Sunday, April 27, 2008

pigeon brain cells

brain cells

Drawing of Purkinje cells (A) and granule cells (B) from pigeon cerebellum
by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899;
Instituto Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Madrid, Spain. @ wikipedia

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Friday, April 25, 2008

tantalizing tales

Wikipedia on Winston Churchill (novelist):

Winston Churchill (November 10, 1871 - March 12, 1947) was an American novelist.


In 1919, Churchill decided to enter a prolonged period of self-reflection. He stopped writing and withdrew from public life. As a result of this he was gradually forgotten by the public. In 1940, The Uncharted Way, his first book in twenty years, was published. The book was a reflection of Churchill's thoughts on religion. He did not seek to publicize the book and it received little attention. Shortly before his death he said, "It is very difficult now for me to think of myself as a writer of novels, as all that seems to belong to another life."


TIME review of The Uncharted Way titled Prophet and dated June 17, 1940:

In the 23 years since U. S. Novelist Winston Churchill (The Crisis, Richard Carvel) last published a book, he has kept much to himself. He lived quietly in Cornish, N. H., and it was understood that he had stopped writing. Far from it: he was ruminating and writing his profession of religious faith, The Uncharted Way.

The book is an examination, chiefly through the Old Testament prophets and the parables of Jesus, of the roots of religion, individualism, science, human conduct, human hope. It is the work of a stonily independent amateur thinker. Winston Churchill is convinced that certain of the prophets, notably Isaiah (a collaboration) and Jesus (if he existed), had hold of a form of science, psychology and self-knowledge which all religions, including Christianity, have repudiated, and which science itself rather scorns than endorses.

The U. S. Churchill's thesis: The essence of the prophets' perception was a form of creative, evolutionary energy, through which an individual might free himself from fear, desire, moral death.

This form of energy is described in the Gospels, Churchill believes, by the Greek word agape: non-possessive rather than possessive love. This was and is, he believes, perhaps as actual a force as electricity. Fear is the root of all state-religions, it suffuses and gives shape to society, and is described by the prophets as Satan or the Tempter. Craving, a low state of creative energy, is the root of rebellion, and rebellion likewise is a state of sin or death. The technique by which the hostile power of the world is "bound" is broadly similar to Tolstoy's or Gandhi's nonresistance of evil.

Churchill divides the human career into three days or ages: that of the animal, free in his instincts; that of the human world, tortured between fear and craving; that of resurrection. Indirectly suggesting that the end of the second age, of the human world, is at hand, he recalls that Christ compared such catastrophes to the first leaves of a fig tree, by which men know that summer is near. In his closing chapter Winston Churchill begins to sketch a program for The Third Day. His resurrection is not supernatural but earthly. The reader who finds in this chapter cold comfort may perhaps be pardoned. But he who finds in it mere idiocy may perhaps be mistaken.

Winston Churchill is not to be confused with Great Britain's Prime Minister, but often has been. No kin, they are old acquaintances. Britain's Churchill once suggested that one of them change names; U. S. Churchill, as the senior, passed the buck. Britain's Churchill thenceforth signed his books Winston S. (for Spencer). In 1903, when Winston banqueted Winston S. at Boston's Copley-Plaza, Winston S. got the bill.

Update: A drawing of Churchill is available here.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

love in the Koran has a forum on Islamic reform that focuses on an idea by Khalim Massoud to create a new Koran by removing contradictory and violent passages. One of Massoud's premises is that "God is the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate" and, in a response to that premise from participant Bill Warner, there is an analysis of the occurrence of the word "love" in the Koran. It is a useful little piece, worth preserving here.

One of those opinions was stated by Mr. Massoud, "God is a loving God." I don't know anything about Allah, but I do know what the Koran says. While there are over 300 references in the Koran to Allah and fear, there are 49 references to love. Of these love references, 39 are negative such as the 14 negative references to love of money, power, other gods and status.

Three verses command humanity to love Allah and 2 verses are about how Allah loves a believer. There are 25 verses about how Allah does not love kafirs.

This leaves 5 verses about love. Of these 5, 3 are about loving kin or a Muslim brother. One verse commands a Muslim to give for the love of Allah. This leaves only one quasi-universal verse about love: give what you love to charity and even this is contaminated by dualism since Muslim charity only goes to other Muslims.

So much for love. Fear is what Allah demands.

source: Bill Warner in Symposium: A New Koran?

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

one dawn

unknown existence
undiscovered beauty
that's how you are
so far
one dawn
just like a sun
right from within
you will arise

Rumi: Quatrain 2840,
translation by Nader Khalili via Sunlight


Saturday, April 05, 2008

no agnosticism on racism

Below are some key excerpts from a 1953 interview with Bertrand Russell. He speaks with great clarity and conciseness, yet in a very accessible conversational style. I've chosen these excerpts because they touch on the issue of how to evaluate Islam today.

When, in a recent book, I said that what the world needs is "love, Christian love, or compassion," many people thought this showed some changes in my views, although in fact, I might have said the same thing at any time. If you mean by a "Christian" a man who loves his neighbor, who has wide sympathy with suffering, and who ardently desires a world freed from the cruelties and abominations which at present disfigure it, then, certainly, you will be justified in calling me a Christian. And, in this sense, I think you will find more "Christians" among agnostics than among the orthodox. But, for my part, I cannot accept such a definition. Apart from other objections to it, it seems rude to Jews, Buddhists, Mohammedans, and other non-Christians, who, so far as history shows, have been at least as apt as Christians to practice the virtues which some modern Christians arrogantly claim as distinctive of their own religion.


Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms, because it has had the smallest element of persecution.

source: Bertrand Russell: What is an Agnostic? (1953)

What Russell says of Muslims or "Mohammedans" is that they can behave as well or as badly as people of any other religion and this is hard to argue with. Christianity, especially, has a very very bad history in matters of persecution and in its failure to reign in emperial brutality as inherited from Rome.

However, Russell doesn't compare the core teachings in their fixed written forms. These are the ongoing legacy of the various religions, pretty much untouched by time and circumstance. It's true that interpretations and evaluations change over time - people "read" or understand the texts differently - but the words themselves have remained fairly stable despite being transmitted for much of their history through manual and not automatic means.

In my own estimation, the Bible remains as a valuable literary work and Jesus remains as a valuable moral leader. I have not found the Buddhist texts accessible, entertaining, or enlightening. I do find the Islamic texts - the Koran itself in conjunction with the traditions and life of Mohammad - to be problematic. I see no moral leadership there, no spiritual instruction, just practical guidance on how to manage political situations and conduct wars. Muslim dogma is not exploited so much in the interests of persecution as in the interests of supremacism through the sword, world domination on all levels: cultural, spiritual, geographical, genetic. On the last point, there is a very apparent Arab racial dominance element to Islam. It is chiefly expressed through the "right" of the conqueror to rape and enslave the women of the conquered. The cultural dominance is chiefly expressed through an insistence that the Koran - the word of God - is untranslatable so that it can only be properly accessed through the Arab language.

The racial element of Islamic supremacism is rarely talked about but its presence is felt most strongly when Muslims project their own racism onto all those who view Islam critically. The "racist" card is pulled out from their own sleeves and no one seems to be noticing this, let alone pointing it out.

So here goes, even if it is a lone voice in the wilderness:

Islam is a racist ideology and the Koran is a racist manifesto.

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