RELIGION

Introduction


DO YOU AGREE WITH DR SMITH?

“It is morally not possible any more," wrote the late Wilfred Cantrell Smith, "to go out into the world and say to devout, intelligent human beings: ‘We are saved, and you are damned’; or, ‘We believe that we know God, and we are right; you believe that you know God and you are totally wrong.’”The late Wilfred Cantwell Smith, professor of religion at Harvard. Wilfred Cantwell(1916-2000) was a Canadian professor of comparative religion who, from 1964-1973, was director of Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions. The Harvard Gazette characterized him as one of the field's most influential figures of the 20th century. In 1962, the year I began my travelling-and-pioneering for the Canadian Baha'i community, Smith published his The Meaning and End of Religion; he notably and controversially questioned the validity of the concept of religion.

I, too, had questioned the concept of religion during my adolescence. I grew-up in a small town in Ontario in the 1940s and 1950s. The trinity of religious groups throughout western civilization at the time was: Catholic, Protestant and Jew. Virtually all of my friends were atheists or agnostics, although 1 or 2 still went to church and took their Christianity seriously. At the age of 15 in 1959 I joined the Baha'i Faith and was the only Baha'i youth in my small town. I have spent my adult life as a student or as an employee in organizations where I was the only Baha'i, and I watched western civilization drift further and further into a society: secular, religiously pluralistic, and much more complex. I studied comparative religion beginning in my late teens as a Baha'i and at university.  I studied the history and beliefs of the world's major religions in comparative religion courses; I studied the meaning and function of religion in sociology courses. For more on religious pluralism go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_pluralism .....For more on Dr Smith go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Cantwell_Smith

RELIGIOUS STUDIES


Religious studies is an interdisciplinary area which incorporates the sociology of religion, the history of religions, the cultural or social anthropology of religion, the geography of religion, the economics of religion, the psychology of religion, and other disciplines and sub-disciplines.  Popular methodologies for its study include: the phenomenology of religion, survey research, ethnography involving participant observation, and various approaches to historiography, that is, historical methods. For a u-tube on the subject of religion go to:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge071m9bGeY&feature=em-subs_digest

RELIGION DEFINED

Part 1:

Religion is a cultural system which establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and moral values. At least that is one way of defining religion. That is what you might call a sociological definition. Many religions have narratives and symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life and to explain the origin of life and the universe. Religions tend to derive their views on: morality, ethics, religious laws and a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature, as well as their ideas about many other topics. For an excellent overview of the subject 'theories of religion' go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theories_of_religion .....For a website with a rich vein of offerings in the field of religion go to:http://religionsnet.com/ This is the site of Dr Mark Foster a professor of sociology at Johnson County Community College in Kansas. He has degrees in sociology, history, journalism, and English.

The word 'religion' is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system. Generally, though, religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect.  At least that is, again, one way of putting it.  From other points of view, religion is a set of values, beliefs & attitudes. In that sense everyone has a religion; everyone has some meaning system, however articulate or inarticulate. Most religions, in the more traditional sense, have organized behaviors, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places--either natural or architectural--and scriptures.

Part 2:

The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, music, initiations, types of funeral services, matrimonial services, meditation, art, dance, forms of public service, and other aspects of human culture. What millions of men and women now want, and need, insofar as religion is concerned, is a specification of the sacred that does not offend their reason, and is socially salutary. We each have to work this conundrum out to our personal satisfaction.

We quite definitely need a cosmology and a psychology, an ethics and an aesthetics, an epistemology and a science of religion. The finer aspects of the arts, sciences, and social relationships need to be defended with moral force.
  At least that is one way that adherents of religions express their convictions and their social activism. Thus, there is a role for an organisation, international in scope & originating in civil society, which preserves salutary impulses within the arts, sciences, and indeed politics in the name of authentic human development and with the force of a religious ethos.

It is possible to live a meaningful life without commiting oneself to a particular religion. Trashy popular culture can still be avoided. One can forever top-up one’s knowledge, free of charge, from publicly available sources, as science indeed advances, and as the many fields in the humanities and social sciences provide insights into the human condition.
  The day can be spent: (i) enjoying the products of tens of thousands of years of high human culture, (ii) maintaining one’s property, (iii) creating edifying products, and (iv) attempting to live an ever more refined and renounced, rich and resourceful, life. One's skill-set can be used to the full. One can call this path “religious” if one wants. In our pluralistic society, one can call this path many things, give it many labels and identities.

WORLD RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW

The world's principal religions and spiritual traditions may be classified into a small number of major groups, although this is by no means a uniform practice. This theory began in the 18th century with the goal of recognizing the relative levels of civility in societies.  In world cultures, there have traditionally been many different groupings of religious belief. In Indian culture, different religious philosophies were traditionally respected as academic differences in pursuit of the same truth. In Islam, the Quran mentions three different categories: Muslims, the People of the Book, and idol worshipers. Initially, Christians had a simple dichotomy of world beliefs: Christian civility versus foreign heresy or barbarity. In the 18th century, "heresy" was clarified to mean Judaism and Islam; along with paganism, this created a fourfold classification which spawned such works as John Toland's Nazarenus, or Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity, which represented the three Abrahamic religions as different "nations" or sects within religion itself, the "true monotheism."

Daniel Defoe described the original definition as follows: "Religion is properly the Worship given to God, but 'tis also applied to the Worship of Idols and false Deities." At the turn of the 19th century, in between 1780 and 1810, the language dramatically changed: instead of "religion" being synonymous with spirituality, authors began using the plural, "religions", to refer to both Christianity & other forms of worship. Therefore, Hannah Adams's early encyclopedia, for example, had its name changed from An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects... to A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations.

The modern meaning of the phrase "world religion", putting non-Christians at the same level as Christians, began with the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. The Parliament spurred the creation of a dozen privately funded lectures with the intent of informing people of the diversity of religious experience: these lectures funded researchers such as William James, D. T. Suzuki, and Alan Watts, who greatly influenced the public conception of world religions. For a comprehensive overview of the subject of 'world religions' go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups

HISTORY OF RELIGION AND IDEAS: A VIDEO

Religion was an ingenious solution to many of mankind's earliest fears and needs. Religion is now implausible to many, but the needs remain. That is the challenge of our times: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge071m9bGeY

MYTHOLOGY

Part 1:

Mythology can refer to the collected myths of a group of people—their body of stories which they tell to explain nature, history, and customs—or to the study of such myths. As a collection of such stories, mythology is a vital feature of every culture. Various origins for myths have been proposed, ranging from personification of nature, personification of natural phenomenato truthful or hyperbolic accounts of historical events, to explanations of existing ritual. Although the term is complicated by its implicit condescension, mythologizing is not just an ancient or primitive practice, as shown by contemporary mythopoeia such as urban legends & the expansive fictional mythoi created by fantasy novels & Japanese manga. A culture's collective mythology helps convey belonging, shared and religious experience, behavioural models, and moral and practical lessons.

As the study of myth, mythology dates back to antiquity. Rationalists in ancient Greece and China devised allegorical interpretations of their traditional stories. Rival classifications of the Greek myths by Euhemerus, Plato's Phaedrus, & Sallustius were developed by the Neoplatonists and revived by Renaissance mythographers. Nineteenth-century comparative mythology reinterpreted myth as a primitive & failed counterpart of science (E. B. Tylor), a "disease of language" (Max Müller), or a misinterpretation of magical ritual (James Frazer). Some recent approaches have rejected a conflict between the value of myth and rational thought, often viewing myths, rather than being merely inaccurate historical accounts, as expressions for understanding general psychological, cultural or societal truths. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythology

Part 2:

The first scholarly theories of myth appeared during the second half of the 19th century. In general, these 19th-century theories framed myth as a failed or obsolete mode of thought, often by interpreting myth as the primitive counterpart of modern science. For example, E. B. Tylor interpreted myth as an attempt at a literal explanation for natural phenomena: unable to conceive of impersonal natural laws, early man tried to explain natural phenomena by attributing souls to inanimate objects, giving rise to animism.  Many 20th-century theories of myth rejected the 19th-century theories' opposition of myth and science. In general, "twentieth-century theories have tended to see myth as almost anything but an outdated counterpart to science. Consequently, moderns are not obliged to abandon myth for science." 

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1873–1961) tried to understand the psychology behind world myths. Jung asserted that all humans share certain innate unconscious psychological forces, which he called archetypes. Jung believed that the similarities between the myths from different cultures reveals the existence of these universal archetypes. for more on Jung go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung  Joseph Campbell(1904-1987) was an American mythologist, writer & lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology & comparative religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: "Follow your bliss." For more go to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

THE HUMANITIES: AN OVERVIEW

The humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture. The humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, and have a significant historical element—as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences. The humanities include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, & the visual & performing arts such as music & theatre. The humanities that are also sometimes regarded as social sciences include: history, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, cultural studies, law and linguistics. For more of this general overview of the humanities go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanities This website has separate sub-sections on several of these humanities and these several religion webpages deal with but one of these humanities. Readers with the interest in one or more of the several humanities subjects that I deal with on my website can access them by clicking-on the subject headings found at the top of this page as well as at the top-right.

