Muslim Intellectuals Please Join Us

MUSLIM al-Kindi




By the very nature of their critical endeavor independent intellectuals are often at each other’s throats. Figuratively speaking, of course, for intellectuals prefer metaphors and virtual battles to mayhem and murder.

I have on previous occasions called for an intellectual rebellion or jihad against the prejudices of brute ignorance. I was tempted to place my call under the motto, “Intellectuals of the World, Unite!” But nothing seemed more incongruous to me at the time than universal intellectual integration, since each independent intellect is disposed to be at odds with the others. However, on second thought there is due cause for unison in the mental field, the project and object of our enterprise; to wit, truth. Now we might question the nature of the truth; indeed, that is the good cause of our dissension; but I think we can agree on one thing: our project is the same although our methods slightly differ.

I say “slightly differ” because of one thing intellectuals can be certain, he who seeks the truth must have his all his doors wide open for it. The intellectual keeps his mind open with doubt, but he is not dogmatically skeptical; rather he is critical, and would resort to a criterion for criticism rather than regress to the blind faith of a beast. The criteria for physics and metaphysics, the scientific methods for the natural and “supernatural” sciences, differ in their destinies, for one has the object or world in mind, and the other has the subject or self in mind as the only available avenue to the supreme being that unites subject and object; yet both still proceed with an open mind and both must strive to keep it open to be worthy of the name, “science.” Of course there is always the divisive question as to whether the metaphysical subject exists and if so whether it is a projected personal unity of consciousness of the objective world, or whether it is an impersonal substance, and so on. Yet both the physician of the body and the physician of the soul agree on the virtue of a reasonable or logical approach to the matter or spirit or both at hand. Although there are different logics or efficient mental means, they agree in throwing away error until the truth be known.

Now my monologue may be crude, but the professional professors amused by my intellectual dilettantism know very well that I struggle to unite intellects in a common pursuit no matter what their various interests may be and even in spite of their variance. For if science is to make any headway intellectuals must struggle together no matter how independent their research may be. Whatever the source of knowledge, whether from friend of foe, we should be grateful for it and share it with our colleagues. Even if we consider our competitors as strangers and enemies, then we should praise them for their virtues even more than we overlook the vices of our familiars and friends. The first great philosophical enthusiast of Islam, al-Kindi (d. ca. 866) put it this way:

“We should not be loath to value truth and acquire it from whatever source it comes, even it were to come from races distant and nations different from us. For nothing is more worthy of the seeker after truth than truth itself; and no one is disparaged through truth or belittled by it. Rather does the truth ennoble all.”

Al-Kindi’s statement is now platitudinous, but it was revolutionary in his time, an era plagued by cultural xenophobia and anti-intellectualism. Expressing gratitude for foreign intellectual contributions could and did get intellectuals killed, especially if the intellectual treatment challenged the leading authority. For example, Christian and Muslim intellectuals exchanged ideas in Damascus, capital of the Umayyad caliphate. Two scholars, Ghailan of Damascus (d. ca. 743) and Ma’bad al-Juhani (d. ca. 699) among others rejected orthodox predestination in favor of free will; it is no coincidence they were both martyred, because if the doctrine of free will were true, then a caliph would be personally responsible for his bad deeds.

The intellectual Majid Fakhry, our contemporary, wrote about al-Kindi, “the only major Islamic philosopher of pure Arab stock”:

“For al-Kindi, the search for truth, however, is an arduous task, and without the assistance of other searchers is virtually impossible. Our gratitude to our predecessors should, for that very reason, be great; they have paved the way for us and thereby made our progression towards truth so much easier. It is indeed obvious to us and to those pre-eminent in the study of philosophy among nations of foreign tongues, al-Kindi (says), that no one has been able to achieve through his own individual efforts any significant progress towards truth. Aristotle himself confirms this when he writes, as al-Kindi has paraphrased Metaphysics: ‘We ought to be grateful to the fathers of those who have imparted to us a certain measure of truth, in so far as they have been the cause of their being, and the cause of our attaining truth.'”

