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John Schindler 3: his latest

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — third of three, almost caught up ]
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Schindler a few days back:

Schindler’s latest:

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Today’s John Schindler post, The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD, is another blockbuster must-read, but for my purposes in this series I’ll just quote a short excerpt. It’s the middle paragraph here that’s key, but I’ll give you a little before and after for context:

While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.

To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.

WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.

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I still haven’t quite figured out how almost everybody comes to have an opinion about almost everything: I know enough about a small archipelago of topics to have a sense of how much I don’t know, even in my areas of interest, in between my islands — and I am vividly aware that my chosen archipelago is only one of many, many, many — oh, why don’t I just quote Newton, and let him speak for us all:

I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

There are areas of knowledge that John explores, in this post in particular, that I don’t know enough about to trust my own opinions on, but one point he keeps making keeps on shining through: that the western secular mindset has a blind spot wherever religious intensity appears.

And by religious intensity I don’t necessarily mean piety, or deep theological knowledge — which are the criteria that pollsters use to judge such things. The disciples of Christ were fishermen, he talked with prostitutes and (oy!) centurions among others, they were his peeps. The test, then, is not mosque, church or synagogue attendance, nor dietary behavior: religion happens, first and foremost, to humans, and that’s something John captures neatly, as it applies to Muslims, in this para about the majority of Muslims world-wide:

They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

Human beings, that is, with an available transcendant perspective that can be activated by crisis, by global dissonance, by perceived injustice — as the supreme justification for brutality among those so disposed, and as the supreme invitation to good works among the likes of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, and many less known but no less generous souls.

Heaven and Hell, no less than East and West, are present in human reality, as John Milton knew. We should permit them, with caution and understanding, into our minds and models, and onto our maps. First, though, we should understand and sense what they mean, within human hearts and minds — no easy task.

Not Paris, much nearer home

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — religious satire USA, plus two Charlie Hebdo resources ]
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Jesus dinosaur detail 602

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I hadn’t realized that comic book satire had entered the religion vs science debate — foolish of me, it’s an obvious medium for the task:

jesus-and-darwin 602

And here for total impact is the full page of Jesus riding the dinosaur (detail above), text included:

jesusdinosaur large

I have to say, neither these nor the Charlie Hebdo and Jyllands-Posten cartoons disturb me personally — but in our discussions of free speech and blasphemy, I think the voices of those who may be offended deserve a hearing.

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Sources and Resources:

  • Popperfont, Did Jesus ride on a dinosaur?
  • Beliefnet, Jesus and Darwin fight
  • Daily Beast, 16 most ‘shocking’ Charlie Hebdo covers
  • Understanding Charlie Hebdo, Charlie Hebdo’s satire
  • Of morale, angels and Spartans

    Saturday, January 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — how sky differs from heaven, and what that means for morale and jihad ]
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    SPEC Badr & Spartans

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    Okay, that Spartans / Battle of Badr DoubleQuote above is just a teaser, locating us in the general zone of morale..

    What I’d really like to offer you here is another Badr-related DoubleQuote, of which the first part comes from Shadi Hamid, speaking about half way through the Charlie Rose show, A conversation about Islam and politics with Reza Aslan, Will McCants, Michael Hanna and Shadi Hamid, which aired on the 14th of this month (full video at the bottom of this post). He said:

    We have to take religion seriously, but I worry sometimes, if we focus too much on religion we forget that there’s a political context. That if we want to understand the rise of Isis we can’t understand that without looking at the political vacuum that emerged in Syria. That didn’t happen by itself; there’s a series of policy decisions from the international community that helped contribute to the rise of ISIS.

    So I guess the interesting question then is, How does religion interact with these political factors. So we have to bring those different variables into focus and I think we lose some of that, we lose that complexity if we’re just saying Islam is the problem. On the other hand, though .. these terrorists and extremists, they believe that what they’re doing, they’re going to be granted direct entry into Paradise, and that inspiration, motivation, is a very powerful thing that we shouldn’t underestimate. And ideology in this sense is a sort of force multiplier on the battlefield.

    All of that seems relevant to me, but it’s his next few phrases I want to DoubleQuote (upper panel, below):

    SPEC DQ Shadi Hamid & Quran

    And whereas Hamid’s explanation, as befits a Brookings Fellow refers to a belief about Paradise, the Qur’an, as befits sacred scripture, treats the world as though it is thronged not with beliefs but with angels..

    **

    The comparison and contrast between our conntemporary, post-Enlightenment view of “the sky” (in which birds, planes, helicopters, missiles and drones may be found, but no angels, jinn, apsarases or faeries) and that of the world’s various scriptural and mythological “heavens” (in which helicopters and parachutes are generally absent, though angels, demons, gandharvas, apsarases and the rest abound) is one that has long fascinated me — but the two are usually kept distinct. Albrecht Durer will show you angels and demons just above the rural countryside in “heaven” — but you won’t find them in military aviations journals..