PLANETARY CONSCIOUSNESS

“An individual endowed with planetary consciousness recognizes his or her role in the evolutionary process and acts responsibly in light of this perception. Each of us must start with ourselves, to evolve our consciousness to this planetary dimension; only then can we become responsible & effective members of society’s change & transformation. Planetary consciousness is the knowing as well as the feeling of the vital interdependence and essential oneness of humankind and the conscious adoption of the ethics and ethos this entails. Its evolution is the basic imperative of human survival on this planet.”-E. Laszlo. Laszlo(1932-) is a Hungarian philosopher of science, systems theorist, integral theorist, originally a classical pianist. He has published some 75 books and over 400 papers, and is editor of World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution. He advocates what he calls "quantum consciousness". In addition to his many writings, Laszlo has also recorded several piano concertos. Go to this link for more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ervin_L%C3%A1szl%C3%B3

HANS KUNG: ECUMENICAL THEOLOGY


Hans Kung(1928-) is a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and author. Since 1995 he has been President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic. Küng identifies himself as "a Catholic priest in good standing", but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology. In 1979, he had to leave the Catholic faculty, but remained at the University of Tübingen as a professor of ecumenical theology, serving as an emeritus professor since 1996. Although Küng is not officially allowed to teach Catholic theology, neither his bishop nor the Holy See have revoked his priestly faculties. Kung, in referring to the multiplicity of religions in the modern global age, has called for a new paradigm which he calls an "ecumenical theology", a theology that no longer sees in every other theology the opponent, but the partner, and one that is intent not on separation but on understanding. He says it should be a theology that corresponds to the transcultural or universalist aspects of paradigm analysis in theology.--Kung in Theology for the Third Millennium

A WORKING DEFINITION OF RELIGION

Part 1:

A working definition is required in order to provide a framework of understanding for readers here. Theoretical scholars in psychology (Freud, 1961/1928; Otto, 2010/1923), sociology (Durkheim, 2001/1912; Yinger, 1970), theology (Tillich, 1987), and anthropology (Geertz, 1966; Spiro, 1966; Tylor, 1958/1871) have provided a variety of definitions. Each field of study, in creating its own definition of religion, is by nature influenced by the discipline in which the definer, the student and the scholar, studies. Thus each academic area emphasizes the importance of specific aspects of its own definition (Jones, 2006). Those engaging in empirical research, and seeking to define religion, are continually taken with the diversity of replies when individuals are asked to define “religion” (Clark, 1958; Pargament, et al, 1995). In synthesizing the body of literature seeking to define religion, one may only conclude that “religion” has different meanings to different people, whether scholars or everyday citizens.

The myriad potential definitions of religion is perhaps summed up by one of the founders of psychology, William James (1902): "...the very fact that religions are so many and so different from one another is enough to prove that the word 'religion' cannot stand for any single principle or essence, but is rather a collective name" (p. 27). Or, as Rumi eloquently writes, “The lamps are different/ But the light is the same.” We must therefore, as students and scholars, give ourselves the flexibility to work with, redefine and continuously evaluate suggested definitions of this elusive term, particularly as the definitions relate to our own areas of study. For more from this excellent discussion go to: http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Lauricella.pdf 


Part 2:

Rumi(1207-1273) was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Iranians, Turks, Afghans, Tajiks, and other Central Asian Muslims as well as the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy in the past seven centuries. Rumi's importance is considered to transcend national and ethnic borders. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world's languages and transposed into various formats. In 2007, he was described as the "most popular poet in America."

Common – though not exhaustive – elements in the definition of religion include the notion of a deity (James, 1902; Kant, 1976/1788; Schleiermacher, 1963/1830-1831; Tillich, 1987), beliefs that individuals hold (Durkheim, 2001; Livingston, 1989; Tylor, 1958/1871; Yinger, 1970) and the quest for people to find meaning or significance in life (Tillich, 1987; Swidler & Mojzes, 2000). Clearly there are caveats in relation to including any element in the definition of religion. For example, including the notion of a deity in the definition of religion, eliminates Atheism, Agnosticism or Humanism from the set of suitable worldviews; no one definition of religion will please all scholars or religious adherents. Stewart Hoover (2006) agrees that there is no one unequivocal definition of “religion,” though Hoover adopts Geertz’s framework as the working definition of religion in his extensive study on media and religion.

In 1995 Mark Foster, whom I have mention above, a professor of religious studies at a university in Kansas, published his "New Typology of Religious Organization." He developed this new typology of religious organization in the early 1990s, and presented a paper on it at a regional sociological meeting. His objective was to reduce what he regarded as the christocentric bias of the traditional "church-sect-denomination-cult" typology. He also wanted to eliminate the offensiveness of the cult label, a label which, although used by social scientists to mean a variety of things, almost all of them quite specific & neutral, had, unfortunately, become, in popular usage, a pejorative. Each of his descriptions corresponds to what sociologists call "ideal types" following Max Weber. For the details of his model go to:http://bahai-library.com/foster_typology_religious_organization


RELIGION: A PLEDGE, A COMMITMENT

"The declaration of the one who professes is a performative declaration in some way. It pledges like an act of sworn faith, an oath, a testimony, a manifestation, an attestation, or a promise, a commitment. To profess is to make a pledge while committing one’s responsibility. ‘To make profession of’ is to declare out loud what one is, what one believes, what one wants to be, while asking another to take one’s word and believe this declaration."--Jacques Derrida(1930-2004). Derrida is a French philosopher who developed a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction. His work was labeled as post-structuralism and was associated with postmodern philosophy. Readers who want to know the meaning of these terms need to do some Googling, as I say, if they want to grapple with, grasp to some extent this subject.


THEISTIC AND NON-THEISTIC RELIGION

The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like, and just as profound, as those that believers count as religious. They say that though they do not believe in a “personal” god, they nevertheless believe in a “force” in the universe “greater than they are.” They feel an inescapable responsibility to live their lives well, with due respect for the lives of others; they take pride in a life they think that is well-lived; they suffer sometimes inconsolable regret at a life they think, in retrospect, wasted. They find the Grand Canyon not just arresting, but breathtakingly, and eerily wonderful. They are not simply interested in the latest discoveries about the vast universe but enthralled by them. These are not, for them, just a matter of immediate sensuous and otherwise inexplicable response. They express a conviction that the force and wonder they sense is very real, just as real as planets or pain, that moral truth and natural wonder do not simply evoke awe but call for it.

Before he died on February 14 2013, Ronald Dworkin sent to The New York Review of Books a text of his new book, Religion Without God, to be published by Harvard University Press later this year.  The above paragraph is an excerpt from the first chapter. For more of this first chapter of Ronald Dworkin's book go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/04/religion-without-god/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=March+19+2013&utm_content=March+19+2013+CID

SCHOLARS OF RELIGION: MIRCEA ELIADE

There are dozens, indeed, 100s and 1000s, now of religious scholars. Religious studies is the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. For a list of some of the more well-known scholars go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_studies_scholars Mircea Eliade(1907-1986) is, or rather was, one such scholar. He was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day. His theory that "hierophanies form the basis of religion, splitting the human experience of reality into sacred and profane space and time," has proved influential. One of his most influential contributions to religious studies was his theory of Eternal Return which holds that myths and rituals do not simply commemorate hierophanies, but, at least to the minds of the religious, actually participate in them. For more on Eliade go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mircea_Eliade

CULTURAL STUDIES AND RELIGION

The field of cultural studies has emerged over the last few decades, say, 1974 to 2014, to become a primary locus of interdisciplinary ferment in today’s university, at least some universities.  As cultural studies' modes of inquiry circulate across disciplines, there is one circuit that to this day remains notably blocked: namely, that linking cultural and religious studies. To begin to remedy this situation, the following essay aims to convince scholars who study culture that religion is a primary mode of acculturation and that it is incumbent upon scholars to pursue an interdisciplinary dialogue concerning religion.  This has taken place between anthropology and religious studies: the former has been a key discursive source for the latter.  The dialogue, though, between religion departments & other sites of cultural studies is still in its infancy. To pursue this rapprochement, this essay revisits Marx’s views of religion, on the suspicion that his inverse position in the two fields is among the primary reasons for this blockage.

In the field of religious studies Weber & Durkheim have become privileged figures for defining the methods of analysis,  the modes of interpretation with which scholars have approached religious phenomena, and much else. Although a figure of equal stature, Marx is rarely invoked in religious studies, but in cultural studies his work provides a virtually unrivaled orientating perspective. At first glance, this is as it should be: it would be difficult, and some might even say unfair, to approach Marx as a scholar of religion because, unlike these others, Marx’s understanding of modern commerce & politics largely determined his conception of religion. As a result, Marx’s interest focused primarily on the way that religious practices and idioms influence the perception – or, the misperception – of politico-economic phenomena. This has contributed to the received idea that Marx redescribed the former as mere effects of the latter.(1) Perhaps because Marx is thought to have committed the sin of reductionism,(2) many scholars studying religions reject a Marxist framework in favor of a Weberian or Durkheimian one.
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(1) The problem scholars of religion have had with the determination of religion by politico-economic phenomena is a sense that any explicit relation had to be mechanical, one-way, & thus formulaic. Of course, such a view of determination was decisively complicated by Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, with generations of scholars such as Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Fredric Jameson, and Lawrence Grossberg exploring the complicated relationships between cultural spheres and the various modes of late capitalism. Since a fear of determinism now serves only to isolate the field of religious studies from related fields such as anthropology and cultural studies, the goals of this essay are, first, that scholars of religion will move beyond the cliches of determinism that make Marx taboo, and, second, that scholars of culture will begin to take religions seriously as primary modes of acculturation and storehouses of polyvalent cultural capital.

