Tuesday, March 13, 2012

463 Redemption, God, Atheism, Knowledge, World Peace

Redemption, God, Atheism, Knowledge, World Peace
A letter to Seth Farber and Israel Shamir

by Peter Myers, September 10, 2011

Seth,

I'd like to introduce you to Israel Shamir (assuming you don't already
know him), and bring him into our discussion.

You are both of Jewish background - "Jews by birth" - who have adopted
Christianity. And you both talk of the spiritual impoverishment of our
times.

Although my possibly-Jewish surname could suggest a Jewish ancestor -
not in recent generations - I have never had a Jewish consciousness. I
grew up Catholic in Sydney, in the 1950s when Catholics constituted a
ghetto. Australia's Catholicism was the Irish kind, fundamentalist, and
militantly anti-Communist.

I entered a seminary at the age of 17, but, while there, stopped
believing in the Devil, and stopped believing that "we" were the good
people and "they" were the bad people. Rather, the line ran through all
of us.

So, I lost my reason for being there, and left, as did 75% of my class.
I no longer consider myself Catholic, but Shamir still refers to me as
"our Catholic friend" (he freely uses the Royal plural).

So, perhaps there is still something "Catholic" about me, just as others
might see some lingering "Jewishness" in each of you.

You wrote, "I presume you are still a theist".

I believe in "Divinity" but not "God". "Divinity" is a neutral term
which allows me to say that I don't know what it is, but that I think
it's there.

There is such a thing as "religious non-theism": a religion can be
non-theistic. Buddhism is; and Jainism too.

The simple question you raised has led me to long-forgotten pages of my
website where I explored such issues. I'm now delving into them and
quoting them.

We have all come across Christians - evangelicals mainly - who talk as
if they know God like the guy next door. Yet, God's mind - assuming a
theistic God - could not be like ours.

Our minds can only think of one thing at a time. Five minutes later, we
are hard-put to recall what we were thinking five minutes earlier. Our
mind wanders around like a goat browsing, as Buddhists like to say.
Sheep, unlike goats, stay in one place longer.

I am conscious of sensations coming from my body: my stomach is full, my
toe hurts, my nose is itchy. God would have to be aware of all the
sensations in my body - and the thoughts in my mind - as well as those
of billions of other people, animals, insects etc - SIMULTANEOUSLY. And
be aware of all past events as well as all future ones. We cannot
imagine what it would be like to have - or be - such a mind.

Therefore, the next step is to postulate that "God is not a PERSON"; but
rather "impersonal" - a principle. This brings us to the concept of
divinity in Eastern civilizations.

Taoism calls it "Tao"; Hinduism calls it "Brahman" (impersonal divinity,
as distinct from Brahma, a personal divinity). Buddhism has this concept
of "Brahman" too; and Karma is a sort of "cosmic law".

But Hindus believe in PERSONAL gods (deities) as well as IMPERSONAL
divinity. How could this be possible?

Theosophists explain it using the analogy of an electric light circuit,
eg in your house:
The personalities are like the lights on the circuit, while the divinity
is like the electricity that flows through the circuit, illuminating the
divinities.

As my friend Reg Little put it: the West has a Personal concept of
Divinity  and an Impersal concept of Law (the King being subject to the
Rule of Law), while the East  has an Impersonal concept of Divinity
(Karma, Tao, Brahman) and a Personal concept of  Law (vested in the
Emperor, hopefully wise).
http://mailstar.net/confucian-renaissance.html

Yet as my priest-friend (Zvonimir) replies, how could God lack
personhood if WE have it?

It's a mystery.

Anyway, when my kids were growing up in the 1990s, I found it hard to
discuss this topic with them. On the one hand, I felt uncomfortable with
the "received package" I had inherited: I did not want to pass it on. On
the other, I had not formulated a replacement. So there was this
silence, when it comes to discussing the most important things in life.

And "modern culture" - the media, MTV etc - had no words for such
things. The words themselves have disappeared from popular discourse.
The Soviet atheists campaigned against God, but at least they had to
mention "him" to oppose him. In popular youth culture, by contrast,
there is no such necessity. God has been abolished. Killed, as Nietzsche
put it - and "we" did it.

Yet despite the illusion of liberation, all is not well.

