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Taoism with Intelligence, yeah!

Monday, December 30th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — this post is useless and a delight, if you catch the same drift I do ]

Well you know me, I love juxtapositions and variations on a theme, and I have a keen interest in applying them with intelligence to Intelligence — especially where it meets Religion — so this one’s a natural!

I mean, you might think the upper panel was an IC logo since it uses the word “intel”, but it’s not — it’s the long-time logo for a brand of computer chips from Intel Corp — now found in both PCs and Macs.

But the IC was not to be outdone, and — mirabile dictu — has responded with its own “inside” logo. Intel is fine, you see, but frankly Tao is better.

My own preferred Taoist text is that of Chuang Tzu‘s Inner Chapters — “chapters inside” one might almost say — which you can find translated by the excellent Burton Watson in Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.

Open it up, go inside…


NSA’s Tao source:

  • Der Spiegel
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    Arresting Citizens, part II: Religion

    Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the religious and irreligious attributes of the sovereign citizen movement, with a glance at syncretism and the Grateful Dead ]


    There’s something of a question as to whether the US sovereign citizens movement is religious and perhaps apocalyptic, or basically secular in nature. As I said in part I of this double post, its main manifestations haven’t seemed particularly religious, and I have accordingly not been paying them a whole lot of attention.

    This sense — that the movement is primarily legal rather than religious in emphasis, is nicely captured in this personal communication from JM Berger:

    Very few of the beliefs that we use to define the sovereign citizen movement are by definition religious. The things that most often define a sovereign have to do with interpretations of secular law. Athough those interpretations are sometimes supported by religious concepts, the beliefs themselves are centered on what adherents think is a pragmatic reading of law. So to explain that, most sovereigns wouldn’t refuse to answer a policeman’s questions by citing a religious principle. They would instead cite some secular legal principle they believe is valid. But some sovereigns do mix religion in more aggressively, such as those who follow outgrowths of the old Moorish Science Temple religion. But even they rely on legal arguments.

    The most common sovereign how-to materials and recruitment websites tend to be pretty secular and based on a reading of history that, while fanciful, is predicated on a misreading of history rather than on ideas we would normally consider religious. In fact, I think the big challenge in understanding this movement is figuring out how these ideas take such powerful hold having neither a consistent religious dimension nor any evidence — even subjective or anecdotal — that they work on a practical level.

    JM is the author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam and of the New America Foundation report, PATCON: The FBI’s Secret War Against the ‘Patriot’ Movement… His views as expressed in the quote above are based on recent research.


    Jean Rosenfeld is also a researcher with an interest in both foreign and home-grown violent movements. She authored what may have been the first detailed inquiry into Al-Qaida from a religious studies perspective, The `Religion’ of Usamah bin Ladin: Terror As the Hand of God, back in 2001, edited the anthology Terrorism, Identity, and Legitimacy, and was one of the FBI’s advisory scholars during the [“sovereign”] Justus Freemen standoff, see her article The Justus Freemen Standoff: The importance of the analysis of religion in avoiding violent outcomes in Cathy Wessinger, ed., Millennialism, Persecution & Violence.

    Also in a private communication, Jean writes:

    Sovereign citizen ideology is basically a religious ideology. It is deviant, of course, and is often mixed with Christian Identity religion. It comes out of the same “cultic milieu” as the Posse Comitatus of the 1970s and CSA of the 1980s.

    Setting these two opinions regarding the religiosity or otherwise of the sovereign citizens side by side, what strikes me most is the juxtaposition of the Moorish Science Temple in JM’s quote with the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord in Jean’s. Both are “new religious movement” of considerable interest to scholars of such things.

    For more on the Moorish Science Temple, see Peter Lamborn Wilson‘s Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America [part 1 and part 2]. For more on the CSA, see Kerry Noble‘s book, Tabernacle of Hate, with an Introduction by Jean Rosenfeld.


    Given my interest in the religious imagination — which is manifesting itself these days in a wild profusion perhaps unmatched since the times of Qumran , Nag Hammadi and the Corpus Hermeticum — I was intrigued, in looking a little deeper into the US Sovereign Citizens movement, to find at least one individual with an approach to religion that’s suitably sui generis.

    The deliciously named (and I quote) ©H.I.R.M. J.M. Sovereign: Godsent™ is the author of TITLE 4 FLAG SAYS YOU’RE SCHWAG! The Sovereign Citizen’s Handbook (version 3.1), in which we read:

    The source of all Sovereignty is God. God holds Absolute Sovereignty, meaning He rules over all He surveys and answers to no-one above Himself, every force in nature including human conduct is His subject and under the control of “The Laws of Nature”. For example, “gravity”.

    The author then quotes 1 Chronicles 29:11-12

    Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.

    and follows this directly with the seal of the “Church of Sovereigns” depicted at the top of this post, right. On the left of the same image is a graphic taken from a video titled Calling the Sheriff 2.1.2012, which, if you recognize it, will give you an immediate and visceral sense of the Deadhead spirit of this particular writer.

