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DoubleVision: two troubles with religions

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — religious violence and sexual abuse scandals from a perspective grounded in comparative religion ]
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Two images from my feed a couple of days ago, similar enough that they make a (visual) DoubleQuote:


The Atlantic, Abolish the Priesthood


WaPo, Sri Lankan government blocks social media and imposes curfew following deadly blasts

**

The first image above comes from an article in the Atlantic about child sexual abuse by members of the Catholic priesthood and accompanying cover-ups by the church hierarchy.

  • The Atlantic, Abolish the Priesthood
  • The abuses are horrific.They are horrific, horrific.

    My grouse here is that articles such as this focus on the Catholic Church, although Billy Graham’s grandson claims the situation is similar if not worse among Protestants; sexual abuse of spiritual authority and cover-ups are also found in so-called “sects” such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in other religions altogether:

  • Vice, Billy Graham’s Grandson Says Protestants Abuse Kids Just Like Catholics
  • The Atlantic, A Secret Database of Child Abuse
  • Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine, Sex in the Sangha … Again
  • And if that’s not enough — consider this list of non-religiously specific sources of sexual abuse the Feeney Law Firm, LLC encounters in its practice:

  • Feeny Law Firm, Sexual Abuse and Assault Lawsuits
  • **

    The second image above is from a Washington Post piece of April 22nd, about “the aftermath of suicide attacks that killed hundreds of people” in churches and hotels across the island. The coordinated attacks were claimed by ISIS, but appear to have been locally planned and executed.

    Executed: what a word!

    My plea here is simple: that extremists should cease targeting followers of other religions in the names of their own various religions.

    As I’ve noted before, attacks here in the US and abroad have included:

  • The Gurdwara (Sikh temple), Oak Creek, WI, 2012
  • Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, NC, 2015
  • The Tree of Life and New Light synagogues in Pittsburgh, PA, 2018
  • The Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, NZ, 2019
  • and violent extremists can be found claiming affiliation to these religions:

  • Judaism
  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • **

    Violence in the name of religion — whether personal violence as in sexual abuse or political violence as in the case of terrorism — is both human and deeply abhorrent. Understanding how widespread the human urge to violence in fact is will tend to put our recriminations against any particular religion into a clearer perspective. Religions, too, can benefit greatly from acknowledging, and not hiding, the shameful skeletons in their various closets.

    As David Ronfeldt would say: Onwards!

    To weaponize metaphors.. thoughts as clothes, clothes as thoughts

    Monday, May 13th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — if i may be a bit presumptuous, language is a topic for the wise — in this case, how language can be used as a knife ]
    .

    I was reading a Vice News piece, Leaked chats show white nationalist group’s plot to infiltrate Turning Point, and was struck by the phrase “weaponize metaphors” in the paragraph:

    Part of Identity Evropa’s strategy now relies on its ability to weaponize metaphors to make their white nationalism seem more acceptable, like referring to “European heritage” — which white nationalist often use as a euphemism to mean “white” — or seizing on mainstream conservative issues like immigration.

    I frankly don’t see”metaphor” and “euphemism” as equivalents, but at least we’re looking at the language used to convey a political stance, albeit an abhorrent one.

    **

    Semioticians won’t be surprised to see that clothes can also be a mode of signalling — of conveying meaning — every bit as much as verbal language. In fact, to paraphrase my title, we can see here that thoughts can be viewed as clothes, clothes as thoughts.. Indeed, in the paragraph immediately before the one I just quoted, we read:

    According to the leaked Slack chats, about 200 members were expected to attend a secret Identity Evropa conference in Kentucky last weekend. Consistent with their brand overall, the event had a fairly strict dress code: Attendees were urged to wear “dress slacks or chinos” — no jeans. Some attendees fretted about whether they had enough time to get their suits dry-cleaned.

    Clothes as thoughts, thoughts as clothes..

    **

    Speaking of semioticians — Charles Sanders Peirce, the father of semiotics, coined the phrase “the play of musement” which I’ve been toying with recently. Here’s a play, a musement of my own:

  • There’s the music of the spheres, around and within us.

  • Then there’s the boundary layer, the troposphere, the ozone layer, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, the exosphere and so forth, space, deep space, and deep deep space —

  • or if you’ll believe the brilliant jazz comedian Lord Buckley riffing on Albert Einstein — we should also add “the zonesphere, and the vautisphere, and the routesphere, and the hippisphere, and the flippisphere, and the zippisphere, and the gonesphere, and the way-gonesphere” — hey, the “way-gonesphere” has a distinctly Prajnaparamita feel to it, no? —

  • or better yet, there’s the atmosphere, which includes equally both the sphere of weather out the window and the realm of emotional tensions within a room, group or event..

