Rank Soul and The End of Blogging

Started reading Otto Rank yesterday–Beyond Psychology. It’s probably the most jolting, direct writing I’ve ever encountered. A deep wave of sadness has overtaken me since facing his words. A sadness that has not (mostly) left since. It has made everything I’ve ever written or thought about seem so useless, superficial, and abstract. All of the political, theological, cultural, social, philosophical, technological, psychological, scientific theories and facts. They have their place. Others can do a better job (for now anyway) at them.

He writes that all of mainline psychology has been predicated on the belief that the ir-rational is to be made rational. The issue we have been told is one of being “un-conscious” or “sub-conscious” which requires then a movement to make conscious (rational) what is inherently ir-rational. However effective in certain ways these procedures, they have always existed to promote an overly ideational-conscious only model, which is easily co-opted by Systeme, the abstracting social and political forces of Death and Control in our World.

What if the ir-rational and rational are always to remain in tension, thereby becoming the source of creativity and acts of liberation?

I’m starting to think Rank was on to something big.

The deep wave of sadness indicates that I am being pulled away—for some period of time anyway–from relative truth. All relative truths. Even relative words used to point to the Absolute. Even relative schemas of the trans-schematic. My heart is simply crying and pulled apart and its time I just sit in the misery of the Absolute and let the sorrow flood.

Rank has silenced me. There is nothing for me to say. This is how I feel.

Not much point in long posting, thought out pieces on this blog in my current state of mind. I have nothing left for that. I may link articles I find (relatively) of value, though no guarantees.

I feel the pain of the entire Universe and in the face of that I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know what point speaking in the more intellectual-academic manner I normally do matters—for now. I’m not in that teaching-socially constructed role at this point in my life and my words are not doing anything to ease the pain of the zillions upon trillions of beautiful, suffering beings.

I’ve been so afraid of “Zen-sickness” being just melting primarily into the Absolute as an escape. In my desire not to fall into that trap, I’ve apparently swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. I have sought to live completely in Relativities.

The “cure” to this “sickness” will not be found outside.

It’s time I cut even the however faint and nebulous psychic-emotional ties I’ve bonded myself to through this work.

It’s time for it to die. Perhaps it will be re-born at a later time, in a new form. But for now, it is a time for endings.

God bless you all. Love, CHRIS

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Published in: on March 8, 2006 at 1:48 pm  Comments (5)  

Zakaria–again

Another brilliant (as always) succint piece from Zakaria–then click the link for articles from mainpage.

The key point raised in the essay is the mistake of the American policy of “Iraqification”. In other words the American government has looked almost exclusively thorugh the lens of nationalism missing the reality of clan-based, ethnic forces on the ground.

The most disturbing piece he quotes from the recent Foreign Affairs article by military specialist Stephen Biddle. Biddle points out that to the Sunni populations, the Iraqi Army and Police Force (Nationalized,Iraqification) is in fact a legitimate, hyper muscular Shia-Kurdish militia. And in ths country we know what happens when an economically politically dis-enfranchised community thinks that the national security forces represent a “legitimate” form of state oppression—see American ghettos. Gangs in American terminology are known as militias in Iraqi sectors.

Here’s the most frightening passage,( I’ve boldfaced and highlighted the last sentece for emphasis):

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, the military-affairs scholar Stephen Biddle has written a powerful and persuasive critique of administration policy that centers on Iraqification. “Iraq’s Sunnis,” he writes, “perceive the ‘national’ army and police force as a Shiite-Kurdish militia on steroids… The more threatened the Sunnis feel, the more likely they are to fight back even harder. The bigger, stronger, better trained, and better equipped the Iraqi forces become, the worse the communal tensions that underlie the whole conflict will get.” Biddle’s argument is that the central plank of current administration policy—”standing up” an Iraqi Army—is not just unhelpful but actively producing the negative spiral we are watching.

Reading that sentence really really scared me to my core. If it has taken the Bush administration this long to come up with this plan and this plan is actively fanning the fires, that is extremely fear-inducing.

I saw Wesley Clark on George S.’s political show Sunday morning on ABC. At least in terms of foreign policy vision–which to me right now is the most important issue vis a vis the presidency–he showed himself, to me, to be brighter than any other star in the political sphere. He was way out ahead of Hilary or McCain. It’s too bad bc he’s a political outsider that he won’t get the nomination. He’s certainly, in my mind, the most qualified for the job at this point.

