Wednesday, January 30, 2008

two passions unite

Two of my passions - tennis and Israel - have come together in this news item from Australian Jewish News: Israeli tennis stars to create history. I'm delighted to read that the fairness of the tennis world is invading a couple of the more modern Muslim states in the Persian Gulf: UAE (United Arab Emirates) hosting tournaments in Dubai and Qatar hosting a tournament in Doha.

The player and tournament details are as follows:

WTA - commencing 18feb08 - Doha, Qatar - Shahar Peer
WTA - commencing 25feb08 - Dubai, UAE - Tzipora (Tzipi) Obziler
ATP - commencing 3mar08 - Dubai, UAE - men's double Jonathan (Yoni) Erlich and Andy Ram *

* recent winners at the Australian Open

** Dudi Sela is also a promising ATP player. Will he also try for Dubai?

My best wishes to all of these brave and talented players.

oz open

Celebration time: Jonathan Erlich leaps into the arms of Andy Ram
after their straight sets win. © Getty Images

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Friday, January 25, 2008

dumb on deity

After reading the atheistic Dawkins book (see collateral damage), I thought it appropriate to read a book from the opposing theistic camp. The library was accommodating in presenting me with Francis S. Collins' The Language of God (Free Press, 2006). This writer is earnest and at times quite sympathetic but he lacks the theatrical flair of Dawkins. Because he has a strong background and wide personal experiences in the areas he covers, his book is both informative and credible. However, there were several gaffes arising from what I perceive to be a shallow theism that matches Dawkins' shallow atheism.

The first most glaring gaffe occurs on page 41 [my emphasis]:
While the prophet Muhammad never himself used violence in responding to persecutors, Islamic jihads, dating to the earliest of his followers and including present-day violent attacks such as that of September 11, 2001, have created the false impression that the Islamic faith is intrinsically violent.

Never? Muhammad never himself used violence? What has Collins been doing since Sep11? Surely not reading any of the discussion on violence in Islam. Definitely never venturing anywhere near let alone,, or other similar sites. If he had, he would know at least some of the following:

  • In the initial phase of Mohammad's "prophetic" career, while he was in Mecca with but a few followers, he had no power or opportunity to use violence. He deserves no credit for that restraint.

  • Shortly after being forced to leave Mecca and settle in Medina, Mohammad began to order (and also lead) raids against Quraysh caravans, killing the guards and stealing the loot from the camels' backs. He was thus a thief, an armed robber, and a murderer to boot. Details of the very first act of violence, a raid ordered against a caravan at Nakhla, are given in The earliest biography of Muhammad, by ibn Ishaq and also from page 97 of Robert Spencer's The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion (Regnery Publishing, 2007). I will refer mainly to the latter resource for details as I have found Spencer to be reliable in his own reliance on original Muslim sources.

  • These violent raids progressed to full-blown battle at Badr where victory for the Muslims was claimed as evidence of the "truth" of Islam. See Koran 8:8 - "That He might cause the Truth to triumph" - and surrounding verses.

  • Following a victorious battle against a Jewish tribe, the Banu Quraysah, Mohammad ordered and supervised the massacre of all the men of the tribe. The women were distributed among his gang to be raped and, along with their children, taken as slaves. Details are given from page 128 of Spencer.

  • Mohammad was happy to order the torture of a captive, simply to extract information on the whereabouts of treasure. For details, see page 140 of Spencer. Torture was used on other occasions with clearly little other than sadistic intent as, for example, detailed in a Bukhari hadith.

  • Mohammad encouraged - or effectively ordered - the assassination of a Jewish poet guilty of composing "verses of an insulting nature". See page 115 of Spencer. There were several other similar incidents as listed at page 197 of Spencer.

  • For me, Mohammad's greatest sin of violence was indirect, relating to his approval of his followers' murder of women guilty of "disparaging" him. Details and sources can be found at my hearing the breath post.

Any of the above victims of Mohammad's cruelty and brutality could be characterized as his "persecutors", people who criticized or opposed him. Once he had the means to do so, he pursued his goals on the basis of a "might is right" prescription, terrorizing and murdering without scruple and often with supposedly "divine" approval.

