February 2009


            Petersburg Kentucky is the site of the Answers in Genesis Museum whose website (creationmuseum.org) reveals what is at the foundation and acts as its guiding principle is to propel the fundamentalist doctrines of Christian belief: namely humanity’s fall into sin and need for a savior. The website writes of their three-fold mission statement; that it is a place to encourage Christians back to “the absolute truth of the Bible”, and is essentially a place of revival and repentance. Secondly, it is a witnessing tool to entice non-believers to come to belief. Not just in a young-Earth, Creationist mythos, but into salvation as imagined by Ken Ham, the museum’s creator and the fundamentalist sub-culture he represents. Thirdly, it is an apologetic training day-camp to equip believers to share their faith with “a reasoned, logical defense”. A critical appraisal of the museum reveals the Answers in Genesis Museum to be equal parts pilgrimage site, Creation myth training center, a site of religion’s ambiguous relation with science outside of the institutional control of fundamentalist ideology, and contact point of redemptive and compassionate humanity.
            In Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyperreality, Eco celebrates American expressions of simulacrum centers including Disneyland where the hyperreal he says is the “the authentic fake”. Jean Baudrillard expands upon Eco’s diagnosis of Disneyland to say that the surrounding city of Los Angeles is also itself hyperreal. There are many iconic American locations where the hyperreal is more palpable; McDonalds and Las Vegas for example, but also so churches and museums. The museum is characteristic of the hyperreal in its reduction of and addition to the ‘realities’ which are represented. In natural history museums stuffed animals frozen in extreme poses interact in simulated landscapes in close proximity. The impossible serendipity of an amalgam of interestingly arranged and highly active animals in museum dioramas is analog to the editing necessary for a nature documentary film but replaces the imagination requisite for video viewing with immediate life sized stagecraft. Karen Anijar writes of the hyperreal, “[i]t is a world where images gather up into themselves the complexities and ambiguities of an event, where everything is a representation, and where the distinction between fact and fiction becomes irrelevant.”
[1] The condition of hyperreality is where the copy and image conflate with the original and signified. Baudrillard finds that here we experience the death of imagination, meaning, and aesthetics.

            Answers in Genesis’ decision to create a modern temple to artifice in the rhetoric of simulacra is relevant to a number of overlapping phenomenon in American religion and pop culture. First is that our churches and worship spaces are their own shelters of simulacra. The architecture, icons, nativity dioramas, and Passion plays have themselves left the pretense of reality behind and exist in their own structures of self-reflexive images. The Answers in Genesis museum is doing no less and seen on its own self admitting religious terms, it fits in comfortably with much of contemporary American religious expression. Its conception and development through the late 1990’s until its opening in 2007 prod questions of its inception with Steven Spielburg’s 1993 Jurassic Park and its 1997 sequel. Answers in Genesis’ close proximity to pop culture consciousness, and the language of modern entertainment myths is complimented by Patrick Marsh who designed their museum having also designed the displays for Universal Studios’ King Kong and Jaws attractions. The phenomenon of the museum is thoroughly situated in the discourse of pop culture; with tickets ranging from eleven to twenty dollars (free for police, fire, and military), the museum exists as commodity and yet it is wholly a religious event. In its stated purpose and mission statement, its three goals are of metaphysical concern not of peer review, critical analysis, and scientific rigor.