Siegmund Levarie noticed that "Noise has emerged as the standard bearer
of the forces rejecting civilization ... The new barbarism, with its
pre-musical, precivilized worship of noise, glissando, and indistinct
pitches, offers no vision and denies natural and artistic norms."

The liberation and beautiful music of the Beatles has inaugurated an era
of rebellious barbarianism - a rejection of Civilization itself. The
London riots are but one expression of it.

More from Levarie at http://mailstar.net/glass-bead-game.html

As Herman Hesse put it in his greatest book, The Glass Bead Game:

'... men came to enjoy an incredible degree of intellectual freedom,
more than they could stand. For while they had overthrown the tutelage
of the Church completely, and that of the State partially, they had not
succeeded in formulating an authentic law they could respect, a
genuinely new authority and legitimacy.' (p.19).

'They faced death, fear, pain and hunger almost without defences, could
no longer accept the consolation of the churches, and could obtain no
useful advice from Reason. ... They moved spasmodically on through life
and had no belief in a tomorrow.' (p. 22)

'They struggled through a deluge of isolated cultural facts and
fragments of knowledge robbed of all meaning. ... they were already on
the verge of that dreadful devaluation of the Word ... At the end of an
era of apparent victory and success they found themselves suddenly
confronting a void' (p. 23).

'... Even as intellectual ambitions and achievements declined rapidly
during that period, intellectuals in particular were stricken by
horrible doubts and a sense of despair. They had just fully realized ...
that the youth and the creative period of our culture was over, that old
age and twilight had set in.' (p. 23-4).

More from Hesse at http://mailstar.net/glass-bead-game.html

Hesse thinks that the West, apart from returning to its roots, must now
import culture from the East. During his travels, he stayed in
Singapore; it was his base in Asia.

During my seminary days I became aware that apart from the usual
dogmatic Christian tradition we are all aware of, there was another
tradition that emphasized the LIMITS of our knowledge, the UNIMPORTANCE
of dogma. the ARBITRARINESS of conventional morality. The Veil of
Unknowing; that we "see through a glass darkly".

John Courtney Murray's book The Problem of God touches on it. And,
surprisingly, that leading dogmatist Thomas Aquinas made an important
contribution in his presentation of The Three Ways of Knowing God.

The Three Ways are:
Affirmation (Gnosis - we assert "God is like this", comparing God to
things we have experience of)
Negation (Agnosia - we concede, God cannot be like such things we have
experience of)
Analogy (we reach from things we have experience of, to transcendence)

"we can know that God is but we cannot know what he is".

The greatest achievement of medieval philosophers was, not systematic
theology, but the discovery that the more we know, the more we are aware
of what we don't know.

{p. 66} Cyril of Jerusalem summed up the patristic insight when he said:
"In the things of God the confession of no knowledge (agnosia) is great
knowledge (gnosis)."

{p. 73} Ignorance of God becomes a true knowledge of him  only if it is
reached, as Aquinas reached it, at the end of a laborious inquiry  that
is firmly and flexibly disciplined at every step by the dialectical
method  of the three ways. ...  Only then may man confess his  ignorance
and have recourse to silence. But this ignorance is knowledge, as  this
silence is itself a language ...

{endquote} More from Murray at http://mailstar.net/murray.html.

The dialectical method of the Three Ways, first articulated by Thomas
Aquinas with regard to human knowledge, was later applied by Hegel and
Marx to historical processes.

I have a webpage on "Atheistic" Judaism as a variety of Religious
Non-Theism, which I hope you'll look at. It's pertinent to our
discussion: http://mailstar.net/philos.html

and another webpage: Spinoza formulates atheistic Judaism, the religion
of Jewish Communists:
http://mailstar.net/spinoza-pantheism.html.

In the following, I draw from of my writing from those webpages:

Spinoza pioneered a pantheistic version of Judaism, which is not
theistic (therefore atheistic) yet religious. Albert Einstein, and many
other Jewish non-theists, admired him.

Moses Hess, in Rome and Jerusalem, lavishes praise on Spinoza. David
Ben-Gurion and Harry Waton, like Hess combining Communism and Zionism,
similarly portrayed Spinoza as a major thinker.

Albert Einstein, in his writings about Cosmic Religion, pays tribute to
Spinoza's re-definition of God in non-anthroporphic terms. Karl Marx
wrote that Hegel used Spinoza's God to develop his concept of Absolute
Spirit.

