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Sunday surprise 2, for Sally B, poetic afflatus

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a romantic attribute of poets, close to the holy spirit ]
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Poetic afflatus is the term for a private wind of inspiration which follows a poet around — on fortunate days. That photo of Donald Hall which Sally Benzon so much admired, I believe illustrates the afflatus — Hall has allowed his hair to stray wherever the whim of wind may take it, while the urbane Obama has curated his to stay close to the skull in all weathers — a remarkable juncture of opposites.

Here, then, for Sally B and all, is the only example I know of, presenting that private wind in a motion picture — here surrounding the person of Richard Burton, ruffling his hair and scarf while all else in the room is still — in an unforgettable clip from Christian Marquand‘s 1968 film Candy, itself a loose (not to say libertine) update of Candide:

Sermo I: Sanctity of the unsavory

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — my most original contribution to theology? — saints of negative virtue ]
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Anthony Bourdain, RIP.

Friend Callum Flack drew my attention to Don’t Eat Before Reading This: A New York chef spills some trade secrets in the New Yorker yessterday. It’s a piece Anthony Bourdain, chef raconteur extraordinaire, wrote in the waning months of th twentieth century, and in Callum’s note it is “The article that kicked off Anthony Bourdain’s writing career. Everything is there already: curiosity, no-bullshit, brotherhood, secrets. Hell of a rollick.”

I’ve occasionally dipped into one of Bourdain’s exotic foods shows on TV, but was frankly surprised and impressed by the outbreak of love and high respect that attended his recent passing. Naturally, I read the piece, and this sentence jumped out at me:

In fact, it was the unsavory side of professional cooking that attracted me to it in the first place.

Those words crystallized for me something i’ve been feeling my way into for years — the sense that there is a second sanctity, just as laudable as the well-recognized first. Bourdain, I saw very clearly in that moment, is a saint of the second category — no insult or diminishment in any way intended — and that remark of his offers exactly the right term to begin my consideration of the hitherto intuited, but to my knowledge seldom theologically recognized category of the sacred to which Bourdain belonged.

Anthony Bourdain was a saint of thee unsavory.

**

Bourdain’s piece opens with a paean to unsavories to be savored and tasty cruelties of various forms:

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.

Shocking. Distinctly unsaintly.

Sanctity of the first category is liable to sound more like this account of the diet of FF Baptiste Vianney, the Curé d’Ars:

There was no housekeeper at the presbytery. Until 1827 the staple of his food was potatoes, an occasional boiled egg and a kind of tough, indigestible, flat cake made of flour, salt, and water which the people called .[2] Subsequent to the foundation of the orphan girls’ school, to which he gave the beautiful name of ” Providence,” he used to take his meals there. At one time he tried to live on grass, but he had to confess that such a diet proved impossible. He himself reveals his mind, as regards all this, in the words he addressed to a young priest: “The devil,” he said, “is not much afraid of the discipline and hair-shirts what he really fears is the curtailing of food, drink and sleep.”

This too is shocking — but Shakespeare would have recognized and, may we even say, delighted, in both. Indeed, in responding to Callum, I wrote:

Shakespeare knew all about this type of sanctity, theology misses, the blues know it.

**

We frequently view the creator, religiously speaking, as “all good” — in which cae the category of the sacred will tend to be open to those whose lives demonstrate extreme “goodness ” — purity, love, self-sacrifice, call it what you will. But if we view the creator, religiously or in terms of evolutionarily biology and psychology, as an artist, then tension becomes a positive, the brilliant extreme of “evil” as significant as that of “good” — and Hannibal Lecter a paragon of negative virtue. Shakespeare must have relished writing Lady Macbeth.

Shakespeare, the great dramatist of our humanity, speaks to the unsavory as well as the savory virtues, while the blues, among the most piercing of our expressions of grief, fury, jealousy, and yes, sin, is also a fount of joy and exultation. In a later sermon in this series, I shall explore Eric Clapton‘s two songs, Have You Ever Loved a Woman, and Wonderful Tonight — one of which is an exploration of “a shame and a sin” — the other of the wonder of an evening in love..