The thing that has never and still does not make sense to me about Bush is why he could have such vision in terms of the seismic shift of foreign policy and what Thomas Barnett calls “The Big Bang” in the Middle East (that keeps on banging), and yet seem so careless and unconcerned about the outcome. Why he has not used up every tool in his kit for this one. He seems, I’m afraid, less and less tethered. He seems more isolated and willing to let his inner aides continue their pettty fiefdom squabbles–like Cheney trying to undermine Condi currently which is getting no press–and then playing lordly king throwing his children scraps here and there as he pleases. I’m very worried at this point.

Clark absolutely tore Bush (and the Democrats for failing to have any serious alternative) a new one. He correctly stated that one of the biggest flaws of this whole operation was to never involve Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran in the dealings–forget France and Germany or the UN. He talked about leveraging Arab Shi’ism versus Persian Shi’ism (read: Moqtada al-Sadr and Da’wa against the Iranian-backed SCIRI). He mentioned re-drafting the Constitution to involve the Sunnis.

Clark’s also the most honest, probably because he is currently not beholden to a political appointment, constituency, or fundraising base. He said at this point we have the choice between a C- solution and a F solution. And unfortunately Bush spouting off platitudes about how the Iraqis have a choice between freedom and chaos isn’t cutting it. He also said that the abuses by the Executive branch domestically are hurting our worldwide efforts. Amen brother.

According to Clark, Bush has never understood that victory in this War is political. Our Army can not lose against the insurgency but it can not win either. The same theme is mentioned by Zakaria. Every action (or inaction) we take is a deeply political choice and the politics are not primarily between “nationalism, freedom, and democracy” versus “terrorism, backwardness.” It is far far more complex than that simple outlook.

Published in: on March 7, 2006 at 6:35 am  Comments (1)  

Past the century mark on posts. Began working on a Islamic modernity post that has morphed into quite a lengthy piece. Will break it up into segments (Classical Medieval Islamic Theology; Modern Jihadist; and the outlines of what I consider to be a forward [and realistic] next step, step and a half for Muslim theological interpretation).

A common chant that I hear running through many op-eds, commentaries, blogosphere is support modern-progressive movements in Islam. Which is great, all for that. But almost universally the people who promote such an idea have basically no idea of the basic concepts, history, and structure of Islamic theology. By far the least understood great world religion in our society, even among the so-called educated (even humanistic education).

And while I’ve ceased posting on my personal life, for those who wonder how I am, the general answer is hanging in there but otherwise not very good. As I had to leave Vancouver and return to Cincinnati against my will, and am still in the process of trying to move back and re-establish my life there (with Chloe)—simply put I am just not here. Even though its been over a year by now, I’ve never really settled back in. I have never felt like I”m back home. Rather this is the place where I was raised, but there really isn’t any connection to this land, to the people, to their trials and joys. Physically I’m in the ‘nati. But emotionally and mentally I’m marooned, lost in a betwixt and between place. Mostly I’m just running through the motions of a life here like an automaton. In fact other than conventionally, I wouldn’t refer to it as my life, but rather a life I’m playing the part of. So, as always I appreciate everyone’s intentions, thoughts, prayers, and so on.
Published in: on March 6, 2006 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

E/W Theo Part VII: Classical Protestant Theologies and Mysticism

Having covered Classical Protestant Theologies (Luther and Calvin), a word on other classes of Protestant theology. Classical Protestant Theology is differentitaed from modern Liberal Protestant Theologies (e.g. Friederich Schielermacher, Paul Tillich); Neo-Orthodox Prot.Theology (e.g. Karl Barth); and Fundamentalist Prot. Christian Theology (e.g. Francis Schaeffer).

To give a really really simplified version on those three, here goes.

All three, in one way or the other come to grips with the modernist turn in philosophy, the critical turn, initiated by Immanuel Kant.

For Kant, the categories of the mind co-construct the perceived world, so the world we experience is in part a construct of our own mind in-forming its own stability and coherence onto an otherwise chaotic plenum.

This philosophical move had massive implications for Christian theology, which in its Scholastic phase was predicated on a naive realistic view of the world–our minds are like mirrors, passive recepients of the “real” world out there. [The same holds true for the mystical sects who interpreted their otherwise trans-rational experiences as giving a glimpse of the “real” transcendent realm of heaven or whatever. More on that in another post].

For Kant then the human mind could not naively describe the trans-rational realm (transcendelia). Thus metaphysics (from Aristotle-Scholastics) was killed. If the human mind therefore could not point up to the transcendent, there was only two choices for the transcendent to interact with the human rational.

1. If transcedence could not be experienced by the conscious mind, then Spirit was to be located in the unconscious (subconscious) mind.

