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Yesterday’s learnings in science and religion

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — theo-ecology, with a side of spaghetti ]
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First, a Nobel laureate makes a distinction that should be of interest to all who study war — as also to those who “ain’t gonna study war no more”. Lucy Hughes-Hallett begins a New Statesman book review titled Chernobyl and the ghosts of a nuclear past thus:

“This not a book on Chernobyl,” writes Svetlana Alexievich, “but on the world of Chernobyl.” It is not about what happened on 26 April 1986, when a nuclear reactor exploded near the border between Ukraine and Belarus. It is about an epoch that will last, like the radioactive material inside the reactor’s leaking ruin, for tens of thousands of years. Alexievich writes that, before the accident, “War was the yardstick of horror”, but at Chernobyl “the history of dis­asters began”.

If we are not approaching the Eve of Destruction, nor the Zombie Apocalypse, nor an outbreak of nuclear war or some abominable plague, nor the Islamic Qiyama nor the Christian Armageddon, nor the drowning of our major coastal cities nor rapid heat death of most or all human life on earth, and if we forgo the notions of the anthropocene age, or the impoending singularity, why then the distinction that we have left the age of war (as teh major concern of the human race) and entered the age of disaster may be of interest, taxonomically speaking.

But I understand that last paragraph contains a vast “if” encompassing a large range of “nors”.

**

Okay, getting back to what I hope is the positive side of the ledger while keeping an eye of the negative, A Western Soto Zen Buddhist Statement on the Climate Crisis just came out:

As Buddhists, our relationship with the earth is ancient. Shakyamuni Buddha, taunted by the demon king Mara under the Bodhi Tree before his enlightenment, remained steady in meditation. He reached down to touch the earth, and the earth responded: “I am your witness.” The earth was partner to the Buddha’s work; she is our partner, as we are hers.

From the Buddha’s time, our teachers have lived close to nature by choice, stepped lightly and mindfully on the earth, realizing that food, water, medicine, and life itself are gifts of nature.

The Japanese founders of Soto Zen Buddhism spoke with prophetic clarity about our responsibility to the planet and to all beings. In Bodaisatta Shishobo/The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Dharmas Dogen Zenji, the founder of Japanese Soto Zen, wrote:

To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons are the activity of dana/giving.

**

One particular concern of mine has to do with the impact of global warming on the heartlands of Islam, and Mecca in particular, as mentioned here in an NYT piece titled Deadly Heat Is Forecast in Persian Gulf by 2100:

The research raises the prospect of “severe consequences” for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage that draws roughly two million people to Mecca to pray outdoors from dawn to dusk. Should the hajj, which can occur at various times of the year, fall during summer’s height, “this necessary outdoor Muslim ritual is likely to become hazardous to human health,” the authors predicted.

Here’s another distinction worth pondering, this one drawn from the same NYT piece, quoting Erich M. Fischer of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich:

Anyone can experience the fact that humidity plays a crucial role in this in the sauna. .. You can heat up a Finnish sauna up to 100 degrees Celsius since it is bone dry and the body efficiently cools down by excessive sweating even at ambient temperatures far higher than the body temperature. In a Turkish bath, on the other hand, with almost 100 percent relative humidity, you want to keep the temperatures well below 40 degrees Celsius since the body cannot get rid of the heat by sweating and starts to accumulate heat.

**

Staying with Islam, and parallel to the Zen declaration above, we have this Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. Section 2.8 reads:

In view of these considerations we affirm that our responsibility as Muslims is to act according to the example of the Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) who –

  • Declared and protected the rights of all living beings, outlawed the custom of burying infant girls alive, prohibited killing living beings for sport, guided his companions to conserve water even in washing for prayer, forbade the felling of trees in the desert, ordered a man who had taken some nestlings from their nest to return them to their mother, and when he came upon a man who had lit a fire on an anthill, commanded, “Put it out, put it out!”;
  • Established inviolable zones (harams) around Makkah and Al-Madinah, within which native plants may not be felled or cut and wild animals may not be hunted or disturbed;
  • Established protected areas (himas) for the conservation and sustainable use of rangelands, plant cover and wildlife.
  • Lived a frugal life, free of excess, waste, and ostentation; Renewed and recycled his meagre possessions by repairing or giving them away;
  • Ate simple, healthy food, which only occasionally included meat;
  • Took delight in the created world; and
  • Was, in the words of the Qur’an, “a mercy to all beings.”
  • **

    It is curious to find Walid Shoebat, a vigorously anti-Muslim Christian apologeticist, making some of the same points in a piece titled It Is Now Confirmed And Scientists Now Predict That Mecca Will Be Destroyed By Extreme Heat:

