The Groundhog issue is too important to be held hostage to semantics. For instance, Nietzsche put forth that our realities are linguistic creations; that is, we reify through language. Appearances that we appropriate through naming eventually become essences and things. T. Beckman (1995) wrote:
“Nietzsche supposes that there is not much difference between realists and idealists, objectivists and subjectivists, except for linguistic habit. At bottom, all of these stem from origins in our passions, fantasies, and interests.”
Now that’s a sharp slap in the face of our rational underpinnings, or at least what we’ve psychologized of our rational underpinnings. Additionally, if we are to consider anything of Nietzsche’s meditations on the nature of what we call reality, time notwithstanding, then we must also wrap our minds around his denial that we have any organ with which to fix reality and thus are indefinitely subject to untruth. Argh! Furthermore, Beckman writes:
“To the Apollonian [sic] scientist this is unbearable; hence, art is what makes our situation bearable because art, being playful with appearance, gets around its untruth. This is probably the most important aphorism of [Nietzsche’s] Book II and it concludes everything that he has been developing about art.”
Is it not possible that McTaggart, in The Unreality of Time, simply was not being artful, that is, playful enough when asserting his logical contradiction between past, present, and future, and therefore could not escape the tar pit of his own untruths? Is not that the definition of a dunderhead?
And then there is Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence of the Same, which I fear we will not be able to circumvent in our Groundhog musings, so I expect to hear more from you on Nietzsche’s taste for Reality, if that is what it is.
Your Madame Melina
August 15, 2004
Ah, Madame Melina, Time is such a waste of time that I never thought you would ask for another helping, Thank you! Here we go with Nietzsche again.
Nietzsche, despite the disease, rejection and grinding poverty that he suffered over the years, at least verbally accepted nature as it is, and believed that any superior person would embrace life, no matter how good or evil the world appears to one who loves or hates their nature as the source of pleasure and pain.
Even if a miserable life had to be endlessly repeated, Nietzsche would embrace it. And that is at the bottom of his version of the ancient doctrine of eternal recurrence.
He must have known very well that, at least mathematically, the proposition that the cosmos endlessly repeats itself is virtually impossible if not absurd; for, the more complex the universe, the less chance there is of such a repetition, and the universe is almost infinitely complex. Nietzsche’s interest in the doctrine of eternal recurrence was moral. His doctrine was a heuristic or self-teaching device, and was not intended to be a theory of physics. He raised a hypothetical question: If a demon came down and demonstrated to you that, beyond a reasonable doubt, your life as well as everyone else’s would be repeated endlessly, would you rejoice? Or would you despair?
Those who love life would perhaps react joyously and be willing to repeat the cycle time and time again, good and bad; they would stick it out, through thick or thin, for better or worse.
On the other hand, those who deny life would despair. They would probably, in their denial, have resort to the ascetic morality which negates life, the morality that says, “Nothing is good enough, therefore we must have progress, not a cycle, we must be saved from this life, we must have either eternal death of the self, when the body perishes, or we must have an immortal soul that progresses to paradise and eternally perseveres there, providing, of course, that we have blind faith in the god of paradise who booted us from the original paradise because we sinned, and, accordingly deny ourselves in this world, which is ruled by the anti-god,” et cetera.
In the desire for eternal life, or permanent death in contrast to the temporal dynamic life, Nietzsche refers to the religion he despises most of all, Christianity, for which life does not endlessly repeat itself but flies off the earth in a tangent, so to speak, a life that progresses.
For Nietzsche, Christianity is a religion for losers, a pathetic religion, a religion of pity. Pity for him is a disease, and he would have none of it. He wanted to survive in this world, not the next.
The “truths” of Christianity, especially those derived from Plato’s Apollonian idolatry of eternal ideals, which Plato idolizes as real, and the craving for permanent supreme being, which Platonic philosophy identifies with Reality, in fact negate or destroy the actual truth, that of truly sacred life, the real, the dynamic, Dionysian life.
“Plato is boring,” pronounced Nietzsche in The Antichrist. “In reality my distrust of Plato is fundamental. I find him so very much astray from all the deepest instincts of the Hellenes, so steeped in moral prejudices, so pre-existently Christian—the concept ‘good’ is already the highest value with him—that rather than use any other expression I would prefer to designate the whole phenomenon Plato with the hard word, ‘superior bunkum,’ or, if you would like it better, ‘idealism.’
“Christianity has sided with everything weak, low and botched; it has made an ideal out of antagonism towards all the self-preservation instincts of strong of strong life: it has corrupted even the reason of the strongest intellects, by teaching that the highest values of intellectuality are sinful, misleading and full of temptation. The most lamentable example of this was the corruption of Pascal, who believed in the perversion of his reason through original sin, whereas it had only been perverted by Christianity.”
Nietzsche naturally contemned Kant’s moral philosophy, which did not depend on proof of god’s existence but on automatic duty to his Kant’s version of Christianity’s Golden Rule:
“What is there that destroys a man more speedily than to work, to think, feel as an automaton of ‘duty,’ without internal promptings, without a profound personal predilection, without joy? This is the recipe par excellence of decadence and even of idiocy…. Kant became an idiot.”
Nietzsche’s fictional Zarathustra is the epitome of opposition to Christianity, the counter-ideal to the ascetic ideal which amounts to denial of life and a demand for another, imaginary life, which is, for Nietzsche, really nothing, eternal nothingness or death, not temporal life, which is everything. His Superman transcends the ascetic ideal of denial. If life is hellish repetition, he will accept it. Yet he believes there can be a higher life, in this world, not in the next. The superior person reaches higher, but he does not at the same time dehumanize or condemn as sin his origin, the very ground he stands on. He does not destroy the old but presses himself into new forms, new values. His life, then, is an art.
In his 1848 lecture on Wagner, Nietzsche scribbled, “I believed that the world was created from the aesthetic standpoint, as a play, and that as a moral phenomenon it was a deception: on that account I came to the conclusion that the world was only to be justified as an aesthetic phenomenon.”
Havelock Ellis (Dance of Life), during the course of his sympathetic discourse on Gaultier’s philosophy of illusionism, Bovarysm, a philosophy Gaultier derived from a study of Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, opined, “Our picture of the world, for good or evil, is an idealized picture, a fiction, a waking dream…. But when we idealize the world we begin by first idealizing ourselves.”
Gustave Flaubert, frustrated Romantic yet acclaimed pioneer of modern French realism in literature, personally felt that reality was “shit,” a disgusting thing he put in his mouth to fashion fiction. His family was well endowed, which allowed him to avoid the detested office work which his legal training might have lead, and to withdraw to his family cottage at Rouen and write novels. He was the literary idol of the art for art’s sake school of thought. Whatever art was, it was a way to avoid reality if one could get away with it. It could be easily justified by reversion to the ancient ascetic view that the real world is really an illusion. But this sort of artist would not be an either/or monk in a cell, but would live an aesthetic life in his studio. The aesthetic life has several advantages, one being that artists and those who appreciate art can enjoy things without actually possessing them, just by looking at and not owning them. Of course a starving artist would relish a study of a ham sandwich and bowl of fruit more than a bulging-belly investor or bourgeois patron of the arts.
Would the world not be more beautiful if more people withdrew from the mad competition for the actual possession of things and enjoyed artistic representations of those things at a distance? Better yet for the greedy world if the art was abstract. Such a better world would be a great market for artists to sell their wares. Others, not so inclined to be painters as such, could instead live artfully, could they not? As for the artists, they need not mix with the crowd and try to prove some version of the ‘truth.’ No, the artist should lay aside the ideological arguments, the attempt to make the truth, and simply take up a fragment of existence and reveal its truth. If artists would only focus on their art in solitude, they would pose no danger whatsoever to society, and their creations would greatly benefit a society that could then enjoy beholding things presented or represented rather than possessing the things in themselves.
Alas, as Ice-T screamed of Ozzie and Harriet, “The world is not like that!” Creativity is revolutionary. Arts of all sorts including literary art have a reputation for fomenting rebellion, “corrupting morals” and the like. Furthermore, we admit that reality sometimes tastes like shit, but so does artifice. There is something distasteful in the view that the world is just a stage upon which hypocrites (Gk. ‘actors’) play, that life is just a Machiavellian “game” of power plays.
“What is good?” asked Nietzsche. “All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is increasing, that resistance has been overcome.” Wherefore Nietzsche was much admired by the militant Prussian ‘realists’ to whom Germany’s economic prosperity tasted like shit.
Finally, Madame, and I believe you will agree with me, although there is some truth in it, there is something insincere in the perspective that the world, including our perception of time, is phony.
First of all, I pray that neither you nor your brothers and sisters were unduly offended when I referred to you as a “knight,” a term that I associated with the honorable King Arthur and his noble knights although you appear to be an Anglo-Saxon and not a Celtic warrior. I know why the table was round, but they were still noble knights.
Many of the knights who joined the pre-emptive Crusade against Allah’s people, however, were much less noble than the Arabs. As a careful student of history, you must know that “arab” means “noble.” Although we Persians have our differences with our Arab brothers, we certainly intend no insult when we call them Arabs; that is, “nobles.” Although we ourselves are a humble people, we are proud of our heritage. Our heritage is the foundation of our personalities, which are all not merely biased but faithfully prejudiced in favor of All-Merciful-Allah.
Unlike infidels (may Allah have mercy on their souls) who believe they can take off their personalities like hats under the pretence of searching for the truth, we find our truth within the personal commune. The infidels would too, if only they took to heart the truth revealed by foremost modern Christian philosopher and pope, Karol Wojtyla, in THE ACTING PERSON, a work that I have lately been interpreting for my students.
Indeed, every Christian who sincerely believes that the Prophet Jesus was the son of god – we respectfully do not share that belief – and was and is the same as god but in the form of the Supreme Personality, would esteem the person even higher than we do, and would not pretend to set aside the very personal feelings and prejudices that make him a human being made in the image of his personal god.
Even in the common parlance of your English language, the term ‘person’ is synonymous with an acting human being. Sometimes it is difficult for a people to know themselves through their own eyes, therefore it is useful for other people’s to come to their assistance; in this case, to point out that, no matter how impersonal or objective or detached or scientific a Westerner may think he is, he is still personally motivated and prejudiced, otherwise he would be an inhuman monster.
And, more often than not, when he claims that he is going to set aside his personal biases and feelings in order to speak truly, as you have done in your letter to me, he is about to lie, and is trying to deceive people into thinking he will not conduct himself as usual, most often badly, which if he were honest, he might as well do, that he might be corrected when in error. For the highest Christian truth, what you enjoy capitalizing in English, as Truth, although all truths are one in Allah, is not only personal but is a Person. And this brings me to question that my students are curious about:
How can Christian Americans believe in the Supreme Person while at the same time thinking the person is some sort of dirty thing, a mask that must be set aside in order to tell the truth, which is in effect a lie?
