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On negative space, private morality in the public square

Monday, May 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — not entirely keen about Judgment, me, but.. ]
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Continuing on from my discussion of negative space in the painting, here’s the MSNBC clip I overheard waas on about:

**

The clip, in other words, is about private morality in the public square.

Raw Story picks up there thread in a piece titled ‘Where are the preachers of America?’:

Evangelical leaders slammed for hypocrisy of Trump support:Former New York Times White House correspondent Howell Raines, who rose to executive editor of newspaper, called out the evangelical community during a Friday appearance on MSNBC’s “The Beat with Ari Melber.”

“I want to ask you about the negative space in the painting, the thing that’s not happening — that we are always told would happen — because the Christian right and the conservative values organizations and the evangelical right cared deeply about the personal behavior of politicians and especially the president,” Melber observed.

“The president now has squarely admitted to paying this woman in direct connection to the allegations of this extramarital affair,” the host continued. “I ask you for your view of why we’re not hearing any outrage for any of those groups affiliated with Donald Trump and the Republican Party.”

“Where are the preachers of America when morality is legitimately at the center of our national life?” Raines wondered. “I think Director Comey was correct today on CBS when he said this is about values and supporting our institutions and it’s imperative that Americans who believe in the normal political process and the rule of law start speaking out.”

“That’s what’s missing in the picture to me,” he concluded.

**

That’s a significant question, to which various answers have been given — from a quick Google search:

  • The Nation, Why Evangelicals—Still!—Support Trump
  • Time, Why Evangelicals Support President Trump, Despite His Immorality
  • Atlantic, A Match Made in Heaven
  • but I’d like to leave — indeed emphasize — it as a question.

    How come the hypocrisy?

    And I think we should ask this, not as a question requiring a political answer, but as a moral question, hanging in the air, for the individual consciences of evangelicals to ponder..

    I have my own hyposcrisies to consider..

    For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 04

    Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — in thre “expansive” phase of this exploration ]
    .

    In her mysteriously beautiful detective procedural set in a Québécois monastery, The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, Louise Penny arrives, about midway through her tale, at this sentence:

    When Frère Mathieu brings out his bomb, the abbot brings out his pipe. One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t.

    I’m riveted.

    **

    Because the phrase “One .. is figurative, and the other isn’t” is like a koan for me — a nut that if I could crack it would also explain such deep mysteries as:

  • “This is my body .. this is my blood” — one interpretation of “body & blood” is figurative, while the other isn’t? and:
  • “he died ..and on the third day he rose again” — one death is figurative, and the other isn’t?
  • Resurrection as myth, resurrection as history?

    **

    You might think I’m being fanciful, but just yesterday the Comey notes became accessible, and we find this exchange between the FBI Director and the President:

    The President then wrapped up our conversation by returning to the issue of finding leakers. I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. “They spend a few days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.” I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened.

    I trust Comey‘s “head on a pike” is figurative, and it sounds like the other — Trump‘s “putting reporters in jail” — isn’t.

    The thing about language is that it’s polyvalent, polysemous –and that inherent ambiguity is seldom more significant than when making or interpreting threats, scriptures, or poems.

    **

    So I could take this post in the direction of a discussion of the ruthless politics of Washingtom, the Kremlin, Pyongyang, Baghdad, and or Beijing..

    Or into the exegesis of the Eucharist, Resurrection, Adamic Creation stories. In matters Biblical, the question “one reading fictitious, while the other, literal, isn’t?” more or less covers the major theological division of our times..

    On this, see the Catholic Catechism (115-117) for a more Dantesque elucidation:

  • The senses of Scripture

  • According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
  • The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
  • The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
  • The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.
  • The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.
  • The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
  • Two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual — one is figurative, like Frère Mathieu’s bomb in Ms Penny’s novel, while the other, like the abbot’s lead pipe, isn’t?

    The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith?

    Or all this might take another turn, with a morph into poetry..

    **

    Or history. Here’s another phrase that’s “riveting” for, I think, the same reason as that phrase “One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t”:

    Pamphlets were both a cause and a tool of violence.