    While many will cry “global warming”, it will actually be the sun heating up (Deut 28.23,24) (Zech 14.17). Another form of judgement prophesied by Isaiah appears to be extreme heat – heat severe enough to kill people:

    ‘Therefore … the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left’ (Isa 24.6)

    The book of Revelation appears to speak of the same end time events and predicts extreme weather as part of God’s judgement upon the nations. There will be fierce, scorching heat:

    ‘The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat …’ (Rev 16.8,9)

    The Bible also predicted (as scientists now do) that Mecca will be “uninhabited”: “After her destruction, Babylon [Arabia] will merely be a home for demons, evil spirits, and scavenging desert creatures” (Revelation 18:1-2).

    **

    And finally, on a lighter note — sticking with religion, at least arguably, but definitely moving from science to science fiction, we have this (theological) ruling from a Nebraska federal district court in Cavanaugh v. Bartelt:

    This is not a question of theology: it is a matter of basic reading comprehension. The FSM Gospel is plainly a work of satire, meant to entertain while making a pointed political statement. To read it as religious doctrine would be little different from grounding a “religious exercise” on any other work of fiction. A prisoner could just as easily read the works of Vonnegut or Heinlein and claim it as his holy book, and demand accommodation of Bokononism or the Church of All Worlds. 6 See, Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (Dell Publishing 1988) (1963); Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (Putnam Publ’g Grp. 1961). Of course, there are those who contend—and Cavanaugh is probably among them—that the Bible or the Koran are just as fictional as those books. It is not always an easy line to draw. But there must be a line beyond which a practice is not “religious” simply because a plaintiff labels it as such. The Court concludes that FSMism is on the far side of that line.

    And may the force be with you — or what’s a metaphor?

    How Buddhism gets around in Burma these days

    Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Aung San Suu Kyi and U Thein Sein dance a quick pas de deux, but what comes next? ]
    .

    and:

    Bear in mind, though:

    **

    It will be instructive to see whether Aung San Suu Kyi, now that the elexctions are over and her power secxured, will at last begin to show signs of Buddhist abhorrance at the way her fellow Buddhists in Myanmar are treating the Rohingya minority. Here’s the gist of Peter Popham‘s recent exploration of that question:

    Plenty of Burmese Buddhists are extremely prejudiced against Muslims. But is Aung San Suu Kyi? [ .. ]

    It is true that she has never made a clear statement in support of the Rohingya, the persecuted Muslims of western Burma, tens of thousands of whom are stateless, homeless and without rights thanks to official Burmese government policy. She has lamented the violence in Arakan state but has refused to endorse the judgements of organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which have blamed Arakan’s Buddhists for the persecution of the Muslims. [ .. ]

    Suu Kyi has been struggling to attain power in Burma for the past 28 years. She is vastly popular with her fellow countrymen, more than 90 per cent of whom are Buddhists, like her. But her enemies in the military regime have never stopped trying to blacken her name. Their favourite method was to say that she wasn’t properly Burmese because she had been married to an Englishman, had lived in the West for many years and produced two foreign sons. And by depicting her as foreign, they tried to lump her together with the Muslim minority who are also regarded by many Burmese Buddhists as aliens with no right to remain in the country.

    My hunch is that Suu Kyi feared that if she spoke up for the Rohingya, it would make it easy for her enemies to repeat this argument – and if the Burmese masses fell for it, that could erode her standing and her chances of coming to power. So she has been sitting uncomfortably on the fence for the past five years. [ .. ]

    Now she is coming to power with a solid parliamentary majority, perhaps she can relax and tell us what she really thinks.

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    Aesthetics of love & death

    Friday, March 4th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — relics of a catacombs martyr, St Valentine and more ]
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    SPEC DQ valentine catacomb martyrs

    **

    There are times when the DoubleQuote format is confining, and the comparative method it is based on could be uswed effectively with more than two examples. Here consider also:

    The Tamil Tiger martyr Jenny, as discussed in a fascinating article by anthropologist Michael Roberts aka Thuppahi, Death and Eternal Life: contrasting sensibilities in the face of corpses:

    jenny-dead-ltte-female-11

    The Al-Qaida martyr al-Zubayr al-Sudani as screencapped by Chris Anlazone:

    al-Zubayr al-Sudani

    And the Irish Catholic martyr Michael Collins as portrayed in death by Sir John Lavery:

    michael_collins_by_john_lavery1

    **

    Buddha is reported to have said:

    Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.