(2) Reductionism is the term that arose in religious studies to describe the position that religions have no content or phenomena that one cannot better describe in terms of socio-cultural or politico-economic phenomena. In some variants, reductionism designates the mechanical determination of religious by extra-religious phenomena commonly seen in “vulgar marxist” and ideological critiques. For more of this essay go to: http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/secular/roberts.htm

THE SACRED LANDSCAPE


In the September 2012 issue of the Cultural Studies Review, Roland Boer reviewed Lyn McCredden’s book Luminous Moments:The Contemporary Sacred, ATF Press, Adelaide, 2010. For some time now, Lyn McCredden has been one of the leading cultural critics in Australia emphasising the crucial role of religion—or the sacred, as she prefers to call it—in the cultural landscape. This book is a welcome addition to her work in this area. It offers a collection of analyses on how the sacred is manifested outside its expected and traditional forms: in poets who are not overtly religious, whose poetry adheres to older, transcendental models of signification, but who have gone along with the poststructural & postmodern loosening of such ties, diving into the various streams of linguistic scepticism; in musicians whose relation to sacredness is carnal, ambivalent & unexpected;  in novelists who either trouble conventional religious categories, or speak of a scrappy, earthed sacred; and in moments of everyday encounter with the popular.

Before commenting on those various studies, Boer raises the question as to what McCredden means by the ‘sacred’, especially a ‘perverse sacred’. She writes, ‘The argument of this book is that what is needed now, globally, is a spirit and an approach which apprehends sacredness as alive in multiple ways, beyond the power and constrictions of institutional religion’.   McCredden is interested  in ‘the less systematic, often more spontaneous or ephemeral manifestations of the sacred that arise—are created, drawn upon, dreamed up—in popular and artistic cultures’. It is in the eye of beholders, of receivers, and of unbelievers where many people's deepest fears, dreams, hopes, doubts, longings, and joys are brought into relief, either individually or communally.  I would add that this book also brings out the very carnal, earthy, and fleshed nature of the sacred she seeks, laced with a persistent and healthy engagement with Indigenous concerns. For more go to:  http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/csrj/article/view/2771/2961


FOR MORE ON RONALD DWORKIN

As I pointed out above in the brief discussion of 'religion without God' by Ronald Dworkin: "the familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like & just as profound as those that believers count as religious. They say that though they do not believe in a “personal” god, they nevertheless believe in a “force” in the universe “greater than we are.”  Ronald Myles Dworkin(1931- 2013) was an American philosopher and scholar of constitutional law. He was also the Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law & Philosophy at New York University, & Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London. He taught previously at Yale Law School and the University of Oxford. An influential contributor to both philosophy of law and political philosophy, Dworkin received the 2007 Holberg International Memorial Prize in the Humanities for "his pioneering scholarly work" of "worldwide impact." According to a survey in The Journal of Legal Studies, Dworkin was the second most-cited American legal scholar of the twentieth century. Go to this link for more on Dworkin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Dworkin

RELIGION AND THE INTERNET


In issue 7 of Cybersociology, 1999, just as I was retiring from a 50 year student-and-working life, Erik Davis wrote "Religion Online & Techno-Spiritualism: The Spiritual Cyborg. Erik Davis is a San Franciso-based writer, culture critic, & independent scholar who recently published TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Harmony Books, 1998). The book is undoubtedly one of the very best analyses of how spirituality and technology intertwine, not only in the past, but in the present as well. Unlike David Noble's neomarxist oriented The Religion of Technology, which covers the link between technology and the Christian religion from a rather hostile viewpoint, Erik Davis covers all traditions. He covers them with knowledge and empathy.

Ranging from the printing press to the telegraph, from radio to the Internet, TechGnosis peels away the utilitarian shell of technology to reveal the mystical and millennialist expectations that permeate the history of technology, and especially information technology. The book shows how the religious imagination, far from disappearing in our supposedly secular age, continues to feed the utopian dreams, apocalyptic visions, digital phantasms, and alien obsessions that populate today's "technological unconscious." In turn, TechGnosis also shows how the language and ideas of the information society have slipped into and even transformed the myriad worlds of contemporary spirituality. In the end, the book gestures towards a networked framework for grappling with some of the impulses that are currently tearing us apart: spirit and the machine, modernity and nihlism, technology and the human. For more on technology, the Internet and spirituality go to: http://www.cybersociology.com/issue_7_religion_online_technospiritualism/index.html and to: http://www.cybersociology.com/files/7_erikdavis_html.html

RELIGION AND FILM

Anton Karl Kozlovic is a Research Associate in Screen Studies, School of Humanities, Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. He is interested in the areas of religion-&-film, interreligious dialogue, Cecil B. DeMille studies, computer films, popular culture, applied cinema & the New Age. He has provided a taxonomic survey of Judeo-Christian sacred servants; for example: priests, nuns, ministers, inter alter. That survey covered 8 thematic categories of the mundane-holy. Kozlovic uses spiritually-based humanist film criticism as the analytical lens. He revisits  critical religion-and-film literature, and he scans popular cinema to reveal an additional eleven thematic categories. These were documented and described. Copious film examples with associated character, actor, director and release date details were also included. It was concluded that the field of sacred servants is a relatively neglected area of contemporary screen culture, but one that is illuminating, complex and increasingly vital to our understanding of institutional religion today. Further research into the exciting religious sub-genre of the mundane holy and the emerging field of religion-and-film was recommended.


British biblical scholar William Telford pursued a doctoral programme at Cambridge from 1972-77) in the field of New Testament studies. A subsequent period as Research Fellow and Tutor in Biblical Studies at Mansfield College, Oxford (1977-79) allowed him to prepare his doctoral dissertation for publication as "The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree: A Redaction-Critical Analysis of the Cursing of the Fig-tree Pericope in Mark's Gospel and its Relation to the Cleansing of the Temple Tradition." (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series, 1980).  Telford sought to identify popular feature films that were of interest from a religious, biblical and theological point of view. Surprisingly, though, he missed the category of sacred servant films. That is, cinematic representations of the mundane holy such as: priests, nuns, rabbis, saints, pastors, ministers, monks, reverends, preachers, imams, gurus, spiritual leaders, shamans, witch doctors, Zaddik, holy men, inter alter. These earthly sacred persons, as opposed to the heavenly Holy like: God, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, angels---are the professional religious class within society who derive their social status and/or livelihood from their religious vocation & other sacred service duties: liturgical, missionary, pastoral or educational.  From the faith's perspective, they are the worldly arms of the Divine's holy organisation that are sacred and simultaneously common, everyday and ordinary, that is, the mundane holy. These servants relate directly to the world as sacred functionaries, usually as intermediaries between humanity and heaven, or as ritual experts, or as proclaimers and teachers of the faith's beliefs, values and aspirations. For more on this topic go to:http://www.mundanebehavior.org/index2.htm

THE SECULAR AND THE SACRED

Part 1:

In the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 7, Fall 2005, Christopher J. Roberts reexamines Marx’s thinking on religion and emerges with what may be to many a startling discovery: when Marx refers to religion as “the opium of the masses,” his tone is closer to empathy than to exposé. Reading Marx through the sociologists Durkheim and Weber, he demonstrates that religion must be considered not only as part of society’s superstructure, but also as part of the base. Roberts makes the point that, in fact, we must recognize “religion serving not only as a solace, but also as a catalyst.” Ultimately, echoing Zizek’s thoughts on how ideology is at its most powerful when it offers us freedom from ideology, Roberts concludes that “we are never more beset by a fixed, inflexible, and unconscious narrative than when we insist that we are finished with or beyond religion.”

This same issue of the Iowa Journal of Cultural studies contains several broad theorizations of the religious and the secular. Roland Boer is particularly interested in the shift he observes in his students from identifying themselves as “religious” to calling themselves “spiritual.” Working with Bloch, Benjamin, Adorno, and others to connect religion with utopia and “the discernment of myth,” he explains how secularization “never quite seemed to succeed” because its “rejection of Christianity relies on Christianity.” Carol Wayne White critiques the assumptions of both “theological” or confessional approaches & Enlightenment-driven, purportedly objective approaches to religious studies. In seeking an alternative that builds especially on the recent work of Russell McCutcheon, she acknowledges “the inevitable processes of open-ended textuality,” but also stresses that “just as we should not participate in naïvely essentialist notions of selfhood, we must be careful not to construct an insufficient subjectivity, where historical agents are ‘erased’ by linguistic forces over which they can have little or no control.”

Part 2:

Other articles in the same issue suggest how attention to the religious and the secular can elucidate close readings of popular culture. Ruth Barcan and Jay Johnston provide a compelling argument for cultural study of alternative therapies, suggesting that this has not occurred because of the subject’s link to questions of religion and spirituality; in fact, “religious and spiritual traditions furnish alternative healing practices with the core ontological characteristics that define the forms of subjectivity that are foundational to their specific healing practices.”