    A “cause .. of violence” — it t (a pamphlet) incites it. And “a tool of violence” — it’s (at least figuratively) a bludgeon in itself. Hm. I hope that makes sense.

    In any case, I’ve got my eye out for other examples that neatly juxtapose word and deed, as though words aren’t deeds — “speech acts” as the philosophers say. What I’m getting at, eventually, is the nature of sacrament — “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” — which is deeply tied up with simile, metaphor, and metamorphosis — “this is my body .. this is my blood”.

    And that quote about pamphlets? Its from a fascinating New Yorker piece, How We Solved Fake News the First Time by Stephen March, which compares fake news on the internet today with fake news in the time of the pamphleteers, and contains this remarkably “ancient and modern” observation:

    There is nothing more congruent to the nourishment of division in a State or Commonwealth, then diversity of Rumours mixt with Falsity and Scandalisme; nothing more prejudicial to a Kingdome, then to have the divisions thereof known to an enemy.

    So, -ismes were already infesting the language like kudzu grass — mixed simile? — back in 1642. And an enemy? Think Putin, ne?

    On which playful note, drawn from seven years before the martyrdom of King Charles I at the hands of the Puritans, I’ll leave you.

    For now.

    Two summits, one Korean peninsular

    Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — colloquially speakin’, there’s a whole lot of prayin’, partyin’ & paradoxin’ goin’ on]
    .

    War on the Rocks brings us a fascinating article by Ramon Pacheco Pardo of the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London, titled The Korean Summit that Really Matters, and you guessed it, it’s not the one between Trump and Kim, its the one between North and South — and the WOTR piece has more (perhaps not unexpectedly) about the South than the North.

    For my purposes, the WOTR piece opened eye-catchingly with a Buddhist and Christian doublet:

    On Monday, South Korea’s Catholic Church held an unusual prayer: It prayed for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean summit. The following day, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a Buddhist service, also praying for the summit’s success.

    That much religion in two short sentences put me on the alert —

    — and only from there did the writer move to a comparison between the Moon and Trump summits:

    Clearly, the Moon administration is leaving nothing to chance to ensure that next week’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un redefines Korean geopolitics. Both Moon and, to a lesser extent, Kim have been preparing for this moment for years. This is why the upcoming inter-Korean summit, not the much-discussed summit between Kim and U.S President Donald Trump, is the one that really matters for the future of the peninsula.

    **

    For a detailed look at the entire Korean situation, look at or critique the whole WOTR piece:

  • WOTR, The Korean Summit that Really Matters
  • The two articles Pacheco Pardo links to regarding President Moon attending Catholic and Buddhist prayers are:

  • NK News, S. Korea’s Catholic Church prays for inter-Korean summit’s success
  • NK News, Moon vows efforts to establish peace between the two Koreas
  • **

    Digging around a bit farther afield from there brought rewards.

    We already knew that Junche — “usually left untranslated, or translated as ‘self-reliance'” is ideology of North Korea, and that it is effectively a cult of personality of the revolutionary (dynastic) leader — nothing much new to glean there — but the South Korean leader’s speech led me onwards:

    President Moon Jae-in has called on Buddhists to show their support for peace on the Korean Peninsula. “The Hwajaeng theory espoused by Wonhyo (617-686), one of the greatest masters in the history of Korean Buddhism, means a ‘cooperative resolution of conflict,’ and it will hopefully be fulfilled on the peninsula, as we resolve conflicts and division between the two Koreas,” he said.

    His remarks came during a Buddhist ceremony on April 17 to pray for security and peace on the peninsula, with chief monks and representatives from major temples across the country, and also some non-Korean Buddhists, in attendance.

    Aha!

    **

    Wonhyo seems to have been something of a blithe spirit, as well as a scholar, the author of voluminous works:

    [Wonhyo] tried to embody in his own life the ideal of a bodhisattva who works for the well-being of all sentient beings. Transcending the distinction of the sacred and the secular, he married a widower princess, visited villages and towns, and taught people with songs and dances.

    — as one of his commentators puts it. You can almost hear Wikipedia laugh or snort (your choice) as it says:

    While the Buddha discouraged such behaviors, his [Wonhyo’s] songs and dances were seen as upaya, or skillful means, meant to help save all sentient beings.

