Pithy quotes from our current reading which give us pause to reflect

I wonder if we might have a thread for sharing short passages we come to in our reading, whether that reading occurs in science, theology or elsewhere.

I’m nearing the end of An Unnecessary Woman a novel by Rabih Alameddine. The main character is a divorced and childless woman in old age reflecting on her life in Beirut, a place that has gone through great upheavals and strife. A voracious reader, every reflection she has seems to evoke a quote from one or another author she has read. But the best one might be the one I’ve bolded here within the paragraph where it occurs.

One’s first response is that these Beirutis must be savagely insane to murder each other for such trivial divergences. Don’t judge us too harshly. At the heart of most antagonisms are irreconcilable similarities. Hundred-year wars were fought over whether Jesus was human in divine form or divine in human form. Belief is murderous.

An example I think of the shared conviction that the truth is plainly obvious shared by both anti-theists and biblicists, which leads them to attack each other over the particulars of that truth.


Good idea for a thread. And I like that quote. Not to get too political, but that’s one reason I cringe whenever I hear anyone wanting a “Christian nation” – there are so many divisions and options within Christianity that I doubt any would really be satisfied with any government that called itself Christian.


Really? For real now? So someone is murderous just for believing something? Who wrote this?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, excerpt from “The Second Coming,” the poem my daughter and I read Friday in 20th Century Lit. I guess nothing is new under the sun.


To make sense of a sentence composed of just three words, you’d have to look to the rest of the paragraph from which it was plucked. On its own there isn’t much it could mean. But that was part of the context I provided for the sentence I highlighted.

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Addendum: A few changes/lyrical additions by Joni

The best lack conviction
Given some time to think
And the worst are full of passion without mercy

Hoping and hoping
As if by my weak faith
The spirit of this world
Would heal and rise


Participated in a @jstump book club on Camus’ The Plague a few weeks back. Great book and lots of good discussion. Anyway, just to show that “historical context” applies to all literature, not just the Bible, here’s a quick rundown.

Camus had been a member of the French resistance during the Nazi occupation. He wrote the book in 1947, immediately after the war, and used a fictional outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the French Algerian colony of Oran to represent the literal “plague” of fascism that Europe had just experienced. The application to our present situation is obvious and drips with irony.

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky…. Plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”

The next three paragraphs are all from one speech by a character named Tarrou. He became a pacifist because of his father’s occupation as a prosecutor seeking the death penalty.

"As time went on I merely learned that even those who were better than the rest could not keep themselves nowadays from killing or letting others kill, because such is the logic by which they live; and that we can’t stir a finger in this world without the risk of bringing death to somebody. Yes, I’ve been ashamed ever since; I have realized that we all have plague, and I have lost my peace….

"All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences. That may sound simple to the point of childishness; I can’t judge if it’s simple, but I know it’s true…

“I grant we should add a third category: that of the true healers. But it’s a fact one doesn’t come across many of them, and anyhow it must be a hard vocation. That’s why I decided to take, in every predicament, the victims’ side, so as to reduce the damage done. Among them I can at least try to discover how one attains to the third category; in other words, to peace.”


It would seem that Christianity ia more important in its traditional role of reminding people that humility and decency in our treatment of others is paramount. This rather than being but one more political brand hawking its goods at the pig trough.

This is good and sounds a similar note to my quote but I admit I was hoping for something from the John Wayne book. :wink:


Reading it now. I was going to participate in the book club also, but life got in the way. Good read.

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Camus raises a lot of interesting philosophical questions, no surprise. From the existence of “natural evil” in the form of pestilence to the “metaphorical evil” that results from human choice. People have wrangled with those dilemmas repeatedly on BioLogos threads, just as they have from time immemorial.

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Well I’ve been making do with Haidt’s The Righteous Mind and it really is very well written. But today I decided to move on to my next novel, The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. I found the movie starring Tom Cruise to be almost unwatchable when I stumbled upon it on television half way through one evening. I think the book will be better.

Also it looks like religious faith will be a major topic in the book judging from the books opening lines. I’ve copied them down to see if anyone else will be intrigued enough to give it a look. If anything appropriately pithy comes up I’ll be sure to post it here.

My father’s father was a Methodist minister. He was a tall, handsome, noble-looking man; he had a deep, beautiful voice. My father was an ardent atheist and admirer of Clarence Darrow. He skipped grades the way other boys skip class, he lectured my grandfather’s flock on carbon 14 and the origin of species, and he won a full scholarship to Harvard at the age of 15.
He took the letter from Harvard to his father.
Something looked through my grandfather’s beautiful eyes. Something spoke with his beautiful voice, and it said: It’s only fair to give the other side a chance.
My father said: What do you mean?
What it meant was that my father should not reject God for secularism just because he won arguments with uneducated people. He should go to a theological college and give the other side a fair chance; if he was still of the same mind at the end he would still be only 19, a perfectly good age to start college.


That sounds like a good book. In that quote, one sees the insight of age (or maturity) over the immediacy we all experience as teens.

