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RELIGION: A CULTURAL SYSTEM
Religion is a cultural system that creates powerful & long-lasting meaning by establishing symbols for its votaries that relate humanity to beliefs & values. Such is the definition & approach by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Geertz(1926-2006) was a highly influential American anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his strong support for, and influence on, the practice of symbolic anthropology, and who was considered for several decades the single most influential cultural anthropologist in the United States. Many religions have narratives & symbols, as well as traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. The members of religions tend to derive morality and ethics, religious laws and a preferred lifestyle from the ideas & literature of their system of beliefs. These ideas establish views about the cosmos and human nature. For my purposes across the internet I use a much wider definition of, and approach to, religion than that of Geertz. My definition is much wider: a set of values and beliefs, attitudes and assumptions.
The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect, at least this is true in the conventional sense. In the definition I use of religion everyone has both a public & private religion. Again, in the conventional sense, most religions have organized behaviors, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, holy places(natural or architectural), congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, &/or scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. For my wider useage of the term, everyone has a religion, which I define as a set of assumptions, values and beliefs which any individual brings to their life, to any given set of circumstances.
One of the essential features of assumptions is that they cannot be proved. They are just givens at the centre of one’s meaning system. As far as possible one should aim to have one's assumptions correspond to reality, but there is often a gap. Reality itself is bound-up with assumptions, and what is reality to one person is not reality to another. My definition of religion gives to the subject a level playing field in which we all exist & have our being. We can all, if we so desire, exchange our views without invoking the wrath of the gods on those who do not share our perspectives, our assumptions, and our ways of seeing things.
MORE ON DEFINITIONS
Danièle Hervieu-Léger’s Religion as a Chain of Memory is a helpful place to turn for an initial definition of “religion.” Daniele Hervieu-Léger suggests in her Religion as a Chain of Memory(Trans. Simon Lee. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers UP, 2001) why the term is so notoriously difficult to delineate: "Functional, or inclusive, definitions can only testify to the dispersion—intellectually beyond control—of religious symbols in contemporary societies; while substantive, or exclusive, definitions can do no more than reiterate analysis of the loss of religion in the modern world. Both constitute a partial, yet radically limited, response to the question of the location of religion in modernity. Religion is nowhere, or else it is everywhere, which in the end comes to the same thing.
These extremes can be avoided, however, by assuming that “there is no religion without the authority of a tradition being invoked. This tradition is invoked explicitly, half-explicitly or implicitly in support of the act of believing”. With memory’s centrality in mind, then, Hervieu-Léger offers the following basic definition: “a religion is an ideological, practical and symbolic system through which consciousness, both individual and collective, of belonging to a particular chain of belief is constituted, maintained, developed & controlled”. This definition seems judicious, as long as one remembers that the “ideological, practical and symbolic system” may be “implicit,” as Hervieu-Léger says, or even invisible and unconsciously assumed.
Such a broad conception of religion, as indicated above, has been uncommon in the academy. Marx’s famous reference to European, state-sponsored Christianity as the “opium of the masses,” is usually found de-contextualized. Freud’s The Future of an Illusion typifies the attitude toward religion that dominated critical theory and practice in the twentieth century. Understandably, Freud asserts that “religious ideas have arisen from the same need as have all the other achievements of civilization: from the necessity of defending oneself against the crushingly superior force of nature, & the urge to rectify the shortcomings of civilization which made themselves painfully felt”. While this assessment is sometimes accurate, Freud evinced a curious tension between an apparent desire to see all religion eliminated, and his awareness that such an elimination cannot be forced. He assumes that:
"all religious doctrines are illusions and insusceptible of proof. No one can be compelled to think them true, to believe in them. Some of them are so improbable, so incompatible with everything we have laboriously discovered about the reality of the world, that we may compare them—if we pay proper regard to the psychological difference—to delusions. Of the reality value of most of them we cannot judge; just as they cannot be proved, so they cannot be refuted." For more on this subject go to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion
REASON AND REVELATION
The following article by Nader Saiedi "Antinomies of Reason and the Theology of Revelation: Some Preliminary Thoughts" was published in the Journal of Bahá’í Studies(Vol. 8, No. 4, 1998). Central to Bahá’í philosophy and theology is the doctrine of revelation. Central to theological discourse is understanding the supreme Being. A thesis of Progressive Revelation offers a unique solution to the fundamental antinomies of philosophical discourse in general. Accordingly, Bahá’í theology of revelation should not be understood as an isolated or residual theological, philosophical, or sociological principle. Antinomy (Greek antí, "against, in opposition to," & nómos, "law") literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant and Roberto Unger.
This article tries to demonstrate the general and foundational significance of the concept revelation by applying it to one of the central questions of modern philosophy: the Kantian antinomies of reason. Immanuel Kant's 'antinomies', from his Critique of Pure Reason, are contradictions which he believed follow necessarily from our attempts to conceive the nature of transcendent reality.
Kant thought that certain of his 'antinomies', God and Freedom, could be resolved as "Postulates of Practical Reason". He used them to describe the equally rational-but-contradictory results of applying the universe of pure thought to the categories or criteria involved. Applying reason proper to the universe of sensible perception or experience (phenomena) was achievable. Empirical reason cannot here play the role of establishing rational truths because it goes beyond possible experience and is applied to the sphere of that which transcends it. For more on this subject of Kant and his Antimonies go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%27s_antinomies
According to a Bahá’í perspective, the ultimate meaning and purpose of human life is recognition, love, and worship of God. Bahá’u’lláh explained this point when he wrote: “The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence."(Gleanings, p. 70). However, Bahá’ís rarely use the term theology when describing the principles, philosophy, and teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. It may at first seem that there is a contradiction or inconsistency between the Bahá’í idea that knowledge of God is the purpose of human existence & the reluctance of Baha'is to call their beliefs theological. But there is no inconsistency here. The apparent inconsistency is the key to understanding the uniqueness of Bahá’í theology. For more on this subject go to: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/8.4-Saiedi.pdf
THE CRISIS IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES
At present theological and religious studies have reached a crisis of severe magnitude. Religious faith and praxis continue strong worldwide, and a swelling population of ordinary believers, particularly in Third World nations, defies decades-old expectations of triumphal secularity; religion as a theoretical issue has become ever elusive and murky. At the same time theological conversation has paled into political and ideological wrangles posing as substantive theory; academic research in the area has shattered into a muddle of socio-cultural methodologies with no common thread except a vague interest in res religiosa, or "matters religious."
