Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Do you remember that judge in Georgia or Alabama who installed a large stone "statue" of the Ten Commandments in his county's courthouse? Eventually, he was forced to remove it much to the gnashing of teeth and shredding of garments of the "true believers" who felt --- this showed just how Godless America had become.

I remember seeing this judge being interviewed on television by Bill Press, a liberal political writer and journalist. Bill was the soul of courtesy --- and showing extreme deference asked the judge what "God" did he mean when he said that the USA was founded on the belief of God and his teachings and commandments. The judge was absolutely dumbfounded.
He grasped his Bible and holding it aloft said something like: The God Who is found within the covers of this book!

Personally, I think it is close to blasphemous to believe that God is found within a single book by any name. Or any group of words, no matter how large. Words are written or spoken expression s-- much of the time -- of concepts. And, for my money, a God that can be encapsulated in a concept --- just can't be God.

Yes, the word God has many meanings. Bill Press's inference along these lines when he asked the jurist his question --- pointed to this.

I found recently some wonderful quotes from -- above all -- a Baptist minister who has been heading a church in Evanston, IL since 1980. I don't know exactly what kind of Baptist church this is --- but it's the kind I might like to visit.

Here are some exciting and enlightening comments from Reverend Robert V. Thompson:

"If I'm being asked about whether or not I believe in some supreme being with an extreme ego who insists that people conform to a rigid dogma, I say, 'No, I don't believe in that God'."

"If I'm asked if I believe in a God whose abode is in a heaven, separated from the earthly domain, the answer is, 'No, I don't believe in that God'."

"If the question is if I believe in a god who uses coercive power to make things happen a certain way, I reply, 'Not that one either'."

I may not agree with everything the Pastor says, but he is rather refreshing.

P.S. The photo at the top is the minister -- not the judge.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Don't Blame Everything on Religion !

The New Atheists: Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al point to the damage caused by religion and its adherents down through history: wars, pogroms, inquisition, massacre, intolerance, cruelty.

They do not spend much time on the good that has come from religion: peace both within the mind and outside it; feeding the poor; ministering to those suffering and misunderstood; charitable works; pointing towards ideals and virtues that -- when followed ---- have made things better for the world and mankind.

They have not spent much time on the destructive forces unleashed under the banner of reason and science. Consider the horrors unleased by the Industrial Revolution; by the utopian atheists of the Soviet Union; by the Nazis; by Capitalism; by the means Science has developed to harm both mankind, other species and this planet.

The Enlightenment itself -- usually pictured as the beginning of that great, positive evolution which is taking all of us to higher and higher levels of human development. Partly true, since there stemmed from it a greater emphasis on human dignity, on individual liberty, on attacking ignorance and combating injustice.

The problem with the Enlightenment and the secular humanism which it spawned is that it led people to believe that with the emphasis on Reason we could realize the perfectibility of humanity. Reason though can become dictatorial and unreasonable.
Stemming from the belief that through reason, science and sound thinking we can make a utopia --- spawned the horrors of the French Revolution; the cruelties and massacres of colonization; the barbarism of our own suppression and attempts to eradicate the Native Americans.

The story of mankind is not one of continual progress. History is not progressive.
History is basically cyclical. Science and Reason can make things much worse instead of much better. What makes the difference is the amount of Compassion and Wisdom there is inherent in our lives. The ability to eliminate millions more persons in war today is an example of Science. Would you call this --- an advancement?

When I read Harris and Hitchens and other New Atheists, their tone is vituperative, angry, intolerant and filled with hatred and outrage. I get the same feeling when listening to the Christian evangelist, John Hagee.

Must we choose between the zealots who worship at the shrine of Reason & Science or the dogmatists who follow a fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran or Bible?

Do we really believe in the "purity of the rational mind".

IMO, humans are simply not naturally good. There is evil, and most of it stems from people. The planet would not be harmed to a great extent, but probably enhanced --- if by some chance ---- mankind disappeared entirely.

What have we really contributed? What have we really "messed up"?

People are not going to evolve into some kind of perfected tribe by following reason. Reason is the mother of rationalization, and we know how prevalent it is. In fact, we have the ability to use Reason and even Science to justify our own lack of wisdom, inner forces of hatred, lust, greed, anger...

Whether there is a God or not --- we can be absolutely sure that Reason + Science is not It !

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hindu Yoga as Seen in the Gita
The photo show a practitioner of Hatha Yoga involved in the Sun Salutation. A series of asanas (postures) which serve to welcome the return of the Sun -- the provider of light, warmth and energy.

