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More from the Forgiveness Chronicles

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — picking up from Some recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles ]
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Once again, I am amazed at the sheer Christianity to be found in Coptic responses to utterly horrific persecution.

Fr Boules George (left) and Bishop Angaelos (right)

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It was Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, who delivered the remarkable sermon on forgiveness that I posted in my earlier report from the Forgiveness Chronicles..

It was also Angaelos who rebuked the Hungarian PM for saying refugee immigration should be limited to Christians:

Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims

Angaelos’ response:

As a Christian I could never justify a policy which only supported ‘our own’. The distinction should be based on people’s need, not their religion.

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And here is Angaelos again:

Bishop Angaelos to the Terrorists: ‘You Are Loved’
By His Grace Bishop Angaelos on recent terrorist attacks in Egypt and elsewhere

Once again, we find ourselves experiencing pain before which words seem insufficient.

I have previously addressed victims of terrorist acts; I have addressed their families; I have even addressed those who may have had an opportunity, even in some small way, to advocate for or support those most vulnerable.

This time, however, I feel a need to address those who perpetrate these crimes.

You are loved. The violent and deadly crimes you perpetrate are abhorrent and detestable, but you are loved.

You are loved by God, your creator, for he created you in his image and according to his likeness, and placed you on this earth for much greater things, according to his plan for all humankind. You are loved by me and millions like me, not because of what you do, but what you are capable of as that wonderful creation of God, who has created us with a shared humanity. You are loved by me and millions like me because I, and we, believe in transformation.

Transformation is core to the Christian message, for throughout history we have seen many transformed from being those who persecuted Christ himself and Christians to those who went on to live with grace. We believe in transformation because, on a daily basis, we are personally transformed from a life of human weakness and sinfulness to a life of power and righteousness. We believe in transformation because the whole message of the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is to take humanity from the bonds of sin and death to a liberation in goodness and everlasting life. Our world is certainly suffering from the brokenness of our humanity, but it is our responsibility, personally and collectively, to encourage and inspire ourselves and all those whom we meet along our path to a life of virtue and holiness and the love and forgiveness of all.

This, of course, is far from the reaction that many may have expected, but the Christian message is just that: to look at our world as through the eyes of God, who loves all and who desires that all be liberated through him.

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What is increasingly obvious is that many of these attacks come about due to a loss of the meaning and comprehension of the sanctity of life, our own or that of others; so join me in praying for the brokenness of our world that causes parents to lose their children, children to lose their parents and humankind to lose the humanity for which it was created.

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I have long been prepping a book about religious violence, and in particular the way in which it can be triggered and viewed as sanctioned by the words of scriptures which elsewhere encourage peace, to be titled Landmines in the Garden — the garden being Pardes, Paradise..

Now that the specifically eschatological element of ISIS has been laid out in detail by WIll McCants in his brilliant The ISIS Apocalypse, however, I have felt a shift in emphasis, and the book as I now perceive it will view religious violence — and indeed other violence such as that which drove Dylann Roof to his Charleston killings — through th specific lense of forgiveness and love, as exemplified by Bishop Angaelos, and for the matter, the members of the Charleston congregation who testified to their forgiveness of Roof at his trial.

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To accompany Bishop Angaelos’ words, here’s a Coptic priest from Cairo, Fr. Boules George delivering a recent and no less remarkable sermon:

A Message to Those Who Kill Us

What will we say to them?

THANK YOU

The first thing we will say is “Thank you very, very much,” and you won’t believe us when we say it.

You know why we thank you? I’ll tell you. You won’t get it, but please believe us.

You gave us to die the same death as Christ–and this is the biggest honor we could have. Christ was crucified–and this is our faith. He died and was slaughtered–and this is our faith. You gave us, and you gave them to die.

We thank you because you shortened for us the journey. When someone is headed home to a particular city, he keeps looking at the time. “When will I get home? Are we there yet?” Can you imagine if in an instant he finds himself on a rocket ship straight to his destination? You shortened the journey! Thank you for shortening the journey.

We thank you because you gave to us to fulfill what Christ said to us: “Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). We were lambs; our only weapons: our faith and the church we pray in. I carry no weapon in my hand. We are so grateful that you helped us fulfill this saying of Christ.

