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Gladwell on Waco and worldviews

Monday, April 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in hope that improved mutual understanding across a range of conflict situations will provide some viable alternatives to needlessly violent solutions ]
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Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article published in the New Yorker at the end of last month titled How not to negotiate with believers.

It’s on a topic I’ve been interested in for years, and it quotes several scholars whose work on the topic I know, whose books I read, in whose digital company I sometimes find myself as a researcher of new religious movements, apocalypticism and so on — and I’m happy to say that IMO Gladwell frames and summarizes the key issues very nicely.

You can read the whole piece on the New Yorker site, and I encourage you to do so. What I aim to do here is to extract the essence, and to suggest that similar considerations apply in greater or lesser measure to interactions with jihadists, members of the 969 movement in Myanmar, and others in one orm or another of religious conflict.

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Here’s the key graf:

Not long after the Waco siege began, James Tabor, the Biblical scholar, heard David Koresh on CNN talking about the Seven Seals. Tabor is an expert on Biblical apocalypticism and recognized the Branch Davidians for what they were—a community immersed in the world of the Old Testament prophets. He contacted a fellow religious scholar, Phillip Arnold, and together they went to the F.B.I. “It became clear to me that neither the officials in charge nor the media who were sensationally reporting the sexual escapades of David Koresh had a clue about the biblical world which this group inhabited,” Tabor writes, in an essay about his role in the Mount Carmel conflict. “I realized that in order to deal with David Koresh, and to have any chance for a peaceful resolution of the Waco situation, one would have to understand and make use of these biblical texts.”

Know your enemy, yes?

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There’s a particular exchange that Gladwell notes, between Koresh and law enforcement, which addresses the issue in terms of competing realities:

Even at the beginning of the siege, in the first call that Koresh made after the A.T.F. attack, the fundamental misunderstanding between those inside and those outside Mount Carmel was plain. Koresh telephoned Larry Lynch, in the local sheriff’s office, and — while the battle outside raged — insisted on talking about the Seven Seals:

KORESH: In the prophecies -—
LYNCH: All right.
KORESH: it says -—
LYNCH: Let me, can I interrupt you for a minute?
KORESH: Sure.
LYNCH: All right, we can talk theology. But right now -—

What Lynch means is that right now there are dead and wounded bodies scattered across the Mount Carmel property and a gunfight is going on between federal agents and Koresh’s followers. For those who don’t take the Bible seriously, talking about Scripture when there is a battle going on seems like an evasion. For those who do, however, it makes perfect sense:

KORESH: No, this is life. This is life and death!
LYNCH: Okay.
KORESH: Theology -—
LYNCH: That’s what I’m talking about.
KORESH: is life and death.

Let me repeat that Gladwell comment:

For those who don’t take the Bible seriously, talking about Scripture when there is a battle going on seems like an evasion. For those who do, however, it makes perfect sense.

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To Koresh and those he spoke for, his emphasis, his sense of where the “real” reality lay made perfect sense — while the FBI dismissed his words as “Bible babble” since they held a substantially diferent view of reality.

If religion continues to be a major element in terrorism and perhaps other forms of conflict in what remains of this century, we would do well to learn the importance of listening to and addressing the worldview of our interlocutors.

And that goes for the Koreshes and other dissenters of the world, as well as to those who hold “the usual suspects assumptions”.

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Further reading:

  • James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco?
  • Jayne Seminaire Docherty, Learning lessons from Waco

  • For an Al-Qaida equivalent, see my post Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style.

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    A racist form of Odinism and the Kansas shootings

    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- still convinced we don't known nearly enough about religion -- with a quick look at the Kansas shooting ]
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    The victims:

    The victims of the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom shootings weren’t even Jewish, they were Christians — as the NYT reported:

    A few hours later, a handcuffed Mr. Miller was shouting allegiance to Hitler, while three white people, two Methodists and a Catholic, lay dead.

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    The autobiography:

    Religion is in fact key to an understanding of the events in Overland Park.

    Frazier Glenn Miller, one time leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and virulent online Antisemite arrested for the Overland Park shootings shooter appears to have misjudged the religion of those he killed — but if we were to assume he was himself a Christian, we would as surely misjudge his religion. In his autobiography, available online, Miller offers us his own beliefs — a creed not of love but of warrior racism:

    Every book in the bible, except one, was written by Jews, which explains, among other things, why the bible says the Jews are God’s chosen people. If I’d written the thing, my people would be the chosen ones. How odd of God to choose the rats.

    God must be a racist, because He selected a chosen race. And, He practiced racial discrimination when he smited all those gentile men, women, children, and babies on behalf of the Jews. Sampson and God alone killed 10,000 gentiles with the jawbone of a jackass. And I own some valuable ocean front property in Arizona.

    Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What a brilliant recipe to enslave the Shabbos Goyim.

    Christianity is the second biggest trick the Jews ever played on us. The biggest was legalized abortion!