I neglected to pose that question on their behalf in my first epistle to you. I hope you will take it under consideration now while allowing me to address you as a noble person, or “knight,” as it were. For I see that you have proven my thesis true: you have pretended to set aside your personal feelings and biases, but you could not conceal them, wherefore you launched a personal attack on your Muslim cousins.
I assume that, if you are not Semitic by birth, you are, nevertheless, Judeo-Christian by culture if not by faith. Therefore may the All-Compassionate Allah have mercy on your person for the cultivated animosity that you feel for his slaves; may you be forgiven for your defamation of their characters for being Muslims and for mercifully pointing out the hypocrisy of Jewish leaders for their own edification and for surrendering to Allah’s will and following the holy prophets.
Without Allah’s compassion, your groundless hatred of your own kind shall surely work your ruination shortly after Election Day of your Common Era year 2016. Now what have you done, within the context of the Judeo-Christian culture, other than further foment or perpetuate, with your angry accusations, the very preaching of hatred and commission of murder among us that you yourself condemn?
In fact, your speech resembles that of the more “rabid” (as you say) fanatics among our beloved people in Palestine, who are taught to hate their Zionist oppressors in schools. Their teachers fail to make a clear distinction between political Zionism and religious Judaism, a flaw that our Iranian schools are correcting under my direction.
Naturally your personal animosity is due to certain vicious defects in your personal upbringing as well as your public education, which is a political mockery of the meaning “under God” in the idolatrous pledge to a flag of a country instead of a confession of faith in Allah, conditioning all docile students in the confusion of religion with politics, and inciting them to mass murder and organized terrorism.
Naturally religion is the worship of the Absolute Power, while politics is an attempt at its worldly distribution. All peoples have worshipped the Absolute Power, the Eternal Subject of universal religion, the Giver of Life and Death. Fire was the symbol of that Power for my Persian ancestors, as well as for the ancient peoples of Bharat. (Mind you that I capitalize certain nouns as proper without intention of idolizing them).
The Pharaoh of Love looked at the ultimate form of Fire, the Sun, or rather to “the energy within the Sun,” for the solace of the Egyptian people. Our Arab brothers in the deserts preferred the Canopy to the Sun, so they looked to the vast Sky as the one and only, the encompassing deity.
Monotheism was the original religion in our great cradle of religion. But power-hungry politicians worked vainly to variously distribute Allah’s power according to their base, materialistic inclinations, and therefore the number of idols multiplied. Infidels believe that power resides in the ability to manipulate people and to accumulate wealth for their minority interests, and thus do we have the “power elite” that you have mentioned, and we have them even in so called republics and democracies – their abstract idol is money, on which they crave usurious interest.
And it is well worth noting that that both communism and capitalism idolize matter and constitute political instantiations of greed. Your own country, where many immigrants found some fortune relatively small and great because of the vast resources that the invading European barbarians plundered from its natives, is for the most part owned by a neo-barbarian superpower elite that colludes with the money-hungry power elites of its allied infidels to exploit the poor countries of their natural resources.
Your infidel leaders commit this crime against Allah’s desire for peace: that is why we call the barbarian party the Party of War; that is why Iran exports the means for freedom from the perpetual mass terrorism of the infidels.
Now you have mistakenly charged Muslims with the hatred of Jews, when it is actually the Party of War that has perpetrated the persecution of Jews, and has often done so in the name of the Judeo-Christian deity identified under the pagan rubric capitalized, ‘God.’
As a highly educated man, you must surely recall that German philosophers, before and during the Great World War, went so far as to take the Jew out of Jesus by claiming that this holy prophet was Greek, in order to justify their hatred for Jews and greed for their property. Indeed, as the hateful Satan perpetrated a holocaust, just as before the Jews and other Semites had sacrificed enemies (herem) by setting them apart and sacrificing them to their Lord, devout Catholics got on the political stage and gave the Nazi salute (my students have photos of these rallies).
In point of historical fact, Muslims have always treated Jews well in comparison to the barbaric Party of War, and had not the Muslims converted the hordes from the East to tolerant Islam, there would be no remnants of Judah today.
But allow me to return briefly to your confusion in respect to the nature of nations as the native or navel origin of tribe, clan, and folk, and from this origin to the development of diverse populations, via seed-mixing in the harlot cities, into conglomerations subservient to political states that in effect incorporated many nations yet called themselves “nations” – to wit, mongrels – and to your confusion of the political state of Israel with the Semitic tribes, and your mistaken belief that the Israelites or Hebrews before them were the only Semitic people.
You would discover if you took the political course I have laid out for my students, that there is only one god with many names, namely, Allah, and that the hatred you speak of is not the fault of religion but is rather the use of religion by the Party of War as a political excuse to set one individual against another in the name of godless liberty and democracy, to use their mutual fear of one another in their protesting irreligion to organize them into warring parties ruled by the power elite for the accumulation of material wealth via the destruction of the world. The love extolled by the infidel elite is hate-others based self-love. Such is the greed of the Great Satan.
I shall provide you with some scholarly edification on the subject later on, if you wish, but suffice it to say at this juncture that the Great Satan is doomed for his hatred of man. The Great Satan was cast down in the first place because his love for Allah was constituted by his hatred for man. It is this very hatred that is cultivated by the false prophets of Judeo-Christianity, who, on the one hand, profess love for and faith in God in the form of Divine Personality, the God-Man, yet, on the other hand, curl their lips in disdain at humanity and snarl at “humanism” like dogs.
We Muslims do not hate our own kind as infidels do. Allah alone is merciful; therefore, you are our friend only in Allah. No, my noble knight, we do not hate the Jews that you and your commander-in-chief have professed to love. But many of us hate Zionists, for they have forcefully, without a referendum, established an unwanted political state in Muslim country, where nations are anathema.
Your Friend Only In Allah,
Postscript: Incidentally, contrary to your stated opinion, neither kings nor sheiks nor emirs rule Iran. Iran is a holy democratic republic. Lest politicians stray from Allah, we have a council and a supreme holy man to keep it them in line with merciful Allah’s will.
ENTHUSIASM AND THE MESSALIANS – THE DEVIL WAS IN THE SNOT
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
The major goal of enthusiasm in the public and private sectors today is growth in production and consumption. The progress has been phenomenal since the industrial revolution. An alien from a spiritually inclined planet would think humans had been fatally possessed by demons after observing our race to produce and consume ever more and our frantic effort to pave over most of the world while cluttering up the rest.
That is, “enthusiasm” is definitely restricted to interests leading to the purchase and possession of mass-produced goods and services. Many people are possessed by their possessions, as if some sorts of spirits resided therein. Yet the power elite denounce those who oppose such demonically inspired gross materialism as the bedeviled and accursed “forces of darkness,” or as mentally ill and in dire need of serotonin reuptake inhibition.
Spirituals disagree with the secular authority’s definition because genuine enthusiasm is about God and nothing less. After all, enthusiasm means “god-possessed,” and not greed-possessed or lust-possessed.
Anyone uneasy with the hyperactive and demented society of consumption may seek solace in one church or the other, hopefully to be possessed by peace if not by the Holy Spirit. Yet that retreat is no sanctuary to the lone wolf who knows that modern churches are contaminated and possessed by the apotheoses of the social disease in question. Wolves are, like humans, hierarchically organized, but they too have their anarchists, the lone wolves. The lone wolf knows his god can only be found in Natural Religion, in a forest under a banyan tree, or perhaps in a desert cave, or at least in an unregulated monastery.
Organized religion does not provide the viable alternative that the lone wolf, who seeks peace in the “solitary death,” unconsciously craves. He knows his freedom is not in a monastery where obedience to church authority is the divine rule. No, he longs for the cave from which he descended eons ago to herd and farm and to found towns. But the town no longer wants the wolf who founded it, except in an iron cage. The church would also cast him out as a heretic, or keep him locked in a dungeon to be periodically tortured by the Iron Maiden.
The lone wolves, who originally founded religions and now threaten them, are for the most part ascetics who forswear production and consumption in order to obtain union (yoga) with their god. They might not make a go of it entirely alone: they might gather together in secluded retreats. Independent individuals and groups were perceived by the Roman Church as a serious threat to its authority, for yoga or direct communion with the deity, enthusiasm or god-possession, takes the individual out the centralized Church’s sphere of authority.
Decentralization, tolerance, plurality of views, religious freedom can be detected in India under the Hindu umbrella religion, but not in the Roman Church. The Church, as it gained power, did everything in its power to bring enthusiasm to heel, to bring monks together in monasteries to support and obey the dictates of the Roman authorities. It encountered many difficulties along the way with heretics, people who had the audacity to “choose” for themselves.
One such curious group of heretics was the Messalians, a sect that supposedly originated in Mesopotamia about 360 A.D. “Messalians” is Syrian for “those who pray.” Our knowledge of their doctrines and practices is derived solely from the discriminatory denunciations of the authorities, wherefore we may examine the behavior of the Messalians in that reflected light, as presented in the works on heresy penned by Theodoret, Timothy Constantinople, and John of Damascus:
Prayer is the only way to salvation. Zealous prayer drives out the indwelling demon each person was born with (including the Apostles) ever since the first parent Adam. Only prayer can root out the indwelling Satan that urges the person do evil.
Messalians jump over demons cast out of their runny noses, or in spit, or sometimes in the forms of fire, smoke or serpents. They shoot at the demons with their fingers as if their fingers were arrows. Constant praying keeps the Messalians from talking as wildly as they are wont to do. When the praying casts out the demon, they achieve Apatheia (apathy), the reception of the Holy Spirit, which is a marriage to the Bridegroom of Heaven, just as a woman receives a man.
Once a Messalian has achieved Apatheia, which he feels and perceives as the Holy Spirit dwelling within, his body is freed from passion and his soul is set free: he needs no further restraint or teaching. Any wantonness or licentiousness thereafter is not sinful because it is done without passion.
The Messalians see things to come. The actually see the invisible Trinity as One. They see the Cross of Light. They foretell the future and engage in fortune-telling frauds.
Manual labor and giving to the needy are anathema to Messalians, for Messalians are the “poor in spirit,” the truly “spiritual” beings. They sleep most of the day, pretending to be in prayer. They sleep to dream, dream to prophecy, and, being deceived, prophecy to deceive.
They do go along with the sacraments from time to time, perhaps to fit in without hypocrisy to their faith, for they believe such things do no harm or good.