            The Answers in Genesis Creation museum is a pop culture articulation of a religious sub-culture. The young-Earth, six day creationist view supported by the museum is one that is increasingly a tenet that is reserved for fundamentalists who often are criticized even by Creationist or Intelligent Design faithful. As far as young-Earth, Biblical literalist Creationism is an irrelevant and loudly criticized tenet even within fundamentalism, the museum’s very existence appears as a counter-cultural juggernaut. The museum garnered approximately a half million visitors in its first nine months of operation and operates with a multi-million dollar budget. This may be reflective of subcultural solidarity at times bolstering itself by means of commoditification as value designation.
            The existence of the museum and its success has awakened from many the felt need to respond, either negatively or positively. In popular culture, this has largely consisted in negative appraisals either through satire or internet enflamed snark. George Packer, a journalist with the New Yorker reflects one outsider’s response: “…
as you pay your $19.95 and walk through the entry hall, there are clues that this is all a sophisticated sham…I had the sense of being a dissident surrounded by the lies of a totalitarian state.”[2] The Unicorn Museum project has begun its own braconnage assault on the Creation museum. Their website (unicornmuseum.org) mimics the logo and presents its own satirical evidence for the Biblical proof of unicorns. Their goal is to elicit funding to buy billboard space near the Creation museum. Aside from purely accepting or discrediting the museum, there lies an option of viewing the museum in light of Paul Tillich’s ultimate concern. The human need to construct myths and narratives that support an ultimate concern can be found in all cultural expressions, and is not unique among Answers in Genesis. As Tillich’s peer Seward Hiltner writes in Preface to Pastoral Theology, cultures and faith traditions equally can find answers to humanity’s greatest questions. Whether one finds Answers in Genesis’ answers compelling, they remain a powerful cultural force and embody important theological and ethical inroads to truth.


[1] Karen Anijar “Selena: Prophet, Profit, Princess” God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture E.M. Mazur, Jate McCarthy eds. (Routledge. 2001)

[2] George Packer Dystopia in Kentucky           http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2007/06/a-few-miles-sou.html

 

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              Religion and technoscience, two complex expressions of culture, reveal themselves to be closely aligned in overlapping mutually interdependent and reflexive ways. Both can be said to deal with discerning the scope of the possible and through their various means, challenge that which is considered impossible. They both are storehouses of symbol and icon, divide and unite cultures, determine the goals, questions, and methodologies of human experience, and are creators and creations of myth. As science historian Michel Serres has stated, “The only pure myth is the idea of a science devoid of all myth.”[1] The human constructions of religion and technoscience are not coterminus but investigating both and in dialogue with each other, avenues for understanding, ethics, and human possibility are opened. As humanity is spoken of as homo faber, we are faced with considering all human experience and culture as being technological and all human outgrowths, whether piously intended and transcendently experienced are ineluctably technological. If Marshall McLuhan is correct in warning “we are all robots when uncritically involved with our technologies”[2] one is led to consider what the analogous warning may be for those who engage religion uncritically. One inroad to an examination of the technoscientific and religious imaginations is phenomena of techno-mysticism, esoteric systems of control, and the history of Hermeticism. These phenomena are the subject of Erik Davis’ Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information.

            The founding figure of Hermeticism was Hermes Trismegistus, a religious figure conjured by the religious imaginations in ancient Hellenistic Egypt. Though fictive in nature, the pseudonymous writings assigned his name had very real impact in their Medieval and Renaissance ‘rediscovery’. By combining the Egyptian god of writing and crafts Thoth and the Greek god Hermes lord of techne (art and craft) and being the mercurial medium of communication; Trismegistus’ mythic figure captures much of the spirit of development that has led to the contemporary Western information age. Trimegistus represents not only to the mechanical achievements and technological esprit of ancient Alexandria, but Davis states is also “one of the leading lights of the Western Mystical tradition, a tradition whose psychospiritual impulses and alchemical images…have haunted Western dreams.”[3]

            McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ reveals that not only the modes of worship but the content of worship is radically transformed through technological development. Heron of Alexandria, known as ‘the Inventor’ or ‘Machine Man’, circa 10 CE constructed temple vending machines which he named “Sacrificial Vessel That Flows Only When Money Is Introduced” and another trinket using pulleys and gear shafts depicted a Bacchanal replete with miniature dancers, flames, and sound effects. Second Life worship gatherings, Blackberry enabled interactive sermons, and YouTube transparency in once private worship spaces are modern examples of the continuing flux of worshipping and its modes and contents.
            The relationship of religion and science can be revealed to be bound by mutual competition, polemicizing, ambiguity, and benefit. The benefits can be seen as coming from the competition of social cultural influence as each seeks its foothold in rising to the challenges both individual and cultural. Davis recalls Avital Ronell’s statement “Science acquires its staying power from a sustained struggle to keep down the demons of the supernatural with whose visions, however, it competes.”
[4] The existential anxieties or spiritual complexities faced by an individual and the interdependent web of social structuring are shaped by the cultural understanding of exactly what the problems faced are. Carl Gustav Jung’s study into the secret realms of the individual’s innerspace are illustrative of the meeting ground of where esotericism and science meet, compete, and propel each other forward. Jung was a student of esoteric sciences, mystery cults, Gnosticism, Islamic mysticism, I Ching, and developed a system which was warmly accepted in mainstream academia and an established place in psychoanalysis. Jung appealed to a perennial philosophy comprised of an archetypal realm which he denoted as the ‘collective unconscious’. Davis suggests that an analogous inspection of psychic phenomenon, the human condition, and the larger macrocosmic sphere could be that of Henry Corbin, the Sufi scholar that posited the mundus imaginalis. Jung’s balance of mainstream scientific credibility and mystical sensibilities which reveal an esoteric view of the concordance of ancient religious traditions changed the landscape of both religion and science by positing a system that addressed the ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’ of humanity’s experiences. Theological anthropology and the ‘harder’ sciences of biology, sociology, and evolutionary applications are intimately linked in the dialogue of what is presented as the nature of human suffering, how to alleviate it, and the horizons of possible human freedom from suffering.

            Davis examines a moment of the magical assuming contemporary technoscientific postures and methodologies. Upon the invention of telegraph technologies, mediums, séances were given pragmatic and concrete phenomena which they identified as strengthening their magical worldview. Spiritualists at the time of Morse’s discovery were affirmed in their rejection of supernaturalism and that afterlife was best described as natural law; Morse’s discoveries and the rapping spirits of the Fox Sisters were equally natural and scientific events. As John Dee before them, Spiritualists took rigorous notation and their data collection in séances mirrored the objective language found in scientific labratories. The publication of the 1850’s Spiritual Telegraph captures the spirit of the same sacred science that of the Renaissance Cabalists, though managing with the level of cutting edge concurrent technologies. As much as spiritual religion must always struggle to be relevant, articulate their concrete ethical praxis, and negotiate their faith to the demands of secular knowledges; so too do they accept portions or applications of technologies as apologia to the veracity of their worldview.

            Technoscientific advances and the promises they make or are imagined speculatively to be heralding can reveal spiritual faddishness as what was cutting edge becomes accepted, widespread, normalized, and a new technology arises to repeat the process. One example of this is that of the quickly expanded and deflated interest in Michael Drosnin’s The Bible Code which claimed to find esoteric revelations hidden in the Hebrew scriptures using computer-powered code-breaking programs performing a similar function that of Jewish Temurah and Gematria. The Bible Code in its context, Davis finds, is associated with the interest surround the explication of DNA and the human genome project which was seen as unlocking the true hidden formula of humanity’s condition and predetermined futural outlook. Drosnin and the school of computer enabled holy code hacking had been foreseen in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum which combined intrigue, Rosicrucianism and Kabbalah. The technology and its accompanying magical philosophy that the whole of history and future were hidden away in the scriptures only to be unlocked at the prescribed time by the computer’s eschatological application took many contemporary religionists by storm, its esoteric nature and historical tradition shrouded in occult and Kabbalah lost on many. However, it passed away largely not due to institutionalized religions’ proclamations as heresy but because the technology itself became passé. Through the same computer programs, it was revealed that any word or series of words could be plumbed from scripture and that any text, famously Mark Twain’s writings, would reveal the same ‘revelations’.

            The close relationship between religion and technoscience is deftly handled by the occult and esoteric traditions. Each new succeeding technological discovery can be grafted into a system where the arcane, esoteric, and popular technological advances can be synchronized into comprehensive systems where knowledge within a universe of corresponding macrocosm and microcosm can be absolute and where contradictions can be shelved as being illusory or imperfect understandings. Contemporary religious traditions, using Christianity as an example have shown to have more difficulty navigating the ambiguity of technoscientific progress. This can be related to a modern expression of what Davis sees as the Hephaestus mythos. Hephaestus the master craftsman has the power to create proto-cyborg women and powerful weapons but he himself is partially blinded and his limbs have become withered and crippled. With Hephaestus’ technological extension of his abilities, there is imagined a loss. Davis writes that this portrays what “both Plato and Marshall McLuhan would later insist upon: that technologies that extend our creative powers by amputating our natural ones.”[5] This myth draws a distinction of how many contemporary religious traditions feel threatened by technologies and therefore imply their transcendence and removal from its influence.

