Book Review: The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements was published in 1997 and has sold millions of copies.  It has been published in over 30 languages and spent seven years on the New York Times best seller list.  Don Miguel Ruiz writes from the wisdom of the Toltec. The Toltec were an ancient Mexican society who were spiritual and knowledgeable in science and the arts.  They believed it was the mind’s perspective of what is reality that caused all suffering. The Toltecs were known as “women and men of knowledge”. For centuries, the society were a secret society preserving their beliefs and passing it down through generations where it evolved slowly to become what it is today.  It is no longer a secret society and it’s teachings are becoming more widely known.  Although it is not a religion, it does arise from spiritual truths that many religions hold.  Mainly, the Toltec beliefs are about how one should live from the seat of love.  It is based on mastering awareness, intention and transformation.

When I first started to read The Four Agreements, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or get much out of it.  The language is rather simplistic as are the principles.  On top of that there is mentioned in the first chapter a rather odd Toltec belief that life is a dream.  I soon realized however that this is not quite in the literal sense but in the sense that our realities are what we make it.  In other words, our perception of life is not necessarily truth.  To quote the author, ‘Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art’.

The four agreements are agreements which you make with yourself.  The agreements are as follows:

1. Be impeccable with your word.

2. Don’t take anything personally.

3. Don’t make assumptions.

4. Always do your best.

I found that when Don Miguel Ruiz expands on these agreements that actually they are foundational principles for forming positive relationships, becoming more accepting of yourself and others and puts you on a road to both internal peace and peace with others.  The principles may not be new to you but the author lays it out in such a way that it inspires you further.  It is a book that I believe can be a guide to bring about healing in relationships and within communities.  The simplicity of the book means that it can be read by a wide audience.  I would love to see these principles taught in schools to students age 11 and over!   The agreements are easy to understand but challenging to live by.  It would take years of practice.  It would great if so many people could start learning this at an early age and see it practised all around them.

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Sending In The Cavalry (Meditation for Psyche Healing)

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As mentioned in my previous post, Strengthening Our Inner Potentiality, sometimes we may have several negative, judgemental thoughts about ourselves which hinder us from accomplishing what we want in life.  It can be quite a work in progress to make each thought disappear.   One way which is very effective is the practice of meditation.  Meditation though often thought of in connection with Eastern Religion is getting a resurgence in Christianity as well.  If you are a Christian and are unsure if meditation is right for you, click here to read about the Christian path of meditation.  Meditation can help by replacing each negative thought with its equal, opposite positive thought.  To begin with, you choose a centering thought which you would like to adopt to your psyche. Each centering thought is like a member of the Cavalry arriving to your rescue and chasing away every negative thought you have.

For instance, if the negative thought you are wishing to get rid of is, ‘I am unlovable’, then choose a centering thought such as, ‘I love and I am loved unconditionally.’ *  If your negative thought is, ‘I can’t do this.  I am not strong enough’, then your centering thought might be, ‘I can do all things through God who strengthens me’.  If your negative thought is, ‘I am ugly’, then choose a centering thought such as,’I am beautifully made by the Loving Creator’.  The important thing is to choose the words which work best for you.

If you choose to use a mantra during your meditation, you can choose one which further aids in your adoption of positive affirmations.  A mantra is a word or phrase you repeat silently to yourself to help you stay focus and keep your mind from wandering.  It is a word, that brings peace and edification during your meditation practice.  You can choose one of the many Sanscrit mantras which are beautiful or if you prefer a Christian mantra such as one of the ones below:

  • Agape-the Greek word for unconditional love
  • Amen- So be it
  • Maranatha- Lord, come
  • Adonai-Elohim-Hebrew for Lord God
  • Shalom-Hebrew for Peace
  • Barukh Atah Adonai- Hebrew for Blessed are you Lord
  • Peace. Be Still.

Your mantra may be a word which is a biblical reference or concept or a spiritual one which encompasses all religious persuasions.  Choose a word which helps you in staying focus.