Although "religious studies" as a field has sought for several generations to ape the nineteenth century Germanic model of Religionswissenschaft, the outcome has been something disturbingly contrary. The nineteenth century concept of "religion" in the grand sense flowered from the assumption that wherever the venerable term occurred, a shared situs for speech could be located, and the "phenomenon" itself mapped and assessed. The "classical theories" of religion, elaborated by such intellectual giants as Weber, Levi-Bruhl, Durkheim, Otto, van der Leeuw, and Robertson-Smith, were launched from this very proposition. The latter day notion of "religious studies," deriving from the merger of liberal Protestant theology and the history of religions, carried this trend further under a rising regime of the empirical social sciences. For more of this essay by Carl Raschke entitled "The Deposition of the Sign: Postmodernism and the Crisis of Religious Studies" in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, winter, 2001 go to: http://www.jcrt.org/archives/03.1/raschke.shtml
THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF RELIGION
The phenomenology of religion concerns the experiential aspect of religion, describing religious phenomena in terms consistent with the orientation of the worshippers. It views religion as being made up of different components, & studies these components across religious traditions in order to gain some understanding of them. The phenomenological approach to the study of religion owes its conceptualization and early development to Pierre Daniël Chantepie de la Saussaye (1848-1920), William Brede Kristensen (1867-1953) and Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950). For more of this overview go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenomenology_of_religion
The Holy Grail in the phenomenology of religion and, to a lesser extent, the sociology of religion, is a definition of religion that actually works. Thusfar, this seems to have been elusive. Classical definitions of religion—substantive (e.g. Tylor) and functionalist (e.g. Durkheim)—fail, in part because they attempt to be in three places at once, as it were: they attempt to distinguish religion from non-religion; they attempt to capture what religions have in common; and they attempt to grasp the “heart”, or “core”, of religion. Consequently, family resemblance definitions of religion replace certainty and precision for its own sake with a more pragmatic and heuristic approach, embracing doubt and putting forward definitions that give us a better understanding (Verstehen) of religion. In this paper, I summarise some “new” definitions of religion that take this approach, before proposing and defending another one, defining religion as non-propositional and “apophatic”, thus accepting that doubt is central to religion itself, as well as to the analysis of religion.
The question of how to define religion has had real significance in a number of court cases round the world, and therefore it does have an impact on people’s lives. In Germany, for example, the courts ruled that Scientology was not a religion, but a business, much to the displeasure of the Church of Scientology (Aldridge 15). In the United States, some advocates of Transcendental Meditation (TM) argued that TM was not a religion and could therefore be taught in public schools without violating the establishment clause in the constitution—the separation of church and state. The courts in New Jersey, and federal courts, ruled against them. They ruled that TM was a religion (Barker 146). There are other cases that I could cite, but the point of this is simply to establish that the question has a practical importance, so we should move on. For more of this paper in the M/C Journal of Media and Culture(Vol. 14, No. 1, 2011) go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/334
Major Works on Religion and Politics by Reinhold Niebuhr, edited by his daughter Elisabeth Sifton(Library of America, 2015, 1000 pages), is the 263rd volume in the Library of America; and it is possible that the single sentence that appears on page 705 is known to more people, and has affected them more deeply, than anything else the library has ever published: "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." This is the original version of what has come to be known in many slight variations as the Serenity Prayer, under which name it can be found in millions of American homes in every medium imaginable—posters, refrigerator magnets, placemats, even tattoos (the Internet offers dozens of examples). Much of this popularity is owed to Alcoholics Anonymous, which adopted Niebuhr’s prayer as an official meditation. For more on this book go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/aug/13/ironic-wisdom-reinhold-niebuhr/
WHO IS POPE FRANCIS?
In The New York Review of Books(19/2/'15) readers will find a commentary on three new books about the current Pope, Francis. The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope by Austen Ivereigh(Henry Holt, 450 pages); A Big Heart Open to God: A Conversation with Pope Francis by Antonio Spadaro, SJ(HarperOne, 150 pages; & Pope Francis: Untying the Knots by Paul Vallely(Bloomsbury, 230 pages) are reviewed by Eamon Duffy. He begins: "On December 22, 2014, Pope Francis delivered the traditional papal Christmas speech to the assembled ranks of the Roman Curia. This annual meeting with the staff of the church’s central administration offers popes the opportunity for a stock-taking “state of the union” address.
In 2005, Pope Francis's predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had used this annual meeting, this occasion, to deliver a momentous analysis of the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” that he believed had distorted understanding of the Second Vatican Council. This distortion occurred as a result of presenting the Second Vatican Council as a revolutionary event; he attributed many of the ills of the modern church of this view of the Second Vatican Council.
The phrase “hermeneutic of rupture” was eagerly seized on by those seeking a “reform of the reform,” and became a weapon in the struggle to roll back some of the most distinctive developments in the church following the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, which had been presided over first by John XXIII & then by Paul VI." For more of this review go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/19/who-is-pope-francis/?insrc=toc For more, an extensive statement, on this Pope go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Francis#Curia I was at university in the years of the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965. I began my study of Catholicism back then and have tried to follow its history and development, its teachings---past and present---in the last half century.
YOGA AND MEDITATION
Since TM was introduced to the west by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, many studies concluded it could change personalities and even the world. Yoga and Mindfulness in prison settings followed, with some very positive claims. Oxford Graduates in Psychology, Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm, examined the research and disclose their findings in the jointly authored book, The Buddha Pill. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/spiritofthings/how-good-is-yoga,-tm-and-mindfulness/7239806 Readers can google these subjects as far as their interests take them.
The Pope (Latin: papa) is a child's word for father). He is the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. The primacy of the Roman bishop is largely derived from his role as the traditional successor to Saint Peter, to whom Jesus gave the keys of Heaven and the powers of "binding and loosing", naming him as the "rock" upon which the church would be built. The current pope is Francis, who was elected on 13 March 2013, succeeding Benedict XVI. For more on the Pope go to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Roman Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop. The word comes from Late Latin encyclicus (from Latin meaning "circular", "in a circle", or "all-round", also part of the origin of the word encyclopedia). Go to this link for more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclical ....A review in The New York Review of Books entitled 'The Pope & the Market' by William D. Nordhaus(8/10/15) examines Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home an encyclical letter by Pope Francis(Vatican Press, 200 pages).
The review begins: "Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment and capitalism, 'Laudato Si’, is an eloquent description of the natural world and its relationship to human societies. An appreciation of its poetic and epic qualities is completely absent from secondhand accounts, most of which are devoted to explaining why the pope got it right (about climate science) or wrong (about climate science). In reading the encyclical, one senses the struggle of an ancient institution, immersed in its doctrine and history, slowly and incompletely adapting to modern science. Most commentaries have focused on the pope’s endorsement of climate science, but my focus here is primarily on the social sciences, particularly economics. My major point is that the encyclical overlooks the central part that markets, particularly market-based environmental policies such as carbon pricing, must play if countries are to make substantial progress in slowing global warming." For more of this review go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/08/pope-and-market/
GOD IS NOT ONE: THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT
Universally, the root of all moral and societal problems, & their eventual redemption, may be problematized as the ‘human predicament’. Generally, the concept of the human predicament operates as a meaningful category of comparison within the phenomenology of religions. In ‘The Human Predicament as Illness: The Medical Model as a Tool for Comparison’, John J. Thatamanil proposes a ‘standard fourfold medical model or therapeutic paradigm’ of the human predicament: (1) diagnosis, (2) etiology (origin or cause), (3) prognosis and (4) therapy. The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, for instance, can be mapped out onto this medical model: ‘All is suffering (diagnosis); (2) Suffering has a cause, namely craving (etiology); (3) Suffering can be brought to cessation (prognosis); (4) The eightfold path is the way to bring an end to suffering (therapy)’. Thus the medical model is a ‘promising tool for comparative religion’ since it allows for commensurable comparisons across traditions. (See: John J. Thatamanil, ‘The Immanent Divine and the Human Predicament’, The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament: An East-West Conversation,(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006).
