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Saturday, June 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the Brits, Google & Brexit, plus some arcane religious info for netizens ]
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A Brit response to Brexit results: Google!!

No, really!

**

And while we’re at it — you’ve probably seen this before —

Wondering which religion to choose? Google!!

**

Somewhere, a couple of machine learning algorithms are laughing at us.

Towards the urgent development of the artificial kidney

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — setting aside my personal interest, there’s a humanitarian / religious angle here ]
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The atrocities described in the lower panel add urgency to the medical development described in the upper panel:

kidney transplants

Sources:

  • Kurzweil AI, Wearable artificial kidney prototype successfully tested
  • Daily Mail, China is forcing up to 90,000 prisoners to have organs removed
  • **

    I took note of the Kurzweil announcement in the upper panel above, because I’m due for some form of kidney dialysis myself — and the new report on Chinese harvesting of religious prisoners’ marketable organs, Bloody Harvest / The Slaughter, because I’m interested in Falun Gong and other religious movements in China that are under intense pressure from the Chinese authorities.

    Here are a couple of excerpts from the 680-page report:

    The narrative of pursuit, arrest, torture, and, in several cases, execution, illustrates that Falun Gong was putting up an increasingly effective resistance – even as the state’s structure of persecution was spinning out of control, and shedding any remaining inhibitions surrounding the mass exploitation of Falun Gong for their organs. The “self-immolation” of Falun Gong practitioners on Tiananmen Square is also examined in detail, with the conclusion that it was not only a set-up but a masterstroke of state propaganda.

    What emerges is a picture of an organ harvesting regime that began giving discreet physical examinations of select Falun Gong practitioners in late 2000/early 2001, expanding into mass examinations (including Tibetan prisoners of conscience and the House Christian group “Eastern Lightning”) by 2003, and an organ harvesting regime wasn’t even being kept fully secret within the Laogai System by 2005

    It’s worth noting that the Uyghur Muslims are caught up in the same situations, too.

    **

    Putting the two halves of this puzzle together — one of the aspects of the harvesting of organs from Chinese religious dissidents is that it attracts what the publishers of the report term organ tourism:

    Governments should enact measures to criminalize the purchase of trafficked organs at home or abroad. They could also require reporting of ‘organ tourism’, ban entry of those involved in trafficking organs, and prohibit their pharmaceutical companies from doing transplant field tests and clinical trials in China.

    The idea of extending one’s life by receiving the transplanted organ of a prisoner separated out for religious reasons and then killed to supply the tourist organ market is both deeply human, in the sense of serving the individual’s survival, and deeply abhorrent and inhuman, as (effectively) a paid enticement to mass murder.

    **

    At one point, the report says:

    Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, began in May 1992 with the teachings of Li Hongzhi. The two Davids [co-authors of the report] have described Falun Gong as a set of exercises with a spiritual and ethical foundation. Ethan Gutmann in The Slaughter states: “Falun Gong, simply put, is a Buddhist revival movement.”

    Saying Falun Gong is “simply put .. a Buddhist revival movement” is a bit simplistic itself, though. Here’s an excerpt of a Time magazine article from 1999 — it appeared in the world edition, but not I think in the US — in which Li Hongzhi explains a major aspect of his concern about where the human race is heading:

    The aliens come from other planets. The names that I use for these planets are different . Some are from dimensions that human beings have not yet discovered. The key is how they have corrupted mankind. Everyone knows that from the beginning until now, there has never been a development of culture like today. Although it has been several thousand years, it has never been like now.

    The aliens have introduced modern machinery like computers and airplanes. They started by teaching mankind about modern science, so people believe more and more science, and spiritually, they are controlled. Everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens. In terms of culture and spirit, they already control man. Mankind cannot live without science.

    The ultimate purpose is to replace humans. If cloning human beings succeeds, the aliens can officially replace humans. Why does a corpse lie dead, even though it is the same as a living body? The difference is the soul, which is the life of the body. If people reproduce a human person, the gods in heaven will not give its body a human soul. The aliens will take that opportunity to replace the human soul and by doing so they will enter earth and become earthlings.

    When such people grow up, they will help replace humans with aliens. They will produce more and more clones. There will no longer be humans reproduced by humans. They will act like humans, but they will introduce legislation to stop human reproduction.