When the average person thinks of Yoga, he/she believes it is a form of physical exercise. He may know its name, Hatha Yoga. Yet Hatha Yoga's purpose is not to make the practitioner a more perfect physical specimen, but to make his mind/body ready for other practices of morality, ethics, meditation ...that will lead to Yoga --- Union with God. Yoga means union. So Hatha Yoga is a tiny part of the vast system called Yoga.

In the Bhagavad Gita, one chapter of the Mahabharata -- one of the two Hindu epics -- God in the form of the avatar, Krishna, teaches Arjuna (who stands for us) the way to union with God. The Gita focuses on three of the most important yogas: Jnana (Wisdom), Bhakti ( Devotion), and
Karma (Service).

Jnana Yoga is making use of the mind and intellect to approach, and hopefully, attain union with Brahman (God). The Jnani Yogi aims to see behind and beyond the mind through the use of viveka (discrimination). In the words of the revered Sri Swami Sivananda: "Jnana is knowledge. To know Brahman as one's own Self is Jnana. To say, 'I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness, the non-enjoyer, non-doer and silent witness,' is Jnana. To behold the one Self everywhere is Jnana."
One technique commonly used is "neti, neti" -- "not this, not this". The student of Jnana Yoga dismisses each thought, image, concept, sound or sense distraction with
"not this, not this". Eventually he/she realizes, knows that Brahman is not any of these. One then, in a sense, moves backwards into the realization of Brahman -- the Absolute Reality which cannot be seen, heard, conceived or captured. This approach leads to dispassion by which the yogi should be able to detach oneself from all that is temporary --- all that is not Brahman. The Jnana yogi still, though is left with Everything since Brahman is the only Absolute Reality.

Some Jnana Yogis, like the great and highly regarded Ramana Maharshi recommended concentrating on asking the question, "Who Am I?" over and over again -- until one reaches the "knowing" of and union with Brahman.

The Gita depicts Jnana Yoga as the spiritual path for the few -- those of strong intellect and the discipline to use it with discimination and steady focus.

"Therefore, just keep thinking of me. Fix your entire mind on me. Continuously direct your discriminating intellect to consider who I am, and you will soon know that we are united forever; there is no doubt about it." (from The Gita)
Bhakti Yoga is recommended for most people who have a devotional soul, those for whom feelings and affection is easier to come by than intense mental focus. Christianity is basically a bhakti religion.

Within Hinduism -- Bhakti Yogis show their devotion and love usually to a personal form of the Absolute (Brahman) --- Krishna, Rama, the Divine Mother, Shiva, Ganesh. Jesus and Buddha can also be used. Devotion within Hinduism usually is expressed through chanting, prayer, singing of bhajans (spiritual songs) and japa -- reciting one of the names of God over and over again, frequently using a mala (beads, rosary) to keep count and to keep focused.

In Bhakti Yoga the devotee surrenders herself/himself completely to the Lord --- and thereby escapes the impediment to Union which is the Ego.

The Gita (Bhagavad Gita) emphasizes Bhakti in Chapter 12. For Example:
"On the other hand, those who being solely devoted to Me, and surrendering all actions to Me, worship Me - the manifest divine - constantly meditating on Me with single minded devotion; these O Arjuna I speedily rescue from the ocean of birth and death."

Karma Yoga
is a path which also will lead to union with God; however, instead of using devotional practices, or the discriminating use of a disciplined intellect --- it is the Yoga of service. The Karma Yoga considers everything he does as an offering to God. His everyday actions are performed because they are part of his "dharma" -- his duty-- however, she/he does not seek the fruits of these actions -- the fruits belong only to the Lord. Whether in a worldly sense his/her actions are "successful" is due entirely to God. It is the dedicated performance of duties that leads eventually to union with God. All of the yogi's actions are offerings or sacrifices to the Divinity. The yogi is -- in a sense -- indifferent to the results.

If a Karma Yogi is a businessman and works at developing his particular enterprise -- he does this because it is her/his role in life which God has proscribed for him/her --- not for fame, money, or possessions.
These belong to God.

(Some passages on Karma Yoga from The Gita)

"And if one has not developed the necessary self-discipline to practice yoga (e.g. Jnana/Bhakti) regularly, -- he can also attain perfection just by conscientiously dedicating all of his actions to me."

"As for you, do the work that comes to you -- but don't look for the results. Don't be motivated by the fruits of your actions. nor become attached to inaction."