Buddhism is a nontheistic religion or philosophy that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, commonly known as the Buddha ("the awakened one"). According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent (present-day Nepal and India), sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. For more on Buddhism go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism and to: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/qanda01.htm
Stephen Prothero in his book God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World – and Why Their Differences Matter,(San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2010) adopts a similar illness/cure approach, but reduces the analysis to diagnosis & prognosis. In God Is Not One Prothero argues that the world’s religions each responds to the ‘human predicament’ as that predicament is defined by each religion. Prothero offers this ‘admittedly simplistic’ four-part approach to his illness/cure model of religious offers of salvation, liberation or harmony: ‘Each religion articulates: a problem; a solution to this problem, which also serves as the religious goal; a technique (or techniques) for moving from this problem to this solution; and an exemplar (or exemplars) who chart this path from problem to solution’. This is an excellent answer to the problem of ‘how’ to teach world religions in a public school setting. Here are the problem/solution paradigms that Prothero presents for the eight religions he covers in his book:
(i) Yoruba (West African): The problem is disconnection/the solution is connection with our destinies, to one another, and to sacred power; (ii) Hinduism: The problem is the perpetual cycle of birth, death, rebirth/the solution is liberation; (iii) Buddhism: The problem is suffering/the solution is awakening; (iv) Confucianism: The problem is chaos/the solution is proper social order; (v) Taoism: The problem is lifelessness/the solution is flourishing, to live life to its fullest; (vi) Judaism: The problem is exile/the solution is to return to God; (vii) Christianity: The problem is sin/the solution is salvation; (viii) Islam: The problem is pride/the solution is submission. This approach has much to commend it, although one may differ as to the problem/solution formulas. In a nutshell, one can say that the Irano-Semitic religions (i.e. Zoroastrianism and the ‘Abrahamic religions’, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i Faith) offer types of ‘salvation’, variously defined, while South Asian religions (i.e. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism) offer forms of ‘liberation’, while East Asian religions (i.e. Confucianism and Taoism), along with some indigenous religions (such as the Yoruba tradition referenced above) emphasize the restoration of ‘harmony’ in the cosmic and social order. These promises of salvation, liberation or harmony are offered in direct response to how the human predicament is variously defined in the world’s religious traditions. For more of this excellent overview go to: http://bahai-library.com/buck_unity_social_salvation
The Baha'i concept of progressive revelation goes a long way to reconciling the above differences in each religion. Attorney & independent scholar, Christopher Buck (PhD, JD) has written several books which provide reconciling perspectives. His books include: God & Apple Pie (2015), with an introduction by J. Gordon Melton (Distinguished Professor of American Religious History, Baylor University), Religious Myths & Visions of America (2009, “an original contribution to American studies,” Journal of American History, June 2011), Alain Locke: Faith & Philosophy (2005), Paradise & Paradigm (1999), Symbol and Secret (1995/2004), and Religious Celebrations (co-author, 2011). Buck has also contributed chapters in such books as: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey West: The Course of Human Solidarity (2013), American Writers (2010 & 2004), The Islamic World (2008), & The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an (2006). For his article on Unity go to: http://bahai library.com/pdf/b/buck_unity_social_salvation_presentation.pdf
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BODY WHEN YOU DIE
A body farm is a research facility where decomposition can be studied in a variety of settings. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the decomposition process, permitting the development of techniques for extracting information (such as the timing and circumstances of death) from human remains. Body farm research is particularly forensic anthropology & related disciplines, & has applications in the fields of law enforcement and forensic science. Six such facilities exist in the United States with the research facility operated by Texas State University at Freeman Ranch. It occupies being the largest at seven acres. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_farm
There are many things about decomposing human bodies that forensic experts still don't know. Body farms aim to fill in the gaps. Body farms are large expanses of bush where donated human bodies are buried for the purposes of scientific study. For anyone wanting a 'green' solution for the disposal of their body this is an excellent solution. Australia's first body farm started in 2016 and Professor Shari Forbes is the co-ordinator. She joined Patricia Karvelas in August 2015 in the Drawing Room along with Mohammed Shareef, the Manager of the farm's Body Donation Program. Go to this link for more:http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drawingroom/growing-corpses-for-forensic-science/6654366
Forensic science is the scientific method of gathering and examining information about the past which is then used in a court of law. The word forensic comes from the Latin term forēnsis, meaning "of or before the forum." The history of the term originates from Roman times, during which a criminal charge meant presenting the case before a group of public individuals in the forum. Both the person accused of the crime and the accuser would give speeches based on their sides of the story. The case would be decided in favor of the individual with the best argument and delivery. This origin is the source of the 2 modern usages of the word forensic – as a form of legal evidence & as a category of public presentation. In modern use, the term forensics in the place of forensic science can be considered correct, as the term forensic is effectively a synonym for legal activity, activity related to courts. However, the term is now so closely associated with the scientific field that many dictionaries include the meaning that equates the word forensics with forensic science. For more go to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forensic_science
THE BAHA'I FAITH: TOO DIFFICULT FOR MANY
The very complexity of the spheres of religion and philosophy make acceptance of Baha'i teachings difficult for many. One example is, as follows: The Baha'i Faith teaches that all the great religions are of divine origin, & they differ only in non-essential aspects of their doctrines. If such is the case there should at least be agreement regarding each founder's teachings on God. However, just the opposite appears to be the case: Krishna taught that God is pantheistic; Buddha appears to be agnostic & indifferent to God's existence; Muhammad was monotheistic and intensely so; Jesus taught of a triune God. Either these founders contradict each other making it impossible to discern between a true founder and a false one, or the nature of God is contradictory which is self-defeating and absurd, or the Baha'i Faith is false. To reconcile these various views requires of the seeker to do much study of the various religious faiths and this requires, for many, too much study. It also requires much interest in the subject of the religious beliefs of the historic religions. Many simply do not possess that interest. I could site many examples of the intellectual problems associated with the investigation of the Baha'i Faith, but the above will suffice.
