Monday, August 30, 2010

Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment

"Ironic detachment is a stratagem
for concealing one's feelings."

[Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude

1. "... but in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs."

As a young man, Stephen Batchelor traveled half-way across the world in order to study Tibetan Buddhism. Even once he accomplished the long and difficult journey from the British Isles to Dharamsala, India, Batchelor was at first turned away when he asked to be accepted for monastic ordination. Only after a full year of further reflection did Batchelor ask again, and this time he was approved to be ordained as a monk in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (on June 6, 1974).

Just three months after his ordination, however, Batchelor attended a retreat led by S.N. Goenka, at which Goenka taught his own version of vipassana, a form of meditation practice associated with Theravada Buddhism. Suddenly Batchelor decided that what he really wanted to study and practice was not Tibetan Buddhism at all, but rather "Goenka-style vipassana".

There was a falling out of some sort, though, so Batchelor did not actually become a student of Goenka's. Nevertheless, Batchelor claims to have "studied" with Goenka, when in fact that one retreat, followed by what Batchelor has described as "a certain conflict with Goenka", was the sum total of his training in "Goenka-style vipassana,"

Instead, Batchelor continued to be a Gelugpa monk, and pretended to be studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism, even though he now believed that "Goenka-style vipassana" was "certainly ... more immediately effective" than anything found in Tibetan Buddhism. [see interview linked to above and below]

Many years later, Batchelor was asked: "Was there any conflict or difficulty around mixing the practices?"

Batchelor replied that there was some conflict, but this was only due to the fact that, in his words, "this practice ["Goenka-style vipassana"] was not really understood by the Tibetans." This is a very revealing statement. After three full months of formal training in Tibetan Buddhism Batchelor now felt qualified to condescendingly dismiss the "understanding" of the Lamas who had, reluctantly, agreed to take him in as a student.

Batchelor did consider possibly switching to another school of Tibetan Buddhism, but when he learned that they would also expect him to actually study and practice Tibetan Buddhism (what a concept!), he "quickly lost interest." [Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, p. 61]

By 1979 (Tibetan Buddhists are very patient people) Batchelor's welcome appears to have been wearing rather thin. From a friend, he learned of a Zen monastery in Korea that accepted western students, and obtained (from the same friend) an English translation of Dharma talks by the head of the monastery, which Batchelor says he found to be "largely incomprehensible." With no more information than this, Batchelor wrote to the monastery, and as soon as he learned that they would accept him he took his "formal leave" of his teacher and in his own words "severed my links with the world of Tibetan Buddhism in which I had spent most of my adult life." [Confessions, pp. 61-62] My guess is that they helped him pack and gave him a ride to the airport.

Of his new teacher in Korea, Batchelor says that from the beginning, "I maintained an ironic but respectful distance ... I put Kusan Sunim's instructions into practice, but in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs." [p. 66]

Batchelor was unpleasantly surprised to learn that, like his former teacher (Geshe Rabten), Kusan Sunim also naively believed in the "validity" of what he taught. To this day, Batchelor is scratching his head over the puzzling fact that both of these stupid backwards Asiatic simpletons were "committed to upholding and transmitting what they had been taught by their teachers and lineage." [p. 66] Oh, the inscrutable mysteries of le pensee sauvage!

In December of 1983 Kusan Sunim died. Batchelor spent the next year helping to prepare an English language edition of Sunim's teachings, and then, one year after the Master's death, he left Korea and returned to England and to lay life.

Back in England, Batchelor eventually came to be viewed (for some reason) as a Buddhist teacher and even something of a Buddhist philosopher. Certainly he viewed himself as not only both of these, but as nothing less than the prophet of a New Buddhist Dispensation.

However, Batchelor did not at first reveal the extent of his inflated self-image. Once again, ironic detachment served him well as he cautiously struck a pose as just another ex-hippie pseudo-intellectual searching for a form of spiritual practice that would blend comfortably with the blandly middle-class mindset and lifestyle that he had safely returned to after running out of wild oats to sew abroad.

To be continued .....

[The pic of the two girls at the top of the post is a promo for the film "Eve and the Firehorse" by Julia Kwan -- the pic was found here.
Little Buddha at the computer pic was found at Elephantjournal.
Ironman Zen pic is by Freakscity.]

"most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story"

The Greek word "phobos" (φόβος) is found in Homer, where it means "flight". In fact, Phobos was a Demi-god, one of Ares' attendants, the others being Deimos (terror) and Eris (strife). According to Hesiod, Phobos and Deimos were also sons of Ares by his wife Aphrodite, while Eris was one of the parthenogenic daughters of Nyx, Goddess of the Night.

In modern English usage, "phobia", derived from "phobos", has come to mean "irrational fear". In fact, a phobia is taken to be a psychological malady involving a fear that is not merely excessive, but that interferes significantly with leading a normal, productive life.

Thus the term "Islamophobia" has come to be used like a magic wand to make all reasonable criticism of Islam disappear into a fog of politically-correct psychobabble. Poof. According to the exculpatory apologetics of the multiculturalists, all negative opinions about the Religion of Peace originate only in the mental illness of Islamophobia. This is true even when criticisms of Islam are based on the explicit teachings of the Quran, the traditional biographies of Muhammed, the literature of the Hadith, the documented history of Islam, and the incontrovertible facts on the ground in all modern societies dominated by Islam.

The hysterical, baseless accusation of "Islamophobia" provides the backdrop to Judea Pearl's fascinating piece that appeared on Saturday in the Jerusalem Post (link here, and the full text is below) in which he looks closely at the "intense controversy" in America concerning the proposal to build a lavish $100M mosque-cum-"culture center" at Ground Zero.