John of Damascus said, “Among them they have contempt for the churches and their altars, as it were fitting for ecclesiastical ascetics not to attend synaxes and yet hold prayers in their oratories: for they say that such is the power of their praying that the Holy Spirit appears perceptually to them and those instructed by them….Those who come to them without any fruit of repentance from various sins, without authority of priests, without the stages which are prescribed in the ecclesiastical canons, they promise to take away every sin immediately, only if someone undertakes the prayer which is much spoken among them, and thoughtlessly becomes an initiate of their trickery.” (De Haeresibus)
References in sacred literature were made to the Messalians of Mesopotamia in the 370s, in Asia Minor in the 420s and 430s, and the Council of Ephesus condemned them in 431. Writings about them circulated widely thereafter, playing a key role in the Byzantine monastic revival of the 8th and 9th centuries, and in the Hesychast movement of the 14th century.
The actual identity of the Messalians is controversial. The designation was applied to anyone who was unenthusiastic about manual labor and sacrificial ordinances, anyone who placed emphasis on the experiential, emotional aspects of religion and who believed prayer could make the soul divine and immortal. They reportedly wandered from place to place, slept in the streets, and took up no occupations except their fervent prayer.
So-called Messalians were persecuted. For instance, Letoius, Bishop of Militene, burned monasteries where this form of Quietism was found, “driving the wolves from the sheepfold.” Many suspected Messalians were put to death by the Christian magistrates.
As enthusiastic as we may be about the freedom of our individual spirits, let us bring this ancient example of enthusiasm to a close with a silent prayer for the Messalians In the Name of the Past, the Present, and the Future, as One.
THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, New York: Encyclopedia Press 1911
Columba Stewart, WORKING THE EARTH OF THE HEART, The Messalian Controversy in History, Texts, and Language to AD 431, Oxford: Clarendon: 1991
SUNNIS, SUFIS, SHIAS, TWO JIHADS, AND OUR DIFFERENCES
FROM THESE TERRIBLE TIMES
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“Look at the travelers on the Path of Love, how each has a different spiritual state. The one sees in each atom of the world a Sun radiant and imperishable. Another directly witnesses in the mirror of existence the beauty of the hidden archetypes. And a third sees each one in the other, without veiling or defect.” Jami
Many Americans had never heard of Sunnis and Shiites until neoconservative Christian regressives seized executive privilege in the United States and led what its commander-in-chief, President George W. Bush, openly referred to as a “holy war” on Islamic extremists or Islamists in Afghanistan, in retaliation for Al-Queda’s retaliatory attacks on installations of the military-industrial-oil complex in the States, a complex that the President’s forebears had been instrumental in establishing, and then employed pretexts – in accordance with Carl Schmitt’s dicta that one must lie to a democracy to overcome its factious nature and get something done – to dupe frightened and angry people into participating in a preconceived, pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, to destroy its sovereign government, incorporate its oil fields, and establish a Western-style, democratic-capitalist bulwark against Islamism in the Middle East. Both military actions were in direct contradiction to the professed neoconservative ideology of not participating in “regime change.”
Until the other side of the “holy war” had been brought home to them, a majority of United States citizens could not place Afghanistan or Iraq on the map, let alone the several states and cities of their own country. Still almost every American had a general notion of what Islam stood for, as opposed to Christianity, and mature Americans had studied some of its history before such studies had become increasingly irrelevant to making a living in America; of course histories were still read by history buffs, usually for entertainment, as if they were novels. A few people interested in current events followed the Iran-Iraq war instigated by Saddam Hussein, who was aided by President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan had also supported jihadist Osama bin-Laden in Afghanistan. Sunnis controlled Iraq, where some of the holiest sites of Shiites are located, while the Shiites were dominant in Iran, so the Iran-Iraq war was viewed as a sort of religious or ethnic conflict between the two main Islamic cults. Still, few people knew much, if anything at all, about the religious difference between Sunnis and Shiites, especially since the difference was confused by regional politics.
As the United States was waging war in Iraq, newspaper columnists tried to distinguish between Islam’s two main branches because the difference had something to do with what was perceived as an unjust imbalance of power in Iraq. For example, Bill Tammeus, news editor and faith columnist for the Kansas City Star, wrote a useful article entitled, ‘Centuries of strife split Sunnis and Shiites.’
It is indeed important for the public to understand that, despite Islam’s professed universalism and the apparent superiority of Islam’s monotheism in that regard, compared to the feel-good faith of Christianity that fosters international strife in the name of its own one-god, Muslims are not all of a piece or at peace with one another nor have they ever been. Neither are we, for that matter, and our own differences are so similar to their differences and to other people’s that we have good reason to hope to resolve them via a universal global accord with a common political-economic religious theology posing as ideology. The wars fought until then shall increasingly be revolutionary wars and civil wars, instead of world wars between powerful states – that is not to say that World War III is impossible. Iran’s totalitarian regime has most lately set itself up for a fall – a push from the Great Satan i.e. the United States shall not be required – and perchance an Islamic state shall arise despite that being a contradiction to the religion.
Mr. Tammeus did not support the difference he drew, with examples of the strife between the two main Islamic branches, so that we could compare the divisions with our own. He might have pointed out that the Shiite faith, given its expectation of the appearance of the Hidden Imam, and its hierarchical structure, is more ‘compatible’ with apocalyptic and catholic Christianity than the Sunni faith, which has its similarities with protestant and secular Judeo-Christianity.
To further our confusion, the Kansas City Star’s faith commentator brought Sufism into his discussion, parroting the widespread notion that “Sufism is the small but influential mystic branch of Sunni Islam.” But Sufis worship saints – the various schools or paths were founded by various holy masters – and holy places and relics, which is anathema to orthodox Sunnis, the grossest infidelity as far as iconoclastic Muslims are concerned. That is not to say that the average Sunni cannot be tolerant, and submit to Allah’s judgment as to whether or not He is properly worshiped by someone or the other, or that the Sunni cannot at least be pragmatic whenever Sufis can be useful to them, especially in politics and war.
Sufis themselves have a reputation for tolerance wherever tolerance suits their purpose. They are famous for their professed love of God and their fervent desire for unity with the deity. The godhead is one thing if not no-thing or Nothing, and the religious forms of worship are something else, something secular or worldly. When in Rome we might do as the Romans do yet not lose our essential faith. The Romans required lip-service to the state religion, and a person could maintain his personal faith on his homely hearth. Christian martyrs, however, sacrificed themselves to be identified as bearing witness; yet Christians ultimately took up many of the Roman ways and became the state religion.
Why should not Sufi mystics be good Pythagoreans and observe whatever exoteric religion prevails while maintaining their esoteric preference? Indeed, Sufis have dared to claim that their mystical cult predates both Islam and Christianity. Classical Sufi author Moulana Nuruddin Abdorrahman Jami (Hakim Jami) of Herat, in his Alexandrian book of wisdom, identified esoteric Sufism with Western thinkers, naming Hermes Trismegistos, Pythagoras, Hippocrates and Plato as Sufis. As for that intelligence and learning from which we draw so many differences between ourselves, Jami said it is nothing to boast about, nor should people boast of their humility. He noticed that people have been taught to declaim dishonesty, but what they really abhor is hypocrisy.
Americans have enjoyed a romantic perspective on exotic Sufism since it was imported into the United States. Popular Sufism is associated with love and god, and with poetic, musical, and dance rituals that purportedly bring the devotee into harmony with the cosmos and unity with the godhead. Surely, we think, if everyone were a Sufi at heart our world would be peaceful. Or a mystical Hindu, or Christian, or Buddhist, et cetera; for the essence of true religion is the Supreme Being. Well, we may sing the same song and dance the same dance, but movement requires the exertion of force and harmony is born of conflict. If we in our particulars were the One, we would not be at all in our particulars. Religion may worship absolute power, but politics is required for its distribution. Religion has its politics in its practices. Although the morality of religion may be virtual suicide if it aims at the annihilation of the striving self, the struggle for life naturally goes on, for we would all endure forever without resistance if only we could, but if there were no resistance to our will, we would not exist as we are.
Mysticism may help the mystic get along in the world, to be at peace even when moving, to be blissful momentarily, and to tolerate human evil, or to be, at least in attitude, beyond good and evil. Yet there is nothing moral about being at one with an indefinite or infinite One. You are at one with God and you feel great, as if you were God Almighty. So what? What are you going to do about evil? He who ignores evil by transcending it or saying it is nothing but the absence of good is no good to anyone.
To wit: a mystic is not inherently good. A mystic may be an angel or devil or both. Sufi masters are not inherently good or holy simply because they practice mysticism and conduct the rituals of their preferred paths. They remain human beings in the world, a world necessarily political in its power struggles, and their regions of the world may be awful trying. To illustrate that fact and its consequences, our faith columnist and news editor might have, before he identified Sufism with Sunni Islam, proceeded with an investigation of the then current official status of Sufism in Uzbekistan, and the official persecution of religious dissidents, most of whom are Sunnis, with the cooperation of the United States in the “war on terrorism”, i.e. highly organized, well-equipped, uniformed terrorism against loosely organized, ill-equipped terrorists who also think they are fighting for “freedom.”
The Sufi persecution of dissident Sunnis in Uzbekistan is derived from the old policy of the U.S.S.R. Our faithful columnist might study the history Samarkand, and examine, for example, Tamerlane’s slaughter of reputed infidels in India. And he will find a history of sectarian violence in the mountain regions, especially those of Afghanistan and the Caucasus, once Sufi strongholds. He might note that the current leaders of the Naqshbandi sect of Sufism brag of their origin near Samarkand, and claim that they have always been peaceful; but they have always been politically involved and extraordinarily deceptive; by the way, their missionaries led the Chechen jihad against the Russians.
If in his historical journals the faithful student journeys south and west from the mountains, he will see that Sufi dervish cells were formed as a reaction to Sunni theocratic domination, a reaction against universalism and imperialism. He could conclude that Sufi spiritualism has more in common with Shism than Sunnism, instead of stating, “Sufism is the small but influential mystic branch of Sunni Islam.” Sufis were tolerated for political reasons by both Shiites and Sunnis, but efforts were eventually made to stamp out their cells, which reacted with more secrecy. The cellular type of organization is well known to freedom fighters, regardless of their races and creeds, throughout the world.
Given human nature, we should not be at all surprised to hear that Sufis have enthusiastically fought on one side or the other. Of course they are better known for fighting against imperialism than for it. The fact that Sufis on the whole put themselves on the path of ‘tasawwuf’, the consciousness or spiritual state of being of the perfect man, in distinction to his outward actions and spoken laws (sunna), does not mean they will not, for instance, behead an infidel, and perhaps use his skin for their war drums – as was done with Russians in Chechnya, where the Sufi Death Song was still chanted by rebels in our time.