As we know so well, Islam was unusually tolerant of foreign knowledge and adopted and developed Greek philosophy and natural science, Indian mathematics, Persian literature; by the ninth century, nearly the entire legacy of Greek philosophy and science had been translated into Arabic. Those works were later translated into Latin and became the basis for the European renaissance. Jacques Le Goff in his Intellectuals in the Middle Ages mentions the purely Arab contribution:

“And we must not omit the purely Arab contribution (to Western culture). Arithmetic with the algebra of al-Khwarizmi – while awating the first years of the thirteenth century when Leanardo Pisano would introduce the Arabic numerals, which were actually Hindu but brought from India by the Arabs. Medicine with Rhazi – whom the Cristians called Rhazes – and above all Ibn Sina or Avicenna, whose medical encyclopedia or Canon became the inseparable companion of Western doctors. And there were the astronomers, botanists, agronomists, and especially the alchemists who provided the Latins with the feverish research for the elixir. Finally, there was philosophy, which, beginning with Aristotle, created powerful syntheses with al-Farabi and Avicenna. In addition to the works themselves, the Arabs gave the Christians words such as “number”, “zero”, and “algebra”; at the same time they gave them the vocabulary of commerce; douane [custom house], bazaar, gabelle [a tax on salt], check, etc.” (translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan)

And we must point out that the Arabs contributed the intellectual foundation of modern science, the inductive method that, as Engels and many others have noted, was introduced into England via Roger Bacon. Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic science at Oxford; he repeatedly declared that the knowledge of Arabic and Arab science was the only way to knowledge in his day. The experimental method of the Arabs was widely cultivated in Europe. That is not to say that Christian and Muslim scholars were locked in loving embrace; traditional cultures tend to consider wisdom as communal property, and if someone does not give it up it is another’s duty to “steal” it – so Christians are quoted as urging their brethren to pirate and plunder the Arab knowledge just as the Hebrew god urged Moses’ crew to grab whatever goods they could carry and make a run for it. In any event, no doubt there was a greater rapport between the intellectuals themselves than the spiritual authorities cared to preach.

Fakhry briefly mentioned a curious secret society, “Brethren of Purity” (Ikhwan al-Sufa), in his essay, a group that flourished in Basrah, Iraq, in the tenth century – other scholars date the founding at 983. I gleaned further information on this group from A History of Muslim Philosophy, edited by M.M. Sharif and from Professor Boer’s The History of Philosophy in Islam. The Brethren, unlike the anti-rationalist believers often associated Islamist freedom fighters, somewhat analogous in the West to militant fundamentalist Christians who rely on faith alone and reject rational questioning of their faith, recognized no antithesis whatsoever between philosophy and religion:

“Its eclecticism was such that it adhered unconditionally to the maxim of the absolute harmony of all truth – Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Greek or Indian. The motto of its members was ‘to shun no science, scorn no religious book, or cling fanatically to no exclusive need; since their own creed encompasses all other needs and comprehends all the sciences generally,’ as the so-called Epistles of the Brethren have put it.” (Fakhry)

Philosophical eclecticism has appeared, beginning with the Greeks, several times throughout history. In philosophy a dogmatic period is usually followed by a skeptical rebellion; when skepticism itself becomes dogmatic, refusing to recognized truth anywhere, except in its claim that there is no truth, an eclectic period responds, recognizing a little bit of truth everywhere.

Eclecticism holds that there is some truth even in erroneous knowledge, hence the task of the eclectic is to use logic to discard error and by that means distil the truth. Those who deny that eclecticism is a legitimate philosophy say their claim is logically absurd because it is tantamount to equating error with truth. Furthermore, they insist, there must be a definition of truth before one begins the search. Of course that argument is rebutted by the eclectics, who claim that the criterion for finding the truth as set by their opponents – that it must first be defined – amounts to hiding prejudices in the premises, hence they find what they are seeking by ignoring contrary evidence; they beg their questions by answering them in advance.

