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Brief brief: of binding and loosing

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — really just a note to myself, but you may read it over my shoulder ]
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Joas Wagemakers, blogging on Jihadi-Salafi views of the Islamic State at the Washington Post, was talking about the “caliphate” today, and as usual, I went off on my own DoubleQuoting tangent:

SPEC DQ bind and loose

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Here’s Wagemakers’s para that triggered the above:

In 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria set itself apart from most other radical Islamist groups by actually settling in a certain territory and establishing a state there. The group even declared a caliphate on June 29 and changed its name simply to the Islamic State (IS). Even al-Qaeda, which has long had similar ambitions to establish a caliphate encompassing all Muslims, has never achieved this. In its justification for the announcement of its caliphate, IS has made use of classical Islamic concepts: its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been vetted by a group of scholars described as “the people who loosen and bind” (ahl al-hall wa-l-aqd), was found by them to be a pious Muslim ruler who fit all the criteria for a caliph and was therefore worthy of believers’ oath of allegiance (baya).

Do I detect an echo here, between the two phrases — or is the concept of loosing and binding so basic to human experience that it crops up all over?

It’s a question at the intersection of two of my fields of special interest — depth psychology and cultural anthro — see for example Anthony Stevens, writing under the subtitle Archetypes versus cultural transmission:

Essentially, the theory can be stated as a psychological law: whenever a phenomenon is found to be characteristic of all human communities, it is an expression of an archetype of the collective unconscious. It is not possible to demonstrate that such universally apparent phenomena are exclusively due to archetypal determinants or entirely due to cultural diffusion, because in all probability both are involved. However, the likelihood is that there will be a strong bias for those phenomena which are archetypally determined to diffuse more readily and more lastingly than those that are not.

**

Now go read Wagemakers.

John Schindler 3: his latest

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — third of three, almost caught up ]
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Schindler a few days back:

Schindler’s latest:

**

Today’s John Schindler post, The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD, is another blockbuster must-read, but for my purposes in this series I’ll just quote a short excerpt. It’s the middle paragraph here that’s key, but I’ll give you a little before and after for context:

While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.

To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.

WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.

**

I still haven’t quite figured out how almost everybody comes to have an opinion about almost everything: I know enough about a small archipelago of topics to have a sense of how much I don’t know, even in my areas of interest, in between my islands — and I am vividly aware that my chosen archipelago is only one of many, many, many — oh, why don’t I just quote Newton, and let him speak for us all:

I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

There are areas of knowledge that John explores, in this post in particular, that I don’t know enough about to trust my own opinions on, but one point he keeps making keeps on shining through: that the western secular mindset has a blind spot wherever religious intensity appears.

And by religious intensity I don’t necessarily mean piety, or deep theological knowledge — which are the criteria that pollsters use to judge such things. The disciples of Christ were fishermen, he talked with prostitutes and (oy!) centurions among others, they were his peeps. The test, then, is not mosque, church or synagogue attendance, nor dietary behavior: religion happens, first and foremost, to humans, and that’s something John captures neatly, as it applies to Muslims, in this para about the majority of Muslims world-wide:

They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

Human beings, that is, with an available transcendant perspective that can be activated by crisis, by global dissonance, by perceived injustice — as the supreme justification for brutality among those so disposed, and as the supreme invitation to good works among the likes of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, and many less known but no less generous souls.

Heaven and Hell, no less than East and West, are present in human reality, as John Milton knew. We should permit them, with caution and understanding, into our minds and models, and onto our maps. First, though, we should understand and sense what they mean, within human hearts and minds — no easy task.

John Schindler 2: Putin’s Orthodox Jihad

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — second and central of three posts, this one concerning a very powerful JS post ]
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Vladimir the Holy Prince
Saint Vladimir

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John Schindler‘s piece, Putin’s Orthodox Jihad, as I told him, answers so many of my unspoken questions that even thinking about it almost hurts my eyes. IMO, he is right on the mark indeed when he writes:

Nearly all Western experts, being mostly secularists when not atheists, paid no attention

As Zenpundit regulars know, this has been my own constant refrain here on the topic of global jihad, but John’s turf here is Vladimir Putin‘s once and future Greater Russia — it’s not exactly encouraging to note that the problem seems to be global.

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In this post, John mentions Putin’s “fire-breathing speech to the Duma” in March 2014, in which Putin laid out his vision:

Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptised. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravery brought Crimea into the Russian empire are also in Crimea. This is also Sevastopol – a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge. Each one of these places is dear to our hearts, symbolising Russian military glory and outstanding valour.

Everything except the reference to Temple Mount is already present in this speech, which predates the one I discussed in my previous post by eight months.

And as John notes of this seminal speech:

Putin included not just venerable KGB classics like warnings about the Western Fifth Column and “national traitors,” but also paeans to explicit Russian ethnic nationalism buttressed by Orthodox mysticism, with citations of saints from millennia past.