"Whoever desires me above everything else, and (thus) completely devotes himself to me, and (thus) offers me all his actions, and (thus) sheds all personal (selfish) attachments and feelings of ill-will toward any other creature, that person surely comes to me."

There is another major form of Yoga, Raja Yoga, which many commentators/ scholars believe is also referred to in the Gita. This Yoga is the way of focusing the mind on a single "object" to achieve quietness -- and with continued practice -- will lead to union with God. The major Hindu scripture devoted to Raja Yoga is the great Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. In this book Patajali describes a complete form of Raja Yoga that includes morality, ethics, virtue as well as various stages of mental discipline.

(Quotations from The Gita are mostly by Swami Satchidananda)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hindu Karma: No Escape from Cause and Effect

Karma is not Fate. This is a common but mistaken belief.

Karma is Action. Every action of a being capable of knowing right from wrong lays the seeds for the future. Good Karma paves the way for a happier life, especially one with a greater opportunity for union with God. Bad Karma's seeds will result in suffering and more difficulty in achieving liberation.

Humans, though, still have free will. Although, as I understand it, the wise exercise of free will will be easier for those with a greater amount of good Karma.

Karma is a form of cause and effect.

Some seeds of Karma will sprout in this life; some in one's future lives. Hindus, generally, believe in reincarnation. You cannot escape your Karmic residue through death. You continue on your rounds of birth and death -- until you learn the lesson of Dharma and Karma. Then upon death the atman, that drop of divinity which is the real "you" becomes one with the Ocean of Brahman.

God cannot excuse one's Karma or dilute it. (However, some segments of Hinduism may disagree with this, or so I've read.)

Karma is part of Dharma, part of the cosmic law which is part of the "body" of Brahman (God). For this reason, it seems as though Karmic effects would have to come to pass.

A popular way of defining Karma: What goes around, comes around.
Or as the Bible says: As you sow, so shall you reap.

Hinduism is enormously variegated and complex. This is just my attempt to give you a sense of the meaning of Karma.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hindu Dharma ---- the Framework of the World

The word, "'dharma" is used in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Some meanings are similar and some are not.

Dharma within Hinduism is seen as the universal law that governs everything and everyone. The idea of dharma arose from the most ancient sacred scriptures of Hinduism or Santana Dharma. There were four Vedas, the most well known being the Rig-Veda. The four contain the bedrock of morality, religion, philosophy, ritual ... in present day Hindu life and belief. The four Vedas may have been gathered together around 1500 BCE, and, are, generally considered the oldest religious texts in continuous use. Somewhat later appeared the Upanishads and finally the Bhagavad Gita -- which ended those texts considered most authoritative and basic in the Hindu faith.

Dharma holds everything together. It is not so much a set of commandments as a word for the very nature of all existence. It is the "cosmic norm" --- which when deviated from brings unhappiness, instability, and malevolence. In Hinduism, especially in Vedanta --- Brahman, the Supreme Absolute is considered impersonal, but not in the sense Westerners might think. For example, Brahman is the essence of being, existence and bliss (satchidananda), but Brahman cannot be conceptualized. Therefore nothing we can say is what Brahman is. If we could do this --- Brahman would not be the Absolute.

Many Hindus do not believe the world was created as those of the three monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do. Reality --- the universe, the earth, sentient creatures -- are all Brahman. They all are expressions of Brahman, and, have no real self-identity. Some followers of Santana Dharma (Hinduism) consider that observable world as maya -- illusion. In reality it is Brahman. How could Brahman construct things, people, animals? All there is -- is Brahman. Brahman is All.

This universal framework, law "holds" or "sustains" the world and its beings. Dharma -- these ways of living, principles of ethics, qualities of compassion, wisdom and equanimity form a web that sustains stable, healthy, beneficent life. This dharma, IMO, is really a visible (to us) aspect of Brahman. Dharma is not Brahman's commandments or rules --- dharma is Brahman, Absolute Reality's Nature. This is why Dharma is absolute as Brahman is.

When a nation departs from Dharmic behavior and values, when man mistreats the natural world, when he shows cruelty and oppression ---- Dharma weakens and Adharma
becomes dominant. Adharma destroys harmony, creates conflict. Things begin to fall apart. Evil and misery become rampant.

To restore Dharma, Hindus believe, the Absolute "projects" or "emanates" avatars or incarnations of divinity -- at various times and places -- to lead mankind back to Dharma and restore order and harmony. Among these avatars, Hindus include Krishna and Rama, but many also regard Buddha and Jesus as avatars.