Wherefore we see in the Arab philosophers an early adumbration of the “inductive”, bottom-up, pragmatic approach of empirical science, in contradistinction to the top-down deductive method. The contradistinction is analogous to that of democracy and tyranny in politics. Of course the methods can work well together. A possible symbol for the articulation of the two is the prehistoric emblem of David recently adopted by the secular state of Israel. The intellectual pilgrim ascends from the base of the mountain and approaches the summit, but he also descends from time to time for air that he may confirm his ascent with a clear head. The tyrant starts at any old peak and tries to coerce the mountain to conform. Be that as it may, some scholars have associated the Brethren’s concept of ascent with Darwinism; Professor Boer says not:

“They have been represented as the Darwinists of the tenth century, but nothing could be more inappropriate. The various realms of Nature, it is true, yield according to the Encyclopedia (Epistles) an ascending and connected series; but the relation is determined not by bodily structure, but by the inner Form or Soul-Substance. The Form wanders in mystical fashion from the lower to the higher and vice versa, not in accordance with inner laws of formation, or modified to suit external conditions, but in accordance with the influence of the stars, and, in the case of Man at least, in accordance with practical and theoretical behavior. For providing a history of Evolution, the modern sense of the term was very far from the thought of the Brethren. For example they expressly insist that the horse and the elephant resemble Man more that the ape does. In fact in their system the body is a matter of quite secondary consideration; the death of the body is called the birth of the soul. The world alone is an efficient existence, which procures the body for itself.” (Boer)

Eclecticism is obviously not a one-sided denial of spiritual pursuits. For example, during the early nineteenth century the eclecticism of the French philosopher Victor Cousin gained followers throughout the world including the New England Transcendentalists. The Transcendentalists were eager to select the spiritual truth wherever they found it including Oriental sources; the term “transcendentalism”, at first an epithet for unorthodox foolishness, was taken out of Kantian context and adopted to their own needs. Their version of transcendentalism was a protest against deadwood Protestantism and the Lockean rationalizations of its puritanically inclined authorities, who were predominantly Unitarians. Victor Cousin, however, like most eclectics was a moderate. He accepted the sensationalism (“sensualism”) of Locke and Condillac, but he synthesized it with the idealism of Kant and Hegel, leading Hegel to say his friend Cousin had swiped his soup. Hence Cousin’s rationalization of eclecticism was called Spiritualism. Eclecticism was attractive at that time to faithful people who wanted to be reasonable about their faith. And it was also attractive to Arab philosophers several centuries before Victor Cousin was born.

Instead of withdrawing to the woods to speculate and to write, and meeting in the chambers of a transcendentalist club in New England to discuss the subjects appearing in their periodical propaganda organs with American names such as The Dial and The Boston Quarterly, Muslim eclectics withdrew to secret societies and discuss esoteric subjects set forth in anonymous tracts such as those compiled in the still popular Encyclopedia of the Sciences of the Brethren of Purity – that encyclopedia of fifty treatises is known as Rasail Iwan al Safa (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The Brethren met once every twelve days in their respective localities. There were rumors of partying but that sort of behavior was frowned on. A primary purpose for meetings was to cultivate sufficient wisdom in this world to build a Utopia in the next. The Brethren recruited young people because they are more docile than adults. Celibacy was encouraged; marriage was purportedly for the procreation of the race only. Furthermore, the Brethren believed members must be free to choose their own religion and to change their religion at will, providing one person did not belong to contradictory religions at the same time. Islam however was considered superior by the Arab philosophers for the same reason it is considered the highest form of monotheism by impartial students of comparative religion in the West – particularly in respect to its simplicity and singular devotion.