Employing a modified Foucauldian approach, they give particular attention to acupuncture and herbalism, linking the former to Taoism and the latter to the Western Esoteric Tradition. Likewise, Jean Lauer reads the recent Mexican films Santitos and The Crime of Padre Amaro as case studies of the way contemporary relationships between women and their priest-confessors continue to reflect the Catholic Inquisition’s influence on colonial Mexico. Building on archival work on the nation’s history, she asks how the two films’ main characters upset mother and prostitute stereotypes. Even more compellingly, she considers why the films present the women in such a setting, “within the purview of the Church, but in defiance of ‘the rules’ established by the Church and by society.” For more on this subject go to: http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/secular/secular_intro.htm

SOME GENERALITIES

The development of religion has taken different forms in different cultures and sub-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 been associated with public institutions such as: education and health care, the family and government, as well as political hierarchies. Readers are advised to google the subject, if they are interested, for extensive commentaries on the subject, of which the above is but a brief introduction. For an open-ended and, for me, a useful beginning go to the following link:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/jun/26/holy-restlessness/


APOCALYPSE: VIDEO

Go to this video for an interesting 'time-of-the-end' story. Recently this video was terminated, but enthusiasts may be able to access it with some effort in cyberspace:http://www.shtyle.fm/vpost.do?id=351692217&_auth2_=14055958-246BE1A452A5ABD663C7A07597801F14&_emltg_=34

MY STUDY OF RELIGION: An Overview-Part 1

I am far from being an expert in the field of religion.  If one defines expertise by the extent of academic, formal institutionalized study of religion, I am only one of the 'many are called', so to speak. I took several courses in religion in my 18 years of academic life. The first was in comparative religion in my second year at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario in 1964-5.  I had grown up with parents who took a serious interest in religion, and I had become a Baha’i at the age of 15 in 1959 after half-a-dozen years of various forms of contact with Baha’is in my home, in the homes of others and at other kinds of settings for meetings. Religious affiliation slowly became then, as it is now, an important part in my life. 

It was not until the years 1983 to 1988, the years in my early 40s, that the kind of resources now found in the files in my study here in George Town Tasmania on the subject of religion began to be collected. These print resources, which I began to collect more than 30 years ago, formed the initial direction to the collection of resources I now possess. The content of what is now found here in my study on the subject of religion is found in some 5 arch-lever files, and 1 two-ring binder.  These files contain several, indeed, many specialist areas for study, areas which only a survey of the table of contents would reveal, and I do not place that table of contents here. Religion is only one of many of my major areas of scholarly interest as I head into my 70s in July 2014.

Part 1.1:

In 1984 I began, in my final year of formal education, my 18th year of study aimed at some qualification, a Graduate Diploma in Religious Education.  The Grad. Dip in Multicultural Education which I had started in 1983 remained only partly completed.  I wrote a M.A.(Qual) Thesis on the Baha’i Faith in 1987-8 in a program at the University of Queensland. I worked on a thesis while I was enrolled from 1986 to 1988.  The remaining notes from these programs I have kept in my files.  In mid-2003 I opened a file on 'The Judaeo-Christian Tradition' with the view to consolidating some of the material on religion into a specialized section of my study here in northern Tasmania.  Also gathered in these several files on religion are notes on the sociology and anthropology of religion. These were added in 2001 when I began consolidating my notes on religion, and when I began to set-up the general filing system as it now exists more than a dozen years later. 

I added a 4th file on: (1) journals of religion and (2) the philosophy of religion. Some of this 4th file is kept in the religion section, and some is kept with several arch-lever files and two-ring binders devoted to the study of the Baha'i Writings, and the Baha’i Faith and the Arts. This recent development, this significant increase in the number of hard-copy files, is due to the specialized focus on Baha'i topics and the increasing number of specialized articles that were coming on line in this new millennium. By 2014, the internet was awash with literature on religion and dozens of websites where one could engage in discussing the multitude of complex issues associated with this interdisciplinary field.

Part 2

The only other 'religion' notes, not in the section of my files specifically related to religion as a discipline of study, are those in the 'philosophy of religion' and 'Greek and Roman religion' which I keep in their respective philosophy and ancient history sections of my study.  Inevitably, given the increasingly inter-disciplinary nature of so much of the social sciences and humanities, there is much resource material on religion that is not located in my special religion files.   There is much that is now found in some of the many other subject files in this study. I say all this to emphasize to readers, especially those who are relatively new to its study, and new to my website, that the academic field of religion is now a labyrinth with paths going just about anywhere you wish to take them.

It has been more than 30 years, as I say, since I began to gather these notes: 1983-2014. From 1963 to 1983 I also had gathered many notes, but whatever I had by 1983 from those two decades of in-gathering, became the basis for a more organized, a more formal collection of resources in the more than three decades from 1983 to 2014.   Much, indeed most, of what is now in my files on religion was added after I retired from FT teaching in 1999, PT teaching in 2003, and most volunteer-casual work by 2005.  A base now exists for my formal and personal study of religion, although it is only one of the many fields that have come to occupy my interest in this last decade(70 to 80) of late adulthood, the years from 60 to 80 according to some human development psychologists. 

It will be obvious, to anyone who spends more than a little time at my website, that I have become even more of the academic generalist in these my retirement years, 2006 to 2014, than I have always been.  I have always left specialized expertise to others, and this remains the case now in the evening of my life as I head through my 70s from 2014 to 2014, & old-age(80+), if I last that long.  In the long years(1964-2014) since my adolescence, since those teen-age years from 1957 to 1963, I have drawn on specialists who are qualified in the various fields of knowledge. I draw on their expertise in the many sub-disciplines of this complex field as well as many other complex fields.

Part 2.1:

Much of the world still believes in a God and practices religion.  Many western intellectuals and public commentators today, though, are ill-at-ease with the idea of revealed faith in any form & especially the form of the Abrahamic religions.  Public discussion of the subject lurches uncomfortably between an overconfident denial which says: “God” does not exist, to a blind cultural allegiance & fundamentalism. My study deals with this reality and many other aspects of religion.  Albert Einstein said that, though he was an atheist, he was a deeply religious man: "To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men."

Percy Bysshe Shelley declared himself an atheist who nevertheless felt that “The awful shadow of some unseen Power/Floats though unseen among us….” Philosophers, historians, and sociologists of religion have insisted on an account of religious experience that finds a place for religious atheism. William James said that one of the two essentials of religion is a sense of fundamentality: that there are “things in the universe,” as he put it, “that throw the last stone.” Theists have a god for that role, but an atheist can think that the importance of living well throws the last stone, that there is nothing more basic on which that responsibility rests or needs to rest. For more on the collapse of the divide between believers and non -believers go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/04/religion-without-god/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=March+19+2013&utm_content

I advise readers here to go to the major sub-sections of religion at my website here if they are interested in my ideas. The controversial, and often dismissed, aspects of religion, especially in highly secularized countries like Australia and much of the European Union, are found at this site as I deal with much modern and historical thought.  I am happy with my religion, the Baha'i Faith, but I have been searching for a more informed and relevant expression of it both to myself and to my contemporaries all my life.  Such an expression is part and parcel of my study and my writing.


Ron Price
20/4/'08 to 23/6/'14.

TEILHARD DE CHARDIN, PROGRESSIVE THOUGHT AND THE BAHA'I FAITH

Part 1:

The following paper attempts to show how close the progressive thinking of our days is to the Faith we profess, how deeply the Bahá’í principles have penetrated modern thought and how much they direct human civilization towards the goal of increasing humanness, in spite of the apparent breakdown of modern societies. Teilhard knew that Christ must be reborn, that a new religion must unfold and he described what he saw in his studies of the phenomenon of man. Not knowing about the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh he stretched the Christian message as far as possibly in the direction of the new worldview he had gained from science.

According to the Bahá’í principle of the unity of all religions of God, the only concept he could not understand was the issue of the return of Christ and the return of all Manifestations. One could employ the modern colloquialism that on this point he could not think “outside of the box” of Christian tradition but, by Unity and Progressive Revelation giving Christ the epithet of “cosmic” and “universal,” he came as close as possible to the concept of Divine Manifestation, trying to fit Christian tradition into his new concept of the “God of evolution.”

Part 2:

This process has not ended with the death of Teilhard and the publication of his work in 1955. Some of the New Age writers have tried to continue in Teilhard’s view, but have not been able to really comprehend the message of this writer, due to their lack of historical understanding. This was clearly pointed out by Ken Wilber, who himself continued and expanded the new view of Teilhard and others into a impressive opus, that has been translated into more than 20 languages and has found followers in different lands, especially in Japan and Germany. Bahá’í theology is in its beginning stages and will develop together and in dialogue with today’s philosophy. It is this author’s conviction that in spite of Teilhard’s Catholic background & Wilber’s Buddhist influence, both authors, if understood in the Bahá’í context, will contribute to the development of a Bahá’í theology,  thus promoting the Unity of all Religions of God as proclaimed in the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. For the entire paper from which these are the closing paragraphs go to:http://irfancolloquia.org/pdf/lights5_klebel.pdf

A NEW PARADIGM

I want to thank Dr Mark Foster, a professor of sociology at Johnson County Community College in Kansas City Missouri for most of the material in the following section. Readers can go to this link to read his full text:http://www.bahaistudies.net/asma/cosmicunitycontent.html

Section 1:

Many of the fundamental premises of modern Western civilization have, Foster feels, been misguided. Divisions, of all kinds, between people, between science, or human investigation, and religion, and between women and men will in the decades and centuries to come be healed. In the end, the Bāběl (Hebrew for Gate of the Almighty God) of disunity will be replaced by the heavenly language of unity with beings on this planet and, possibly over time, from other planets, moons, and star systems in God’s wonderful universe. I'm not as sure as Foster is about these interventions from other planets; possibly it will occur in the far-off future, but not in the short term to be of much value to our generations.

The dominant paradigm or worldview, the dominant epistemology or rules of knowing that we use in our world are one & all---materialistic. They divide us into an us versus them dichotomy. They separate and alienate us from our shared planetary life-story. In my opinion, says Foster, that old and irrelevant paradigm must, over time and as a result of many crisis, give way to a new paradigm. He calls his new paradigm The Unicentric Paradigm. This new paradimg focuses on unity and harmony with all beings and things from the past, present, and future. The writings of many thinkers contributing to this new paradigm, this new paradigm for the inevitable and evolving world order, will become part of the articulation of this new order.  I find this line of thinking attractive because I have no desire to remain entrenched in the paradigm politics of the old, a politics which has become an outworn shibboleth, an anachronism, in my mind's eye for decades, virtually all of my adult life.