Spinoza writes of God, but his God is not the God of the Bible, a God
that walks in a garden, wrestles with Jacob, appears to Moses in a
burning bush or on a smoky mountain, or has a Chosen People. It's more
like the God of the Deists.

In his denial of those anthropomorphisms, Spinoza has been considered
atheistic.

Hegel's concept of "Absolute Spirit" looks like "God", but is it
theistic? Is Hegel's God the God of the Bible?

Spinoza can be seen as pioneering a more elevated concept of divinity.
For Jews of that persuasion he is the prophet who has made a new,
higher, revelation of Judaism; and they consider Marx similarly.

By comparison, consider the Taoist notion of "Tao" as an expression of
divinity that comes to us from 2500 years ago. The Tao Te Ching contains
no creationist mythology, no anthropomorphisms, no historicism.

Around the same time, Heraclitus in Greece (Ionia, the edge of the
Persian Empire) enunciated the concept of the Logos - unity through the
clash of opposites - similarly a remarkable achievement.

The identification of dialectic as a process in nature is both Daoist
and Zoroastrian, the Daoist envisaging it as Complementarity, the
Zoroastrian as Antagonistic, the basis of fundamentalist ("Dualist",
"Manichaean") thought.

Heraclitus probably got his idea of the Antagonistic dialectic from the
Zoroastrian tradition, Greece being a little blip on the edge of the
First Persian Empire, which ruled from India to furthest Egypt. As
usual, the dominant economy exported its ideology.

The Daoist notion of dialectic as a process-in-nature is
non-historicist, non-linear: it does not envisage History as
Predestined, Progress as a fact, inevitable or even necessarily desirable.

The Zoroastrian notion of dialectic-in-nature, on the other hand,
enviages history as "Salvation History".

The Cynics were independent thinkers in the mould of Socrates (whom one
must free from Plato's political use of him to promote Sparta), and
advocates of the simple life; they had similarities with the early Taoists.

Nietzsche opposed Socrates, as the instigator of Rationalism.

The Birth of Tragedy, he writes:

"Socrates  emerges as the perfect pattern of the non-mystic, in whom the
logical  side has become, through superfetation, as overdeveloped as has
the  instinctual side in the mystic.

"It was Socrates who expressed most clearly this radically new prestige
of knowledge and conscious intelligence

"when even his  massive intellect faltered, he was able to regain his
balance through a  divine voice, which he heard only at such moments.

".. we cannot help viewing Socrates as the vortex and turning point of
Western civilization. ...

"ever since Socrates the mechanism of concepts, judgments,  and
syllogisms has come to be regarded as the highest exercise of man's
powers, nature's most admirable gift. Socrates and his successors, down
to  our own day, have considered all moral and sentimental
accomplishments  - noble deeds, compassion, self-sacrifice, heroism,
even that spiritual calm, so  difficult of attainment, which the
Apollonian Greek called sophrosyrle - to be  ultimately derived from the
dialectic of knowledge, and therefore teachable.

"Our whole modern world is entangled in the net of Alexandrian culture."

{end of quotes from Nietzsche} More at http://mailstar.net/nietzsche2.html

So, Socrates is being blamed for the illusion that "Knowledge is
Teachable" - the "Socratic Illusion".

Q ZHOU writes, in Canadian Social Science,

"Socrates believes that knowledge is teachable, and if virtue is
knowledge, then virtue is also teachable."
http://cscanada.net/index.php/css/article/download/1240/1259

SparkNotes comments on The Birth of Tragedy:
"The theoretical man ... suffers under the profound Socratic illusion
that thinking can reach to the depths of being and modify it."
http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/birthoftragedy/terms.html

Against this illusion, Heinz R. Pagels writes, "No amount of reading
books or attending lectures on bike riding will train you to ride a bicycle"

But is it the "Socratic illusion" or the "Platonic illusion"?

Socrates insisted that he knew nothing; Plato gave the impression that
he knew everything.

Socrates wrote nothing; Plato wrote volumes of books.

Socrates' teaching amounted to showing others the limits of their
knowledge; Plato ran an academy which is the inspiration of the formal
courses in Academia today.

