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Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) et sequentes

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — luther et seq., where the sequentes are james comey and rod rosenstein ]
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Martin Luther, he who nailed his theses to the door, said it first: Here I stand.

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Kudos to Julia Ainsley for spotting the twin occurrences of the Martin Luther quote on the pages and lips of James Comey and Rod Rosenstein respectively:

Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein tells confidants he is prepared to be fired:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has struck a stoic and righteous tone in private conversations he has had this week about the fate of his job as President Donald Trump has launched public criticism against him and considered firing him, according to three sources who have spoken to Rosenstein.

In those conversations, he has repeated the phrase, “Here I stand,” a reference to Martin Luther’s famous quote, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Coincidentally, former FBI Director James Comey, whom Rosenstein fired, repeated the same phrase to President George W. Bush in a conversation that has been widely reported and that Comey describes in his forthcoming book.

To which I can only reply “A mighty fortress is our God”.

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If Martin Luther is able to take so firm a stand for his beliefs, it is only because his God is so mighty a fortress protecting him, as he vociferously declared in this hymn — for which he composed both the words and the melody:

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That’s a bit blunt to be sure, but the pious Lutheran JS Bach has much of the true spirit of the thing in this chorale rendering of Luther’s hymn:

Silence as protest and gift

Friday, April 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — on the frayed edges of music ]
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Silence is the exception rather than the rule — so much so that it’s notable.

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The bells of York Minster were silenced for a year in protest at the sacking of, as the Guardian eruditely puts it, “30 campanologists”. Bell-ringing is an ancient craft in the UK, mathematical in its combinatoric precision, glorious in its language and literature. Spanning the arts and sciences, it is thus a bridge between the two sides of that academic and popular schism or chasm which CP Snow famously described in his book, The Two Cultures.

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Mathematics and combinatorics:

The ringing of a peal or complete sequence of bells is a highly mathematized form of music, and the order in which the bells are to be rung — the method — can therefore be transcribed in graphical form:

Oh, the beauty in so musical a score.

I dare not show you a full extent — we might run out of pixels!

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Language and literature:

Truth (and the detested false), Grandsires, Triple Bob Major, oh, and Spitalfields Festival Treble Bob, and how could one forget Affpuddle Treble Bob Major..

Dorothy Sayers‘ novel The Nine Tailors has nothing to do with bespoke and everything to do with murder most fouldeath and detection:

In some parishes in England the centuries-old tradition of announcing a death on a church bell is upheld. In a small village most people would be aware of who was ill, and so broadcasting the age and sex of the deceased would identify them. To this end the death was announced by telling (i.e. single blows with the bell down) the sex and then striking off the years. Three blows meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half-minute intervals. The word teller in some dialects becomes tailor, hence the old saying “Nine tailors maketh a man”.

The bell used in the novel for the announcement is the largest (tenor) bell, which is dedicated to St. Paul. Hence “teller Paul” or in dialect “tailor Paul”. Sayers is here acknowledging the assistance of Paul Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough, England who provided her with detailed information on all aspects of change-ringing.

Scientific American adds other details, describing:

another time-honored tradition of bells, which frequently have nicknames and inscriptions, as if they were, indeed, alive.

For instance, in Sayers’ novel, the oldest bell is dubbed Batty Thomas, cast in 1380, and bears the inscription “Abbat Thomas sett mee heare + and bad mee ringe both loud and cleer.” (The oldest bell hung for change ringing that is still in use was cast in 1325; it is the fifth bell at St. Dunstan’s Church in Canterbury, Kent.)

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Argh, the lockout:

Enough of the beauty of the English bells. From the Guardian piece referenced in the upper panel, above:

But simmering tensions between the minster’s governing body, the Chapter of York, and the ringers came to a head last October when the band was summarily dismissed and locked out of the 15th-century cathedral’s bell tower.

The silencing of the York Minster peal is thus a case of a sacred sound being stilled by a secular — or at least unionized — silence.

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How opposite, and apposite, then, is the ringing silence offered by the youthful Quakers as a podcast in the second Guardian piece referenced (lower panel, above):

It’s not the most obvious subject for a podcast, but a group of young Quakers in Nottingham have recorded their 30-minute silent meeting so as to share their “oasis of calm” with the world.

In an episode of the monthly Young Quaker Podcast, called the Silence Special, you can hear a clock ticking, pages being turned and the rain falling, as the group meets and sits in silence at the Friend’s Meeting House in Nottingham. [ .. ]

The idea for the silent podcast first came from Tim Gee, a Quaker living in London, who was inspired by the BBC’s season of “slow” radio, which treated audiences to – among other things – the sounds of birds singing, mountain climbing and monks chatting.

Gee said he had wanted to “share a small oasis of calm, and a way to provide a moment of stillness, for people on the move”.

Jessica Hubbard-Bailey, 25, from the Nottingham Young Quakers, who recorded the podcast, said they had jumped at the opportunity to broadcast something “immersive and unusual”. She added: “We have very different ways of worship to most people of faith and we thought this was a really unique opportunity to give people a little slice of what the Quakers do. Also, we are really good at being quiet because we’ve made a practice of it and I think that is of value. These days everyone is so busy, everyone is working all the time, so it’s really valuable to have the opportunity to sit down once a week and just be quiet and listen.”