A little over two weeks ago it looked like this controversy might die out. But President Obama chose the beginning of Ramadan to enter the fray with a clumsy, nearly substance-free declaration, followed by even more vapid "clarifications" that only further stoked the flames. And now that September 11 is less than two weeks away, there is no possibility of this "intense controversy" becoming anything other than even more intense.

Dr. Pearl -- a world renowned mathematician and philosopher in his own right who is, tragically, more well known as the father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl -- asks the question: why? Why does this issue have such resonance? Why, in the age of the 24-hour news-cycle, do we seem to be incapable of "getting past" this story?

It's a good question, and Pearl offers some very important insights, and, in the process, does an admirable job of undermining the "Islamophobia" meme. Personally I do think he is far too quick to assert that "Americans are neither bigots nor gullible," for Americans have demonstrated that we certainly have the capacity to be both. Americans were gullible about Saddam Hussein's non-existent "Weapons of Mass Destruction". And a significant portion of the American electorate voted against Barack Obama because he is Black.

But more Americans voted for Obama than against him, and even most of those who voted against him did not do so because of racism. And many Americans never believed the lies about WMD, and even participated in large numbers in massive demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq. (The fact that this anti-war movement fizzled once the war started is a reflection of an understandable, although in this case misguided, reluctance to openly oppose a war once American troops are fighting and dying.)

And so even though we are, in fact, innocent of neither racism nor gullibility, these are not rigidly deterministic factors that by themselves ineluctably lead to any such thing as "Islamophobia". More importantly, Judea Pearl correctly identifies the key factor that accounts for the fact that nearly 3/4 of all Americans now oppose the Ground Zero Mosque: not an irrational fear, but a very reasonable distrust of Islam.
Undercurrents below the Ground Zero mosque
By JUDEA PEARL 08/28/2010 Jerusalem Post (direct link to article here)

I have been trying hard to find an explanation for the intense controversy surrounding the Cordoba Initiative, whereby 71 percent of Americans object to the proposed project of building a mosque next to Ground Zero.

I cannot agree with the theory that such broad resistance represents Islamophobic sentiments, nor that it is a product of a “rightwing” smear campaign against one imam or another.

Americans are neither bigots nor gullible.

Deep sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims was cited as yet another explanation, but this too does not answer the core question.

If one accepts that the 19 fanatics who flew planes into the Twin Towers were merely self-proclaimed Muslims who, by their very act, proved themselves incapable of acting in the name of “true Islam,” then building a mosque at Ground Zero should evoke no emotion whatsoever; it should not be viewed differently than, say, building a church, a community center or a druid shrine.

A more realistic explanation is that most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story, but view the the 9/11 assault as a product of an anti- American ideology that, for good and bad reasons, has found a fertile breeding ground in the hearts and minds of many Muslim youngsters who see their Muslim identity inextricably tied with this anti-American ideology.

THE GROUND Zero mosque is being equated with that ideology. Public objection to the mosque thus represents a vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimension that anti-Americanism has taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation.

The American Muslim leadership has had nine years to build up trust by taking proactive steps against the spread of anti-American terror-breeding ideologies, here and abroad.

Evidently, however, a sizable segment of the American public is not convinced that this leadership is doing an effective job of confidence building.

In public, Muslim spokespersons praise America as the best country for Muslims to live and practice their faith. But in sermons, speeches, rallies, classrooms, conferences and books sold at those conferences, the narrative is often different. There, Noam Chomsky’s conspiracy theory is the dominant paradigm, and America’s foreign policy is one long chain of “crimes” against humanity, especially against Muslims.

Affirmation of these conspiratorial theories sends mixed messages to young Muslims, engendering anger and helplessness: America and Israel are the first to be blamed for Muslim failings, sufferings and violence.

Terrorist acts, whenever condemned, are immediately “contextually explicated” (to quote Tariq Ramadan); spiritual legitimizers of suicide bombings (e.g. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar) are revered beyond criticism; Hamas and Hizbullah are permanently shielded from the label of “terrorist.”

Overall, the message that emerges from this discourse is implicit, but can hardly be missed: When Muslim grievance is at question, America is the culprit and violence is justified, if not obligatory.

True, we have not helped Muslims in the confidence-building process. Treating homegrown terror acts as isolated incidents of psychological disturbances while denying their ideological roots has given American Muslim leaders the illusion that they can achieve public acceptance without engaging in serious introspection and responsibility sharing for allowing victimhood, anger and entitlement to spawn such acts.

The construction of the Ground Zero mosque would further prolong this illusion.

If I were New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I would reassert Muslims’ right to build the Islamic center and the mosque, but I would expend the same energy, not one iota less, in trying to convince them to put it somewhere else, or replace it with a community-managed all-faiths center in honor of the 9/11 victims.

Fellow Muslim Americans will benefit more from co-ownership of consensual projects than sole ownership of confrontational ones.

The writer is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is a coeditor of I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Light, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
see also:
"The Islamic Exception"
Do Muslims really bear no responsibility at all for 9/11?
The right to oppose Islam
Sam Harris: Islam is Different. (Duh.)
A Plague On Both Their Houses: Notes Toward a Renewal of Liberal Anticlericalism

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"The Islamic Exception"

"To be honest, the people prefer the Taliban."
Afghan tribal elder
In 1736, Voltaire wrote, "Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror." (Tout homme sensé, tout homme de bien, doit avoir la secte chrétienne en horreur.)

Similar sentiments concerning Christianity -- some more diplomatic, others even more harshly worded -- can be found in the writings of many of the greatest literary, philosophical, and political figures over the last five centuries of Western history (as well as among many modern day writers and thinkers, including many prominent historians and scholars of religion).

