you get that? Your calling me arrogant was "more than a touch arrogant." Since you've chosen to start patronizing me without actually reading my posts, I'm beginning to draw the conclusion that you're here to give theology lectures, rather than engage in discussion. When any writer in these fora shifts into the second person rather than the first or third, I have to brace myself for what's coming.

And frankly, I'm flabbergasted by the idea that contemporary believers can keep getting away with using the word "spiritual" to mean "psychological" and "metaphysical" at the same time -- and then denying that that's what they're doing, and that equivocation is what keeps their thought processes coherent.

BTW; I said "NEARLY" as extinct, and you didn't catch that either. And the clash between quantum mechanics and relativity is an invalid comparison, because both are the result of scientific method, not theology. And the sexual problems of Buddhist monks are an irrelevance as well. What I meant was -- when I'm dealing with Buddhists and Sikhs, we usually end up reaching rather similar conclusions -- particularly about the arrogance of theists, by the way. And I'm also beginning to realize WHY. They believe in reincarnation, and have no particular reason to think that God is monitoring their brainwaves with a celestial Turing engine, waiting to fry 'em up real good at the first opportunity. Yet this is precisely the metaphysical "insight " that the theist tradition has to live with, run from, deny, or apologize for. That's why the Buddhists I've talked to find people like you amusingly primitive, though they won't tell you to your faces, and Sikhs find Muslims LOATHSOME.

I sense that this discussion is going to start getting really nasty if I don't let you have the floor, so -- you have the floor.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 9:27:52 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Daniel -

You can't expect to accuse someone of bad faith, even in French, without stirring up a response. Yes, that was dismissive, though I thought I was also acknowledging that you acknowledged the social contribution made by Christians. Obviously some Christians also cause a lot of social harm, which is extra tragic since they think they are helping matters, so please don't think I am just apologizing for all things Christian.

Your basic attack on Christianit is that it doesn't work intellectually - poorly founded, etc. So, I looked up metaphysics in that great font of wisdom, Wikipedia, and learned that it is hard to define, and that it concerns the ultimate nature of things, including what being itself is. This leaves me still believing that no system of metaphysics has been successful, where I would define success as raising a question or giving an answer that is novel (we would not have already thought of it without the system) and useful (we are happier for having it). With the possible exception of "existence precedes essence" for those who had been enveigled by the ontological "proof", I am not aware of any systematic product of metaphysics which makes any but a few philosophers any happier.

However, some of its questions (Wikipedia includes free will and determinism) are vital to spirituality. So perhaps I was too dismissive of metaphysics.

But I think the argument I made (in response to your point) was free of metaphysics. The term "revelation" turns out to have content, even when removed from the supernatural language that it was born in (like "inspiration" has content when you take any literal muse away). Natural law should be familiar to a reader of Mr. Dawkins, since he is quite free about drawing conclusions on what will be a successful or unsuccessful moral system based on biological knowledge. I cast that as "finding a place in practical considerations for the ideals that we see as ultimately decisive", which is a species of idealism (and which, in my view, few intellectuals are free of - certainly not Mr. Sartre).

Maybe it is not free of metaphysics. I am sorry if I gave the impression that I cared - I was interested in pointing out why I don't think the two approaches are mutually contradictory even if they don't fit together smoothly. My intuition is that what really bothered you was that Revelation is often supposedly based in divine (i.e. supernatural) action while Natural Law is based in, well, natural principles. Natural and supernatural being two completely different bases, it sounds inconsistent to claim both as the basis. And so I guess that my point, which is that Revelation has content even if entirely limited to the material world, goes more to your real objection than to the way you stated it, either time. But perhaps there was some more subtle point that I missed. I am certainly interested enough to read it if you point it out.

I would say the basis of QM and relativity in science is even more reason to underline their lack of ability to be fit together. We are talking about mental systems, and if a mental system is based entirely on the nature of the world, then we can be pretty confident that it doesn't really conflict with another system so constructed. Since somehow they do manage to rub along in the real world. I am a social scientist (economics) and we are used to our systems clashing. No one yet has harmonized Keynesian with neo-classical models (and I doubt if anyone will soon). So I don't automatically class anyone who uses two systems with incompatible bases as necessarily lacking intellectual heft.

A last point. The only Buddhist I met in Bangkok who tried to evangelize to me (basically he was telling me how he tries to use Buddhism to exhort his students to be good and be reincarnated as someone better) also told me about the ride in Singapore that shows the torments of "Buddhist Hell". Hopefully that hasn't been around long, but many friends confirm that "street-level" Buddhism is full of superstition and manipulation.