REVIEW: Why Socrates Died by Waterfield

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

[ Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Image result for why socrates died

Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths by Robin Waterfield

2400 years after his trial and execution at the hands of the restored Democracy, Socrates continues to exert a fascination over the Western mind. He is a seminal figure in the development of philosophy and was part of the cognitive revolution in classical Greece that saw a shift from archaic Homeric values to humanistic, rational and proto-scientific values. The death of Socrates, condemned for thought crimes, was the great contradiction of Athenian self-conception of Athens as  “the school of Hellas” and his execution remained an indictment leveled by the enemies of democracy ever since. While the importance of Socrates is universally acknowledged, the exact circumstances and motives for his death remain obscure; ironically, a philosopher who so deeply valued “truth” had prosecutors and apologists equally determined to conceal or distort it.

British scholar and translator Robin Waterfield has attempted, as did radical journalist I.F. Stone a generation earlier, to unearth the truth behind the myths about Socrates. Unlike Stone, Waterfield’s investigation, Why Socrates Died , rests on an extensive career translating and writing about the classics, including the major primary and secondary sources used for his book. This provides a firmer base for the inevitable speculation from limited evidence that is frequently required in historical reasoning about antiquity. Waterfield is also far less influenced by contemporary political and cultural conflicts than was Stone, whose turbulent career as an investigative journalist was intertwined with Cold War controversies and his activities on behalf of the intelligence services of the Soviet Union. Waterfield also understands far better the machinery of the Athenian state and the nature of Greek polytheistic religious life, which Stone erroneously believed had become thoroughly secularized by the time of the trial of Socrates.

Waterfield notes that while it is normal that most of the records of historical events during antiquity are fragmentary or have vanished, we two purported records for Socrates’ defense speech at his trial, one of the prosecution and numerous apologia. Socrates trial was obviously no ordinary law case for impiety, being still recalled by Athenians a half-century later. Nor did the disciples of Socrates who most ardently took up his cause, Plato and Xenophon, wish the case to be forgotten but rather endeavored to protect their master’s reputation for all posterity. Waterfield writes:

….Both Plato and Xenophon wanted to give their readers the impression that a high-minded philosopher was convicted by the stupidity of the mob, but this was an attempt to distract attention from the real reasons Socrates was killed.

The real reason posited by Waterfield was that Socrates  was the teacher of Alcibiades and Critias and thus bore some responsibility for the grave misfortunes suffered by Athens during the war and the crimes of the Thirty Tyrants afterwards. Moreover, as Waterfield argues, Socrates was not so much the victim of a political show trial in which Socrates deliberately provoked the democratic faction to kill him, as I.F. Stone argued but was a religious sacrifice or scapegoat for the transgressions of his students against democracy so that a fragile Athenian society could heal its wounds.

Much of the book is devoted to the career of the mercurial and highly charismatic Alcibiades, who entered politics young and as a disciple of Socrates. According to Wakefield, A scion of the greatest of Athenian houses, Alcibiades in his person was emblematic of all of the virtues and vices of the old Athenian aristocracy that had once ruled Athens from the grand council of the Aeropagus. Of the rising generation of young and clever men of good breeding who aimed to play a role in the politics of the radical democracy, Alcibiades had the greatest promise. Highly intelligent, wealthy, handsome and with a magnetic charm, Alcibiades had the natural arête and metis to romance the mob and bend it to his will. It was this that Waterfield argues attracted the attention of Socrates, who saw in Alcibiades and other young men of promising talent he took on as students the future of Athens.