Another related meaning of Dharma is one's personal "Dharma" --- or the role that "God" wants you to play in the Divine Drama. Dharma in this sense is similar to "duty". The Bhagavad Gita says that it is better for one to fulfill his/her designated dharma imperfectly -- that that of another --- perfectly. This makes me wonder about all the persons we see from time to time on television talking about their plans for who they wany to be. If the actors in a play decided that they wanted to play someone else's part ---- it would be chaos.

Westerners are mostly centered in their egos. Hindu's believe that the ego is fundamentally an illusion. Oh, it may be relatively "real". The inner true reality of a person is the atman which can be thought of as the "soul" --- but for many Hindus it is a drop of divinity (Brahman) and upon one's death --- if one's karma permits --- the individual returns to the Ocean.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Today I read Carolyn Hax's column of advice in the local newspaper:
In case you missed it, here it is:
Being ‘driven’ is simply overrated
By Carolyn Hax
Dear Carolyn: My wife and I have been married four years. We share a mortgage but don’t have kids or other significant debt. My wife works a lot harder than I do. Her company pays her $100,000 a year, but she is always exhausted. I have a publishing business that pays me $150,000 annually. I have been building my business since before we married and now enjoy the passive income it provides us.

My wife is resentful that she has to work so hard and she sees me kicking back. I would love to travel by myself once in a while or do a guys’ trip, but I get nothing except guilt from her, which in turn makes me angry and resentful. It feels like there is a constant cycle of resentment because of it.

She stays in her job because there may be potential to move up, and because she enjoys the challenge and responsibility. She is also making terrific contacts — she likes working hard. I’ve always told her that if she doesn’t like her job, I support anything she would choose to do, regardless of her income.

I feel that I carry my weight financially. Shouldn’t I enjoy the fruits of my labor without feeling guilty, and shouldn’t she give me the freedom to enjoy it once in a while? She has vacation days she can use if she wants. I would need to get a second job to make more money, which we don’t need right now. She implies that I am lazy and not driven. I disagree, I built my business with hard work and drive. Doesn’t my income count heavily toward that argument?

— J.L.

Dear J.L.: I suppose, but I would make a different argument entirely: that being “driven” is seriously overrated. Certainly I’m glad some people are. We all enjoy — in fact, take for granted — countless fruits of other people’s elective 80-hour work weeks.

I simply reject the implication that everyone has to be driven, or even ought to. People pulling elective 80-hour weeks certainly enjoy the fruits of other people’s rejection of that life. It’s not just poets, volunteers, and people who make sure they have nothing more pressing to do than walk at their toddler’s pace. It’s people who think 40 hours more than suffice.

You have a sweet life. Whether you earned it or picked it up off the sidewalk is, I think, immaterial. You are content with what you have. If your wife envies your contentment, then she needs to do something to find more — with your cooperation, of course. Her insistence that you lessen your contentment, by taking on equal stress, of all things, is appalling. A stunningly selfish solution.

You don’t mention any ways you apply your spare quality of life toward improving hers — chores, cooking, social planning, to cite a few examples. If you don’t do this, then do this. “I support anything she would choose to do” isn’t a promise kept only in few possible futures, it’s one to make good on daily.

If you already do pamper her, though, and a thoughtful, happy, well-paid spouse isn’t enough to make her happy, then it’s time for you both to start asking what is.
I used to have on my school desk two quotes:

There are two ways of being rich:
To have great wealth -- or --
To have few needs.

Happiness is not getting what you want, but
Wanting what you have.

In today's Western world -- contentment is a four letter word. Real men and real women are driven -- constantly, relentlessly driven. This is the true sign of "having the right stuff"--endless desires for more degrees, more money, more prestige, higher positions. And, what about at the end of all this, i.e. Death? Well, as the bumper sticker used to say:"The guy with the most toys at the "end" wins." Really??

Who says so? And who cares? This "drivenness" is a "dis-ease" which the Buddha diagnosed as the chief cause of human suffering. Contentment is good. Never being satisfied is crippling and absolutely destructive of peace + joy which are the chief ingredients of happiness.

As I see it, the husband is on the right path. He has a sane and healthy attitude toward life. His wife is upset because she cannot break her addiction of perpetually proving herself through rising another rung up the corporate ladder and grasping the next larger salary. For her --enough can never be enough. She is strapped to the treadmill the Buddhists call -- samsara.

Part of the problem that many modern people have is that they really believe that this life is the End --- that they must hurry to gain everything of material worth possible -- before the end.