The transition from this old paradigm, a paradigm in crisis, to a new one ... is far from a cumulative process, one achieved by an articulation or extension of the old paradigm. Rather it is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals. During the transition period there will be a large but never complete overlap between the problems that can be solved by the old and by the new paradigm. This transition has already begun.

Section 2:

The above words, at least in the last paragraph, come from Thomas S. Kuhn's book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Second Edition. This enlarged edition of the 1962 first edition was published in Chicago by the University of Chicago Press. 1970. The quotations come from pages 84 and 85. In addition, as a sociologist, Foster specializes in religious studies, social theory, and clinical sociology. His work on this new paradigm is also an application, through speculative sociology, of his Structurization Theory which he calls a critical realist perspective on social life and its ontology, its view of reality.  In tis Unicentric Paradigm, as in his other recent writings, Foster is applying his human science research methodology, a methodology he calls his Heartfulness Inquiry. Following certain inner experiences he has had in recent years, he developed his method in 2010.  For detailed information on any of these subjects, readers can click on the relevant links at:http://www.bahaistudies.net/asma/cosmicunitycontent.html

Critical realism is a philosophy of the left in so far as it favours more inclusive totalities. What it is doing is isolating absences that include social inequities and imbalances that exist in social life, and it is this that powers the system.  Foster draws on Roy Bhaskar and Mervyn Hartwig in their book The Formation of Critical Realism: A Personal Perspective(New York,Routledge. 2010, p.205).  Foster says he has a heuristic or rule of thumb when applying his Heartfulness Inquiry, namley, to continuously question the decaying paradigms and politics of the day. Part of that rule of thumb is to question his own questioning. Loyalty to paradigms, and to their mortal leaders and followers, points to the highly political fallacy of appealing to authority, not to rational evidence. Foster is quite candid about his desire to better understand and obey the wishes of the Universal House of Justice, including that blessed Supreme Body’s letter to him which reads, in part, as follows:

Section 3:

With regard to the harmony of science and religion, the Writings of the Central Figures and the commentaries of the Guardian make abundantly clear that the task of humanity, including the Baháʾí community that serves as the “leaven” within it, is to create a global civilization which embodies both the spiritual and material dimensions of existence. The nature and scope of such a civilization are still beyond anything the present generation can conceive. The prosecution of this vast enterprise will depend on a progressive interaction between the truths and principles of religion and the discoveries and insights of scientific inquiry. This entails living with ambiguities as a natural and inescapable feature of the process of exploring reality. It also requires us not to limit science to any particular school of thought or methodological approach postulated in the course of its development. The challenge facing Baháʾí thinkers is to provide responsible leadership in this endeavour, since it is they who have both the priceless insights of the Revelation and the advantages conferred by scientific investigation.--From a letter, dated May 17, 1995, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Mark A. Foster.


For more of Dr Foster's talks go to:http://www.youtube.com/user/newcriticaltheorist


MORE ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION

Part 1:

Stanley Fish's account of Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s new book, Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion, provoked a response from Professor Smith at the website Opinionator 25/1/'10.  Smith begins: "In Stanley Fish's column he highlighted and discussed a particular line of argument in my book Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion. In a passage that especially interested him, I remark that even though scientific and religious teachings may be contradictory on some counts, a conflict between science and religion need not exist in the ongoing lives and experiences of individuals. For neither logic nor rationality requires that all our ideas, impulses, affections, and acts be mutually aligned all the time."

"It is not surprising then," Smith continues, "that, for many evidently rational and well-functioning people (for example, scientists and science teachers, doctors and engineers), accepting, applying, or producing scientific knowledge and being religiously observant are no more in conflict than would be practicing law and playing the violin. Rather, I conclude, these are “two different kinds of things that one may do and/or be: activities performed, identities played out, and experiences sustained in different contexts, each involving different cognitive and bodily configurations, corresponding to different capacities and desires, and offering different forms of satisfaction.” Neither logic nor rationality requires that all our ideas, impulses, affections, and acts be mutually aligned all the time."

Part 2:

Fish’s report of that argument in his column and his remarks on related observations elsewhere in the book elicited a large number of readers’ comments. Many comments offer views of science and religious belief that closely parallel those I develop in “Natural Reflections.” A good number consist of off-to-the-races polemics on science and religion having little to do with either the book or column. Others object to my presumed views based on inappropriate surmise. I am grateful for the chance to respond to some of these comments and also to correct a couple of inadvertent errors in Fish’s column. For Smith's full response go to:http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/25/science-and-religion-lives-and-rocks/?_r=0



THE CITY OF GOD AND THE GLOBAL CITY


Part 1:

Saint Augustine(354-430)
was a Latin philosopher and theologian from the African Province of the Roman Empire.  He is generally considered as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time. He made what has come to be seen as his famous distinction between the City of God and the City of Man. This distinction has been re-worked in many ways by modern thinkers and politicians, philosophers and religious people who think that we are now caught up in a global struggle between good and evil.  They suppose that this transcendent struggle is immanent in everyday life. Nor is such thinking confined to the religiously minded. Since the eighteenth century, the great secular ideologists of modernity: liberal and socialist, progressive and conservative, anarchist and statist, humanist and post-humanist---have all posed the most urgent problems within this Augustinian frame. They tell us that there is an immanent, widely suppressed, but potentially transcendent "good," faced with an omnipresent evil that can somehow be overcome or contained by those who commit themselves to the struggle against it.

Apocalyptic in tone, universalistic in aspiration, reductionist in analysis, often violent in practice, this onto-theological politics gathers us all in from time to time. Those reared in the monotheistic cultures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam may be particularly vulnerable to the appeal of such a politics, but there are many signs that people from other cultural backgrounds feel the pull of it as well.  In this context, it is particularly important to explore other ways of thinking, which are not so apocalyptic, universalistic, reductionist, or violent. There is no easy way of escaping Augustine's clutches, but his grip can be loosened. Go to this link for more:
http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=520

Part 2:

My first contact with the ideas of St Augustine were in my first year of university, 1963-4, in a general arts degree program at McMaster university in Hamilton Ontario.  That first year arts course had five subjects, one of which was entitled: 'Philosophy and Religion 1a6'.  I had three professors for that one subject, that year. The only one whose name I remember was Dr George Grant. George Parkin Grant(1918-1988) was a Canadian philosopher, professor, and political commentator, whose popular appeal peaked in the late 1960s and 1970s. He is best known for his nationalism, political conservatism, and his views on technology, pacifism, Christian faith, and abortion. He is credited as one of Canada's most original thinkers.

Grant introduced me to St Augustine's famous work The City of God. That book was one of the many that made me feel simply overwhelmed, indeed oppressed, for the first two months of my first year.  Five subjects with more reading than I could ever deal with in the same ways I had done so at high school. By the end of the first term, in December 1963, I had worked-out a modus operandi for my academic surivival.  De Civitate Dei (full title: De Civitate Dei contra Paganos, translated in English as The City of God Against the Pagans) or The City of God is a book of Christian philosophy written in Latin by Augustine of Hippo in the early 5th century AD.  It is one of Augustine's major works, standing alongside The Confessions, The Enchiridion, On Christian Doctrine, and On the Trinity. Augustine is considered the most influential Father of the Church in Western Christianity, and The City of God profoundly shaped Western civilization. For more on this subject go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_God_%28book%29  For more on Grant go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Grant_%28philosopher%29

"If the Psalm prays, do you too pray; if it laments, do you lament; if it rejoice, rejoice with it; if it hopes, express your hope too; if it fears, do you also fear; for all things written herein serve to mirror ourselves". This quoation is from "The Fourth discourse on Psalm 30," St. Augustine on the Psalms, trans. S. Hebgin and F. Corrigan, Newman Press, New York, 1961, v. 2, p. 44. Translations from The Confessions are based on the Loeb, William Watts, for the most part. An earlier version of the paper at the following link was given at the XI International Conference for Patristic Studies, Oxford, 1991. The paper appeared in the online journal Animus: the Canadian Journal of Philosophy and Humanities in Vol 1, 1996.  Its title was: "Time As A Psalm In St. Augustine" by A.M. Johnston. Johnston is the Walter Cerf Professor of Philosophy at Princeton. For the full text go to:
 http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%201/johnston.pdf

ALIEN ABDUCTIONS, SPIRITS AND SOULS, GHOSTS AND GOBLINS

NEGATIVE UTOPIAS


The "Not Me" Myth: Orwell and the Mind by Margaret Thaler Singer is an article found in the online electronic journal IDEA, 19 January 1996, Vol. 2, No.2.  Singer begins her article as follows: "Orwell, as others before him such as Defoe, Zamyatin, Huxley and Jack London, wrote about the "negative utopias." These were places in which man's most central capacities for reasoning creatively, scientifically and compassionately were gradually curbed and eventually stifled. Not only in "1984" but in his essay on Politics and the English Language, Orwell emphasized the power of words. Words represent thoughts and without the capability to express those thoughts, people lost access to them. For more on this brief but useful overview of negative utopias go to:http://www.ideajournal.com/articles.php?id=12

REVOLUTIONARY SHIFTS: DUE TO SACRED TEXT

The following two books are built on a single perception: the importance of 'the book' of sacred text.  Early Christianity was more than a new religion: it brought with it a revolutionary shift in the information technology of the ancient world. That shift was to have implications for the cultural history of the world over the next two millennia at least as momentous as the invention of the Internet seems likely to have for the future. Like Judaism before it and Islam after it, Christianity is often described as “a religion of the Book.” The phrase asserts both an abstraction—the centrality of authoritative sacred texts and their interpretation within the three Abrahamic religions—and also a simple concrete fact—the importance of a material object, the book, in the history and practice of all three traditions. This theme, this topic, of 'religion of the book' applies, a fortiori, to the Baha'i Faith whose Prophet-Founder actually wrote the book for the first time in the history of the great, the world, religions. For more on this theme in the following two books: Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea by Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press; and The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship by Megan Hale Williams, University of Chicago Press---
go to:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/mar/29/early-christian-impresarios/

SOME OF MY PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES ON RELIGION

It is dangerously reductionist, indeed it goes against the very basis of my faith, the Baha'i Faith, to portray rational thought and the qualities of the heart, rationality and spirituality, as opposites. Critical thinking and feelings associated with the heart are not opposites, not the absence of spirituality. Critical thinking should not be viewed with mistrust, distrust. It is at the core of religion, although this was not the case in most of history.  For religion to survive into the future and play any significant role in human affairs it must be part of the world of science and the use of reason.  A view of religion that sees any critical thinking as fostering doubt and therefore to be avoided---is a prejudice left over from previous religious traditions which discouraged a questioning spirit and doubt of any kind.