    **

    Get serious, please!

    The required reading would appear to be in:

  • Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Wonhyo: Selected Works, A Charles Miller, ed & tr
  • Defeating language at its own game by all available means, no wonder Wonhyo taught by dancing and singing!

    **

    That’s all very well, and may please the poet-theologian in me, but what about Hwajaeng and conflict resolution?

    As a methodological approach, hwajaeng refers to Wonhyo’s relentless pursuit of ostensibly variant or conflicting Buddhist doctrinal positions, investigating them exhaustively until identifying the precise point at which their variance occurs and then showing how differences in fundamental background, motivation, or sectarian bias on the part of the proponent of that particular doctrinal position led to the production of such apparent contradictions. He never judges any proposition to be ultimately correct: it is only determined to be valid or invalid from a given standpoint. Wonhyo then lays out his own argument in contradistinction to the attached views he has previously elaborated.

    It will be instructive to see how President Moon develops this approach vis-a-vis South-North dialog, and how the somewhat inscrutable Kim Jong Un receives and adapts to it..

    **

    The image in the top panel, above, shows President Park Geun-hye and Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung. President Moon succeeded President Park after her impeachment in the 2017 elections. He is shown praying, second left, in the lower panel, above,

    Image sources:

  • Korea.net, President meets Catholic leaders
  • Korea.net, President Moon asks Buddhists to join peacemaking on peninsula
  • Okay, my head is spinning.

    Jessica Dawson on Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

    Friday, April 13th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — An important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree ]
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    Let me repeat: Jessica Dawson‘s piece for Strategy Bridge is an important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree — a must-read.

    **

    Prof Dawson writes:

    There is a blind spot in U.S. joint doctrine that continually hinders operational planning and strategy development. This blind spot is a failure to account for critical relationships with a person’s conception of god and their community, and how these relationships impact the operational environment.

    Let’s just say I was a contributing edtor at Lapido Media until its demise, writing to clue journos in to the religious significance of current events:

  • Lapido, Venerating Putin: Is Russia’s President the second Prince Vlad?
  • Lapido, ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité
  • Lapido is essentially countering the same blind spot at the level of journos, and hence the public conversation.

    **

    I haven’t focused on the relationship with community, but I have written frequently on what von Clausewitz would call “morale” in contrast with men and materiel. Prof Dawson addresses this issue:

    Understanding religion and society’s role in enabling a society’s use of military force is inherently more difficult than counting the number of weapons systems an enemy has at its disposal. That said, ignoring the people aspect of Clausewitz’s trinity results in an incomplete analysis.

    Indeed, I’ve quoted von Clausewitz on the topic:

    Essentially, war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive in?uence on the elements involved in war.

    and:

    One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

    **

    And Prof Dawson is interested in “critical nodes” and the mapping of relationships, vide her title:

    Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

    :

    This too is an area I am interested in, as evidenced by my borrowing one of my friend JM Berger‘s detailed maps in my post Quant and qualit in regards to “al wala’ wal bara’”:

    That’s from JM’s ICCT paper, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis

    Indeed, my HipBone Games are played on graphs as boards, with conceptual moves at their nodes and connections along their edges, see my series On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: twelve &c.

    **

    My specific focus, games aside, has been on notions of apocalypse as expectation, excitation, and exultation — in my view, the ultimate in what Tillich would call “ultimate concerns”.

    As an Associate and sometime Principal Researcher with the late Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, I have enjoyed years of friendship and collaboration with Richard Landes, Stephen O’Leary and other scholars, and contribuuted to the 2015 Boston conference, #GenerationCaliphate: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

    **

    I could quote considerably more from Jessica Dawson’s piece, but having indicated some of the ways in which her and my own interests run in parallel, and why that causes me to offer her high praise, I’d like quickly to turn to two areas in which my own specialty in religious studies — new religious movements and apocalyptic — left me wishing for more, or to put it more exactly, for more recent references in her treatment of religious aspects.