But the fact remains that Western culture is still, in the 21st century, predominantly Christian, and, therefore, it should come as no surprise that there continues to be a strong counter-current in Western thought that not only defends Christianity, but that seeks to portray all criticism of it as intemperate and ill-informed at best, and persecutory at worst.

No clearer example of this counter-current could be asked for than that of the spectacle of Christians claiming "discrimination" whenever the establishment clause of the first amendment is consistently adhered to!

In the past, attempts to portray Christianity and Christians as the poor victims of shameful bigotry whenever anyone dares to articulate perfectly reasonable, and factually well-supported, criticisms of their religion, have been left to reactionaries aligned with the most unabashedly regressive and authoritarian elements of Protestantism and Catholicism. But more recently, a "progressive" discourse of exculpatory religious apologetics, hiding behind the facade of "multiculturalism", has been making its shrill, monotonous voice increasingly heard. And now the religion being defended is Islam.

Among the favorite mantras of the multiculturalist defenders of Islam is the insistence that extremists make up only a tiny, isolated fraction of Muslims. However, this is disproven quite undeniably every single time there is an election in a predominantly Muslim country, and it is often painfully obvious even when there are no elections. A tribal elder in the Baghlan district of Afghanistan recently told New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin: “To be honest, the people prefer the Taliban."

The following is excerpted from Fareed Zakaria's 2003 book The Future of Freedom. (It should be noted that Zakaria is himself a Muslim and a vocal supporter of those who wish to build a lavish mosque complex at Ground Zero). The excerpt comprises the opening paragraphs of Chapter Four of Zakaria's book, which is titled "The Islamic Exception."
It is always the same splendid setting, and the same sad story. A senior diplomat enters one of the grand presidential palaces in Heliopolis, the neighborhood of Cairo from which President Hosni Mubarak rules over Egypt. He walks through halls of marble, through rooms filled with gilded furniture -- all a bad imitation of imperial French style that has been jokingly called "Louis Farouk" (after the last king of Egypt). Passing layers of security guards, he arrives at a formal drawing room where he is received with courtesy by the Egyptian president. The two talk amiably about U.S.-Egyptian relations, regional affairs, and the state of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Then the American gently raises the issue of human rights and suggests that Egypt's government might ease up on political dissent, allow more press freedoms, and stop jailing intellectuals. Mubarak tenses us and snaps, "If I were to do what you ask, Islamic fundamentalists will take over Egypt. Is that what you want?" The conversation moves back to the latest twist in the peace process.

Over the years Americans and Arabs have had many such exchanges. When President Bush urged Palestinian leader Yasser Aragat to agree to the Camp David peace plan that been negotiated in July 2001, Arafat reportedly responded with words to this effect: "If I do what you want, Hamas will be in power tomorrow." The Saudi monarchy's most articulate spokesman, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, often reminds American officials that if they press his government too hard, the likely alternative to the regime is not Jeffersonian democracy but a Taliban style theocracy.

The worst part of it is, they might be right. The Arab rulers of the Middle East are autocratic, corrupt, and heavy-handed. But are still more liberal, tolerant, and pluralistic than what would likely replace them. Elections in many Arab countries would produce politicians who espouse views that are closer to Osama bin Laden's that those of Jordan's liberal monarch, King Abdullah. Last year the emir of Kuwait, with American encouragement, proposed giving women the vote. But the democratically elected Kuwaiti parliament -- filled with Islamic fundamentalists -- roundly rejected the initiative. Saudi crown prince Abdullah tried something much less dramatic when he proposed that women in Saudi Arabia be allowed to drive. (They are currently forbidden to do so, which means that Saudi Arabia has to import half a million chauffeurs from places like India and the Philippines.) But the religious conservatives mobilized popular opposition and forced him to back down.

A similar dynamic is evident elsewhere in the Arab world. In Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and Morocco, on virtually every political issue, the monarchs are more liberal that the societies over which they reign. Even in the Palestinian territories, where secular nationalists like Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization have long been the most popular political force, militant and religious groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are gaining strength, especially among the young. And although they speak the language of elections, many of the Islamic parties have been withering in their contempt for democracy, which they see as a Western form of government. They would happily come to power through an election, but then woudl set up their own theocratic rule. It would be, as the saw has it, one man, one vote, one time.
[pp. 119-121]
see also:
Do Muslims really bear no responsibility at all for 9/11?
The right to oppose Islam
A Plague On Both Their Houses: Notes Toward a Renewal of Liberal Anticlericalism

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Do Muslims really bear no responsibility at all for 9/11?

In a now (in)famous interview on the show 60 Minutes, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said, "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened ... In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA."

Despite the fact that many people have feigned outrage at Rauf's statement, everyone knows that there is a great deal of truth to it. The US ran a massive covert operation in Afghanistan in support of the resistance to the Soviet occupying forces from 1978 to 1988. There is no denying that the intervention by the US helped to pave the way for the Taliban coming to power, and it also helped to create Al Quaeda as a powerful, international political-military organization.

In fact, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are textbook examples of what is often called "blowback":
The concept "blowback" does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes - as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001 - the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback.
Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, p.278
Let us, then, at least for the sake of argument, consider it as not only proven, but obvious on the face of it, that US policies in the Middle East were a contributing factor leading to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Fine. But once having accepted this, how can anyone seriously claim that Islam itself and the worldwide Muslim community do not also bear a certain amount of responsibility?

