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Coronavirus meets religion #3

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — third in a series — mostly about locusts ]
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Eye-grabbing but not helpful:

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The image comes from Prophecy News Watch, where it heads up today’s article, Is Coronavirus Connected To Bible Prophecy?. The answer:

I believe what we are witnessing with COVID-19 is part of the birth pains Jesus talked about in the Olivet Discourse. In fact, I think it is a major birth pain; as is the locust plague that is ravaging Africa and the Mideast; as is the large number of social uprisings in countries around he world; as is the increase in earthquake activity; as were the record-breaking Australian wild fires; as is…you get the picture. Birth pains increase in frequency and intensity, and they only increase until the moment of delivery

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Plague of locusts? From the Times of Israel, courtesy Richard Landes:

Notice the subtitle: the locusts will ” skip Holy Land”. In the story of the Biblical plagues, the locusts were the eighth out of ten plagues of increasing severity meted out by the Lord against Pharaoh and his Egypt. There was worse to come, but the locust plague itself would be worse than any other locus plague before or since. As Moses prophesies to Pharaoh:

Exodus 10. 3:Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? let my people go, that they may serve me.

4 Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast:

5 And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field:

6 And they shall fill thy houses, and the houses of all thy servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians; which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen, since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day.

It was the tenth and worst plague– the death of the firstborn — that afflicted the Egyptians and which “passed over” the Israelites — compare the eerie echo here of the plage that will “skip Holy Land”.

Two very different pieces of possible interest

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — one for those who follow apocalyptic strands in RL and media, one for those who follow Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and the Glass Bead Game — recommended ]
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Tim Furnish reviews the Netflix series, Messiah:

An Iraqi Refugee Trained in Illusion Who Works Miracles — Christ or Anti? Masih or Dajjal? That’s the situation posed by the Netflix series, Messiah, and it’s presented with sufficient subtlety that the answer’s not as obvious as it may seem from that quick condensation — and indeed, at the end of the series, there’s still sufficient ambiguity to keep you guessing, and the producers in line for a renewed contract and second series..

It’s not quite subtle enough to please our friend Tim Furnish, however, who gives a fine overview of the series, then takes the details of eschatological hadith and Biblical writings a step further into accuracy, and thus depth. His opening paragraphs:

“One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.” That’s the opening line of my first book on Islamic messianic figures. It’s also an apt summary of Netflix’s excellent new show Messiah. Its 10-episode first season was released on Jan. 1. Let’s hope it gets renewed. We need to know how this story of a charismatic Middle Eastern miracle worker, who not only attracts Christians, Muslims and Jews but sways the U.S. President, plays out. Here’s a brief (as possible) summary.

A Modern-Day Messiah?

A long-haired, thinly bearded man appears in Damascus and accurately predicts the destruction of besieging ISIS forces. Many Palestinians there follow him into the desert, believing him to be al-Masih, “The Messiah.” He leads them to the Israeli border. The movement gets on the CIA’s radar screen. The group reaches the Israeli border, and al-Masih crosses. He’s arrested and interrogated by a Shin Bet agent, about whom he knows personal details. He then disappears from prison (later we find out the prison guard let him go, believing him the Messiah) and reappears on the Temple Mount. In a confrontation near the Dome of the Rock, Israeli soldiers shoot a young boy — whom al-Masih heals. He then disappears again, showing up soon after in Dilley, Texas. He is caught on cell phone cameras stopping a tornado about to destroy the Baptist church. This goes viral and many flock to the town. The church pastor believes him to be Jesus returned and becomes his spokesman and handler.

Well there’s plenty more, obviously, and I highly recommend Tim’s commentary — they should have hired him as a consultant.

To read more, go to Netflix’s Messiah Reviewed: Who’s Your Messiah Now?

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Very different indeed is JustKnecht‘s exquisite weaving of ideas around Basho, Vimalakirti and a whiff of Chick Corea in his Notes on a winter journey to the interior, subtitled (and subtled) “on a treadmill facing north” — the reference is to Basho‘s Narrow Road to the Deep North which you really ought to know already.

And that’s a bit of a point. You really ought to know already: Basho and Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and Tamsin Lorraine, heaven and earth, and as it is in heaven, so it already and always is on earth, for as above, so below.

For myself, I know each of these with glancing blows, while JustKnecht knows each in depths I cannot match. Reading the whole is, for me, a sustained flight in the Absolute as viewed through thr world’s cultures, with butterflies a particular point of reference — and a long-tailed bired in seven syllables that’s almost an angel — or an apsara?. — ah, peacocks, too.

In any case, an education — and a delight.