            The dynamic, complex and fluid relationship witnessed between religion and technology will continue and most likely become more intimately conflated and pronounced. As humanity continues to ask the questions of its nature and meaning, ethics, and hesitantly posits goals and teleology, the technoscientific will increasingly be involved explicitly in the questions themselves and the answers offered. If the symbol, as described by Paul Tillich has a surplus of meaning, humanity will always have not only a venturing progressive spirit, but one that will never be satisfied with concrete and absolutistic conclusions of the technoscientific. Esoteric, occult, and Hermetic traditions can serve as a guide into the future of how the spiritual strivings of individuals and cultures can positively adapt to, integrate, and give back to technoscientific advances. The esoteric traditions reveal a pattern of strong humanistic ideologies, reverence for nature, and a meta-philosophy which can find ecumenical application through the mystical complimentarity of diverse religious expression. Davis writes, “whatever social, ecological, or spiritual renewal we might hope for in the new century, it will blossom in the context of…technologies.”[6] Any investigation into religion and spirituality will have to ask hard questions of technology and vice versa. Esoteric traditions will continue to be an essential and exemplary inroad into such inquiries.

 

 

 

 


[1] Cited in Bruno Latour We Have Never Been Modern

[2] Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore War and Peace in the Global Village (New York: Bantam. 1968)

[3] Erik Davis Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (New York: Three Rivers    Press. 1998), 17-18.

[4] Avital Ronell The Telephone Book (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1989), 367.

[5] Erik Davis Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (New York: Three Rivers    Press. 1998), 13.

[6] Erik Davis Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (New York: Three Rivers    Press. 1998), 335.

This was never the way I planned
I blame my digestion
I got so drunk, beer in hand
Lost my discretion
It’s not what, I’m used to
But the flood came so strong
I’m so sorry for you
Caught my expulsion

I pooped on my cat though I fought it
I admit that it was diarrheic
I pooped on my cat by accident
at least it didn’t get on the carpet
It came so strong
My ass clenched tight
I guess I drank too much tonight
I pooped on my cat though I fought it
I fought it

‘Gnome’ is your cute kitty name
It doesn’t matter,
You’re the target of my shame
Just human nature,
You’re not where,
I should poo
ASPCA calls it abuse
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey

I pooped on my cat though I fought it
When I’m drunk my colon gets spastic
I dunged my cat in accident
I hope my roommate don’t mind it
It felt so strong
My ass clenched tight
Gnome’ll haveta sleep outside tonight
I pooped on my cat though I fought it
I fought it

My cat you are so tragical
White fur, pink nose, so kissable
Hope you resist what’s communicable
Too much to deny it
It’s a big deal, its horrid scent

I pooped on my cat though I fought it
I admit there was also some piss
I dunged my cat by accident
I hope Gnome don’t get hepatitis
It felt so strong
My rectal fight
Gnome’ll haveta sleep outside tonight
I pooped on my cat though I fought it
I fought it

 

 

Katy Perry

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAp9BKosZXs

 

The Good Asian Drivers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AL5low-TqV8

 

Snake Puking a Hippo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd7S6fRv224

 

Cat Stevens

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGNxKnLmOH4

 

Emerson  Lake and Palmer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Y1x04hAUT4

 

If you haven’t seen HBO’s The Wire (a show about Baltimore), I recommend it like I recommend you brushing your teeth if you have them. The Wire shows the good, the bad, the reality and the humanity of every character and situation. It tickles and educates, it promotes brain growth and it is healthy for small children. It is kind of like if cotton candy and brussels sprouts were the same thing.

Check it. You’ll thank me later.

Snoop is one of my favorite characters on The Wire. She is street-level muscle for a drug dealer named Marlo. Stephen King called her “perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series.” In this clip she is purchasing a nail gun to board up the abandoned houses that conceal murdered bodies.

[Hello Mindflowers readers!! In case you aren’t aware, a viral note of 25 things has spread around Facebook.  Below is mine. We’d love to know about you! Pretty please comment with 25 random things about you!!]