Fareed Zakaria is a American Muslim journalist whose father, Rafiq Zaqaria, was an Islamic scholar. Zakaria has been a vocal supporter of the Cordoba Initiative and a harsh critic of those who oppose the plan to build a mosque at Ground Zero. But in the days after 9/11 he wrote that Muslims must accept their share of the blame for the attacks:
[B]in Laden and his followers are not an isolated cult like Aum Shinrikyo or the Branch Davidians or demented loners like Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber. They come out of a culture that reinforces their hostility, distrust and hatred of the West--and of America in particular. This culture does not condone terrorism but fuels the fanaticism that is at its heart. To say that Al Qaeda is a fringe group may be reassuring, but it is false. Read the Arab press in the aftermath of the attacks and you will detect a not-so-hidden admiration for bin Laden. Or consider this from the Pakistani newspaper The Nation: "September 11 was not mindless terrorism for terrorism's sake. It was reaction and revenge, even retribution." Why else is America's response to the terror attacks so deeply constrained by fears of an "Islamic backlash" on the streets? Pakistan will dare not allow Washington the use of its bases. Saudi Arabia trembles at the thought of having to help us publicly. Egypt pleads that our strikes be as limited as possible. The problem is not that Osama bin Laden believes that this is a religious war against America. It's that millions of people across the Islamic world seem to agree.
Fareed Zakaria, The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bloomberg Lies, Knowingly Misrepresents 9/11 Families

"The family members that I’ve talked to -- and I’m chairman of the board of The World Trade Center Memorial -- 100% in favor of saying these people who want to build a mosque, can build a mosque, that the lives of our loved ones were taken because the right to build a mosque or to say what you want to say was so threatening to people."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on The Daily Show

But according to Ben Smith at there are a grand total of eight 9/11 family members on the board of The World Trade Center Memorial, and at least two of them are very vocally against the Ground Zero Mosque.

Board member Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of American Airline Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 am on September 11, 2001, wrote in a publicly circulated email:
It's bad enough that Mr. Bloomberg covers himself in the memory of the heroes who died on 9/11 in order to silence legitimate criticism of the mosque project, it is even more shameless of him to do it while misrepresenting the position of their loved ones. Mr. Bloomberg cited that his chairmanship of the memorial board made him privvy to what family members think. Mr. Bloomberg knows full well that family members on the memorial board have grave concerns about this project, and that some of us have publicly opposed it. If he really cared what we think, he would have come to us and asked. We're still waiting for the call.
Board member Dave Beamer, whose son Todd's last words were "let's roll" just before the plane he was on, United Flight 93, crashed into a field in Stonycreed Creek Township, Pennsylvania at 10:03 am on September 11, 2001, has also openly opposed the Ground Zero Mosque in a speech posted on youtube.

The right to oppose Islam

"Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."
John Milton, Areopagitica
Lately, a lot of people have been inspired by the Ground Zero Mosque controversy to get all choked-up and teary-eyed about the right of American Muslims to practice their chosen religion. While it is certainly true that this right exists and must be defended, there are a few other truths that need to be remembered in order to keep everything in perspective:

(1) The Bill of Rights also guarantees the right to view pornography, to burn the American flag, to wave "God Hates Fags" signs at funerals, and to buy and read and praise Mein Kampf.

(2) There are serious precedents for restricting what can be built at specific historically important locations (such as Civil War battlefields, and former Nazi concentration camps), without in any way threatening the overarching principle of religious freedom (or property rights, either, for that matter).

(3) The Bill of Rights also guarantees the right to criticize the teachings and practices of Islam and to oppose the promotion and spread of Islam (or any other religion, or all religions altogether). In fact, many of the most important champions of religious freedom have also been outspoken critics of Christianity. Therefore there is no contradiction whatsoever between opposing Islam and supporting freedom of religion.

In 1927 Bertrand Russell wrote in his famous essay Why I Am Not A Christian:
"It seems to me that the people who have held to it [the Christian religion] have been for the most part extremely wicked .... In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures . . . . I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."
Russell was a life-long political activist and all around trouble-maker. In 1916 he was dismissed from Trinity College, Cambridge (and fined 110 pounds) because of his involvement in anti-war activities. Following that he was offered at position at Harvard, but he could not accept because he was refused entry into the US as a dangerous subversive. In 1918 he was sentenced to six months imprisonment for his pacifist writings. He wrote his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy in 1919 while serving his sentence. In 1940 his appointment at City College, New York, was revoked after a judge ruled that Russell was "morally unfit" to teach philosophy because he had advocated, among other things, sex before marriage. The campaign against Russell at City College was led by the Episcopal Bishop of New York.

But in addition to being attacked for his promotion of pacifism and sexual licentiousness, Russell was also lauded by many as a champion of human rights and social justice. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, he was hailed by the Nobel committee as a champion of "humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought." (For more on Russell look here and here.)

Today, however, those who level against Islam, which is no less deserving, the kind of criticisms that Russell aimed at Christianity, find themselves denounced as intolerant reactionary bigots. Just how recently this has changed is indicated by the fact that V.S. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001, despite the fact that his writings on Islam amount to a condemnation far more sweeping than anything Russell ever wrote about Christianity.

The fight against Islam is absolutely not a fight against religious freedom. This is a battle of ideas, and Muslims and their apologists must be, as indeed they are, free to articulate and defend their ideas. Islam will be defeated when both Muslims and non-Muslims freely decide, "according to conscience", that it is an intrinsically intolerant, irrational and violent ideology that cannot play and never has played any positive role in human affairs.

In addition to freely and openly criticizing the Quran, Muhammed, the Hadith, Islamic history, and present day Islamic practices, opponents of Islam must also shine a bright light on the ideologies, affiliations, and sources of funding of existing and proposed mosques, "Islamic Cultural Centers" and all other Islamic projects, and the individuals and groups associated with them.

And such scrutiny is just as merited in the case of those who proclaim themselves to be "moderates" committed to "defeating extremism" as it is for anyone else. Those who wish to be praised and supported as the good guys should be able to demonstrate that they really are who and what they claim to be, especially when they themselves loudly proclaim that Islam has been "hijacked by the extremists"!