 

Sample Meditation:

1. Sit in a comfortable upright position.  You can choose to have pillows to keep you propped up comfortably.  Don’t lie down as you may fall asleep.

2. Close your eyes and begin to observe your breath. Note that you are simply observing your breath and not trying to alter it.

3. Smile gently. You are here to acquire healing through positive affirmations.

4. While still observing your breath, introduce your centering thought (e.g. ‘I love and I am loved unconditionally’).  Repeat your chosen centering thought to yourself slowly and thoughtfully several times.  Keep observing your breath.

5. You may now choose to introduce your mantra.  Repeat the mantra several times and then go back to focusing on your centering thought (e.g. ‘Agape’ Say it slowly: Ah-ga-pey).  However, if you find your mind starts to wander, don’t panic just go back to the mantra and repeat the mantra several times to regain focus.

6. Continue to observe your breath, smile, relax and be receptive to God’s voice.  Where you end your meditation is up to you.  When you feel ready, slowly open your eyes, smile and remind yourself again of your centering thought.  Recall this thought throughout the day.  The thought is your affirmation for the day. It is now incorporated as part of your new belief system.

 

*Centering thought from: 21 Centering Thoughts From Deepak Chopra

 

Strengthening Our Inner Potentiality

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Pure Potentiality

No matter who you are, what disabilities you may have been born with or acquired later in life, whether you were born into loving families or abusive ones, there is one fact which is true for all of us.  We were born with potential.  Every one of us has the potential to be successful in life.  By successful I mean creating your life in a way that brings you happiness and fulfilment. Being successful also means you have learned to love and receive love in return.  Jesus said there are two commandments: to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbour as He loves us.  (Luke 10:27) When we do, we receive love in return and become filled with joy and the love and joy expands outwards to others. However, in order to love everyone and to love purely, we must learn to do so. We have this potential.  It is in our make-up.  We are created in love with the innate potential to love. Love and Happiness then become our muse and inspire us to do greater things.

Show him the door

Yet, sometimes we fall into despondency and despair when terrible things happen.  The ability to love can often become hindered when we ourselves are raised without love.  If we were raised by overly critical or contemptuous parents, we learn to hate ourselves.  Some of us may have learned self-hate in the school-yard even though we may have had loving parents. For others it may be that we slowly start to dislike ourselves when we have experienced some form of perceived failure or have been criticized by others in the workplace when we are adults.  Sadly, we each have an inner voice which harshly judges us. If we listen, this voice grows louder.  This voice hinders us from being our best.  The voice tells us  we can’t succeed or we are unlovable or unattractive or not smart enough.  The good news is that potentiality is still within us.  It is only dormant.  In order to awaken our potential, we have to silence the Accuser (that judging voice inside us).  When we start to think negatively about ourselves, recognize it for what it is, a judging voice that will hinder our goals in life and come in-between our relationships.  This voice does not speak the truth. It is the voice of the Accuser.  If the Accuser was a real person and just walked into your room right now and began to berate you and put you down, what would you do?  Would you tell him that he is so right and then break down crying?  What would you rather do?  Think about it.  Personally, if someone came into my home and started to talk to me that way, I would show him the door.  I would let him know that he is not welcome here.  We can do the same when our negative thoughts appear.  We can (inwardly) tell it to shut up and go away and then replace the negative judging thoughts with thoughts of affirmation.  This works because all successes begin with love.  You have to love yourself enough to  want to change your thought patterns.  We can then move forward in life.

Send in the Cavalry!

Now, to be fair, this isn’t always easy.  For one thing, it takes some practice.  Another thing is that sometimes you have more than one accuser in your head.  You may have a whole market place of accusers who are all yammering at once, making you feel pretty unconfident.  In a scenario like this, you will need to pray (Mark9:29) and you may have to implement more than one strategy to silence them all.  In some cases, this may require help with a Therapist or Spiritual Mentor.  Another very effective way is to use meditation to focus on statements of affirmation.  The more positive thoughts about yourself you bring into your inner market place, the more negative thoughts begin to leave.  (Picture an old Western town where the guys in black hats have taken over the town but then the cavalry turns up and the guys in the black hats are chased away on horse-back).  I will be posting a meditation example for this type of inner walk later this week.  The thing to remember is not to allow yourself to despair and realize that you can succeed in turning around your thinking process.