Baha'is consider the Bible to be the Word of God. Yet whenever Christian beliefs, based upon the clear teachings of the Bible, contradict Baha'i teachings, the Bible is “spiritualized” to fit Baha'i doctrine. One of the Baha'i leaders, Abdu'l Baha, taught that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead "…is a spiritual and divine fact, and not material…," even though the Bible is clear for many Christians about it being a physical event (John 2:19-21; 20:20; Luke 24:15; Acts 2:32). If Jesus was resurrected physically from the dead, that would place Him in a position superior to Baha'u'llah, and nullify all Baha'i claims. On what authority, say many literalist Christians, are the co-founders, Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l Baha, able to change the clear teaching of the Bible--other than their claim to have such authority? For more problems that Christians have go to: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aiia/letter-bahai.html
The Presbyterian Church will consider ending its role as an official celebrant of weddings if same-sex marriage becomes legal. Presbyterians will likely celebrate what might be called “religious marriages” but couples would also need to undergo a civil service. Now the Anglicans—who have many of those quaint, historic churches so attractive to couples wishing to marry, even if they’re not churchgoers—are contemplating a similar move. For more go to: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/religionandethicsreport/churches-reconsider-their-marriage-license-if-australia-allows-/6622112 Same-sex marriage, or gay marriage or gender-neutral marriage, is marriage between two people of the same sex. Legal recognition of same-sex marriage or the possibility to perform a same-sex marriage is sometimes referred to as "marriage equality" or "equal marriage" by supporters. The legalization of same-sex marriage is characterized as "redefining marriage" by opponents. Same-sex marriages can be performed in a secular civil ceremony or in a religious setting. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage
BERNARD SHAW AND PAUL RICOEUR
Part 1:THE SUMMONED LIFE
Both Shaw and Ricoeur construe selfhood as a protean work-in-progress that is narrative in nature. For each of them, selfhood is not a fixed, fully realized state of being bestowed upon us from the outset. Rather, it is a fragile condition we gradually build piecemeal by following two intersecting tracks simultaneously: expending energy in the direction of our desires and goals and compiling our life experiences into cohesive stories in which we are the leading characters & primary narrators. The drive toward narrative selfhood is fueled by an irrepressible need to answer a subterranean summons that commissions receptive listeners to exhibit a degree of care & concern toward the neighbor that exceeds the customary requirements of custom & law. At the same time, the summoned self is the self that aspires to constancy, the self that labors to preserve its integrity, the self that strains mightily to keep its ultimate commitments in the face of life's often obstructive vicissitudes.
In the end, should the summoned self persevere intact through its travails, emerging from the fray scathed but uncompromised, it will have maintained what Ricoeur calls, in contradistinction to its idem identity, that is its identity as sameness, its ipse identity, its identity as personhood, or selfhood. The former is associated paradigmatically with character, the settled dispositions & allegiances that enable us to identify and reidentify through the years an individual as the same person. The latter is associated paradigmatically with promise keeping, the long-term maintenance of self in such a way that despite changing circumstances others can count on us to keep our word. Together, these two modalities of permanence in time constitute an identity polarity bounded by limiting cases at either pole: sameness without selfhood and selfhood without sameness. Between the extremes, idem and ipse identity overlap to varying degrees but do not reduce to one another.
The person leading this "summoned life" emphasizes individual agency, and asks, “What should I do?” The person leading the summoned life emphasizes the context, and asks, “What are my circumstances asking me to do?” The person leading such a life starts with a very concrete situation: I’m living in a specific year in a specific place facing specific problems and needs. At this moment in my life, I am confronted with specific job opportunities, specific options, and choices. The important questions are: What are these circumstances summoning me to do? What is needed in this place? What is the most useful social role before me? These are questions answered primarily by sensitive observation and situational awareness, and to some extent calculation and long-range planning.
This view approaches life with a completely different perspective, believing life isn’t a project to be completed; it is an unknowable landscape to be explored. In western culture we have been taught to admire the lone free agent who creates new worlds. But for the person leading the summoned life, the individual is small and the context is large. Life comes to a point not when the individual project is complete but when the self dissolves into a larger purpose and cause. The first vision still has value, but the second vision is becoming more common. But both are useful for a person trying to live a well-considered life.
The self is the subject of one's own experience of phenomena: perception, emotions, thoughts. In phenomenology, it is conceived as what experiences, and there isn't any experiencing without an experiencer, the self. The self is therefore an "immediate given", an intrinsic dimension of the fact of experiencing phenomena. In some other trends of philosophy, the self is instead seen as requiring a reflexive perception of oneself, the individual person, meaning the self in such a view is an object of consciousness. . The self has been studied extensively by philosophers and psychologists and is central to many world religions. With the recent rise in technology, the self has been discussed under various new emerging fields, such as Technoself Studies. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self
Part 3: AN APPROACH TO TEACHING IN THE CLASSROOM
I gradually came to a commitment to the Baha'i Faith. Looking back from the age of 72, I see the development of that commitment as a process over the years from my late childhood to early adulthood. Four years of post-secondary education, from the age of 19 to 23, reinforced this commitment and developed in me an approach to the profession of my choice, teaching, as a vocation, not a job. By the age of 23, I saw the teaching profession as a vocation in the sense of a calling or mandate. This was my approach to teaching over more than 30 years. In the first several years of my work in classrooms, I found the process, the context, very difficult. But, by the age of 28, I had more success, and I actually enjoyed going to work in the morning. By the age of 60, I had retired from all FT, PT and volunteer teaching. There were often difficulties in those 32 years; I did not always enjoy going to work, going into all the classrooms. There were many groups of students and they were not all easy to work with.
Life's crucial questions were discussed, written about, and sometimes answered in the course of a semester-long struggle with the material. What is the meaning of existence? The character of the good life? The nature of truth and falsehood? Right and wrong? Good and evil? I try to introduce some levity into this heady mix; my basic thrust was to practice liberal arts education in the context of pleasure and meaning, duty and obligation, even joy and delight. I did not primarily consider my role to be a conveyor of knowledge but to be a teacher of wisdom or, to put it better, to be a facilitator of students coming into possession of their own wisdom, their own philosophies of existence. How to perform the task of selfhood with an eye to the common good was my guiding concern. Good, clear, lucid information about the subject matter was important, to be sure, but what really counted for me was the ability to distill this information into a compelling format that students could own or disown depending on their reflective engagement with the material. For more on 'teaching' go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teacher
"My predilection for what is hidden, for the mysterious, saved me from the unhappy influence of popular art."-V. Kandinsky. "Behind all these manifestations is the one radiance, which shines through all things. The function of art is to reveal this radiance through the created object."-Joseph Campbell
THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGION IN HISTORY
The development of religion has taken different forms in different cultures. Some religions place an emphasis on belief, while others emphasize practice. Some religions focus on the subjective experience of the religious individual, while others consider the activities of the religious community to be most important. Some religions claim to be universal, believing their laws and cosmology to be binding for everyone, while others are intended to be practiced only by a closely defined or localized group. In many places religion has come to be associated with public institutions such as education, hospitals, the family, government, and political hierarchies. (1) As I say above, when one defines religion as: a set of beliefs and values, attitudes and assumptions, religion is as pervasive as individuals and it exists anywhere people live.
Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to Christianity, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures.
1. While religion is difficult to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who simply called it a "cultural system" (Clifford Geertz, Religion as a Cultural System, 1973). A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." (Talal Asad, The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category, 1982.)
2. Graham Harvey. Indigenous Religions: A Companion. editor: Graham Harvey. London: Cassell, p. 6, 2000.
SCIENCE AND RELIGION
As science has steadily undermined the long-held beliefs of religion, almost all that remains for people of faith is to say that God is and will forever be a mystery. Insofar as Einstein was religious, he possessed a feeling of awe & wonder at the mystery of the universe. But science hasn't stopped chipping away at mystery, promising to reduce spiritual experience to measurable brain activity. It’s doubtful that belief in God, the soul, heaven and hell, and other tenets of faith will be drastically affected - polls continue to show that these things remain articles of belief for around 80-90% of responders.
Will neuroscience eventually be able to locate God in our neurons, & if so, should that tiny area of the brain be excised or boosted? No doubt there are arguments on both sides, depending on whether you hold that God has been good for the human race in the long run or bad. Setting aside such judgements, it turns out that the possibility of finding God in the brain creates a baffling mystery that neither religion nor science can tackle alone.
Now that advanced brain scanning can map the way our brains light up with each thought, word, or action, it's clear that no experience escapes the brain. For a mystic to see God or feel his presence, for St. Paul to be suddenly converted on the road to Damascus, or for St. Teresa of Avila to have her heart pierced by an angelic arrow, such experiences would have to register in their brains. However, this indisputable fact (so far as present knowledge extends) doesn't give science the advantage over religion. For it turns out that the brain has definite limitations on what it can experience. For more of this article by Deepak Chopra, go to: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/chopra/article/The-Mystery-of-God-and-the-Brain-5027132.php
Each of the following three essays was conceived independently and written at an interval of several years from the preceding one. Yet, there is a unity and progression of thought which makes them coalesce naturally into a single publication. The articles are by William S. Hatcher (1935–2005), a mathematician, philosopher, educator & a member of the Bahá'í Faith. He held a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. A specialist in the philosophical alloying of science and religion, for over thirty years he held university positions in North America, Europe, and Russia. For more on this author go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Hatcher
The first of the three articles focuses primarily on the nature of scientific method itself and engages in a fairly detailed, at times technical, analysis of that method. The theme is that scientific method, rightly conceived, is universal in its application and that religion, rightly conceived, must conform to scientific method. In particular, reason and faith are seen as aspects of the same epistemological process rather than being in some fundamental opposition where each is viewed as representing a fixed, well-defined mode of knowing.
The second article explores further the relationship between science and religion, focussing more evenly on religion and its role as well as that of science. It is seen that while science supplies the method by which we examine and understand religious phenomena, religion based on prophetic revelation provides us with the essential experience of spiritual realities. Science can prove God's existence, but only prophetic religion can give man the experience of God for which he hungers. The last article is devoted to scientific method in its relationship to the Bahá’í Faith itself. Indeed, it is seen at the outset that the Bahá’í Faith asserts that it is scientific in its method and that religious truth is not absolute but relative. The rest of the article may be fairly regarded as a protracted explication of how this is so. More attention is given to all aspects of religion—the aesthetic, emotional, cognitive, and social—showing them to be parts of one process. To access these three articles go to: http://william.hatcher.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/science_of_religion.pdf
GOD AND DEEPAK CHOPRA
Deepak Chopra explains that if God is our highest impulse of self-realization, then the future of God depends on how fully we actualize our spiritual potential. I think God has a future, we have a future & they’re all connected. As I’ve said many times, God is our highest instinct to know ourselves. We have questions like why do we exist, what is the meaning of existence, what is the meaning of death? Do we have a soul? And if God exists does he care about us? Because if this God is this infinite void of nothingness that is you know mechanically spewing out the universe you know like a fountain that is gushing water. Who cares if it doesn’t matter to me? Do I have a connection to this source? And I think God has a future if we actually understand what I call the religious experience. That we can know how to transcend, which means to go beyond thought. Because I’ve said no system of thought can give us access to reality. System of thought creates a model and then you are stuck with the model. Scientific model. Theological model. Religious model. Therefore there’s some real insight in that phrase, “Be still and know that I am God.” Because when you’re still then all that’s left is awareness, is existence, all that’s left is being. For a video and talk on this subject go to: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheChopraWell?annotation_id=channel%3Aaea08636-1ef8-2b27-9948-e0cd24a4e&feature=iv&src_vid=ncbwfyDTm6g
RELIGION AND THE NEW AGE
In his introduction to the 1988 collection Not Necessarily the New Age, Robert Basil claimed that although millions of people had experimented with non-traditional spirituality and with alternative therapies, and although hundreds of books had been written on New Age thinking, there was not one “intelligent tour” of the New Age movement and very few skeptical studies (1). Twenty-five years on, those hundreds of New Age books no doubt now number in the thousands, but the sceptical, critical or simply cultural studies of either the New Age or of alternative therapies have not proliferated at the same rate. These words come from Ruth Barcan and Jay Johnston in their "The Haunting: Cultural Studies, Religion and Alternative Therapies," in The Website of the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, Fall, 2005.
There exist (i) a number of sociological studies of the New Age; for example, the works of Heelas, and Hanegraaff, (ii) a few Christian critiques of New Age thought like that of Rhodes, and (iii) a number of academic histories like Sutcliffe's.(2) Alternative therapies have fared rather better than the New Age within the academic literature. Studies of alternative therapies have proliferated within both the medical and social sciences, especially in fields such as medical sociology, nursing, and the medical humanities, where they are examined as sociological, ethical, legal and medical phenomena. As spiritual phenomena, they have received a largely appreciative interest within feminist studies of religion, particularly for the critique of patriarchy implied by the central position of women, as healers and leaders, in some traditions, such as Wicca and modern Spiritualism, including Theosophy. Dixon and Roe are good examples here.
Within feminist studies of religion, the practice of alternative therapies is incorporated into a wider reclamation and recognition of women’s authoritative roles in various past and contemporary religious traditions, especially Goddess Religions (Starhawk; Starhawk and Valentine), and Feminist Spirituality (Christ; Jantzen). There is also a significant, if marginalised, interest within the study of Western Esotericism, in particular with regard to the types of bodies and ontologies proposed by the various traditions understood to constitute the discipline’s corpus.(3) Given both this multi-disciplinary academic attention and the weight of popular interest in these practices worldwide, it is a surprise to realize that there is a relative paucity of studies examining them from a cultural perspective. Cultural studies, in particular, has had very little to say about the New Age/therapy/alternative health cluster. This is part of the much broader exclusion of religion and spirituality from cultural studies analyses.