**

Let me note briefly here that Santa Muerte is an example of a folk outcropping from traditional Catholic piety in a morbid direction not sanctioned by the Church — an unsavory saint, and what is perhaps worse, visually an inversion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her typical offerings include whiskey and cigars.

**

Getting back to our culinary theme, I ran across a fascinating account of JS Bach‘s eating habits recently, headed:

J.S. Bach’s wife recorded an epic meal that he enjoyed after dedicating the new organ in Halle on May 3, 1716. The meal had almost as many courses as he had children

That was quite a few. The courses:

Beef bourguignon, followed by sardines and pike, then smoked ham, a side plate of peas and a side plate of potatoes, spinach (that apparentttly counts as one course), belgian endive, and let’s get hearty, roast mutton, veal, squash, a head of lettuce, ooh, sweet, glazed donuts (plural), white radishes, sweet again and a touch sour, candied lemon peel, fresh butter, and cherry preserves

— surely those last two go with a large tranche of bread, no? — Mrs Bach didn’t tell us. In any case, stout JS Bach was obviously quite a trencherman.

And yet his name crops up in an Episcopalian church calendar as that of a saint, with his feast day on July 28:

Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750, George Frederick Handel, 1759, and Henry Purcell, 1695, Composers

followed a short while later on August 5th by:

Albrecht Dürer, 1528, Matthias Grünewald, 1529, and Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1553, Artists

— while the Orthodox Church in DC celebrates the life of “St. Andrei Rublev, iconographer” on July 4/17.. while Kenneth Randolph Taylor, an Episcopalian in Georgia, is compiling his own “ecumenical calendar of saints”, and includes “the poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkinsas a saint, and surely John Donne and perhaps even Jonathan Swift will soon follow..

My point being that artists seem to occupy a space that has plenty of room for culinary delight, wives and childen, asceticism, monasticism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, Anglicanism, you name it. My own birthday, November 27, occurs in older Catholic calendars as the feast of Sts Baarlam and Ioasaph, whose story is recounted by St. John Damascene and can be traced back to a tale of the Buddha (Ioasaph = Iodasaph = Bodasaph = Bodhisattva if I recall the various names as they can be traced back to their various sources) — so I have a truly ecumenical saint’s day for a birthday in Catholic tradition — and the Buddha as a patron saint!

**

Anyway, how long till the church recognizes the uncanny lack of hypocrisy in Hannibal Lecter, ambling down a street in the Bahamas, intent on having “an old friend for dinner”…?

IMO, that’s the over-the-top case that brings my whole suggestion here into the status of an Open Question.

For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 04

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

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

    Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) et sequentes

    Sunday, April 15th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — luther et seq., where the sequentes are james comey and rod rosenstein ]
    .

    Martin Luther, he who nailed his theses to the door, said it first: Here I stand.

    **

    Kudos to Julia Ainsley for spotting the twin occurrences of the Martin Luther quote on the pages and lips of James Comey and Rod Rosenstein respectively:

    Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein tells confidants he is prepared to be fired:

    Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has struck a stoic and righteous tone in private conversations he has had this week about the fate of his job as President Donald Trump has launched public criticism against him and considered firing him, according to three sources who have spoken to Rosenstein.

    In those conversations, he has repeated the phrase, “Here I stand,” a reference to Martin Luther’s famous quote, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Coincidentally, former FBI Director James Comey, whom Rosenstein fired, repeated the same phrase to President George W. Bush in a conversation that has been widely reported and that Comey describes in his forthcoming book.

    To which I can only reply “A mighty fortress is our God”.

    **

    If Martin Luther is able to take so firm a stand for his beliefs, it is only because his God is so mighty a fortress protecting him, as he vociferously declared in this hymn — for which he composed both the words and the melody:

    **

    That’s a bit blunt to be sure, but the pious Lutheran JS Bach has much of the true spirit of the thing in this chorale rendering of Luther’s hymn:

    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)!


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