The Brethren of Purity believed thinking begins in the senses and continues in the mind. Since man is a microcosm of the cosmos, he may better know the cosmos by knowing himself; the only means available to know thyself is the mental faculty: the Brethren therefore were more fond of Psychology than Astrology, albeit they dearly loved both. Above all subjects they loved numbers, for they were frustrated Pythagoreans. They believed that every soul is potentially learned. Knowledge gained by the intellect from the senses must be reflected upon, confirmed by the senses, and imparted to students by learned teachers. The educational scheme proceeds with Grammar, Poetry and History, continues with Mathematics, Logic and Physics, ascends to Metaphysics, and culminates in the Godhead as the body dies and the soul is born into to the pure spiritual life.

“Praiseworthy is the free act of the soul; admirable are the actions which have proceeded from rational consideration; and lastly, obedience to the Divine World-Law is worthy of the reward of being raised to the celestial world of spheres. But this requires longing for what is above; and therefore the highest virtue is Love, which strives after union with God, the first loved one, and which is evinced even in this life in the form of religious patience and forbearance with all created beings. Such love gains in this life serenity of the soul, freedom of hear and peace with the whole world, and in the life to come ascension to Eternal Light.” Furthermore, “Our true essence is the soul, and the highest aim of our existence should be to live, with Socrates, devoted to the Intellect, and with Christ, to the Law of Love. Nevertheless the body must be properly treated and looked after in order that the soul may have time to attain its full development.” (Epistles)

Wisdom is normally obtained by the devoted student after the age of fifty, at which time the learned man does not rest on his laurels but should participate as a leader of his community. In any case, he will behave as divinely as he can:

“… love for science as added to knowledge of the essence of all beings, gained as best as one can, together with profession and public behavior in harmony with that.” (Epistles)

We cannot overstate the importance of the Arab philosophers’ insistence that religion and philosophy are not enemies. This emphasis shocked medieval European intellectuals as they translated the Arabic texts into Latin, and the controversy that ensued gradually resurrected the dignity of reason for the theologically disposed thinkers as they pored over Aristotle’s propositions that the Muslims had so carefully preserved and commented on both for and against. Arab intellectuals, as I have noted, had serious problems with the synthesis of faith and reason, or rational theology, with the caliphs and their supporters. Fakhry recapitulates the Arab philosopher’s position:

“After all, religion is not a commodity to traffic in; by setting themselves against the study of philosophy in the name of religion, the proved their added irreligiousness. Rather, philosophy is the most secure avenue to truth, and he who opposes its study is actually opposing the acquisition of the knowledge of truth, which is the primary function of religion. Hence, to brand the study of philosophy as unbelief kufr is the highest form of unbelief – nor, as the previous argument implies, downright hypocrisy.”

Fakhry concluded his particular essay with the following important remarks, after which I will conclude mine with a pointed question to all Muslims:

“…neither in the field of translation nor in commentary have contemporary Arab philosophers and scholars achieved the same pre-eminence as their ancestors during the classical period. The profound intensity and seriousness with which Greek philosophical and scientific texts were translated, studied, and commented upon by those ancestors remain unequaled in modern times. This is a great tribute to that contingent of Arab scholars who not only kept the torch of ancient learning alive during Western Europe’s darkest hours, but also pushed the frontiers further than any other nations had in antiquity since the Greeks.”

Dear Muslim intellectuals, we are forever grateful for Islam’s medieval contributions to “our” Western intellectual culture. We thank Muslim philosophers and scientists for acquainting us with the founding principles of the European renaissance, for introducing us to the humanist movement, the historical sciences, the inductive scientific method, and, most importantly, the harmony of faith and reason that shocked medieval Europe to its senses. But where are you now when we so urgently need you? Intellectuals of the World, Unite!


Majid Fakhry’s essay appears in Arabic Philosophy and the West, edited by Therese-Anne Druart, Washington: Georgetown University, 1988

A History of Muslim Philosophy, edited by M.M. Sharif, published in Karachi by the Royal Book Company, is an excellent resource, supported by ample citations.