Late afternoon, cooling down after a hard run in the condo gym, Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly breezes onto my playlist. We breathe together deeply, and I don’t know whether it is I dreaming that I am the bass clarinet, or the bass clarinet dreaming that it is I.

The music and the vision fades, and I’m sitting in my armchair doing mental exercise. From high school trombonists and collegiate level cello students to elite athletes and surgeons, cognitive rehearsal in the absence of physical movement has been shown to improve physical performance. In the same way, listening to one of my 5K run playlists gives me a perfectly good workout without the inconvenience of even moving a muscle.

Reade more: Notes on a winter journey to the interior — ah yes, the interior!

Thank you: I bow .

Mecca, the 1979 Grand Mosque Siege

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — watch out for movements — of any belief — that arm themselves in preparation for an end times battle ]
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This is simply to alert you to a fine BBC recounting of the events at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on the first day of the current Islamic century — when two or three hundred heavily armed militants following a Mahdist claimant and his proclaimer —

BBC pull quote

really, think the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His John the Baptist, and you have some sense of the seriousness of the affair — took over the central mosque in all of Islam — think the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, or St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican perhaps — and held the place under siege, with considerable bloodshed, until finally four French commandos were allowed in to use gas and flush out the remaining followers of the Mahdi, himself now dead.

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End times arousals of this sort are far from over: ISIS espoused an explicitly eschatological ideology, while AL Qaida used an end times hadith to rally to their black banners in Afghanistan, and a 2007 Shi’ite insurgency near Najaf around a Mahdist claim, Shi’i-style, was serious enough for the government of Iraq to call in American air strikes.

Important stuff, therefore.

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Recommended Readings:

  • BBC, Mecca 1979: The mosque siege that changed the course of Saudi history
  • Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited
  • Hegghammer & Lacrois:

    What terrifies the Chinese about Falun Gong?

    Monday, November 18th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — Falun Gong keeps coming front and center for a day or two, then fading back into the woodwork — so I wanted to get these points made, out there as an information dump for the likes of Rachel Maddow ]
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    What we don’t understand is that the horror-terror of the Taiping Rebellion with its 20 or so million dead in the eighteen-fifties shadow-ghosts the Chinese government’s present fear of, hence hate at — and thus rage against — the 100 million or so practitioners of Falun Gong, so gracefully, graciously performing their qi gong dances on parkland grass, all across the realm..

    TaipingThe Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864

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    As some of you know, I talked briefly with Ali Allawi, one time Iraqi Defense minister, at the October 9, 2007 Jamestown briefing on Iraq, and he said the same was true of Iraqi responses to a militia threatening to kill the Hawza or council of Grand Ayatollahs of Najaf, so as to replace it with their candidate for Mahdi — a revolt of several hundred sectarians, which was put then down with considerable Iraqi force assisted by air support from the US — in what was then the single greatest battle in the Iraq war. Allawi told me the Iraqi fear of a Mahdist rebellion stemmed from their memory of the Babist and Bahai rebellion of the 1860s “in that part of the world” — a memory which remains sore to this day on account of the tens of thousand of lives lost.

    The Chinese have very good reason to be terrified when they find a group of — by one estimate — a hundred million followers of a charismatic leader, Li Hongzhi, whose apocalyptic teachings include an alien takeover of the human race:

    The aliens come from other planets. The names that I use for these planets are different . Some are from dimensions that human beings have not yet discovered. The key is how they have corrupted mankind. Everyone knows that from the beginning until now, there has never been a development of culture like today. Although it has been several thousand years, it has never been like now.

    The aliens have introduced modern machinery like computers and airplanes. They started by teaching mankind about modern science, so people believe more and more science, and spiritually, they are controlled. Everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens. In terms of culture and spirit, they already control man. Mankind cannot live without science.

    The ultimate purpose is to replace humans. If cloning human beings succeeds, the aliens can officially replace humans. Why does a corpse lie dead, even though it is the same as a living body? The difference is the soul, which is the life of the body. If people reproduce a human person, the gods in heaven will not give its body a human soul. The aliens will take that opportunity to replace the human soul and by doing so they will enter earth and become earthlings.

    When such people grow up, they will help replace humans with aliens. They will produce more and more clones. There will no longer be humans reproduced by humans. They will act like humans, but they will introduce legislation to stop human reproduction.

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    These people — the middle-class practitioners of a form of Qi Gong which Hongzhi teaches — office workers, teachers, grad students, grannies — are imprisoned in droves by the Chinese government, and according to Falun Gong representatives abroad, subject to their organs being harvested to sale to those in need of transplants — a peculiarly horrid business, as I can attest, being myself in need to a functioning kidney or two.

    One can disagree with their religious beliefs, and still sympathize with their predicament under brutal Chinese repression.