Perhaps Collins has not educated himself sufficiently to be aware of every gory detail of this saga but he should have become acquainted with at least one detail by now, sufficient at least to balk at the use of the word "never" in the passage quoted above. He comes across as a very very naive man indeed, as one who sees the world - and other faith traditions - through the rose-coloured glasses of Christian sentimentality. If he can get this much so wrong, what value can there be in the remainder of his views?

The most positive element of Collins' book is his forthright defense of Darwinian "truth" and the lucidly presented details gleaned from his own field of genetics. It was fascinating, for example, to learn how the apparent extra chromosome (24 total) of our nearest relative, the chimpanzee, appears to have fused with another chromosome to result in the lesser count (23 total) in humans. Everything falls into place as Darwin would have predicted it.

If Collins can influence a good number of his fellow theistic Americans then he will have done a good service to science and to evolutionary biology in particular.

However, on the side of religious "truth", he sounds to me as hollow as Dawkins. He does not use the aggressive arrogance of Dawkins but a softly-softly "Christian" approach, gently trying to persuade any atheistic audience of the reasonableness of his own position. However, at bottom, he really is but a Christian apologist. He really does, quite literally, believe in the unique godhead of Jesus Christ and in the miracle of His resurrection.

To be fair, however, Collins states his Christian beliefs in a special chapter providing a more personal perspective. In terms of a more universal "truth" he proposes a faith he terms BioLogos, which includes 6 points. The first 3 are summaries of what science has come to know of the age of the universe, its physical properties "precisely tuned for life", and the onset of evolution as a process leading to life's diversity and complexity. In the next 2 points, the divine is specifically excluded and our animal nature affirmed:

4. Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.
5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.

All of the theistic "damage" occurs in the final point:

6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.

For me, this still looks like a "god of the gaps" and an arbitrary place to introduce God. From my observation of plants, animals, and fellow humans, I see no good reason to make such a radical distinction between "us" and "them". I see as strong a sense of right and wrong in my cat as I do in my human neighbour (or myself) and I'm not sure the unfolding of a seed into a plant is not a silent striving toward deity, a plant's version of "the search for God". Collins' BioLogos contains the same human arrogance as is present especially in the Judaically derived faiths, being all so influenced by the dreaded Book of Genesis.

Collins introduces the idea of the Moral Law much earlier in his book, in the chapter where he describes his own journey "From Atheism to Belief". It is in that section (on page 24) that he makes, ironically, a huge moral gaffe:

In some unusual cultures the law takes on surprising trappings - consider witch burning in seventeenth-century America. Yet when surveyed closely, these apparent aberrations can be seen to arise from strongly held but misguided conclusions about who or what is good or evil. If you firmly believed that a witch is the personification of evil on earth, an apostle of the devil himself, would it not seem justified to take such drastic action?

I will leave it to another reviewer to respond more fully to this and, at the same time, I would recommend Korthof's more detailed elaboration of problems with point 6 of BioLogos, similar to my own concerns stated but briefly above.

Shockingly, Collins highest priority is showing that witch burning does not invalidate the Moral Law and he does not bother to tell his readers that he is unconditionally against all torture of all human beings or against the death penalty. Or did he just forget to tell us? It should be easy to condemn an inhuman practice of more than 300 years ago. The 'aberration' seems to be that they burned the wrong people and that the Moral Law they tried to follow is good. The implication would be that Christians today more accurately know which people they have to burn. At the time they only got a few minor details wrong and executed 60,000 people. 'Some unusual cultures'? The European witch-hunt was not a single historical event, but took place from Scotland to Transylvania and from Spain to Finland over a 300-year period (1450 - 1750). Collins completely overlooks that witch burning is not an aberration of otherwise clear and sound concepts and principles. These poor individuals were charged with killing babies, causing sterility among cattle, and destroying crops by magical means, worship the Devil, and nocturnal flight (yes, the executors believed that witches can fly). An ordinary criminal could have been imprisoned or have a painless and quick death penalty. What is the harm done by witches to their neighbours? Does Collins think that magic works and that it has been proven by the inquisitors? Does Collins think that babies are killed and crops fail by magic? Does Collins think that the Devil exists and that 'the pact with the devil' has been proven in any case? Does Collins think that a 'firm belief' in stead of legal proof is enough to execute people in the cruellest way? The real aberration is in the abstract and fictional nature of the theological concepts such as 'witch', 'personification of evil', 'apostle of the devil'. There is the problem. There is the danger. Collins provides on these pages the best evidence of the dangers of fictional, abstract concepts so characteristic of religion. A closely related religious concept is eternal burning in hell. He completely fails to attempt a scientific analysis of this kind of thinking, instead he is part of the problem and he is completely carried away by abstract concepts himself.