Intellectuals in the Middle Ages by Jacques Le Goff, published by Blackwell in Cambridge. Of special interest is the chapter, ‘The Birth of the Intellectuals’

The History of Philosophy in Islam by T. J. de Boer, translated by Edward R Jones, London: Luzac, 1970, p.81 ff. ‘The Faithful Brethren of Bazra’


Muslims Question Infidel Knight







December 20, 2005

Sir Infidel Knight of the Round Table:

My students keep asking me these questions:

How can President Bush and his people be followers of Jesus Christ, God’s great messenger; how can they claim to respect human rights; how can they present the United States Empire as a model for world civilization and claim to be working towards a unified international community or Empire of God over which Christ will be the emperor and the virtuous people of the Earth as his obedient subjects; how can they announce their opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass devastation; how can they make their slogan, “World War on Terrorism’; how can they claim all that as their agenda, yet, at the same time, engage in mass organized terrorism and have whole countries attacked and destroyed with their massive means of destruction?

How can they believe in the natural right to life, liberty, and property, and then have the lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed on the chance of the presence of a few criminals in a village, city, and country?

How can they claim to be Christians or good people, and then occupy and destroy a sovereign nation and plunge its people into chaos and civil war on the pretext of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, which they themselves possess enough of to destroy the world several times over, having themselves killed hundreds of thousands of people with nuclear bombs against even the advice of some of their best generals?

How can they claim to be defenders of human rights after having killed with sanctions, according to the Red Cross and the Catholic Church, nearly one million men, women and children and infants of Iraq?

How can they say they are spreading world peace by most recently killing one hundred thousand more Iraqis, putting nearly two hundred thousand invading troops on the ground, and systematically breaking the sanctity of private homes?

How can they with a clean conscience justify rebuilding the infrastructure of a country whose infrastructure they deliberately destroyed, charging their own people for the reconstruction monies diverted to their friendly contractors, like Vice President Cheney’s Halliburton?

How can they accuse one tyrant of killing and impoverishing his own people while they themselves put their own troops, many of whom joined the military service not to fight wars on flimsy pretext but to relieve themselves of grinding poverty, in harm’s way, taking them away from the loved ones who need their support and having them killed, maimed, and psychologically traumatized, squandering hundreds of billions of dollars in the process?

How can your beloved president be, as he claims, a follower of Jesus Christ, his “political hero” (may Allah have mercy on the great messenger’s soul); how can he genuinely respect human rights; how can he honestly present liberalism as a civilization model; how can he truly oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction; how can he dare to make “the Global War on Terror” his slogan; how can he sincerely work for the establishment of a unified international community which Jesus Christ (Allah has mercy on his soul) and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern; – how can he do all this with good intentions, yet, at the same time, spit in the face of the international assembly three times and then preemptively attack on flimsy pretexts other countries that have done his countrymen no harm; command the military organ of mass terrorism to destroy a sovereign state and the infrastructure of a country, destabilizing its people, killing a hundred thousand of them, and plunging the country into the horror and terror of constant chaos; violate the sanctity of private homes, kicking down doors at all hours of the day, dragging people out of their beds, blindfolding them and forcing them to their knees, and sometimes murdering men, women and children in their homes; kill hundreds of innocent people in their homes with bombs because a few criminals might be hiding among them; hold suspects in prisons for years without charge or counsel in violation of standards of human decency and international justice; take his own people’s children away from their homes and send them into harm’s way on the basis of a pack of lies, in effect, psychologically and physically maiming and killing his own people; waste trillions of dollars of his people’s resources on the commission of evil and consequent chaos, while reducing taxes on his rich supporters and diminishing the welfare programs guaranteed by the Preamble to the Constitution of his country; – yes, how can he do all this in contradiction to his formerly stated intentions?

How can he call Saddam Hussein a murderous dictator, yet have the same effect?

What do we call a man whose deeds fly in the face of his stated principles?

These are the questions my students ask, over and over again, as the situation grows more intolerable, and they think it’s best to have nuclear weapons to protect their country from your country because it is advancing world terrorism.

All I can say is that I will ask you for answers, knowing that Allah is merciful and shall redeem those who repent and do their best to undo wrongs and bring their actions into line with good words.