We might believe that Sufis are political quietists, but history loudly speaks otherwise. Just because someone abhors the existing human world and obtains direct loving access to god does not mean he must withdraw to a mountain or desert cave or monastery cell to chant the names of god and leave the world alone. No, in addition to withdrawing to constantly remember god, he may become a knight of god or Muslim ghazi and wage a holy war or jihad on the evil world he has renounced. The ghazis were closely associated with Sufi orders. Not only did Sufi dervishes follow the warriors around, banging on drums and eating live snakes to inspire and entertain the troops, they also led the warriors in battle. Sufi ascetic discipline inured the body and mind to suffering: fasting, a strict regimen of praying, single-minded concentration, and related practices are not only conducive to passive martyrdom at the stake or on the cross but also to martyrdom on the battlefield. Still today the adept dervish engages in practices, such as whirling, that render him impervious to pain, enabling his body to be cut and burned without flinching.
We recall that the ghazi institution developed from the association of Arab with Turkish warriors. During the seventh century, Islam penetrated northeast into Transoxiana, a region north of Afghanistan, on the old Silk Road to China used by the Romans. Islam was joined there in the eleventh century by the Seljuks, a branch of the Turkic peoples who dominated the Asian grasslands from Mongolia to Russia. The Seljuks were precursors to the Ottoman Empire and the modern Turkish state, which descended from one of the ghazi principalities left after the fragmentation of the Seljuks by the invading Mongols who had followed the Seljuks south from Asia via the same gate.
After the Seljuks settled in Transoxiana, they converted to Islam and soon became masters of what revered Sufi Sheikh Kabbani, while attending a UNESCO conference in Uzbekistan, called the “Spiritual Heart of Islam.” (emphasis added). The Seljuks expanded southeast to capture Baghdad in 1050. The caliph obligingly appointed the Seljuk ruler sultan. The sultans thereafter became the temporal rulers of the Abbasid Empire, the caliphs remaining in office as mere puppets.
The Seljuks soon penetrated into Asia Minor and eventually prompted the First Crusade. They were joined by ghazis, frontier Muslim raiders and warriors. At first the ghazi bands had resisted the Seljuks, yet they eventually became closely allied with the Turks. Besides the prospect of ample material loot to be had from sedentary Christian settlements, the ghazis and the invading Turks had a common spiritual purpose under the one and only god. Nomadic warriors and the unemployed came from far and wide to wage jihad on Christians at the Byzantine frontier. The overall objective was political domination rather than conversion to Islam: it was more a case of your money (tax or tribute) or your life. Some people converted to Islam and argued that, since they were Muslims saved from Hell, they were therefore immune from the death penalty if they did not pay the tax; their arguments for immunity, however, fatally failed.
By the end of the fourteenth century, the ghazi ways had been adopted by the Turks and most of Turkish Asia Minor was ruled by ghazi groups. Each ghazi brotherhood had a spiritual leader, and most of the ghazis belonged to a dervish order. After the break up of the Seljuk Empire, the Ottoman Empire emerged from a small Turkish state occupying the border between Islam and Byzantine Christianity, ruled by Osman 1299-1326). An Ottoman ruler was thenceforth called a “border chief” or leader of the ghazis. A fourteenth-century saga calls ghazis “the instruments of God’s religion… God’s scourge who cleanses the earth from the filth of polytheism… God’s pure sword.” The principle and cornerstone of Ottoman political theory and the Ottoman state was the Sixth Pillar of Islam: Jihad.
The number of Sufi heroes waging war are legion. For instance, take Hasan al-Basri (642-728), who participated in the Arab conquest of eastern Iran in 663. His name is found in the genealogies of many Sufi orders. In the Sufi classic, ‘Nourishment of the Hearts’ (c. 970), he is acknowledged as “our imam in this doctrine… and we walk in his footsteps.”
Hasan was known for his puritanical piety. He rejected the world he described as a “venomous snake”, and he made the gnostic claim that creation was a bad mistake instead of something the creator was pleased with after making it. His gnostic views greatly influenced the kind of Sufism which had its ascetic roots in Arab displeasure with the Persian luxuries that perverted the Arabs as they swept north, creating a vast gap between rich a poor, a tiny, enormously wealthy minority in contrast to the desperately impoverished majority.
Hasan denied that a man can excuse himself by saying god caused his actions. He preached humility and the sort of self-scrutiny that became a cornerstone of Sufism. He extolled altruism. He scorned the pedantic reconstruction and transmission of lines of authority. He is well known for the depiction of antitheses, famous for his vivid, masterful images of heaven and hell. Muhammad’s promise of Paradise to martyrs and Hell to infidels was vital to his jihads.
Of course Sufis are not best known for either/or thinking. Usually, after engaging in antithetical thinking on fear and hope, hell and paradise, and the like, Sufis masters discounted the divisive process in favor of union with the god beyond relative good and evil; by way of example, here are two excerpts, one from the female love-mystic Rabiah al-Adawiah (d.801), the other from the male poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131):
O my lord, if I worship thee from fear of hell, and if I worship thee in hope of paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship thee for thine own sake, then withhold not from me thine eternal beauty.
Nobody, heart, has seen heaven or hell,
Tell me, dear, who has returned from there?
Our hopes and fears are of something which,
My Dear, there is no indication but the name.
Hassan had numerous followers from a wide variety of backgrounds; they are described in the literature as Koran reciters (qurra) and pious warriors (mujahidun). They despised social injustice, luxury, and especially hypocrisy – that is, the contradiction between inner and outer jihad, thoughts and deeds.
Another freedom fighter was Abd al-Wahid bin Zayd (d. 750). Wahid provided vivid images of Judgment Day to his followers: he admonished them to prepare to meet their maker. Wahid informed his disciples that God bestows secret knowledge on His righteous friends.
Wahid admired Christian monks for their disdain of the world and its sinners. He reportedly founded the first Sufi cloister on the island of Abbadan, a military outpost which became a training station for Iraqi ascetics – Abbadan was a major attraction for jihad-minded Muslims. The post was manned by ghazis who combined military service with religious worship – the ‘dhikr’ or constant citing of God’s name was practiced there.
We should also mention Ibrahim Ibn Adham, a native of Balkh (a city in today’s Afghanistan). He was said to have given up a kingdom in order to go out West to live as a vagabond and farmer. When there was nothing to reap, he fasted, meditated, practiced sadness, engaged in gnosis and divine friendship with God. He eventually settled in Syria, on the border with Byzantium. He died waging outer or “lesser” jihad: he was killed in the second of two navy battles he participated in.
Fahad Ansari, a specialist in anti-terror legislation, a researcher and spokesperson for the Islamic Human Rights Commission, posted an informative article on the Web about Sufi Jahidis: ‘Remembering the Great Tradition of Sufi Jihadis in Muslim History.’
Mr. Ansari complains that even those Muslims who fight against injustice and oppression are labeled “extremists.” Only “moderate” Muslims are acceptable, that is, only those who are willing to compromise their values, to be assimilated into the Western culture, keep their religion to themselves, and otherwise embrace Western and secular values. He points out Westerners believe that Sufis, whose mystics have a reputation for universal tolerance, are moderates with whom alliances against extremism can be forged. But they neglect the fact that Sufis established a reputation for fighting both Eastern and Western imperialism. He refers to three modern Sufi jihadis:
Omar Mukhtar aka the ‘Lion of the Desert,’ a Sufi member of the Sanussiyah tariqah or path, “led the jihad against the Italian military occupation of Libya for over twenty years beginning in 1912. Although a teacher of Quran by profession, Mukhtar was not one of those about whom Allah says, ‘Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget to practice it yourselves, and yet ye study the Scripture.” Mukhtar said, “We fight because we have to fight for our faith and our freedom until we drive the invaders out or die ourselves.” He was captured in 1931 and shackled despite his old age (70). He recited sacred verses while tortured, and was finally hanged.
And Abdul-Qadir al-Jazairi, an Islamic scholar and Sufi member of the Qadiri tariqah, led the jihad against the French invasion of Algeria. “Abdul-Qadir showed himself to be a leader of men, a great soldier, a capable administrator and a persuasive orator. He ultimately failed to defeat the French because of the refusal of the Berber tribes to unite with the Arabs against the French….” He was forced into exile, died in Damascus in 1860, and was buried next to the famous Sufi, Ibn Arabi.
And Imam Shamyl aka ‘The Greatest Imam’, a Sufi follower of the Naqshbandi tariqah, imparted Islamic law to the pagan tribes of the Caucasus and led them against the Russian invaders. Shamyl was a powerful man and great warrior himself. He taught his followers war chants, some of them still used by Chechen rebels, including the famous Death Song. The Russians admired him, sparing his life and allowing him to retire – he died in Medina in 1871.
“Mukhtar, Abdul-Qadir, and Shamyl,” states Mr. Ansari, “are just three examples of how tasawwuf was not regarded as an obstacle to armed jihad but as an inspiration for it. There are countless other examples.”
After referring to so many Sufi heroes of so-called Lesser Jihad, it would only be fair to mention the philosophical heroes of greater jihad; several notable spiritual fathers of Sufism were unwilling to fight the external albeit “lesser” jihad for militant Islam, preferring instead the internal or “greater” spiritual struggle. Despite Islam’s early predilection for militant jihad, mystically inclined Sufis still insist that jihad is unqualifiedly and essentially an internal struggle to put down the selfish self or internal enemy that craves mundane existence. The mystical revolutionary should direct animosity towards the real enemy within; he should meditate or enlist God’s help with virtual suicide; and, if action is absolutely necessary, then he might whirl about the non-dimensional point he wants to make, chasing his own tail instead of hastening towards specific goals. One becomes properly centered in or becomes the One: the cosmic dance provides a thrilling feeling of bliss, somewhat like a spinning top would feel if only it were alive.
The outward revolution of the whirling dervish is obvious, but the inner struggle, called the greater jihad, of the devotee to conquer himself, is invisible and does not appear to be revolutionary at all. Having thus conquered himself, the proudest man is the most humble man of all, a man purportedly more powerful than any worldly king, for he does not need a king to rule himself: he has submitted to the greatest sovereign of all, and is thereby saved from Hell and even the Paradise that makes Hell a hell by comparison.
If only everyone would comply and become the Holy One, peace, if not law and order under a theocracy pending the Last Day, would prevail in the outer world: for as it is in heaven so it should it finally be on Earth – that Earth would no longer be inhabited by warring human beings if their particulars or differences disappeared in the One. Ironically, only a violent revolution could impose a kingdom of God over every man as we know him. Each monotheistic person secretly believes his or her one-god is better than all the other one-gods put together. A lesser or militant jihad may be required to reconcile them all, but still the pacific struggle is preferable to war, hence it remains the greater jihad.
