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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Discussion: Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black

Ok, today is the day! Our first book discussion. Hurrah!

I'm going to throw out my overall thoughts, then a few questions to ponder and my thoughts on those, and lastly a few quotes I really enjoyed.

I'm hoping that you will offer your overall thoughts, any thoughts you have on my questions, and any questions or quotes you have to add.

I love Lewis Black's comedy. I especially enjoy watching him go into rage, which is his style after all and what has built him quite a following. While I did hear this coming through the pages, it wasn't as loud or comedic in written form. Delivery is definitely a must with his kind of humor. I confess I did find myself laughing at certain passages, but not near as often as I had anticipated. As far as the overall message of the book, I felt like he made his points clear but had me befuddled as to what he truly believes by the end of the book.

Some questions to ponder:

1) Did anything he said resonate with you?

In the chapter "Knock Knock. Who's there?" I recalled my experience of God as a child. He spoke of being too afraid to pray. I was raised in a rather strict but oddball Christian religion wherein I always had a mental picture of God as a brick wall. I felt like when I prayed I was trying to scale that wall. I never made it.

2) Did his unexplainable experiences lessen your opinion of him? Have you had similar experiences?

I think that all of us encounter unexplainable things which we feel compelled to figure out. Whether we choose to shrug them off, believe science will one day answer them, or interpret them as a faith or spiritual experience is our own way individually to enrich our lives with those experiences. So no, it didn't exactly lessen my opinion of him. It just surprised me quite a bit. I have experienced many things which ultimately have ended up in all different categories for me.

3) Did you detect an overall message beyond religion needing a funny bone?

What I took away beyond the obvious message of 'lighten up guys' was that he was and is consistently open-minded about all approaches. I have not decided whether this level of open-mindedness is good. It's not that I don't promote open-mindedness. Absolutely necessary quality if we are going to grow and learn in life. However, I wonder if being more critical of the things we've seen or experienced can be healthier.

I thought an interesting side note that the people who staunchly believed one thing but were offended by other people's beliefs were making themselves seem more shaky in their professed faith than those that were content to believe their own and leave others to theirs.

Some quotes I enjoyed:

"'a cultural Jew'. That just sounds like a weird kind of yogurt." -p33

"We are all just shitty little snowflakes dancing in the universe." -p35
(incidentally, Blogher could use this more effectively than the whole flower thing)

when speaking of converts: "just one more moron to throw on the pyre of enlightenment." -p83

"How many times outside of a high-security prison are you somebody's present?" -p117

"We seem to find a shared comfort in our fear of those who don't share our beliefs." -p180

"In a land that should take great joy in the differences of its people - and in the knowledge that those differences are what make us strong - we generally choose to fear diversity while wallowing in our own stupidity." -p180


meno said...

I am not familiar with Black, so i was not able to "hear" his delivery in this book. Many people i respect tell me he is a riot, so i will have to check out his DVDs or you-tubes.

I found the book sort of pointless, and had some trouble getting through it (although i did!)

The odd experiences he has had were interesting, but as much as i would like to, i have never had a similar experince, so i don't really know what to think.

I did smile a few times.

Gordo said...

I had a terrible time with this one, too. I love his stuff, but I couldn't get past the bitching and whining. Bitching with no purpose.

What I don't know is whether or not this feeling was made worse by the fact that I had the audio book and was listening to his voice delivering the whole thing.

I had a few giggles too, but I found George Carlin's assaults on Catholicism far funnier.

Sober Briquette said...

I've never seen him either. The first day I had the book, I took it with me to the dentist's office. The two doctors were out at a conference and the atmosphere was quite a bit more relaxed than usual. One of the ladies said she had been dragged to the casino by her son and husband to see him and actually fell asleep at her table. Undaunted, I began the book.

I expected to get along well with Black from the first page of the preface. Apparently I'm not actually German, but descended from Russia, a "gathering of depressed people with a penchant for vodka as self-medication."

I heartily agree that "the goal [of religion] is to be a blissful moron." - p. 11 That whole introductory chapter was right on, but as I read further, I often felt that Black was totally missing the point, being deliberately obtuse (e.g, his chapter on Born-again) , but what does he ultimately believe? What Voltaire said, "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer." People can create a moral code, but they can't seem to stick by it without God and the afterlife as a reason to do so.

On p. 26 he states that organized religion does nothing to bring him closer to God. In my opinion, the purpose of organized religion is to bring people closer to each other. No wonder so many of us have a problem with it.

On p. 39, I found a paragraph in which Black's portrayal of God listening to prayers sounded just like the internet, bursting full of blog posts:

...And if everyone else around me at temple was praying at the same time, I would wonder which one of us he was listening to. And how was he grading our prayers? Was he looking for sincerity, need, uniqueness, or just something to humor him?

