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A metaphysical trigonometry

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — from [Inkling] Charles Williams via J’lem & Damascus to TS Eliot, iconology and the apophatic & cataphatic paths ]
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The Second Coming: Orthodox icon and Turkish miniature

The Second Coming: Orthodox icon and Turkish miniature

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The phrase “metaphysical trigonometry” is from Charles Williams, friend of Tolkien and Lewis, and is drawn from the opening paragraph of his book, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.

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Williams mentions Bethany, the geographic lift-off point for the Ascension of Christ — but where is his Second Coming to be witnessed?

Some Christian telecasters, literal-minded and consequently of the opinion that not only living eyes but even the eye of the camera will be able to capture the event, suggest the Mount of Olives:

Thus Christian Broadcasters’ Cameras Trained on Mount of Olives to Capture Christ’s Return:

Two of America’s biggest evangelical Christian broadcasters have stationed cameras on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, ready to cover the return of Jesus Christ from the Mount of Olives as predicted in the Bible, should any such event occur soon.

Texas-based Daystar Television Network was first to install a 24/7 camera from its terrace overlooking the Mount of Olives, and now Costa Mesa-based Trinity Broadcasting Network has bought the building next door, allowing it the same opportunity. The Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge east of Jerusalem, is rooted both in Jewish and Christian traditions, and is where Jesus is said to have preached to his disciples and later ascended to heaven, according to Acts chapter one.

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I am hoping one of the Latter-day Saint friends of this blog will have more to say on LDS expectation, but have found this reference to Missouri as the site of the New Jerusalem — not quite the same as the place of the Second Coming, but certainly related to some extent:

Building of the New Jerusalem:

Near the time of the coming of Jesus Christ, the faithful Saints will build a righteous city, a city of God, called the New Jerusalem. Jesus Christ Himself will rule there. (See 3 Nephi 21:23–25; Moses 7:62–64; Articles of Faith 1:10.) The Lord said the city will be built in the state of Missouri in the United States (see D&C 84:2–3).

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And in Islam, Damascus, and specifically the Umayyad mosque is the place of expectation, following the hadith reported in Muhammad Ata Ur-Rahim, Jesus: Prophet of Islam:

At that point, God will send the Messiah, son of Mary, and he will descend to the white minaret in the east of Damascus, wearing two garments dyed with saffron, placing his hands on the wings of two angels. When he lowers his head, beads of perspiration will fall from it, and when he raises his head, beads like pearls will scatter from it. Every disbeliever who smells his fragrance will die, and his breath will reach as far as he can see. He will search for the Dajjal until he finds him at the gate of Ludd (the biblical Lydda, now known as Lod), where he will kill him.

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It has been argued that the thrust of Hinduism as of Buddhism is vertically upwards, towards transcendance of this world in moksha, liberation, whereas that of Christianity is downwards, towards immanence, in the Incarnation, indeed in what Henri Nouwen calls “downward mobility”.

In reality, however, the god Vishnu descends into human form in his avatars Narsingh, Rama, Krishna, Kalki — to play lila within creation, while the yogi’s path leads upowards to moksha — and the Christ who descends into time and human circumstance is also the ascended and eternal Christ whose celestial marriage feast is celebrated in each Eucharist…

In short, paths of both ascent and descent are to be found, as perhaps we might have learned from the story of Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28,12):

and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

Or as TS Eliot puts it in Four Quartets, variously echoing Heraclitus, Dante, John of the Cross:

And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.

and:

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

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Going a step further, Cleo McNelly Kearns writes:

The way down is the way of asceticism and abstraction, while the way up is the way of erotic experience, metaphor and imagination. The negative way seeks, through a process of progressive elimination of the partial, to attain a posture of complete humility and self-erasure before the void; the positive way calls for escalating degrees of recognition and self-affirmation proceeding from like to like to a place commensurate with contemplation of the whole. Likewise, the negative way, or way down, seeks to move the consciousness beyond the body and its images, while the affirmative way, or way up, seeks to move it more deeply into them.