We are looking forward to your reply in peace.

Yours Faithfully in Peace,
Dajen Doomah
School Teacher

Stretching the Truth for The Terrorist Almighty

Painting by Darwin Leon





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.


The Almighty Terrorist’s Beloved

The elders said my name means “beloved”






‘The great curse of the house, the spirit, dead weight wrath – and you can praise it! Praise the insatiate doom that feeds relentlessly on our future and our sons. Oh all through the will of Zeus, the cause of all, the one who works it all. What comes to birth that is not Zeus? Our lives are pain, what part not come from god?’ Aeschylus

“And it happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Palestinians, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and musical instruments. And the women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.’ Then Saul became very angry, for this greatly displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David tens of thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’”

The reign of King David is fondly remembered by his nation as its Golden Age. David united the so-called hibirus or outlaw tribes into a nation and located its capital, which he named Jerusalem, midway between what would be called Israel and Judah; he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, hence the capital served as the national religious center. Furthermore, he expanded the nation’s borders in all directions.

David had many qualities that endeared him to his people, not the least of which was his military prowess. Every boy familiar with the story of David and Goliath would fain take on a giant if need be, at least in his imagination. To be virtuous in days where might made right was to be the most powerful (vir or man): to overpower and intimidate other men and establish a monopoly on violence was the highest virtue. David’s popularity to that end gave Saul due cause for jealousy, and that motivated him seek David’s destruction.

Now women are more inclined to peace and disposed to cooperate than are men, and for good reason, for they are the more easily overpowered. But their nature does not prevent them from inciting men to violence and cheering them on to victory, particularly when their brood is at risk. A mere glance from a woman can invigorate men and inspire them to rise to the occasion. Women singing and dancing to the clapping of hands and cymbals and the jangling of tambourines and blowing of trumpets have set armies of men into motion.

And so it was Miriam the high prophetess who composed the original chant that parted the elemental water of the Red Sea for Moses. And tt was she, with Moses in tow waving his magic wand to conduct the crowd, who led her people to safety, although scripture was revised to reverse the order: Exodus 15:20 still casts the high priestess in a leading role, putting her at the head of the fair sex only:

“Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed, dancing and clapping their tambourines. Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and the rider he hurled into the sea.”

We do not hear words of praise or a joyful exclamation from the Hebrew men in this case, nor does the holy record have them banging on tambourines and dancing.

Male praise normally abounds in god-fearing quarters; those who do not fear the fearsome Lord are undoubtedly doomed. After all, the Terrorist Almighty displays the characteristics of the abusive father that many fatherless homes lack: Abusive fathers tend to beat up their children on a whim. They require constant praise. They seldom take responsibility for problems, blaming others instead. They are impatient and incompetent, and cannot take the slightest criticism without angering. They are abusive even when a child acts like a child, and especially so if the child acts independently. They claim their violence is “because I love you,” and can be kind when in the mood. They are bad examples of what they say they want their children to be. They are bullies who mistreat their children in order to prop up their own weak ego. They are hypocrites who demand self-blame from their children while modeling angry, self-righteous, false pride.

Like father like son. The Terrorist Almighty, in marked contrast to his other half, the Loving Lord, is a Severely Emotionally Disturbed brat writ large. The SED progeny of such an abusive father might cower when the Terrorist Almighty is around but otherwise strike back and be a bully, antisocial, unruly and defiant, especially in those permissive precincts where intelligent liberals urge leaders to rule with the milk and honey of loving kindness instead of the resounding whacks of awful ruler. Yet when liberals have a chance to obtain the power to bully others with impunity, doves turn into hawks, wolves throw off sheep’s clothing, and crazy foxes appear in the chicken coop: they get even, purportedly in the interest of equal justice under arbitrary power for all. Mountains are brought low and valleys are raised to that justificatory end. Misunderstanding their share of nature, men attribute the cause of natural disasters to supernatural beings, and believe that social upheavals and storms are caused by the same gods, who are irrational and disorderly for a reason, that the proud should be brought low, that the exalted should be crushed that they might know the power of the Terrorist Almighty and set right by righteousness per se.