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Two more points:

The late Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, whom Putin greatly admires, gave us this succinct and powerful account of how the cross and the sword can be accommodated together in a single theological perspective — again, I’m quoting John’s post:

In calling to love our enemies, Christ had in mind personal enemies of man, not God’s enemies, and not blaspheming molesters, for them drowning with a millstone around their neck was recommended. Urging to forgive injuries, Christ was referring to personal insults to a person, not all possible crimes; no one has the right to forgive the offenses suffered by others or provide for the villains to offend the weak, corrupt children, desecrate churches and destroy the Fatherland. So therefore a Christian is called not only to forgive offenses, but to fight the enemies of God’s work on earth. The evangelical commandment of “non-resistance to evil” teaches humility and generosity in personal matters, and not limpness of will, not cowardice, not treachery and not obedience to evildoers.

That’s quite a statement in and of itself. And furthermore:

This idea is more than a single man, more than a feat of one hero. This idea is great as Russia and the sacred as her religion. This is the idea of the Orthodox sword.

The second (further) point is one that John himself suggests:

We perhaps should be grateful that the Orthodox Jihad rejects suicide bombings. In the 1930’s, Romania’s fascist Legionary Movement, led by the charismatic Orthodox revolutionary Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, toyed with what terrorism mavens today might term “martyrdom operations,” but these never really caught on. Orthodoxy frowns on suicide, even in a just cause.

I read, live and learn.

**

Okay: let me say it again:

  • John Schindler‘s piece Putin’s Orthodox Jihad answers so many of my unspoken questions that even thinking about it almost hurts my eyes. Highly recommended indeed!
  • Of related interest:

  • Mark R. Elliott, Why Russia’s Evangelicals Thank God for Putin
  • John Schindler 1: Putin, Gorenberg, Jerusalem

    Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Putin: the other fellow’s Ukraine is this fellow’s Temple Mount ]
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    It is hard to keep up with John Schindler [@20committee]: his writings flow fast and sure enough that I feel a bit like Alice, running fast to keep still, as I try to think through enough of what he writes to make meaningful comments. In this series of posts, I’ll try to come close to catching up.

    **

    St Putin icon & gas

    **

    First, as backdrop and just for the record, here are Vladimir Putin‘s comments on the spiritual relationship between Russia and the Ukraine, in which he compared the Ukraine to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, from a transcript of his December 2014 Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly:

    Of course, we will talk about this year’s landmark events. You know that a referendum was held in Crimea in March, at which its residents clearly expressed their desire to join Russia. After that, the Crimean parliament – it should be stressed that it was a legitimate parliament that was elected back in 2010 – adopted a resolution on sovereignty. And then we saw the historical reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia.

    It was an event of special significance for the country and the people, because Crimea is where our people live, and the peninsula is of strategic importance for Russia as the spiritual source of the development of a multifaceted but solid Russian nation and a centralised Russian state. It was in Crimea, in the ancient city of Chersonesus or Korsun, as ancient Russian chroniclers called it, that Grand Prince Vladimir was baptised before bringing Christianity to Rus.

    In addition to ethnic similarity, a common language, common elements of their material culture, a common territory, even though its borders were not marked then, and a nascent common economy and government, Christianity was a powerful spiritual unifying force that helped involve various tribes and tribal unions of the vast Eastern Slavic world in the creation of a Russian nation and Russian state. It was thanks to this spiritual unity that our forefathers for the first time and forevermore saw themselves as a united nation. All of this allows us to say that Crimea, the ancient Korsun or Chersonesus, and Sevastopol have invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism.

    And this is how we will always consider it.

    **

    How serious is this?

    End times, apocalypse-serious in three religions, driest kindling for a global wildfire in our drought-ridden world. All it would take is a single spark, and there are those who play with matches:

    Israel indicts Livvix Aqsa

    To me, that’s nightmare scenario number 1, number two having to do with Pakistani nukes..

    **

    Gershom Gorenberg, whose book The End of Days is still the best guide to the clashing of rival apocalypses on the Temple Mount aka the Noble Sanctuary — writes of that “thirty-five-acre not-quite-rectangular enclosure on the souther-east corner of the Old City of Jerusalem” that it is “the most contested piece of real estate on earth”.

    Everyone, from the Lord on down, surely knows that the center of the earth is Jerusalem — even the maps tell us so:

    462_medieval-mapJerusalemCenterC1250

    As Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav says:

    Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem.

    — and we can zoom further in:

    As the navel is set in the centre of the human body,
    so is the land of Israel the navel of the world…
    situated in the centre of the world,
    and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,
    and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem,
    and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary,
    and the ark in the centre of the holy place,
    and the foundation stone before the holy place,
    because from it the world was founded…

    **

    Given the centrality of the Temple Mount, then, what are the prospects should someone, not unlike Adam Everett Livvix perhaps, motivated by desire to see the Temple rebuilt and Moshiach or Christ make his presence felt, attempt to destroy the mosques atop the Mount — as has already been attempted more than once?

