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Ah, Religion: the trailer

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — on turning the other cheek once, or even twice, perhaps ]
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The Wall Street Journal has the story:

In a preview trailer for a new action movie, famed Indian spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan takes on sabre-wielding villains, splinters a log with his fist and rides a monster-wheeled motorcycle in a high-speed chase.

“Some call me a saint, some call me an angel, some call me guru and some call me God,” Mr. Insan intones in a voice-over. “If it is a sin to serve the country and the universe, then I will keep committing this sin until my last breath.”

Sample wisdom:

In another musical number, Mr. Insan, wearing tightfitting gold pants, red boots and an oversize red top riveted with gold stars, performs a patriotic song that he says he wrote himself, dedicated to his followers in the armed forces.

“We’ll live and die for the country,” Mr. Insan croons to a jubilant crowd in an amphitheater with a band playing behind him. “First, we’ll stop them with love, weapons of humanity. If they don’t stop, we will shoot them!”

That, btw, is Plan B: if love doesn’t work, try deadly force.

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Coming soon to a shrine-room near you!

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..

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    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

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    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.

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    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!

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    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!


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