2. The rational mind could not point to Spirit (from Kant). The unconscious mind was full of sin and separation. There was no way that we come up to God–rather God must come to us from without/above. God must break through our rational frames in an non-rational (ir-rational) frame that must respond with its own “ir-rationality”, namely faith.

3. The rational mind could not get to Spirit, neither the unconscious. But the existential outlook of #2 is a subtle, revived humanism. Only a return to the fundamental doctrines of faith will guide us. And/or a personal conversion of the will in accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.

Position 1=Modern Liberal Protestantism (from Schielermacher). Also the Romantics and Jung fit into this category. The most obvious weakness of this position is that the unconscious is not necessarily trans-conscious but in many cases is unconscious, sub-conscious, egocentric narcissism. Not transcendental bliss.

Position 2=Neo-Orthodoxy. Barth and the Fideism of Kierkegaard. Very existential, good sense of the need for choice of faith in this world. Downsides: no proof, overly cerberal (to the detriment of ritual, sacraments, mysticism).

Position 3=Fundamentalism and Evangelical/Born Again. A modern response to the secular modern world attempting to “prove” the mythic world. Protestant fundamentalism is often (unconsciously) wedded to a purely modern notion that history/science is the truth. That something is “true” only if it “happened”, only if it can be studied with the five senses, has material causes, etc. So fundamentalism, say with its turn in creationism, attempts to prove the Bible is scientific theory. Too many downsides to name really. But obviously a retrenched premodern value/worldview using the tools/cognition of the modern (formal operational) world.

Obviously totally unopen to any criticism, questioning, or interpretation. In the modern frame, there are no “interpretations”, just the Myth of the Given parading around as the one and only “Truth.”

All three of these options are deeply flawed as it comes to the question of Christian mystical theology.

All share the classical Protestant fear of anything in Christianity being “non-biblical.” So mysticism for many a Protestant is in fact not a Christian practice at all but a Greek, pagan import into Christianity.

Modern Liberal Protestantism is open to transcendent experience, but as mentioned, committs numerous pre/trans fallacies–seeing anything non-rational as inherently trans-rational. When in fact much of what is non-rational is in fact sinful, arrogant, self-centered pride. Modern Liberal Protestantism failed in large measure because of its weak understanding of the destructive power of sin and human evil in the world–particularly in the face of the savagery of the Two World Wars. The Liberal Protestant wing in the 19th century influenced by Hegelian optismism, envisioned the 20th century as the dawning of an age of peace and prosperity. Instead the bodies keep pilling up across the planet. The death train is running full steam ahead and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. To this incomprehensible display of degradation, Liberal Protestantism, in some cases morphed into Political Liberation Theologies.

These postmodern theologies (Feminist, Environmentalist, 3rd World Liberationist) attacked the dark sides of the modern world. Influenced by Marx, Freud, The Frankfurt School, Buber, Heidegger, they used the rising injunctions of deconstruction, social criticism, hermeneutics/structuralism, to criticize the foundations of Christian theology and ecclessiology. They argued that a Christian theology-church structure that does not consciously stand up against the modern death train, materialism ethos, and capitalist-military-industrial complex is beholden to this system. They realized rightly that all theologies are enmeshed in social-political-class contexts, and if not properly examined and made transparent, unconsciously legitimate and support certain classs/social structures–usually unjust ones.

And this political-liberation critique (also found in Catholicism) has been very effective against the inadequacies of the traditional and modern approaches to theology, both liberal and conservative. But in terms of mysticism, this camp has (mostly) forgotten the great path of Christian purification, illumination, and union. There is often talk in these circles of deep spirituality being the antidote to materialism, apathy, and meaningless in the post/modern worlds, but the alternative is not fleshed out in any real depth.

Neo-Orthodoxy, as formulated by Barth, was inherently anti-mysticism. Neo-Orthodoxy had a much more accurate view of human sinfulness but simply believed we were so fallen that there was no way to be brought up–no deification, no sanctification, no devotion, nothing.

Fundamentalism is also anti-mystical, seeing it not as one of the “fundamentals of the faith.”

Evangelicals are also open to (temporary) mystical experiences. Whether Pentecostal Charismatics, Evangelical Tent Revivals, or gospel-music induced ecstasy in a Black Church. Also, all of those—particularly Evangelical Revivals among whites–are also prone to the pre-trans movement, when the temporary states are not higher altered states but temporary regressive states in a socially sanctioned format. For Example: Christian heavy metal concerts.
So while some of those have mystical-ish moments, there is no fertile ground for healthy, long term transformation in any of those theological schools.

If we go back to Kant, we see the reason why. Notice that all three are perpetually focused on rational and pre-rational, but have no sense of trans-rational.