Muslims themselves have the most to gain from a free and open exchange of ideas, including ideas harshly critical of Islam. The vast majority of world's Muslims have never known freedom and never will until they are able to raise their own voices to question and criticize and advocate for change from within Islam. But that freedom comes at the price of submitting their religion to the criticism of non-Muslims as well.

[See also: "Should the right to oppose Islam not exist?" & Melanie Phillips on Lars Hedegaard.]

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gay Rights, Gun Rights, Birthrights, Inalienable Rights & Other Self Evident Truths

What we most often think of as "Constitutional rights" are actually found in the Amendments to the Constitution. There are twenty seven such Amendments, and the first ten are traditionally known as the Bill of Rights.

Many of the other seventeen Amendments (after the Bill of Rights) are not concerned with basic, fundamental "rights." But five of them are: the 13th, 14th & 15th Amendments (abolishing slavery and related issues); the 19th Amendment (women's suffrage); and the 24th Amendment (abolishing "poll taxes").

The 13th Amendment abolishes slavery. It was actually proposed in Congress on January 31, 1865, just under a month before the surrender of General Lee. It became law on December 6 of that year, eight months after the assassination of President Lincoln.

The 14th Amendment (adopted July 9, 1868) has four major components:
The citizenship clause grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States (except for Native Americans!).
The due process clause protects individual rights against arbitrary government actions.
The equal protection clause guarantees all US citizens equality before the law.
The incorporation clause prohibits individual states from violating rights protected under the Constitution (yes, this was necessary!).

The 15th Amendment guarantees the right to vote for all citizens.

Taken together, the 13th through 15th Amendments were necessary to extend full citizenship to former slaves. Even with these amendments there still came into being an odious system of second class citizenship, which was only possible because the 13th through 15th amendments were not rigorously enforced.

The whole bullshit argument over "States Rights" arose as an attempt (successful for almost a full century) by racist Southerners to exempt themselves from abiding by the Constitution of the United States! This is precisely the reason for the "incorporation clause" in the 14th Amendment - to ensure that no State can deny its citizens any of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The other two major "rights" oriented Amendments are the 19th, which extended voting rights to women; and the 24th, which prohibits the use of the so-called "poll tax" to deny any citizen the right to vote.

People should study the simplicity and forcefulness of the language in these fifteen Amendments. Then compare this stirring language with the (often) tortuously obtuse, mind-numbing legalese of the rest of the Constitution. In fact, the primary function of much, arguably most, of the Constitution is to carefully define and legally enshrine property rights, whereas these fifteen amendments are where our rights as human beings are addressed.

As everyone knows, the original framers of the Constitution fell far short of fully implementing the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. And the same was sadly true of the implementation of the 13th through 15th Amendments.

Even today, in the 21st century, the power of the 14th Amendment has yet to be fully realized. How can anyone claim that we have equality before the law when same-sex marriage is barred by law? In fact, how can anyone claim that we have true separation of church and state when religiously inspired homophobia is allowed to influence our laws in ways that have a direct and pervasive effect on the lives of citizens?

Some people want to monkey with the 14th Amendment. Some people want to tinker with the 2nd Amendment. Some people don't realize that Sharia Law is incompatible with equality before the law -- the same law for all citizens. Some people don't want equal protection to be applied in the case of same-sex marriage. Some people want to make a fetish out of the idea of the Constitution, to turn it into an empty symbol and a political marketing ploy. Some people think religious freedom is an outmoded idea because we should get rid of religion altogether. Some people think freedom of speech is an outmoded idea because they want to criminalize "hate speech." But mostly people just don't want to bother with trying to understand the issues and ideas that Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, and others wrestled with and that we have to still wrestle with today.

Behemoth confirms Nergal's leukemia diagnosis

UPDATE NOV. 8TH, 2010: Good news: Bone Marrow Donor for Nergal Found:
"Horns Up!" (Nergal Update: Bone Marrow Match Found for Behemoth Frontman)

Blabbermouth, Metal Sucks, Metal Underground, and The Gauntlet have all now confirmed that Nergal (Adam Darski), the internationally renowned frontman of the blackened death-metal band Behemoth, has been diagnosed with leukemia, and that the disease is at an advanced stage.

It's not good news. Don't know what else to say at this point, except to go to those links to find out more.

Also check out the official Behemoth website for updates and news (you can select either the Polish or English version once you're there -- the Polish version is usually more up to date).

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Origins of Pentecostalism: Azusa Street

In February of 1906, William Seymour, a soft-spoken Black minister originally from Louisiana (but who was at the time studying at a Bible College in Texas), was invited to preach at a church in Los Angeles. However, as soon as the congregation discovered that Seymour was a proponent of speaking in tongues as a sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit, he found himself abruptly disinvited.

But Seymour was then asked to come preach at a nearby home church, and by the summer of '06 this home was filled with people manifesting the gifts of the Holy Spirit (especially glossalalia). Word spread and soon the congregation was renting an abandoned warehouse on Azusa street, and this became the Apostolic Faith Mission.

These were the beginnings of the modern Pentecostalist movement. Much more about this can be found here: Azusa Steet Timeline: Seymour and the Apostolic Faith Mission, and also here: History of Pentecostalism. Both of those links are connected to the "Association of Former Pentecostalists". For the view of non-former Pentecostals, you can check out the website of the world's largest Pentecostalist group, the Assemblies of God, or that of the Church of God in Christ, another prominent branch of Pentecostalism. The Pew Research Forum also has an extensive offering of materials on Pentecostalism.

The Pentecostalist movement, of course, did not spring fully formed out of thin air. It was born out of the "holiness" movement, which in turn was rooted in Methodism and the teachings of John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1788), and especially their ideas on sanctification and theosis.

