Archives for category: Religious Scriptures

Prior to the Enlightenment, religious warfare in Europe was ongoing, bloody and costly, and the suppression of Jews, heretics and witches by religious authorities was mad and cruel, scuttling the progress that civilization was beginning widely to offer.

In the Enlightenment two things happened: Christians gave up (or began giving up) on coercion as integral to their faith, and intellectuals gave up (or began giving up) on faith as integral to their beliefs and modes of inquiry.

Islam, on the other hand, has never undergone a thoroughgoing Enlightenment. Muslims are still caught in an intellectual trap, that of coercion, or Force.

And, because of this, they cannot easily form free societies. And they find themselves prone to subjection by tyrants and worse — the chaos of seemingly random terrorist crime.

Now, it is not that the ugliness and gross immorality of the philosophy of persuasion-by-force are hidden from Muslims, for Muslims in and near their homelands are themselves the primary targets of jihadist terrorism. Medina itself was recently subject to jihadist attack. Instead, and despite the obviousness of Force as a trap, it is the case that they are stuck, that the trap is more secure for them than it was for Europeans: they know that violence was written into the main documents and early traditions of their religion, and from history they know that when religions come to revise their attitudes on coercion (that is, become civilized, in the modern, normative sense) a process of secularization quickly sets in, running in parallel to the taming of “religious enthusiasm” (as Hobbes termed the grave danger so neatly). Any pious Muslim knows — much more clearly than did the Protestants of the late Reformation — that a consistent opposition to the uncivilized trap of Force is a direct assault upon their Faith.

The stakes are higher, now, in no small part because coercion is more integral to early conceptions of Islam than it was to Christianity, which began (after all) under oppression, and confronted that oppression by hallowing martyrdom in nonviolent submission. Rather than, in Islam, “martyrdom” in combat. Further, we moderns (including modern Muslims) just know more about the sweep of history, today. So the costs of Enlightenment are a whole lot clearer now than in the past.

Maybe our hope is in the children, those under-educated, cult-prone robots of moralistic fervor who, today, fill the ranks of the hectoring SJW mobs. Maybe they, by their very ignorance and urgent hankerings to be “cool,” will tip the scales.

Could the trap that is Cool undo the trap that is Coercion?

Screenshot 2014-11-14 01.14.16


On io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell takes on the serial-killer genre, as exemplified on TV shows such as Hannibal, Dexter and True Detective:

Individually, these shows are good. It’s the aggregate, and the lack of alternatives, that’s terrible. The idea of the genius-artist-philosopher-killer has become stagnant and dull. Everywhere you look, it’s the same boring nihilism, the same boring excuses, and the same slightly-creepy glamour — which is growing boring.

Her piece is called “It’s Time to Bring Back the Banality of Evil.”

I wish to show no disrespect for the coiner of that phrase, “banality of evil,” or for the book in which she trotted the concept out. Or even for the concept. And yet . . .

Bring back the “banality of evil” . . . to art?

This strikes me as an almost anti-intellectual demand. Fiction is usually about the exceptional, and for good reasons.

Serial killer fiction is a modern reincarnation of ancient mythology, the stories of gods behaving badly, of Devils and demons, of Power corrupted. It allows for the picking at the scab of common sense reality by turning crime into pornography, and then turning us about-face and making us recoil at our own lusts.

All people seek power. And mastery. Crime is the crudest power. Masterful crime is at once the most frightening and the most attractive. Genius serial killers serve as one of the few probings of mastery that can mirror our baser natures, which common culture necessarily would have us shun and suppress. By revealing it, and then in frame of art reversing our evaluations — in great art, several times over, or from a multitude of angles — we gain something that realism cannot deliver: self-knowledge perhaps immune from complacency.

Realism in fiction is fine, in its way. But a little goes a long way — and in another sense realism is a plague upon civilization.

Literary realism is deeply antithetical to human nature. It is usually moralistic and prissy and lowbrow. (This is even more true when praised by alleged highbrows.) Too often realistic fiction (and, even more so, the praise of realism) expresses nothing greater than a fear of imagination, of the fantastic, of the night mind, of Dream Time. It betrays our very human origins in sleep and dreams and illusion. It shuns the wellsprings of chthonian depths. It extols the shallow reaches of the mundane, drowning us in the surface tension of the puddles of the average and common.

Realism condemns us to the ho and the hum.

So, sure: show us the petty killers, if you must. But a serial killer is all the more frightening because he (rarely she) expresses our real fears, of being out-mastered by evil.

If you want to bring the banality of evil back to art, develop more political fiction, for it is in the political realm where you see serial murders glorified, while also bureaucratized. The appalling made banal. And then show all the normal citizens whooping and hollering, eager to vote the serial killers back into office.

Now that is scary. And banal. And evil, evil, evil.timo-dither

square-tao-13

The denominational disagreements about what qualifies as a commandment in the famous “Ten Sayings” (known today as “The Ten Commandments”), strike me as peculiar, to say the least. As a public service, I here break down Exodus 20, from the King James Version, trying to come up with a count. (See an earlier and similar breakdown, sans commentary, here.)

Only three of the commandments give us counting problems: the Graven Image prohibition, the Sabbath set, and the final commandment, on Covetousness. Compare traditional breakdowns (see “The Ten Commandments List“) with mine, below.

As I read it, there are 14 separate words or  phrases of command. (I have bolded those commands.) One of them strikes me (but not Catholics) as an obvious rhetorical repetition. The others strike me as distinct commands, worthy of separate attention. I have placed the Lord’s explanatory passages in red type: these are not commands, but statements that give more weight to the commands. The sub-heads are my interpolations into the text.

 

DECLARATION:

And God spake all these words, saying, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

COMMANDMENTS:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee
    1. any graven image, or
    2. any likeness of any thing that is
      1. in heaven above, or
      2. that is in the earth beneath, or
      3. that is in the water under the earth:
  3. thou shalt not
    1. bow down thyself to them, nor
    2. serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  4. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  5. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  6. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
  7. but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work,
    1. thou, nor
    2. thy son, nor
    3. thy daughter, nor
    4. thy manservant, nor
    5. thy maidservant, nor
    6. thy cattle, nor
    7. thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  8. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  9. Thou shalt not kill.
  10. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  11. Thou shalt not steal.
  12. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  13. Thou shalt not covet
    1. thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet
    2. thy neighbour’s wife, nor
    3. his manservant, nor
    4. his maidservant, nor
    5. his ox, nor
    6. his ass, nor
    7. any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

REVELATORY CONTEXT:

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.