Kant himself said that the human mind could only experience phenomena (the product of human mind/environment construction) and never noumena (the thing-in-itself). But this chasm was Kant’s mistake.

How could his mind know that it can’t know the thing-in-itself—presumably therefore his mind would have had a notion of what the thing-in-itself looked like. Also he postulated that he understood the categories of the mind. But how would the mind, unaided, know of the categories by which it understands?

What part of Kant’s consciousness “saw” the categories?

And so Kant was criticized (rightly) by the Idealists from Fichte on, who knew that the Pure Ego (of Fichte, i.e. the Witness) was the part of us that understood the categories of the mind. This trans-rational aspect of ourselves which can be accessed through interior practice helps co-constcut the higher levels of evolution and allows access to higher states of conscious (mystical ones even) at any level of development.

So the modern/postmodern Protestant theologies (and Catholic ones too for the most part) have not understood a post-Kantian modern mystical theology. Which is again not to say individuals do not have such states–of course they do–they simply have no frame with which to adequately interpret them and help them sustain the enduring insights gained therefrom.

Published in: on March 5, 2006 at 9:13 am  Comments (2)  

E/W Theo Part VI: Protestantism–Calvinism

I have written on Calvinism elsewhere in this blog (Two Truths of Christianity Parts I and II as well as on Mythic Environmentalism).

The key element in Calvin’s theological vision is the majesty of God. Calvin used the term numinous to describe God. That term was later revived by Rudolf Otto in the classic The Idea of the Holy. A numinous, majestic, glorious, remote awe and fear-inspiring divinity.

For those with some knowledge of Christian theology, Calvin’s main theological aim is usually thought to have been double predestination. Double predestination as the name implies is the belief that one is born either fated to go to heaven or hell after death and there is nothing one can do either to prevent damnation or accept salvation. Double predestination, however, does not even occur in the original volume of Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes. Double predestination only shows up in his revised later edition.

But the majestic glory of God is the first item in the first edition. It is primary and of the most importance for Calvin.

Calvin, more so than Luther, was influenced by the third great classic theologian of the Protestant Reformation–the Swiss Huldrych Zwingli.

Zwingli argued that the Eucharist was simply a memorial meal–there was no sacramental efficacy to the act itself. In this regard, Zwigli broke even with Luther who still held to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist just not in the Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysic of substance-accidents trans-substantiation argument of the Roman Catholic Church.

Zwingli is known as the father of Reformed (or perhaps Rational) Theology. Zwingli sought to, as he saw it, de-supernaturalize Christian theology. His Criticisms of Trinitarian theology (as ir-rational) opened the door to Deism, Unitarianism, Pantheism, and Non-Trinitarian Theism.

Calvin followed in Zwingli’s footsteps. Calvin’s God is so majestic he must not in any way shape of form be “reduced” or “relativized” through intemediaries or Catholic-like devotional practices. No saints, no Mary, no subtle heavenly meditations–Calvinists, under different names in different places (Huguenots in France, Puritans in England/America, Presbyterians in Scotland) attacked Catholic and Anglican iconic establishments, believing them to have committed the sin of idolatry–much as in Judaism and Islam there are prohibitions against artistic depictions of God.

Double predestination set in motion the absolute power of this glorious God (“Glory, Glory, Glory, God of Power and Might, Heaven and Earth are Full of Your Glory, Hosanna in the Highest….”).

Double predestiation is simply the Calvinistic God’s majestic-glorious and utterly transcendent activity, as it relates to the sphere of soteriology (the question of salvation).

My understanding of Calvin places him squarely within the Western Christian theological tradition, just in a more direct, formulaic way. I believe that all Western theology since Augustine (minus Eckhart and Eriugena) holds to double predestination. I’m in a minority for saying that and many Catholic and non-Calvinist Protestants would disagree with me on this point vehemently–particularly Roman Catholics. But I think Calvin was just making explicit what is already the trajectory of Augustine. Just want to make my lens clear.

That is, if Grace is needed to say yes to accept God’s salvation–as opposed to the ancient Orthodox view that free will either accepts or denies grace–then salvation or damnation is completely in the hands of God.

This denunciation of free will is what gives Western forms of Christianity and the Western world at large its unique anxiety and guilt complexes, which reached an apex in the Later Middle Ages–particulary after the Black Death. Luther is purely in this strain of Late Medieval Anxiety. [Tillich has written brilliantly on this subject].