from Gert Korthof's review of The Language of God (linked sources in the original)

Finally, near the end of the book, I found myself cringing at the arrogance of Collins' exclusive monotheism and two-faced "tolerance" of other faith traditions. First, on page 225, is the first face of his "tolerance" [with my own read-between-the-line additions]:
I do not mean by telling this story to evangelize or proselytize. [though that is, in fact, what I'm doing] Each person must carry out his or her own search for spiritual truth. If God is real, He will assist. [that man or woman to come to Him, that is, Christ] Far too much has been said by Christians about the exclusive club they inhabit. Tolerance is a virtue; intolerance is a vice. [and I so want to appear virtuous both to the reader and to myself] I find it deeply disturbing when believers in one faith tradition dismiss the spiritual experiences of others. [though I will do this myself in a few pages from here] Regrettably, Christians seem particularly prone to do this. Personally, I have found much to learn from and admire in other spiritual traditions, though I have found the special revelation of God's nature in Jesus Christ to be an essential component of my own faith.

Two pages later, on page 227, there is an about-turn followed by a final about-turn back to the initial "tolerant" face [my emphasis]:
Many of these [Golden Rule] principles can be found in other great religions of the world. Yet if faith is not just a cultural practice, but rather a search for absolute truth, we must not go so far as to commit the logical fallacy of saying that all conflicting points of view are equally true. Monotheism and polytheism cannot both be right. Through my own search, Christianity has provided for me that special ring of eternal truth. But you must conduct your own search.

Well, mate, I have conducted my own search and let me tell you this: Why can't there be different doorways to deity? Different approaches that suit different people? Many of the great mystics have exclaimed that God (or nirvana or the Tao) transcends all of our human intellectual categories including the apparently opposing ideas that God is One and that It is Many. Maybe God is indeed "above" your petty distinction between monotheism and polytheism. Isn't it possible that Unity and Multiplicity are two paradoxical aspects of God just as light sometimes seems wave-like and sometimes matter-like? James Hillman, an advocate of polytheistic psychology (see my Kali Xronia post for some background), contends that it includes non-exclusive (though not exclusive) monotheism. Some people may be more suited to a monotheistic approach, others to a polytheistic. Making dogmatic pseudo-logical assertions may not be helpful when facing a mystery as deep as deity.

Dawkins likes the propagandist motto that "atheists are bright" and I would have to agree with him that Collins does not deserve the label, at least when it comes to theology. He is "bright" when it comes to genetic science and so also is Dawkins when it comes to evolutionary biology. But both men are equally dumb on deity.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

collateral damage

I recently finished reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (Bantam Press, 2006) and found it largely entertaining and even, in places, informative. I support his forthright stance against literalist understandings of religious motifs but for me, as for others, he does go a wee bit too far in places. His atheism is asserted a little too stridently. Because I'm on his side in the cultural war he is waging, I feel I can bear the "collateral damage" inflicted by his failure to pick up on the worthwhile nuances to be found in the religious arena.

Because Jung and gnosticism are dear to me, the main collateral damage occurred on pages 50/51 in the following passage:

Let us, then, take the idea of a spectrum of probabilities seriously, and place human judgements about the existence of God along it, between two extremes of opposite certainty. The spectrum is continuous, but it can be represented by the following seven milestones along the way.