Everyone is equal under the Lord’s law: Life is greeted with death; justice is retributive: an eye for an eye; if the victim had only one eye, then whosoever takes it lose both eyes, reads the talion tale of just accounting. An allowance is made for preventative justice: crushing blows may render a man contrite and set him on the path of righteousness, in which case he shall be blessed with surfeit in the next life if not presently. And, whereas the Lord is often hypocritical; whereas his Word is ambiguous in accordance with his Mysteries; discretionary justice provides merciful relief to both guilty and innocent in the form of pardons people are wont to clamor for.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit he delivers,” declares David’s Thirty Fourth Psalm.

But when deliverance is not in sight, a depressed spirit might feign madness before the crime is committed, and then mercy might be obtained at public expense by virtue of the insanity plea. We have empathy for the man who says, “God made me do it,” for both are mad. Nothing is perfect: man and the god he created in his image are fatally flawed; therefore we should not be too surprised when Hell breaks loose at any moment. We excuse our imperfections with a claim to normality, and define deviance as abnormal, unwholesome, sinful, crazy, sick, or mentally ill. That is, unless the deviant succeeds and becomes a great hero, in which case his atrocities are overlooked, for the goods obtained by any means far outweigh the evil deeds to so obtain. Man is normally incomplete and fatally flawed to boot. To understand ourselves, and to fathom why someone might suddenly run on a murderous rampage in the footsteps of the Almighty Terrorist who is fundamentally adored in houses of God, we had better proceed from the study of pathology to the norm once in awhile, rather than the reverse, for the normal person is more or less insane and is best understood as a variant of some pathological type.

Doubly mad are those who feign the madness that strikes home and becomes the norm. The Thirty Fourth Psalm bears the caption, “Of David, when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech (Achish), who drove him away, and he left.” The moral of the psalm is that the righteous who are crushed and brokenhearted and who are therefore nearest the Lord will be saved by the Lord and only the Lord; therefore, fear only the Lord, do good, avoid evil, and seek peace. Apparently the psalm was written long after David’s death: neither the level of morality nor the sophisticated style of the poetry coincides with David’s deeds and literature of his time.

We recall that Saul wanted David killed, and that David was apprised of Saul’s intentions. We do not find David cowering or groveling before Saul, but we do observe him fleeing, hiding, and escaping from Saul’s murderous designs. No doubt David fled at the Lord’s bidding, for we are duly informed that David often consulted the Lord. And we note well that he had two occasions to kill Saul, but he refrained from doing so, not because he abhorred murder per se but because Saul had been reputedly anointed by the Lord, hence killing him would provoke the Lord’s wrath, in which case he would be duly crushed.

So David fled to the Philistine city of Gath, ruled by Achish. But the servants spotted him:

“…the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land. Isn’t this the one they sing about in their dances: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands?’ David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in his presence: and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate, and letting saliva run down his beard. And Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

Therefore David obviously feared someone besides the Lord; to wit, a Palestinian king. So much so that he employed a deceitful strategy: feigning madness. We recall other notable instances of the trick: Lucius Junus Brutus (“brute” or “dullard”) the founder of the Roman Republic, acted crazily with good effect; and so did Hamlet and his brutal prototype, the Icelandic hero Amleth (“stupid”); in fact, the stories about Brutus and David may have influenced the legends of Amleth.

However that might be, David’s apparent madness afforded him the opportunity to escape to a cave. But he eventually returns to Gath, where he and his hibiru (‘outlaw’) band of six-hundred men managed to gain the trust and protection of Achish. Although David and his troop were actually raiding Palestinian settlements, David convinced Achish that they were conducting raids on Israel and Judah.

“Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes… He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, ‘They might inform on us and say, “This is what David did.”’ And such was his practice as long as he lived in Palestinian territory. Achish trusted David and said to himself, ‘He has become so odious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant forever.’”

Quite to the contrary.