Medieval and Early Modern Catholicism with the traditions of pilgrimages, indulgences, and so forth I think simply acted as if its official theology did not in fact say what it was saying. Aquinas is extremely clear on this point–you can pray for salvation but nothing else, and if that we have no idea that it actually means anything.

That is why I say Calvin is just as it were a little more direct and honest in his language concenring this (to my mind) horrific view of double predestination–at least as applied to the Relative world, when referenced to the Nondual it is in fact the truth of predestination…more on that in a later post [but a key point].

Calvin jettisoned the whole subtle-sacramental-devotional viewpoint still held onto in Catholicism (and parts of Lutheranism). And unsuprisingly, given the Humanist-Bibilicism bent of Calvin, the practice of mysticism is lost. It is not found through the Humanist interpretative lens of Biblical Reformed Theology. The only “mysticism” of a sort found in Calvin was the idea that one, no matter whether heaven or hell bound should live a carefree life in the face of the question of life after death. Since there was nothing you could do, your fate was already sealed, might as well enjoy the ride.

That free spirit feeling did (and could not) last long. The Protestant Ethic, which in almost all cases refers to the Calvinist strains of Protestantism, is the Protestant-version of the Catholic devotional-indulgence realm. That is not through attending to sacraments, saying rosaries or going to confession does one “unofficially” earn salvation (or accept salvation), but through moral rectitude, not dancing, drinking, cursing, working hard and earning a privileged income, these are the Protestant Ethic ways of “unofficially” gaining salvation. [See Two Truths of Christinaity on how the Catholic Devotional-Protestant Ethic are the recurring pattern of Relvative, Self-Power Poles in Western Christian Spirituality].

Calvinism, especially in America, became a religious legitimator of secularization. It was a strong vehicle for the flattening, horizontal effect of the modern wave. When the more nuanced, cosmological hierarchical Catholic-Orthodox Medieval Vision was lost in nominalist Reformed Theology and with it the practice of religion reduced more to humanistic, ethical, and “historical” Biblical pursuits, the dimension of the mystical, the other-worldly was lost.

This flattening brought about the totalization of the Divine led, as I have argued, to movements like Deism, Unitarianism (i.e. Socinianism), Supernatural Theism, and Pantheism (as in the American Transcendentalists).

This remote God was to one camp completely removed from creation. This remote God may have either simply set the train in motion and no longer cared about it (Deism) or at times supernaturally invaded and suspended the natural law (Supernatural Theism). As Tillich said, in a horizontal, flat, depth-less world, what real meaning can there be to the notion that some outside giant Ego-like Divinity would magically descend into this realm, get killed, and then float back up to who knows where? Outside of depth, totally reduced to a 3rd-person perspective (Jesus this, Jesus that, Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the evening….ever noticed that–always 3rd person).

In other words, ever observed how “deeply” superficial most versions of modern Protestant (particularly American) Christianity are? They are totally wedded to the historical-materialist flattening of modernity and then simply hold out a belief in one very specific set of counter-exceptions to that trend. There is no connection to those events as symbols as guides to inner wisdom. They are simply, according to this view, the “facts” of an all-poweful God who has already saved us and we just sit around and enjoy the world until he comes to claim us all.

Or maybe I’m getting a little cynical here. Only in America though would churches build their ecclessiology around capitalist business models. I think my spiritual and theological prejudices are fairly clear, so take what I have to say on others fronts (critically) with a grain of salt.

And Pantheism, in smaller numbers, because this God is so powerful, so directly (non-intermediar-ily) involved that God is everything. Or God is nothing but everything we see, touch, smell, tatse. Again it is that reducdtion of Creation-God nexus to only its “gross” manifest forms, its assumption of the modernist fallacy of the Myth of the Given, that is at work in the later strains of Calvinism. Pantheism, Deism, and Supernatural (Modernist) Theism hold in common the belief that creation is nothing other than the Flatland, historical modern worldspace. They differ only to the degree whether they see God as outside this process (remanining so or entering) or the process itself.

And in a related movement, conversion-centric, emotional-laden, Evangelical Born Again Movements, again esp. in America. They too, generally hold to a very modernist concrete operational cognitive apparatus. Even any lingerning magical-mythic constructs (purple-red-blue) are heavily molded by the modernist (orange) worldspace.

The practice of the conversion of the heart in Evangelical circles has become for many a rote, patterned formula—read this passage from Romans, consider your sins, feel abymsal, call out for God, accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, etc.

Now this patterning, as such, is actually a healthy mode of injunction. But as with all spiritual practices, from a Christian perspective, they can only open us to the possibility of conversion, mysticism, whatever. They are necessary but not sufficient conditions. Often following the recipe does not bake the cake.