Listen? Listen to the birds, to the chattering monks — or to the still, small voice?

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Listen, in any case, to the sound of silence:

Just listen!

REVIEW: Commander of the Faithful by John Kiser

Friday, March 30th, 2018

[Mark Safranski / “zen‘]

Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader by John Kiser  

A while back, I received a copy of Commander of the Faithful from friend of ZP, Major Jim Gant who had been impressed with the book and urged me to read it. My antilibrary pile of books is substantial and it took a while to work my way towards it. I knew a little about Algerian colonial history from reading about the French Third Republic, the Foreign Legion and counterinsurgency literature but the name of Abd el-Kader was obscure to me.  The author, John W. Kiser, had also written a book on the martyred Monks of Tibhirine, a topic that had previously caught the eye of Charles Cameron and made a significant impression. Therefore, I settled in to read a biography of a long forgotten desert Arab chieftain.

What a marvelous book!

Kiser’s fast-moving tale is of a man who attempted to forge from unwieldy tribes and two unwilling empires, a new nation grounded in an enlightened Islam that transcended tribal customs ad corrupt legacies of Ottoman misrule while resisting encroachments of French imperial power. A Sufi marabout who was the son of a marabout, el Kader was the scholar who picked up the sword and whose call to jihad eschewed cruelty and held that piety and modernity were compatible aspirations for the feuding tribes of the Mahgreb. There are a number of themes or conflicts in Commander of the Faithful that will interest ZP readers;

el-Kader’s political effort to build a durable, modernizing, Islamic state and Mahgreb nation from feuding desert tribes and clans

Abd el-Kader struggled to unify disparate Arab tribes and subtribes through piety, generosity and coercion while integrating Turco-Arabs and Algerian Jews who had a place under the old Ottoman regime into his new order. Jews like the diplomat Judas Ben Duran and Christian French former military officers and priests became  el-Kader’s trusted advisers and intermediaries alongside Arab chieftains and Sufi marabouts.

el-Kader the insurgent strategist and battlefield tactician

As a military leader, Abd el-Kader demonstrated both a natural talent for cavalry tactics as well as the organizational skill to build a small, but well-disciplined regular infantry with modern rifles on the European model. It is noteworthy, that while Abd el-Kader suffered the occasional reverse (the worst at the hands of a wily Arab warlord loyal to the French) the French generals fighting him all came to grudgingly respect his bravery, honor and skill. Never defeated, Abd el-Kader made peace with the French and surrendered voluntarily; all of his former enemies, Generals Lamoriciere, Damaus, Bugeaud and Changarnier interceded on al-Kader’s behalf to prod the French government to keep its promises to the Amir, who had become a celebrity POW in a series of French chateaus.

el-Kader the Islamic modernizer and moral figure

The 19th century was a time of intellectual ferment in the Islamic world from Morocco to British India with the prime question being the repeated failures of Islamic authorities in the face of European imperialism of the modern West. El-Kader found different answers than did the Deobandis of India, the Wahhabis of Arabia, the later Mahdists of the Sudan, the followers of al-Afghani or the Young Turks who began turning toward secularism. Educated in the Sufi tradition, el-Kader’s vision of Islam, while devout and at times strict, encompassed a benevolent tolerance and respect for “the People of the Book” and general humanitarianism far in advance of the times that is absent in modern jihadism.

It was Abd el-Kader, in retirement in Damascus, who rallied his men to protect thousands of Christians from being massacred in a bloody pogrom (the 1860 Riots) organized by the Ottoman governor, Ahmed Pasha, using as his instrument two local Druze warlords who were angry about their conflict with the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon and Sunni Arabs and Kurds enraged about the Ottoman reforms that had ended the dhimmi status of the Maronite Christians. It was the Emir who faced down and chastised a howling mob as bad Muslims and evildoers and by his actions thousands of lives were spared. Already honored for his chivalrous treatment of prisoners and his banning of customary decapitation as barbarous, the 1860 Riots cemented Abd El-Kader’s reputation for humanitarianism and made him an international figure known from the cornfields of Iowa to the canals of St. Petersburg.

Kiser, who it must be said keeps the story moving throughout, is at pains to emphasize the exemplary moral character of Abd el-Kader. As Emir, he “walked the walk” and understood the connection between his personal asceticism, probity and generosity to his enemies and the poor and his political authority as Emir. When some Arab tribes betrayed Abd El-Kader in a battle against the French, consequently they were deeply shamed and ended up begging the Emir to be allowed to return to his service. On the occasions when harsh punishments had to be dealt out, Abd el-Kader meted them not as examples of his cruelty to be feared but as examples of justice to deter unacceptable crimes that he would swiftly punish.  This is operating at what the late strategist John Boyd called “the moral level of war”, allowing Abd el-Kader to attract the uncommitted, win over observers, rally his people and demoralize his opponents. Even in defeat, realizing the hopelessness of his position against the might of an industrializing great imperial power that was France. el-Kader retained the initiative, ending the war while he was still undefeated and on honorable terms.