  • and what Dylan Thomas calls “the weather of the heart”..
  • **

    But really, listen to the whole Hip Einie thing, Buckley gets into the 1905 Annalen der Physik and more:

    And consider the profound beauties of the Heart Sutra with its mantra, and Dylan Thomas marvelous poem:

  • Prajñaparamita, Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, Enlightenment hail!
  • Dylan Thomas, A Process In The Weather Of The Heart
  • Some end in ashes, some wind up in stained glass

    Sunday, May 12th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — and some, high lamas, emanations of Avalokiteshvara, become poets of the erotic.. ]
    .

    You know my early mentor Fr Trevor Huddleston CR? I posted three photos of him here, one with Louis Armstrong and a trumpet, one with Nelson Mandela, and one exactly as I knew and now remember and honor him:

    Well, today I saw for the first time an image of the stained glass window dedicated to him in Lancing College chapel:

    For more on Fr Trevor, see The Life of Trevor Huddleston, Makhalipile (the Dauntless One)

    Mandela said of him:

    Father Huddleston was a pillar of wisdom, humility and sacrifice to the legions of freedom fighters in the darkest moments of the struggle against apartheid.

    His fearlessness won him the support of everyone. No one, neither gangster, tsotsi nor pickpocket would touch him. Their respect for him was such that they would have tried – and if they did it could have cost them their lives. His enormous courage gave him a quality that commanded the respect of the place

    and:

    No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston.

    He was a giant.

    **

    All of which got me thinking about stained glass as an alternative destination to ashes..

    Desmond Tutu was another whose life was decisively influenced by Fr Trevor — and he too can be found in stained glass:

    MaryAnn Randolph writes:

    This, in St. Mark’s, Minneapolis, is what is called the Peacemaker’s Window. In this magnificent stained glass you will find: Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and many others.

    Giants, all — and inspirations, inviting us to join them!

    **

    Ah, Gandhi-ji and the Dalai Lama — it delights me to see stained glass extending to peacemakers regardless of their religious affiliations!

    I’ll leave you with an image of Green Tara, female Buddha to whom the “Great Fifth” Dalai Lama — who unified Tibet, established Lhasa as its capital, and worked to bring together the various lineages of Tibetan Buddhism together with the earlier shamanic Bon tradition — was devoted:

    The Dalai Lama himself, in each of his incarnations, is considered an emanation of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara.

    **

    It was the Sixth, beloved successor of the Great Fifth, who was the rascal poet, writer of such gently erotic verses as:

    This white bow in its cloth cover,
    On whom shall I bestow it?
    I will place it gently inside
    My lover’s tiger-skin quiver.

    Ah, but he’d be hard to capture in stained glass —

    I’ll leave you with him and his compassion, and with the Love Songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama.

    Enjoy! Delight!

    Jackass and catfish, catfish and gourd

    Friday, February 1st, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — an almost-Darwin-Award-worthy foolishness, coupled with a masterpiece of Zen art — just the sort of post I’d love to post, for my own sake, even if no-one else is listening ]
    .

    Unbelievable!

    That’s a serious journal article about a seriously un-serious drunking game.. And if you can’t read the fine print, not to worry — the two top articles below will brief you nicely..

    Readings:

  • Atlantic, This Is What Happens When You Drunkenly Swallow a Live Catfish
  • LiveScience, A Drunk Man Swallowed a Live, Venomous, Spiny Catfish.

  • Acta Oto-Laryngologica Case Reports, A Jackass and a Catfish
  • **

    By way of contrast:

    Here’s what the book’s about:

    Zen art poses a conundrum. On the one hand, Zen Buddhism emphasizes the concept of emptiness, which among other things asserts that form is empty, that all phenomena in the world are illusory. On the other hand, a prodigious amount of artwork has been created in association with Zen thought and practice. A wide range of media, genres, expressive modes, and strategies of representation have been embraced to convey the idea of emptiness. Form has been used to express the essence of formlessness, and in Japan, this gave rise to a remarkable, highly diverse array of artworks and a tradition of self-negating art.

    In this volume, Yukio Lippit explores the painting The Gourd and the Catfish (ca. 1413), widely considered one of the most iconic works of Japanese Zen art today. Its subject matter appears straightforward enough: a man standing on a bank holds a gourd in both hands, attempting to capture or pin down the catfish swimming in the stream below. This is an impossible task, a nonsensical act underscored by the awkwardness with which the figure struggles even to hold his gourd. But this impossibility is precisely the point.

