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At the intersection of Religion and Politics

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Metaxas (Christian) and Hindus (Bollywood included) ]
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Eric Metaxas for Trump:

Hindus for Trump:

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Eric Metaxas is the author of the widely praised biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameronlaïcité meets the banlieue, and ISIS takes note ]
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french-laicite
France: blind to religions. Graphic: Nouvel Obs

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My latest piece is up at LapidoMedia, addressing the impact of the French doctrine of blinding secularism on French Muslims — and ISIS targeting of France:

ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité

FRANCE and ISIS have a special enmity, and it is compounded by the French form of secularism, known as laïcité.

France’s colonial history and policy of state-reinforced religion blindness adds special intensity to the confrontation.

It is important to understand how particularly powerful the animosity is.

France’s contribution to the coalition attacks on ISIS in Iraq and Syria is second only to that of the United States.

While France had a thousand troops in theatre in March 2016, the UK by comparison had only 275, with Germany at 150, and Belgium at 35.

Meanwhile, close to two thousand fighters of French origin are reported to have joined ISIS forces – more than any other western European country.

Jihadist attacks in France have included the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, the November attack at the Bataclan concert hall later that year, this year’s Bastille Day attack in Nice, and the gruesome killing of Fr Jacques Hamel in Normandy, also in July.

An ISIS video released in mid-August encouraged further Nice-like attacks on France.

You can read the whole piece on the Lapido site: ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité.

No Man’s Sky

Friday, August 19th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick blog letter to Chris Bateman, and more broadly to the global God NoGod argument ]
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Warning:

This post may or many not be of interest to individual ZP readers, so here’s what’s up. The philosopher-game-designer-blogger Chris Bateman gets into blog-with-blog discussions, the rubric with his articles on his own iHobo and Only a Game blogs being “all replies at other blogs will be promoted here to keep the conversation going” – and this ZP post of mine is in response to his No Man’s Sky Roundup post today, and the pieces about the game of that name he led me to.

It is also an attempt to put the basic insight of that branch of theology called “apophatic” (“other than speech”) theology into, well, written speech. And in a way, it is also my challenge to the entire “God vs NotGod” debate that tiresome long books are written about, since the God described by Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa strikes me as the “definition of God” that any worthy attempt to attack the “God” concept on philosophical grounds should be tackling – not such local and verbal matters as whether God prefers seven days to universe completion or a little longer, burkas or bikinis, gays married or chaste, or being embodied or otherwise, three, one or both.

It’s also written in a language you might term poetico-philosophical or vice versa, you have been warned.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, have at it!

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No Man’s Sky

Words drag their whatevers with them into some form of presence, which with “table” is not an issue, the table idea is both transparent and vague as clouds, it sits as easy in mind as I sit in a chair – wait, at my desk, a form of table, the word “table” brought table to mind, table brought chair..

Or was it, “table” brought “chair” and “chair” brought chair, I myself embodied being also enchaired, one might think “enthroned” as I write this.

At my desk I read these words describing the books in BorgesLibrary of Babel, “every variation of the 22 letters of the alphabet (as well as the additional three symbols of the comma, period, and space” – I read them as illuminating for me the planets, fauna, flora, perils and perceptions players find in the trans-galactic game, No Man’s Sky.

And words drag their whatevers with them.

It is the mystery. It is the moon at which the zen finger points, it is the, a, God, whole system, the One and All I wish to speak of – the ineffable – here.

So it is that the words “the comma, period, and space” drag with them first a tailed dot, a tadpole, a jot, yod in the Hebrew, a tongue of flame, tongue here being fire, language and insight, that descended on certain disciples of someone, arguably, then the dot without tail, a speck, point, blackness minimal – and then, like the zoom from space station window to deep space outside, space.

In the game, No Man’s Sky. Or at your window, seen perhaps from your desk, imagined at mine. Or dragged, somehow, for I and later, you, with or from these words.

So: zero to galaxy via a simple “and” less than a second long, short in the life of humans, long enough, it would seem, for some previously unknown game galaxy. Or “galaxy” – game or otherwise.

The marks, the comma and period, I am habituated to. They are articulation points among the bare bones of the letters, bodying them out into words, langue, langue, language – again, fire and insight, but also scratches, pecked out with pen, keyboard or chisel – but space.

And I was reading about this game, No Man’s Sky, this game gaming space, deep space, as the books within Borges’ book, within Borges and now shared out among us, game all possible verbal coherences with all possible incoherences, all partials, wholes, and almost nothings, an “a” that may be word or mark, an ‘o” that may close the book, galaxy, universe, be zero, lack sound or howl fury.. and those illimitable periods, commas, spaces.