    Here, by way of confirmation, is his bio:

    ©H.I.R.M. J.M. Sovereign: Godsent™, a veteran of the 2nd American Civil war, A.K.A the “War on Drugs” was born sovereign and free out of the the love generation but, was cast into slavery at age 5 in the police state of New Mexico, when his parents divorced. Struggling with the contradictions between society and the laws of nature, Godsent spent the next 33 years casting off the shackles of institutional conditioning, with the ultimate triumph of regaining the throne of his very own sovereign nation and setting new standards in the way Sovereign Americans and government employees interface.

    Shown the path of ahimsa (non-violence) at an early age, he is a lover of music and art, who has traveled the world to dance with friends at over 400 Grateful Dead shows in 5 countries. Surviving repeated attacks at shows and on the streets, by public employees, and noting the patterns and the damage done, he concluded that the World needed a treatise on Sovereignty and Reservation of Sovereign Rights. With the Investment of 23 years of field research, networking and litigation, and 7 years of writing, he has recently authored the definitive treatise on Reservation of Sovereign Rights. Along with the first automated sovereignty e-course, accompanied by an inspirational soundtrack, network services, a private, third-party document tracking system and educational videos.

    A monk of the 9 Sacred paths of Catholic, Buddha Rasta, Tao, Maya, Jain, Shvaite, Vaishnava, and Eckankar, he has traveled the world in search of priceless wisdom, humor, melody and artifacts. He has learned the most confidential knowledge and has been given the keys the Kingdom of God, by the enlightened masters, which he gives entrance to you here, in this book. He has never owned a weapon in his life.


    I am not totally immune to the charms of the Grateful Dead, and take an interest in Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shaiva tantra myself.

    But but but… please!! Even Christ recommends we should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. And When the Taoist Chuang Tze expresses his lack of interest in governance, he does so not by way of refusing to pay parking tickets or taxes, but by politely refusing an offer of high office [Basic Writings, p 109]:

    Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u river, the king of Ch’u sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.”

    Chuang Tzu held onto the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?”

    “It would rather be alive dragging its tail in the mud,” said the two officials.

    Chuang Tzu said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”


    Xi Jinping

    Monday, November 26th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — Xi Jinping quotes an unnamed “ancient Chinese military strategist” and I respond with Laozi — this one’s for Raff Pantucci ]


    According to Reuters today, Xi used his quote (above, top) in a speech in 2000, while governor of Fujian province. If anyone can identify the “ancient Chinese military strategist” and reference the original source of Xi‘s quote, I’d appreciate a heads up. My version of the Laozi is from Ursula le Guin‘s translation, chapter 43.


    The Church of England stress-tested

    Sunday, November 25th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — of integrity and flexibility in that most curious chameleon of a religious institution, the Church of England, of which I am still fond at a distance ]


    The Church of England is run, if that’s the word, by the three houses of its General Synod, and just this week the the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy voted to approve the ordination of women bishops, while the House of Laity voted against the idea — and since all three houses have a veto, carried the day.

    Be it noted that there are in fact women priests in the Church of England, and women bishops in other parts of the Anglican Communion of which the Church of England is the mother province.

    In the Church of England, however, a woman is still barred from being ordained a bishop.


    There’s a Church of England blogger I follow to catch the more conservative slant on things — he calls himself Archbishop Cranmer after a celebrated Anglican divine — and in a recent post titled Church of England remains a bit more Catholic, His Grace remarked:

    The Church of England is historical and so mortal. It is a creature of continual creation; of adaptability in religio-political fluidity. It opposes immutability in theological expression, recognising that mobility is intrinsic to mortality: as believers are continually converted to God, there must be continual conversion to the nature of the Church, and those confessional bodies must be mutable, for none possesses exclusive ownership of the identity of Christ.

    The Church of England was never designed to be Protestant, though it has elements of that movement within it. And it was certainly not Roman Catholic, though it drew on the strengths of that denomination to manifest the Church in a visible society. Its struggle has ever been how to permit freedom of the Spirit within ancient structures: how to put new wine into old wineskins.

    This is why the Archbishop of York is right when he says there will be women bishops, because Anglicanism is a communion, and in that koinonia is toleration of mutual exclusives.

    That’s an interesting formulation: toleration of mutual exclusives.

    Cranmer winds up that particular post with the words:

    You may hear talk of splits and schisms, but these are nothing more than the spats of human mortality. For as long as we can examine what sort of church we are and question our core principles and values, there will be discussion, debate, tears and joy. The moment we cease to disagree and hurt each other is the moment the church ceases to be church.

    And that too is interesting — especially in view of St Paul‘s exhortation in Philippians 2:2:

    Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.


    I believe Cranmer is right, and that the Church of England was indeed intended to house a variety of views, some of them tending Catholic, some tending Protestant.

    But what I find most interesting here is his sense that the church quite properly opposes immutability in theological expression, recognising that mobility is intrinsic to mortality — because here we are coming very close to Christ‘s identification —

    I am the way, the truth, and the life…

    read in the light of Lao Tse‘s dictum —

    The way that can be put into words isn’t the true Way.