Anti-intellectualism has no place in the Baha'i community, nor does much new age thought with its distrust of science and technology, reason and the use of the intellect.  Inevitably, though, when a religion has millions of adherents, there are many views of what constitutes the one true faith, so to speak. The engagement in Baha'i Studies, a formal process based in several journals going back to at least the 1970s, if not before, is as much concerned with the fire of the mind as the fire of the heart. The Baha'i Faith is not about feelings alone, any more than it is about the mind alone. Critical thinking should not and can not be equated with spiritual weakness, a lack of faith or idle disputation. To do so is what one writer calls crypto-fundamentalism.

The power of reflection and the use of the mind is quintessential to my religious position. The Baha'i Faith, my faith, is not just about feelings. The prerequisite for correct action is correct thought. I will come back to this question, to a discussion, of some of my personal perspectives on religion at a later date---when time permits. For the present time go to this link and an article by Udo Schaefer(1926- ), a
German lawyer and a Bahá'í author. on the subject of critical thought and the covenant:http://www.udoschaefer.com/articles/english.html

HEAVEN AND HELL IN OUR TIME


A revealing snapshot of religion in our time can be found in the fact that recently two of the top three books on Amazon.com’s Religion and Spirituality best-seller list mapped the geography of the afterlife. One was “Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,” an account of a 4-year-old’s near-death experience as dictated to his pastor father. The other was “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” in which the evangelical preacher Rob Bell argues that hell might not exist. The stress on the good side of the afterlife is understandable and it is part of Baha'i theology.  But the subject is not simple and can not be dealt-with in this short paragraph. Go to this link for more:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/opinion/25douthat.html?_r=1&ref=rossdouthat

INTRODUCTION TO MY RESOURCE BOOK ON PROPHECY

Part 1:

At some time in the late 1990s a friend of mine, John Bewick, sent my wife and I a copy of Reg Priestley's guide to The Revelation of St. John the Divine. Reg was a good friend of John's and John had been impressed with Reg's work. I had taken prophecy quite seriously in my youth, at least from the age of about sixteen, in 1960, until perhaps the early 1970s partly because in those years, at least in the Baha’i community I had joined there was a special interest in the subject of prophecy. Most of the Baha'is I got to know back in the 1950s had come from various branches and denominations of Christianity, and the concept of the Return of Christ---and its fulfmillment in the Baha'i Faith--was an important part of their view and commitment to a religion which claimed to be the latest, the newest, of the Abrahamic religions.

After about a dozen years of interest and study, say, 1960 to 1972, I found I ran into three groups of people in the wider world insofar as prophecy was concerned. One group had absolutely no interest in the subject, and this was by far the largest group. A second group had a great deal of interest. Their views were as fixed as the rock of Gibraltar and such a thing as dialogue with them was fruitless. A third group expressed a mild interest and this group was so small that it seemed to be pointless to continue investing time in a subject for which there was little 'payoff' so to speak, if payoff meant some sort of dialogue with others.

Part 2:

After some thirty years of a general lack of pursuit in this field, 1972 to 2002, an interest began to slowly reawaken. By then, by 2002, I had retired from my professional work as a teacher. The interest, though, was not a bright spark of enthusiasm. Rather it was a slow kindling based on this work of Mr. Priestley, on the work of several Baha’is who had by the 1990s begun to write extensively on the subject and on several books on prophecy which had been on my book shelves. There was, too, the introduction into my life, slowly but surely, of a few people with an interest in the subject who were keen to discuss the myriad interpretations from the Book of Daniel, Isaiah, the Book of Revelation, inter alia.  By the 21st century, though, I had developed a wide-ranging interest in much else in many academic disciplines and popular culture. The people I came to discuss prophecy with in any depth, in the years 2003 to 2014, were just about all on the internet.

I began to collect more notes on prophecy as the millennium turned its corner. The notes were for the most part at relevant sites in cyberspace.  I opened a file in 2001 as a gathering place for these notes. Time would tell how much time and interest I would invest in this subject which I began to examine over fifty years ago in about 1960.  After nearly 15 years, 2001-2014, this file is now filled to overflowing but, given the immense diversity of my reading, writing and internet dialogue, prophecy is still at the periphery of my research and study, reading and interest occupying as it does, only the occasional dup into its endless running rivers, its ceasless seas and its overwhelming oceans of content.

Ron Price
19/2/'09 to 23/6/'14.



THE BAHA'I IDEA OF A CHAIN OF PROPHECY

The purpose of the following paper is to briefly present a preliminary contextualization of the Bahá’í idea of a chain of prophecy.  This is an intimate and important feature of the Bahá’í doctrine of progressive revelation.  Although the term “prophecy” commonly is understood as
fore-telling, in academia it is better known as forth-telling, that is, it has to do with “prophetology” rather than with “futurology” (although prophecy, admittedly, sometimes includes this dimension as well). The technical term “chain of prophecy” can be found in various religious contexts other than in the Bahá’í Faith, and is not specifically a Bahá’í term. Generally speaking, a chain of prophecy refers to a sequence (linear and/or cyclical) of mediators (prophets, messengers, avatars , etc). It can be defined as “a sequence of religious mediators who operate between divine (supramundane) and earthly (mundane) realms.” For more of this paper go to:http://irfancolloquia.org/pdf/lights3_lundberg.pdf

INTERFAITH

Thirty years ago “interfaith” was not a word to use without an explanation. Today, googling interfaith identifies more than six million entries in half a second. Interfaith, multireligious, multifaith – we hear these words in the news, in hundreds of new interreligious websites and blogs, and in a multitude of responses to the new religious diversity in our midst. For more on this subject go to:http://theinterfaithobserver.org/journal-articles/2013/2/15/interfaith-interspiritual-integral-the-big-i-reconvenes.html and : http://theinterfaithobserver.org/

WRITING AND COMPOSING: RACHMANINOFF

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s thoughts on composing which I read this afternoon at an internet site provided a significant insight into the man. They also helped me understand my own motivation, my own raison d’etre, for writing poetry and prose, writing with a strong religious ethos. "Composing,” wrote Rachmaninoff, “is as essential a part of my being as is breathing or eating.” Composing music, he continued, “is my constant desire.....an urge within me to give tonal expression to my thoughts. I am a Russian composer and the land of my birth has influenced my temperament and outlook. My music is the product of that temperament and so it is Russian music; I never consciously attempt to write Russian music, or any other kind of music. What I try to do, when writing down my music, when composing, is to say simply and directly what is in my heart. If there be love, or bitterness, or sadness, or religion, these moods become a part of my music.”

These sentiments are so similar to my own in relation to writing prose and poetry that I open this piece of writing by quoting Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff also said that he wrote down on paper the music he heard within him, as naturally as possible. “I write for myself,” he emphasized. His separation from his native land was a wound that never healed. He suffered a nostalgia for his homeland to the end of his life and it made composing difficult and infrequent. That inner melody he had heard in his homeland was gone. One music critic wrote of Rachmaninoff and he was “a composer who belonged in the Parthenon of Great Composers for three reasons: he wrote one gorgeous melody after another; he had a totally original style; and his music moved more people per performance than any other composer, with the possible exception of Tchaikovsky. Very few listeners with classical music tastes have not been touched by the emotional message of this great musician.

WRITING AND COMPOSING: RON PRICE

I feel about my writing, my prose-poetic work, in very similar ways to those of Rachmaninoff in relation to his musical composing.  I certainly write from the heart; but I also write from the mind. I am moved not so much by my country as by my sets of values, beliefs and attitudes, in a word, by my religion. This is what occupies my mind and heart to overflowing and has, especially since I retired more than a dozen years ago after 50 years of FT, PT and casual-volunteer employment and student life: 1949-1999.  My writing is no doubt a product of my temperament, of my moods. My compositions act as a release and they allow me to say simply and directly: (a) what is occupying my spirit, my heart and my mind, at any particular moment and (b) what has built-up over nearly 70 years of living. –Ron Price from website: web.ukonline.co.uk/nso/Rachmaninov, 4 August 2007 to 8 September 2012.