And it is here that the Evangelical, often concrete operational cognition-affect becomes problematic. It is de-historicized, non-contextualized, as are pretty much all modernist movements, leaving the aspirant with the notion that if the convesion does not take place immediately either A)something is wrong with them B)God doesn’t love them and/or C)they fake it.

Faked religious emotionalism is very strong in Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic groups across the denominational spectrum. In my experiences, there is often as much if not more pre-rational, egocentric emotional display than any genuine religious surrender, awe, or devotion. Again depending entirely on the persons involved, their histories, the day and time, whatever is going on in their life, God’s grace at the moment, and so on. There are genuine and faked versions, of that I’m sure.

The Evangelical Born-Again experience has its seed in Luther’s Tower Experience. In the American Christian scene, it was carried during the Second Great Awakening (1830s) principally by the Methodist churches. As mainline Methodism itself has dwindled the born-again evangelical movement nevertheless has continued the main themes and merged with the mostly Calvinist American theological overlay. That explains why I argue that the Evangelicals, often though by no means exclusively, are wedded to a modernist-Calvinist theological frame.

Though important to mention that there are strongly “green” postmodernist, liberal born agains. And their influence in terms of human rights campaigns, environmentalism, and social justice-enculturated missiology is gaining a great deal of traction and strength.

Those mostly positive movements aside, there is still the deeper question for the Born Again (and Protestantism generally) movemetn of what happens after you are Born Again? What about deification-sanctification? What about mystical union with God?

The typical pattern I have noticed through my observations, friendships, and dialogues with individuals in the larger Evangelical-Pentecostal-Born Again frames (of whatever denominations) is that some, maybe many, initially have very positive responses to the injunctions of personal conversion, moral praxis, Biblical study, and the new identification as a “Christian”. Many in fact even have a genuine convesion experience as prototypically outlined in the literature.

Again this experience is quite open to anyone. In a post-metaphysical frame, we note that injunctions open up worldspaces. It helps relativize the issue. One can go through the Christian path without ever having such an experience–I would be hard pressed to say I ever have in the exact way described by those movements. There absolutism obviously being a huge problem. In concrete operational cognition, one size fits all–a very cookie-cutter approach to God. Not particularly nuanced.

But even after such positive moral conversion and emotional sense of being redeemed, what happens then? For some this change happens rather quickly–a year or less. Let’s say the person is 35 years old. What are they going to do for the next 50 odd years of their life., spiritually speaking?

And here these movements are completely silent. A famous (and very good) text in this camp is Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life…….how’s that title for an extremely masculine-type, modernist-wave, adoption of discipleship and mystical theology? Anyway, it it what it is and it has helped many people, so God bless him.

Nevertheless in The Purpose Driven Life, Warren suggests his readers also pick up Br. Lawrence’s classic mystical (3 fold, unitive) mystical text, “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

Br. Lawrence was a 17th century French monastic brother; he was the community cook. How’s that for humility? He was a very quiet man and only after having a spiritual visitor to the monastery ask him how to pray did he write his short genius treatise, showing him to be one of the greatest 3-fold Christian mystics.

So Warren has interestingly identified the next step for people beyond conversion—I’m reading the Evangelical-Born Again injunction as the Protestant-ish version of purgation, if you’re keeping score. But Warren’s own remarks on the text show he has really no idea what the book is about, insofar as the correct data only arise in certain states or stages of consciousness. Br. Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God is classic causal state-stage injunctions.

Sit quietly, open the heart, focus only on in the interior experience of the mind-stream. Let go of all thoughts and emotions. Do not pray for special consolations, visions. Only state repeatedly that you wish God alone. And that you will wait forever, if needs be, for God to come and unite “himself” to you.

And that practice, though historically united to the Catholic-Orthodox morphogenetic streams is by no means in a post-metaphysical construct, relegated ONLY to such paths. Any baptized Christian can experience the grace of mystical union with God.

One of the all time great Western Christian mystics was a Methodist named William Law. Law’s books include A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life as well as The Spirit of Prayer and The Way to Divine Knowledge—all profound causal state-stage unitive treatises. They fall easily within the general Catholic mystical fold. And as I will show in a later post, towards the end of his life, Law became an admirer of the theosophist Jackob Boheme who is the greatest, I would argue, Protestant Christian Nondual Mystic. Protestant in a very generic sense for him, given that he was considered rather heterodox by many. But the point being, Law moves from the relative (purgation, illumination, union of spirits) to the Absolute (indistinct union).