(1) Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is accorded a history of more than two thousand years, with the Canon of Medicine (also called Classic of Internal Medicine) identified as its earliest medical text. Authorship is attributed to the ancient Emperor Huangdi (Yellow Emperor c2695-2589), but it was a product of numerous anonymous authors (Zhang 2; Liu 2). TCM treatments utilize herbs and drugs, acupuncture, hot compresses, fuming and steaming practices using water, mud and wax as well as physical (including breathing) exercises (Liu 8). Many of these practices developed from folk medicine, which is inclusive of esoteric or magical practices (see Strickmann for a discussion of Taoist Magical Medical practices). In 1986, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China established the State Administrative Bureau of TCM and Pharmacy to oversee the development of TCM and its combination with Western Medicine throughout China (Zhang 22).
(2) Wouter Hanegraaff identifies five categories of literature about the New Age: journalism; Christian analysis and critique; sceptical debunking of the New Age and the paranormal; literature that sees the New Age as an illustration of sociological theories; and literature emanating from the New Age itself. He finds “comparatively few” “serious scholarly studies written from a detached point of view.” (3) For a recent discussion about the definition and constituents of Western Esotericism see Stuckrad. For more on this subject go to:http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/secular/barcan_johnston.htm
THE LONG PILGRIMAGE OF LIFE
In Price's poetic there is none of the wrestling with demons and angels to work out a coherent mythology or concept of God or of God's role in the destiny of man. There was plenty of wrestling with issues thrown up by his bipolar disorder and readers can read his story, what he calls his chaos narrative, in the mental health section of this website. Price also wrestled with the great complexities thrown up by the social sciences, the sciences and the humanities. These disciplines, these fields of knowledge, seemed to be wrestling more and more with an immense complex of issues inspite of or because of the knowledge explosion. But, for the most part, Price found in his religion, the Baha'i Faith, a satisfactory theophany, theology and theophanology. He found an approach to prophecy and the manifestations or great teachers 'from' or 'of' God. He found an interpretation of history and of existence that met the mysteries of life head on and were reconciled with science. Through his religion he found truths which were perennial but not archaic. He was able to maintain his religious sensibility and its mysteries without having to abdicate his use of reason.
Great poetry, indeed great art, exacts belief and Price's belief system aimed to render his imagination as liberal as possible so that he could respond with scrupulous knowledge and clarity of insight to the widest possible range of persuasions. Price's poetry, then, dealt with his relations to God and man and some, only some, of the great questions of existence. There were many issues in which he did not engage. Readers can find the one's with which he did engage in the millions of words he has provided at this 4th edition of his website. He saw himself as a religious artist in the sense of some of the great artists of history, like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, Titian or the builders of the Gothic cathedrals, but only one of the minor players. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 31 March 2002 to 7 June 2011.
To translate this sensibility
and its forms of understanding
to the world I live in requires a
tour de force, an articulateness,
a comprehensiveness, a lighting
of a great theme on several sides
at once in an interdependent mode.
Taking this universal principle, this
explanatory concept, this notion of
commonality, revelation of meaning,
stupendous idea, single purpose-unity
in the apparent variety, religious-moral
reform, recreation--and giving it a wide
perspective can only be done in stages,
parts of a vision in this long pilgrimage
that is our stony life, our life-story, our
life-narrative, life-and-death on this earth.
31 March 2002 to 7 June 2011
The term mythology can refer either to a collection of myths, or to the study of myths. A mythology, in the sense of a collection of myths, is an important feature of many cultures. According to Alan Dundes, a myth is a sacred narrative explaining how the world and humankind assumed their present form, although, in a very broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story. Bruce Lincoln defines myth as "ideology in narrative form". Myths may arise as either truthful depictions or overelaborated accounts of historical events, as allegory for or personification of natural phenomena, or as an explanation of ritual. They are used to convey religious or idealized experience, to establish behavioral models, and to teach.
Modern mythopoeia such as fantasy novels, manga, and urban legend, with many competing artificial mythoi acknowledged as fiction, supports the idea of myth as a modern, not just ancient, social practice. For more of this general overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythology Joseph John Campbell(1904-1987), of the many mythologists I have read, has influenced me more than others. He was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: "Follow your bliss." For more on Campbell go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell
STRANGERS AND FRONTIERS
During middle and late childhood(6-12), and my early and middle adolescence(13-17), Robert Heinlein was working on his book Stranger in a Strange Land. In June 1961 it was finally published. It is arguably the most famous science fiction book ever written, and the first to be a national best-seller. In 1961 I was just in the early years of a reading program that would only end with my death or some physical and/or mental incapacity. It was a reading program which, in the nearly 70 years, 1949-2016, from the age of 5 to 72, would keep me busy with some 40,000 books read and partly read, & some 100,000 articles or essays read or partly read. This, of course, is a guesstimation. But during those years, those seven decades, the field of science fiction was hardly touched. Perhaps that was the main reason my own effort to write a sci-fi book back in the late 1980s was unsuccessful.
Heinlein’s book was a challenge to social mores. While Heinlein was writing his book I became first associated with, and then a member of, a religion which also challenged social mores. Heinlein’s book is also about a utopia that cannot be achieved. The religion I joined in 1959, pioneered for in 1962, and am still a member of as we head through 2016, was often accused of being utopian, unrealistic or, as the critics of Heinlein’s book put it, “outside the bounds of psychological realism.” The 1950s were Heinlein’s first venture into a more highbrow literary landscape. These were also the years of the beginning my lifelong journey on another highbrow literary landscape in many other highbrow genres.
Heinlein had a period from 1939 to 1961 of writing juvenile novels. I had a period from 1961 to 1983 of writing juvenile essays and poems. Heinlein had an obsession with privacy in these years and the topics he wrote about, like a trip to the moon, were often considered surprising if not preposterous. My enthusiasm for privacy came much later, but many of the ideas I hypothesized in my writing were considered unrealistic if not preposterous. These experiences gave me a sense of communion with Heinlein who died in 1988 just as my life as a poet was really beginning after a 25 year hiatus. For both his work and mine there is an extensive self-referentialism; for Heinlein there is an autobiographical, self-parodying element; for me there is self-parody, self-criticism, self-analysis, self-love, person-centred and existential therapy, gestalt therapy and behavioural therapy, among other efforts to heal and endure.
One writer saw Heinlein as a modern pioneer in the Turner tradition. He thought Heinlein would have been comfortable with Turner’s pioneer, frontier, thesis being the pioneer that Heinlein was in so many ways. I have found Turner’s historical pioneering analysis and backdrop to my own experience heuristic.(1) -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History, 1893.