    I’m pretty sure the Falun Gong people worry the Chinese central authorities because they’re a substantial quasi-millennial sect that’s only too reminiscent of the Taiping sect of the mid-nineteenth century, whose rebellion the government of the day eventually put down at a total cost of somewhere between 20 and 30 million lives. throw in ~150 years’ worth of advances in weaponry, communications media and population size, and the head honchos wouldn’t like to see how wildly destructive a 2000 or 2020 repeat might get!

    Trump 1, Theology 0

    Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — politics wearing religion as a glove and vice versa, mostly re Trump but MB too ]
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    This is a sort of anti-post for me, because it reports on a situation where theology is considered unimportant by pastor and Governor Mike Huckabee.

    First, a DoubleTweet from Michelle Boorstein of WaPo:

    Trump is speaking today at Trump Towers, it appears, and Boorstein has been tweeting excerpts of what he’s been telling 900 top evangelical and social conservative leaders behind closed doors — she has, it would appear, an ear to a leaky keyhole.

    I’m not interested in the DoubleTweet-ishness here, Boorstein is simply dividing a comment that exceeds twitter’s 140 character rule into two parts to post it. But her message does indicate that the theological equivalent of “dress casual” is the tone of the meeting.

    **

    Which is surely what caused Michael Farris, Founder and now Chancellor of Patrick Henry College, to post a FaceBook comment today picked up as an op ed in Christian Post under the stunning title, Trump’s Meeting With Evangelical Leaders Marks the End of the Christian Right.

    Excerpts [I’ve collapsed the one-sentence-per-paragraph format here for ease of reading]:

    I attended the very first meeting of the Moral Majority held in Indianapolis in February of 1980. I was the Washington state director of the MM and have been a leader of the “Christian right” ever since.

    [ .. ]

    The premise of the meeting in 1980 was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support. Today, a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng. They are saying we are Republicans no matter what the candidate believes and no matter how vile and unrepentant his character. They are not a phalanx of God’s prophets confronting a wicked leader, this is a parade of elephants.

    In 1980 I believed that Christians could dramatically influence politics. Today, we see politics fully influencing a thousand Christian leaders.

    This is a day of mourning.

    **

    Farris was politely dis-invited from the meeting on account of his known anti-Trump sentiments, but for my purposes, what’s interesting here is what the incident shows us about the vexed business of disentangling religion and politics. In dealing with religiously-related terrorism, the question often arises as to whether a given text or act is political, wearing religion as “cover” — or essentially religious, albeit with political implications.

    In this case, it’s instructive (for me at least) to see that for Huckabee, politics is dominant, and wears religion as a glove or mask, whereas for Farris, it is religion that is dominant, albeit in the context of a presidential campaign which is by definition political.

    Whether as Farris asserts, today’s meeting at Trump Towers “marks the end of the Christian Right” presumably depends on which of those two words one chooses to emphasize.

    **

    FWIW, here’s the same “which is the hand, which is the glove” issue in Egypt:

    Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces a dilemma: Religion or politics?

    Sunday surprise: three entangled faiths

    Monday, June 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — two exhibits linking the Abrahamic faiths ]
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    For disciplinary as well as doctrinal purposes, the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — are generally thought of separately — a separation which the two exhibitions this post revolves around are intended to bring into question.

    **

    One: Of gods and men: how Egypt was a crucible for multiple faiths

    For instance, there’s a “stele of Abraham” in the British Museum show from last autumn that is worth pondering:

    stele of Abraham

    The accompanying text tells us:

    On public display for the first time will be a gravestone, or stele, for a man called Abraham. “It commemorates someone with a Jewish name and yet it bears Christian symbols inside a classical frame next to the ankh symbol, the ancient Egyptian sign of life,” said O’Connell. “What is more, the engraving on it says he was ‘the perfected monk’ and is written in Coptic Egyptian.”

    More about the show:

    Curators at the London museum will use a series of items, many never put on public display before, to demonstrate the level of “entanglement” of religious symbols and rituals; with Egyptian emblems regularly appearing in classical Greek designs, depicting Jewish stories that were decorated with Christian crosses and Roman wreaths.