So the possibility is certainly out there. But as I will show in the next installment on Protestantism, covering Liberal Modern Prot. theology and modern conservative Prot. thoelogical movements, we see no real theological backing for these experiences in the main Prot. movements. No appreciation of its place in the Christian life, no clear practice of injunction, communal fact-checking, no theological vocabulary to interpret, identify, and explain these occassions.

Published in: on March 4, 2006 at 5:56 am  Comments (1)  

The Movement Towards Islamic Modernity

If you follow Matthew D. over at the Daily Goose, he’s been covering the issue of Islam/West more from the point of view of the defense of Western traditions, secularism, etc. You can check out today’s post–Manifesto: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism. It is a published piece signed by major figures in this debate such as Rushdie, Irshad Manji, Hirsi Ali, and Ibn Warraq.

Matthew and I have had a private discourse over the subject, which has been good (I think) for both of us. I know it has for me anyway.

Certainly forms of so-called Islamism are totalitarian. No doubt about that. Interesting that the manifesto describes how the classical liberal rule of law tradition defeated both Fascism and Communism. Fascism is an interesting parallel given that the Nazis did in fact control large parts of North Africa and the Middle East, and some (though not all) of the anti-Semitism and totalitarianist leanings in the Arab lands is traceable to the Nazi period.

I also agree that neither the Clash of Civlizations approach nor the cultural relativist agenda help the situation but only in fact, strangely dovetail together, supporting “Islamo-Fascism.” The Clash of Civilization-ers because they (without proof) believe Muslims are incapable of ever accepting modern rules, law, and society. It is worth remembering that it is Bush II who has moved the Republican party–at least most of it–away from this view. Only really right-wing commentators like Pat Buchanan and Tony Blankley still support this xenophobic notion.

The relativists, under the banner of “we can’t judge another culture-way of life” end up bolstering the status quo–which is deeply flawed. In Germany, Turkish immigrants are still practicing hudood (tribal law)–with young girls who have been raped for example, “disappearing” at the hands of their brothers to restore the family’s honor. Meanwhile the German government and its people simply don’t want to know about these things. They don’t ex-ist. Because God knows the last time the German gov’t and people starting telling a minority non-Christian population within its borders how to live/what to do, a large percentage of them ended up dead. So out of guilt over the past, innocents are not protected in the present. The Relativist camp secretly harbors the same sorts of prejudices and racisms that the Clash position does–just with a so-called more civilized veneer.

Relativism, in its Western European variety, has other contradictions–ones not necessarily spoken to by the (mostly) European (and at least one Canadian) signers mentioned. Namely in alll the talk of free speech, there are laws against certain forms of free speech in Western Europe (and Canada)–where it is for example illegal to deny the Holocaust. Which for me is an awful, morally reprehensible thing to do, but not criminal.

But it is not against the law to draw cartoons of Muhammad with a bomb for a turban.** I’m not advocating there should be a law banning negative depictions of Islam/Muslims just as I am not in favor of censorship towards Holocaust-deniers. This isn’t an issue, fortunately, in the American context, where nobody advocates a law against Holocaust denial. But the question of jihadist Islam will be fought in Europe not the US. And to that degree the Europeans are deeply dis-honest, it seems to me, even the educated rational ones, about their own prejudice, classism, xenophobias, and racisms. Again without it turning into a relativist position–I’m saying the relativists are part of the problem.

As I have said before (through the influence of Thomas Barnett), I believe the emphasis must be on bringing the Middle East/Southwest Asia into the global economy, community of nations. And this will only come through the vehicle of Islam–only Islam has the legitimacy and pull among the world’s Muslims to help bridge the transition to the modern world. What most Muslims seek is a way into the political-economic benefits of the modern world without the reduction of life to the despairing, anxiety-riven, meaningless mush, that is the (modern Western secular) Flatland.

The initial movements towards connection will bring greater instability and violence in the short term. They have already.

What I feel is lacking though from the point of view typified by the Manifesto is any more contextualized knowledge of Islamism. In fact there is no such thing as Islamism, rather Islamisms. Or Islamists if you like–Islamism then being a code-word for terrorists, Islamists being those who seek to create an Islamic state but do not advocate terrorism. The Manifesto P-O-V tends to be excessively transcending and not necessarily very including. [Although Irshad Manji is a good example of how that could look—also check out Reza Aslan]. It tends towards a modern absolutist point of view—particularly in Warraq and Ali. Certainly that worldview (modernist) is under attack by certain strains of earlier, less developed perspectives, and has a right to protect itself. But it comes dangerously close at points to veering too far in the opposite direction.

It treats the multi-valent issue of modern Islamic movements as monolithic, when in fact there has probably never been a larger plurality of different voices, outlooks, and theologies within Islam since the early period of its founding.

