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From medieval gold leaf to Olympic gold

Monday, August 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a voyage into nondualism via the coincidentia oppositorum ]
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Here from Dr Emily Steiner may be the widest rigorous gap-bridging DoubleQuotes I’ve ever seen:

Kudos to Anthony Ervin for his gold!

I’m not entirely sure there’s gold leaf in the image Dr Steiner uses to represent medieval manuscripts, though it certainly works for the genre as a whole, and I think I detect some gold leaf in the hearts of the flowers depicted..

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It would be foolish for me to claim to follow JL Usó-Doménech et al’s Paraconsistent Multivalued Logic and Coincidentia Oppositorum: Evaluation with Complex Numbers, but the general notions of Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus), “That in God opposites coincide” and “That God is beyond the coincidence of opposites” rae pretty basic (with appropriate variations) to Carl Jung‘s psychology — and to my own thinking.

Here, in Dr Steiner’s tweet, we have something that comes delightfully, playfully close to a coincidence of opposites. Indeed it is that possibility of evoking and annotating opposites in a manner than allows us to transcend them — as we could be said to transcend the two streams of vision in binocular vision, the two streams of hearing in stereophonic audition — that lies at the heart of my focus on DoubleQuoting.

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If the “new atheists” were a little more widely read, they might find themselves perplexed by the trans-logical implications of a God described thus by Cusanus:

When we attempted to see Him beyond being and not-being, we were unable to understand how He could be visible. For He is beyond everything plural, beyond every limit and all unlimitedness; He is completely everywhere and not at all anywhere; He is of every form and of no form, alike; He is completely ineffable; in all things He is all things, in nothing He is nothing, and in Him all things and nothing are Himself; He is wholly and indivisibly present in any given thing (no matter how small) and, at the same time, is present in no thing at all.

That’s a far harder concept — if it can even be called a concept — to deal with than the “seven day creator” God that is their usual mark. And yet there is no great logical space between Cusanus’ “He is completely ineffable” and the Athanasian Creed‘s ” The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible .. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal .. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal .. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.”

Jasper Hoskins proposes [Jasper Hopkins, A concise introduction to the philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa] that in Cusanus’ view, “no finite mind can comprehend God, since finite minds cannot conceive of what it is like for God to be altogether undifferentiated.”

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There’s an exchange in Cusanus’ Trialogus de possest (“On actualized-possibility”) in Hoskins’ op. cit.., that sets forth instructions for reading propositions about God — which also make interesting reading in terms of the flexibility ofmmind andimagination necessary for reading poetry, myth, and scriptures:

Bernard: I am uncertain whether in similar fashion we can fittingly say that God is sun or sky or man or any other such thing.

Card. Nicholas of Cusa: We must not insist upon the words. For example, suppose we say that God is sun. If, as is correct, we construe this [statement] as [a statement] about a sun which is actually all it is able to be, then we see clearly that this sun is not at all like the sensible sun. For while the sensible sun is in the East, it is not in any other part of the sky where it is able to be. [Moreover, none of the following statements are true of the sensible sun:] “It is maximal and minimal, alike, so that it is not able to be either greater or lesser”; “It is everywhere and anywhere, so that it is not able to be elsewhere than it is”; “It is all things, so that it is not able to be anything other than it is”— and so on. With all the other created things the case is simnilar. Hence is does not matter what name you give to God, provided that in the foregoing manner you mentally remove the limits with respect to its possible being.

We’re close here, to the zen notion of the finger pointing at the moon — except that here is is the moon pointing at what cannot even be located in either physical spacetime or conceptual space..

**

and that’s the touch of gold in the heart of all flowers..

I’ve seen Christianity described as..

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a little matter of rising (i trust) between the two stools of belief and unbelief ]
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I have seen Christianity described as —

The popular belief that a celestial Jewish baby, who is also his own father, born from a virgin mother, died for three days so that he could ascend to heaven on a cloud and make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh, drink his blood, and telepathically tell him you accept him as your Lord and master, so he can remove an evil force from your spiritual being that is present in all humanity because an immoral woman made from a man’s rib was hoodwinked by a talking reptile possessed by a malicious angel to secretly eat forbidden fruit from a magical tree.

Don’t these atheists understand anything about poetry?

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Don’t the Christians understand anything about poetry?

Try this as an exercise for the imagination — picture this —

To suppose the Eucharist

Suppose the hypothetical all of everything
in unspooling itself chose to exhibit itself in
one human, suppose further all the sun’s
light were caught in wheat and baked into
bread, all the world’s pains and passions
crushed like grapes into wine, suppose the
one person took loaf and cup and with
word and gesture raised them blood, body

of his own self to be supped and sipped,
thus woven into his one flesh, blood, mind —
just when his flesh is torn, blood spills —
suppose then that his mind to love were to
entrain this new body of many bodies to
heal with all radiance each instance of pain..