Sufi theorist al-Qushayi (d.A.D. 1074) provides us with insight into psychological jihad in his ‘Treatise on the Knowledge of Mysticism’:
“Al-Sulami said that his grandfather heard Abu ‘Amr ibn Janid say, ‘Whoever is generous with his Self attached no importance to his religion.’ Know then that the basis of striving and possession of it is weaning the Self from what it is accustomed to, and bearing the Self contrary to its desires generally, for the Self has two characteristics which prevent it from the good; indulgence in lusts, and abstinence from obedience.”
Furthermore, here is an excerpt from the great Baghdad Sufi saint, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Quadir al-Jilani’s (d. A.D. 1166) sermon ‘The Opening of the Unseen.”
“Each time you struggle against your lower self and overcome it and slay it with the sword of opposition, God restores it to life and it contends with you again, and demands of you your desires and delights, whether forbidden or permissible, so that you must return to struggle and compete with it in order to carry off the everlasting reward. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s saying – God bless him and give him peace – ‘We have returned from the lesser jihad (war) to the greater jihad (self-control).”
Also worthy of mention is the famous Baghdad mystic and martyr, Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, who was born in 857. He lived alone for twenty years, and was trained by several great Sufi masters of the time, but he broke away from them to do his own thing as an itinerant preacher. He wandered far and wide, from Arabia to the Indian subcontinent. His famous ecstatic exclamation “I am the divine Truth!” was the ultimate heresy to Muslim monotheists, who did not even believe the prophet Jesus was a divine incarnation let alone this mere vagabond. Hallaj also violated a vital principle of the great Sufi masters of his time and of mystics from immemorial: to keep one’s mouth shut about such incomprehensible experiences; the secrets of mystical union should only be divulged to sworn initiates.
Hallaj was flogged, mutilated, exposed on a gibbet and decapitated. Thus was he victorious as a martyr to love, as one who fought the inner fight or “greater” jihad. He had written:
Kill me, my trusted friends,
for in my death is my life!
Death for me is in living, and
life for me is in dying.
The obliteration of my essence
is the noblest of blessings.
My perdurance in human attributes,
the vilest of evils.
According to tradition, the severed head of Hallaj repeatedly said, “I am God.” The drops of blood on the ground spelled out the same statement.
Finally, to arrive at a balance between the inner and outer struggles, or the greater and lesser jihad, we should mention a much later Sufi, a poet of a love with all its cruel anger besides its tender affection: Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273). Almost everyone knows that Rumi loved to dance, that he was a great poet, and that his son founded the ever popular Mawlawiyah Sufi order of Whirling Dervishes. Rumi was born in Balkh but his family removed to Konya, Anatolia (Turkey) to avoid the advancing Mongols. The family was warmly received by the Seljuk authorities. Rumi’s father continued his career as teacher and sheikh, and Rumi was educated in the religious sciences. When his father died, he assumed his father’s teaching post.
In 1244 Rumi met Shams al-Din (Sun of Religion), a wandering dervish, to whom he became the Moon, living with him for two months while Shams revealed the occluded Mysteries. Rumi’s family was reportedly jealous and scandalized by the intimate relationship, and Shams was sent away. Rumi was naturally disconsolate. Shams was recalled but disappeared shortly thereafter; he may have been murdered, perhaps with the knowledge of Rumi’s brothers. Rumi had two subsequent spiritual lovers, but Shams, his first love, was the inspiration for his poetry. In his nearly 40,000-verse work, Divan-i Shams-i Tabriz, he signed Sham’s name to the poems.
Inside a lover’s heart
There’s another world,
And yet another.
Rumi’s other masterpiece, Mathnavi-yi ma-navi, or Spiritual Couplets, is sometimes referred to as the Persian Koran. The Mathnavi consists of mystical teachings in the form of long poems, fables, stories, proverbs, anecdotes, and allegories. It is basically an extended commentary on the Koran and the Hadith (traditional sayings of Muhammad). The Mathnavi was a virtual Bible to Sufi-guided ghazi warriors. Therein, Rumi speaks of the tension between the inner and outer jihad.
In one Mathnawi story, a vain Sufi who is flattered by widespread praise of his spiritual conquests and who has contempt for the lesser jihad of war, joins soldiers in order to demonstrate his outward virtue as well. During his lesser jihad of actual combat, the arrogant Sufi is exposed as a coward, giving the lie to his former spiritual claims.
On the other hand, in another story Rumi portrays a military hero who flees from the ardors of spiritual struggle to the relative comfort of the bloody battleground.
We understand this lore because the tales are all too human. The difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘us’ and the ‘others’ is very little and is artificially contrived. Obviously, given the crucial crisis underlying mind and body, given the crux of thought or symbolic action and deed or actual action, there is much room for hypocrisy on both the mental and material stages; but for the mystical actor those stages are one, and hypocrisy is resolved by the holy spirit.
The more we inquire into the differences between the people far from our peaceful shores, the better shall we understand ourselves, and the better we understand ourselves in our likenesses to them, the better we can serve the world by sharing with them the better things of life, instead of behaving like self-centered automatons. Sufi masters have considered the universe as a web of mutually supporting systems: a Kurdish Sufi reportedly said in ancient times, “Everything that exists maintains and is maintained by other existences.” Whether or not we are willing to give Sufis credit for discovering this law of reciprocal maintenance, we have an opportunity to pay down the debt of our existence, for we cannot progress on the spiritual path until we fulfill our obligation to our being on this planet. The least we can do after testifying to our good intentions with fine words is avoid the appearance of hypocrisy in our deeds.
Kansas City 2004
Sunna: custom, the words and practices
Shia: following, or sect
Suffi: suf or wool, safa or purity, sophos or wisdom?
I have yet to receive a response to my last letter asking several leading questions posed by my students, and I hope to hear from you soon for the sake of peace.
Now a great tragedy engulfs Iraq and the United States because your President Bush, who said his “political hero” was Jesus Christ, used his awesome power as the military commander of the United States superpower to initiate an unprovoked war on Iraq; or rather, there was a provocation – a pack of lies deliberately put forward to deceive the people of the world.
All of this appears enormously profitable to the people whom President Bush and Vice President Cheney represent, particularly the power elite with a vested interest in the military-oil-industrial complex, including the tyrant puppets of the United States in the Middle East; but what does empire have to do with Jesus Christ, President Bush’s political hero, except that Christ was unafraid of empire for the sake of Allah, and was charged and convicted of a capital crime and crucified by the Romans at the instigation of his own people?
President Bush may not become a true peacemaker or disciple of Jesus Christ until he dies again and is born again a thousand times over. So do not believe, my friend in Allah, that you are safe from terrorism because your president is waging war all over the world, for the Terrorist Almighty is within, and all of your riches and weapons of mass destruction shall not protect you from his wrath. Your present peace, notwithstanding the sins of your leaders, is due to the mercy of Allah.
Beware and repent now for the time is nigh: “Those that make war against God and His apostle and spread disorder shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the country. They shall be held up to shame and sternly punished in the hereafter; except that those that repent before you reduce them. For you must know that Allah is forgiving and merciful.” (The Table).
Indeed, the Final Hour, the Day of Judgment, rapidly approaches. In the interim, it is my main contention that those in power do not rule indefinitely; their names will be recorded in history and they will be constantly judge in the immediate and distant future.
Again, my students sometimes ask me questions about certain subjects that I may not have honest answers for, questions that you, an American patriot and military hero, may be able to answer.
For instance, my students examined old maps and documents but they were unable to find a country named Israel over sixty years ago, so they assumed Israel did not exist before then. They wanted to know why Israel was created, so they conducted some research into the question and learned that Israel was created because several million Jews had been killed in the war; the victors felt guilty about that, and gave them their own state. They asked me two questions after our morning prayers today:
1) Is it not true that the establishment of a new country with a new people is a phenomenon that is exclusive to our times?
2) How does the killing of six million Jews translate into the establishment a new state in the Middle East, particularly when the population of the region is opposed to its presence?
3) What logical justification does the United States have for its support of that intrusion? Since the Infidel Knights of the Round Table are well versed in this subject, I am hoping that you will help me answer these questions so I can enlighten my students.
Please allow me to respond to your inquiry. First off, we are not “Knights” of the Round Table, as you have addressed me as such, for we do not claim to be so special and carry such noble purpose. We are Round Table Rascals. However, many of us do try to put our personal feelings aside in search of truth, or at least admit our personal biases, when discussing a topic, so others will more clearly understand why we opine as we do.
The way I see it, what divides the world today is that radical Islamists are radical inasmuch as they wish to distinguish themselves from their Jewish and Christian forebears and exterminate everyone in disagreement with their misguided fundamentalist agenda.
Your students are shortsighted, as you very well know yet fail to instruct them on the historical facts. The bulk of known written history dates back almost 6,000 years. The Semitic people were, in fact, the nation of Israel. The Muslims actually “splintered off” from the existing tribes of Israel and went their own way, creating Islam. This is why they revere the same prophets and even Jesus. For whatever reasons, historically, there was inculcated not only a disdain for Judaism, but a rabid hatred, which has grown, exponentially, to this day.
Historically, Jews have not preached hatred or declared war and death to Muslims, but Muslims blame all their problems on, and teach their children to hate, all Jews, merely because of their being Jewish. What kind of religion propagates itself through hatred and commission of murder? If a corrupt Sheik, Emir or King allows the majority of his people to wallow in poverty and hatred, and amasses all the land’s wealth for his own greed and selfishness… why do the downtrodden scream, “Kill the Jews!”? The Iraqis aren’t screaming “Kill the Jews!” They know that their problems lie within their own country and how it needs to be governed to the advantage and enrichment of ALL their people, not just a power elite.
The Doomah Discourse is taken from dialogue on the Roundtable of Authorsden.com that took place circa 2003. For sake of argument, David Arthur Walters adopted the role of Dajen Doomah, an Iranian English teacher. ‘Roundtable Rascal’ is the late Hanley Harding of South Florida, an heroic American patriot, Navy SEAL, and the best friend one could ever have in terrifying times.
Laws are made to be stretched if not broken. Fundamentalists may keep their commandments exactly as written, but almost everyone else stretches their own rules as far as they can, even to the breaking point. This is hardly surprising inasmuch as we legislate against our natural inclinations. Being born individual is the original sin, for the individual would satisfy its will to live forever without impedance if only it could, but it cannot. The individual rebels in vain against the very collective that it needs for self-preservation. Forged by resistance to its will, the individual human becomes a social person. The god within the individual wants total freedom even unto self-destruction; but the far more powerful society needs individuals; thus Jacob fought with god and became Israel.
American settlers protested against the arcane common law principles of the judicial priesthood. They wanted their laws in written simply in stone, but they cannot get rid of the common law for its essence is hidden in their hearts. Once positive laws are written down, every effort to wiggle out them is made: A relevant statute is read. Written briefs are filed, and oral arguments are duly recorded. Judgments are made, to be upheld or overturned. Precedents are established and recorded to be duly pondered upon; their applicability to other cases is subjected to further argument.
