The Arabs by David Lamb

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In this case, the accompanying photo helps set the feeling for this book. The question I propose my enormous reader-base: would you feel comfortable breaking out this book on the bus or subway? David Lamb wrote "The Arabs" in 1987. The title reflects this on several levels. I never really like people to know what I am reading when I am on the train, per se. When ARABS is written in huge, red, capital letters, even less so. Why does it feel strange to me?

Regardless, I enjoyed this light read on the Arabs, a definition Lamb gives to include the area from Morocco moving east until Oman. The edition I read included a post 9/11 update, which was essentially a chance for Lamb to cash in on the tragedy by adding a new introduction and a handful of sentences about the connections to the event. Right move in my eyes, mainly because no one in the States cared about this part of the world until they were forced to.

The account is based on his writings and recollections during his time as the L.A. Times Bureau chief in Cairo. Yes, another one! It reads like the travel book that it is. What I found to be most interesting is how the writing has not been skewed by the 9/11, which offers a pre-event perspective.

As I enjoy following threads in both thought and reading, it is important to make the connection between my study of modern German history and the Middle East. Obviously, much of the shaping of this part of the world are a direct consequence of World War II, which led to the creation of the State of Israel. What Lamb argues is that even without Israel the Arab countries, due to how they are governed, would still be rife with problems though perhaps to a lesser degree. The Palestine - Israel conflict, often seen to be the number one factor causing tension in the Middle East and beyond, continues to trudge on because it is not in the interest of other Muslim that it is resolved.

I do not want to delve too deep into this argument because it is complex and I know next to nothing about it. The next post will be a review on a book written by an Argentine-Palestinian music conductor residing in Berlin. The title of the book is Everything is Connected. Let's see if this is really the case. Until then...


The Catholic Church by Hans Küng

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This book, by the professor of Theology at Tübingen University in southern Germany, is a short history explaining the developments of the Church through time. The Church in this definition refers to the Roman Catholic one, who, as this short history explains, has seen its power and influence in the world wither away over the 1500 year mainly as a result of its own doing.

The Roman Catholic Church is one of the finest representations of rigid hierarchy present today. Decisions come from the top down with little significance given to the input and opinions of its large following at the bottom. The Church created numerous layers of organization from priest to bishop, cardinal and beyond. The effects of this were that Catholics always had a local messenger of God, the priest, who was available and willing to pardon people for their sins. The rise of Luther in the early 16th century called for a direct connection between believers and God. Too many mid-level managers. The repurcussions of this split between the Catholic and what would become the Protestant Church had enormous cultural effects and still today greatly define the differences between Northern and Southern Europe.

The frustrating aspect of the Church is that there were several key points in history in which the setting was ideal for a new direction to be taken. However, each time the conservative option that would preserve the hierarchical power structure was always taken.

In all this it is easy to forget about one important figure - Jesus! The Church and the pope, who is suppose to be the voice of Jesus on Earth, constantly distant themselves from this humble and peaceful figure by refusing to ask one simple question: Is this what Jesus would have wanted for his Church? One of the few positive trends in the current Catholic religion is that there is a very strong grassroots, community-oriented, church at the local level. The members of this church (non-capital "C") are much closer to the embodiment of what Jesus was and what he would have wanted. These people are running soup kitchens in parish basements, gathering clothing during the winter months for the poor, and teaching immigrants the local language for better integration. It sure seems a far cry away from a Pope who dresses himself in silk, gold and jewels at every public event he is present at.


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