    It is against that background that I find this piece of artwork about the Ghazwa e-Hind so interesting — it appears to envision both “sky” with its various planes and parachutist (most of the planes a little dated, alas), and “heaven” with its celestial cavalry, occupying the same visual space:

    Great Ghazwa Sky meets Heaven

    **

    All this leads me to the question — which would seem to become ever more urgent as we move from textual to visually enhanced modes of communication —

    How does one graphically depict morale or esprit de corps?

    That’s my question for the day.

    ** ** **

    Here, for those who would like to view it in its entirety, is the Charlie Rose show from which Shadi Hamid’s quote above was taken:

    Sunday surprise: Pakistan vs Dr Bronner

    Sunday, December 21st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — ideology in two soaps ]
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    SPEC DQ Soaps

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    The 1971 Pakistani soap ad quotes Pakistan’s third President, GEN Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan:

    Remember the PROMISE OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH that, if you are steadfast in the path of Justice, He will bless you with final victory. Advance and strike at the enemy with the rallying call of Allah-o-Akbar. God is with us

    Dr Bronner, on the other hand, has been telling us much the same thing on his soap labels since 1948, to wit: :

    Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the Moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong & we’re All-One. Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One! 1st: If I’m not for me, who am I? Nobody! 2nd: Yet, if I’m only for me, what am I? Nothing! 3rd: If not now, when? Once More: Unless constructive-selfish I work hard perfecting first me, absolute nothing can help me!

    **

    The 101 Transparent Soap ad from Pakistan claims that it:

    Contains no harsh ingredients and does no harm to hands and clothes.

    Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap:

    Super mild castile soap has outstanding water softening & cleansing powers. Preferable to harsh soap & defattening synthetics. It does not cut dirt, but dissolves it. It is the mildest, most pleasant soap you ever used or your money back!

    It appears we can at least agree on the idea that doing no harm is something to be lauded in the production of soap!

    Grothendieck’s mathematics and Child Born of Water

    Saturday, December 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — two approaches to mathematics, two types of heroism, and their respective complementarities ]
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    I wish to propose a clear analogy between the mathematician Grothendieck‘s two styles of approach to a problem in mathematics, and the Navajo Twin Gods, Monster-Slayer and Child-Born-of-Water.

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    Twins

    **

    Steve Landsburg‘s post, The Generalist, compares two approaches to mathematics, as practiced by two eminent mathematicians:

    If there was a nut to be opened, Grothendieck suggested, Serre would find just the right spot to insert a chisel, he’d strike hard and deftly, and if necessary, he’d repeat the process until the nut cracked open. Grothendieck, by contrast, preferred to immerse the nut in the ocean and let time pass. “The shell becomes more flexible through weeks and months — when the time is ripe, hand pressure is enough.”

    **

    In the paras leading up to this one, Landsburg gives us the insight that these two approaches can be generalized as “zooming in” and “zooming out”:

    Imagine a clockmaker, who somehow has been oblivious all his life to many of the simple rules of physics. One day he accidentally drops a clock, which, to his surprise, falls to the ground. Curious, he tries it again—this time on purpose. He drops another clock. It falls to the ground. And another.

    Well, this is a wondrous thing indeed. What is it about clocks, he wonders, that makes them fall to the ground? He had thought he’d understood quite a bit about the workings of clocks, but apparently he doesn’t understand them quite as well as he thought he did, because he’s quite unable to explain this whole falling thing. So he plunges himself into a deeper study of the minutiae of gears, springs and winding mechanisms, looking for the key feature that causes clocks to fall.

    It should go without saying that our clockmaker is on the wrong track. A better strategy, for this problem anyway, would be to forget all about the inner workings of clocks and ask “What else falls when you drop it?”. A little observation will then reveal that the answer is “pretty much everything”, or better yet “everything that’s heavier than air”. Armed with this knowledge, our clockmaker is poised to discover something about the laws of gravity.

    Now imagine a mathematician who stumbles on the curious fact that if you double a prime number and then halve the result, you get back the number you started with. It works for the prime number 2, for 3, for 5, for 7, for 11…. . What is it about primes, the mathematician wonders, that yields this pattern? He begins delving deeper into the properties of prime numbers…

    Like our clockmaker, the mathematician is zooming in when he should be zooming out. The right question is not “Why do primes behave this way?” but “What other numbers behave this way?”. Once you notice that the answer is all numbers, you’ve got a good chance of figuring out why they behave this way. As long as you’re focused on the red herring of primeness, you’ve got no chance.