The death penalty was legislated in the United States for capital crimes, and then lawyers deliberately made it difficult to execute the offenders after they were convicted. Perhaps after the death penalty is abolished in all the states because it is deemed uncivilized, the history books will deny it every existed after two thousand years have passed, except as a threat, as some Jewish teachers have claimed of their history of capital punishment.
Christians may defame the Pharisees unto Doomsday, but we should confess that, without the Pharisees, there would be no Christianity. Our law is the ‘living law’ of the Pharisees who believed in resurrection and eternal life: a criminal has every chance to be forgiven and saved. Our law is not the ‘dead letter’ law of the Sadducees who did not believe in salvation, not even in an afterlife, but rather thought that the individual is free to break the law and to be punished exactly as prescribed, without possibility of pardon or parole.
Whatever is written down as law in our ‘free’ country is a fulcrum for perpetual controversy. We have our Sadducean torah, but the lawyers are standing by with the Pharisaic torah, and they may not only stretch the law but go so far as to claim their interpretation of the written law and their principles contradicting the statutes are superior to the recorded law. Given the political power of the Pharisees, the Sadducees recognized the living law, but they do not consider it as binding, hence the controversy continues ad infinitum.
The foremost legal fulcrum for the United States is its Constitution, mistakenly said by some scholars to be the “ground” of the law. The writing itself is superfluous because it is based on the sense of justice; the Greeks had Zeus declare that any adult without that sense of justice should be put to death or banished. Once things are written down, people tend to forget them. We should have a copy in our pocket just in case our memory fails us. It would behoove everyone to memorize the Constitution, the logical elaboration of our sense of justice. Few people today can remember even five of the Ten Commandments in right order; for instance many people do not know the commandment proscribing murder is in the bottom half of the list.
When we read the Constitution and examine the opinions of the highest judicial authorities, we discover that our founding fathers did not get rid of the ‘common’ law after all; indeed, many of the poorer colonial Americans counted on the English Common Law for civil rights not afforded to the Original Americans or to the slaves. Nor did our founding fathers rid America of the high priesthood interpreting those freedoms for society’s own good. Jefferson’s effort to use the impeachment process to smother the independent Supreme Court in its crib failed, as did the later efforts of the Radical Republicans to mock the English parliamentary system. We find both Pharisees and Sadducees on that high court. We are sometimes given to wonder at its apparent hypocrisy, and to think that our beloved English law is illogical or unjust after all, until the rabbis appear to smooth over the differences between reality and ideality. Of course some explanations must remain apocryphal or ‘hidden’ in the true sense of the word: they must never be written down.
When Moses said, “Write this law down,” did he mean that law should be limited to whatever was written down? Not according to some rabbis. The law itself existed before it was written down, and was preserved by oral tradition, gradually recorded in writing. The living law hidden behind the writing still has authority over the language petrified on the page. The oral law must always have precedence. Moses was not a priest or a scribe, he was a prophet having direct access to the Almighty; his word was law. Moses may have been illiterate, although it is usually supposed that he was educated as an Egyptian hence familiar with the language of the New Kingdom and not with that of the Hebrew tribes. In either case he needed a scribe to write down the Torah for literate priests to recite to the illiterate public.
The apparent contradiction between the static Jewish written law and the dynamic oral law, sometimes called ‘the Two Torahs’, is being resolved over the centuries by ‘casuistic stretching,’ which promotes the organic, living integrity of our dynamic order. The conjunction of freedom and order may seem oxymoronic or patently absurd at first glance, but upon reflection it can be viewed as ethical and effective.
‘Casuistry’ is the application of general principles to particular cases; it is a process that members of the legal profession, representatives of the litigious human, are involved in every day. Needless to say, sometimes the process gets a bad reputation. We suspect the casuists have distorted or stretched the law and the truth. The sophists might be as dishonest as their clients and witnesses. More lies are told in court than anywhere else on Earth even though such lies might be punished by fine and imprisonment.
Kenneth Burke defined ‘casuistic stretching’ at length in ‘Dictionary of Pivotal Terms’, a chapter of Attitudes Toward History (1984):
“By casuistic stretching, one produces new principles while theoretically remaining faithful to old principles. Thus, we saw the church permitting the growth of investment, in a system of law that explicitly forbade investment. The legalists ‘took up the slack’ by casuistic stretching’, the ‘secular prayer’ of ‘legal fictions….'”
In a another chapter, ‘Protestant Transition’, Burke speaks of “the ways in which individualistic enterprise, stimulated by colloquial translations of the Bible, whereby every man could become his own interpreter without training in the collective body of interpretation accumulated by the church, served to intermingle material ambition with high moral motives…
“Sincerity and guile were hopelessly interwoven as enlightenment and stupidity. The men who enunciated the doctrine of the ‘poor church’ probably meant just what they said: that the church should not be rich, like a Babylonian whore, but poor like Christ… the sovereign used the doctrine to justify the appropriation of church lands for themselves and their clique…. In the feudal pattern, the casuistic fictions had tended to confine ‘investment for profit’ to a comparatively small class of rulers and big churchmen. In Calvinism, this ‘salvation device’ was ‘democratized’ – as Calvin discarded the legalistic subterfuges and placed positive sanction upon the taking of ‘interest’ in general. His notion of Providence ‘transcended’ the conflicting clutter that amounted to demoralization, since the reality of a monetary practice was being sentimentally denied. And his spiritual symbol was ‘economically implemented’ by the ambivalence whereby the spiritual futurism of ‘providence’ could be equated with the worldly futurism of ‘investment.’ (Later on, instead of separating ‘interest’ from ‘usury’, Bentham came right out with his formal ‘Defense of Usury.’) This move, so necessary for the development of business enterprise, was further backed by a new philosophy of justification, with more modern connotations of ‘ambition.'”
We add in this interpretative vein that the Reformation, as far as the Church was concerned, was an atheistic movement: the protesters were really ‘atheists.’ Some leftists identified Protestants with the Jews, claiming the question of Jewish civil rights was moot because the Protestants were for all intents and purposes Jews themselves. The selling out of Christ, the tucking away of god in heaven, the death of ‘god’ on Earth, dovetailed with the fall of monarchs and the rise of nation-gods, the general commodity fetish, and the demoralizing worship of money. It takes an economic determinist to know one. Nonetheless, scientific materialism is a spiritual or mental form, and, like Luther, we progress by aid of linguistic stretching, from doing our natural duty on the privy in the tower to the most sublime considerations thereupon.
Burke does not condemn casuistic stretching; to do so would bring the progress of history to a halt. It is an underlying dialectical process at the very crux of existence and being, a critical juncture for which we should ‘enunciate a methodology’ rather than try to eliminate it. That is, we should be conscious of ‘casuistic stretching’, and control it for the good of everyone concerned.
Now the legal stretching of the Jewish law is represented by the Midrash and the Mishnah, bodies of Jewish law derived from oral tradition. The Midrash (‘Exposition’ or ‘Investigation’) is deductive: the scholars begin with scriptural law and deduce applications to present cases therefrom; the stretching process often involves a considerable amount of twisting. Besides that ‘Halakha’ (legal statement) content, the Midrash also includes edifying homilies and stories called the ‘Haggada.’ On the other hand, the Mishnah (‘Teaching’ or ‘Repetition’), employs the inductive method: the scholars consider the case and induce general principles, rarely referring to particular scripture, and render a finding in accord with their principles. The Mishnah, then, is separate from the Midrash, but the Mishnah often quotes the Midrash.
The Mishnah as we know it was written down along with commentary, called the Gemara, during the third century of the Common Era. Mishnah plus Gemara (rabbinical teachings subsequent to the destruction of the Second Temple) constitutes the Talmud. Other writings believed to be recordings of old oral law or mishnah have been found, dating a century or so prior to the appearance of Jesus Christ. Of course oral traditions preceded the invention of writing. Some rabbis trace the Mishnah back to Moses. Other scholars attribute it to Ezra the scribe and his contemporaries, who returned from the Babylonian exile and built the Second Temple: this thesis involves the rise of a scholarly elite at the time of the Maccabean Revolt, the Pharisees, in contradistinction to the Sadducean priesthood purportedly descended from Sadoc, the chief priest of King David. Since the oral law was not written down then, there is a great deal of conjecture and controversy appended thereto as to what relation it might have to the Mishnah in the Talmud—the Talmud literally saved the Jewish culture after the revolts and the ensuing Roman destruction.
Many laws appearing in the Mishnah are not referred to or authorized by the Pentateuch. No provisions are made in the Pentateuch for the Jewish court known as the Bet Din. The Pentateuch does not dictate when the Shema (daily prayers) should be read or that it should be read at all. Prayers, the marriage contract, the ritual reading of Esther and the Pentateuch and the Prophets, are not mandated. It knows nothing of a New Year, or of interrogating witnesses prior to proclaiming the New Moon. There is no Pentateuchal warrant for the Mishnaic procedures in respect to Yom Kippur. The core teaching of the Mishnah is the dogma of the resurrection and the world to come, yet we do not find that in the Pentateuch, and if we insist that resurrection and the hereafter is not in the Pentateuch, the Pharisees can rightfully exclude us from the world to come in case it does exist, therefore the Oral Torah is superior to the Written Torah. And we have only mentioned a few discrepancies the rabbis will be glad to reconcile for us after consulting the Talmud.
Daniel Jeremy Silver, in The Story of Scripture, From Oral Tradition to the Written Word (1990), identifies the Talmud as “Israel’s Second Scripture…. The Mishnah quickly became the foundation stone of a reshaped Torah tradition.” According to Silver, the Mishnah structure was new, and set forth on the authority of the rabbis alone formulas not in the Pentateuch.
“Everyone admits that the Mishnah represents something new under the Jewish sun, but the rabbis would have argued that things have not been so much changed as reorganized, a matter more of style than of substance. Laws supplementing the written Torah had existed since Sinai, and the Tannaiam (teachers of the Mishna) believed they had merely drawn together what had always been present. Religious reformers almost always claim that they are not breaking new ground but going back to the original revelations and providing a fuller understanding of it.”
Silver quotes the Mishnah: “R. Zeria said in the name of R. Yohanan: ‘If you come across a Halakha (a statement of God’s law by the rabbis) and if you do not know its scriptural source, do not set it aside for many laws were dictated to Moses on Sinai (independently of Scripture) and all of them are embodied in the Mishnah” (j. Hag. 1:8; j. Peah 2-4)
On the other hand, Ellis Rivkin, in A Hidden Revolution, supports the rabbis who argue for an older origin of the Mishnah. He posits that, during the Maccabean Revolt, the scribes deliberately usurped power from the Aaronite line of high priests (Aaron, Eleazar, Phinehas, Zadok) using every means at hand, including segments of the Written Torah cited out of context, to support the elevation of Oral Law over Written Law, and the Pharisaic scholarly elite over the Sadducean priests.