    And remembering always that CS Lewis once asked:

    Is not the Tao the Word Himself, considered from a particular point of view?

    and that Fr. Thomas Merton quotes with approval Dr Wu‘s “well-known Chinese translation of the New Testament” in which the Prologue to St John’s Gospel begins:

    In the beginning was the Tao.


    One other point.

    A day or two after the vote in General Synod, His Grace posted an extensive excerpt from the parliamentary questions raised for Sir Tony Baldry MP to respond to, as Second Church Estates Commissioner. One such question was raised by Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): ‘

    Does he agree that when the decision-making body of the established Church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society that it represents, its position as the established Church must be called into question?

    To my minds, that’s an extraordinary question, and in the comments section of His Grace’s blog, one D. Singh said:

    Your Grace

    It is written: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’

    Romans 12:2

    One would have thought that after the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the hands of the Nazis for his unwillingness to go along with “decision-making body of the established Church” — in his case, the Lutheran Church in Germany at the time — a little more thought might need to be given before such a question was raised…


    Oh, and somewhat amusingly, if you are inclined to be amused at such things — when Sir Tony Baldry addressed the House of Commons on the topic of women bishops — an idea whose time he clearly believed was long overdue — he was wearing the tie of London’s distinguished Garrick Club.

    A private club close to London’s theatrical district, where:

    ‘actors and men of refinement and education might meet on equal terms’, where ‘patrons of the drama and its professors were to be brought together’, and where ‘easy intercourse was to be promoted between artists and patrons’…

    Oh, and which to this day does not admit women as members.


    Applied Pontecorvo: Gaza

    Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — lessons from Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers for the medium-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and other instances of asymmetry ]


    Pontecorvo‘s film, The Battle for Algiers, really seared itself into me when I watched it again recently — and so it has been a bit of a template for other thoughts, and notably influenced some of my thinking as I was watching events unfolding in Gaza, now thankfully in cease-fire mode.

    Pontecorvo, as I noted in my previous post, takes the side of the Algerians in their conflict with the French, and I suppose it’s only natural that a “reading” of the Gaza situation in light of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece will tend to support the Palestinian “cause” against the Israelis.

    After all, Yitzhak Epstein, addressing the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel in 1905, had a point when he said:

    We devote attention to everything related to our homeland, we discuss and debate everything, we praise and criticise in every way, but one trivial thing we have overlooked so long in our lovely country: there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave.

    On Thanksgiving Day I am reminded that my Lakota friends also have a point — but there’s what’s memorable, which can remain in very long-term memory indeed, and there’s what’s practicable, which may in practical terms be changing by the day or decade…


    Let me put that another way.

    I don’t need the words of a Zionist Jew from a century ago to give me that insight into the Palestinian side of things, but Epstein’s words remind me that there are facts in the heart on the Palestinian side, just as the Israelis are building facts on the ground in the occupied territories. What of the Israeli side, are there not facts in the heart there too? And on the Palestinian side, what of the ghastly hadith of the Gharqad tree? Must apocalyptic hate last till the end of time?

    Of all the reporting I have read, this, from Dahlia Litwick in Jerusalem, struck the deepest chord:

    I don’t know how to talk about what is happening here but it’s probably less about writers’ block than readers’ block. It says so much about the state of our discourse that the surest way to enrage everyone is to tweet about peace in the Middle East. We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone — absolutely everyone — is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.


    Here, then, are the parallelisms and oppositions that struck me, as I was reading about the Gaza conflict — may today’s cease-fire endure and a peaceful resolution emerge — in light of Pontecorvo’s film:

    Gilad Sharon‘s words echo those of Col. Mathieu in the film: they think alike, and indeed their perspective is a not-uncommon one. But while I might otherwise have overlooked Sharon’s voice as but one among many in Israel, having just seen Pontecorvo’s film I take more note of it, and my mind seeks its rebuttal.

    I find that rebuttal in the words of Thomas More, in a speech from Robert Bolt’s play that has stuck with me since I first saw Paul Scofield in the role in London at the age of sixteen:

    I am, I suppose something of a Taoist by inclination. I think, with Lao Tse, that the way that can be phrased in words isn’t the authentic way — or as Count Alfred Korzybsky might put it, the map does not adequately describe the terrain — and so my feeling is that the letter of the law should be tempered by its spirit, and that justice should be tempered with mercy — a point I hope to return to.


    There is one other moment in Pontecorvo’s film that struck me as prescient — the one when Larbi Ben M’hidi comments on asymmetry:

    I’ve heard remarks of that kind (upper panel) repeated many times in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli situation, but the graphic impact of the image (lower panel) outweighs a thousand explanations.


    Perhaps we can leave Pontecorvo for a moment, and consider the asymmetry further, and the symmetry:

    The lower panel, by a Swiss cartoonist of Lebanese extraction, is titled An Eye for an Eye (Oeil pour Oeil) — a symmetry that is taken to its logical conclusion in a quote often attributed to Gandhi:

    An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.


    My apologia:

    I am distant, and I am a writer: distant enough to take all humanity for my own side, and writer enough to wish to contribute what I can of concern and insight.


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