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’

  2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’

  3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’

  4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’

  5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I don't know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical.’

  6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’

  7. Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’

I'd be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated. It is in the nature of faith that one is capable, like Jung, of holding a belief without adequate reason to do so (Jung also believed that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded with a loud bang). Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 — I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.

As I understand Dawkins to mean by "atheism" (category 7) and as I understand Jung to mean by "know" (category 1), I would place myself in both categories. I would happily describe myself as a gnostic atheist (or atheist gnostic) and I cannot imagine how to explain all that to Dawkins. He comes across as a very intelligent man on some things and very stupid on others. Maybe we are all like that?

Anyway, I'll leave the last word to Rumi:
To the Prophet, this world is plunged in glorification of God,

while to us it is heedless.

To his eye this world is filled with abundant love;

to the eyes of others it is inert and lifeless.

To his eye, valley and hill are in fluid motion:

he hears subtle discourses from sod and bricks.

To the vulgar, this whole world is a dead thing in chains.

I have never seen a veil of blindness more amazing than this.

Mathnawi IV: 3532-3535,
version by Camille and Kabir Helminski via sunlight

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

warrior woman in wool

extreme wool

Florence catwalk @ smh

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

a second blogging of the qur'an

I have been following Robert Spencer's weekly series of which the latest is Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 10, “Jonah” and now, much to his own delight, Spencer will be joined by a second blogging the qur'an series, only this time by a prominent Muslim writer, Ziauddin Sardar. I've not come across this guy before but I accept the Guardian's blurb on him as a man "considered a pioneering writer on Islam" and "widely known for his radio and television appearances". I will certainly follow Sardar as assiduously as I have been following Spencer.

The first blog entry is a personal account of his Muslim upbringing, starting with Koranic readings from his mother's lap, moving through the stricter environment of the madrassa, and culminating in an ongoing process of adult appraisal. I am happy to enter into Sardar's world to get a better feel for how the Koran moves the Muslim soul but there nevertheless remains a gap in the writing culture for we non-Muslims must also write about how the Koran moves us, though in different ways, and I would like to see Muslims making a genuine open-hearted attempt to enter into our own non-Muslim's Koranic world. For me, this starts at the beginning with the Fatiha which, I'm sure, has a happy sound for Muslims but for me and other non-Muslims sounds deeply offensive because it is so clearly pointing at us in a wrathful and derogatory manner. It makes my flesh creep and I would dearly love - one day - to read a Muslim acknowledging that this offense and apprehension are realistically based and not some paranoid symptom of "Islamophobia". For now, I will wait and see what develops in this and the corresponding series by Spencer.

In point of fact, my attention was more strongly drawn to the illustration that The Guardian provided. It was curious, for example, that the British Museum page on this image names the figure Gabriel (the archangel that announced Jesus' coming to Mary) rather than Israfil (or Raphael). The latter has a strongly Islamic function of standing at the ready with trumpet to mouth for he will blow two blasts at the Final Hour: one to mark the death of us all and the second to mark our resurrection - more precisely, the resurrection of all good Muslims - from the dead.


Archangel Israfil @ British Museum

My research also turned up some other variants of this image, clearly less refined ones but both contained in the same book. It seems that both the text and the artwork were copied by one to the next artist scribe, with results exhibiting more or less artistic merit or refinement. There is always a certain charm in the more primitive forms but the British Museum variant is stunningly beautiful. It doesn't really matter who created the first form of this angelic image but one does get a sense of the Islamic straightjacket that forbade innovation, specifically in theology but surely in any field - such as religious art - touched by deity.

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innovation in Islamic art


Archangel Israfil blowing a trumpet: 3 variations

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Monday, January 07, 2008

the lame god passes the cup among the gods

A conflict has been brewing among the gods of Olympus, especially between Hera, Queen of Heaven, and Zeus, her husband. Her son, the lame god Hephaestus, calms her down and passes sweet wine or nectar among the gods so that "all feasted equally". Finally the King retires to sleep by the side of his Queen.