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I offer this poem as a bridge in two directions — to allow the sensible atheist a means of glimpsing what might be admirable in his Christian friend’s faith.. — and to allow the Christian on the brink of leaving the faith for “sensible atheism” a means of retaining much of the deep beauty of that faith while leaving behind both the bribes of heaven and the threats of hell.

Marx, Putin — to believe or disbelieve, that is the question

Friday, March 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — plus ça change? ]
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SPEC DQ marx atheism russia prison

Same difference?

Those of you who follow my keen interest in sameness and difference will appreciate the irony here.

There’s no disputin..

Umpqua: give the waters time to settle

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — where motive is a multiple choice question, all (or several) of the above may be decent responses, but i’m checking “dunno” ]
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The waters haven’t settled yet, and we don’t have a clear picture as to the shooter’s motive or motives, yet.

One recent suggestion is that Mercer left a “manifesto” (somehow, that’s what these things get called) in which he claimed “I am going to die friendless, girlfriendless, and a virgin.” That’s reminiscent of Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista killer from May 2014.

But he appears to have studied several mass killers, and maybe (with an assist from news, social media & 4chan guesswork) left “clues” pointing in enough directions to keep us all talking about him..

  • Nazi
  • jihadist
  • satanist
  • atheist
  • racist
  • friendless, girlfriendless, and a virgin
  • conservative republican
  • spiritual
  • IRA
  • BlackLivesMatter
  • and so on..

    Please note, these links were hastily gathered to make my overall point, and better ones may well be available — the amount of coverage and speculation is vast.

    **

    FWIW, Bob Shea and RA Wilson pillaged the many conspiracy theories sent to Playboy’s legal department and amalgamated them all, however mutually incoherent, to form the Illuminatus Trilogy. Wilson later wrote that his basic assumption was:

    Suppose all these nuts are right, and every single conspiracy they complain about really exists.

    **

    Guns? Mental illness? No comment at this time.

    On Socrates and his Legacy, Part II: Stone, Socrates and Religion

    Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

    This is the second in a series of posts regarding Socrates and his modern legacy that began with a discussion of the books and authors involved – The Trial of Socrates by I.F. Stone and Socrates: A Man for Our Times by Paul Johnson . We are also getting some direction from a foremost academic authority on Socrates and Plato, the late Gregory Vlastos in the form of  his last book,  Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher

    The greatest divergence between Johnson and Stone is on the matter of Socrates and religion. This is is some importance because one of the charges leveled at Socrates by his accusers Anytus and Meletus was not believing in “the gods of city”and introducing new ones.

    The sincerity of this specific charge is an interesting question. As both authors indicated, the century of pre-Socratic philosophers in Athens laid the cornerstone of empirical and rational thought about nature that were the forerunners of both materialism as well as science in the form of natural philosophy. This coincided with the rise of Athens to greatness and empire and a possible change in Athenian civic culture, not so much a secularization but an emphasis on humanism over mysticism in political affairs. This point Johnson was at pains to emphasize as the core nature of “the cultural revolution” wrought by “the Periclean regime” , where Protogoras was prominent sophist. Stone regards the transition to one where religion was “demoted…reduced to venerable fables and metaphorical personifications of natural forces and abstract ideas” which renders the religious question at Socrates’ trial a “distraction”.  The primitive awe in which the Greek gods were held during archaic times, gave way to a more ritualistic and cultural reverence in the classical period, or so this line of argument goes.

    I am not certain this interpretation is correct to that exaggerated degree. It strikes me far more likely as a representation of the beliefs of  educated elite Athenians at the time than those of the middle classes or the thetes, or of Greeks from other cities. Pagan folk religion probably retained the same influence over public and private life in Athens as Christianity does in America in our own times. That is to say there were likely differences in religiosity between the aristocratic elite and the masses in democratic Athens and between political factions (democratic, moderate and extreme oligarchic).

    Some contrasting examples: Nicias, whose political reputation with the Assembly was anchored in trust of his admirable piety, brought final disaster upon the Sicilian Expedition and himself with his obstinate, superstitious, deference to religious signs and soothsayers when the path of escape still remained open. Xenophon, in delicately rebuffing calls to accept rulership over the 10,000 in The Anabasis of Cyrus used pious arguments with the soldiers that he himself probably viewed with some degree of cynicism because they were an effective excuse to pass the leadership to a Spartan. Speaking of the Spartans, they were known in this time as “the craftsmen of war” not because of battle art but because of their zealous adherence to military religious ceremonials and divination of sacrificial animals to discern the will of the gods.

    That does not sound much like a people for whom Zeus and Apollo were merely enjoyable campfire fables for children, figures of comic sport in the theater or convenient metaphors for chance or the weather.

