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Sunday surprise: Pakistan vs Dr Bronner

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — ideology in two soaps ]
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SPEC DQ Soaps

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The 1971 Pakistani soap ad quotes Pakistan’s third President, GEN Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan:

Remember the PROMISE OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH that, if you are steadfast in the path of Justice, He will bless you with final victory. Advance and strike at the enemy with the rallying call of Allah-o-Akbar. God is with us

Dr Bronner, on the other hand, has been telling us much the same thing on his soap labels since 1948, to wit: :

Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the Moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong & we’re All-One. Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One! 1st: If I’m not for me, who am I? Nobody! 2nd: Yet, if I’m only for me, what am I? Nothing! 3rd: If not now, when? Once More: Unless constructive-selfish I work hard perfecting first me, absolute nothing can help me!

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The 101 Transparent Soap ad from Pakistan claims that it:

Contains no harsh ingredients and does no harm to hands and clothes.

Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap:

Super mild castile soap has outstanding water softening & cleansing powers. Preferable to harsh soap & defattening synthetics. It does not cut dirt, but dissolves it. It is the mildest, most pleasant soap you ever used or your money back!

It appears we can at least agree on the idea that doing no harm is something to be lauded in the production of soap!

Of the Omnipotence of the Americans and Russians

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — or it may be time treat the newfangled term “omnimpotence” as a valid theological descriptor for the hubris manifested by “great powers” ]
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Management of Savagery cover 427

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Abu Bakr Naji makes an interesting point about hubris in his jihadist dissertation, The Management of Savagery (cover image above), which I was thumbing through today:

Therefore, the two superpowers must resort to using a deceptive media halo which portrays these powers as non-coercive and world-encompassing, able to reach into every earth and heaven as if they possess the power of the Creator of creation.

But the interesting thing that happened is that these two superpowers believed, for a time, their media deception: that they are actually a power capable of completely controlling any place in the entire world, and that (this power) bears the characteristics of the power of the Creator.

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You know Parkinson’s Law, that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. It’s one specific instance of the more general saying “Nature abhors a vacuum” — and as always, if there’s one instance of a more general rule, there are liabke to be others.

I’d like to suggest that Abu Bakr Naji may be onto something: that when the idea of an omnipotent deity vanishes (“appears vacuous” or is no longer taken with any depth of seriousness), whatever power is sufficiently well-placed for that purpose is liable to fill the vacuum with its own sense of, well, omnipotence.

This omnipotence of a superpower (or powers — Naji refers to two “poles” in his treatise, the US and Russia) may not be clothed in such a religious term as “omnipotence” — but it can still carry with it the idea of a quasi-divine aegis, as in the concept of American exceptionalism, the “shining light on a hill” able to illuminate the rest of the world.

Thinking America is the sole remaining superpower, Russia having lost its claim to that status at the end of the Cold War, clearly has enough support in practical reality to make it very easy for us to blur the distinction between “omnipotence” and “superpower” — with much of the theological resonance of the former term remaining as a halo, to use Naji’s term, about the latter.

From a psychiatric point of view, this is the very nature of hubris — an overweening or excessive confidence or pride — of the sort that Carl Jung, interestingly enough, would term “inflation” — a sense of power that puffs itself up beyond its realistic limits to fill the vacuum made available by the absence of a recognition of God as an authentically omnipotent higher power.

And we know what happens to over-extended balloons, bubbles, and the like…

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It is only too easy for us to be so “rational” that we overlook the “irrational” or frankly “magical” aspects of our thinking — but the gap between supposed “realism” and reality may be a crucial one, and one which Naji sees from a distance more clearly than do we who are within it.

Phineas Priesthood I: Larry McQuilliams

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — I call these events where an ancient scripture provides sanction for contmporary brutality Landmines in the Garden — I could write a book about’em ]
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Larry McQuilliams KSN file photo
Larry McQuilliams. Photo credit: KSN file photo

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Here’s the main story, as reported by AP on the first of this month:

A Texas man who shot up downtown Austin buildings and tried to the burn the Mexican Consulate before he was gunned down by police harbored extremist right-wing views and appeared to be planning a broader attack against churches and government facilities, law enforcement officials said Monday.

