religion

On The "Ground Zero" "Mosque"

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Constitution of the United States, First Amendment

I'm angry. Furious. My rage is a white fire deep in my chest that I can't let cool because I fear that if I do I will just start sobbing and I won't be able to stop. It appears to me, frankly, that the world has finally tipped over something and gone completely insane. I don't want to go outside because I fear that if I see another person the rage will boil up and I will start screaming. I don't know how to look another human being in the eyes right now without wondering if they are one of the far too many who think it's okay to protest the faith of other Americans and try to stop them from building houses of worship. I fear that if i started talking to someone on the street about this, and they said the wrong thing, the flames might rise up and jet from out of my mouth, burning them to ash. I am not safe to be near at the moment.

"If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution."
George Washington

Mind, Body, Spirit, Whatever: The New Poetics of the Metaphysical

Adam Fieled has published a very interesting essay at Word For/Word about what he sees as a needed resurgence of metaphysical concerns in contemporary poetics. I largely agree with his thesis that the poetics of previous generations, in particular those of the American avant-garde of the latter half of the twentieth century, have been overly enmeshed in a variety of materialisms. There are notable exceptions, of course, chief among them I think would be poets of the Beat generation like Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg and a few others from the New York School, most notably Joseph Ceravolo. But in surveying the poetics of the major movements of the last 50 years of poetry, it's clear that in particular the obsessions of post-structuralism and the new criticism with the text as material object have infected a great deal of the late poetries with a pervasive materialism that has created the problems that Fieled notes. I don't want to quibble with the problematization as Fieled conceives it, but I do see a flaw in his historical analysis that I'd like to reformulate because I think it will make clearer those problems as well as help to point out possible approaches to solutions in the search for a way forward.

Confession: Dogmata, Faith, Science, and Belief

I am a natural atheist. I was not raised in any particular faith tradition, and my earliest questions about religion and what it meant were often met by my parents with further questions rather than any answers. I came in the end to reject religion and belief in God in general because I could see no way to determine which of the conflicting views presented by the religions I knew about was correct. All of them seemed to claim that they were correct and the claims they made were incommensurable. I came to this understanding of the world at a very early age, and it seemed like a very natural and correct position to me. So much so that I recall very specifically being shocked a couple of times in my childhood that other kids hadn't come to the same conclusions. As early as the first grade I remember being taken aback when I was at friends houses and they said grace before a meal, or when someone that I thought was smart reacted strongly against some offhand remark I made about the stupidity of belief in God.

The God-Machine: A Modest Proposal

Suppose you have a black box. It has two openings, one labeled "Questions" the other labeled "Answers."

No matter what you put into the "Questions" slot, something will come out of of the "Answers" slot. Whatever the "Answers" output is, it is a complete answer to the "Questions" input question.

This is true even if the "Questions" input is not a question. To be clear, anything can be put into the "Questions" slot and will produce a complete answer from the "Answers" slot.

This means that even output from the "Answers" slot could be input into the "Questions" slot, and thereby produce it's own answer.

Again the truth of these answers will always be as reliable as the truth of the answer to the question "If I have one apple and someone else gives me an apple, how many apples will I have?" is "Two apples."

This is even true of questions that are unanswerable, like the halting problem or something of that nature. The black box will never the less produce an answer. The black box is not a computer and is not limited by the limits of computation.

Now, imagine that you do not have access to the "Answers" slot. The answers are being produced to whatever question you are feeding into it, but you cannot see them or know what they are.

That would be frustrating, but you would know for certain that there was an answer, even if you could not see it.

Suppose now, that for some questions, you can figure out the answer yourself. Without observing what the output of the black box is, you can still know what the box will output anyway. This empirical or grammatical fact. Things that can be known through observation or reason.

We have access to these facts, although the black box will not confirm them.

There are other questions that we cannot figure out the answers on our own. Any number of answers could be correct, all of them could be, or none of them could be. We just can't tell because we can't see what the output is.

A Brief Excursion Into Panentheism

From time to time I delve into the nonsense of religious speculation.

I have been thinking lately about a particular occult philosophy that belief is a tool to be used to effect change in oneself and in the world. In particular, I have been thinking about this in connection with John 8, the woman caught in adultery. I believe that the evangelicals and catholics, and to a lesser extent all mainline christians, have fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of this myth.

Throughout his preaching, The Nazarene repeatedly returns to the notion of hypocrisy, and generally speaking I think that this has carried over into the improper, in my view, exegesis of John 8 as yet another condemnation of hypocrites. And I think that there is an element of that. But I also think it's important to note that John 8 is without parallels in the other gospels. The story is not sourced from anywhere but the Johannine community and their traditions. As such, I think it is a bit more revealing than yet another condemnation of hypocrisy.

Of all the gospels, John is the most in keeping with the Gnostic Christians like Marcion. It is also the most in line with the philosophy of stoicism, and the mysticism of gnostics from whom the notion that Jesus was always a part of the godhead and had come to redeem a world that was imperfect, is blended in John with the notions of the stoics that the ultimate truth is the knowledge of logos, The Word, through a disciplined quest for personal improvement in controlling ones passions and transforming them into a state of inner calm. The Word for the stoics was the reasonableness inherent in all things, and it was through this pursuit of reason that stoics believed the good was instituted in the soul. John identifies The Word, the logos, the reason of all things, with The Nazarene.

Jesus Was a Feminist

Lately, as is my wont from time to time, I have been rereading the gospels. As I've been doing so I came to the rather surprising conclusion that Jesus was advocating a sort of feminism in much of what he said.

Take for example his admonitions against adultery and divorce. Taken within the context of the times and the rights of women at the time, I think it's quite clear that these admonitions are in fact pragmatic pronouncements meant to help women in a time when they had very little ability to support themselves without male patronage in the form of a father or a husband. In fact, an adult woman of the time only had the options to live as a beggar or a prostitute if she was turned out of her father or husbands house. From this perspective, the prohibition on adultery, a prohibition that I had previously taken to be little more than typical of jewish prudishness about sex, made a lot more sense. The law, after all, is aimed at a male audience, so in a sense the prohibition on adultery is saying to men not to take sexual liberty with a woman and then leave her to fend for herself and your offspring, because to do so is to condemn her to poverty and prostitution. The same is true of the ban on divorce, that is, it is wrong for a man to set his wife aside because without him the realities of the times doomed her to a life of ignominy.

Doing a little googling, I found out that I was not the first person to come to this conclusion. I found the following excellent article which I think sheds a lot of interesting light on the sexual mores found in the New Testament, and which I think put some of the more offputting and strange ideas to be found in the gospels into a better light:

http://www.godswordtowomen.org/feminist.htm

Also interesting were several statements in the gospel of thomas about making the female male and dissolving the distinction of male and female into spirit.