Your outward stoicism, &
your icy demeanour when
performing----a protective
mechanism that it was----
acquired slowly, painfully
in your youth, a sensitive,
naturally withdrawn young
man who knew depression.
You were still so unlike me.

I, like you, knew depression
transformed, re-used themes
again and again, juxtaposed
certainty’s and doubt’s—life’s
contrasting private dynamics.

Your compositions in the first 50
years after that Manifestation’s
release from physical limitations,(1)
energizing the whole world as it did
and mine fifty years later---after the
centenary of His ascension..part of
some mysterious force and its very
transformative effects, some real &
visible rendezvous of the soul, some
ventilating, quickening, & onrushing
wind amplifying perspectives at an
auspicious juncture in history & life.(2)

(1) From Bahá’u’lláh’s death in 1892 to 1941, Rachmaninoff composed.
(2) In 1992, the centenary of Baha’u’llah’s ascension, my poetic life seriously began.

Ron Price
5 August 2007 to 8 September 2012


Readers will find many of MY INTERNET POSTS below on the subject of religion:

http://www.volconvo.com/forums/philosophy-religion

http://www.religionforums.org/search

http://www.opensourcereligion.net/profiles/blog/list?user=3tlpwir0dem4y

http://bahai-library.com/price_autobiography_poetry_interviews

http://www.allexperts.com/ep/2728-61688/Bah/Ron-Price.htm

THE OLD TESTAMENT and ME

Part 1:

The Hebrew Bible, called The Old Testament by Christians, is an extraordinarily difficult sequence of books.(1) This difficulty, too easily underestimated, is greater now than it ever was, partly because no contemporary reader, however specialized, shares in the psychology of the original readers and writers of The Bible. The first millennium in which anyone read any of the words in any of the books from 1000 B.C. to the time of Christ or, perhaps more accurately, 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.(2)

My first memories of The Old Testament come from Bible readings in grade six when I was 11 and my mother reading passages from little booklets from the Unity School of Christianity as early as the mid-1950s.  Although some of the quotations had a broad ethical appeal to me even as a boy in my late childhood and early teens, I found the stories abstruse and distant: goats, sheep, tribes, and curious names like Balthazar and Nebuchadnezzar. They all occupied another universe far removed from my little town of 5000 in Ontario in that post-WW2 world of the 1950s. This distance existed then, as it does now, nearly 60 years later.

Part 2:

My individual understanding of The Bible, my biblical interpretations, rely primarily at the age of nearly 70 on my experience of nearly 60 years of intimate association with the Baha’i Faith. My interpretations and those of the Baha’i teachings are provocative, if nothing else.  But I have always found there to be a vast distance from the psychic universe of the biblical writers beginning as early as, say, 900 B.C.(3) and the contemporary society that is my world. I know I have lots of company; indeed I rarely meet anyone who actually reads The Old Testament any more.

However abstruse the language of biblical prophecy and eschatology, the prophets of The Old Testament, I believe, were given a foreknowledge of the events of our times in their visions, visions which I’m sure they hardly understood themselves.   Still, there lies a sure presentation of the times we are living-through, as long as one does not take those prophecies literally. Yahweh's choice of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants as part of the Chosen People story was a permanent decision, intended to prevail into a time without boundaries, into our time.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Harold Bloom, “Prose and Poetry,” in The New York Times, 17 October, 1982: a review of Dan Jacobson’s THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God, and (2) the final editor, or redactor, after the return from the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC, put all the books of The Old Testament into something like their present form.(3)

When this review appeared in(1)
The New York Times I had just
arrived in Australia’s Northern
Territory & the heat of summer
was just beginning to make me
run for cover to air-conditioning 
in my office, my home & the cool
air of the car....The Old Testament 
was on my universe’s far-periphery.

There it had always been in heat and
cold since those first stories when I
was in grade six in that little town in
Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe where
everyone I knew was Catholic or Jew
or Protestant, or nothing; yes, mostly
nothing and there they have remained
with that Old Testament far removed
from everyone’s everyday life. Still…

I have time now to try to get into it in
this the evening of my life;  however
complex and abstruse it may be, I want
to make-up for the decades when it had
to remain far out on my life’s periphery.

1 Harold Bloom, “Prose and Poetry,” in The New York Times, 17 October, 1982: a review of Dan Jacobson’s THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God.
3 See Frank Kermode, “God Speaks Through His Women,” in The New York Times, 23 September 1990: a review of Harold Bloom’s The Book of J.

Ron Price
5 July 2012


THE STORY OF MANKIND

Part 1:

The film The Story of Mankind was released in the USA on 8 November 1957. Four days before, on 4 November 1957, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, the appointed leader, Shoghi Effendi, passed away in London.  I was only 13 years old and in grade 8 in Burlington Ontario at the time. Shoghi Effendi was on the periphery of my life, immersed as I was in 1957: in sport, study, a school environment and life in a small town in Ontario Canada. The leading actor in this film was Ronald Colman(1891-1958) who represented ‘the spirit of mankind’ in the film.  My mother liked this actor so much in the early 1940s that she named me 'Ronald' after him.  In the film a council of elders from outer space is deliberating on a very important subject: Must mankind be allowed to survive?  Is mankind so essentially evil that it must be destroyed?  A devil and an angel act as prosecutor of and defence for the human race. The movie presents in a very interesting way a series of episodes to portray human history. The film presents the story of men and women from the beginning of creation! What will be the final verdict? Innocent or guilty? Mankind survives as the plot in the film goes, but we are put on alert.

The 1950s was a time when humankind was first experiencing what it was like to stand at the edge of oblivion due to the atomic bomb which was first detonated in 1945 at the end of WW2.  I grew up in the shadow of the bomb and I have often wondered what effect it had on my development as a youth. I often hypothesize on the society I grew up in in the 1940s and 1950s in my writing. -Ron Price with thanks to IMDb, an internet movie database, 10 September 2010.

Part 2:

Colman, a British actor, had a long and varied Hollywood career and was known for his mellifluous, bewitching, finely-modulated, resonant voice. He started out early in silent films becoming stereotyped as a great lover.  I think my somewhat romantic mother fell in love with Colman, although I shall never know; my mother passed away over 30 years ago before I had a chance to ask her many questions, questions that have only arisen in my middle age and late adulthood.  In the early days of cinematic-sound, Colman’s voice helped him to easily make the transition that other stars were unable to make. Colman’s output lessened in the early 1940's, but he was not ready to be relegated to has-been status by any means. Random Harvest in 1942 brought a second Best Actor nomination and in 1948 he actually won the Oscar for the film A Double Life.

Colman got several Academy Award nominations. He is perhaps best known for his role in the still-unsurpassed romantic adventure Lost Horizon. This film came out in 1937 nine weeks before the start of the first Baha’i teaching Plan: 1937-1944. I have been associated with the extensions of this Plan for nearly 70 years. It is a Plan with a visionary and a utopian narrative with some similarities, it seems to me, to Lost Horizon.--Ron Price with thanks to the internet blog “You’re Only As Good As Your Last Picture,” 10 September 2010 to 8 September 2012.

I hardly knew you back then, Ronald,
although I remember the Lost Horizon
film: it left a strong mark on my life, so
much more than most movies..a vision
of a perfect society appealed to my very
idealistic young spirit which had just then
entered its teenage life at the time of the
first Earth-orbiting satellite…..…Sputnik;
growing-up back in the '50s among what
you might call religion’s complacent trinity:
Catholic, Protestant and Jew and with the
Indians getting licked by the cavalry at the
movies on the Saturday matinees amidst
popcorn and candy-wrappers and older
kids necking in the backrows in the dark.

Ron Price
10 September 2010 to 26 November 2011


RELIGION TAKES MANY FORMS

On television this evening I saw the last part of a National Film Board of Canada and France series on The Great War. I then wrote the following prose-poem. It is written from a quite personal and religious perspective in which I trust readers will indulge me knowing, as I do, the massive anti-religious sentiments cutting across the values and beliefs of our secular and contemporary world, especially in Australia where I live and Europe where the Euro-centrism I grew up with still affects our 21st century world.  Keep in mind as you read this piece of prose-poetry, though, that WW1 and WW2 were dominated by the new secular religions of nationalism and racialism, communism and materialism which killed more people than all the religious wars in history.-Ron Price, Tasmania

DR MARK FOSTER

A professor of sociology at a community college in Kansas has the following religion site, at these two links, which I have come to enjoy: http://www.markfoster.net/bahai.html   and http://www.markfoster.net/religiousstudies.html

JULIAN, VIDAL AND ME: Moving from the periphery to the centre

Part 1:

Gore Vidal(1925- ) was arguably the finest essayist in the English-speaking world in the last half of the 20th century.  He was always on the periphery of my emerging literary and intellectual life while I lived in Canada(1943-1971) in my youth and young adulthood. When I moved to Australia(1971-2012) he was even further out on that periphery. When I retired from the world of jobs and 70 hours a week nose-to-the-grindstone gradually in the years 1999 to 2005, I began to make-up for this hole, this lacuna, among a host of other missing parts in the general cultural attainments of my mind, my literary life.

In May 1964 Vidal’s novel Julian was published.  It was historical fiction thick with research that fascinated and engaged readers. It recounted the life of the Roman emperor Julianus II.  This emperor is known to history as "Julian the Apostate" who tried, during his short reign that began in 361 A.D., to forsake the emergence of Christianity and return the old religions of Greece and Rome to his empire.