Only a small fraction went pioneering
even then, Frederick.....some thought
your emphasis on the pioneer a little
exaggerated. Still, Frederick, these...
pioneers were then the genesis of the
American dream like mine, like mine...
Yours, like mine, was a spiritual frontier
as was Heinlein’s, although mine only had
a little press during these first years of the
last stage of history as we transformed the
wilderness of our world and slowly made an
entirely different creature: a new race of men
each time we touched a new locality on this
earth: mirabile dictu.(1)
(1) Latin phrase meaning "marvellous to relate."
June 27th 2006
ISLAM CHRISTIANITY AND JUDAISM: A RESURGENCE?
In the 1960s it was widely assumed that politics were becoming divided from religion; indeed, in the West, that they always had been, or at least should have been. It was also widely assumed that, as societies became more industrialised, religious belief and practice would be restricted to private thoughts and actions. The processes of modern industrialism, which sociologist Max Weber had seen as being characterised by depersonalised relationships and increasing bureaucratisation, were leading, if not to the final ‘death of God’, at least to the ‘disenchantment of the world’. The numinous forces that had underpinned the medieval cosmos would be psychologised, subjectivised and demythologised.
Readers might like to do a little Googling on the life and ideas of Max Weber(1864-1920) who was a German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist. His ideas influenced social theory, social research, and the entire discipline of sociology. Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founding creators of sociology. His sociology of religion is worth reading about if readers are interested in the role of religion in modern society.
On the face of it, the 1979 revolution in Iran seriously dented this conventional wisdom of the separation of church and state. Of course, in Islam, church and state were seen very differently than in Christianity and Judaism, during the last dozen centuries. In Iran in 1979 there was a revolt deploying a repertoire of religious symbols that brought down a modernising government and placed political power in the hands of a religious establishment. It was an establishment steeped in medieval theology and jurisprudence. Moreover, this was clearly an urban, not a rural, phenomenon. It was a response, perhaps, to ‘over-rapid’ or ‘uneven’ development, but not in any sense a peasant jacquerie. Some commentators argued that the mix of politics and religion was peculiarly Islamic, or even uniquely Shi‘ite. Unlike Christianity, Islam, it was said, and as I said above, had a built-in political agenda: the Prophet Muhammad had combined the role of state-builder with that of revelator, and all who sought to follow His path must sooner or later be drawn into the political game.
Shi‘ism was a variant on this theme: originally a protest movement against the usurping of Islam’s righteous empire by the worldly Umayyads, it developed into a tradition of radical dissent, one that oscillated over the centuries between quietism and activism, withdrawal and revolt. The Khomeini revolution – like the rise of the Hezbollah in Lebanon – represented the swing of the Shi‘ite pendulum towards activism, after decades of sullen acquiescence in ‘unrighteous government’. For an excellent overview and book review of: An Introduction to Shia Islam, The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism by Moojan Momen go to:http://www.al-islam.org/al-tawhid/general-al-tawhid/book-review-introduction-shia-islam-history-and-doctrines-twelver-shiism
For more of the above review, beyond the first 2 paragraphs, Google these two books: The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World by Gilles Kepel(Polity, 200 pages, 1993) & Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran by Martin Riesebrodt(California, 272 pages, 1993).
UNDERSTANDING RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM
Rather than dismiss acts of religious violence as the work of ignorant or mentally unstable individuals, Dr Steve Clarke, author of The Justification of Religious Violence, argues that another approach is needed; one that takes account of a ‘cosmic war’ between good and evil. How is religion used to justify acts of violence? It is used in much the same way as secular reasoning is, argues Dr Steve Clarke. It is necessary, though, for those seeking to understand the issue that the worldview underpinning religious justifications are taken seriously. To read more on this subject and download the audio, go to the views of Dr Clarke at: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/sundayextra/religious-extremism/6145148
RON PRICE AND RELIGION
Some internet posts of mine and others on the subject of religion at the following links:
THE LINE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
I want to thank Robert Gottlieb for his review "Back from Heaven—The Science Erasing Death" in The New York Review of Books November 6 2014. Gottlieb reviews the follows books: (i) Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death by Sam Parnia with Josh Young(Harper One, 350 pages); (ii) The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist’s Search for the God Experience by Kevin Nelson
(Plume, 325 pages); (iii) Life After Death: The Evidence by Dinesh D’Souza(Regnery, 300 pages); (iv) Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eban Alexander(Simon and Schuster, 225 pages); (v) Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent(W/Thomas Nelson, 200 pages); (vi) Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon—Survival of Bodily Death by Raymond A. Moody Jr., with a preface by Melvin Morse and a foreword by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (HarperOne, 200 pages); and (vii) Embraced by the Light by Betty J. Eadie with Curtis Taylor( Bantam, 200 pages). the review begins as follows:
"The increasing focus of science today on the study of the brain has spilled over into considerations of what exactly may be happening to people who experience out-of-body and near-death experiences. In Erasing Death, a stimulating book published last year, Dr. Sam Parnia recapitulates recent arguments that there may well be a continuation of consciousness after what we conventionally think of as death. He’s one of a number of physicians and scientists who have been reconsidering the mainstream definition of death, concluding that it isn’t the single event of cardiac arrest but is a process. In other words, the heart stops but the brain doesn’t, so that visions, hallucinations, dreams—or NDEs—may take place after we’re officially labeled dead. In other words, these are in fact ADEs: actual death experiences." For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/06/back-heaven-science/?insrc=toc
RELIGION, THE MEDIA AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE
Much has been made of the “return of religion” in the contemporary world, not least in the West, the putative birthplace of modern secularism. Arguably, however, religion has not so much returned as become newly visible in particular ways. As demonstrated by a growing interdisciplinary scholarship on religion, media and modernity, the very cultural shifts, institutions and technologies that were once imagined to augur the withering of religion and the secularization of society have been appropriated, repurposed, and adapted by a wide range of religious actors, movements, and organizations. These engagements have fostered the formation of new public spheres, new uses of public spaces, and new contestations of seemingly settled assumptions about the proper place of religion in the modern world. Central to these transformations, it has been widely noted, is the power of modern media to reposition and redefine the contents of religious discourse and to enable new forms of contact, exchange, and circulation both within and beyond the boundaries of religious communities per se. For more on this complex subject go to:http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/announcement/view/193
WONDERFUL AND THRILLING MOTIONS
I often wonder if writers and thinkers like Moojan Momen eat, sleep and take in various leisure activities like the rest of us. Do they occasionally go to a movie or a restaurant, go fishing or a drive on a Sunday afternoon? In Moojan’s case, does he ever really see his wife, Wendy, even though she is involved in academic work, in publishing, in writing and editing and, presumably, does other things that the rest of us do? I could list Momen’s literary production here or the production of many a writer who has written 15 books, 300 articles in journals or amassed thousands of pages of creative and published writing in his or her lifetime.