Methodism, in turn, was just one of an ever increasing number of Christian sects that were breaking away from the Church of England, which, in turn, had broken away from the Catholic Church as part of the Protestant Reformation.

It must be recalled that the three original bastions of Protestantism -- Lutheranism, Calvinism and Anglicanism -- had no intention of setting off a wave of religious experimentation and institutional fragmentation. Indeed, they each separately imagined themselves not as just one among many initiators of an ongoing process of reform, but rather as the endpoint of that process -- as it's proper goal. This attitude then carried over to all the successive generations of sectoids and grouplets that continued springing up like mushrooms. As it turns out, once these things are set in motion they have a tendency to get out of hand.

And just so in 1906 on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, William Seymour was concerned that the revival that he had started was getting out of hand. Seymour's Bible School mentor, Charles Parham, had preached the message of baptism in the Holy Spirit, and he had also preached that the gift of tongues was the sign of that baptism in it's fullness. But in addition Parham taught that manifestations of the Holy Spirit should not be overly emotional or boisterous, and that when such occurred it was not the Holy Spirit but rather "the flesh" that was being manifested.

Parham's caution was due at least in part to the fact that evangelical Christians weren't the only ones fooling around in the spirit realm at the time. Throughout the 1800's (and reaching even back to the late 1700's) a wide variety of mystical (and sometimes, but not always, ecstatic) spiritual movements swept through America and Western Europe: mesmerism, spiritism, spiritualism, theosophy, etc were all the rage. And sometimes it was difficult or even impossible to know where "genuine" Christianity left off and New Age tomfoolery (or worse) took up.

At any rate, Seymour arranged for Parham to be invited to come and preach at Azusa Street, in the hope that together they could reign in these "manifestations of the flesh." If anything, however, Parham's attempts to bring things under control only exacerbated the situation. First hand accounts differ, however, and this is obviously a controversial subject within Pentecostalism itself.

To this day, over a century after Azusa Street, Pentecostal "outpourings" still have a tendency to get out of hand. In 2008 a revival began in Lakeland Florida led by evangelist Todd Bentley. The manifestations of the Holy Spirit during this months long revival included visits from an angel named "Emma", the magical appearance of gold dust, and two cases of individuals being raised from the dead.

The outward signs of religious enthusiasm, whether they be manifestations of the spirit or the flesh, are the hallmark of Pentecostalism. Although speaking in tongues in particular has come to be seen as the distinguishing feature of Pentecostalism, various physical manifestations of the holy spirit (jumping, shouting, rolling on the floor, etc) were a characteristic of certain trends in Christianity going back at least to the founding of the "Quakers" in the mid 17th century. And any student of comparative religion immediately recognizes that there is nothing new or unique in such ecstatic behaviors.

The term "holy roller", now commonly associated with Pentecostalists, appears to have been originally directed at the more demonstrably enthusiastic adherents of American Methodism. The first known use of the term was by American writer, scholar, adventurer and pioneer of modern Paganism Charles Godfrey Leland (who also is credited with coining the phrase "Old Religion"), in whose Memoirs (published in 1893) it appears in reference to a former boss of his, who was a Methodist:
Mr. Cummings, to tell the truth, pursued a somewhat torutuous course in politics and religion. He was a Methodist. One day our clerk expressed himself as to the latter in these words: "They say is a Jumper, but others think he has gone over to the Holy Rollers." The Jumpers were a sect whose members, when the Holy Spirit seized them, jumped up and down, while the Holy Rollers under such circumstances rolled over and over on the floor.
[p. 216]
Such designations as "Jumper" and "Holy Roller" also bring to mind similar apellations: Shakers ("United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing" founded in 1747), and Quakers ("The Religious Society of Friends" founded in the 1640's).

Personally, I think that the current version of the wikipedia entry on the "holiness movement" provides a very good summary of the main influences that came together in this progenitor of Pentecostalism:

The roots of the holiness movement are as follows:

In fact, almost two full centuries before the Azusa Street revival, "revivalism" itself was already becoming a distinctive sub-type of Christianity. And this revivalism, in turn, was just one manifestation of a brave new world of experimentation in Christian beliefs and practices. However, most of these experiments still fit the basic mold of the so-called Protestant Reformation of Zwingli, Luther, Calvin and Henry VIII: a new form of Christianity is proclaimed to be the one and only true Christianity, while all other Christians are denounced as heretics at best, or the handmaidens of Satan at worst.

Although there are important European influences here (including the Wesley's themselves, who were British), the First (mid 1700's) and Second (early 1800's) Great Awakenings were a decisive point of departure for the development of what is today thought of as "evangelical" Christianity as a quintessentially American religious phenomenon.

Along with the "holiness movement", which eventually gave rise to Pentecostalism, Latter Day Saints ("Mormons"), Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses all came out of the Second Great Awakening. The First Great Awakening did not so much give rise to new denominations as it did greatly strengthen and energize the already existing Baptists and the Methodists of America and in particular to imbue them with the spirit of "revivalism".

Pentecostals today also trace their roots to other "movements of the spirit" near the same time as the 1906 Azusa street revival, such as the Welsh Revival (1904-1905) and other similar "manifestations of the spirit" that appeared in India and Korea. Pentecostalists, quite naturally, ultimately trace their movement back to Jesus and the apostles.

[Also see: An overview of Pentecostalism]

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why then oh why can't I?

"And these signs shall follow them that believe": An overview of Pentecostalism

I am planning a series of posts on Pentecostalism in nine eleven parts, but I won't be surprised if it mutates significantly along the way. This is an extension of the research I've been doing on the root causes of the "witch children" phenomenon in parts of Africa (especially the Congo, Angola and Nigeria). I hope to have the first post ready to go within a day or three.

All of the images in this post are from the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center archives.