    The cover of American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky‘s book of poems, Gulf Music, features a Tibetan Buddhist Dance of Death:

    Gulf Music Pinsky

    Likewise, the Jesuit St Peter Faber meditates on the crucifixion and death of Christ:

    Jesus Christ, may your death be my life
    and in your dying may I learn how to live.
    May your struggles be my rest,
    Your human weakness my courage,
    Your embarrassment my honor,
    Your passion my delight,
    Your sadness my joy,
    in your humiliation may I be exalted.
    In a word, may I find all my blessings in your trials.
    Amen.

    while Hans Holbein invites us to contemplate death behind the varied appearances of human life:

    Holbein Dance the Nun

    Juxtaposition: chess in Wahhabism and Buddhism

    Sunday, January 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the focus of similarity — sameness or differences? ]
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    SPEC chess is haram

    As I said recently, juxtaposition does not imply eqivalence.

    It is only too easy these days to see a headline like Chess is ‘haram and a waste of time,’ says grand mufti of Saudi Arabia and view it purely in terms of Islam. It is in fact an Islamic ruling, though non-binding (there was, in fact, a chess tournament scheduled to take place in Mecca today, January 22, 2016), and can also be found in Shia sources (Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Iraq has also ruled against the game) — but many people who intensely dislike Islam may nonetheless admire Buddhism, and the Buddha dispproved of the game, even when played “in the air”..

    Hey, to get a better sense of what “in the air” means here, let’s take a look at a different, more informative translation (albeit on that would not have fit into the procrustean bed of my DoubleQuote format:

    Whereas some honorable recluses and brahmins, while living on food offered by the faithful, indulge in the following games that are a basis for negligence: atthapada (a game played on an eight-row chess-board); dasapada (a game played on a ten-row chess-board); akasa (a game of the same type played by imagining a board in the air); pariharapatha (“hopscotch,” a diagram is drawn on the ground and one has to jump in the allowable spaces avoiding the lines); santika (“spellicans,” assembling the pieces in a pile, removing and returning them without disturbing the pile); khalika (dice games); ghatika (hitting a short stick with a long stick); salakahattha (a game played by dipping the hand in paint or dye, striking the ground or a wall, and requiring the participants to show the figure of an elephant, a horse etc.); akkha (ball games); pangacira (blowing through toy pipes made of leaves); vankaka (ploughing with miniature ploughs); mokkhacika (turning somersaults); cingulika (playing with paper windmills); pattalaka (playing with toy measures); rathaka (playing with toy chariots); dhanuka (playing with toy bows); akkharika (guessing at letters written in the air or on one’s back); manesika (guessing others’ thoughts); yathavajja (games involving mimicry of deformities) — the recluse Gotama abstains from such games and recreations.

    **

    I trust that that juxtaposition of Mufti and Buddha carries an element of surpise. By way of contrast, one could always make a less surprising (less challenging?) juxtaposition, between the Grand Mufti — Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh — and Benjamin Franklin:

    SPEC-chess-is-haram 2

    Nuclear sites and religion, flags and clouds

    Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Oak Ridge, Albi, Bushehr, a Sinan mosque, clouds formation, the Karmapas ]
    .

    Cheryl Rofer very kindly suggested a DoubleQuote to me today, comparing and contrasting the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, Oak Ridge:

    HEUMF at Oak Ridge

    and the Cathedral of Albi — heart of the district in which the Albigensians / Cathars briefly and most interestingly flourished:

    Albi Cathedral

    **

    I particularly appreciate this juxtaposition because of an earlier DoubleQuote I posted, drawing a similar comparison between Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant:

    bushehr 600

    and the Mosque of the Conqueror in Istanbul:

    mosque-of-the-conqueror 600

    **

    Also notable as a DoubleQuote today is this image at the top of a Lion’s Roar post titled Is that the Karmapa’s Dream Flag over Colorado?:

    Karmapa Dream Flag DQ

    The Karmapa Lama is the holder of the oldest lineage of reincarnated high lamas in Tibetan tradition, and head of the Karma Kagyu stream of teachings. The flag of the Karmapas can be seen below:

    flag of the karmapas 600

    Here’s the brief video from which that cloud-image was taken:

    h/t Jacob DeFlitch

    Note also the resemblance to what is probably my personal favorite DoubleQuote, comparing & contrasting van Gogh‘s night sky and von Kármán‘s vortex street:

    **

    It may be worth adding that the Buddha is not above using cloud metaphors, as this celebrated verse from the Diamond Sutra, here in Red Pine‘s translation, illustrates:

    As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space
    an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble
    a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
    view all created things like this.


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