Unfortunately, with Alcibiades, his numerous gifts could never be separated from his equally stupendous flaws – sexual libertinism, flamboyant profligacy, megalomaniacal ambition and reckless hubris – that were frequently his undoing. A psychological chameleon and demagogue, Waterfield argues that the Athenians, as much as they repeatedly forgave and embraced Alcibiades and his schemes, ultimately feared him as an aspiring tyrant. This feeling crystallized into blame for Socrates in the public mind when other students of his who lacked the charms of Alcibiades, notably Critias, sought revolution and oligarchy. Critias’ bloodthirsty pro-Spartan regime as well as the elite’s prior attempt at oligarchy are explained but not with the same space and attention to detail devoted to Alcibiades. One point that Waterfield takes further than most is arguing that Critias aspirations for a morally reformed and less populated Athens are very much in line with the teachings of Socrates. That far from an aberration for whom Socrates bears little responsibility, Critias represented the philosopher’s hopes for Athens and the Athenian democrats who had suffered at the hands of the Thirty Tyrants wanted someone held accountable. That someone was Socrates, whose teachings as it were, would imperil democracy again were he left at liberty.

Waterfield’s handling of the trial itself is less satisfying and includes a lengthy foray into fictive speculation of material prejudicial to Socrates that his notable apologists, Plato and Xenophon, have carefully omitted from their elegies to their beloved master and his trial. The parallels between Athenian religious ceremony and the results of Socrates trial – a trial for impiety held in defiance of the general amnesty that had been decreed for actions under previous regimes – are present. The Greeks did not as a rule go in for human sacrifices in the classical era (though it wasn’t quite as unknown as is commonly believed) but the symmetry is present if more metaphorical than perhaps explicitly religious. It is difficult as a modern to game out exactly where matters of state end and religion begin when the religion is pagan and intertwined in the mind of Athenians with the fate of the state. A debate more for classical scholars than the average layman.

What is difficult to dispute is the centrality of Socrates life in the evolution of Western philosophy and the contradiction he presents for admirers of self-government and free speech and thought as the core of a liberal society. Socrates elenchus is radically subversive; his Homeric tenets on rulership were arch-reactionary even by the standards of his day and Socrates devotion to his beliefs could not be dented even when they required the supreme sacrifice.

What would an American Socrates look and sound like today? How would “the herd” react to his immovable defiance of popular ideologies? Judging by the barometer of social media and the lynch mob mentalities and angry censoriousness that prevail in elite quarters of American life, I’d have to say: poorly. I see no evidence that Americans living in the bastion of civil liberty would prove more tolerant of dissent than did the Athenian democrats who put Socrates to death.

Waterfield has written a lively and informative explanation of a philosopher whose execution casts a long shadow even after two thousand years.  Recommended.

 

Robert Pirsig, RIP

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — obit as bead game ]
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A meditation on Robert Pirsig‘s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:


Tryptich: zen speaks to zen, Suzuki to Suzuki, motorcycle to motorcycle

Pirsig died yesterday at his home in Maine, after 88 years hereabouts.

War Books, local version

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — saved from a slush pile]
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A while back, I presumptuously submitted my effort for Modern War Institute‘s War Books Profile series, where it has languished on the slush pile for a few months now. No need to waste a decent post, though, so I’m posting it here, locally, on Zenpundit, for any who may be interested.

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Name: Charles Cameron

Brief Biography:

Charles Cameron is the managing editor of the strategy blog Zenpundit, and a past Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at BU and Senior Analyst at The Arlington Institute. He is a three time finalist in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center’s Art of the Future challenges, and author of the essay “The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis” in Robert J Bunker, Blood Sacrifices (a Terrorism Research Center Book). He is the designer of the HipBone family of conceptual games, and is currently working on a book on religious sanctions for violence titled Landmines in the Garden.

Top Five Books:

Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan. Respectful enemies – he, a friend of UBL and Mullah Omar, she, a counter-terrorism expert for the Australian Federal Police – debate and confer across battle lines to draw a detailed picture of AQ structure and history. A unique collaboration.

William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse. The key to ISIS intensity has to do with what then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey called their “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” McCants masterfully reveals that apocalyptic driver, and the somewhat obscure scriptures on which it is based.

SH Nasr, ed., The Study Quran. With enemies such as ISIS and AQ that are given to quoting scriptural texts, it is important to have a reputable, non-sectarian translation and scholarly commentary on the Quran. This is that book.

Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited. A slim volume, a delight to hold in the hand, and packed with detailed scholarship on what is arguably the seed moment of contemporary Jihadism.

John Kiser, The Monks of Tibhirine. This book, and Christian de Chergé’s astonishing letter to the jihadists who would shortly martyr him, is an eloquent testament to values we should cherish in a time of brutality and hatred.