Hephaestus spoke, then stood up, passed a double goblet
across to his dear mother, saying:
"Stay calm, mother, even though you are upset.
If not, then, as beloved as you are,
I may see you beaten up before my eyes, 
with me incapable of helping out,
though the sight would make me most unhappy.
It's hard to take a stand opposing Zeus.
Once, when I was eager to assist you,
Zeus seized me by the feet and threw me out,
down from heaven's heights.  The entire day
I fell and then, right at sunset, dropped
on Lemnos, almost dead.  After that fall,
men of Sintes helped me to recover."

As he spoke, the white-armed goddess Hera smiled.
She reached for her son's goblet. He poured the drink,
going from right to left, for all the other gods,
drawing off sweet nectar from the mixing bowl. 
Then their laughter broke out irrepressibly,
as the sacred gods saw Hephaestus bustling around,
concerned about the feast. All that day they dined,
until sunset. No one's heart went unsatisfied.
All feasted equally.  They heard exquisite music,
from Apollo's lyre and the Muses' beautiful song
and counter-song. When the sun's bright light had set,
the gods all went to their own homes.  Hephaestus,
the famous lame god, with his resourceful skill,
had made each god a place to live.  Olympian Zeus, 
god of lightning, went home to his own bed,
where he usually reclined whenever sweet sleep
came over him.  He went inside and lay down there,
with Hera of the golden throne stretched out beside him.  

from Homer: Iliad, final verses of Book I
trans Ian Johnston


Hephaestus riding a donkey
Athenian red-figure skyphos or drinking cup,
5th century BC @

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Kali Xronia

Kali Xronia (καλη χρονια: literally "good year") is the Greek way of saying "Happy New Year". I'm adding it to the French and English from Salim Mansur's first Toronto Sun missive for 2008.

Bonne année. Welcome to the New Year.

Take a deep breath, savour the moment and be an adult in a world awash in a rising tide of bigotry and the noise of political drivel pouring forth from our media as news.

Being adult means being a realist.

It means looking at the world as it is and recognizing that the fundamental attributes of human nature reflected in politics remain mostly unchanged from the age, for instance, of Thucydides some 25 centuries ago when he chronicled the Peloponnesian War that consumed the city-states of Hellas or ancient Greece.

from Salim Mansur: Let's all get real in 2008

Now, it can readily be added that the "fundamental attributes of human nature" as seen through the lenses of psychology and religion cannot have changed much either in those 2,500 years. The Greeks at the time followed a polytheistic religion, one that is now regarded as having little more than literary value. At least one modern psychologist, James Hillman,would urge us to return to this original Greek vision much as Mansur seeks to remind us of the great values of that original Athenian political experiment.

Nicolas-André Monsiau (1754 - 1837): The Olympians @ wikimedia commons

James Hillman is an heir to Carl Jung's analytical psychology but he became discontent with what he perceived as a monotheistic bias in Jung's portrayal of the psyche. He proposed and elaborated a polytheistic psychology that supports and validates the multi-faceted style of personality rather than seeing it as an incomplete phase within a process toward unity or wholeness.

A good online description of Hillman's opus is available as Marc Fonda's dissertation titled Examining the New Polytheism: A Critical Assessment of the Concepts of Self and Gender in Archetypal Psychology from which I provide the following excerpt:

One of the most important aspects of a polytheistic paradigm for psychology is the implication for the sacred. The re-sacralization of our means of speaking about the human condition and the physical world are well served by polytheism. There is a felt need in the de-souled, excessively rational and material contemporary world to find a kind of meaning that is analogous to the sacred, as opposed to the mere exchange of information. For Hillman, religions are not defined by the presence of Gods and Goddesses, but rather in terms of observances or the binding of events to one or many instances of numinosity, of that which moves the soul. For all the questions this definition of religion brings up, we must understand that Hillman is not so concerned whether monotheism or polytheism is better or worse (an opposition inherent in the monotheistic bias). Rather it is a question whether

Polytheistic psychology has room for the preferential enactment of any particular myth in a style of life....And [this suggests that] even the myths may change in a life, and the soul serve in its time many Gods. Polytheistic psychology would not suspend the commandment to have "no other Gods before me," but would extend that commandment for each mode of consciousness....No one model would be "before" another, since in polytheism the possibilities of existence are not jealous to the point of excluding each other.