Larry McQuilliams had multiple weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a water supply and a map of 34 downtown buildings that likely were potential targets in his pre-dawn rampage the day after Thanksgiving, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

McQuilliams, 49, started his attack on the consulate building and a federal courthouse. He was killed with by a single shot to the chest from a police officer as he shot at police headquarters, Acevedo said. McQuilliams fired about 200 rounds, but no one else was killed or injured.

“The one mistake he made was he came to the Austin police station and we were able to take him out pretty quickly,” Acevedo said, describing McQuilliams, a convicted felon, as a “homegrown, American extremist” and “terrorist.”

McQuilliams’ had rented a van that was parked outside the police station and was loaded with ammunition and propone fuel canisters typically used for camping. McQuilliams tried to use fireworks with the canisters to make crude but ineffective bombs and used some at the Mexican Consulate, causing a fire that was quickly extinguished.

Here’s the part that interests me today:

Also in the van was a copy of “Vigilantes of Christendom,” a 1990 book associated with the Christian Identity movement known as the Phineas Priesthood, which espouses anti-Semitic and racist views. Inside the book was a handwritten note that referred to McQuilliams as a “priest in the fight against anti-God people,” Acevedo said.

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I have been researching and monitoring the Phineas Priesthood concept for some time now, and have had a major post (or more likely, series) on the topic three-quarters written for a year or so.

It’s a delicate tale to tell, since its origins lie in Jewish scriptures; it features in the celebration of Hanukkah; is found in Christian writers from Origen to Milton; is referenced, as I hope to show, obliquely by Brigham Young; and has been involved in such infamous assassinations as that of Israeli PM Yitzak Rabin and US Civil Reights leader Medgar Evers. It ties in neatly with Louis Beam‘s idea of leaderless resistance. And even Anwar al-Awlaqi can be seen to propose an Islamic variant on the theme.

In follow up posts in this series, I hope to address the Phineas narrative in the Jewish scriptures, in Christian writings, and in terms of the more recent events I mentioned. Since I shall be discussing how the tale of Phineas / Pinchas / Phinehas has been used as offering divine scriptural sanction for acts of religiously-motivated killing, I shall chiefly focus on the negative implications of the tale — it’s use as a buried “landmine” –and since it extends across three millennia, I shall be hard-pressed to catch all of the uses of the tale which might be relevant to my purpose.

Accordingly, I’d like to invite my friends in the Jewish and Christian scholarly communities, in particular, to assist me in the comments section by suggesting alternative ways of reading a story which in its most literal interpretation has been the cause of untimely and hateful deaths.

A Clash of Messianisms: now let me get this straight

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — slightly tongue-in-cheek, intrigued at a rhetorical level, not sure who here, if anyone, necessarily believes the words they speak ]
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Okay, let’s see now.

  • In December 2009, Israeli PM Netanyahu said, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.” 
  • In April 2012, former Israeli Shin Bet intelligence chief Yuval Diskin, said “I don’t believe in either the prime minister (Netanyahu) or the defense minister (Barak). I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings…” 
  • In October 2013, Israeli PM Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly, “In our time the Biblical prophecies are being realized.” 
  • In January 2014, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is quoted as calling Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic”.
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    I told you messianism was a big deal. Now will you listen?

    At the very least, it’s heating up the rhetoric of the the quest for peace…

    So how many “wide-eyed believers” have gotten hold of “the reins of power and the weapons of mass death” at last count?

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    I coulda made at least two DoubleQuotes out of that little lot.

DoubleQuote in the Wild: Maurits Escher & Juan Cole

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — mainly because I’ll post MC Escher any chance I get ]
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I’m often but by no means always a fan of JR Cole. In this instance, though, I’d say he’s built a fine “wild” DoubleQuote out of his own observation and the Escher print he “quotes” in this tweet:

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Hm — did this make anyone else think of Pakistan?


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