However, some persons who don't belief in an afterlife --- do wisely take the perspective of seeing this life in terms of real values: relationships, inner peace, giving not always taking, enjoying each moment and appreciating each experience.

The wife's attitude and values are not just hers but those of the corporations, many politicians, "our leaders," and unfortunately that of millions of persons especially in the "First" World --- and are the cause of so much misery not just to people, but harm to our planet.

I was once told by a Buddhist monk that the way to achieve real happiness is >>> always maintain an attitude of non-grasping.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I have read at least three other of Brian's books, and I believe he is one the greatest forces of good both in and outside Chistendom.

In the book before this one, The Secret Message of Jesus, Brian discloses the essence of Jesus' communication to us.

In this book -- he tackles the answers to two primary questions:

---What are the biggest problems in the world?

--- What do the life and teachings of Jesus have to say about the most critical global problems in our world today?

I expected Brian to have something significant to say about the answer to the second question.

However, I had already lowered my expectations for the significance of his description and analysis of the first question's answers.

What a surprise! He does a marvelous job of answering the first question. As good or better than those experts in more "relevant" disciplines whose books contain many more pages than McLaren's. And, McLaren is a tremendously engaging writer -- one who keeps you turning pages.

He sees our world as a machine -- The Societal Machine --- which in truth is a
"Suicide Machine".

There are three components of this machine: Prosperity System, Security System and Equity System. The black cog in the middle, Brian calls -- The Framing Story.

McLaren spends ample time discussing the problems and then makes a convincing presentation of how Jesus' message and life could be the antidote for the poisonous predicament prevailing today.

Friday, March 28, 2008


For me, there is much that is appealing and meaningful within Hinduism. For many westerners ii is difficult to get beyond the exotic imagery of the Hindu deities. A few experts say that the Hindu tradition is basically for those born into and raised within a Hindu culture, where Hindu customs, mythology, and ritual are second nature. I can understand this point of view, but I don't believe it should prevent those who sense something very special within Sanatana Dharma (the official name of Hinduism) --- from pursuing their attraction to this most primordial of living faiths.

There are a very large number of deities in the Hindu Pantheon. Each individual usually has one or, perhaps, several to whom he gives special devotion. However, he/she does not denigrate the forms of God dear to others. Each God Is Great. Each God represents the totality of the "God-Head". The God, Vishnu is said to have a thousand names, a thousand perceptions. Yet, the totality of the "thousand" is in no way greater than that of just one of the names.

Hymns of praise (mahatmya) express devotion not to just that particular aspect of God -- but to the fulness of Divine Reality. In and through the particularity of this one god and image, the fulness of Reality is seen. Thus, to speak of many does not diminish the fact that the fulness of Divine Reality can still be seen through a single lens." (from Encountering God. Diana L. Eck)

Max Muller, a great German student of Eastern religions, said that he could not say that Hinduism was either polytheistic or monotheistic. Each god when the subject of a religious festival or of daily puja (personal worship) is the total object of devotion. Each god is as good as all the others. Each god is the conduit for the personal devotion of the worshiper towards the Ultimate Reality -- whatever name you give --it, her, her.

Hindus do not believe or feel that the murti (image) of the deity (Krishna, Kali, Shiva, Ganesh, Rama ...) IS that deity. To do so would be idolatrous.

They know that the Ultimate Reality cannot be grasped by a single name, image, idea. That humans must express their feeling towards the undefinable God through their own perceptions and imaginations.

An ancient South Indian folk song puts it this way:

"Into the bosom of the great sea
Flow streams that come from hills on every side,
Their names are various as their springs,
And thus in every land do men bow down
To one great God, though known by many names."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Advice from a College Professor

While going for my Master's at Oxford (Ohio, Miami U.), I took all my "free" classes in political science. Dr. Black, the department chair, was my professor, and the classes were almost pure delight.

One bit of advice he gave us was this:

Unless you become a political scientist or a journalist, you will not have the time to check out all the pertinent news an nuances of current events. You should, therefore, discover for yourself a group of journalists who you trust in pursuing the necessary facts and background ---- and --- who share your world view, your values, philosophy. You will not have the time to read everyone, so read those who look at the scene through perspectives that you have found true and with which you are comfortable.

Now, I know that some of you think that a liberal should read as much conservative pundits as he/she does liberal. I think this is a waste of time. My core values and frame of reference is mine --- arrived at through thought, feeling and living. This does not mean I never read people like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Barone and Pat Buchanan. I don't, though, waste my time entirely and raise my blood pressure unnecessarily by reading or listening to such silly persons as Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Luther the Reformer--- Some Thoughts About the Man and His Career

I have always been interested in religion, which does not mean I am necessarily a religious person.