Socrates was, in reality, the first Cynic; whereas Plato is the
inspiration of the know-it-all Theorists of today's Meritocracy.

The early Christian movement blended Cynic with Jewish influences. If
you don't know about it, read this webpage on it:

CHRIST AND THE CYNICS: Jesus and other Radical Preachers in
First-Century Tradition
by F. Gerald Downing
http://mailstar.net/downing.html

{p. v.} The traditions about Jesus, then, are Palestinian Jewish, with
supporting and  interpretative literary material drawn from Jewish
writings. The audience is  'hellenised', and perhaps mostly
'hellenistic'. ...

{p. vi} If we want to understand these documents {the New Testament} we
  need to glean what we can of popular hellenistic culture at the time
... at least one important (but not at all  monochrome) strand was
provided by radical 'Cynic' philosophers. ...

Yet if the first Christian missionaries obeyed instructions of the kind
  recorded in Mt. 9.35-10.16, Mk 6.6-11, Lk. 9.1-5, 10.1-12, they would
have  looked like a kind of Cynic, displaying a very obvious poverty.
Not all  Cynics wore exactly the same dress (§40, §151); not all of them
even  carried the staff that for some was symbolic. But a raggedly
cloaked and  outspoken figure with no luggage and no money would not
just have  looked Cynic, he would obviousiy have wanted to. ...

{p. 37} What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by
the  wind? No? What did you go to see? A man in soft clothes? You find
people got  up like that [in fine clothes, living in luxury] in royal
courts - Lk. 7.25-26, Mt.  11.7-8; on popular response to the messenger,
see Introduction and §2; on  attitudes to kings, §151, 173, etc.

Once upon a time Alexander came and stood in front of Diogenes and
announced, I am Alexander, the Great King. And I, said Diogenes, am
Diogenes the Dog [Cynic] - LEP Vl 60; cf. 43, 44, 65; ps.Diogenes 23.

{p. 38} Diogenes says, Going naked is better than all the scarlet robes
in  the world; and asleep on bare earth you're in the softest bed you
could  find - Epictetus I xxiv 7.

Take a look at me then, says the Cynic. I've no home, no city, no
property, no slave ... no governor's tiny mansion, nothing but earth and
sky and  one worn cloak ... - Epictetus III xxii 47.

{p. 43} Jesus said to the would-be disciple, Foxes have their earths to
go to and  birds have their nests to fly down to, but the son of man has
nowhere  to rest his head - Lk. 9.58, Mt. 8.20.

According to Theophrastos Diogenes had watched a mouse running  around,
not bothering about finding anywhere for its nest, not worrying  about
the dark, showing no particular desire for things one might suppose
particularly enjoyable. It was through watching this mouse that he
discovered the  way to cope with circumstances - LEP Vl 22.

{endquote}

These are just a small % of the quotes Downing provides showing
parallels between the Gospels and Cynic literature. I hope you've been
enticed to read more: http://mailstar.net/downing.html

I'm reminded of the story from India, of the four blind men feeling an
elephant. One felt the trunk, one the tail, one a leg, one another part,
and each got a different perception of what an elephant is.

We're sighted, but blind like those men in that our knowledge is
limited. Therefore, we seek the perceptions of other people from
different circumstances, in order to discover the limitiations of our
own - in order to discover which things that we thought absolute, are in
fact relative.

This theme of the Limits of our Knowledge relates to the modern
philosophical position called Fallibilism, espoused by George Soros. I'm
a Fallibilist, like him.

Soros, the best-known presenter of Fallibilism today, puts it this way:

"the ultimate truth is beyond the reach of humankind ... nobody has a
monopoly on  the truth ... We must promote a belief in our own
fallibility to the status that we normally confer on a belief in
ultimate truth. But if ultimate truth  is not attainable, how can we
accept our fallibility as ultimate truth?"

Seth, you deny the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, as do I. But, without
the Fall, surely there is no need for Redemption, and Christianity loses
its purpose.

You write,

"Our fallen state is self-imposed, a result of man's narcissistic
worship of self, of man.

"I could not worship the God of the OT. The first Reform Jews in late
18th century already committed the heresy of positing progressive
revelation. This was a way of accounting for the primitive God of the
"Torah." I don't know anything about Reform Judaism today--it seems its
God is nation-state of Israel. But the classical Reform Jews of which
Rabbi Elmer Berger (the anti-Zionist) was the last prominent
representative believed the prophets were working up to a higher concept
of God. It's not Torah but the prophets who are the bloom of Judaism. It
took the Enlightenment for "Reform" Jews to subvert rabbinic Judaism.
Isaiah's messianic passage are among the best ever, and completely
universalistic. Jesus was the apotheosis of universalism. Of course some
of the Orthodox Jews claim to have universal idea of salvation. I
interviewed Neturei Karta's Rabbi Weiss. Noble aspiration."

This contains some interesting ideas. Leading Zionists like Ben Gurion
and Ben-Ami Shillony have been fond of quoting Isaiah's vision of
beating swords into ploughshares as inaugurating an era of Peace, but it
also amounted to World Government.

David Ben Gurion writes, in his book Ben-Gurion Looks At The Bible, of

{p. 112} yearning all over the world to insure the perpetuation of the
declaration of Isaiah, son of Amoz, that "nation shall not lift up sword
against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
{endquote}

Yet, Ben-Gurion says on p. 41, of this same Isaiah, son of Amoz, "The
special greatness of King Uziahu lies in the fact that he knew how to
integrate settlement, development and irrigation projects with military
  and war activities. It is no wonder that he merited having his full
biography ... written by Isaiah, son of Amoz, the prophet".

{p. 265} There was  no other non-Jewish ruler who merited praise from
the greatest  prophets of Israel as did Cyrus from the prophet Isaiah,
whom Bible critics  call by the name of Isaiah the Second: "I say to
Cyrus: 'You shall be My  shepherd and carry out My purpose, so that
Jerusalem may be rebuilt  and the foundations of the temple may be
laid.' Thus says the Lord to  Cyrus His anointed, Cyrus whose right hand
I have strengthened to subdue  nations before him and loosen the loins
of kings; before whom gates shall be  opened and no doors be shut. I
shall go before you and level the uneven hills; I will  break down doors
of brass and hack through bars of iron. I will give you treasures  from
dark vaults, and hidden treasures of secret places" (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-3).

{endquote} More from Ben-Gurion at http://mailstar.net/bengur-bible.html

Ben-Ari Shillony wrote, in his book The Jews and the Japanese: the
Successful Outsiders:

{p. 31} Judaism was the first religion to make world peace a central
element in its eschatology.

{p. 32} Yet quite often peace implies domination, and in many languages
  the word "pacify" also means "conquer". King Solomon could afford to
be a  king of peace because he ruled "over all the kings from the
Euphrates to the land  of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt."

{this quote, from 1 Kings 4:21, may not be historically accurate, yet it
is the basis  of promises that Jews will rule those lands again - at
Genesis 15: 18; Exodus 23:  30-31; Deut 11: 24; Josh 1:4 - and is a
major motivator of modern Zionism}

... The peaceful world that the Jewish prophets envisioned was to be
ruled over by a scion of the House of David, later called the Messiah.

The Jews ... were always inspired by the belief that in the future world
of  peace and justice they would serve as spiritual leaders {i.e.
rulers}. This  vision of a world mission gave them the strength to
suffer severe  persecution and propelled them to the forefront of
various messianic  and "idealistic" movements in modern times like those
of human rights, socialism, and communism.

{endquote} More from Shillony at http://mailstar.net/japan.html

Karl Kautsky said that the Romans discovered "how strong and dangerous"
Judaism was: http://mailstar.net/kautsky.html.

Today the West, after centuries of thinking that Judaism was another
heretical Christian sect, is making the same discovery. Yet I  maintain
that Judaism, like many medicinal substances, is beneficial in  small
doses: the Jews have their own insights, and one can learn from
examining  their perspectives, even if not wanting to be subject to them.

Should Karl Marx be viewed as a social scientist, or as the prophet of a
religion? Did the Totaliarianism of the Soviet Union derive from Plato's
Republic, or from Judaism? http://mailstar.net/popper-vs-toynbee.html.

It's way past my bedtime, and I've missed getting my bulletin out (the
one on 9/11). So I'll sign off now.

Perhaps you have some thoughts on these matters.

I never intended this letter to become a bulletin. But it deals with a
lot of important issues. So out it's going.

Peter

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