1. While visiting a friend in Pittsburgh, with no identifiable motive I was punched in the eye outside a dance club by a guy wearing brass knuckles. Blood splattered on the concrete like a murder scene. A homeless gentleman who used to be a boxer played the part of good samiratan and kept me from scarring with a lighter and a spoon that he happened to have on hand for heroin. My eye was swollen shut for a week and somehow I still have fond thoughts of Pittsburgh.

2. I collect photos of people with crooked glasses. Please send me your’s!!! I also collect: bouncy balls, paintings of cats, smells, old science text books and wigs.

3. I have twice been offered arranged marriages — from the father of a Romanian woman I met on a train through Bulgaria, and from my Chinese neighbor in Seattle who offered me $30,000 (apparently the going rate) to marry his cousin. Sometimes I regret not doing them, to begin my collection for when I convert to Fundamentalist Mormonism.

4. The Indigo Girls lived across the street from me when I was three. They babysat me on more than one occasion. I’ve met more than my share of pop culture icons, including: Bill Clinton, Annie Leibovitz, Carrot Top, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Alan Rickman, Neil Gaiman, Yao Ming, Gary Busey, Sarah Vowell, Jane Goodall, Jim Woodring, Joel Stein (of Time magazine and of no relation to myself), Mike McCready (bassist for Pearl Jam), and others. I am not starstruck or afraid to just wander up and interact with anyone.

5. On small pieces of paper I wrote: food ingredients (brussel sprouts, goat cheese, etc.), my cookbooks (Curries of India, Moosewood Cookbook), regional cuisines (Tibetan, Brazilian), and local restaurants that I’ve never been to. Each week I pick one at random and I incorporate it into a meal (or eat out at the restaurant).

6. Although I’ve made art that’d probably blow your mind, I rarely make art for myself or on demand. I require a muse or an external stimulus. This inability to create for creation’s sake, to express myself to myself, I feel is my biggest flaw. When I overcome this I will become an adult.

7. I drank a cream soda last month. That was the only soda I’ve drank in more than a year. I don’t remember the last time I drank a Bud, Coors, Natural Lite, Milwaukee’s Best, etc. I’d rather drink mouthwash mixed with urine than cheap beer. Perhaps I’ve turned into a beer snob. My Alabama friends will probably crucify my ass which will only add to my messiah-like mystique.

8. I am a Couchsurfing.com Ambassador for Seattle. Couchsurfing is a social networking site where you can host travelers or be hosted yourself. It is a safe and inspiring way to travel, to not pay for hotels or hostels, to easily make friends out of locals, to participate in a place from behind the scenes, to fill up our tanks with humanity’s inherent kindness. I have hosted more than 80 people in my apartment in the last couple of years, including an economics professor, a couple who professionally teaches men to meet women, an environmental activist from West Virginia who saves mountaintops from coal companies, three Belgian hippy musicians in an old minivan and a globetrobbing Dutch gal who I now count among my favorite people. Last week I slept on a sailboat docked on the coast of Ensenada, Baja, Mexico. Join Couchsurfing.com!! And if you have specific questions, ask me!!

9. My favorite color combination is purple and green together, sometimes with orange. I still haven’t come to terms with pink, although this is one of my goals and I actually just purchased a pink digital camera.

10. Did you know Larry King has a tramp stamp? I have no tattoos because I would have to stop giving blood for at least a year. When I was in middle school, I could have taken steroids that promised to make me grow several inches taller than my natural height but I chose not to, partly because I wouldn’t be able to ever give blood again. I would be a fantastic friend to a vampire.

11. Good sushi tastes better than ice cream to me. I am allergic to soybeans and garbanzo beans, which is horseshit.

12. I don’t get angry. When I was youngish I decided that “anger” isn’t a helpful emotion, that while under its influence people seem to lose control. I’ve been advised by Naturopathic and mental health professionals that not experiencing anger might be an issue, that I am holding feelings inside like a time-bomb waiting to explode. If you are in my presence when I explode, I promise to pay for your dry cleaning.

13. In tenth grade I won free tickets on a call-in radio show to Hootie and the Blowfish but I wrecked my car on the one-hour drive from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. Let me repeat that: I wrecked my car while driving to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert. I’m really that cool.