    Dr Dawson writes of ISIS’ men’s attitudes to their wives disposing of their husbands’ slaves:

    This has little to do with the actual teachings of Islam

    She also characterizes their actions thus:

    They are granted authority and thus power over the people around them through the moral force of pseudo religious declarations.

    Some ISIS fighters are no doubt more influenced by mundane considerations and some by religious — but there’s little doubt that those religious considerations are anything but “pseudo religious”. Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic Stat traces the history of ISIS’ theology from hadith locating the apocalypse in Dabiq through al-Zarqawi and al-Baghdadi to the loss of much of the group’s territory and the expansion of its reach via recruitment of individuals and cells in the west.. leaving little doubt of the “alternate legitimacy” of the group’s theological claims. Graeme Wood‘s Atlantic article, to which Prof Dawson refers us, is excellent but way shorter and necessarily less detailed.

    On the Christian front, similarly, eschatology has a role to play, as Prof Dawson recognizes — but instead of referencing a 2005 piece, American Rapture, about the Left Behind series, she might have brought us up to datw with one or both of two excellent religious studies articles:

  • Julie Ingersoll, Why Trump’s evangelical supporters welcome his move on Jerusalem
  • Diana Butler Bass, For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics
  • As their parallel titles suggest, Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — which received a fair amount of press at the time that may have mentioned such a move would please his evangelical base, but didn’t explore the theology behind such support in any detail — has profound eschatpological implications.

    Julie Ingersoll’s book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, is excellent in its focus on the “other side” of the ceontemporary evangelical right, ie Dominionism, whose founding father, RJ Rushdoony was a post-millennialist in contrast to La Haye and the Left Behind books — his followers expect the return of Christ after a thousand year reign of Christian principles, not next week, next month or in the next decade or so.

    Sadly, the Dominionist and Dispensationalist (post-millennialist and pre-millennialist) strands in the contemporary Christian right have mixed and mingled, so that it is hard to keep track of who believed in which — or what!

    **

    All the more reason to be grateful for Prof Dawson’s emphasis on the importance of religious knowledge in strategy and policy circles.

    Let doctrine (theological) meet and inform doctrine (military)!

    Music and the Friday curiously called Good

    Friday, March 30th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — ffor whom the music lingers longest in the soul ]
    .

    Yesterday, Maundy Thursday in the western ritual calendar, the Christ washed the feet of his disciples after the Last Supper, and instructed them to do likewise. Today, the day called Good Friday, the Christ, scourged and bone-weary from dragging the wood chosen for his cross uphill to a place called Golgotha or Skull, is finally nailed, hand and foot, hands and feet. and raised up with a mocking inscription above his head proclaiming him King of the Jews in three languages -– and in his almost final gesture on earth, forgives the soldier who has just applied hammer to those terrible nails. He dies – “gives up the ghost” – and then the three days of a prophesied and clearly impossible return from the tomb open before us – a cliff-hanger like no other.

    The suspense!

    Our western civ loses a lot if we are unable to have, in the cycle of our 24/365 lives, such a moment of suspense, which IMO cuts deeper than any doctrine. Deeper than doctrine, too, is music, which reaches far beyond the bounds of verbal belief. Thus one of western music’s greatest treasures: Bach’s telling of Christ’s passion, as written by Matthew in his gospel. Pause a moment – pause a couple of hours – pause at least long enough for Bach’s great finale – and then wait, if the Christ story can still move you, wait with aching, with dread even – or as Bach suggests, rest with the resting Christ, take consolation in the promise of his resurrection.

    **

    Bach’s finale, Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder, WIki explains:

    The work is closed by a grand scale chorus in da capo form, choir I and II mostly in unison for the first part Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder (We sit down in tears), but in dialog in the middle section, choir II repeating Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh! (“Rest gently, gently rest!”), choir I reflecting: “Your grave and headstone shall, for the anxious conscience, be a comfortable pillow and the resting place for the soul. Highly contented, there the eyes fall asleep.” These are the last words (before the recapitulation), marked by Bach himself: p pp ppp (soft, very soft, extremely soft).

    Bach’s complete Matthew Passion, a Lutheran choral setting for today’s evening service:

    **

    And the end, in Matthew’s telling:

    And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.


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