    But, on the other hand, White Christians today represent the best of our Race and the best hope for our racial survival because, generally, they are sober, moral, physically healthy, and idealistic. The Jews too recognize this potential threat and attack Christianity non-stop with the vigor and determination of trained attack dogs.

    I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity.

    Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott, Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part.

    Odin! Odin! Odin! Was the battle cry of our ancestors; their light eyes ablaze with the glare of the predator, as they swept over and conquered the decadent multi-racial Roman Empire.

    And Valhalla does not accept Negroes. There’s a sign over the pearly gates there which reads, “Whites only.”

    Oh, Glory day!

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    Shakespeare:

    Humans, we are humans — Jews, Christians, Muslims, lovers, haters. How often and in how many contexts must we repeat Shylock‘s words?

    If you prick us, do we not bleed?
    if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
    us, do we not die?

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    A Resource:

    For a fuller insight into Odinism as a contemporary neo-Pagan faith, and the relation of some though not all forms of that faith to the radical right, I’d recommend the relevant section in:

  • Jeffrey Kaplan, Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah
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    Religion — or simple decency?

    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- baruch hashem, exomologoumai soi, alhamdulillah ]
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    In the upper panel, Rev. David Buck, an Episcopal priest, sits on the bench outside his church in Davidson, NC, that’s part of sculptor Timothy Schmalz‘s bronze piece, Homeless Jesus that he’s bought and installed there:

    The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket the only indication that it is Jesus is the visible wounds on the feet.

    In the lower panel, we see Fatima Qassem, age 6, another victim of the warfare in Aleppo, who was wounded by machine-gun fire in both knees. As the AP report puts it:

    Two months into the battle for Syria’s largest city, civilians are still bearing the brunt of the daily assaults of helicopter gunships, roaring jets and troops fighting in the streets.

    Fatima’s doctor, Dr. Osman al-Haj Osman, works twenty-hour days, and is reported as saying:

    My life is just the wounded and the dead.

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    I composed this post yesterday from two images I ran across, each of them showing a different figure in roughly the same pose. The similarities between them once again raised the question in my mind whether religion is no more than the shell of a nut whose kernel is loving-kindness, or whether it is more — the very tree itself perhaps?

    For myself I tend to think that while loving-kindness may be the essence, religion continues to bring us a wealth of tradition and imagery from which to draw inspiration:

    But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

    As one who is a wayfarer at heart, and who has been received with hospitality in many traditions, those words from Isaiah are waybread indeed.

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    Sources:

  • Statue Of A Homeless Jesus Startles A Wealthy Community
  • Wounded flood hospitals in Syria’s largest city
  • Both articles are worth reading in full.

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    In my own view, the “proof text” Rev. Buck quoted in the article, Matthew 25.40, is of critical importance not because of the ontological status of the person who spoke it, nor because it was included in a canonical collection of sayings by and about him that was gathered and officially sanctioned in the centuries following his death, nor indeed with regard only to an “actual homeless person” in a single neighborhood in North Carolina — but because it rings high and true, semper et ubique:

    Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

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    The Bosching of John Hagee and the reddening of the moon

    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in mental preparation for tonight's lunar eclipse, together with some quick eschatology, plenty of blood, and an Incan jaguar ]
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    The upper panel, above, shows a detail of Hieronymus Bosch‘s Ghent representation of Christ carrying the Cross to his crucifixion, the focus here being on three of Bosch’s contemporaries depicted as citizens of Christ’s Jerusalem, mocking Christ as he moves through the crowd…

    … while the lower panel has substituted for one of them the face of John Hagee, televangelist, senior pastor of the Cornerstone megahurch in San Antonio, TX, and (eventually disowned) endorser of Sen. John McCain‘s 2008 presidential bid.

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    Hagee is in the news at the moment as a major promoter of the “Four Blood Moons” end times theory, according to which tonight will witness the first of four total lunar eclipses announcing — like four dots the style-books suggest when an ellipsis follows a period — the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord referred to in Joel 2.31:

    Hre is Hagee, interviewed on this subject:

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    There are numerous biblical references to Joel 2.31:

    The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

    I shall not list all of them, but have selected those which most closely address the topic at hand.

    Luke 21:25 picks up the theme:

    And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

    And in Acts 2:20, the same author specifies these signs:

    The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:

    Unsurprisingly, the Revelation of John, 6:12 locates the blood moon in the sequence of Seven Seals that David Koresh was so concerned with…

    And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

    And lest there be any doubt, Joel himself in the same chapter at 2:11 makes it clear that the Great and Terrible Day will in fact be both Great and Terrible…

    And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?

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    It is something of a relief, then, to turn to NASA, where “signs in the skies” are considered more as opportunities for star-gazing than as precursors of Doom.