14. I am left-handed, as are a majority of my close friends. At one point I lived in a one bedroom apartment in St. Petersburg, FL, with four other left-handed males. Specific memories from this time include: (1) urinating amidst traffic in the middle of a busy four lane highway on St. Pete Beach, (2) getting thrown up on from two stories above on New Years in Key West, and (3) trying to pick up women at bars in the most passive way possible (you know, by not talking to anyone and pretending not to stare).

15. Once during the Seattle Gay Pride Parade, a friend and I took off our shirts and asked the crowd draw on us with permanent markers. As you might expect, dozens of phalli were among the art offerings — including on my forehead and neck — and although “permanent” isn’t forever, it does last more than two days of lots of soap and scrubbing.

16. Facts about each of my brothers:

  • Ted, 29 — frontman for a DC-based Rage Against the Machine Cover Band called Evil Empire, founder of a software development company, lives in an anarchist artist cooperative;
  • Joe, 27 — pianist, flutist and foreign language savant, a provocative mix of Jewish and Southern Baptist, once had malaria, lives in Alabama;
  • Allen, 20 — attends the Naval Academy with progressive politics, three year high school wrestling champ of Maine; a fantastic and seemingly effortless writer, wouldn’t taste good because he has no body fat;
  • Hank, 16 — president of his freshman and sophomore classes, currently a Page for the Senate Republicans nominated by Alabama Senator Richard Shelby where he sees John McCain every day, applying to New College like his oldest brother!!

17. In the first time in my history, I am enamored with my love life. Bonnie and I get along like magic and burning and there is fun, laughter, respect, compassion and long-term plans without anxiety.

18. My grandfather was at one point the Building Commissioner of New York City. He passed while training for a marathon, going out for a long run on a Sunday morning, came home, ate a big breakfast, sat down in front of the TV to watch a football game, and then he died. My other grandfather has Alzheimers.

19. I am Jewish and anti-Zionist. I believe Israel is a terrible idea — after WWII, instead of giving Jews some of Italy or Germany for a homeland, the powers that be decided to take land from folks who had nothing to do with the War or Holocaust and give it to their historical arch enemy in what is prophesized to ignite the end of the world. I realize the debate isn’t as simplistic as this, but WTF? Why do so many people I know accept and support this blindly?

20. I took classes and volunteered at an improv theater for two years because I was scared. The connection I feel with someone in a good improv scene is a lot like sex, chock full of trust, intimacy, imagination and laughter. I believe improv theory is a key to successful living. Instead of being defensive, just say “Yes, and…” to whatever life throws your way. And don’t judge. Next step: mime classes.

21. My favorite art genre is pop surrealism. In the same vein, my favorite art blog is Right Some Good and my favorite art magazine is Hi-Fructose .

22. I work for a Native American social services agency and have participated in sweat lodges with Native American chiefs. I’ve smoked a peace pipe once owned by Crazy Horse.

23. Part of me believes in the following hoaky-ish mediums: astrology, energy work, flower essences, muscle testing, shamanism, homeopathy and cranial sacral therapy. I haven’t tried leaches yet.

24. My favorite political issue to advocate for is instant runoff voting which is basically ranking candidates in order of preference. This disposes with the current binary system and lets us vote idealistically and practically at the same time, allowing the Naders and Kucinichs and third parties to become viable, especially in smaller local elections.

25. When I was toddler-age my brother Ted and I didn’t have building blocks to play with. But we did have a pile of real bricks outside by the garage that we used the way other children use toy building blocks. My mom says we built good stuff and got really, really dusty and dirty every time we played.

In reflecting upon the most popular in the Pali tradition The Questions of King Melinda, the first Century largely Theravada Buddhist writing and the Wisdom of Royal Glory Turko-Islamic, there are a number of inroads towards the nurturance of a personal expression of religiousness whereby one can pursue contemporary interfaith dialogue. These texts, along with mystical Islamic traditions, the Qur’an, Buddhist insights, and wisdom, there is availed a path towards personal responsibility that is fueled by a wisdom that exemplifies humility and compassion. Amidst the tension that arises between the individual life and human sociality, students of ancient wisdom literatures may become aware of the overlapping of these ‘two’ spheres of experience and negotiate the middle ground of ethics.