The negative, apophatic way, avoids affirmative statements and images because they might be mistaken for idols and worshipped, while the affirmative, cataphatic way uses affirmations and images as icons and symbols through which the unseen may be glimpsed.

And we’re into a whole new areea of discourse.

Phineas Priesthood I: Larry McQuilliams

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — I call these events where an ancient scripture provides sanction for contmporary brutality Landmines in the Garden — I could write a book about’em ]
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Larry McQuilliams KSN file photo
Larry McQuilliams. Photo credit: KSN file photo

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Here’s the main story, as reported by AP on the first of this month:

A Texas man who shot up downtown Austin buildings and tried to the burn the Mexican Consulate before he was gunned down by police harbored extremist right-wing views and appeared to be planning a broader attack against churches and government facilities, law enforcement officials said Monday.

Larry McQuilliams had multiple weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a water supply and a map of 34 downtown buildings that likely were potential targets in his pre-dawn rampage the day after Thanksgiving, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

McQuilliams, 49, started his attack on the consulate building and a federal courthouse. He was killed with by a single shot to the chest from a police officer as he shot at police headquarters, Acevedo said. McQuilliams fired about 200 rounds, but no one else was killed or injured.

“The one mistake he made was he came to the Austin police station and we were able to take him out pretty quickly,” Acevedo said, describing McQuilliams, a convicted felon, as a “homegrown, American extremist” and “terrorist.”

McQuilliams’ had rented a van that was parked outside the police station and was loaded with ammunition and propone fuel canisters typically used for camping. McQuilliams tried to use fireworks with the canisters to make crude but ineffective bombs and used some at the Mexican Consulate, causing a fire that was quickly extinguished.

Here’s the part that interests me today:

Also in the van was a copy of “Vigilantes of Christendom,” a 1990 book associated with the Christian Identity movement known as the Phineas Priesthood, which espouses anti-Semitic and racist views. Inside the book was a handwritten note that referred to McQuilliams as a “priest in the fight against anti-God people,” Acevedo said.

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I have been researching and monitoring the Phineas Priesthood concept for some time now, and have had a major post (or more likely, series) on the topic three-quarters written for a year or so.

It’s a delicate tale to tell, since its origins lie in Jewish scriptures; it features in the celebration of Hanukkah; is found in Christian writers from Origen to Milton; is referenced, as I hope to show, obliquely by Brigham Young; and has been involved in such infamous assassinations as that of Israeli PM Yitzak Rabin and US Civil Reights leader Medgar Evers. It ties in neatly with Louis Beam‘s idea of leaderless resistance. And even Anwar al-Awlaqi can be seen to propose an Islamic variant on the theme.

In follow up posts in this series, I hope to address the Phineas narrative in the Jewish scriptures, in Christian writings, and in terms of the more recent events I mentioned. Since I shall be discussing how the tale of Phineas / Pinchas / Phinehas has been used as offering divine scriptural sanction for acts of religiously-motivated killing, I shall chiefly focus on the negative implications of the tale — it’s use as a buried “landmine” –and since it extends across three millennia, I shall be hard-pressed to catch all of the uses of the tale which might be relevant to my purpose.

Accordingly, I’d like to invite my friends in the Jewish and Christian scholarly communities, in particular, to assist me in the comments section by suggesting alternative ways of reading a story which in its most literal interpretation has been the cause of untimely and hateful deaths.

Rabbis, Islam & End of Days II, also 2013 Mahdism Update, II

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing my updating of Mahdist issues, also surprising parallels and oppositions ]
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By the time you’ve learned the various signs of the times — pre-, mid- and post-trib rapture dispensationalist, preterist, Mormon, I dunno, ecological, Sunni, Shiite — the list, like Tolkien‘s Road, goes ever on — who’s on which side, and who might be somebody else’s something — you may feel as confused as I do.

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The very first sentence of Tim Furnish‘s book, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden — which I may never tire of quoting — reads:

One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.