These people are a prolific as rabbits and they make you feel that, even if you are a dedicated writer, litterateur, student of language and literature or published academic with one or two intellectual creations from your disciplined but overworked pen under your arm----you have hardly left literary toddlerhood or, to use a baseball metaphor, that you will languish in the minor leagues playing, at best, double-A ball forever, well, at least until your compulsory retirement at the age of 39.
This prose-poem is not dedicated to Moojan Momen, although I can understand someone thinking that having read this far in this ‘oft used poetic form---some say the most frequent of the poetic forms in recent decades---the prose-poem. This prose-poem is dedicated, rather, to the many Baha’is who have written poetry in its many guises. Many of these poet-writers have influenced my own writing since I joined the Baha'i Faith in 1959 and especially in that part of my life devoted to writing, prose and poetry. Many of these literary artists are my contemporaries and many are part of a long history of poet-writers going back to the beginning of the historical journey of this new religion in mid-nineteenth century Iran.
A good deal of the writings of poets who were Baha’is has filtered into my life since my own association with this Faith began due to my mother’s response to an ad in the local paper in Burlington Ontario back in 1953. My mother, too, was a poet-writer and she just may have been the primary literary influence on my life. I will never be sure. -Ron Price with thanks to Moojan Momen, Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne on the Babi and Baha’i Religions, George Ronald, Oxford, 1987, pp.434-481.
My mother could make little things
appear great and great things small
and affect readers’ temperaments
in her early and only poetry written
as a Bahá’í, long ago when I was
in primary and secondary schools.
She was the first in a long list of
influences who came insensibly
into my life, fell off the pages of
books and journals, newsletters
and slender, unobtrusive and
unpretentious volumes sent to me
by friends or purchased at little cost
from book stores which dotted land-
scapes where I happened to live in
the penultimate & last stage of history.
Townshend & poets I would never know
and never meet on the pages of World(1)
Order or at George Ronald had their
great mass of books which have been
churned out since the dawn of that
Kingdom of God on Earth way back
in that spiritual embryo of my life
in 1953 when a most wonderful and
thrilling motion appeared in this world
of existence from that point of light.(2)
White, Fitzgerald, Na’im, a burgeoning
of names on the internet one could never
keep up with unless one only read poetry;
and don’t forget the Central Figures of this
Faith Who were always poetic midwives,
architects of an age yet-to-be-experienced
with Their literary styles, rhythms, sounds
that have been in my head over half a century.
(1) A Baha'i serious and academic monthly journal which began publication in the 1960s.
(2) ‘Abdu’l-Baha in God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.351.
7 June 2007
NEW AGE RELIGION
In the online electronic journal Cultural Studies Review, volume 18, number 2, September 2012, pp. 52–73, Guy Redden has written an article entitled: "The Secret, Cultural Property and the Construction of the Spiritual Commodity." "Some established religions," writes Redden, "seek to sustain their contemporary relevance by embracing marketing strategies, elements of popular culture & consumer lifestyle expectations." There are numerous questions about the nature & extent of such changes, & how they may be indicative of broader societal issues. The rise of market-oriented religiosity has been attributed to the emergence of postwar consumer culture and to other secularising tendencies—such as the social influence of science—that diminish the previous authority of religion and spur religious organisations to recast their appeal.
It is now common for religious practice to be thought of as sharing affinities with secular forms of consumption in offering participants opportunities to pursue personal identity. The commodification of religious goods is less often conceptualised as a production process, Redden's focus in this article is extending from the consumer culture framework to consider how particular resources are shaped into the forms through which they are distributed and consumed in spiritual marketplaces. In the context of its marketisation, the ‘traditional’ status of religion as a shared cultural resource is of key significance. From the producer point of view religion is easy to enter, competitive and ‘virtually devoid of intellectual property rights’. For more read Part 2 below and then go to this link: http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/csrj/article/view/2756/2946
The traditions of religion are largely in the public domain, meaning that there are few barriers to the commodification of pre-existing forms of knowledge and practice. Yet this apparent ease of transfer into the market raises multiple critical issues about ownership, control and the terms upon which the sacred becomes reshaped for sale. In this article Redden is specifically interested in the social relations that may be entailed by commodification. He considers the commercial logic that permeates the most market-oriented of all contemporary religious formations—the New Age. In particular, insofar as it exemplifies tendencies of the broader movement, he examines the case of the best selling book and DVD, The Secret.
Such New Age media are informational commodities that draw upon existing discourses and modify them in particular ways so as to appeal to their target consumers. Rather than simply being a straightforward matter of distribution, selling what was previously transmitted differently, this constitutes a complex process involving the convergence of economic, social, legal and cultural factors. The New Age movement itself is mobilised around the buying & selling of a shared lingua franca & practices that are rationalised in its terms. In ways at odds with conventional understandings of religion, it is characterised by liberal, collaborative relations between providers, the diversity of ideological products available and cultural traditions included within the loose discursive framework, and the elective, multiple affiliations of participants. After tracing how such a spiritual marketplace functions Redden analyses The Secret, showing how it involves typical collaboration between New Age teachers who vary shared themes and construct the appeal of the informational commodity through the self-help language of consumer benefit.
THE SHEER DIVERSITY OF OUR WORLD
The multicultural literature, with its tendency to pigeonhole people by culture, often fails to acknowledge the sheer diversity of this increasingly mixed-up, and for many people, utterly confusing, world. More than ever this booming and buzzing confusion, as one writer puts it, must include the sheer diversity that is found inside each single human being, at the biological level: their skin and bones, their head and heart. “Multiculturalism” has become a term of wholly uncertain and mixed meanings. Does it refer to a social reality? Is it a set of policies? Is it a normative theory? An ideology? In 2011, one of the Council of Europe's working groups, with members from nine European countries, found that the word meant something different, and usually confused, in every country.
Some, though not all, of the policies described as “multiculturalism” over the last quarter century, back to say 1985, have had deeply illiberal consequences. They have allowed the development of “parallel societies” or “subsidized isolation.” Self-appointed community leaders have used public funds to reinforce cultural norms that would be unacceptable in the wider society, especially in relation to women. This has come close to official endorsement of cultural and moral relativism. A perverse effect has been to disempower the voices of the more liberal, secular, and critical minority within such ethnically or culturally defined minorities.
For an informative and stimulating overview of the following five books: (i) Europe’s Angry Muslims: The Revolt of the Second Generation by Robert S. Leiken, (ii) Muslims in Europe: A Report on 11 EU Cities by the Open Society Institute, (iii) The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State’s Role in Minority Integration by Jonathan Laurence, (iv) The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age by Martha C. Nussbaum, and (v) Immigrant Nations by Paul Scheffer---go to this review in The New York Review of Books, November 2012 at:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/nov/22/freedom-diversity-liberal-pentagram/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=November+8+2012&utm_content=November+8+2012+CID