In Commander of the Faithful, Kiser paints el-Kader in a romantic light, one that fits the mid 19th century when concepts of honor and chivalry still retained their currency on the battlefield and society, among the Europeans as much as the Emir’s doughty desert tribesmen (if there is any group that comes off poorly, it is the Turks, the dying Ottoman regime’s pashas and beys providing a corrupt and decadent contrast to el-Kader’s nascent Islamic state). The nobility of Abd el-Kader shines from Kiser’s text, both humble and heroic in a manner that rarely sees a 21st century analogue. It is both refreshing and at times, moving to read of men who could strive for the highest ethical standards while engaged in the hardest and most dangerous enterprise.

Strongly recommended.

 

Getting religion, forgetting circumcision

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — some characteristicc lacunae in journalisti praxis ]
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As you know, I used to work for Lapido Media, which in turn used to be a media-eductional outlet that emphasized the major role of religion(s) in world affairs, so often overlooked by typically skeptical, secular journos.

Get religion is a fine site with a similar purpose, and today it has a fine article titled With Russia all over U.S. news map right now, how fares its huge Orthodox Church? For instance:

In addition to politics, there’s a historic religious turnabout in Russia that stateside reporters could well develop through interviews with the experts. The dominant Orthodox Church, which managed to survive Communist terror and regained freedom, has latterly emerged as a strategic prop for Putin’s Kremlin.

If that election day peg doesn’t work for your outlet, another signal event comes July 17. That’s the Orthodox feast day of the doomed final czar, Nicholas II, and his family, shot to death by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918 and canonized by the national church in 2000 as saints and “passion-bearers.”

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It’s not just journos who forget / don’t get religion — pols in the extreme north do it, too. How else explain this header from Iceland: Iceland male circumcision ban: MP behind plan ‘didn’t think it was necessary to consult’ Jewish and Muslim groups, amid growing anger. The subhead is (from my POV) idf anytbing even more mind-boggling:

‘I don’t see it as a religious matter,’ insists Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir

What does Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir imagine the origin of the practice was?

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What else do journos tend to miss?

Well, there’s female obits, for onr thing — although things may be improving in that regard. Here’s a New York Times’ obit, belated but in a good faith effort to catch and patch up: 1932-1963 Sylvia Plath –A postwar poet unafraid to confront her own despair. It begins:

She made sure to spare the children, leaving milk and bread for the two toddlers to find when they woke up. She stuffed the cracks of the doors and windows with cloths and tea towels. Then she turned on the gas.

And it quotes her poetry:

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.

Okay, it’s International Women’s Day 2018.

Thank you, Anemona Hartocollis and the NYT editors. We mourn you, Mrs easily forgotten behind your husband Hughes.

Shorts 5: Apocalypse to Almond blossoms

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — mostly about beauty — let’s start with apocalypse and end with the blossoms, eh? reverse engineering! ]
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Hey!

Putin’s apocalyptic blackmail

In the Orthodox tradition, the Book of Revelations has not been among the most important texts. Yet there is something positively apocalyptic about the recent speech of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most important convert, Russian President Vladimir Putin. A nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed cruise missile that could circumnavigate the planet avoiding US missile defenses! A nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarine drone! And, most of all, a hypersonic “meteorite” too fast for American interceptors, a mighty ognennyi shar, a great “ball of fire”! (Jerry Lee Lewis was not credited, but then Putin’s Russia is not known for overly scrupulous honoring of property rights.)

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Jerry Lee Lewis ? That’s a pop refeerence in an otherwise serious context. Let’s see..

Pop paradise:

Religion (Zen??) in games:

Following the massive initial success of Alto’s Adventure, the team released a major update that added a Zen Mode to the title in 2016, which removed obstacles to create a more relaxing experience for players who simply wanted to drift off into the game world. It was around that time that Cymet moved his family from Vancouver to Toronto to work more closely with the team at Snowman, and he said that the ordeal helped “give me a sense of groundedness in this emotion we’ve tried to capture with the game, of going outside your comfort zone and putting yourself somewhere completely new that’s beautiful and interesting, and trying to find the beauty there.”

IMO, and with ref to the above and to zen, seeking beauty leads to prettiness, whereas seeking truth leads to beauty.

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Placing that game art in a binary context:

Adorno:

Like many émigrés, Adorno was initially disoriented by US mass culture, which had not yet overrun Europe as it would after the war. This disorientation became a principled distrust. He claimed that capitalist popular culture – jazz, cinema, pop songs, and so on – manipulates us into living lives empty of true freedom, and serves only to distort our desires. Popular culture is not the spontaneous expression of the people, but a profit-driven industry – it robs us of our freedom and bends us to conform to its needs for profit.

Scruton:

When Metallica appeared at the 2014 Glastonbury festival there was a wake-up moment of this kind – the recognition that these guys, unlike so many who had performed there, actually had something to say. Yes, there are distinctions of quality, even in the realm of pop.

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Okay, and to close with authentic beauty, art, culture….

A brilliant DoubleQuote in a single tweet:

Encouragingly, there are just such blossoms outside my window.


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