Another of my favorite books is “The Chosen,” by Chaim Potok.

Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?

I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.

It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”


Thanks Randy. I’m putting a hold on it as soon as I finish this reply. I don’t really want to talk about my knee surgery anymore except to say it was put off until the beginning of November. So I may well need another book or two and apparently with this one, where there is one there are also two others. :wink:

Oops, apparently there are a few books by that name and perhaps this is not the one which is part of a trilogy. Either way the one by Potok looks good.

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Well live and learn. After such a promising beginning the book becomes obtusely written with paragraphs split in two and separated by other text for no apparent reason. That sent me searching for a reason for such a weird approach which led me to a review I only wish I’d read sooner.

After that beginning one might expect that the issue between the grandfather and the father would be of some importance in the story. Surely the grandfather’s admonition to give the other side a fair chance would amount to something. Nope. What’s more the author, writing from the point of view of the daughter/granddaughter Sybilla soon reveals that she has no interest in any such balance herself. She strives and seeks to instill also in her son an absolute reliance on rationality in every corner of life. Here is an excerpt rom the article by Miranda Popkey appearing in a 2016 issue of the Paris Review which has helped me to walk away from the book.

I suspect Sibylla would object to being called brilliant. I suspect she does not believe that she has access to truths unavailable to others; that she believes merely that others usually prefer to avoid traveling the sometimes-arduous path to those truths. “The fact is,” she explains early in the novel, “that 99 out of 100 adults spare themselves the trouble of rational thought 99% of the time.” Sibylla seems like the kind of person who’d only admit to being the one out of the hundred who doesn’t. (Though if this is true, what else could brilliance consist of but refusing to be one of the ninety-nine?) Regardless, Sibylla is a woman confident in her convictions. Immediately after her declaration about adults’ general reluctance to engage in rational thought, she concedes, parenthetically, “studies have not shown this, I have just invented the statistics so I should not say The fact is, but I would be surprised if the true figures were very different.”

I’m a big fan of rational thought but I’m an even bigger fan of balance. I also prefer books which do not hide what they have to say behind puzzling arrangements of the text. Clear writing is challenge enough. Deliberately chopping it up to make the trail harder to follow is … not rational. @Randy, I withdraw my recommendation.


Thanks for the review! It still sounds like I can learn from it somehow, in some way; but your warning helps prepare the way that if I do sit down with it some day (I’m reading by Audible mostly now), I will get the most out of what I do read.

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I hesitate to mention it because I’ve had so many surgery dates postponed at this point that I am losing faith I will ever get that knee replaced. But barring another postponement it’ll happen at the beginning of November so I needed more reading material on hand. One of them is John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I read his much more famous Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp in the last couple years and thoroughly enjoyed and was uplifted by both of them. So I hope this one will measure up.

At the back of this book is an About the Author and About the Book section. In the latter he begins "I may one day write a better first sentence to a novel than that of A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I doubt it. He then goes on to evaluate his first sentences in many of his other novels before returning to the one that opens this book. Here is what he writes:

The greatest of all accidents, of course, is an accidental death, which brings me back to the first sentence of A Prayer for Owen Meany. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice - not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

The semicolon helps, but the clause that follows it was a risk; doubtless there were some readers who’d had it up to here with Christians and stopped right there. I don’t blame them. In the United States today, there is an excess of Christian bragging - to many holier-than-thou zealots in politics, too much righteous indignation in God’s name - but that’s another story. What makes the first sentence of A Prayer for Owen Meany such a good one is that the whole novel is contained in it.

Now I am intrigued but I will wait unit I finish Sheila Heti’s novel, How Should A Person Be, which I’m only half through. Lately I’ve only been reading to get tired enough to sleep at night. Without almost an hour on the exercise bike every other day it becomes slow going. But there is a lot to do to prepare to put my upkeep in the hands of my 77 year old wife who already has her hands full maintaining her own fragile health. But it will be a good book to have at hand in between physical therapy and waiting to heal.


I won’t have time to copy the paragraph I just read in the book I was just given yesterday because my older dog has an appointment with a bone specialist in forty minutes. But we finally went to visit a good friend whose husband died almost a year ago. For six months she didn’t want to actually get together with anyone and then COVID hit. So yesterday we went to a socially distanced tea in their new garden. We arrived wearing masks and since I’d never been to their new home were given a tour. Her husband Bill, a Jungian analyst, had always been my favorite conversation partner whenever the women artist’s group got together and included we guys. While looking into Bill’s old office I happened to spy a newish book with by the author Antonio Damasio, an author whose book A Feeling of What Happens I’d ordered for myself in the last year. (So much for resolutions not to buy any new books.) Marriana insisted I take it. The book is titled The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. I just read the introduction to the fifth chapter titled The Making of Minds. When we get back from the vet I will copy the first paragraph here.

Now I have more books to add to my Christmas list! Best wishes on your knee. I have a friend who just had one replaced, and am amazed at how quickly she recovered. I think the big change over the years is the pain control has improved to where early mobilization is possible.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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