[from James Hillman: "Psychology: Monotheistic or Polytheistic?" (Spring 1971, New York: Spring Publications, 1971)]

To Hillman, polytheism offers a style of consciousness that disallows the strict separation of psychology and religion. As I see it, Hillman's polytheistic psychology can help repudiate other separations such as the mind from the body, rationalism from unconsciousness, self from the other, the animated and unanimated. Hillman believes that the two, religion and psychology, are assumed by one another. Indeed, with the soul as the root metaphor of a polytheistic psychology, religious concerns are automatically acknowledged. That is, if analysis leads one to the "dark center" from which it is difficult to make the distinction between the unconscious and God, then it is impossible for the therapist to not be involved with religious problems.

from Marc Fonda: Polytheism as an Alternate Paradigm for Psychology

For ease of reference, here are the Biblical and Koranic passages that most clearly assert the monotheistic position, followed by typical (and comparable) monotheistic statements from Rumi and Jung:

And God spake all these words, saying,

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:1-3 KJV

And say: Praise be to Allah, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence.

Koran 17:111 Pickthall

Your intelligence is split into a hundred busy tasks,
in thousands of desires, in large and small things.
You must unite these scattered parts with love and
become as sweet as Samarkand and Damascus.
Once you are unified, grain by grain, then you can be
stamped with the royal seal.

Rumi: Masnavi IV: 3288-90
trans Muriel Maufroy via dar-al-masnavi

The more one becomes aware of the contents of the personal unconscious, the more is revealed of the rich layer of images and motifs that comprise the collective unconscious. This has the effect of enlarging the personality.
In this way there arises a consciousness which is no longer imprisoned in the petty, oversensitive, personal world of the ego, but participates freely in the wider world of objective interests. This widened consciousness is no longer that touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, and ambitions which always has to be compensated or corrected by unconscious counter-tendencies; instead, it is a function of relationship to the world of objects, bringing the individual into absolute, binding, and indissoluble communion with the world at large.[Jung: "The Function of the Unconscious," CW 7, par. 275.]

from Daryl Sharp: Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts (1991) available @ NYAAP (The New York Association for Analytical Psychology)


The archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche; a transpersonal power that transcends the ego.

As an empirical concept, the self designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man. It expresses the unity of the personality as a whole. But in so far as the total personality, on account of its unconscious component, can be only in part conscious, the concept of the self is, in part, only potentially empirical and is to that extent a postulate. In other words, it encompasses both the experienceable and the inexperienceable (or the not yet experienced). . . . It is a transcendental concept, for it presupposes the existence of unconscious factors on empirical grounds and thus characterizes an entity that can be described only in part.[Jung: "Definitions," CW 6, par. 789.]

The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness. [Jung: "Introduction," CW 12, par. 44.]

Like any archetype, the essential nature of the self is unknowable, but its manifestations are the content of myth and legend.
The self appears in dreams, myths, and fairytales in the figure of the "supraordinate personality," such as a king, hero, prophet, saviour, etc., or in the form of a totality symbol, such as the circle, square, quadratura circuli, cross, etc. [...][Jung: "Definitions," CW 6, par. 790.]


Experiences of the self possess a numinosity characteristic of religious revelations. Hence Jung believed there was no essential difference between the self as an experiential, psychological reality and the traditional concept of a supreme deity.
It might equally be called the "God within us."[Jung: "The Mana-Personality," CW 7, par. 399.

from Daryl Sharp: Jung Lexicon @ NYAAP [my emphasis]