As I arrive towards the end of Luther's biography by James M. Kittelson, I felt like sharing my thoughts with myself, and anyone else who reads my blogs.

Being brought up a Roman Catholic, I had a dismal view of the mischief maker and heretic -- Luther.
I did not know much about him except he was one 0f the bad guys.

I left the Catholic church, went through a stint with the Episcopalians, sparred briefly with the Unitarians --- before 1974 when I came across eastern spirituality, especially Buddhism.

Nevertheless, I find myself reading books about Jesus written by people like Marcus Borg, Brian McLain, Dominic Crossan, Alan Jones, Albert Nolan, Gesa Vermes, Richard Rohr and others. One would expect me to join some Christian church. It would be nice to have some special place to go on Sunday and to have a community, really an automatic one by virtue of membership, preferably faithful attendance. Then if I needed prayers when I was sick or someone to pick up groceries for me --- they would be there.

I have not tried a great many Christian churches since I left Christianity in 1975. The biggest problem is that I don't think many Christian churches follow or emulate the Jesus I have discovered through my reading 0f alternative views, especially those who delve into the "historical" Jesus. In other words, I might be a fish out of water. Most Christian churches, I think, follow Christ -- a product, IMHO, largely of accretions layered onto the original Jesus stemming from theologians, The Creeds, the Canon which specified the only authenic scriptures --- and especially St. Paul.

However, I did feel somewhat at home in Peace Lutheran Church here in Las Cruces, I attended
about three times with much discomfort due to my nerve problems in the back and legs. Then it became just too difficult and I quit going.

The people seemed normal and friendly. I was pleased when I heard at coffee hour that Peace Lutheran (ELCA) was the "bluest" church in town. The pastor gave intelligent, insightful, sermons -- rather than the usual drab, prosaic, and doctrinaire ones I heard much of the time as a Catholic. The service pleased me: it was liturgical, yet simple and down to earth. The pastor donned vestments for the Lord's Supper -- that I liked. And the church followed the liturgical year -- the same as the Catholics and the Episcopal churches do.

However-- what about --- Luther !! I needed to read a good, respected, and readable biography. I had read a book on Lutheranism and discovered that the Lutherans may be as immersed and obsessed with theology and doctrinal matters as the Catholics.

Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career by James M. Kittelson a professor of Church History, and with many other credits to his name --- has done a fine job. His subject, Luther, is a most interesting, and very human man. Kittelson not only vividly sets Luther's life in the events of his time, but deals in a clear and engrossing manner with the debates over theology and the devel0pment of Luther's religious views.

Luther came of humble origins. His father originally was a peasant, but through hard work bettered himself. Martin a religious lad -- concerned with questions about God, morality and salvation had a frightening experience which convinced him to join an Augustinian monastery. He was caught in a horrendous thunderstorm and he took it as a sign from God to become a monk. His father was opposed to Martin's decision --- but accepted it.

Martin was an ardent and serious monk: fasting, praying, carrying out his daily duties faithfully. However, he felt -- he sensed -- he knew -- that God was not satisfied. Martin's salvation was in doubt. His health suffered; he became depressed. But he persevered.

Luther was highly intelligent and possessed strong emotions. Although likable -- he could be quick to anger. His superior and friend convinced him to become a professor of theology. Luther might have preferred more pastoral duties, but he acquiesced --- and eventually gained his doctorate in theology.

The Catholic Church particularly in Rome was very corrupt --- the popes often focused on building a worldly institution of magnificent edifices, and the higher clergy generally led rather luxurious lives --- not in keeping with Jesus -- who clad in simple garments, his feet shod in plain sandals walked the dusty roads of Galilee --- associating with the lowest levels of society.

Luther was sent by his monastery on a mission to Rome and he was dismayed at the Christianity he found at the Vatican.

The next shock and irritant for Luther was the advent of Tetsel, a Dominican preacher, sent to Germany on money raising mission for the building of St. Peter's --- by selling indulgences -- pieces of paper which would guarantee that relatives detained in Purgatory until their sins were expunged --- would immediately gain release.

There was a jingle at that time: "Once the coin into the coffer clings, a soul from Purgatory heavenward springs!"

Luther was so angry that he composed 95 Theses --- the famous 95 -- and nailed them to the
door of the castle church in Wittenberg.

(to be continued) bob