 

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

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I am pleased to have been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by Mary Perez.   I am honoured to think that anyone would find my posts inspiring.  If one person alone has felt inspired then I am glad.  I have been inspired by many bloggers here on WordPress myself.  It is such a great community and I am pleased to be a part of it.  Do please check our Mary’s site Reflections From the Heart.  Her stories of family, faith and survival are moving and inspiring.  Thank you so much for the nomination Mary!

Here are the rules:

1.  Thank and link the amazing person who nominated you.
2.  List the rules and display the award.
3.  Share seven facts about yourself.
4.  Nominate up to 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
5.  Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

 

Number three is difficult as I have done this with another award so I will try and think of unique things to add.

Seven Facts About Myself

  1.  My Step-Dad is Serbian and when I was growing up I attended a Serbian Summer Camp in Pennsylvania where I was taught Serbian Kolo dancing. (Noticed I said ‘taught’ not necessarily learned!)

  2. Growing up, I was blessed to have two separate Christmases and two Easters every year thanks to Serbian Orthodoxy.

  3. Even though I was partly brought up with Serbian traditions, I am actually  Puerto Rican and Spanish descendent with a bit of French a few generations back. flags
  4. I met actress Brooke Shields when we were both about 11 or 12 at Studio 54 and got her autograph (which I still have).

  5. I am a huge dog-lover and have a beautiful dog named Leo.  He is a Japanese Akita who I swear is a Psychic Empath. leo
  6. I am currently signed off from work (three weeks) due to a knee injury.sadface
  7. I am very colour-oriented.  I tend to choose clothes and home accessories by their colour and I always refer to cars by their colour.  For example:  “What kind of car does he have?”  My answer: “Sort of an Ocean-blue.”

So now I get to nominate some other amazing inspiring bloggers. They in turn will pass this honour to others unless they have already received this award.  It has been a bit difficult to choose as some have already received this award or I have nominated them in the past.  If you don’t have 15, nominate those you love.  I haven’t chosen 15 but here are a few of my favourites.  My wonderful recipients (in no special order) of this award are:

 SpiritbathThe wonderful bunch that manage this blog site, scour around searching for inspiring, uplifting or moving videos.  Their videos often make my day.  I have laughed, cried and been inspired by many of the videos shared on their site.

This Little Light Of MineJodie Meschuk is a real inspiration!  She has two sons who were initially diagnosed with Autism and she was able to turn it around through natural medicine.  She gives wonderful posts on healing, faith and family.

Fabulously Finished-Inspiring in a different way!  Patty Henning is a Decorative artist and the owner of the shop Fabulously Finished.  She shows lots of before and after photos of her re-finished and up-cycled furniture with how-to information so we can duplicate ourselves!

Adventures In Wonderland-This is a WOW of a blog site.  Alison and Don are truly inspiring world-travellers!  When they retired, they decided to sell everything and see the world.  They have AMAZING photos and they have kept a journal throughout their adventures so they can then relate in vivid detail all their experiences.  This site is a feast for the eyes and brings joy to the heart.  LOVE it!

Dhamma FootstepsTouchingly written stories and beautiful photos of New Delhi written from the Buddhist perspective.  I often feel like I am reading letters from a dear friend.  His authenticity and gentle nature are reflected in his posts.

The Naked TheologianMyriam Renaud is a Universalist Minister who I would say writes for the Contemplatives.  I have  read and reflected on every article.  You don’t have to be a Universalist to like The Naked Theologian.  Her posts are intelligently written and inspire me to reflect more and more.

The Culture Monk-Oh my!  Kenneth Justice’s posts are often so much fun to read!  He writes with a twinkle in his eye I am sure and he can be so provoking to those who don’t quite see eye-to-eye with everything he has to say.  On top of that, he writes with integrity about real people and real issues and is not afraid to tell it like it is!  He is a self-proclaimed Coffee Expert who is currently travelling the US and other countries visiting coffee houses and meeting new people.