I was rereading the amazing section on the Gharqad tree in Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg‘s book, The Road to Martyrs Square, the other day, and noticed on p. 21 yet another intriguing variant on Furnish’s point:

Even before the intifada, the figure of the Dajjal was equated by many Islamists with the Jewish Moshiach, the Messiah, as when the highly influential Pakistani Islamist Malauna Maududi claimed in the 1960s that “the stage has been set for the emergence of the Dajjal who, as was foretold by the Holy Prophet (PBUH), will rise as a ‘Promised Messiah’ of the Jews.” By the late intifada, the equation was commonplace in the West Bank and Gaza. When the Lubavitcher Hasidim in the early 1990s began to refer to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson as the Messiah, the claim had considerable effect on Palestinian Islamists. Some actually began to include Schneerson on their list of False Prophets, referring to him as “the Antichrist Liar.”

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Compare this, however, with the Muslim Harun Yahya‘s willingness to declare his expectation of the King Messiah / Moshiach in the screen-cap below. Yahya is presumably referring to the same salvific end-times figure he elsewhere refers to as the Mahdi.

Here we have the reverse possibility to the one Furnish points to — it certainly looks as though here, one man’s Messiah is another man’s Mahdi. On one of his websites, King-Messiah.com, Yahya makes the identification of these figures from two traditions explicit:

And “King Messiah” is a particularly interesting phrase for Yahya to use — among other things, it’s the term some followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson use to describe their rebbe.

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As I pointed out two days ago in Expecting the unexpected: Rabbis, Islam, and the End of Days, there’s a whole lot going on here, and it takes patience to tease all the strands out…

One of these days I’ll have to put together an extended list of messiah / mahdi correspondences — and prophet / false prophet and christ / antichrist correspondences between competing eschatologies, too, both within specific religions and across them.

I suspect Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was thinking along similar lines to Yahya when he wrote the paragraph I quoted towards the end of The Messianic Mahdist Moebius strip — or maybe Maze?:

The Mahdi is not an embodiment of the Islamic belief but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious affiliations, have learnt to await a day when heavenly missions, with all their implications, will achieve their final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate satisfactory in peace and tranquility. This consciousness of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the supernatural phenomenon but has also been reflected in the ideologies and cult which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For example, the dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis of contradiction believes that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace and tranquility will prevail.

The Iranian scholar Muhammad Ali Shumali, whom I also quoted, said much the same:

Imam Mahdi is not a saviour for [just] the Shias. Imam Mahdi is a saviour for all mankind…

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Parallels and oppositions…

My language here will probably not be precise enough for mathematicians or logicians — but isn’t the thing that most closely resembles another thing its exact opposite?

And to give this already twisty rope yet another twirl… not in terms of apocalyptic, but of Jewish / Muslim relations more generally…

Here’s Pastor John Hagee — the preacher who was so far right that Sen. John McCain rejected his endorsement in the 2008 presidential campaign — talking with Rabbi Daniel Lapin about Muslims being blessed, and how their five-times-daily prayers are particularly listened to by God:

These unpredictable “outlier” nuances and their attendant shocks and surprises are ongoing…

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The “signs” graphic at the head of this post is from a post titled Preparing for the Second Coming on LDS Why? — you can download their answers for teens in Chapter 12 of the book The Big Picture. It begins:

Imagine it’s a bright and sunny afternoon, and as you drive down the road with your parents you look up and notice that the sky looks different than normal. The clouds are luminescent, bright, and heavenly. Suddenly, without warning, the sky seemingly bursts open and the veil between heaven and earth is split. Trumpets start sounding from the sky, and you see above you the most glorious being your mind could ever conceive of descending out of heaven and touching down on earth — Jesus Christ in all His glory…

That’s a sign that might be hard to miss…

Some interesting pre-debate readings, left and right

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — first, the humor, then the serious stuff — including insider and outsider claims as to who belongs with what religious grouping ]
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Two items from my inbox on this day of the Presidential Foreign Policy debate play humorously with the, for want of a better term, issue of Muslims and Mormons:

On the top, Tim Furnish, author of the book Holiest Wars and an expert on Mahdism, heads up a brief post on his MadhiWatch blog with an image out of South Park and the caption: The quintessential Mormon v. the original Mahdi! It’s ON! That’s from the right.

