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Of martyrdom and forgiveness

Monday, August 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — of martyrdom according to ISIS and the church, & of forgiveness in response to hate — continuing from Of sacrifice and martyrdom ]
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Martyrs

Icon by Coptic artist Tony Rezk. The martyrs’ faces are the faces of Christ.

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My Lapido piece closed with these words:

That is, in part, why Pope Francis in his official comment on the event said he was “particularly troubled to learn that this act of violence took place in a church, during Mass, a liturgical act that implores of God His peace on earth.”

The Pope went on to say he “asks the Lord to inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and fraternity in this new trial, and to extend to everyone the abundance of His blessings”. And that, perhaps, is the hardest thing for us – and for France – to understand.

The natural reaction to such a barbarous act as the killing of a defenceless 86-year old priest is horrified anger, and French President François Hollande, true to France’s claim to be secular, described the killing as a “desecration of French democracy” – and declared “France is at war.”

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Democracy was far from the only thing that was desecrated. The image of God in the person of Fr Hamel was desecrated, his priesthood, speaking the words and making the gestures Christ himself had made at the Last Supper was desecrated, the sacred place in which he stood and woshipped was desecrated, and the sacrament of the Mass was desecrated .

And to all this, The Pope responded with words of forgivesness, asking God “to inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and fraternity”.

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Martha Nussbaum:

The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum has recently written an essay titled Beyond Anger, in which she begins to explain the futility of vengeance, citing Nelson Mandela as someone who went beyond anger to achieve great things:

He often said that he knew anger well, and that he had to struggle against the demand for payback in his own personality. He reported that during his 27 years of imprisonment he had to practice a disciplined type of meditation to keep his personality moving forward and avoiding the anger trap.

Nussbaum is presenting in psychological, philosophical and political terms the outlook which for Pope Francis is embodied in the words of Christ: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven.”

This attitude runs strikingly against the grain of secular thinking in our age.

With the tragic death of Fr Jacques Hamel and the words of Pope Francis, we are reminded once again that there exists another possibility than retribution, a way of forgiveness and peace in place of redoubled fury and war.

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Tibhirine:

We hve seen this forgivesness before. To grasp how different Pope Francis’ message is from the vegneance which seems like second nature to us, we may want to recall the French Trappist monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, killed by Islamist terrorists in 1996, and to read again the remarkable words of Christian de Chergé in his Last Testament:

If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

Addressing his future attacker, de Chergé says:

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you” – and this adieu – to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

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Copts:

We witnessed it among the Coptic Christians when so many of their sons were brutally beheaded by ISIS.

As I noted at the time in Some recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles, Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said when he was interviewed shortly after the event:

Q: Not long after the video released, you tweeted about the killings, using the hashtag #FatherForgive. Did you mean that you forgive ISIS?

A:Yes. It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

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For Christians, it is clear that Fr Hamel was killed for his faith, and died a martyr. For the followers of ISIS, the same kind of claim will be made — that the two jihadist “soldiers” died at the hands of the French police while fighting jihad fi sabilillah — in the cause of God. But for the Muslim community of France as a whole, the killing of Fr Hamel was an act of brutality without religious sanction — indeed, quite the opposite:

Community leaders in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy said they did not want to “taint” Islam by having any association with Adel Kermiche, the 19-year-old jihadist who killed Father Jacques Hamel in his hometown in northern France.

Mohammed Karabila, president of the local Muslim cultural association and imam of one of the town’s mosques, told Le Parisien newspaper: “We’re not going to taint Islam with this person. We won’t participate in preparing the body or the burial.”

Considering the importance of quick burial in Muslim theology, that is a pretty clear indication of the distance the Muslims of St Étienne-du-Rouvray wish to put between their faith and its distorted image in the mind of ISIS.

Not only didnthe local Muslims refuse to accept Kermiche’s body for burial, an appeal went out for Muslims to attend Mass on today, Sunday, in grief and solidarity with the Catholics and with the people of France. As Hend Amry put it:

Catholic priests were invited to attend, and spoke at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray mosque, which had been built on land donated by the church — and across France, in tears, countless Muslims attended Mass, in St Étienne-du-Rouvray, in Rouen Cathedral, and as far away as Italy and Corsica.

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Muslims at Mass in Milan
Muslims at Mass in Milan, Italy

Solidarity AFP photo JCMagnenet
Catholic-Muslim friendship in wake of killing of Fr Hamel, AFP.