Thank you every one for making me think, smile, laugh and dream.  You are all inspiring me in many ways!

 

Equality-Are We Losing Progress?

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In  my lifetime, I have witnessed the progression of man-kind in various forms.  I have seen social and racial barriers collapse.  I have seen laws change to more ethical ones in support of equality.  Some things have progressed quickly while many have been a long tortuous journey for those victims seeking acceptance.  When I see or hear of another victory on the side of freedom I rejoice inside. I have seen the growth of cultural mindsets to be one of openness and non-judgement.  However….

I have a confession to make.  I really don’t like watching the news.  News is…in a word…depressing.  When I lived in New York City the news seemed to me even more depressing still.  Every night there would be a story covered of an act of injustice done to a child.  When I heard of the mother who put her infant baby in the washing machine, that became the last straw for me.  I stopped watching.  Now I read newspapers occasionally and get news second-hand from family and friends.  Still, I have managed for the most-part to keep my eyes open and have noticed a lot of changes.  I noticed progress but to be honest I really didn’t want to see any of the bad stuff.   I have been aware of it but not to its full extent.  I just didn’t want to get myself down about stuff all the time.

However, I do at times catch whispers of bad happenings.  Thanks to social media and people sharing videos, I have been getting a bit of the bad with the good. Someone would share a video which I think looks good and sounds positive only to find it wasn’t at all.

Last Sunday, I watched one of these shared videos in shock and disbelief.  A particular news footage from an American news network covering a story of an individual’s fear-based behaviour against those of another culture and religion and referring to this individual’s act as ‘Courageous’. This particular news network is not an unbiased mainstream network I am some-what relieved to say, but it is still widely watched by a specific audience. I apologise for not going into too much detail but I do not wish to be a conduit for more people watching this and possibly being swayed to think that what they are watching is actually justifiable.

How will we ever see an end to wars, acts of hatred, animosity, inequality and judgemental-ism if so many of us are still viewing people as “Them” and “Us”?  We need to recognize that all of man-kind are one.  No one country; no one people are better than another.  I applaud anyone who puts together an event that is diverse.  I applaud churches where denominations put aside their differences and worship together under one roof.  I applaud it when they have decided to focus on the ways their faith is the same and I would love it if more and more places of worship would open their doors and accept those of other faiths as long as they share one core belief… that God is love and that we are all equal under His love.  I would like to then see each and every individual whether they are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or other faith grow in the love of God and reach out to one another in that love in acts of service and in full acceptance towards one another.

What it comes down to is …we must not allow anything to interfere with equality on this earth and to do that we must be unified in love.

Praise for The Signature Of All Things

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The best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love could have decided based on the book’s success to play it safe and write more autobiographical books about her life and spiritual journey.  After reading The Signature Of All Things, it is apparent to me that Elizabeth Gilbert did not play it safe.  In fact this 600+ page novel is quite an ambitious undertaking.  Having read both Eat, Pray, Love and Committed and loving both books, I was a bit dubious about The Signature Of All Things.  If I am honest, it just did not sound like a book I wanted to read.  What I had gleaned was that the book was a period novel based on the science of Botany with the main character being a female Botanist.  Oh dear! Yet, the conundrum was that I really did yearn to read more by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Still, I kept putting it off until after hearing more and more of the book’s success and it being printed in different countries and in many languages I finally succumbed to reading the book.  I am truly very glad that I did!

I am also glad that I knew so little about the book when I began reading it for this book really surprised me.  It is so much more than just a period novel about a Botanist.  This book causes the imagination to bloom in panoramic proportions so that what you envision is breathtakingly beautiful.  Besides that, it is exceptionally well-researched.  Those with an adventurous spirit will find themselves soaring. Contemplatives will find their minds being further challenged while lovers of science will find satisfaction.

Partly into the book, I thought I knew what the book was about; then surprise after surprise enters into the story.  It isn’t as if the story changes direction.  It was more like a flower bud opening layer upon layer of petals so that each time something new was revealed it added to making the story more captivating.  I found myself often wondering, “Now where is this story going?”