Thus: “comma” drags its micro-tadpole with it, I squint, “period” drags it’s point – where is my jeweler’s loup? – and “space” __ I am flung far enough that I stop to take stock, look back from vague, vast imagined space at imagined period and comma, see how far how fast I have come, gasp.

Now the great mystery, the unknowable more than human mind as human mind is more than speck, galactic cluster more than planetary spack with us specks on it, the whatever the “moon” in “finger pointing at the moon” was, is, pointing at, the stuff and substance of what the word “God” drags in, neither stuff nor substance but, per the good catholic Cardinal, Cusanus, well —

When we attempted to see Him beyond being and not-being, we were unable to understand how He could be visible. For He is beyond everything plural, beyond every limit and all unlimitedness; He is completely everywhere and not at all anywhere; He is of every form and of no form, alike; He is completely ineffable; in all things He is all things, in nothing He is nothing, and in Him all things and nothing are Himself; He is wholly and indivisibly present in any given thing (no matter how small) and, at the same time, is present in no thing at all. –

— That!

The “That” in “Thou art That” with “art” the link connecting them, us, if you’ll allow me to digress into a pun, puny beside that immense No Thing at All.

You drop the word “space” into an unremarkable remark about “the comma, period, and space” and space, the deep, the trans-galactic space is dragged into mind – mine, anyway, and perhaps now yours – and we ignore it, “space” we know here meaning what “space between letters” would drag with it – we ignore it as though shutting a window, the space station window, the window of mind.

And God, But God.

We foreclose the window on God with undue haste, because it is rubbish, garbage, nothing. Or because it is that someone with disciples end of conversation, agree or be damned. Because we’ve got it, we know, we affirm, “I believe”.

But peer closer at that creed, the longer one, Athanasius’ Creed, skip a few lines and what they drag with them, you’ll find..

Incomprehensible.

To be specific:

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible .. as also there are not three .. incomprehensible, but .. one incomprehensible.

Or in short:

Incomprehensible, three one.

— which drags a certain amount of sense with it, and the someone, and the entire ineffable.

And that word, struck like repeated blows of a Thor-sized hammer of mind, “incomprehensible .. incomprehensible .. incomprehensible .. incomprehensible .. incomprehensible”.

There is no whatever, it says, no thing or person or process our mind can think or process that this word or these words, “incomprehensible”, drag with them. Such a thing, or process, or person – “someone” included – is not subject to mind, cannot be crammed, cannot be cabined, cribbed, confined, into mind, into your, my, or some – any – high priest philosopher’s mind. Or book.

Of whom or which or whatever it is said —

He is not one who is ashamed to show his strength,
and buffets proud folk about like leaves in a gale.
He upsets those that hold themselves high and mighty
and rescues the least one of us.

–- of which water is exemplary, which “nourishes all things without trying to” and “is content with the low places which people disdain.”

Humility, then. And to erect a hurdle, you might call it “epistemic humility” –

But make no mistake:

Humility is the game. “Humility” is the name of the game.

A trumpet voice above Trump’s

Monday, July 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — for those wishing for discourse above the political fray ]
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Yesterday, Sunday, I was going to post a “Sunday surprise” about a voice that transcends that of Donald Trump — the voice of Alison Balsom, trumpeter extraordinaire. But my thread linking Balsom and Trump was a slender one — Trump and trumpet — and I thought better of it, and deleted my reliminary notes for that post.

Today, though, I read Humera Afridi‘s Dance of Ecstasy: Bridging the Secular, Sacred, and Profane, and found therein:

Amjad Sabri, an eminent Pakistani qawwal -— a Sufi devotional musician in the tradition of world-renowned Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and son of the famous singer Ghulam Fareed Sabri of the Sabri Brothers — had been shot dead in his car in Karachi ten days earlier by the Pakistani Taliban. He’d been praising the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his noble family a little too much for the Taliban’s liking. And so they had their way with him. In a nation inured to violence, Sabri’s death, nevertheless, struck at the communal soul of Pakistan. ..

Thousands of Pakistanis came out on the streets, united in grief, to protest Sabri’s death. Sabri was a child of Pakistan’s own soil. He belonged to a venerable, centuries-old musical dynasty. His spiritual attunement and the muscular faculty of his voice transported people to ecstasy, raising mere mortals above the denseness of an earthly, mired existence, above differences of class and wealth into a celebration of the Divine. Sabri’s music was a glorification. And it belonged to a distinct tradition of South Asian music, a legacy irrefutably inherent in the DNA of Pakistan, twinned to the devotional practice of Islam and its syncretic cultural roots in the region. Invoking a transcendent joy, Sabri’s qawwali created a milieu of harmony—completely antithetical to the Taliban’s backward, beclouded ideology of hate which thrives on sowing seeds of discord.