Part One: Azusa Street

Covers the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906, which is generally considered to be the starting point for modern Pentecostalism. There can be no question of the importance of this particular "outpouring of the Holy Spirit", but, like all historical events it must be understood in relationship to its contemporaneous context and also in relationship to its own past.

Part Two: Worldwide Anointing
The revivals in Wales (1904-1905), India (1905-1908), and Korea (1906-1907)

Part Three: Noncomformism
Focuses on the spirit of freedom and experimentation (and fragmentation and sectarianism) in Anglo-American Protestantism in the 18th century.

Part Four: Awakenings: Revivals, Evangelism, Sanctification, and Holiness
This focuses on both the phenomenology of revivalistic Christianity and on the theology that goes along with it.

Part Five: We are Spirits in a Material World
Today it is becoming increasingly obvious that one of the defining features of Pentecostalism, especially as a worldwide religious phenomenon, is its matter-of-fact acceptance of the reality of the "spirit world", that is, that human beings can, and do, interact with non-material beings who have some degree of intelligence and volition. This was a very widespread belief during the 18th and 19th centuries, and at that time, as it is now and has always been, this view is hardly unique to Christianity.

Part Six: Spiritual Healing
Spiritual (or "faith") healing was an important part of the religious landscape throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and it is another one of the signature features of Pentecostalism.

Part Seven: Spiritual Warfare and Christian History
Although Pentecostalists obviously believe in the Holy Spirit and in Angels, they also place great emphasis on the reality of Satan, along with his Demonic and human minions, with whom they actively wage spiritual warfare.

Part Seven: The Prophetic Tradition: Christian Mobocracy from Savonarola to Sarah Palin
Pentecostalism is not, in fact, characterized just by the frenzied expression of religious ecstasy, but more specifically by the ability to control and steer that frenzy in a certain way.

Part Eight: What's In A Name? Pentecostalism, Evangelism, Renewalism, Revivalism, Charismatic Christianity, etc
Pentecostalism is arguably the most important, even the core, component of Evangelical Christianity. It's important to look at various labels that have been used, going back for centuries, to designate different mutations of Christianity that are all related to the modern phenomenon of Pentecostalism.

Part Nine: Know Thy Enemy
Why Pagans, in particular, need to better understand Pentecostalism.

Part Ten: Meet the New Christianity, Same as the Old Christianity
On the current state of Pentecostalism and its future prospects.

Part Eleven: "Naming the Demon"
On how Pentecostalism is viewed by other Christians in Africa.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Another American Muslim Speaks Out

Rima Fakih, a Muslim and native of Dearborn Michigan, which has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims of any community in the US, has publicly come out against plans to build a mosque at Ground Zero: "It shouldn't be so close to the World Trade Center. We should be more concerned with the tragedy than religion."

Fakih also said that "I totally agree with President Obama with the statement on the constitutional rights of freedom of religion."

Fakih, by the way, is the reigning Miss USA. She made the comments about the proposed Ground Zero Mosque in an interview with Inside Edition, which aired last night.

Fakih is currently in Las Vegas preparing to represent the United States in the upcoming Miss Universe contest, which takes place on Monday night.

Rima Fakih was born in Lebanon in 1985, and her family moved to New York City in 1993 during the Lebanese Civil War. In 2003 her family moved to Dearborn Michigan. She has a degree in economics and plans to attend Law School after she's is done with the whole beauty pageant thing, which is so far working out pretty well for her. In addition to being Miss Michigan, Miss USA and a Miss Universe contestant, she has also won the Miss Lebanon Emigrant pageant in 2008, and was fourth runner up in the Miss Wayne County pageant at the age of 19.

Here is an interesting excerpt from a Voice of America article by David Byrd on Fakih which ran just after she was crowned Miss USA:
[W]inning the title was just the beginning. Rima Fakih's family is Shia Muslim, something that does not easily jibe with the public perception of a beauty queen, particularly in the Miss USA pageant, where contestants parade in bikinis.

But Rima - who got involved in pageants to help pay for school - says she doesn't see that as inconsistent with her family's faith. "I don't define myself around religion and my family does not as well. We are Muslim. We respect the religion. We might not be as strict, but we're not defined by religion but we do spiritually appreciate every religion," said Miss USA.

One of the people who helped Rima Fakih in her quest is Imad Hamad, the Regional Director and Senior National Advisor for Public Affairs of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He said the fact that Rima is a Shi'ite Muslim should not be an issue - she is a beautiful young woman who deserved to win.
The Miss USA contest is more of a straight-up beauty pageant than the Miss America contest -- mostly because they skip the whole surreal spectacle of the "talent" sub-contest. But there is an "interview" segment, for which Rima Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should: "I believe that birth control is just like every other medication."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Banding together in the Cretan fashion

The Hellenic word synkretismos (συγκρητισμός) means (more or less) "Cretan federation." The origin of the word lies in the ancient habit of the people of Crete to fight among themselves when no external enemy threatened, but to band together and fight as one against any would-be foreign invaders.

The first recorded use of the word is in Plutarch's essay "On Brotherly Love", although it appears that Plutarch is referring to a well known term he expects his reader to recognize (the direct mention of syncretism comes right at the beginning of the following passage, but the rest of this section is well worth reading through, as is the entire essay found at the link):
Then this further matter must be borne in mind and guarded against when differences arise among brothers: we must be careful especially at such times to associate familiarly with our brothers' friends, but avoid and shun all intimacy with their enemies, imitating in this point, at least, the practice of Cretans, who, though they often quarreled with and warred against each other, made up their differences and united when outside enemies attacked; and this it was which they called "syncretism."