For example: according to Bergen, Ayatollah Khomeni launched a cultural critique on the West–the fatwa against Rushdie, calling the US The Great Satan. But bin Laden’s critique of the West has been purely based on Foreign Policy–you have placed your troops on our holy land, you are in alliance with the Zionists, you support authoritarian governments like the Russians and Chinese over their Muslim populations all the while proclaiming you are the defenders of liberty, etc.

And that is a substantial difference though many of their aims and viewpoints are held in common. These nuances need exploration, even if only because as Sun Tzu said the Art of War is predicated upon knowing thy enemy–the enemy being terrorists, those who are beyond dialogue not obviously Islam itself or the Muslim world in general.

I have tried to remedy what I see as that lacuna in this blog through the introduction of views and background on different facets of the issues involved.

And for personal background as to why/how I’ve spent so much time on Islamic theology—when I was 16 I very seriously considered converting to Islam. Obviously in the end I choose not to, but Islam has always had a special place in my heart. The time I have spent in mosques or listening to the call to prayer resonates with a certain part of me, as if I have an instinctive understanding of what all that is about. That’s probably a fairly Romantic notion, so take it or leave it. But anyway, it helps explain my personal connection to the question.

**
–The cartoons in question were published in Denmark which does not have unique Holocaust-denying laws. Countries like Austria, Germany, and Canada have such laws. Denmark however is a member of the EU and must abide by EU conventions articles 5 and 6 of which could easily be read as justification for the criminilization of denying the Holocaust (the conventions speaks of the illegality of minimizing genocide, although it is not entirely clear to what such a minimization would refer…)
Published in: on March 2, 2006 at 7:23 am  Comments (3)  

Roots of Jihadist Theology

Check out these two talks on NPR.

The first is with Peter Bergen. Also his homepage. In this interview he discusses his new book The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaeda’s Leader.

Bergen is one of the few Westerners, in fact the first, to have interviewed bin Laden (he did so in the 90s). The book is a series of interviews with family, friends, associates, etc. of bin Laden, probing his psychological-biographical portrait.

The talk is very interesting, particularly in terms of how the 9/11 attacks for al-Qaeda were a tactical victory but a strategic catastrophe. [Though Bergen also thinks, correctly in my view, that the Iraq War has helped revive the fortunes of Jihadist ideology].


The second is from religion scholar Karen Armstrong, one of the foremost scholars of the modern phenomena of religious fundamentalism. In this interview she discusses Sayid Qutb, the so-called godfather of jihadist ideology–he was killed by Abdel Nasser in Egypt in 1966.

Qutb was the first to declare that so-called Muslim rulers (like Nasser in Egypt) were actually jahili (from jahiliyah, the age of ignorance). The jahiliyah is the time of pagan pre-Muslim Arabian ignorance–ignorance of God, of morality, of trans-tribal community. By saying modern Muslim rulers were not Muslim at all but pagan jahili, Qutb then outlined a plan for jihad based on his reading of the Quran and the history of the early ummah (Muslim community)—a very selective reading not suprisingly.

Qutb believed the Quran outlined a blueprint for the overthrow of the jahili, and ipso facto was therefore to be read in the modern day as a blueprint for destryoing the neo-jahili (i.e. Arab/Muslim authoritarian regimes, particulary in the Middle East.

Qutb’s ideas have profoundly influenced bin Laden, Zarqawi, and the entire trans-national terrorist-Salafi jihadist movement.

The last p0int I’ll mention, referenced by both Bergen and Armstrong is that radical jihadist and larger Islamist (like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Ayatollahs of Iran as opposed to al-Qaeda) movements were born in the wake of the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Israelis in the 1967 War. The Israeli defeat signified the loss of legitimacy for secular, nationalist, pan-Arab, socialist regimes—typified by Nasser.

There is no “third way” in the Middle East—there are either the authoritarian regimes of people like Mubarak and the Saudi family or there are the Islamist groups like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. What Bush has done with the Iraq War is accelerated the pace towards the assumption of power by the Islamists, which though it will have serious reprecussions–many negative–I believe in the end is better than the status quo which is only creating more rage, more despair, more joblessness, more degradation, and more jihadist ideologues/suicide bombers.

That the Bush administration screwed absolutely everything (and I mean basically everything) else relating to his radical re-visioning of American foreign policy—Unitary Executive Theory; no postwar planning; no winning the peace; no Sunni plan in Iraq; Abu Ghraib; and on and on–is simply abysmal.

Published in: on March 1, 2006 at 11:00 am  Comments (1)