29 January 2012

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

A bit more than a year ago, whilst being at Cambridge, I cam across the then new book of Philip Pullman, "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ". It was available in two colours: white (with black letters) and black (with white letters). I bought the latter one. It had a promising look. I read it quickly and, quickly again, I found it disappointing. I must have givent it away (to whom?) because I don't have a copy of it any more (and do not regret it).

The book is about (yes, you guessed it) a retelling of parts of the New Testament. Mary gives birth to twins (and other children), one of whom is called Jesus, the other Christ. The formet os good, the latter a scoundrel who uses Jesus charisma in order to establish a powrful church. And I'll let you guess what happens when one dies and the resurrection story becomes known (yes, you guessed it).

You see, I hadn't read Hitchens' review, and couldn't have done so, because it appeared after I had bought the book. Hitchens calls Pullman a Protestant Atheist™. "Sometimes what [Pullman] say  is common sense, sometimes it is alarming or inconsistent", says Hitchens. And I agree. I would add that the book, although quite short, becomes rather boring soon.

I had guessed that the book would be considered "blasphemous" by many. Here is what "thetruechristianity"   says, and here is what "christian-teachers.org.uk" think about Pullman himself.

What I had not known was that Rowan Williams, in trying to be modern--I guess-- described the “Jesus” character as “a voice of genuine spiritual authority” and the book itself as “mostly Pullman at his very impressive best, limpid and economical.” Impressive voice of modernity from the mouth of the most reverend himself (I'm only joking).

And it seems that many Christians like the book. Here is an example of a reader's review from "amazon.co.uk". He calls it, "[a] beautiful and clever story" and finds that the book is not anti-Christian, but anti-church, concluding that "Pullman's description, spoken through the mouth of Jesus in this book, of what the church is and what the church should be, is one of the most finely tuned expose of where we (Christians) have gone wrong."

My review of the book is very short: Boring.

A year and a half pass, and I come across a newly published (but not new) book called "The Balloonist"  by Macdonald Harris, an unknown author. I bought the book based on the introduction by Philip Pullman who describes it in glorious terms but also because (I have to admit...) a rather silly reason: that one can read the occasional Swedish words in it (which is rare, isn't it?), and so I was curious. Pullman mentions that Macdonald Harris is rather unkown and attributes this to the fact that he has written few books, all of different sorts and styles. The balloonist is about an expedition to the North Pole at the end of the 19th c., and Pullman thinks of it so highly that he's willing to forgive Macdonald Harris for writing in the present tense, something that Pullman hates.

I (tried to) read the book recently. My review of it will be equally short: Boring.

Unless you have the patience to go through lengthy descriptions of jejune situations, you won't manage to finish it. It did look promising. It is written in a Jules Verne style. Its main character knows a lot about science (especially electricity) and, occasionally, he brings in some elementary mathematics too. But that alone, won't change my mind. The book is (to me) boring.

What do I learn from the above? Well, I think I will use Pullman's writings and reviews as examples of what I should avoid.

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What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant