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Recommended Readings, hipbone version

Monday, July 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Andrew Bacevich on the "religion" lesson, with Tim Furnish on the eschatology of the "caliphate" as a chaser ]
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Here’s Andrew Bacevich with a provocative piece titled Lessons from America’s War for the Greater Middle East — of which it is the tenth that most interests me personally:

Tenth, religion.

No single explanation exists for why the War for the Greater Middle East began and why it persists. But religion figures as a central element.

Secularized American elites either cannot grasp or are unwilling to accept this. So they contrive alternative explanations such as “terrorism,” a justification that impedes understanding.

Our leaders can proclaim their high regard for Islam until they are blue in the face. They can insist over and over that we are not at war with Islam. Their claims will fall on deaf ears through much of the Greater Middle East.

Whatever Washington’s intentions, we are engaged in a religious war. That is, the ongoing war has an ineradicable religious dimension. That’s the way a few hundred million Muslims see it and their seeing it in those terms makes it so.

The beginning of wisdom is found not in denying that the war is about religion but in acknowledging that war cannot provide an antidote to the fix we have foolishly gotten ourselves into.

Does the Islamic world pose something of a problem for the United States? You bet, in all sorts of ways. But after more than three decades of trying, it’s pretty clear that the application of military power is unlikely to provide a solution. The solution, if there is one, will be found by looking beyond the military realm — which just might be the biggest lesson our experience with the War for the Greater Middle East ought to teach.

And furthermore…

Timothy Furnish has a detailed post up about Dabiq magazine and its end-times implications:

New Islamic State Magazine: We’re On the Eve of Destruction

Since the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [Greater Syria] declared the resurrection of the caliphate a few weeks ago, analysts and journalists have focused on the ramifications of that putative political office for the Islamic world. However, at the start of Ramadan the new “Islamic State” and its caliph attempted to move the propaganda needle from the merely realpolitickally ridiculous to the apocalyptically awe-inspiring — by invoking Muslim eschatological traditions.

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The writers credit the late Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi, decapitator extraordinaire of the IS[IS] predecessor organization the Islamic State in Iraq, with first linking the jihad there to the End Time battle at Dabiq. Also, Dabiq has several pages extolling al-Zarqawi’s virtues and strategic vision for rec-creating the caliphate via these stages: 1) hijrah 2) jama`ah 3) destabilizing the taghut 4) tamkin 5) khilafah. The original hijrah was the “flight” of Muhammad and the small Muslim community from Mecca to Yathrib/Medina in 622 AD. Ever since, this exploit has served as an example for groups of Muslims who deem their society and/or rulers insufficiently pious and who thus repeat the paradigm of flee, consolidate power and return to conquer. Jama`ah is “community,” the expected group solidarity that hardens during hijrah. Such a community then must act to undermine the tyrannical regime(s), the taghut (literally “despots” or “gorillas”). As the oppressive rulers are rendered illegitimate via jihad and tuwwahhush (literally “savagery” or “brutality”), controlling less and less territory, the true Muslims will be able to consolidate power (tamkin), ultimately leading to the caliphate—as IS[IS] has now proclaimed. This rising new Muslim power “will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy” and trigger the “demolition of Sykes-Picot” (the World War I British-French agreement which laid out plans for those two nations to rule over the Arab sections of the post-war Ottoman Empire). This five-step program for attaining power can be repeated elsewhere — notably Yemen, Mali, Somalia, Sinai Peninsula, Waziristan, Libya, Chechnya, and Nigeria, as well as in certain areas of of Tunisia, Algeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Dabiq also takes a number of pages to lay out an Islamic theological basis for the political power being claimed by “Caliph” Ibrahim. …

Furnish doesn’t address the Mahdist connection I made via the two hadith in an older post by Will McCants on Jihadica in which the Mahdi’s arrival is presaged by the death of the caliph, but offers a different emphasis in which al-Baghdadi himself might receive recognition as the Mahdi..

I’m sure more good readings will catch my eye as soon as I post this — but for now, that’s it from me.

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Jihad for Dummies

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- as Karl Sharro notes, the Guardian piece "says it all" ]
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The Guardian article linked in that tweet contains the following para:

Their path to radicalisation involved inspiration from material from Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, online material, and using the internet to chat with extremists overseas. As part of their preparations they ordered books online from Amazon, including titles such as Islam For Dummies, the Koran For Dummies and Arabic For Dummies.

Gotcha.

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Here are two other paras of interest:

School friends Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, both 22, pleaded guilty to terrorism offences before their trial could start at Woolwich crown court.

Police did not know the men had travelled to Syria, where they spent eight months, until one of their mothers contacted detectives in May last year, shortly after the pair had left. She had found a note written by her son saying he had gone to fight and wished to “die as a martyr”.

My comment here? My own frequent focus is on the importance of religious drivers in contemporary terrorism — and that’s present here too, but as what is distinctly a secondary theme.

More to the point, the two were “school friends” — supporting Marc Sageman’s contention in Leaderless Jihad and Understanding Terror Networks that bonds of friendship play an important role in recruitment. Also of note, it was once again [this example is from the UK, link is to US data] the support of the Muslim community that gave police the heads up that lead to these arrests.

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As to wanting to “die as a martyr” — perhaps obtaining a deeper understanding of Islam than Islam for Dummies can present would be advisable first. Ordering a copy of Arabic for Dummies makes sense, perhaps — but Martyrdom for Dummies is strictly for dummies.

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Torture, a Rolex, & the Dalai Lama

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- torture by photographic means, and compassion as exchange ]
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It is the image above, not the Dalai Lama himself, that has been “tortured” photoshopically. It is featured, along with similarly “tortured” images of Iggy Pop and Karl Lagerfeld, in a Belgian ad campaign from Amnesty International — in which each “iconic” figure’s tortured image is accompanied by an unlikely quote to illustrate the series theme, “Torture a man and he will tell you anything.”

I know nothing of Lagerfeld, and only enough about Iggy Pop to agree he likely wouldn’d admit that Justin Bieber “is the future of rock’n'roll” — but yes, I am pretty confident that if you ever hear or see the Dalai Lama claiming that anyone who doesn’t have a Rolex by the age of 50 has failed in life, His Holiness has been tortured — either for real or, as here, in an ad.

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I can’t easily speak for Iggy Pop or Karl Lagerfeld, but the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist, and it is worth noting that Buddhism addresses the question of “who suffers” in a manner that is relevant to the use of the Dalai Lama’s image above.

From a Mahayana Buddhist point of view, as Dr John Makransky puts it in his chapter on Compassion in Buddhist Psychology in Germer & Siegel’s Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy:

Another renowned 8th century Indian teacher, Santideva, by pointing out the constructed nature of concepts of “self” and “other,” shows us how to re-employ those concepts to re-configure our world into an expression of compassion and wisdom, entering into the bodhisattva path. “Self” and “other” are merely relative, contextual terms, Santideva argues, like “this bank” and “the other bank” of a river. Neither side of a river is intrinsically an “other bank.” (Harvey, 2000). Similarly, it is a cognitive error to think of other beings as intrinsically “other.” For all are “self” from their own perspectives; all are like oneself in their deepest potential, desire for happiness, and deluded patterning; and all are undivided from oneself in the empty, inter-dependent ground of all things (Wallace and Wallace, 1997). By reflecting on the sameness of self and others in such ways, and the tremendous benefit to our mind that would come by reversing the usual constructs of “self,” “other” and associated feelings, we explore viewing others as our very self while sensing our self as a neutral other. Through such practice, we discover, the great burden and suffering of clinging to our self over others is relieved, and we can increasingly give rise to the compassion and wisdom that feels and recognizes all beings as like ourselves (Wallace and Wallace, 1997).

and:

In Tibet this practice of “exchanging self and other” is commonly given the form of tong-len meditation, in which we exchange self for other by imagining that we take others’ sufferings into the empty ground of our being while freely offering others all of our own virtue, well-being and resources. This imaginative pattern helps conform our mind to the wisdom of emptiness that recognizes others as ultimately undivided from our self, and gives that wisdom its most fundamental compassionate expression.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama teaches the practice of tonglen — literally, “the practice of giving and taking” — himself, and explains it thus:

“Exchanging ourselves with others” should not be taken in the literal sense of turning oneself into the other and the other into oneself. This is impossible anyway. What is meant here is a reversal of the attitudes one normally has towards oneself and others. We tend to relate to this so-called “self” as a precious core at the center of our being, something that is really worth taking care of, to the extent that we are willing to overlook the well-being of others. In contrast, our attitude towards others often resembles indifference; at best we may have some concern for them, but even this may simply remain at the level of a feeling or an emotion. On the whole we are indifferent we have towards others’ well-being and do not take it seriously. So the point of this particular practice is to reverse this attitude so that we reduce the intensity of our grasping and the attachment we have to ourselves, and endeavor to consider the well-being of others as significant and important.

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It is instructive to compare the “tonglen” form of practice and insight described here with two comments I quoted recently in my post on dehumanization and its consequences

Archbishop Tutu:

when we dehumanize someone, whether you like it or not, in that process you are dehumanized. A person is a person through other persons. If we want to enhance our personhood, one of the best ways of doing it is enhancing the personhood of the other.

And Jonathan Shay:

Restoring honor to the enemy is an essential step in recovery from combat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While other things are obviously needed as well, the veteran’s self-respect never fully recovers so long as he is unable to see the enemy as worthy. In the words of one of our patients, a war against subhuman vermin “has no honor.” This in true even in victory; in defeat, the dishonoring makes life unendurable.

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From yet another perspective, isn’t what all these writers are getting at– from the Lama via the Archbishop to the psychiatrist — exactly the different the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber pointed up in his classic book, I and Thou?

Love does not cling to the I in such a way as to have the Thou only for its “content,” its object; but love is between I and Thou. The man who does not know this, with his very being know this, does not know love; even though he ascribes to it the feelings he lives through, experiences, enjoys, and expresses.

and again:

Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity.

And isn’t this also the core of Charles Williams‘ teachings of Substitution within the Co-Inherence — a practice which, as he writes:

exchanged the proper self, and wherever need was, drew breath daily in another’s place, according to the grace of the Spirit ‘dying each other’s life, living each other’s death’. Terrible and lovely is the general substitution of souls…

I have added a couple of commas to make Williams’ dense text a little more accessible here, but his thought in these matters is profound, and not too distant from that of tonglen: that Christians, acting within the will of God, can offer themselves to take on themselves each other’s specific burdens, perils and illnesses, in an “exchange” of love.

For those wishing to dig deeper into Charles Williams — the sadly neglected and no less brilliant friend of Tolkien and CS Lewis — and his doctrine of Substitution in particular, Susan Wendling‘s paper Flesh knows what Spirit knows: Mystical Substitution in Charles Williams’ Vision of Co-Inherence seems a good place to start, and her bibliography offers further sources to explore.

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All of which, it meseems, is a far cry indeed from the lure of the Rolex

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On the confounded confusion of religions!

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Ireland and Israel are more Muslim than Saudi Arabia, while Gandhi was more Christian than Billy Graham -- non-obvious, but arguable? ]
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The Irish Times yesterday ranked Ireland ‘the most truly Muslim country in the world’:

The country in the world most faithful to the values of the Koran is Ireland according to an Iranian-born academic at George Washingon University in the US. Next are Denmark, Sweden and the UK.

In a BBC interview, Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University said a study by himself and colleague Dr Scheherazde S Rehman, also rates Israel (27) as being more compliant with the ideals of the Koran than any predominantly Muslim country.

If Ireland is Muslim, which I’ve never been entirely sure of, maybe it’s because Gandhi was so very Christian. In 2001, Christianity Today reported a poll of “931 self-designated Christians in Britain” in a piece somewhat titled Survey Silliness:

NOP Research Group (company slogan: “Knowledge Is Power”) conducted the poll for the religious division of British publisher Hodder & Stoughton. [ ... ]

The poll asked respondents to rank the Christian qualities of five world figures.

Undoubtedly to the great relief of her Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa won in a landslide of 53 percent. But then the results turn strange: George Carey (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Mahatma Gandhi tie at 10 percent, singer Cliff Richard snags 6 percent, and evangelist Billy Graham wins only 3 percent.

I think you may need to be British to appreciate the religious importance of rocker Cliff Richards, and even then it’s not compulsory.

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In any case, all this religious mixology led me to search on Google for Chrislam, which in turn led me to Theodore Shoebat and my next post

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I have set before you life and death

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- tasking Heuer's ACH theory with the old question of revelation vs scientific discovery? ]
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For a very pithy take on the pivotal question facing those who adhere to the literal interpretation of a given scripture as God’s infallible Word, try these two quotes:

A very similar question, it seems to me, can be put to those who hold that science, by virtue of its falsifiability, moves in a manner that will be seen to be asymptotic to infallibility.

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I’m not saying the two options Pastor Hagee Jr offers are the only options, nor that Christianity is the only religion whose scriptures pose this sort of question to its followers.

However, there are two fairly clear general options laid out here, and they cut across many fields, from “what sort of biological education would you like to see implemented in schools?” via “how should we respond to warnings of the accelerating risks associated with global warming?” to “are the Iranian nuclear negotiators bound by their concepts of Shia theology, and if so, how does that affect our analysis of their strategic thinking?”

Let’s call the competing hypotheses here “revelation” and “discovery”. One interesting question: does each of them require evidentiary validation, or is one of them “obviously” self-validating, and if so, how?

I ask this, partly because I just obtained ACH software, where ACH refers to the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses as described by Richards Heuer Jr in his Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, and specifically in chapter 8.

Pitting an “infinite and revelatory” hypothesis against a “finite and discoverable” one is one way to test the limits of the ACH system — either it’s a totally irrational and foolish use of a rational tool, or a western equivalent of the zen koan system, depending on your — eh? — hypothesis.

Life or death? Science or revelation? Which is which?

How do you know? How can you be sure?

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In the ballpark, btw?

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Steven J. Brams, Biblical Games: Game Theory and the Hebrew Bible

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