    Now, not all problems are like that. Some problems benefit from zooming in, others from zooming out. Grothendieck was the messiah of zooming out — zooming out farther and faster and grander than anyone else would have dared to, always and everywhere. And by luck or by shrewdness, the problems he threw himself into were, time after time, precisely the problems where the zooming-out strategy, pursued apparently past the point of ridiculousness, led to spectacular, unprecedented, indescribable success. As a result, mathematicians today routinely zoom out farther and faster than anyone prior to Grothendieck would have deemed sensible. And sometimes it pays off big.

    **

    I no longer have — alas — a copy of Where the Two Came to their Father, the first volume in the Bollingen Series, with its suite of 18 sand paintings beautifully rendered in silkscreen by Maud Oakes, but their respective black and blue colorations lead me to suppose that the illustration at the head of this post, taken rom that series, shows the twin heroes, Monster Slayer (black) and Child Born of Water (blue) whose journeys and initiation are the subject of the rituasl “sing” recorded in that book.

    The theme of two male hero twins is central to the mythologies of the American continent, according to Jospeh Campbell, who contributed a commentary to Oakes’ recording of Jeff King‘s performance of this ceremony, and lacking both the King > Oakes > Campbell book and Gladys Reichard‘s two volumes on Navaho Religion, I must draw on brief quotes from miscellaneous web sources to dramatize the differences between the twins.

    Monster Slayer is the doer of deeds, similar in nature to other masculine, not to say macho, heroes — while Child Born of Water is the contemplative of the pair:

    The Sun [Jóhonaa’éí] gave them prayersticks and then told them that the younger of the two (Born for Water) would sit watching these prayersticks while the older (Monster Slayer) went out to kill the monsters. If these prayersticks began to burn, this would signal that his brother was in danger and that he should go to him to help.

    Reichard explains:

    Monster Slayer (na’ye’ ne’zyani) (I) represents impulsive aggression, whereas Child-of-the-water represents reserve, caution, and thoughtful preparation.

    A measure of their respective strategies, and of the ways in which the insights of Child Born of Water can succeed where the brute force tactics of Monster SLayer fail, can be gleaned from this section of their story, also I believe taken from Reichard:

    When The Twins visited Sun the second time, he said he was willing to help them, but this time he wanted them to return the favor: “I wish you to send your mother to the west that she may make a new home for me.” Whereupon Monster Slayer, believing himself equal to any task, replied, “I will do so.I will send her there.” Then Child-of-the-water reminded them both: “No, Changing Woman is subject to no one? we cannot make promises for her. She must speak for herself? she is her own mistress. But I shall tell her your wishes and plead for you.”

    **

    One commentator glibly suggests that the joint presentation of the hero as twins is “a clever reminder that progress depends upon cooperation between our mind and our heart” — but the psychologist Dr Howard Teich offers a far more depthful interpretation: that the two twins represent two forms of masculine heroism, one the familiar macho hero of war movies, and the other wiser and subtler, the possessor of traits commonly attributed to the feminine — and hugely undervalued — in our culture.

    Dr Teich suggests we must (urgently) abandon the division of virtues into “male” and “female” types, reognize that these types are complementary rather than rivalrous, that both are necessary functions of both males’ and females’ psyches, and begin to integrate the wholeness that both strategies together represent, in our own approaches to our lives in general, to the natural world around us, and indeed to warfare — unsurprisingly, since we first encounter the twins in the ceremonial specifically devised by the Navajo to protect young warriors on their way to battle, and to reintegrate them in harmony and balance on their return.

    As Teich puts it:

    Monster Slayer and Child Born of Water, as these Twin Heroes are called, are the most sacred of all the legendary heroes in Navaho mythology. It is rare for the Navaho even to speak of the twins; their presence is to be felt rather than observed, and their lessons absorbed rather than applied. Although the lessons the twins hold may be countless, their particular manifestation of a deeper, more complex image of masculinity deserves the reader’s especial attention.

    **

    I’d like to suggest that in the same way that there are “zooming in” and “zooming out” styles in mathematics, and “monster-slayer” and “born of water” styles of heroism, there are in fact twin traditions of understanding the world which we might term scientific and poetic, or in Teich’s terms — and those of the alchemists — solar and lunar.

    A unified or “solunary” vision will encompass the virtues of both.

    **

    Dr Teich’s review of the King > Oakes > Campbell book under the title A Dual Masculinity was irst piublished in The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1995. He now has a book out treating these themes: Solar Light, Lunar Light.

    Oh, and please don’t expect me to know anything more about Grothendieck’s mathematics than I read in Landsburg’s article.


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