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It’s that second paragraph I’m interested in, because it says so exactly what I was trying to get at in my deleted post about Alison Balsom: that “mere mortals” can be lifted, lofted “above the denseness of an earthly, mired existence, above differences of class and wealth into a celebration of the Divine”.

Here’s a taste of Amjad Sabri, for those who appreciate the Sufi tradition and the haunting ecstasies of the Qawwals:

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And here’s Balsom, whose trumpet voice likewise lifts us, for those with ears more attuned to the western classical tradition:

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— and best of all, though I’ve posted it here before:

Nesting Buddhas and insubstantiality

Monday, July 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — from the Buddha’s Diamond Sutra via matrioshka dolls and koans to Sun Tzu and Wittgenstein ]
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From Karl Brunnhölzl, The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever, in today’s Lion’s Roar:

Besides being a meditation manual, we could also say that the Heart Sutra is like a big koan. But it is not just one koan, it is like those Russian dolls: there is one big doll on the outside and then there is a smaller one inside that first one, and there are many more smaller ones in each following one.

After reading that, I wasn’t exactly expecting to find illustrations of Buddhas in the form of Matryoshka dolls on Google, but in fact there are quite a few variants on the theme. Here’s one, original source unknown:

matryoshka_buddha

Buddhism actually has a doctrine of the Trikaya or three bodies of Buddha, as described in the dictionarily dry words of the Britannica:

Trikaya, (Sanskrit: “three bodies”), in Mah?y?na Buddhism, the concept of the three bodies, or modes of being, of the Buddha: the dharmakaya (body of essence), the unmanifested mode, and the supreme state of absolute knowledge; the sambhogakaya (body of enjoyment), the heavenly mode; and the nirmanakaya (body of transformation), the earthly mode, the Buddha as he appeared on earth or manifested himself in an earthly bodhisattva, an earthly king, a painting, or a natural object, such as a lotus.

— and point you to a deeper reading as set forth by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, whose understanding far surpasses anything I could muster.

I don’t. however, believe these three bodies are “nested” quite the way the Russian dolls are..

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Now let’s get down to business. In the same article, Brunnhölzl writes:

Many people have complained about the Prajnaparamita Sutras because they also trash all the hallmarks of Buddhism itself, such as the four noble truths, the Buddhist path, and nirvana. These sutras not only say that our ordinary thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are invalid and that they do not really exist as they seem to, but that the same goes for all the concepts and frameworks of philosophical schools—non- Buddhist schools, Buddhist schools, and even the Mahayana, the tradition to which the Prajnaparamita Sutras belong.

That’s by normal western standards, is pretty strong philosophical meat. But Brunnhölzl continues, asking:

Is there any other spiritual tradition that says, “Everything that we teach, just forget about it”?

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I sense a slight “my path is edgier than yours” tinge to that question, so I didn’t treat it as rhetorical, I pondered it — and in my googling ran across this rather neat pair of DoubleQuotes, which had been put together by Noah Greenstein in a blog-post titled Wittgenstein and Sun Tzu (on throwing the ladder away):

DQ Sun Tzu Wittgenstein ladders

and which I’ve presented here using one of my own DoubleQuotes formats.

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It should be noted, however, that the Sun Tzu translation quoted here is the 1910 Leonard Giles version, that the text with a little more context reads:

At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots..

and that Giles‘ own comment on “the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him” reads:

literally, “releases the spring” (see V. § 15), that is, takes some decisive step which makes it impossible for the army to return—like # Hsiang Yü, who sunk his ships after crossing a river.

Sun Tzu as quoted here, then, is not in fact a great match for Wittgenstein — but Wittgenstein, who can indeed be said to have “thrown away” his own early philosophy as outlined in the Tractatus before acquiring the new one outlined in his Philosophical Investigations, comes far closer in spirit to the Diamond Sutra as discussed above.

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Did I say the Heartv Sutra was “pretty strong meat”? I did. Perhaps this excerpt from Brunnhölzl’ piece will bring the point home:

There are accounts in several of the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras about people being present in the audience who had already attained certain advanced levels of spiritual development or insight that liberated them from samsaric existence and suffering. These people, who are called “arhats” in Buddhism, were listening to the Buddha speaking about emptiness and then had different reactions. Some thought, “This is crazy, let’s go” and left. Others stayed, but some of them had heart attacks, vomited blood, and died. It seems they didn’t leave in time. These arhats were so shocked by what they were hearing that they died on the spot. That’s why somebody suggested to me that we could call the Heart Sutra the Heart Attack Sutra.

Now that’s serious philosophy.

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Okay, this has been an early morning meander, sufficient to drive away both fatigue and insomnia. On with the insubstantial day..


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