Try to remain even-handed.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 9:48:24 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 13, 2012 10:06:08 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 12:41:56 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Hi KarlHenrik,

Feels a little like you are back from, well, somewhere. Nice to hear from you again.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 8:17:13 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 14, 2012 8:29:38 AM PDT
I'm not accusing anyone of a lack of intellectual heft -- it would be difficult to accuse a Kung or a Crossan of that. What I'm saying is this. Both QM and relativity take the distinction between matter and energy as the "first cut" of reality, and as such can be said to be the products of a "monistic" metaphysical system that scientists take for granted, and that most people do too, in their daily life. Theology, though, takes a distinction between matter and "spirit," whatever that is, as its "first cut" -- and automatically clashes with everything else in Western life. That's what happens when you take a dualist "metaphysical" system, in the sense that Elizabeth Claire Prophet meant it, a fantasy that's supposed to exist before reality and to explain reality, and lay it on a society that doesn't think that way anymore. And make no mistake about it. Paul really DID mean that the world was a delusion being manipulated by The Prince of Darkness, and that it would all end quite soon. Why are we still trying to rationalize this man's thought? He wasn't "guilty" of thinking such things, because he couldn't have thought the way we do even if he tried, but isn't it time to just turn the page? We have other myths. Like Homer. And I DO think that theologians who are aware of all this, and most probably are at some level of their beings, and who wilfully disregard it, can be accused of a bit of mauvais foi -- they can certainly be accused of intellectual thimble-rig.

And sure, there's lots of sleazy nonsense attached to street Buddhism. but I was referring to the sort of Buddhism you find in the work of D. T. Suzuki, and Alan Watts' "Psychotherapy East and West." Matter of fact I recall reading years ago in one of the Catholic magazines, "America" I think it was, of an ecumenical conference between a number of Benedictines and Buddhist monks.

"Okay, so just what do you Benedictines do that's so special?"

"Well, we pray for the sins of mankind."

"You're going to need a lot more than one lifetime if you're going to get anywhere with that. Be a Buddhist! We have a lot of lifetimes!"

I think I was being very even handed; I've seldom met a theist with a sense of humor like that about his religion, and Muslims clearly have none. Hence the Inquisition, the Rushdie fatwa, and the near constant bigotry against people like me on these threads by Christian trolls. Dawkins has a sense of humor too, as does the delightful Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who remarked about the "South Park" flap -- "equal opportunity ridicule." If theists are going to make the claim that they're on God's side and I'm not, they'd better be prepared to prove it. If they're going to believe that God is a person, and they have to or they'd be deists, they're going to have to face the consequences eventually -- recognizing that it's the nature of theism to invent "enemies of God" -- or at least to pretend that outsiders are inferiors.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 10:20:15 AM PDT
What evidence beyond your subjective impression do you have that "you" were actually no longer in "your body"?

Every night I have dreams in which my mind vividly creates multiple physical states some of which are quite fantastical but seem absolutely real to me. Does that mean they really happened?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 11:59:29 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Daniel -

Well, I can see that, like most fans of Dawkins, you are viscerally offended by any analogy between theology and other human intellectual enterprise that does not begin with a rejection of theology. I was not making any point about legitimacy of theology, only that lack of fit between two intellectual systems is not a basis for rejecting the systems.

I would defy you to find a matter/spirit dualism in Crossan, or even in Rowan Williams, who takes no position on, say, the supernatural version of the Resurrection. William argues for that which is spiritual pretty much as a matter of the relation between our motivations, considered as matters over which we have some control, and our situations. Much of philosophy goes over the same ground, as does quite a large share of psychology. A modern theologian would treat that as a different type of subject from, say, the biological origins of aggression, but not because they cling to some artificial metaphysical distinction - just because a thing you have some choice about is different in problems presented and options available from something that passively sits and lets you do experiments on it. This is no stranger than the distinction between natural sciences and social scientists.

You are in favor of turning the page on all things religious. That is a valid and intellectually coherent view. But, like Dawkins, you should learn not to be dismissive of alternative perspectives. You should consider the possibility that the reason you don't hear a lot of jokes by Christians that offer any grain of skepticism is because you come on aggressively attacking their faith. Most pastors work very hard to get some humor into their sermons, and I could rattle off a dozen for you that are built on skepticism about spiritual claims or religious cant.

The main reason for not just dumping the intellectual matter of theology is that its goals - to understand the human spirit and its relation to the architecture of spiritual reality - are still valid. There are good reasons to believe that the wisdom of those who have struggled with such matters have been useful. Some of them need to be detached from the thought processes of the supernatural that were pervasive at the time of their origin, others can be rejected because they were deluded by such processes, and still others can be left with that question in suspension, and no harm done to anyone.

For a very simple answer, which I have a feeling Mr. Dawkins would have trouble takings seriously, as would most of my colleagues in the economics profession, consider the basic, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?" You can dismiss that for the supernatural language, or you can reflect for a moment that it applies perfectly well if you substitute "ability to look in the mirror and see a person with integrity," for "soul." Macbeth or Caligula or Huey Long or Richard Nixon have all made perfectly good subjects for an extended meditation on the same question, and to face this question without the insight of the ages (or without the insights of a different faith, if you take one seriously) is to try to push a wheelbarrow with one hand.

Posted on Jun 14, 2012 9:05:41 PM PDT
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