Catafalque, Requiem for Fr Hamel
Catafalque, Requiem Mass for Fr Hamel, Faternity of St Joseph the Guardian, La-Londe-Les-Maures.

Announcing ! BLOOD SACRIFICES

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities edited by Robert J. Bunker

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of Blood Sacrifices, edited by Robert J. Bunker, to which Charles Cameron and I have both contributed chapters. Dr. Bunker has done a herculean job of shepherding this controversial book, where thirteen authors explore the dreadful and totemic cultural forces operating just beneath the surface of irregular warfare and religiously motivated extreme violence.

We are proud to have been included in such a select group of authors and I’m confident that many readers of ZP will find the book to their liking . If you study criminal insurgency, terrorism, hybrid warfare, 4GW, apocalyptic sects, irregular conflict or religious extremism, then the 334 pages of Blood Sacrifices has much in store for you.

Available for order at Amazon

Of Easter Fires

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the beauty and the burning ]
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Today was Easter Day for the Orthodox, and the Resurrection was celebrated with what Fr Janjic describes as Holy Fire in Jerusalem.

Fr the Orthodox, this event is both a liturgy, spreading from Jerusalem around the globe —

— and a miracle — an intersection of the divine with earthly existance:

Thus one might say the vertical enters the horizontal plane.

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Sadly, a similar celebration in New York was followed shortly thereafter by tragedy:

Much of beauty was consumed:

— and in an eerie echo half way round the world, a church in Australia blazed

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For more on the miracle, see the Description of the Miracle of Holy Light (Holy Fire) that happens every year in Jerusalem:

The ceremony, which awes the souls of Christians, takes place in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The date for Pascha is determined anew for every year. It must be a first Sunday after the spring equinox and Jewish Passover. Therefore, most of the time it differs from the date of Catholic and Protestant Easter, which is determined using different criteria. The Holy Fire is the most renowned miracle in the world of Eastern Orthodoxy. It has taken place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every single year for centuries. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and so steadily over time. It happens in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth, where Christ was crucified, entombed, and where He finally rose from the dead.

One celebrant, the late Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, described the miracle thus:

I enter the tomb and kneel in holy fear in front of the place where Christ lay after His death and where He rose again from the dead. I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees.Miracle of God. At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature. Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake — it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn — I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp… At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church.

— and there’s a great deal more of considerable interest at the above link.

Happy Easter to all my Orthodox friends!

Turchin on Human Sacrifice and Society

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Last week I posted on Human Sacrifice and State-Building, which focused on research findings published in Nature regarding the role of human sacrifice in establishing hierarchical societies. My interest was primarily in the way the gory practices of ISIS today seem to mirror this dynamic from prehistoric, ancient and chiefdom societies. Bogfriend T. Greer helpfully alerted me to the fact that noted scholar and cultural evolutionist, Peter Turchin also blogged regarding this research and took a critical posture.  Turchin, also addressed human sacrifice to some degree in his latest book, Ultrasociety, which has been on my list to read for his take on the role of warfare but which I have yet to do.

Turchin’s reasons for blogging this article are different from mine, so I suggest that you read him in full as I intend to comment only on selected excerpts:

Is Human Sacrifice Functional at the Society Level?

An article published this week by Nature is generating a lot of press. Using a sample of 93 Austronesian cultures Watts et al. explore the possible relationship between human sacrifice (HS) and the evolution of hierarchical societies. Specifically, they test the “social control” hypothesis, according to which human sacrifice legitimizes, and thus stabilizes political authority in stratified class societies.

Their statistical analyses suggest that human sacrifice stabilizes mild (non-hereditary) forms of social stratification, and promotes a shift to strict (hereditary) forms of stratification. They conclude that “ritual killing helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors to the large stratified societies we live in today.” In other words, while HS obviously creates winners (rulers and elites) and losers (sacrifice victims and, more generally, commoners), Watts et all argue that it is a functional feature—in the evolutionary sense of the word—at the level of whole societies, because it makes them more durable.

There are two problems with this conclusion. First, Watts et al. do not test their hypothesis against an explicit theoretical alternative (which I will provide in a moment). Second, and more important, their data span a very narrow range of societies, omitting the great majority of complex societies—indeed all truly large-scale societies. Let’s take these two points in order.