            An individual’s ethical and political responsiveness in meeting the tension between political ideals and spiritual enlightenment will determine the quality of any interfaith dialogue that they may undertake. A first step to entering a place of ethical relation is the requisite reflection upon one’s own presuppositions. One such presupposition that is often found within those who interact with individuals of other faiths is to conflate the cultural expression of some who identify with a faith tradition with the tradition itself. Muslims must never be taken as representative of Islam; Christians with Christianity and so forth. Even a cultural expression of many within a faith is still particular to a time, geography, and the accidentals of surrounding that cultural milieu. The presupposition which holds a religion as a coterminous with the lived practices of its adherents must be dissolved for one to engage in virtuous contemporary interfaith dialogue. Recalling a paraphrase of Bayazid Bastami, “if your religion is of the saints’ lives, I could not attain it. If it is of the majority’s lives, I would not want to attain it” draws the distinction for one to individually interact with a tradition on its own terms to find the lived reality of it.

            In the Eleventh Century CE, ‘mirror for princes’ writings emerged more prominently as its own genre in the Muslim world. Along with The Questions of King Melinda, these texts reveal the interactions of wise and saintly individuals sharing in divergent perspectives and value systems. The features of these two texts, from Turko-Islamic and Theravada Buddhist traditions are similar in the methodical dialectic of saintly religious figures interacting with wise autocratic leaders, but the question must be raised of how other texts from various religious traditions may also function as within the parameters of ‘mirror for princes’. Of the Jewish Tanakh, it can be reasonably asserted that historically, its origins and use were largely within the elite cultures of priests and kings. The holy writings’ rediscovery by King Josiah and the Hebrew priest Hilkiah as detailed in the book of II Kings may serve as exemplary of the writings’ function as training leaders in ways of justice and service to the larger masses. Due to ancient illiteracy, cultures of oral transmission, and the control of texts by the ruling and the elite, ancient texts are subject to critical lenses with class and hegemonic power in mind. However, in much of the contemporary world, literacy and political access have increased and the ‘mirror for prince’ genre and a variety of scriptural traditions are opened to revitalized meaning and application.

            With the example of The Questions of King Melinda, we find the King, ‘Rising Sun’ is held in tension between the political world of sociality and the ascetic life illustrated by the apocalyptically minded monk ‘Wide Awake’. Unlike the Buddhist Bodhisattva, the Queen or King does not have the freedom to choose their service to humankind and enactments of justice. The rulers’ position of power is fraught with tension; for while their individual spiritual quests to enlightenment may be supported by the benefits of a monastic life as described by al-Ghazali, including being free for worshipful devotion, free from the social sins arising from bad company, free from conflict, free from the harm of others, free from envy, and avoiding the dull witted, they cannot retreat to asceticism. This experience is one that many in contemporary contexts may understand. The social pursuits of family, education, employment, all can make asceticism a difficult if not unattainable goal. This coupled with the experience of expanding political freedom opens the ‘mirror for princes’ to powerful relevancy to religious adherents of many stripes. Although the genre is associated with autocratic rule and conservative tradition, it has impact accessible to many. With increased power, access, and influence, there arises greater need for personal responsibility, guided by wisdom built upon humility and compassion.

            To be human is to be cultural; to have one’s body and existence intimately tied to the social world. The existential human experience is one bound in intersubjectivity, and the bodily experience where there is in Judith Butler’s terms a shared corporeality. Blanchot writing of a subject without subjectivity and the radical sociality and ethics depicted within these approaches are supported in the individual dimension of religion as revealed in the ancient wisdom literature. For our individual corporeality is yet exactly that which enables one to access into the wisdom granted through our mortality. The ascetic Wide Awake lists the great saints and figures of the past including Pharoah, Moses, Alexander the Great, Muhammad, and others to remind Rising Sun that all experience change and will die. Our shared embodiment and sociality is informed by our own death and vulnerability to corruption; in one sense, our ethical engagement in interfaith dialogue and wise living can be likened to Heidegger’s description of authenticity in the purview of death.