    Stone argued that Athenian religion had been “demoted” but did so for purposes of rebutting the claim of Socrates that decades of comic poets lampooning him in their plays (like The Clouds, by Aristophanes) had prejudiced the jury against him. Stone was also writing  The Trial of Socrates after the time when standards of  “traditional morality” had been challenged culturally and theologically during the sixties and seventies and were rejected by a significant part of the Baby Boom generation:

    ….As for not believing in gods, the Athenians were accustomed to hearing the gods treated disrespectfully in both the comic and the tragic theater. For two centuries before Socrates, the philosophers had been laying the foundations of natural science and metaphysical inquiry. Their gigantic pioneering in free thought still awes us as we pore over the fragments of these so-called pre-Socratics. Almost all the basic concepts of science and philosophy may be found there in embryo. They first spoke of evolution and conceived the atom. In the process the gods were not so much dethroned as demoted and bypassed. They were reduced to venerable fables or metaphorical personifications of natural forces and abstract ideas.

    These philosophers were rationalists and rarely bothered with what we call “theology”. The very term was unknown to them. Indeed it does not appear in Greek until the century after Socrates. The word theologia – talk about gods – turns up for the first time in the Republic when Plato is explaining what the poets in utopia will not be allowed to say about the divine powers. In his ideal society a Socrates would have indeed been punishable for deviating from the state-sanctioned theologia, but not in Athens.

    ….Polytheism was, by it’s pluralistic nature, roomy and tolerant, open to new gods and new views of old ones. It’s mythology personified by natural forces and could be adapted easily, by allegory, to metaphysical concepts. These were the old gods in a new guise, and commanded a similar but fresh reverence.

    Atheism was little known and difficult for a pagan to grasp because he saw divinity all about him, not just on Olympus but in the hearth and boundary stone, which were also divinities though of a humbler sort…..

    ….It was the political, not the philosophical or theological views which finally got Socrates into trouble. The discussion of religious views diverts attention from the real issues. 

    Stone develops this theme further in his explanation of how Socrates might have won acquittal, had the old philosopher not been determined to antagonize his jury:

    The indictment’s two counts are equally vague. No specific acts against the city are alleged. The complaints are against the teaching and beliefs of Socrates. Neither in the indictment – nor at the trial – was there any mention of any overt act of sacrilege or disrespect to the city’s gods or any overt attempt or conspiracy against it’s democratic institutions. Socrates was prosecuted for what he said, not for anything he did.

    In other words, the charges against Socrates were of a very different character than the ones which had been made during the Expedition to Syracuse against the close associate and student of  Socrates, the ambitious demagogue Alcibiades. The latter had been charged with sacrilege, specifically defaming and vandalizing the Eleusinian Mysteries, forcing his recall as joint strategos over the expedition and summoning him back to Athens for trial. This ill-fated and poorly timed indictment may or may not have been false, but it had certainly been politically motivated and was the catalyst for the subsequent treason of Alcibiades and the military disaster in Sicily, both so damaging to Athens. That charge, unlike the one against Socrates however, was based upon real acts that had taken place, whether Alcibiades had been the culprit or not.

    ….on the impiety charge, Socrates is as vague as the indictment. He never discusses the accusation that he did not respect or believe in – the Greek verb used, nomizein, has both meanings – the gods of the city. Instead, he traps the the rather dim-witted Meletus into accusing him of Atheism, a charge he easily refutes. But there was no law against atheism in ancient Athens either before or after the trial. Indeed, the only place we find such a law proposed is in Plato’s Laws. In this respect, Plato was the exception to the tolerance that paganism showed to diverse cults and philosophic speculation about the gods.

    ….it was monotheism that brought religious intolerance into the world. When the Jews and Christians denied divinity to any god but their own, they were attacked as atheos or “godless”. This explains how – to borrow Novalis’s characterization of Spinoza – a “God-intoxicated” Jew and Christian like St. Paul could be called an “atheist” by pious and indignant pagans.” 

    We will see later that Johnson takes a normatively very different, but logically complementary view to Stone on “Socratic monotheism”, who concludes:

    By trapping Meletus into calling him an atheist, Socrates evaded the actual charge in the indictment. It did not accuse him of disbelief in Zeus and the Olympian divinities, or in gods generally. It charged disbelief in ‘the gods of the city”.

    This was in the ancient Greek sense, a political crime, a crime against the gods of the Athenian polis. This is a crucial point often overlooked.

    In Athens, Democracy was itself deified and personified, at least to the extent of having it’s own ritual priest in the annual theater of Dionysus – and what was old Socrates in the view of Stone but the teacher of antidemocratic and antipolitical doctrines in a city where the Democracy had been overthrown by the Thirty?

    End Part II.


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