Turchin is correct that study focuses on Austronesian islanders in clan and tribal settings and that’s a pretty narrow of a base from which to extrapolate. OTOH, the pre-Cortez estimated population of the Aztec empire begins at five million on the low end. Estimates of the population of Carthage proper, range from 150,000 to 700,000. That’s sufficiently complex that the Mexica and Carthaginians each established sophisticated imperial polities and yet both societies remained extremely robust practitioners of human sacrifice at the time they were conquered and destroyed.

Maybe a more useful approach than simply expanding the data set would be to ask why human sacrifice disappears earlier in some societies than in others or continues to be retained at high levels of complexity?

An alternative theory on the rise of human sacrifice and other extreme forms of structural inequality is explained in my recent book Ultrasociety ….

….Briefly, my argument in Ultrasociety is that large and complex human societies evolved under the selection pressures of war. To win in military competition societies had to become large (so that they could bring a lot of warriors to battle) and to be organized hierarchically (because chains of command help to win battles). Unfortunately, hierarchical organization gave too much power to military leaders and their warrior retinues, who abused it (“power corrupts”). The result was that early centralized societies (chiefdoms and archaic states) were  hugely unequal. As I say in Ultrasociety, alpha males set themselves up as god-kings.

Again, I have not read Ultrasociety, but the idea that war would be a major driver of human cultural evolution is one to which I’m inclined to be strongly sympathetic. I’m not familiar enough with Turchin to know if he means war is”the driver” or “a major driver among several” in the evolution of human society.

Human sacrifice was perhaps instrumental for the god-kings and the nobles in keeping the lower orders down, as Watts et al. (and social control hypothesis) argue. But I disagree with them that it was functional in making early centralized societies more stable and durable. In fact, any inequality is corrosive of cooperation, and its extreme forms doubly so. Lack of cooperation between the rulers and ruled made early archaic states highly unstable, and liable to collapse as a result of internal rebellion or conquest by external enemies. Thus, according to this “God-Kings hypothesis,” HS was a dysfunctional side-effect of the early phases of the evolution of hierarchical societies. As warfare continued to push societies to ever larger sizes, extreme forms of structural inequality became an ever greater liability and were selected out. Simply put, societies that evolved less inegalitarian social norms and institutions won over and replaced archaic despotisms.

The question here is if human sacrifice was primarily functional – as a cynically wielded political weapon of terror by elites – or if that solidification of hierarchical stratification was a long term byproduct of religious drivers. It also depends on what evidence you count as “human sacrifice”. In the upper Paleolithic period, burial practices involving grave goods shifted to include additional human remains along with the primary corpse. Whether these additional remains, likely slaves, concubines or prisoners slain in the burial ritual count as human sacrifices in the same sense as on Aztec or Sumerian altars tens of thousands of years later may be reasonably disputed. What is not disputed is that humans being killed by other humans not by random violence or war but purposefully for the larger needs of a community goes back to the earliest and most primitive reckoning of what we call “society” and endured in (ever diminishing) places even into the modern period.

This also begs the question if burial sacrifices, public executions of prisoners and other ritualistic killings on other pretexts conducted by societies of all levels of complexity are fundamentally different in nature from human sacrifices or if they are all subsets of the same atavistic phenomena binding a group through shared participation in violence.

….The most complex society in their sample is Hawaii, which is not complex at all when looked in the global context. I am, right now, analyzing the Seshat Databank for social complexity (finally, we have the data! I will be reporting on our progress soon, and manuscripts are being prepared for publication). And Hawaii is way down on the scale of social complexity. Just to give one measure (out of >50 that I am analyzing), polity population. The social scale of Hawaiian chiefdoms measures in the 10,000s of population, at most 100,000 (and that achieved after the arrival of the Europeans). In Afroeurasia (the Old World), you don’t count as a megaempire unless you have tens of millions of subjects—that’s three orders of magnitude larger than Hawaii!

Why is this important? Because it is only by tracing the trajectories of societies that go beyond the social scale seen in Austronesia that we can test the social control hypothesis against the God-Kings theory. If HS helps to stabilize hierarchical societies, it should do so for societies of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, and so on. So we should see it persist as societies grow in size.