The One That Shaped Me The Most:

Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. The human mind, attuned to variety and complexity yet primed to understand complex matters in binary terms, tends to hold war and peace as poles apart. Musically speaking, war is equivalent to discord, peace to harmony. The musical technique of counterpoint, so central to Bach, plays “voices” against one another in a manner that recognizes their variety and individuality and allows for discord while constantly working to resolve it harmoniously. It thus offers us an analogy for the constant interplay of warlike and peaceable motivations, both within the individual human and among the world’s societies and cultures – an invaluable overview of the natural condition. Hesse’s novelistic Game shows analogy rather than linearity as the key to creative insight, and offers a contrapuntal play of ideas as the overarching architectural structure for comprehending a world of conflict and resolution. It won the Nobel.

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Reworking my list today, I might well reckon the McCants book has served its brilliant purpose, illuminating in fine detail the apocalyptic nature of ISIS theology, and substitute a no less valuable but more wide-focus tome, Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam, which broadens our understanding by offering a comprehensive exploration of “lived Islam” across the centuries and continents, going far beyond “scriptual” Islam as understood by the fundamentalists.

Ideally, of coure, there’d be room for both McCants and Ahmed, as there is in the tiny bookshelf on my desk..

Muslim does not equal Terrorist

Friday, April 21st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — witting or unwitting, there’s a blatant inability to make this simple distinction ]
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The sane alternative:


Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba and His Holiness the Dalai
Lama are two role models for our century.

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There’s an interesting conflation of Islam and Terrorism in a post titled 2 Faces of Islam: Why All Muslims Benefit from Terrorism from Freedom Outpost:

While many Muslims are just as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us are, all Muslims nevertheless benefit from Islam. This is because both peaceful and violent Muslims tend to share two important goals: (1) the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, and (2) the silencing of critics of Islam. Since terrorism helps achieve these goals, all Muslims benefit from Islam.

This would make sense — I’m not saying I’d agree with it, merely that it would have a logical form to it that wouldn’t make me go cross-eyed — if it read [note: this paragraph edited in light of comment below]:

While many Muslims are just as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us are, all Muslims nevertheless benefit from terrorism. This is because both peaceful and violent Muslims tend to share two important goals: (1) the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, and (2) the silencing of critics of Islam. Since terrorism helps achieve these goals, all Muslims benefit from terrorism.

But no: under a caption that tells us 2 Faces of Islam: Why All Muslims Benefit from Terrorism, it twice states all Muslims nevertheless benefit from Islam.

The conflation is evident, Islam and Terrorism are interchangeable in the writer’s mind, and that interoperability is liable to find an echo in — or seep diasastrously into — the reader’s mind, too.

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The actual relation between Islam and contemporary Islamist terrorism is neither “Islam is a religion of no terrorism (aka peace)” nor “Islam is a religion of terrorism (aka war)”. To get at a couple of the major nuances here, the Meccan Cantos and the Medinan cantos of the Quran suggest very different readings of what the religion was originally all about, and how it adapted to violent hostility; and in terms of contemporary Islam, not all Muslims are Salafist, and not all Salafists are jihadist fighters, but some of them most definitely and ruthlessly are.

In addition, Islam needs to be considered both scripturally — the usual western critique — and culturally, by which I mean how Islamic belief plays out in cultural practice across time and space — a far subtler matter. SH Nasr‘s The Study Quran is a prime guide to the former, and Shahab Ahmed‘s What Is Islam?
The Importance of Being Islamic the towering work to digest in understanding the latter.

A useful corrective to the “Islam is a religion of war” perspective can be found in the lives and works of two proniment Muslim proponents and practitioners of nonviolence, Sheikh Amadou Bamba, founder of the Muridiyya or Mourides, and Badshah Khan, Gandhi‘s Muslim friend.

For context around the Mourides, and in constrast with the Wahhabis of the Levanty, see Why are there so few Islamists in West Africa? A dialogue between Shadi Hamid and Andrew Lebovich.

The inability to distinguish Muslim from Terrorist, and the violence that follows it, can truly be described as Islamophobia.

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