My conclusion is that The Signature Of All Things is Elizabeth Gilbert’s current masterpiece.  How she will top this, I don’t know but I will never again hesitate to read more by her!

Compassion For The Different

 

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You may be surprised to learn that compassion is often defined in different ways.  In general, people tend to define compassion as caring for those who are hurting in some way or having empathy for others.  If we see someone in a situation which we wouldn’t want to be in, we feel compassionate towards that person.  We may feel drawn to help them in some way.  We sometimes say, ‘I feel your pain’.

There are also times when we feel compassion for the underdog; the person or group of persons who are being mistreated because they are deemed different in some way.  This could be because of a handicap, or their religious beliefs, social status, nationality, sexual orientation or because of the way they look or dress.  Our reaction may be one of outrage as we witness the unfair treatment that have been inflicted on these individuals.  We may have the urge to put our arm around these victims or to join some sort of committee that gives aid to the oppressed.

Recently, I came across a broader definition of compassion.  This broader sense of compassion is described as more loving and inclusive than my previous ideas of what compassion was all about.  It is compassion-one-step-deeper.  It stems from the belief that every individual is inherently good and requires us to see pass the harmful or irritating behaviour of others and to focus in on their goodness–their light within.  When we focus on the goodness of an individual , his spirit is brought to light allowing the person’s loving self to awaken.  This is the real challenge of living the light of compassion.  This practice of compassion eradicates the judging of others.  It is compassion towards those who we may find difficult.  For instance, my son works with a young man who struggles socially due in part to lack of confidence I suspect.  To compensate, he makes up stories about his beautiful girlfriend, his many friends and his nights out partying.  His stories are often vulgar and explicit.  Usually, they are inconsistent showing that he is not very good at lying.  My son has been taught compassion.  He knows this young man is insecure, that he may have aspergers and is more than likely unhappy so he listens to his stories while having lunch in the canteen.  Though he doesn’t challenge the validity of the stories, he has challenged the lack of respect this young man shows his girlfriend while still focusing on his inherent goodness.  This is an example of compassion in action.

Compassion needs to start in the heart.  It is no good trying to act compassionately when in reality you don’t feel compassionate.  Compassion is a gift you offer from your heart.  You give that gift when you seek the beauty within the person who is hurting you.  This form of compassion is birthed from forgiveness.  It doesn’t mean you allow yourself to stay within a dangerous situation or relationship.  It doesn’t mean you allow others to be harmed by a dangerous individual either.  No individual should be allowed to harm others.  It is absolutely right to have a holy outrage when you witness the persecution of others or when you yourself are persecuted. However, the abuser has no chance of rehabilitation if he has no one in his life who believes in him; no one who can see the potential goodness in him.

Every individual who crosses our path is potentially our teacher in life.  Every one of us will have many opportunities to learn and practice compassion.  We can show compassion towards the co-worker who makes mistakes all the time, or the child who has a temper tantrum or the driver in the other car who gives us the finger, or the person who lies about us.  We can have compassion because we do not know their life story and how they have been shaped by various events in their lives.  We can have compassion when we remind ourselves that we are all equal. You may think yourself smarter, more fashionably dressed or kinder than the person who appears to be giving you the dirty look but those are illusions.  You are not better than they are.    You both equally have potential for goodness or failure.  Which is also why it is also important to have self-compassion.  This is not the same as self-pity.  To have self-compassion is to understand that you have flaws but you are learning and that God understands this.  He understands you better than you do.  He knows what has shaped you and what your true potential is.  It also means that you never give up on yourself. You make a mistake but you can keep learning to love better.