Well, human sacrifice persisted into the classical period of Greece and Rome, though becoming infrequent and eventually outlawed, though only during the last century of the Roman republic. That’s a significant level of complexity, Rome having become the dominant power in the Mediterranean world a century earlier. Certainly human sacrifice did not destabilize the Greeks and Romans, though the argument could be made that it did harm Sparta, if we count Spartan practices of infanticide for eugenic reasons as human sacrifice.

What muddies the waters here is the prevalence of available substitutes for human sacrifice – usually animal sacrifice initially – that competed and co-existed with human sacrifice in many early societies for extremely long periods of time. Sometimes this readily available alternative was sufficient to eventually extinguish human sacrifice, as happened with the Romans but other times it was not, as with the Aztecs. The latter kept their maniacal pace of human sacrifice up to the end, sacrificing captured Spanish conquistadors and their horses to the bloody Sun god. Human sacrifice did not destabilize the Aztecs and it weakened their tributary vassals but the religious primacy they placed on human sacrifice and the need to capture prisoners in large numbers rather than kill them in battle hobbled the Aztec response to Spanish military assaults.

Comments? Questions?

Two profound instances of ceremonial (liturgical) impact

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a follow up to my post on the Vespers liturgy at Hampton Court Palace ]
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Boring as hell or blissful as paradise? Religious worship can be either one.

I know that when I was at Wellington College I must have sat through dozens of sermons in which one or another scriptural passage was read in that droning pastoral voice which Alan Bennett so skilfully skewered in his Beyond the Fringe satirical sermon on the text of Genesis 27.11, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man”:

I was a deeply religious kid, but verses like I Samuel 15.3, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” went right past me. I had no qualms back then about Old Testament genocides, pretty much because I didn’t notice them — these were just sacred words, intoned, a strange blend of heaven, lullaby and snooze.

In my piece on the Hampton Court Vespers, I tried to give readers a sense of how things look from a perspective where liturgy and rites and rituals more generally need not be viewed as dry relics of a past best forgotten, but as well-springs of deep personal, interpersonal and transcendent inspiration and communion.

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Here, I’d like to supplement my attempt with two “cases” that I hope will illustrate the power of liturgy.

the first I found a few days back in Peter Berger‘s essay, Eastern Orthodox Cacophony in America:

When the service began late on Saturday evening the cathedral was dimly lit, all the hangings and the altar cover were black in the color of Good Friday. Then the entire congregation went out into the street and marched slowly around the block. It was very cold. When we returned the cathedral was brilliantly lit and the color of everything was very bright. Easter had arrived.

So — somebody turned the lights on.

But no, it’s more than that, it’s the utter darkness of Christ’s descent from the cross and burial, it is grief physically imposed by that very cold pilgrimage around the block — and it’s the shock, the palpable beauty of the Resurrection dawn.

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Going back yet a day further, from Good Friday to the Maundy Thursday which in the church’s calendar porecedes it, we can see the similarly profound impact of a simple gesture as my old mentor, Fr. Trevor Huddleston, washes the feet of his students in Sophiatown, the Johannesberg shanty-town where for years he taught and preached. In his own words, drawn from his book Naught for Your Comfort, we read:

On Maundy Thursday, in the Liturgy of the Catholic Church, when the Mass of the day is ended, the priest takes a towel and girds himself with it; he takes a basin in his hands, and kneeling in front of those who have been chosen, he washes their feet and wipes them, kissing them also one by one. So he takes, momentarily, the place of his Master. The centuries are swept away, the Upper Room in the stillness of the night is all around him: “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.” I have knelt in the sanctuary of our lovely church in Rosettenville and washed the feet of African students, stooping to kiss them. In this also I have known the meaning of identification. The difficulty is to carry the truth out into Johannesberg, into South Africa, into the world.

That world, for Fr Trevor, was the world of South African apartheid. He carried that truth out into Johannesberg and the world in his book, and as President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement — and with what impact! He lived to see apartheid gone.

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In closing, let me quote TS Eliot who wrote, in his Dialogue on Dramatic Poetry:

I say that the consummation of the drama, the perfect and ideal drama, is to be found in the ceremony of the Mass. … And the only dramatic satisfaction that I find now is in a High Mass well performed. Have you not there everything necessary? And indeed, if you consider the ritual of the Church during the cycle of the year, you have the complete drama represented. The Mass is a small drama, having all the unities; but in the Church year you have represented the full drama of creation.


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