            The lives we lead in the social world will never be perfect. Wisdom literature informs us that instead of disqualifying us from sharing wisdom, our faults, weaknesses, vulnerability, and losses aid us in our spiritual quests and empower us to share wisdom. This is the great truth of the Prodigal Son motif in wisdom literature. Those who have wandered in the world, the beggars, the broken, have much light to share in their return to those who have never left the safety of their palaces. We can use Gautama Buddha’s chariot ride from his princely palace as demonstrative of this motif. The knowledge (gnosis, jna) that brings wisdom is one of humility, borne in our corporeality before that which is timeless. Compassion is an alignment of radical connection all that springs forth from the Prajna, as it is on its own terms beyond the limitations of words. This brings in closing the consideration of the Buddha’s silence when faced with unwise questions and Jesus’ silence before Herod. The place of silence in one’s personal religiousness, whether directly and intentionally engaged in interfaith dialogue or in any social interaction is pivotal. Words in themselves are already divergent from the formless light (Phos) in that they give form. Our words can obstruct the sharing of wisdom for as Seneca writes, “Nothing is more odious to wisdom than wit.” Our words can become weapons of our ego also, as Christoph Martin Wieland writes, “Proud poverty which by wit assumes the air of wealth.” When in compassionate silence one may simply live among another in reverent silence, their dialogue may become most rewarding.

Thoughts upon August Ferninand Bernhardi (1769-1820)

 

            Composed, along with Fichte, German Idealist response to Metakritik movement.

            Deeply indebted to Fichte, Schelling, German Idealism, and Romantic aesthetics.

            Asks: how can one write or think about language without using language?… “it is impossible to lift himself up with his own hands and climb onto his own shoulders.”

            Language is necessary for establishment of Reason’s role in commonality between individuals. Language, poetry and metaphor specifically portray the bond between im/perceptible (152), for language is a mirror and image of ourselves.

            The Metakritiker’s evaluation of a priori: Would have agreed with Wittgenstein’s “…limits of my language mean the limits of my world…” That is to say, the language availed to one largely determined one’s style of thought.

            Metakritik overturns Kantian conceptual or categorical a priori by claiming more fundamental linguistic a priori. For example: the Kantian categories are accidental to the German language. They would have been different had Kant been working in a different language.

            Bernhardi states that Kantian use and appropriation of a priori is specific and seems to have been misrepresented by Metakritikers. Kant, says Bernhardi, uses ‘prior’ to mean independent of experience-not to mean precede temporarily. Kant himself states that all knowledge begins with experience, but Metakritikers, says Bernhardi mistakenly read Kant to say that knowledge can exist before experience.
(p. 14 on specialized language)
            Herder had distinguished between ‘natural’ and ‘philosophical’ language. Metakritikers had stated that ‘natural’ language gave best route to knowledge, where Bernhardi would say that it was ‘a web of vague notions’, and derivative of the fine tuned language of philosophers and poets. Berhardi depicts poetic and philosophic language as on a spectrum of use, and there is suggested that one must know the larger context (language game?) in which a statement is made to understand its function. Poetic language, in its rhythm and meter speak to the senses and (perhaps unexpectedly) is external. Whereas scientific language is internal, and has ‘left such sensible features behind’.

            Bernhardi challenges Herder’s understanding of Kantian synthesis (“By synthesis, in its most general sense, I understand the act of putting different representations together, and of grasping what is manifold in them in one knowledge.” Critique of Pure Reason). Bernhardi finds that Herder is taking it to mean merely the combination of subject/predicate.

            Bernhardi breaks out the Latin to criticize Herder: “The public hisses at me, but I applaude myself in my own house.” (Metacritique p. 147)

            Metacritique p. 160-161: that which appears external (through intuition)—imagination processes as an image—understanding conceives it, signifies it linguistically—understanding distinguishes an object and the perception of that object—understanding establishes substance and accident .
Forms of understanding are concepts, linguistic forms are words. Words and sentences used to build judgment.

Words are to concepts what sentences are to judgments.

 

 


Jere Paul Surber Metacritique: The Linguistic Assault on
               German Idealism 
(Amherst: Humanity Books. 2001)

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