From the left, Frank Schaeffer, who “left” the movement his influential “right” father, the evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer, helped found, and is now an Orthodox Christian of a more sacramental and liberal stripe, plays a rather different game in his Huffington Post piece, posted under their Comedy header, and purportedly describing an “alternative USA somewhere on a planet far away and not so long ago…”

Okay, that’s the fun. The serious part, for me, boils down to these two things:

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Schaeffer has a point, I think, in mocking the Billy Graham organization’s sudden and opportunistic dropping of Mormonism from the list of cults on their My Answer page.

I support the right of Latter-day Saints to call themselves Christians, since they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as they understand them.

I support the right of other Christians to view them as non-Christian, should they feel obliged in good conscience to do so, since Mormons consider the revelations of Joseph Smith on a par with the canonical gospels, much as Moslems consider the revelation to Muhammad as a completion of the Towrat and Injil (Jewish and Christian revelations).

And I don’t much like the term “cult” as applied to people whose beliefs differ from one’s own in any case, since it tends to dehumanize those to whom it is applied, as witness the tragedy of the Branch Davidians in Waco not too many years ago.

I am not entirely opposed to the idea of adjusting religion to suit a changing world, but I have to say this move on the part of the Graham organization appears to be a totally inauthentic PR move, made for political and not theological reasons, and wide open to the appearance of hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, it leaves all concerned more willing to respect each other as individuals across theological borders, that’s something I can readily applaud.

As usual, there are nuances within nuances to be considered.

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And Tim Furnish’s use of an image from South Park (I imagine it’s from their Super Best Friends episode) is pure eye-candy. It’s an attention grabber, all right, and it’s function is to point you to Furnish’s recent piece on History News Network, titled What Would a Mitt Romney Foreign Policy Look Like? We’ll learn more about that tonight, I imagine, but Furnish’s column makes interesting preparatory reading:

Ironically, rather like Obama, Romney sees the events of the “Arab Spring” and the abortive “Green Revolution” in Iran through neo-Wilsonian lenses, as evidence of Middle Eastern masses yearning to breathe free — a “struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.”

Interestingly enough, the question of who can or should not be tagged with a particular label is central to Furnish’s post. Discussing Romney’s use of the term “extremism” seven times in his Virginia Military Institute [VMI] addresss, he writes:

Only once, note, did he preface the term with the adjective “Islamic.” However, by that one example of intellectual honesty, Romney locates himself light-years ahead of the Obama administration, which actively discourages honest discussion of the fact that 61 percent — 31 of 51 — of the foreign terrorist organizations on the State Depatment’s list thereof are Islamic and which, further, sanctions counter-terrorist trainers who dare to utter words such as “jihad.” One wishes he would simply call an Islamic extremist spade a spade — but Romney is allowing himself to be constrained by his stable of advisors, as well as, perhaps, the pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Someone needs to tell the Governor that naming Islamic extremism in the defense of Western civilization is no vice.

FWIW, I am in favor of recognizing that jihadists are influenced by their own versions of Islamic doctrine, within widely varying degrees of flexibility, so the phrase “Islamist extremists” makes some sense to me. And I am equally in favor of allowing those Muslims who see the jihadist’s theology as alien and contrary to their own Muslim tradition to make it clear that in their understanding of Islam, the “jihadists” represent an aberration from the faith. Nuance again, nuance.

Okay, that reference above to the “pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” is linked to another of Furnish’s pieces for HNN, in which he asks Has Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Influenced His Views on Islam? — in which Furnish quotes Romney thus:

I spoke about three major threats America faces on a long term basis. Jihadism is one of them, and that is not Islam. If you want my views on Islam, it’s quite straightforward. Islam is one of the world’s great religions and the great majority of people in Islam want peace for themselves and peace with their maker. They want to raise families and have a bright future. There is, however, a movement in the world known as jihadism. They call themselves jihadists and I use the same term. And this jihadist movement is intent on causing the collapse of moderate Muslim states and the assassination of moderate Muslim leaders. It is also intent on causing collapse of other nations in the world. It’s by no means a branch of Islam. It is instead an entirely different entity. In no way do I suggest it is a part of Islam [emphasis added].