    These things happen, NASA might say — tongue in cheek, perhaps — once in a blue moon

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    NASA’s eclipse website draws its data from Goddard astrophysicist Fred Espenak, whose “Mr Eclipse” website offers the following diagram of tonight’s eclipse and blood moon…

    Espenak takes a long, long view of the “four blood moons” phenomenon:

    April’s eclipse is the first to two total lunar eclipses in 2014. The second eclipse is on October 08 and it too is visible from the USA. In this case, the western USA sees the entire eclipse while the eastern USA misses the end of the eclipse because the Moon sets while the eclipse is still in progress.

    These two eclipses of [2014] are the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses (each separated by six months) – a series known as a tetrad. The third and fourth eclipses of the tetrad occur on April 04, 2015 and Sept. 28, 2015 .

    During the 5000-year period from 2000 BCE through 3000 CE, there are 3479 total lunar eclipses. Approximately 16.3% (568) of all total eclipses belong to one of the 142 tetrads occurring over this period. The mechanism causing tetrads involves the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit in conjunction with the timing of eclipse seasons. During the present millennium, the first eclipse of every tetrad occurs during the period February to July. In later millennia, the first eclipse date gradually falls later in the year because of precession.

    Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first pointed out that the frequency of tetrads is variable over time. He noticed that tetrads were relatively plentiful during one 300-year interval, while none occurred during the next 300 years. For example, there are no tetrads from 1582 to 1908, but 17 tetrads occur during the following 2 and 1/2 centuries from 1909 to 2156. The ~565-year period of the tetrad “seasons” is tied to the slowly decreasing eccentricity of Earth’s orbit. Consequently, the tetrad period is gradually decreasing (Meeus, 2004). In the distant future when Earth’s eccentricity is 0 (about 470,000 years from now), tetrads will no longer be possible.

    Far from seeing them as signs of Doom, Espenak views them as inherently lovely:

    Although total eclipses of the Moon are of limited scientific value, they are remarkably beautiful events

    Nota bene: If Hagee is prophecy’s Espernak, Espenak is science’s Hagee.

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    Tibetans, like those from many other cultures, take eclipses seriously, though they seem to see them more as opportunities than as prophecies of doom. A dear friend pointed me to this invitation to practice from the Tibetan meditation master, Chojje Rinpoche:

    On a lunar eclipse, please accomplish practice because whatever you do at this time, good or bad, multiplies many, many times over. It is therefore a great opportunity for you to accumulate merit which is really needed for the betterment of our lives and for our enlightenment. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes, we should not waste it but rather focus on practice, charity and all good works.

    According to National Geographic, on the other hand, the blood red moon seen during a total lunar eclipse was attributed by the Inca to a jaguar attacking and eating the moon:

    The big cat’s assault explained the rusty or blood-red color that the moon often turned during a total lunar eclipse.

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    Okay, enough. There’s positive contempt dripping on Pastor Hagee from whoever placed him in that photoshopped version of Bosch’s painting:

    Gary DeMar is President of American Vision, where this headline and a more recent attack on Hagee — Why John Hagee is certainly wrong about “blood moons” — can be found. DeMar, following Rousas John Rushdoony, hopes for the eventual imposition of “Biblical Law” in America, and like Rushdoony holds a post-millennialist view of the end times. Wikipedia gives this brief explanation:

    Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.

    You can see, then, why post-millennialists hold the pre-millennialist enthusiasms and “soon coming” expectations of the likes of Harold Camping and John Hagee in low esteem…

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    Let’s return to the Bosch painting itself. Arguably missing both from the detail (upper panel, above) and its use by American Vision (upper panel, below) is the face of Christ — which in fact appears twice in Bosch’s original painting…

    … once just above and to the left of the three who mock Christ, and once more imprinted on the veil with which Veronica — according to a legend enshrined in the sixth of the Stations of the Cross — wiped Christ’s face, lower left. In the mind and heart of Bosch, too — amid all the brute human throng he sees so clearly — that one face leaves its unforgettable imprint…

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    I leave you with Albrecht Durer‘s images of the Veronica:

    and of the Madonna and the Moon

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    The religions: which is it to be – sibling rivalry or family feeling?

    Monday, April 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- two images from recent Religion Dispatches posts neatly pose the question ]
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    Sources:

  • Jeremy Stolow, Will Quebec Ban Religious Symbols in Public?
  • M Sophia Newman, Are Attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh Religiously Motivated?
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    Québec officially doesn’t seem to like what it terms “conspicuous religious symbols” — including the pictured “large” crucifix, hijab, and dastar (upper panel above, top row, left to right) and niqab and kippa (bottom row, left to right).

    I suppose that’s one way to achieve uniformity — maybe peacocks should be asked to tone down their feathers until they’re more in line with pigeons, too — but it’s instructive to note that most of the folk in the Bangladeshi march for religious harmony (lower panel, above) would be banned from wearing their identifying symbols if they tried to hold a similar parade in Montréal, Québec.

    Lac Zut, alors!

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    In the tiny middle panel of my DoubleQuotes graphic, where you’ll usually find a pair of spectacles or binoculars, the Swayambunath Buddha, just outside Kathmandu, Nepal, looks on, bemused — having seen so much, so very much, of human nature.

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