    Read or view:

  • Getty Research, Japanese Zen Buddhism and the Impossible Painting
  • Getty YouTube lecture, Japanese Zen Buddhism and the Impossible Painting
  • **

    On the zen of swallowing, or not:

    In Zen work, an existential contradiction, Mumon’s “red hot coal,” sticks in the student’s throat; the inability “to swallow it or spit it out” precipitates a crisis to be resolved through an insight that is simultaneously an existential gesture. “If I am whole and complete as I am, why do I feel ignorant and incomplete?” might be one formulation of the conundrum, though encoded in a ritual question like “What is the sound of one hand?” The greater the contradiction, the greater the tension — ”doubt mass” — and the greater the breakthrough, according to Zen tradition.

    Source:

  • Tricycle, Fruitful Contradictions: The Zen of mathematics
  • The remaking of angels, their rank and sweep

    Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — on, i suppose, the uphill slog or seduction of genius — or a very different take on complexity? ]
    .

    Paul Klee‘s Angelus Novus — described by the Verso writer Stuart Jeffries as “this goofy, eternally hovering angel with hair that looks like paper scrolls, aerodynamically hopeless wings and googly if rather melancholy eyes”:

    was admired and bought for a thousand marks by Walter Benjamin, and moved with him from one lodging to the next until her fled Germany and the onrushing Nazis. It is also:

    Benjamin’s most famous image, in the 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: the “angel of history” who is blown backward into the future by the storm of progress.

    or to quote Benjamin himself:

    A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

    **

    At a time after Darwin, Marx and Freud have dissolved the basics of fundamentalism, and before the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the brilliant Christopher Hitchens proclaimed “the new atheism” in an easily-won contest with that same low, popular religiosity — all but ignoring the retreat of angels from Renaissance tryptich to Hallmark Card — we might do well to carry the God-NoBoDaddy debate up an octave, and consider the possibility that once angels have been more or less erased from modern western consciousness, they may, as in a palimpsest, reappear in new-old guises..

    **

    Principally, I think here of Rilke‘s angels in the Duino Elegies:

    Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
    and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
    I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
    For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
    and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    Every angel is terrifying.

    Ah!

    Rilke told one of his translators that she should not make the mistake of understanding the angel referred to in the elegies as a Christian angel. To the contrary, this angel was quite distinctly drawn from an Islamic tradition. Rilke writes that in the months before his trip to Duino, he had traveled in Spain and had been consumed with reading the Qu’ran and a book on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. It seems fairly clear that this occurred under the influence of his friend Lou Andreas-Salomé, whose husband, Friedrich Carl Andreas, was a leading scholar of Islamic culture in the Russian Empire, particularly including Naqshibandiyya.

    **

    Let Rilke have traveled next to India or China, the apsarases and gandharvas of Hinduism and Buddhism might have affected him, with their sensuality, their song, their dance..

    **

    But while gandharvas and apsarases capture us by their powers of seduction — in some ways like the houris of Islamic paradise — with Rilke’s angels, drawing no less on the Old Testament than on the Qur’an, our surrender is to elemental force:

    I mean the Angel who appeared
    to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
    when the wrestlers’ sinews
    grew long like metal strings,
    he felt them under his fingers
    like chords of deep music.

    Whoever was beaten by this Angel
    (who often simply declined the fight)
    went away proud and strengthened
    and great from that harsh hand,
    that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
    Winning does not tempt that man.
    This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
    by constantly greater beings.

    **

    Constantly greater beings, with which we may if we are spiritually fortunate, wrestle — these are Rilke‘s angels, and they fill the gap in the once-dominant Great Chain of Being paradigm, on a rung above human usualness, demanding, promising, skirmishing, delivering…

    To be carried in the arms of an apsara, to be swept by the gale-force storm of an angel, these are human experiences of the transhuman kind, and we need words for them, both forgetful of any surrounding dogma and delighting in their strength as imagery — gandharvas and angels named as such, and constantly revivified by the poetic imagination.

    Klee, Benjamin, Rilke, but also Jacob wrestling with — who? a man, angel, God? — and becoming IsraelGiotto, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo who wrestled form from Carrera marble, Dogen Zenji for whom mountains were the sages into whom, living among them, he blended.. Kalidasa with his yakshas in Cloud Messenger and perhaps supremely in the gandharva marriage in his Shakuntala..

    Isaac becoming Israel, Shakuntala the mother of Bharata.. Of such are sacred nations born.

    **

    Yet this world is wide and deep, the beings above us multitudinous, and the humans touched by them more than a single mind can comprehend. And:

    The problem of god is a problem in ballistics, Icarus discovered this,
    that to shoot for the sun is to fall short of it, those who shoot
    for beauty achieve prettiness, there is a gravity in aesthetics as there is
    in physics, and theology too has its fall, the problem of god being
    that the mind falls short of what is huge enough to conceive it, give
    conception whatever relevant definition you choose, too vast
    to think of, give birth to it — no, no, mind has sheer cliffs of fall, and
    to shoot for a conception of god is full speed ahead to fall, fail ..

    I bow, salute, prostrate, pranam, bow gassho.


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