Due to the lack of convincing evidence, we are left to speculate on whether we have old or new wine in our new skin. We turn to The Jews, Their History, Culture, and Religion, edited by Louis Finkelstein, (1949) for a further explanation of the process of casuistic stretching, wherein Gilbert Murray’s study of Greek religion is quoted:
“When change does come and is consciously felt we may notice a significant fact about it. It does not announce itself as what it was, a new thing in the world. It professes to be a revival, or rather an emphatic realization, of something very old…. This claim of a new thing to be old is, in varying degrees, a common characteristic of great movements. The Reformation professed to be a return to the Bible…. The tendency is due in part to the almost insuperable difficulty of really inventing a new word to denote a new thing. It is so much easier to take an existing word, especially a famous word with fine associations, and twist it into a new sense.”
Not only did the Mishnaic scholars twist the meanings of old words into new meanings, they cited segments of the Pentateuch out of context, invented new laws, devised a special Mishnaic Hebrew dialect that included Persian and Greeks words, and coined technical terms unheard of in the Written Torah. And they did not say, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”
The liberal application of the Mishnaic law to penal cases seems to give the lie to the strict Pentateuch. Circumstantial evidence is not allowed by the Mishnah. There must be two witnesses to the crime, and those witnesses cannot be relatives: Moses and Aaron would be disqualified as witnesses. The witnesses must give a warning to the person about to commit a crime, and that warning is invalid if given more than a few seconds prior to the crime: the time it takes to say, “Peace be upon you, my teacher, my master.” For the warning to be valid the potential criminal must acknowledge the warning and indicate he or she is intentionally ignoring it. And that is not all.
How absurd! Casuistic stretching must be called upon if we are to make any sense of it at all. How is this absurdity explained today?
Aaron Kirschenbaum, in Jewish Law and Legal Theory (1994) states: “The impracticality of the classical Jewish law and its helplessness in coping with social problems involving crime and punishment are proverbial.” He quotes the view of the fourteenth-century rabbi, Nissim of Gerondi (the Ran), that “the non-rational commandments” of the Torah “have nothing to do with maintaining the political stability of society—they have their justification solely in bringing down the Divine Effulgence… The civil laws of the Torah are directed more to that elevated purpose than to the maintenance of our society, for this latter purpose could be achieved by the king whom we shall appoint over us.”
Kirschenbaum clarifies the medieval position: “Thus, the king’s administration of criminal justice is practical in nature, created to cope with the everyday ordering of society; it is parallel to the criminal codes of other nations. But the classical code is above considerations of societal utility. ‘Inherently just’, it is nothing less than a body of ritual whose mystical effect is to bring down the Divine Effulgence upon the Chosen People. Indeed the criminal code of Scripture is no less a ritual than the sacrificial offerings of the Holy Temple and, like them, is no-pragmatic in purpose and non-utilitarian in nature….”
Furthermore, “The rabbis of the Talmud and their medieval successors regarded the criminal law of the Torah as primarily a mighty instrument of character training, religious indoctrination and spiritual edification, and only secondarily (and sometimes not at all) as of practical import.” Moreover, as far as the teachers were concerned, “Teaching was uppermost in the mind of the divine legislator, the penalties of minor significance…. Punishment was thus rarely meted out, but the serious nature of the infraction was duly impressed on the people.”
He goes on to say that, when the situation got out of hand and punishment was warranted, the king’s law was exercised. Besides, the rabbinical courts had sufficient emergency provisions in the Talmud to deal with exigencies. Finally, there was always God’s punishment to count on.
Some authorities believe the absurd conditions set forth in the Mishnah alongside descriptions of the manner of executions, say, the pouring of molten lead down the criminal’s throat while being careful not to hurt his neck while pulling it backward, are merely the pipe dreams of rabbis who had no penal authority. That is, since the Romans took away the Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction over capital crimes, the so-called obsolescence of capital punishment was merely utopian wish fulfillment, perhaps projected in memory of large numbers of Jews being slaughtered by the Romans. Furthermore, testimony exists in the New Testament that the Sanhedrin, when it was in session, was executing people right and left. Even in the Mishnah we have a dissenting opinion from a rabbi who said he saw a criminal one day and stood on his grave the next.
However, Professor Kirschenbaum believes the supposed obsolescence of capital punishment was not merely a later, ‘utopian’ fiction, but a longstanding reality. In favor of his hypothesis, he recalls a member of the Tannaiam, Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph (50-132), who inspired the rebel, Bar Kokhba, to revolt. Akiva was an illiterate shepherd who was encouraged by his beautiful wife Rachel to study the Torah at the late age of 40. In short order, Akiva became the most prominent Tanna and Jewish leader of his day. He advocated democratic procedures among the scholars, urging them to rely on majority decision rather than personal authority, and was responsible for the canonization of some of the books of the Hebrew Bible. When he was tortured by his executioners for fomenting rebellion, he recited the ‘Shema’ calmly without sign of pain. When asked by a Roman if he was a magician, he replied, “I am not a magician, but I rejoice at the opportunity now given to me to love my God with my life.” Then he uttered “One” (god) and died.
It was Rabbi Akiva, who, together with his colleague Rabbi Tarfon, made the famous declaration that, by ingenious tactics in the examination of witnesses, he would abolish capital punishment. Kirschenbaum, in his article, ‘The Role of Punishment in Jewish Criminal Law,’ asks how those pious rabbis could say such a thing, since they of all people knew of the biblical injunction, “and he shall surely die.” “What are we to make of all this?” asks Kirschenbaum. “The explanation usually proffered for the ‘romanticism’ that characterizes the rabbinic (i.e. tannaitic) penology is the historical setting in which the Rabbis found themselves. The Jewish community had been deprived of its jurisdiction over criminal matters approximately one hundred years before Akiva and his colleague made their famous declaration. Hence, since ‘the dirty work’ of criminal punishment was in the hands of the Roman authorities, or so the argument goes, these rabbis could allow themselves the luxury of irresponsibility in matters of law and order.
“This explanation, however, ignores the great piety of the Rabbis and their extreme conservatism when it came to preserving traditional teachings. It also ignores the feverish activity with which R. Akiva sought to achieve the restoration of Jewish independence. Surely, had he succeeded he could ill-afford the luxury of irresponsibility in matters of law and order.”
Perhaps the archeologists will uncover more evidence in favor of the Jew’s virtual abolition of the death penalty. We return to the jurisprudence of the question in Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s Understanding Judaism, The Basics of Deed and Creed (1991). He quotes the written law:
‘And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.’ (Exodus 21:15)
“Isn’t it obvious that Judaism is a strong proponent of the death penalty? What needs to be addressed is the almost incredible contradiction to this view, which is found throughout the Talmud…. There is a Mishnah that teaches us: ‘A Sanhedrin that issues a death sentence once in seven years is considered a murderous court. Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah said it is a murderous court if it pronounced a death sentence once in seventy years.’ (Makot 7a) How could the Sages call a Sanhedrin that carries out the will of God a ‘murderous court’? If the Torah says ‘yes,’ how could the Mishnah say ‘no’?”
Good question. Rabbi Blech instructs us to consider the opening verse of Exodus in order to understand the apparent contradiction and to have insight into the purpose of Jewish law: “And these are the ordinances which you will set before them.” (Exodus 21:1)
“Legal systems,” advised Rabbi Blech, “are set up to tell us what to do after crimes have been committed…. Every Jew must know the law because ‘These are the ordinances which you shall set before them’—before, not after. Jewish law is meant to be studied by everyone because the essence of Jewish law is preventative rather than punitive.”
Our rabbi admits that the Torah often states ‘mot yumat’, and that is usually translated, ‘He shall die’, but he says the proper translation is ‘He should die,’ because “that is what he deserves. But God does not really want him to be executed.” Rather, the purpose of the severe injunctions of the Written Law is educative:
“Judaism found a remarkable alternative to capital punishment. Indeed, gather the people into the town square…. Let the people hear the words of God Himself. He who does such and such shall surely be put to death. Imagine a child who from the earliest days has heard in the name of the Almighty that cursing or smiting parents is a capital offense. Whoever does these things should die. Hard to imagine that such a child would treat lightly the commission of these offenses.” Moreover, the goal of knowing these laws “is not that they know legal consequences, but rather than legal consequences – absorbed almost with mother’s milk and continuously part of our spiritual nourishment – will, we hope, ensure that our people are immunized against perpetrating any of those acts we have so carefully studied.” As for the death penalty, yes, it is in the Torah, “but it is only there to make us aware of how much we ought to make us aware of how much God detests every crime – and therefore how much we ought to make certain to avoid them.”
The Talmud allows emergency measures to be taken against criminals; however, Rabbi Blech believes that a world vaccinated with the teachings of the Torah would not require emergency measures since it would not sink into the “depraved depths of our days.”
Now what is the moral of our controversial story about the development of the law? A moral education will result in a moral society.
The mores of cultures are said to be relative; almost any sort of behavior can be mandated or prohibited according to the various folkways people embark on. But most of us believe human beings despite their differences have a common nature best preserved if certain rules of behavior are observed. For example, almost all cultures believe children should respect their parents. Children had better believe it, they had better learn to love or else. And since children will get out of hand, especially when their parents, because of love or neglect, are too liberal, a commandment might be posted in every home enjoining all children to respect their parents or else. Or else be dragged out of the house and stoned to death. When the child learns to read, this commandment would be in his first grammar book. Nevertheless, children will revolt; they will fight the angel of the Lord just as Jacob did.
Yes, the naive individual would have god-like freedom from all restraints. And it is that will to lawlessness that empowers the society at large to love itself, to protect that rebellious god from total destruction by his kind, thus he is sheltered by the universal human god. Otherwise there would be no god in the form of man. The world does not need humankind, and can do very well without us, but our gods need us. We do our best to express the law written in our existence, but our words, whether spoken or written, shall never be that perfect Being.