Black's unexplainable experiences made the most impression on him. Even though they were mysterious, these encounters were tangible to him. I mean, the title says it all - he doesn't have faith, he relies on evidence.

Maybe I just believe what I want to believe, but I think most religions boil down to certain universal truths. Fanatical adherence to any one denomination is wrong, tolerance is right. I'll be passing out those CoExist bumper stickers later.

Sober Briquette said...

BTW, anyone who doesn't have a copy yet want mine?

ms chica said...

After I slacked off about getting the book, I read a few less than sterling reviews in which his brilliance as a comedian didn't translate as well to the written word as it did to a monologue. so I quit trying to obtain this one.

Clowncar said...

I really like Lewis Black in concert, and "hearing" his delivery while reading this is key (like the way he pronounces "Jeeeew"), but I too got a little tired of this as it went on. I expected him to be a little more reasoned and nuanced in book form. It got a little repetitive.
Like a concert gone on too long.

I did enjoy the set of essays in the middle where he talked about meditation and cults and such. It was refreshing because he actually experienced all that weird stuff, and so couldn't merely dismiss it. His world view was a little more complex, and a little more open, in those chapters.

I'm rather irreligious myself, but I get bored of easy religion-bashing pretty quickly. Gordo is right, Carlin was much more subversive and cutting on these subjects.

On Chesil Beach is wonderful. Can't wait!

Maggie said...

This is great guys! You all had a lot of wonderful things to think over. Keep it coming.

I can see that most of us had a similar reaction to Black overall. I've been thinking about this and I wonder if all of us were expecting something more scholarly or at least more in depth about the subject of religion and what we got was a comedy set in book form. Not at all what I expected that's for sure. Religion is such a controversial and deep subject that it just felt skimmed over and as De mentioned really 'obtuse' as it was approached in his book.

I agree with Clowncar, religion bashing gets old fast. But I must admit I've been a perpretrator from time to time. Call it old wounds surfacing.

De, you mentioned that "People can create a moral code, but they can't seem to stick by it without God and the afterlife as a reason to do so." Did you mean that people believe that to be so or do you believe that people cannot stick to a moral code without those things? I'm not sure I agree with the latter. Essentially people do what they would have - there are those that are part of a religion or believe in God and still break their moral codes frequently and then there are those that do not attach themselves to any creed or thought beyond their own heartfelt morals and stick by them as only an imperfect being could, and there are plenty of other people doing wrong or right everywhere in between the two. I do agree that most people who belong to a religion/creed adhere to this sentiment. It is one of their strongest beliefs in a way.

Gordo I loved George Carlin's Brain Droppings and I remember having seen him on TV when I was young but I'm thinking I should try to find video or book about his 'assault on Catholocism'. Should be fun.

Ms. Chica I saw those reviews too, but only after I had purchased the book. I decided to try to ignore them because I figured maybe it was a personality thing. Turns out they were right.

So Meno you've never had anything happen to you that was unexplainable? I mean not some supernatural occurrence but even something rather mundane? Of course the mundane usually has a scientific explanation by now. I am glad that the book made you smile. At least we all have that.

ms chica said...

I don't always give in to the pressure of book reviews, but I hadn't listened to Black's stand-up routine before, so I wasn't personally invested.

If it had been Carlin, Julia Sweeney, Robin williams, or Brett Butler, I would have probably ignored the reviews and secured a copy of the book.

Maggie said...

Ms. Chica, I completely understand. If an author I love gets bad reviews on a book, I usually ignore. Same with movies and actors. But if it's someone new, I have to give pause and if I haven't had someone urging me to get the book or movie - I usually pass.

QT said...

I'm chiming in late here, but I don't have a very different reaction than most others. There were a few times that I giggled, but other than least it was an easy read. I thought the play at the end was the worst. That did not translate well at ALL!

Maggie said...

Qt, you are so right. I kept wondering if I'd seen it in person would it have been funny. I got the concept of it, but damn if it didn't sound really stupid and boring in that format.

Sober Briquette said...

Uh. What was it that I meant?

I'm not sure, because what I'm thinking right now is more along the idea that human beings seem to have a need for meaning in their lives, and I don't know where that need comes from and I can't remember anything I may have been taught about such a theory.

So I guess it's wrong to say they couldn't stick by their moral code, but that, in addition, they want there to be a reason for doing so.

Self-motivation sounds really great, but in my experience most people require external motivation. And even when it comes to the carrot and the stick, I find that a lot of people - on the receiving end, mind you - would just as soon dispense with the carrot altogether.