Here’s where the delicate balance is required.

On the one hand, we need to be clear — especially on the analytic and policy-making levels — on the ways in which Islam can be and is being interpreted as providing divine sanction for sustained campaigns of terroristic violence.

And on the other, we should in no way encourage — particularly at the level of popular public opinion — the idea that we are “at war with Islam”, an idea which leads to such things as the dehumanizing and killing of American (not necessarily even Muslims) citizens within our own shores, and an increasing sense that America is in fact at war with Islam in the minds of some few Muslims here and many more abroad — who then become prey for further radicalization, as rage on each extreme fuels the other in the multiple echo-chambers and feedback loops of YouTube and the net.

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And for what it’s worth, Tim F and Frank S — you should both talk to your editors about proof-reading. Tim, the Mormon church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if I’m not mistaken, with a hyphen and lower-case “d” in “Latter-day” — strictly FTR. And Frank — you get Dinesh D’Souza‘s first name right on two occasions — why spell it Dnish and Dinish on two others?

Oh well, we all make mistakes. I tried to type the word “to” the other day. You might think that’s simple enough, but I spelled it “typo”. Oops!

Feel free, y’all, to let me know what I’ve mis-spelled, misunderstood, or just plain missed, okay?

Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: Neibaur, Owens, Hamblin, Haaretz, Idel

Friday, October 5th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — controversy and scholarship re Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse and Kabbalah of considerable interest to students of comparative religion ]
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A scholarly Jospeh Smith translating the Bible, and the title page of Portae Lucis, Augsburg, 1516

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With Latter-day Saints more than a little in the news, Ha’aretz yesterday posted an article titled How kabbala shaped Mormon faith which you can also read here, and as it’s a topic I’ve been interested in for a while, I thought I’d point you to the article Lance Owens, a friend of a friend, wrote some years back, in which he describes the library of Alexander Neibaur, a Jewish convert to Mormonism and friend and Hebrew teacher to the Prophet, along with quite a bit of context.

There are two forms of Owens’ article on line, the original, quite long one [parts 1, 2, 3] and a shorter version [4] for those who’d like the details but not the details of the details.

I have to say that I find Owens’ work on Neibaur’s library, and the conclusion he draws about Joseph’s King Follett Discourse – one of the Prophet’s last sermons, and a fascinating work in its own right – pretty compelling.

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The great magister of studies in Kabbalah Moshe Idel probably catches the situation well when he writes in his as yet untranslated book, The Angelic World: Apotheosis and Theophany (Olam Ha’malakhim):

See for now the controversial article by Owens, Joseph Smith and Kabbalah, pg. 117-194, which also contains a list of Kabbalistic sources which supposedly were in the library of Joseph Smith’s teacher. The connection between Enoch-Metatron in Jewish tradition and Mormonism was first noted by Harold Bloom, in his book The American Religion, pg. 99, 105. I can’t go into the details of the controversies created by Owens’ article and the doubts about Smith’s relationship to the Kabbalah. It seems that the matter of kabbalistic connections is more complicated and interesting than what can be learned from the currently published documents. (Pg. 156)

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For a Mormon response to Owens’ article, and pending the comments our Mormon and other interested readers will hopefully provide, might I suggest William Hamblin‘s review of Owens’ piece, which indicates how seriously Hamblin takes the issues involved when it opens with these two sentences:

The Mormon History Association recently awarded Lance S. Owens’s “Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection” its Best Article Award for 1995. With such an imprimatur the article deserves a closer critical evaluation than it has apparently heretofore received.

Hamblin’s review runs to 74 pages and 186 footnotes – together with Owens’ original 77 pages and 161 footnotes, that would make a book-sized volume of interesting reading. And as Moshe Idel notes, what we don’t know may be “more complicated and interesting” yet…


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