    “Over the last 10 or 15 years in scholarship, there has been growing interest across the disciplines in looking at the way religions interacted, rather than just in isolation,” said Elisabeth O’Connell, a keeper in the museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and the Sudan and a co-curator of the exhibition. “It is becoming clear that a lot of religious history has been founded on our modern distinctions simply being projected back.”

    Note in the next paragraph the use of the terms ” troublesome” and subversive”:

    Two hundred of these troublesome objects, many deliberately ignored by scholars in the past, have been gathered together to challenge the conventions of religious history. From architectural fragments, jewellery, paintings, gravestones and toys, to the paraphernalia of religious worship, they are all subversive evidence that faiths were once amalgamated in a way that was accepted by the ordinary people of Egypt, regardless of their birth-race or family’s religion.

    Those are the Guardian writer’s words — Vanessa Thorpe‘s — not the words of the curators, but it seems the exhibit is intended to emphasize the “melting pot” side of Egyptian religion across the millennium after the fall of the Pharaohs rather than the separations:

    “If you only take the work we have from Dioscorus of Aphrodito, it blows apart these distinctions,” said O’Connell. “He was a lawyer and poet, who lived in Egypt and wrote in Greek, although he was a Christian Copt.

    “He is a great example of what was going on widely, because he used biblical sources and also wrote Homeric verse, one of them dedicated to a man with a Christian name, Matthew.”

    **

    Much the same impulse appears to have been behind a British Library exhibit in 2007:

    Two: Sacred texts that reveal a common heritage

    For the first time, the oldest and most precious surviving texts of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths have gone on display side by side at the British Library. They include a tattered scrap of a Dead Sea Scroll and a Qur’an commissioned for a 14th-century Mongol ruler of modern Iran who was born a shaman, baptised a Christian, and converted first to Buddhism, then Sunni and finally Shia Islam.

    Here’s a two-page spread of that “Mosul Qur’an“:

    quran
    reduced image via the British Library

    The Guardian article continues:

    The exhibition also has some exotic private loans, including an embroidered 19th-century curtain which once covered the door of the Ka’bah, the shrine which is at the core of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, a hand embroidered Jewish bridal canopy – and a gold shalwar kameez worn by Jemima Goldsmith in 1995, when she married the former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan.

    Phew, pop-cultural enthusiasts will at least have had the shalwar kameez to give them comfort!

    More:

    Graham Shaw, the lead curator, said: “We were determined not to create faith zones, but to show these wonderful manuscripts side by side, and demonstrate how much we share – not least that these are three faiths founded on sacred texts, books of revelation.” Many exhibits are among the oldest of their kind, including a Qur’an made in Arabia within a century of Muhammad’s lifetime.

    The exhibition also shows how calligraphers and manuscript illuminators shared influences and styles. The microscopically detailed decorated capital letters of the Lindisfarne Gospels are echoed in Islamic and Jewish manuscripts, while Christian and Jewish texts borrowed Islamic-inspired decoration, so that a 14th century Qur’an and a translation of the gospels into Arabic are indistinguishable at a glance, and two 13th-century French texts, one Christian, one Jewish, use virtually identical images of King David.

    And this part tickled my fancy, and will surely find a place in my book on Coronation and Monarchy if it ever finds a publisher:

    A later psalter owned by Henry VIII outrageously uses his portrait as the great Jewish king – accompanied by Henry’s court jester, William Somer, beside a text which translates as “the fool says in his heart ‘there is no God'”.

    The wise fool Will Somer or Sommers wasn’t quite a member of Henry VIII’s Royal Family, but stands nearby, in the arch far right, in this detail from a family portrait of 1545 or thereabouts:

    detail Will Sommers Family_of_Henry_VIII_c_1545

    Let the man keep his own silence or speak for himself

    Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — regarding the conflicting reports on Imran Yousuf’s religious affiliation ]
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    Perhaps:

    Maybe:

    **

    If the Orlando Marine hero Imran Yousuf is a practicing Muslim, that would tend to balance out the Muslim claim of the shooter, Omar Mateen. Yousuf might be Muslim, he might be Hindu, he might be — who knows? He’s certainly a Marine, which (Semper Fi) is a faith or fidelity of its own. In the meantime, let’s let the man keep his own silence, or speak for himself.


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