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter–More Than Just A Book Review

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When I first heard of this book by Sue Monk Kidd, best-selling author of The Secret Lives Of Bees, I was more than a bit intrigued.  The full title is:  The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.  I had read an excerpt of it on Amazon and knew this was the author’s personal story which was sparked by a confrontation in a drugstore where her fourteen year old daughter worked.  Her daughter was kneeling on the shop floor staking items on a shelf when two middle-aged men walked in.  One commented to the other, “Now that’s how I like to see a woman–on her knees.”  I am not sure now what I had expected from this book.  The title does give the game away but I ended up still being quite surprised. If this book had been written a few decades ago, I would have been less surprised I think.  This is the story of Sue Monk Kidd’s spiritual journey from this point on.

Sue Monk Kidd is a Christian who was a long time baptist and professional author who use to write for Christian publications. Throughout the book there is no hint that she was ever mistreated or oppressed because of her gender.  So how does Sue Monk Kidd end up on a spiritual journey researching old religions of a feminine Goddess?  This fact is never quite clear but only subtlety hinted at towards the end of the book.  Part of me wishes that the author had been a bit more open as to what truly pushed her into this journey.  I wanted to understand and empathise more but found it difficult and felt the author was holding something back which she didn’t want to share with a public audience.  However, I do respect her courage and candour in the parts of her journey she does share.

I have known of women who preferred to think of God as a mother figure rather than a father figure because of their history of sexual abuse.  It always felt perfectly reasonable to me and I have always supported their choice…because of their abuse and because I believe that we are all made in the image of God–male and female therefore our feminine and masculine qualities all come from God.  In fact, I have believed this since I was a child.  However, my traditional and cultural upbringing always had me referring to God as ‘He’ or ‘Father’.  What I realized as I pondered on this book was that when I played with the idea of thinking of God as feminine ….ok…this may seem a bit strange but I felt it very self-noteworthy…is that somehow God as She felt more sexual while God as He felt genderless to me.  This is not to say anyone is wrong to think of God as female.  This is me self-analysing.

The book  has been embraced and rejected by many.  One Amazon reviewer said this book was required reading at her bible college!  I don’t agree with a lot of the author’s conclusions.  Although I do believe there is a history of patriarchy within the church and evidence of it in the bible, I disagree with Christianity as a whole being patriarchal.  Jesus believed in equality for men and women.  Also, if you believe in the inherent traits of masculine and feminine, then Jesus Himself exhibited both….well, as we all sometimes do.

Do I recommend this book?  I couldn’t relate to it in a personal way which surprised me as I have experienced gender-oppression many years ago.  However, the book is well-written, well-researched and fuel for thought. Read it if you are in a place in your life where this may help your faith and not hinder it.  Or you may decide to read it to aid your quest in compassionate growth as it may teach you to understand and empathize the spiritual journeys of others.

8 Habits Of Love–Book Review

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I love a book or any artistic endeavour where the spirit and truth of the author shines through.  Ed Bacon is an Episcopal priest who has a heart of gold.  He is what I might call a Christian Mystic or Spiritual Christian but has the laid back approach of a ‘regular guy’.  He is authentic.  I first came across Ed Bacon when he was being interviewed on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday series and knew I just had to get his book.  In 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind, Ed Bacon shares some basic principles for life.  Each principle (or habit) in practice would enable those who read it to live life without fear or judgement and with more love and freedom.  The 8 habits are simply explained with some entertaining and often times moving or humorous true stories.  In fact, this may be the only non-fictional book I have read where I was hooked and excited by the introduction.  The habits are Generosity, Stillness, Truth, Candor, Play, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Community.  I don’t want to give too much away but I found Bacon’s definition of compassion refreshing.  This book teaches a true message of love in a way that is so uplifting for its inclusiveness alone.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a guide book for living whether you are a Christian or not.  I wish this book had been around when I was just beginning my own walk with God.  It drew me in so that I could not put it down.  Very inspiring!  I hope this is not Ed Bacon’s first and only book.

Quote From Ed Bacon

“Religious History is tragically blemished by practices that hijacked the idea of God for the purpose of creating enemies or infidels, classifying them as evil to justify violence so the group seeking power could be “saved” and ultimately dominate. No wonder millions embrace a noble position of atheism out of a sense of intellectual, spiritual and moral integrity.  I myself am an atheist about that particular concept of God.”