    Jeffrey Goldberg‘s interview with Gershon Salomon, leader of the Temple Mount Faithful movement, published in the New York Times just before the turn of the millennium, included this fascinating and to my mind alarming exchange:

    I ask him how he would feel if someone blew up the Dome of the Rock.
    “The question is, Why did they build their mosque on our holy mountain, anyway? Who gave them permission? God didn’t.”
    Would you be saddened if the destruction of the Dome of the Rock led to war?
    “I don’t think it will come to that. The Muslims know in their heart that this belongs to us.”
    “But what if it did lead to war?”
    Salomon smiled. “The Temple will be a reality. God has promised it.”
    But what about war?
    “O.K.,” he said impatiently, “so we’ll have a war.”

    **

    Quite how far into the parallelism between the Temple Mount and Ukraine Putin wants to go is an unknown — but my sense is that John Schindler would come closer to the answer than most.

    This was the first of three posts.

    A metaphysical trigonometry

    Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — from [Inkling] Charles Williams via J’lem & Damascus to TS Eliot, iconology and the apophatic & cataphatic paths ]
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    The Second Coming: Orthodox icon and Turkish miniature

    The Second Coming: Orthodox icon and Turkish miniature

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    The phrase “metaphysical trigonometry” is from Charles Williams, friend of Tolkien and Lewis, and is drawn from the opening paragraph of his book, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

    The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.

    **

    Williams mentions Bethany, the geographic lift-off point for the Ascension of Christ — but where is his Second Coming to be witnessed?

    Some Christian telecasters, literal-minded and consequently of the opinion that not only living eyes but even the eye of the camera will be able to capture the event, suggest the Mount of Olives:

    Thus Christian Broadcasters’ Cameras Trained on Mount of Olives to Capture Christ’s Return:

    Two of America’s biggest evangelical Christian broadcasters have stationed cameras on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, ready to cover the return of Jesus Christ from the Mount of Olives as predicted in the Bible, should any such event occur soon.

    Texas-based Daystar Television Network was first to install a 24/7 camera from its terrace overlooking the Mount of Olives, and now Costa Mesa-based Trinity Broadcasting Network has bought the building next door, allowing it the same opportunity. The Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge east of Jerusalem, is rooted both in Jewish and Christian traditions, and is where Jesus is said to have preached to his disciples and later ascended to heaven, according to Acts chapter one.

    **

    I am hoping one of the Latter-day Saint friends of this blog will have more to say on LDS expectation, but have found this reference to Missouri as the site of the New Jerusalem — not quite the same as the place of the Second Coming, but certainly related to some extent:

    Building of the New Jerusalem:

    Near the time of the coming of Jesus Christ, the faithful Saints will build a righteous city, a city of God, called the New Jerusalem. Jesus Christ Himself will rule there. (See 3 Nephi 21:23–25; Moses 7:62–64; Articles of Faith 1:10.) The Lord said the city will be built in the state of Missouri in the United States (see D&C 84:2–3).

    **

    And in Islam, Damascus, and specifically the Umayyad mosque is the place of expectation, following the hadith reported in Muhammad Ata Ur-Rahim, Jesus: Prophet of Islam:

    At that point, God will send the Messiah, son of Mary, and he will descend to the white minaret in the east of Damascus, wearing two garments dyed with saffron, placing his hands on the wings of two angels. When he lowers his head, beads of perspiration will fall from it, and when he raises his head, beads like pearls will scatter from it. Every disbeliever who smells his fragrance will die, and his breath will reach as far as he can see. He will search for the Dajjal until he finds him at the gate of Ludd (the biblical Lydda, now known as Lod), where he will kill him.

    **

    It has been argued that the thrust of Hinduism as of Buddhism is vertically upwards, towards transcendance of this world in moksha, liberation, whereas that of Christianity is downwards, towards immanence, in the Incarnation, indeed in what Henri Nouwen calls “downward mobility”.

    In reality, however, the god Vishnu descends into human form in his avatars Narsingh, Rama, Krishna, Kalki — to play lila within creation, while the yogi’s path leads upowards to moksha — and the Christ who descends into time and human circumstance is also the ascended and eternal Christ whose celestial marriage feast is celebrated in each Eucharist…

    In short, paths of both ascent and descent are to be found, as perhaps we might have learned from the story of Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28,12):

    and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

    Or as TS Eliot puts it in Four Quartets, variously echoing Heraclitus, Dante, John of the Cross:

    And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.

    and:

    Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
    To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
    In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
    In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
    In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
    And what you do not know is the only thing you know
    And what you own is what you do not own
    And where you are is where you are not.

    **

    Going a step further, Cleo McNelly Kearns writes:

    The way down is the way of asceticism and abstraction, while the way up is the way of erotic experience, metaphor and imagination. The negative way seeks, through a process of progressive elimination of the partial, to attain a posture of complete humility and self-erasure before the void; the positive way calls for escalating degrees of recognition and self-affirmation proceeding from like to like to a place commensurate with contemplation of the whole. Likewise, the negative way, or way down, seeks to move the consciousness beyond the body and its images, while the affirmative way, or way up, seeks to move it more deeply into them.

    The negative, apophatic way, avoids affirmative statements and images because they might be mistaken for idols and worshipped, while the affirmative, cataphatic way uses affirmations and images as icons and symbols through which the unseen may be glimpsed.

    And we’re into a whole new areea of discourse.


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