On a final note, the above image of the Olympian pantheon is not strictly true to the original Greek polytheism since the gods and goddesses appear together. This is not characteristic of ancient Greek art where each deity was given its solitary due much as Hillman asks that we interpret the divine command against "other gods before me". At any moment we serve a particular deity, be it a God of War (Ares) or a Goddess of Love (Aphrodite), a God of Nature (Dionysus) or a Goddess of Civilization and Culture (Athena). When the god/dess is well served, the moment takes on the quality of eternity and nothing is removed if a different god/dess is served in the next moment of time. Yes, there is a unity in that shared quality of eternity and divinity but the plurality of the gods and the unique contribution of each must also be given its due. Ironically, unless we are completely open to that continuous flow of service from one god to another, unless we fully acknowledge the sovereignty of each god in turn, then we will fail to gather together those grains of our being that, together, make us whole.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rumi into French

Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch (1909-1999) was the Annemarie Schimmel of the French-speaking world with the difference that she converted to Islam from her native Christianity. She was also a parallel to Reynold A. Nicholson in having translated the full Mathnawi, in her case from the Persian into French. Though it's not evident from the bookcover, she co-wrote the book below on Jesus in the Sufi tradition.

eva de vitray

Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch @ Islam y Al-Andalus

Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch was a person absorbed by the inner quest for reality, and what is noteworthy in her itinerary is that her personal life and commitment were strongly linked with her intellectual investigations. They were directly inscribed into their logic. Of course, Rûmî became her spiritual mentor, just as if he took her hand and led her to the Muslim path. So she converted to Islam and until her death she used to fervently practice all the Islamic pillars and also Sufism.


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Jesus as the Sufis saw Him

Lifted aloft by angels:

sufi jesus

bookcover showing a Sufi image of Jesus

It is, of course, a very Islamized Jesus, complete with turban and macho moustache.

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creepy quotes from quadrant

A long but fascinating essay from Australia's Quadrant Magazine turned up today. Written by Fr Paul Stenhouse, it is titled Islam's Trojan Horse? Turkish Nationalism and the Nakshibendi Sufi Order. It piqued my interest especially since it relates to the local (Melbourne) scene, to interfaith efforts within the Roman Catholic Church, as well as to the issue of whether Sufism can serve as a counterpoint to Islamism.

As the title suggests, Stenhouse provides background information on the Nakshibendi Sufi Order and its influence within Turkish politics. He profiles leading lights of the Order such as Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen and it is from sermons of the latter that the "creepy quotes" occur.

"You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers …"

"The philosophy of our service is that we open a house somewhere and, with the patience of a spider, we lay our web, to wait for people to get caught in the web; and we teach those who do. We don’t lay the web to eat or consume them, but to show them the way to their resurrection, to blow life into their dead bodies and souls, to give them a life."

from sermons by Fethullah Gülen quoted in Paul Stenhouse: Islam's Trojan Horse? Turkish Nationalism and the Nakshibendi Sufi Order


photo from flickr/wikimedia commons

Stenhouse is clearly warning the naive interfaith dialogue enthusiast about the dangers of Islamist propaganda efforts, known as da'wa and quite likely to be clothed precisely in "dialogue" terms.

Dialogue has always been of paramount concern to Catholics. Nevertheless, goodwill alone, unsupported by accurate and comprehensive knowledge of Islam, is demonstrably not enough. In fact it can fatally distort the process for all participants in the “dialogue”, non-Muslims and Muslims alike. The latter immediately sense when good-hearted but ignorant and incautious non-Muslims are utterly unaware of, or are not in agreement about, what is at stake, or what the rules of the game are.

However we may wish it to be otherwise, it is a kind of mind game that we are playing. The stakes are high—and none of the clichés and double-talk of coffee-table ecumenism will serve us well in this struggle of wits.

My attention was also drawn to Stenhouse's bringing in Salim Mansur as a fellow repudiator of "the appeasement mentality" of elements in the liberal-left (which clearly can include the "softer" side of the Church itself).