May the Terrorist Almighty forgive the Devil’s Advocate, for the Devil loves the Terrorist Almighty most of all. The Manifesto of the Devil’s Advocate presented Beloved David as a liar, thief and mass murderer. David’s god is identified as the Almighty Abusive Father of Terrorism, a terrible model emulated to this very day by those Judeo-Christians who project their vices upon him; vices that are, with all due respect to our respective races and creeds, those of the entire human race. However, notwithstanding the protests of protestant conservatives, and despite the liberal’s occasional backsliding on the conservative slime into the loathsome muck, the creative process is a progressive evolution; hence history is constantly being rewritten to bring history up to speed/
According to certain Talmudic revisionists, King David allegedly said, “This nation (Israel) is distinguished by three characteristics: They are merciful, bashful, and benevolent.” (Yevamot 79a). As for David’s god, the phrase ‘merciful and gracious God’ does appear nine times in the Bible, therefore there is some justification for loving revisionism when it comes to the Terrorist Almighty and those who fear him or else doom, and even then doom. As we have seen from the Psalms attributed to David, crushed people are closest to his god, and his god helps him crush enemies for good measure:
“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect… I pursued my enemies and crushed them… I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth; I pounded them and trampled them like mud in the streets…” (2 Samuel 22:33-43). Yet his god is merciful to Jews: “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let us fall into the hands of men.” (2 Samuel 24-14). Indeed!
Fellow Jews must not be hated in any event: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but have your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)
From such glimmers of mercy in the Old Text, history advances to universal love. Hillel the Great (b. 70 B.C.E.), founder of the lenient school which accommodates the strict law to current progress, reportedly said, “Whatever is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man; this is the whole law; the rest is commentary.”
Yes, human history advances. If it were not an advance, history would be irrelevant, of no more significance to us than the virtually infinite number of grains of sand in the desert is to a camel in want of water. Then the sacred scriptures, made sacred because man is endowed with progressive reason, would serve us better as cooking fuel than as enlightening reading material. And on the last day of the regression to the original golden age, man would no longer be man whose essence is ‘ma’, or he who “measures out” thought or conceives conceptions after his mother issues him forth; he would instead be an innocent beast again, a brute beyond the moral or thoughtful distinction of good and evil. Thank God then for the Devil in Paradise, or vice versa, for without the dialectic of the sacred Adversaries, we might be brutal chimpanzees, or better yet, pacifically inclined bonobos, for whom sexual intercourse is a mere handshake, so to speak.
In any case we should take history in the context of its times and circumstances. Crude times have crude gods. The Devil’s Advocate took evil out of context, ignoring the good he secretly loves. Wherever evil is found, there some good is also located, wherefore there would be no good god without the Devil. Furthermore, present and future good is the progress from prior evils which were goods at the time. But now the Devil would persuade us that the archaic god is the Devil himself by illuminating the creator-god’s destructive aspect. But we should keep in mind that the Devil or Satan loves his god above all; he refuses to love man, hence he is the one and only truly faithful monotheist. The Devil does not slander the true god, he denounces the faults human beings project onto their false idol. Indeed, his hidden love for god is hate-based love: he must have something to hate in order to love something else; he hates man to love god; he hates others and their kind in order to love himself and his kind; he loves himself to hate himself; in his self-consciousness he is a self-negating nihilist who has faith in Nothing.
We may trace the Devil’s diabolical development in the psychological genesis of the individual human being: he falls from the womb with an oceanic feeling of omnipotence but is soon confronted with the resistance against which he righteously rages when he does not have his way; but when his hate gets him nowhere or worse in the face of overwhelming forces, his fear teaches him to love the world in order to save himself from the struggle defining him. In other words, human life is a willing relation between a would-be omnipotent subject and its natural object, the world that includes other omnipotent subjects with whom compromises must be made in order to survive. In plain language, the rule is simple: love people and their god or get your ass kicked – the Devil is god’s Golden Ass.
In his personal capacity the almighty Jewish lord is not only violent and abusive: he is loving, forgiving, merciful, charitable; and his people aspired to his virtues and thought they deserved the abuse as punishment. The awesome Hebrew god certainly had a violent self-loving disposition, but that violence was tempered by other-love; love at first for “his” tribe, then his nation, and then for all who obey a few commandments whether they are obeyed in his name or not. Judaism, in contradistinction to other world religions, believes that a non-Jew who obeys the seven commandments given to Noah shall attain heaven whether or not he believes in the Torah. That “righteous Gentile” (1) believes in one god, not necessarily Jewish, (2) establishes courts of law, (3) does not steal, (4) does not commit adultery, (5) does not worship idols, (6) does not curse god, (7) does not eat certain parts of animals. Therefore the Jew has no ‘altruistic’ need to proselytize in order to ‘save’ Gentiles. The Devil’s Advocate made much of the Jewish god’s hateful personal characteristics. This advocate is really a Persian or Christian advocate, since Jews recognize that their god is fully responsible for both good and evil. In any case, Satan’s complaint really appertains to man’s faults, for the fallen angel loves his god. Be that as it may, Judaism’s god is ineffable and cannot really be defined by language or properly denoted to by means of any particular form or name. The most that can be said is “I AM.” The “He” is an anthropomorphic figure of speech cited by way of example for personal convenience, But no person can be YHWH; even posing that position would be a slanderous and blasphemous imposition, Jesus being a case in point. Neither could Jesus be the Messiah, for Jesus did not fulfill the prophecy of universal peace and universal recognition of one god, hence he was a “false” prophet.
Now we can employ the ambiguity and hypocrisy of the ancient texts for good or ill, or we can simply discard them as hopelessly contradictory. The Jews have taken some ancient provisions literally, as immutable traditions; for instance, the prohibition against eating “unclean” pork is observed even though modern science declares pork to be safe for consumption if properly prepared. But the doctrine of immutability does not apply to moral perceptions. Morality evolves or improves over time. The prophets protested many of the old injunctions; for example, Ezekiel (18:4) annulled the barbaric biblical doctrine (Exod. 20:5) prescribing punishment of children for the sins of their fathers – it appears the remnants of the Canaanites and other Palestinian descendents of Noah have been excepted from the annulment. Children in ancient Jewish schools were encouraged by corporeal punishment to ask questions, to participate in critical discussion of the Torah, and to give answers accordingly. Down through the centuries the rabbis and scholars kept up the debate over the right practice of morality; Jews are “of this world”, hence good works are the way to love one’s neighbors and to beautify and glorify god. To condemn the Jews because of the barbaric incidents recorded in their ancient history would be to condemn the entire human race along with a culture considered by many objective observers to be morally and intellectually superior to any Western culture; it is a culture that should be more famed for its love than infamous for its hate; it is an Eastern culture that may have done more to inspire Western civilization than the ancient Greeks. If only Jews could love others more than they love their own brothers, perhaps the Messiah would return pacific instead of militant, and Earth would be the temple of universal peace.
Yet love alone is not the panacea we want but is rather like Pandora’s Box – Pandora the All-Giver let loose from her amphora all ills upon the world but the one deemed to be the best ill of all because it made the rest tolerable and induced humankind to expect more than its foolish lot may obtain; that is, Hope. To be-lieve is to be-love: In fact the ancients found love to be the cause of many ills including madness, and therefore set reason against it as a restraint. But reason was all too often a dog tied behind love’s cart. When reason did take the lead from time to time, it received a rather bad name for killing love, and its detractors plead ignorance as a religious virtue. On the other hand, dogmatic skeptics suspended judgment and claimed that the ignorance of ultimate matters obtained by the reasoning power is a secular instead of a religious virtue. Love moves us to want All or Nothing, liberty or death, which is to say the same thing.
What is love? Love, for example, is your life, which by all means would endure forever if it could. Love is not fond of any impediment to the satisfaction of desire. On the whole love wants absolute freedom, but in individuals it craves particulars, that the individual may persist as a particular individual. Thus it is said that he who loves all loves nothing in the incomprehensible identity of Being and Nothing, Creation and Destruction. He who loves everybody loves nobody. Reason may restrain the affections and divert attention from particulars towards the abstract universal; the ultimate diversion to the unknown may be called the love of god universal, an operation some thinkers have identified with an instinctive counter-will or death instinct unconsciously tending to the dissolution of the willing, suffering, divided in-divid-ual. Hence those who love god the most may seem to hate the world and to love death so much that they are moved to devote their lives preparing for death instead of loving the particulars of life. In fact, the loving holy man may be viewed from the antipathetic perspective as the most arrogant and hateful man of all men.
In any case it seems that love and hate are Siamese twins, and that gods or demons who preach one to the exclusion of the other are fools or fanatics. Jews for example have certainly evolved, but not to blind, unconditional love. Love without law is perverse and immoral. The moral majority hates evils and loves goods, whatever they might be. Ecclesiastes 3:8 informs us that there is a time for everything including war and hate. The Talmud (Taanit 76) allows us to denounce arrogant people as evil and to hate them. Psalm 139:21-22 sets this tone to set the universal above its inimical particulars: “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them. I count them as my enemies.” The Talmud (Pasachim 113b) allows us to hate sinners. Furthermore, the Talmud (Yoma 22b) specifies that any Torah scholar who does not take revenge is not a real Torah scholar. After all, to defame the Torah is blasphemy. As for the Leviticus injunction against revenge, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge,” the Talmudic scholars point out that the injunction appertains only to Jews, because the vengeance of Jew against Jew would be an assault upon one’s own body, which is absurd. However, Numbers 25:19 clearly states, “The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.” But the courts took over capital punishment, and the death penalty was rarely handed down. Death, by the way, was prescribed for violation of any of the Commandments; but kids, for example, were rarely dragged to the gate and stoned to death for disobeying their parents. Moreover, the biblical “an eye for an eye” was seldom enforced in the courts; damages were paid in the form of money or goods instead of an eye.
Returning to our enemies, whom we should not hate by rejoicing at their fall, the Mishnah explains that we should not hate them at the exact moment of their fall, but we can hate them before the fall and we can be happy they fell after they have fallen. Nonetheless, it is all right to rejoice at the moment when non-Jewish enemies fall. We note that most of the Judeo-Christian world, not to mention a goodly portion of Islam, exulted at the thud of Saddam Hussein’s body made at the end of the rope. On the subject of hating sinners, we learn Jewish sinners are only hated in order to get them to repent.
We might ignore the nitpicking casuistry which excuses deeds we originally thought were prohibited, and sum up by simply saying it is quite alright to hate evil people. But no, we need casuistic stretching to refine the differences between right and wrong and to bridge the gap between good and evil. We would introduce principles suiting our present purposes while seemingly remaining faithful to the old principles. For example, after careful consideration of the texts, we might argue that missionaries should be hated because converting a Jew is one way to murder him; therefore, it stands to reason that missionaries are murderers. We are commanded to stone murderers to death, but that is carrying the metaphor too far. Neither do we take the commandments literally and stone to death all those who do not observe the Sabbath, who steal, blaspheme, commit perjury, covet wives and other property, have some god before the almighty god, worship idols, commit adultery, dishonors parents, and who actually murders someone. In fact, if only we would give ourselves greater latitude and use our freedom to stretch the old narrow truths far enough, even to the breaking point in some cases, the world might be a much better place to live in. Thus sayeth the Devil’s Advocate.