For some there are, fluid as water, who, seeping through those who relax their hold and disagree, overthrow affinities and friendships, hating indeed both sides, but attacking the one which yields more readily because of its weakness. For while it is true that when a man is in love his young and guileless friends share his love, it is also true that the most ill-disposed of enemies make a show of sharing the indignation and wrath of one who is angered and at variance with his brother.

As, then, Aesop's hen said to the cat who inquired, with pretended solicitude, of the sick bird "How are you?" "Very well, if you keep away"; so one would say to the sort of person who brings up the subject of the quarrel and makes inquiries and tries to dig up some secrets, "But I shall have no trouble with my brother if neither I nor he pay attention to slanderers."

But as it is — I do not know the reason — although when we suffer from sore eyes, we think it proper to turn our gaze to colours and objects which do not beat against or offend the sight, yet when we are in the midst of fault-finding and bursts of anger and suspicion toward our brothers, we enjoy the company of those who cause the disturbance and we take on from them a false colouring, when it would be wise to run away from our enemies and ill-wishers and avoid their notice, and to associate and spend our days almost entirely with relatives and intimates and friends of our brothers, visiting their wives also and frankly telling them our reasons for complaint.

And yet there is a saying that brothers walking together should not let a stone come between them, and some people are troubled if a dog runs between brothers, and are afraid of many such signs, not one of which ever ruptured the concord of brothers; Eyet they do not perceive what they are doing when they allow snarling and slanderous men to come between them and cause them to stumble.

[Plutarch, On Brotherly Love, ¶19]
In the anthology Syncretism in Religion: A Reader, several of the contributors (Anita Maria Leopold, Michael Pye, Kurt Rudolph, Charles Stewart, and Luther H. Martin) discuss the origins and evolution of the word syncretism and it's meanings over time and in different contexts. (In the remainder of this post I will primarily be following Leopold, especially pp. 14-19.)

There is a positive meaning of "syncretism", dating back to the Renaissance, which is close to the original sense of the term, at least as understood by Plutarch, who associated syncretism with nothing less than the virtue of "brotherly love." This positive usage (in an Early Modern Christian European context) is owed to Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536), who explicitly called upon Plutarch's syncretic Cretans for moral support, and as a precedent worthy of emulation, in the cause of advocating for a reconciliation of (often violently) competing Christian sects. In particular, Erasmus held up the example of the Cretans as illustrative of his adage #764: "Concordia fulciuntur opes etiam exiguae." Which means: "With concord even slight resources are strengthened."

Erasmus, and those who agreed with him, such as Georg Calixt (1586-1656), found themselves accused of syncretism, and here we encounter the negative meaning that some Christians have imposed on the word. This negative sense can also be understood with reference to the original meaning, for the negative sense denigrates syncretism as something resorted to at best out of necessity, or at worst out of sheer opportunism. At any rate it dismisses (or even condemns) syncretism as at the very least ad-hoc and unseemly to the point of being completely unacceptable to those seriously engaged in the lofty business of theology.

To make things more complicated, those who subsequently defended Erasmus and Calixt often accepted the negative sense of syncretism as a given, and, therefore, couched their arguments in terms of denying the charge of syncretism against Erasmus and Calixt, despite the fact that both had themselves self-identified explicitly as syncretists.

Things become even more muddled when we move from the Renaissance to the 16th and 17th centuries, when syncretism still appeared one way (negatively) to sectarian theologians who were narrowly focused on Christendom's European stronghold. They were only interested in drawing bright ideological lines to separate the correct/orthodox interpretation of the one true divine teaching from all that was "error", and to thereby guard against the unholy mongrelization of purebred truth that would result, tragically, from any unblessed unions with unclean ideas.

But by now there was a new variety of churchmen: those adventurous gatherers of souls who cast their gaze well beyond Europe, even unto the poor unbaptized savages of the New World and the Far East. To these globe-trotting missionaries, syncretism, far from being a threat to the purity of Christian teachings, instead appeared to hold the key to spreading the Gospel to the furthest reaches of the Earth. Here is how Anita Maria Leopold explains it:
The expansion of Christianity in the sixteenth century was the basis on which the notion [of syncretism] became part of the mission policy. It was in the irenic ["conducive to peace and reconciliation"] sense of the term that the Franciscans and the Dominicans in Mexico planned in 1524 and in the tradition of Erasmus, "to settle the Indians around churches ... and convert them by colourful ceremonies". In the East, the Jesuits regarded syncretism as a means to expand their mission, in a similar way to the Jesuit Francis Xavier (1542), who worked out a scheme to convert Japanese lords to Christianity by adapting Christianity to Japanese culture. As a result, local customs not directly in contradiction to Christianity were to be accepted. In China, another Jesuit, Matteo Ricci (ca. 1600), accepted Confucian rites and ancestor worship as a way of serving missionary purposes. He even wore the robes of a Confucian scholar.
[pp. 16-17]
Related posts from this blog:

Ficinus. Paganus? More on the religious identity of Marsilio Ficino.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nancy Pelosi sides with ADL on "need for transparency" in Ground Zero Mosque funding

The following is a statement released by Nancy Pelosi to clarify her call for an investigation into who is funding the opposition to the Ground Zero Mosque (emphasis has been added):
"The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right. Where a place of worship is located is a local decision.

"I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance that 'We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.'

"For all of those expressing concern about the 9/11 families, we call upon them to join us in support of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act when Congress returns in September."
I hate to admit it, but the Wall Street Journal really nailed this one with their headline: "Is Nancy Pelosi Un-American?" Ouch!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

in order to survive we steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide and deal

Every once in a while it occurs to me to see what kind of Jefferson Airplane videos can be found at youtube. I've never seen this one before!!
we are forces of chaos and anarchy
everything they say we are we are
and we are very proud of ourselves

If you enjoyed that blast from the past, you might also like this old post:
Huntress of the Moon, and Lady of the Earth