A similar criticism of Western naivety and “suicidal” complacence was articulated recently by Salim Mansur, a columnist in the Toronto Sun. Mansur is a Muslim and the relevance of his insight is not confined to Canada. He describes what he calls “the appeasement mentality” of the mainstream liberal-left media, and of “politicians trolling for ethnic votes” and of “bureaucrats running public institutions” in the West. He quotes Theodore Dalrymple, a retired physician and prolific writer, who reported in New York’s City Journal:

“In an effort to ensure that no Muslim doctors ever again try to bomb Glasgow Airport, bureaucrats at Glasgow’s public hospitals have decreed that henceforth no staff may eat lunch at their desks or in their offices during the holy month of Ramadan, so that fasting Muslims shall not be offended by the sight or smell of their food. Vending machines will also disappear from the premises during that period.”

“Imagine the uproar,” comments Mansur, that would greet “any suggestion that the mainstream liberal-left media, in appearance at least, is treasonously on side with the newest enemies of freedom and democracy.”

For me, a central message of Stenhouse's long essay comes from a quote he gives from a fellow priest [my emphasis added]:

[T]he Director of the Centre for Arab–Christian Documentation and Research in Beirut, Father Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, ... noted that Christians often suffer from:

“a false understanding of the concept of tolerance. All this is an error and leads to the loss of one’s own identity. Never attack in word or deed, but seek the truth and always point out error. To say only half of what one is thinking is a lie; a complicit silence. Truth cannot co-exist with lies, intolerance and injustice.”

There is far, far too much of this kind of lying coming from the Christian but especially from the Catholic and Anglican Churches. Sadly, even though Salim Mansur might be the last Muslim the West can trust, he may also be guilty of this kind of lying.

For various different reasons, we are all too afraid to tell it frankly as it is and as we truly feel it.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

science versus bigotry

There is an exchange at FrontPage over Andrew Bostom's review of Matthias Küntzel's book on Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11. Küntzel rightly accuses Bostom of hostility and Bostom returns with more of the same. Here is a little of Küntzel's statement, followed by the comment I left under the article.

It is true and well known that the separation from and hatred of the Jews began with Muhammad’s activities in Medina and is a constitutive element of Islam. Anti-Judaism as laid down in the Koran, however, is not the same as antisemitism as laid down in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". Mediaeval Jew-hatred considered everything Jewish to be evil. Modern antisemitism, on the other hand, deems all "evil" to be Jewish. In the former case the Jew could save his life through acceptance of the rules of dhimmitude or conversion to Christianity (or Islam). In the latter case, what is involved is not just oppression or conversion, but an irrational belief that the salvation of the world depends on the destruction of the Jews. My particular topic is not the root cause of dhimmitude but the root cause of modern antisemitism within the Islamic world.

What was the importance of Koranic Jew-hatred for the subsequent adoption of Nazi antisemitism in the Islamic world? Conversely, what role did this Nazi antisemitism play in the revival of Islamically motivated Jew-hatred? These questions have yet to find a definitive answer. They require a serious and scientific debate.

from Matthias Küntzel: Bostom Misses the Islamist-Nazi Connection at FrontPage: Debating the Islamist-Nazi Connection

Comment from Arizona: Bostom is fueling bigotry ... while Küntzel is sticking to a scientific approach which will never be enough to satisfy the bigots.

My comment is a mere summing up but I would expand on it if anyone considered it worthy of a challenge.

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the best on Bhutto

Here is an excerpt from an excellent short essay on the Bhutto assassination: pithy, informative, but inspiring, it is easily the best commentary so far.

This is a true story. Back in 1946, an American diplomat asked an Iranian editor why his newspaper angrily criticized the United States but never the Soviet Union. The Iranian said that it was obvious. "The Russians," he said, "they kill people."

A dozen years earlier, in 1933, the Iraqi official Sami Shawkat, gave a talk which became one of the most famous texts of Arab nationalism. "There is something more important than money and learning for preserving the honor of a nation and for keeping humiliation at bay," he stated. "That is strength....Strength, as I use the word here, means to excel in the Profession of Death."


The profession of death has wrecked most Middle Eastern societies. But it has never succeeded in defeating a free society. It is not an effective tactic for destroying others but only for devastating one's own people.

Who killed Benazir Bhutto? The Sami Shawkat philosophy: alike in its Arab nationalist, Islamist, and Pakistani authoritarian versions which dominate Middle East politics.

from Barry Rubin: The Profession of Death

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