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    The traditional Chinese dance troupe China doesn’t want you to see

    The traditional Chinese dance troupe China doesn’t want you to see is touring the world on behalf of Falun Gong:

    Shen Yun seems like a kitsch dance troupe. But Beijing sees it as the propaganda wing of the Falun Gong movement, and a threat to their rule – and hounds the dancers from city to city, trying to sabotage their shows.

    Or try this:

    The company has five separate touring troupes that carry out a dizzying schedule, a kind of Cirque du Soleil of the east backed by a seemingly bottomless publicity budget. They have played the Lincoln Center in New York and the London Coliseum. In a single week last spring, they hit Philadelphia, Honolulu, Charlotte, Kansas City and Huntsville, Alabama. Then Barcelona, Salzburg, Bremen, Baden-Baden and Paris.

    Well, but then New York dance troupe says China banned shows over Falun Gong links.

    A New York-based dance troupe has accused China of forcing the cancellation of its shows in South Korea over its links to a banned spiritual movement that Beijing calls “an evil cult” intent on “mind control”.

    Shen Yun, a performing company affiliated with the Falun Gong movement, accused China’s government of shutting down their shows in Seoul. The Chinese government maintains that the troupe is “a political tool” of Falun Gong.

    Mind control? Perhaps the whole troupe — all five troupes — are one collective Manchurian Candidate — China, beware!

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    Here, in any case, are the Facts about the So-called “Shen Yun” Performance by the “Falun Gong” as the Chinese Embassy in Seoul sees them. Chief among these facts are some pretty astonishing apocalyptic and medical claims:

    Li Hongzhi, the chief ring leader of “Falun Gong”, claims that the mankind has been destroyed 81 times, and that he has delayed the explosion of the earth by 30 years. He claims that the mankind is corrupted, and the earth is the biggest dumping ground of the universe, and that by practicing “Falun Gong”, the “true law” above all religions, one would never become sick or get in danger. He even claims that the Holocaust of Jewish people by Hitler was a result of the changes in celestial phenomena…

    Li Hongzhi is certainly capable of astonishing apocalyptic announcements, as evidenced by his 1999 interview with the Asian edition of Time, which I quoted above.

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    Look, there’s more than one side to this coin:

    In Sum:

  • Apocalyptic groups with charismatic leaders have indeed proven problematic, as the case of Jim Jones in Guyana showed us in the West — but to the Chinese, the case of the Taiping Rebellion, with its twenty-plus people dead back in the second half of the nineteenth century, no doubt looms largest.

  • On the other hand — people deserve the right to their religious opinions, even if those opinions differ from the norms of the society around them. And tragedy can ensure when — under the dismissive label “cult” — the state takes it upon itself to intervene, as the FBI holocaust of the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX, teaches us.
  • A very cunning linguism, and more

    Monday, November 18th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — I can’t claim to be the originator of that title phrase — I found it in a book of literary criticism many years ago — but anyway, this post is about examples of form — content optional ]
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    Twinning:

    The images are striking, stunning. Under the title, The Double Vision of Alicia Rodriguez Alvisa, Doreen St. Félix‘s opening para on the phorographer’s double portraits is worth quoting in some detail:

    Alvisa has olive skin, ringlets of curls, and dark, thick eyebrows. She uses different wardrobes and poses to delineate between the two manifestations of herself. Immediately, we know we are observing a psychological exercise. ..

    Which woman is the true Alvisa? Is it the woman lying nude in a tub, her eyes closed, or is it the robed woman kneeling before her, a wrist extended over the water in a way that feels both caring and dangerous? Is it the woman in a baby-doll dress, glancing wistfully out of a window, at the city outside, or is it the woman in underwear, looking, with concern, at her counterpart?

    Is the question itself flawed — the idea that one self should vanquish the other?

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    A congressman whose name I do not know, addressing the question of whether Democrats should cease using the Latin Quid pro quo and instead say something more readily identifiable such as bribery or extortion, quoted as part of a mash by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, November 14 2019:

    Using Latin, per se, is not something I tend to do, Hallie..

    A lovely piece of reflexive self-mockery, eh?

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    A parallel observed:

    Parallels, like the dyadic photo-pairings above, are always worth noting, and at times revelatory:

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    A troubling turnaround, visible in court proceedings at Guantanamo:

    they’ve really turned the detainees into martyrs and victims.

    As we all know, martyrdom is a potent Islamic concept — letting CIA torture lend undoubted experiential realism to the sense that one has been victimized, almost martyred, is among the black sites’ least appealing features.

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    Ooh, and a humorous apocalyptic ref:

    As my friend Tim Furnish might say of that word, “apocalyptic”:


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