Julian was a phenomenal bestseller; it also earned uniformly positive reviews. Vidal, in publishing Julian, re-established himself as a prominent and best-selling novelist, and he would continue producing novels rather prolifically for the rest of his career. By the time I came to read Vidal in the first years of the 21st century, though, he was in his 80s, and the bloom seemed to be off his literary rose to put it kindly.
In 1964 Vidal was well into his literary career, a career which was just beginning when I was conceived in 1943 in Hamilton Ontario. In that spring and summer of ’64, when Julian was first in the bookshops,  I turned 20.  I had a summer job with the Bell Telephone Company of Canada.  Now known as Bell Canada, this company employed me in the London Ontario area to test telephone poles for internal decay. By the end of the summer and the start of the academic year 1963-4 in September, I was working part-time for the T. Eaton Company in its Hamilton store sending the previous day’s cash register tapes to Eaton’s central office in Toronto.  These two jobs, with several others from 1963 to 1967, helped to finance my four years at university, a costly process then and much more costly now.

Part 2:

By the time I began my second year at the end of September at McMaster University in an honours History and Philosophy course, Vidal’s historical novel was selling very well. Based solidly upon ascertainable or probable fact, with its colour and movement, its imaginative re-creation of history, its excursion into romance, its often self-indulgent and irresponsible use of facts, Julian was a delightful interpretation of a portion of history that caught Vidal’s fancy; Julian’s reign was also a critical stage in the evolution of the first four centuries of the history of Christianity.

In his evocation of Julian the Apostate, Vidal was able to penetrate to the depths of human meaning, with his chromatic play of personalities and events.  Vidal’s historical vision created a design not wholly remote from parable or allegory as is some historical fiction.  What it was that interested Mr Vidal in Julian as a subject for fictionalized biography I do not know, but it was a happy inspiration.  Vidal has not been impressed by the contributions of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions and Julian was one of his first pieces of writing that articulated his critique. 

Julian himself is a vivid and attractive figure, surely the most engaging of the Roman emperors during the decline. His reign was brief, only 16 months. In A.D. 363, at the age of 32, he was killed in battle; but his short career was a notable one, and it is not too much to say that the last months of his administration altered the course of Western history. Moreover, he challenged our interest and sympathy as a complex, witty, unpredictable human being. We know him today by the name his Christian enemies called him, "Apostate," though we do not much bother to inquire into the nature of his "apostasy," if indeed it ever existed.

Part 3:

The emperor Julian has come down to us as a kind of historical poke: a combination of bogey-man and Judas Iscariot, a philosopher who made fun of his own beard, wrote stilted panegyrics upon persons whom he sincerely hated, persecuted various deserving Christian bishops, ridiculed the Holy Trinity, and attempted to re-establish the cult of the old pagan gods. We are told also, though not by Mr Vidal, that he died in agony of Early Christian remorse with a verse of Swinburne on his lips: "Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean!"

There are germs of truth in some of these details, but the picture is a distorted one. Julian had a Christian boyhood, if the fashionable Arianism of the Constantinople of his cousin Constantius Augustus deserves the name Christian; but the murderous example of his own family and the internecine theological squabbles of his preceptors soon disgusted him with Christianity; his genuine philosophical bent and romantic tendency toward antiquarianism made it easy for him to see himself as a throwback to the pagan past.

His attempt to reimpose the old gods--or, rather, the old gods as seen through a mist of Mithras-worship and degenerating neo-Platonism--failed because he was utterly unrealistic in assessing the hearts of men and in evaluating the theological and political forces with which he had to contend.  He was, it would seem, a schizophrenic, a philosopher and man of letters, yet one of the most spectacular military commanders since Julius Caesar. He was also a fanatical conservative in religion, yet a cynical and disillusioned exponent of freedom of worship; a sensualist, a man of the world, yet at the same time an almost compulsive ascetic. And, above all things, he was alive, enchanted with living, intensely and drivingly engaged.

Part 4:

It is this quality of flashing vitality that Mr Vidal admirably captures in his book. One may have reservations as to the literary and polemical value of much that goes on in his pages, but the breathing actuality of his Julian is not to be denied. The form itself is favorable and flexible: a kind of diary, notes and observations jotted down by the tireless Julian, with a choral antiphony of comment by two of his elderly mentors who survive him to copy and gloss his manuscript. Needless to say, no such manuscript exists; but Mr Vidal has drawn so intelligently upon Julian's actual writings and those of historians and theologians contemporary with the Emperor that the texture and tone of his narrative are persuasively in character.

A neurotic, witty, pensive, reckless, domineering, sincerely humble young leader emerges so clearly that even in his less felicitous moments, we believe in him and like him. It is evident that Mr Vidal has learned much from the Robert Graves of the Claudius books: the freshness of the speaking voice in narrative soliloquy, the inevitable but discreetly managed modernization of diction, outlook, action.
One has reservations, of course. The pageantry and local colour, inescapable in historical novels, are too often touched by intimations of Hollywood. There are elephants, dancing girls and tumblers; as well as jewelled fat eunuchs--platoons of them. There is at least one considerable orgy during which some readers, at least far back in the 1960s, would have seen as unutterable vice; there is also one of the funniest scenes of sexual intercourse, at least for the 1960s, that was then permitted to escape into print.

Mr Vidal is generally unsuccessful in his attempts to demonstrate Julian the theological controversialist in action. The metaphysical speculation is so superficial, so text-book adolescent, that one wonders why those frightful bishops, hammering each other's skulls with homoiousion and homoousion,1 took the young Apostate so seriously in the first place. Here, clearly, Mr Vidal has got beyond his depth and has innocently betrayed his hero; but the fact that this blemish does not impede the flash and drive of his narrative testifies to the beguiling power of his wit, his craftsman's sleight of hand.

Plato once said that in the ideal society philosophers would be kings or kings philosophers. Julian was of the calibre to prove Plato's point.  Mr Vidal does not show us this, and his failure is what ultimately keeps the novel from rising above the level of high entertainment.2 –Ron Price with thanks to 1theological controversy on the nature of Christ; and 2Dudley Fitts, Engaged in Life and in a Pagan Past, The New York Times on the Web, 31 May 1964.

For most of my life Gore Vidal
has been out on my vast periphery
with his erudition, his literary opus,
his humour and wit, as well as my
busy life with no time for novels
and his fine-tuning of American
society which he was so good at.

His analysis, his witty historical
perspectives, trenchant words of
critique & delightful personality
gradually came into my life as I
took a sea-change, retired early
and reinvented myself as a new
millennium opened & I became,
by degrees, a poet and publisher,
writer & author, researcher and
scholar at the ends of the earth in
Tasmania, the last stop on the way
to Antarctica if one takes the route
on the long western Pacific-rim.

I wish you well, Gore, as you head
into your last years on this earthly
coil. I wonder to myself whether I
will have much contact with you in
that land of lights and its world of
forgiveness forever and ever. Thanks
for your contribution to my life as you
move from that periphery to a centre,
at least one of the myriad new centres.

Ron Price
17 May 2012


THE VERY GREAT WAR

The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I.  It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand a critical event that led to the start of the war in 1914. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties. Although the armistice signed on 11 November 1918 ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. These days of negotiation were “the most momentous days in the history of the world,” so argued the makers of this film.

In 1913 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned to Palestine from His western teaching trip, a journey which Shoghi Effendi referred to in 1944 as “a service of such heroic proportions that no parallel to it is to be found in the annals of the first Bahá'í century.”  In the following year the Great War broke out in Europe. Between March 26 and April 22, 1916, ‘Abdu’l-Baha revealed the first eight of His Tablets of the Divine Plan. The remaining six were revealed between February 2 and March 8, 1917 just before the entry of the United States into the war. One hundred years ago even in peacetime it took time to get a message from Palestine to the United States. The war, of course, introduced additional delays. The first five of the Tablets were published in America in the September 8, 1916 issue of Star of the West a major Bahá'í publication of the time. The remainder would not be sent until after the war ended. They were unveiled at a special Bahá'í convention in New York City held from April 26 to 30, 1919.

'Abdu'l-Bahá makes reference in the longest tablet of the entire collection, to an army, a heavenly army arrayed for spiritual rather than physical battle. Filled with the love of God, a somewhat tarnished term in our modern world, this army now marches into metaphorical battle with their chief weapons being their character, conduct and words. Reminding us of the Apostles of Christ, He calls upon the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada to become Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh and to go forth into the world and teach. When I was in my early 20s, I was inspired by this vision as, indeed, I have been all my life.  This vision helped me set my sights on high morals and character traits in a world in which they were, in many ways, in decline. And the way to end all wars was as follows:

In brief.......O ye believers of God!
The text of the divine Book is this:
If two souls quarrel and contend
about a question of those divine
questions, differing and disputing,
both are wrong......The wisdom of
this incontrovertible law of God is
this: That between two souls from
amongst the believers of God, no
contention and dispute may arise.

They should speak to each other
with infinite amity and love...and
should there appear the least trace
of controversy.....they must remain
silent.....and both parties continue
their discussions no longer but ask
the reality of the question from the
Interpreter. This is the irrefutable..
command for the Very Great War.

ETHICS

Ethics, sometimes known as philosophical ethics, ethical theory,moral theory, and moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct, often addressing disputes of moral diversity. Readers can go to the following link, and to my 'Philosophy: Introduction' sub-section for more on this topic.  The term comes from the Greek word ethos, which means "character". The superfield within philosophy known as axiology includes both ethics andaesthetics and is unified by each sub-branch's concern with value.[2]Philosophical ethics investigates what is the best way for humans to live, and what kinds of actions are right or wrong in particular circumstances. Ethics may be divided into four major areas of study. Go to thislink for more details:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics