• Islamophobia

    In our ever-shrinking world, where the word ‘community’ means that more and more cultural and religious diversity is right beside us, we really have no choice but to find out who our neighbors are. Otherwise, we just hide from the world. This sort of isolation could be achieved in the past, but no longer in this fantastically close-knit world. Militant exclusivity, particularly in its violent forms, may make headlines – but it does not make much sense.

    The heavy media coverage of violent activities by small groups of Islamic terrorists helps cement in the American imagination a stereotyped image of all Muslims as angry and dangerous conspirators, fixed on spreading hatred, destruction and murder. We often hear the claim that “Sure, I guess not all Muslims are terrorists, but how come the good ones never speak out? It seems as if they’re all willing to support terrorism, even if they don’t participate.”
    I recently typed in the phrase “Muslims Against Terrorism” on the YouTube site, and it brought up 5,470 videos.
    Then I went to the Google site and typed in the phrase “Muslims who speak out against Violence”, and it turned up 24,400,000 results.
    The only reason some people have never heard Muslims object to terror and violence is that they do not listen and they have not looked.
    Most Americans do not know very much about Islam, other than the sensationalism they hear about on the news, so it would be worthwhile to take a look at some of what the Qur’an actually says.
    For instance, does the Qur’an sanction forced conversions? In fact, all Islamic jurists, without exception, have held throughout history that any attempt at coercing a non-believer to accept the faith of Islam is a grievous sin. This quote from Chapter 2 could not be any clearer: “There is no compulsion in matters of religion.”
    The Quran does allow Muslims to fight against people who have attacked them or oppressed them (and by the way, the battles that are described in the Qur’an are not being fought against Christians or Jews: they are defensive wars against other Arabs who resented Muhammad because they did not want to give up their various idols and did not like the way his anti-idolatry preaching was annoying the pilgrims who came to Mecca each year and made them rich). So Muslims were allowed to fight back when attacked, but in Chapter 60 it says, “God does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact, God loves the equitable.”
    And as far as Jews and Christians and other peoples are concerned, in Chapter 49 God says, “We have …made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know each other and to honor each other, not so that you should despise each other.”
    Does the Qur’an say “Kill them wherever you encounter them”? Yes, it does. But contrary to the wild imaginings of frightened westerners, and the lunatic fringe of Islamic terrorists, this verse is not condoning slaughter. It was said in the context of one particular battle. The immediately preceding verse says, “And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for verily, God does not love aggressors.” The immediately following verse says, “If they desist, God is much forgiving: If they desist, then all hostilities shall cease.” In fact, every Qur’anic reference to fighting in a war is qualified by some moral condition of restraint: Muslims are commanded not to commit injustice, they are not to use violence disproportionate to that which threatens them, and they are not to use violence at all when credible avenues to peace are available.
    Of course, God also says, “Terror and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of your arm shall they be still as stone.” But he said that in the Book of Exodus. And then there is this quote: “At that time we took all his cities and completely destroyed them – men, women and children. We left no survivors.” That was Moses in Deuteronomy.
    Is the New Testament free of such language? In Luke, Jesus says, “I have come to cast fire upon the Earth… Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on Earth? I tell you No, but rather division.” Later he adds, “Whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”
    What about stoning women who commit adultery? Actually, no such punishment is ever mentioned in the Qur’an. In fact, the Qur’an says nothing on the subject. There are a few times when stoning is mentioned in the text, but each time it is a threat being made by non-Muslims about what they might do to Muslims. Never does Allah or Muhammad condone such a thing.
    To be completely transparent, there is an Islamic story, not in the Qur’an, where an adulteress comes to Muhammad asking to be punished, in order to be purified so she will not have to spend eternity in Hell. At first, the Prophet did not know what to do, since there had been no divine revelation on the subject. So he went to see some Jews he was friends with to see if they had any suggestions, and he found out that the Torah talks about stoning adulterers. The Jews tried to hide this from him – probably because the injunction had never been taken literally and was never enforced, and they did not want him to! But the story says he did follow the written Jewish law, had her stoned, and because no divine Revelation ever came to him in which God objected (or mentioned it at all), the punishment was later absorbed because of this silence into Islamic law. The story may or may not have been fabricated, or embellished. In any case, it is a unique story in that the victim asked to be punished, and nothing in the Qur’an itself ever permits such barbarity.
    As to the famous Gospel story about Jesus preventing a mob from stoning an alleged adulteress, most biblical scholars agree that Jesus’ act of mercy was not out of keeping with the religious practice of the times. Other Rabbis would not have enforced the Leviticus code for stoning an adulteress; none would have said, “go on, stone her.” Jesus’ stance was well within his Jewish tradition.

     

    It is certainly long past time for Muslim political authorities to take the same stance.
    ~

    Some people are astonished that Islam would sanction a suicide bomber. In fact, Suicide is forbidden in Islam. It was not Allah , it was not Muhammad – it was Ayatollah Khomeini who said, “The purest joy in Islam is to kill or be killed for Allah.” Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any justification for suicide or indiscriminate slaughter.
    Here is my favorite quote from the Qur’an, from Chapter 5: “If God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community. But He willed it otherwise in order to test you by what he has vouchsafed to [each different tradition]. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works!”
    Lastly, here is an example of a Qur’anic verse that has often been used to justify violence and war, that extremists have used to brainwash their young followers, and fear-mongers have used to support their stereotypes. “Unto all hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight hath he distinguished above those who sit at home.”
    But consider: You can “strive and fight” within your own self, against your own negativity, your own moral weakness, your own cynicism and fear. You can “strive and fight” against emotional chaos, apathy, complacency and ignorance. I doubt many people of faith – any faith – would be shocked to hear that God has a special regard for those who “strive and fight” in this way.
    Why is this interpretation relevant? On the ride home from their final battle, Muhammad said to his Companions, “We have returned from the Lesser Holy War to the Greater Holy War.” When one of them asked him, “What is the Greater Holy War?” he replied, “The war within the soul.” That is the actual meaning of the word jihad.
    ~
    I hope this helps people see that Islam is not a religion of violence, any more than Judaism or Christianity are, and that the sacred scriptures of Islam, like any other holy book, must be taken in historical context, the words must be read within their own grammatical and linguistic context, and the stories need to be pondered, contemplated and interpreted for their inner spiritual meaning.
    Unfortunately, that cannot be the end of this discussion of Islam. We cannot take this information in and ignore contemporary reality. We cannot disregard the constant threat of terror that we are living with.
    But the religion of Islam, per se, is not the cause of war or terror. It is never religion itself that causes such misery. It is people who manipulate religion. The religion of Islam is not threatening anyone’s way of life. But the politicization of Islam clearly is. And it is threatening Muslims as much as or more than anyone else.
    Historically, extremist groups have always been marginalized and rejected by mainstream Islam as heretical aberrations. But now a major change has occurred. The magnificent Islamic civilization of the Middle Ages has crumbled, and traditional institutions that once sustained and promulgated Islamic theology – and marginalized extremism – have been taken over by state institutions.
    A thousand years ago, at the height of Islamic power, the tradition called Ijtihad – the spirit of discussion, debate and dissent – flourished, and was presided over by a class of religious scholars, independent of the political system, called jurists. From the 8th to the 12th century, some 135 schools of Islamic interpretation existed, as well as 70 great libraries. Divergent opinions and schools of thought were not only tolerated, they were celebrated. There was discrimination, and it was hardly an interfaith utopia, but historical evidence indicates that Jews living under Islam experienced much less persecution than the Jews living in European Christendom. Science and art thrived, and Islamic civilization laid the groundwork for the Renaissance.
    But in the centuries since, following the Crusades and the later invasions by Genghis Khan and his successors, as well as the inevitable internal political disputes and intrigues as opponents battle each other for power in a vast empire, the world has seen the demise of this high civilization, the stifling of Ijtihad, the closing of schools, the repression of critical independent thought, as the duty of the jurists has been co-opted by nationalistic politicians – technocrats serving as self-appointed arbiters of faith – who limit debate and interpretation, rather than expanding it, all to prop up their cultural and political goals and maintain the status quo. Now Muslims in these countries are silenced by relentless propaganda warning them that unity and strength demand conformity, debate only causes division, and division is synonymous with criminal heresy.
    Many people in this situation have been beaten into emotional submission, which is what the powers-that-be want. No doubt, many others continue to have questions and divergent opinions, but dare not speak out for fear of the response.
    Fanatic groups, like al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban (originally supported by the West as allies in our battle with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but now turned virulently anti-American after witnessing so much carnage), are still intellectually and sociologically marginalized in Islam. But their highly visible acts of violence command the public stage.
    Nonetheless, I believe these fanatics will not achieve their ambition to remake the religious landscape of the Islamic world in their narrow image. There are too many rival traditions. The desire for freedom is too strong. And as Walter Russell Mead notes, against the drive for a more closed and narrow view of Islam, “the Internet is making the great works of Islamic scholarship available to tens of millions of Muslims, including women, who can and will be free to draw their own conclusions about what their faith means and how it should be lived. Theological diversity within Islam seems bound to increase.”
    In the meantime, it is important to understand that the supremacist thinking of Muslim extremists is grounded in culture, politics and nationalism – not religion. A culture of misguided ‘Honor’ has eroded the religion of Islam. ‘Honor” is an Arab cultural tradition that stresses the family or tribe over the individual. This custom is not Islamic – and for that matter, 80% of the world’s Muslims are not Arabic! – but many Muslims, like many Americans, confuse politics with religion.
    Under the Arab code of honor, Muslims are taught to abdicate their individuality and accept their fate as property of their family or tribe. It is this cultural tradition that silences reasoning and dissent, and at its worst leads to tragedy when a family feels “shame” and imagines they are compelled to murder their own children. Honor killings, genital mutilation, forced marriages of children, imprisoning innocent women because they’ve been attacked by rapists, and other disgraceful atrocities, have been defended for far too long in the Arab world under the guise of ‘tradition’ despite what the Qur’an teaches, and they have been overlooked for far too long in the Western world under the guise of ‘respecting other cultures’.
    To be fair, however: In recent times a number of current and former members of the U.S. military have told a district court that they were raped, assaulted or harassed during their service; that reports of sexual abuse of American servicewomen are routinely ignored; and that victims are retaliated against. The Defense Department recently estimated that 19,000 assaults occurred within the military in 2010, with 85 percent going unreported. Women who did report them have been demoted, jailed, told they are lying, told they are crazy, and discharged from service with loss of benefits. Violent sexist behavior, followed disgracefully by either denial, or by blaming and punishing the victim, is by no means the exclusive province of Arab societies.
    Meanwhile, in Palestine, Hamas relentlessly preaches to their subjects that the Middle East crisis is solely the fault of diabolical and subhuman Jews who must therefore be annihilated. The total annihilation of Israel and its people is their all-consuming goal. They reject any offers of peace because peace is not what they want. And land is not what they want. Previous offers of “land for peace”, previous offers of cease-fires, have brought no respite from attacks. Terrorist regimes see peace overtures as weakness, and they prey on weakness.
    But peace is what mothers and fathers and families want, it is what good decent people – whether Muslim, Christian or Jew – who simply wish to live their lives and raise their children, want. I suspect the only way it will finally be achieved – and it will finally be achieved – is when people rise up and rid themselves of rulers and fanatics who cavalierly sacrifice them on an altar of their political egos and hatred, who proudly admit they would rather see their own people suffer for a hundred years, than live in peace and prosperity with Israelis. From 2004 to 2008, 85% of al-Qaeda’s victims were Muslims! It doesn’t take the US or Israel to carry out barbarity against innocent Muslim families.
    The vast majority of Muslim people want peace, but in many ways, as history has taught us too many times, this is unfortunately irrelevant – just as it became irrelevant that most Germans were not Nazis, or that most Russians were not Stalinists. The terrorists have to be stopped. We are all being threatened, including most Muslims!
    Which is not to say that Israel is innocent. Such people are still few and far between, but there are extremists in Israel who openly talk about expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs. There have been examples of viciousness and lawlessness in attacks on innocent Muslims. Peaceful non-political Palestinians are still not able to control their money and resources, or to move about freely. Although Hamas is clearly responsible for endlessly provoking Israel (with little or no concern for the safety and well-being of their own people) by launching thousands upon thousands of rockets against Israeli cities through the years, a case can certainly be made that Israel, with its far stronger military, has oftentimes responded in a disproportionate way – and that even with the efforts they make to protect civilian life, far too many men, women and children have been wounded or killed, thus punishing innocent Palestinians and driving their loved ones toward the extremist camp.
    It is now critical and only just that Israel listen far more compassionately to the viewpoint of Palestinians – after all, how would any of us respond if we were suddenly told by a group of outsiders that our homes were no longer ours, that the land where our families had lived for generations and where we had raised our children, was about to be taken away; that the state where we live was henceforward the new sovereign homeland of the Native American peoples, in recompense for all the terror and slaughter of the past, just as the Nazis had terrorized and slaughtered European Jews? Might this not cause years and years of anger, hatred, and violence? The two sides have to keep negotiating, they have to keep trying. And in so doing, they will get some cease-fires, they will make a bit of progress.
    But the real path to peace is not through Israeli (or American) negotiations with these regimes, it is not through offering them land or money. The path to peace is through an unequivocal rejection of terror – by all decent people, who choose love over hate, and life over death.
    And I am hopeful, because sooner or later wisdom and decency always win out. There is much that has to be done to bring about peace, but arguably the most important is that each one of us becomes a living example of peace, justice, and love.
    This is always an option:

     

    We are all familiar with the stories of ‘righteous gentiles’, the many noble and courageous Christians who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives, helping to save European Jews from the Holocaust. But here is a story you might not know: During the Nazi occupation, entire Muslim villages in the small country of Albania sheltered Jews. During the previous years, as German Jews scrambled to get visas to escape the coming nightmare, country after country turned them away. Even the United States had a “quota” for Jews, and turned away thousands. But the Albanian Embassy granted visas without question.

     

    There was no concept of “stranger” in Albanian culture. For the Muslims of Albania, a “Foreigner” was a “Guest”, and they were treated with the same hospitality as the three angels who visited Abraham.
    ~

    I will conclude this chapter on tolerance with a story about the famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. One day, on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky, Merton found himself surrounded by Jews and Christians, blacks and whites, men and women. He suddenly experienced what he called a “radical sensation of inclusion.” He later said about this moment:

     

    It was like I was waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a ‘special’ world – the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The sense of liberation from this illusion of difference was such a relief, that I laughed out loud.

    It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race.



  • Featured Image Duty

    The great public narrative of our post-9/11 lives is that we are engaged in a War on Terror, a great battle between cosmic forces of Good and Evil. No rational person can deny that groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS are threatening civilization with wholesale destruction, and their barbarity and cruelty must be resisted and defeated. This was the lesson that Krishna taught Arjuna long ago in the Bhagavad Gita: sometimes one must do one’s duty, sometimes one must stand up for what is right and fight against evil, sometimes one must simply do what has to be done – even when this includes fighting or even killing. But Krishna also taught Arjuna that this is not to be done with a heart full of hatred, arrogance, or anger, but consciously and from a place of love, with no attachment to the outcome, without greedily wishing for vengeance or reward. It is not to be done for our own self-aggrandizement or to feed our ego’s illusions of superiority, but for a higher good, always remembering that there is infinitely more to the world than what we can see or understand. Similarly, when Christ taught his disciples to love their enemies, he was not being naïve, and he was not telling them to be docile. Like Krishna, he was teaching them that whatever has to be done must always be done with one’s heart in the right place. Of course we must protect ourselves, but an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality, fueled by fear, hatred, pride, and exaggerated stereotypes, will only prolong the horror. How many ages of bloodshed must pass before we see how useless this is, and how wise the words of Christ and Krishna really are.



  • Featured Image Our Exquisitely Stupid Cleverness

    We have been promised that through a combination of enlightened commercial policies and advances in science and technology we will eventually usher in a wonderful future. But in fact, we are causing immense ruin to the world around us. This disconnect persists, as noted previously, because while politics, economics and technology have an important place in our lives, they are only valuable and effective when they are ruled by men and women of conscience. When conscience succumbs to meaninglessness, as we all too often witness, values are cheapened and short-sighted, and they are re-concocted anew each day by fashion, whim, and demands for entertainment and comfort. Politics, economics and technology then become the rulers, and we become their slaves. The only way these things can be a positive force for good is if we become conscious, responsible, honest and loving, use our intelligence, and refuse to ignore harsh realities.

    Since the time of the first European explorers, there has been a basic and “disturbing commitment,” in the words of Thomas Berry, “to conquer this continent and reduce it to human use.” This “exaltation of the human” coupled with the “subjugation of the natural” has been so excessive, Berry notes, that we are today forced to look for a fresh understanding of “how the human community and the living forms of Earth might now become a life-giving presence to each other,” rather than perpetuating the unconscious, life-destroying, violent competition between humanity and the world, that is grounded in the misguided and maladaptive ‘onlooker’ viewpoint of 19th-century science and the hollow presumption that accumulating wealth takes precedence over all other human obligations and aspirations.

    This ought to be a goal of education, but our educational system, from pre-school to the university, has routinely been collusive with the goals of exploitation. Only in the fields of art, music, literature, and occasionally in philosophy and some of the biological sciences, has the world outside our petty human cravings been given respect and attention, and these are precisely the fields that are considered ‘soft’, nonessential, and expendable in today’s education marketplace.

    The great achievements of the European settlers in the Americas – establishing a place where freedom could flourish, where people could worship or not worship as they please, where all individuals (not just the rich or “high born”) would have rights and opportunities, where governance would be determined by the governed and not merely imposed on the governed – have been flawed from the start by the dual corruptions of murdering indigenous people and plundering the land. The great achievements of science, technology, and economic insight that have helped bring about much relief from poverty, hunger, and sickness, have been accompanied by the thoughtless devastation of that very environment that is necessary for the perpetuation and prospering of life. Most of those who helped bring about our current world saw only the bright side of their achievements, uninterested in their ethical failures, unconcerned with the consequences of their political and commercial obsessions that have caused so much damage to this planet – which has routinely been treated as an “it” that exists only to slavishly serve us. “We behave in the family of Nature,” noted A. R. Orage nearly a century ago, “like self-indulgent children whose only object is to enjoy ourselves. If you will only ponder seriously for half an hour on the way we exploit natural resources, land, forests, and animals, for the gratification of abnormal desires, you cannot help but be appalled.”

    We all have learned the lesson, even when we forget to follow it, that other people are not in existence merely for us to use them. But we are still quite some distance from grasping the parallel truth that other living things, and the Earth itself, are also not in existence merely so that we can use them. It will take a great deal of emotional and intellectual maturity to realize this, we will have to get passed what a friend of mine once called “our exquisitely stupid cleverness.” But it is time to grow up.



  • Featured Image Dining on Bacchus

    When all reflected on itself and contemplated endlessness,
    it dreamt itself in two while subtly looking on and being seen.
    From perfect point to perfect line, this Yin and Yang duality
    took form within androgeny.

    Amorphous Chaos, Gaia, Void, her multiverse of galaxies,
    thence known by lusty Uranos – that Uranos, the husband-son,
    who gushed his light upon her seas.

    Their dance of love at first brought forth those dreaded beasts of hideous form:
    the many-headed hydras and the monstrous cyclopes of one eye –
    demons of the hurricanes and thunder storms and lightning bolts,
    so feared by jealous Uranos he bound them deep within the pit.

    But Uranos and Gaia mated once again and now brought forth
    those sons and daughters of the starry world – the Titans, elder gods:
    Cronos, Rhea, Oceanus, Phoebe and Hyperion,
    Tethys, Themis, Hecate, Helios, Atlas and Prometheus.

    Storm and daylight, male and female, love and hate now all appeared:
    still two, still yet androgenous, this diverse multiplicity –
    like Heaven’s light on watery Earth dividing up the firmaments,
    dreaming endless worlds to come, the many still within the one.

    But Uranos despised this brood and kept them captive in his wife,
    and all recoiled in fear of him – til once when he approached his mate,
    his youngest, Cronos, lord of Time, unmanned his father with cruel flint.
    As Noah, too, from whom would come all life after the purging flood,
    was castrated by Ham, his son, when time decreed his work was done,
    so Uranos would seed the world to come no longer with his forms:
    his seed was spent, and now came forth the lord of Time and queen of Space.
    (Some say that hateful giants grew from Uranos’ blood spilled on land,
    but love’s great goddess, Aphrodite, sprang from drops spilled in the sea.)

    Unmanifest to manifest, unfathomable sacrifice,
    Heraclitus’ logos crosses through the veil between two worlds,
    connecting changeless endlessness to flowing rivers wrought in Time
    that parody Eternity. From Heav’n-above-Heav’n across that gap
    where Aphrodite’s task will be to loosen souls from density
    and free them back to endless bliss, now comes her brother Hermes, who
    alone traverses ‘cross these realms, from one, to two, and thence to four.

    Three points, three lines, the sacred Three – in Time, yet of Eternity –
    an elementary quantum flash, a mere potentiality
    appearing in this world of sense – this fourfold world of elements –
    and disappearing back again: the mystic Three, the missing link
    that disappears and reappears and disappears again between
    potential world and actual world: This Myst’ry, God’s geometry,
    this Three between the Two and Four, this Holy Spirit spanning realms,
    this mercurial Messenger, this flash beneath the atom’s state,
    behind the Big Bang’s magic point, is where one finds the source, the root –
    where “the beginning” still begins.

    Like pent up steam and lava bursting forth beyond the mountain’s grip,
    impatient Life’s volcanic force now cleaves the threshold’s door apart,
    and Iris with her rainbow bridge guides Being to Becoming’s realm:
    the grass, the seed, the fruit of trees, the beasts of water, land and sky,
    abundant life from Mother’s womb (the Sun with all her heat and light)
    where Three inseminated Four: “Be fruitful thence and multiply”.
    Thus Twelve, the sign of plenitude: twelve constellations of the sky;
    twelve patriarchs, twelve tribes of old; twelve chieftains born of Ishmael’s seed;
    twelve Tabernacle loaves of bread; the twelve who spread the word of Christ;
    the twelve who pledged at Aqabah; twelve baskets still when all were fed.

    Then stars begat the solar world, as Cronos King and Rhea Queen
    gave birth to planetary gods: to Zeus and twice-born Aphrodite,
    Mars, Demeter, brethren, sistren, twelve Olympian gods and goddesses,
    circling ‘round the mother Sol, the ‘heav’n’ we dream of “in the sky.”

    But when life crossed from World to world, Becoming tempted life with pride.
    Defiant Cronos, prideful King, would have no child usurp his throne
    (as he himself had long ago usurped his father Uranos,
    and just as Uranos and Gaia long had warned in prophecy.)
    Each day Time waited for each child and swallowed each upon their birth,
    til bitter Rhea took the just-born Zeus before his father knew,
    and hid him deep within her mother Gaia til his time should come,
    and gave instead to Cronos swaddling clothes with naught but stone inside.

    Then Zeus grew great and strong, and when the time of his adulthood came
    he forced his father to disgorge the stone and all his siblings too,
    and so came forth those gods and goddesses, born of this solar world.

    There followed, long and terrible, the War of Heaven twixt these two:
    the elder Titans, born above, against their children, born below.
    But now the Titans too were spent, for Life continued its descent.
    Zeus won by freeing from their pit the thunderous hydras, lords of storm,
    who lent him all their power and might, and gifted him their lightning flash.
    Then Zeus inflicted dire punishment on his defeated sires,
    banishing them all in chains to dark caves deep within the Earth –
    (except for Atlas doomed to bear the weight of earth upon his back,
    and two who sided with the gods: the Titan Epimetheus,
    and his great brother, Zeus’ friend, the Titan called Prometheus.)

    Thus Time does swallow and destroy all things within this world of sense –
    except for Zeus, that inner god, eternal Spirit hidden deep
    within our own archetypal mother, Gaia. Zeus, who promises
    to battle Time and Death with force that only comes from raising up
    those inner demons from our depths, and always ends victorious.

    Then Zeus lay down with Earth, Semele, child of Thebes and Harmony,
    and from this union twixt two worlds was born the child of Earth and Heaven:
    Bacchus, god of wine and dance, fertility, and ecstasy;
    Bacchus, god of wine and madness, blinding rage, and lunacy;
    Bacchus, born of Zeus, Above, and Semele, the Earth, Below;
    Bacchus, god of blood red wine, the soul, partaking of two worlds;
    the soul, connecting Heaven and Earth; the soul, impelling Life’s descent.

    Like other gods of vegetation, Bacchus died a violent death;
    Like other gods of vegetation, Bacchus was returned to life,
    much like a serpent symbolizing wisdom, evil, God and sin,
    shedding skin and symbolizing resurrection, Christ’s rebirth,
    rising to the heavens like a phallus filled with power and light,
    swallowing its tail before encircling the universe,
    diving into earth, and rock, and dust, and symbolizing death,
    serpents biting Moses’ people’s feet with poison, pain, and death,
    the serpent raised by Moses on a copper pole that granted life –
    the serpent power, the Holy Spirit – Logos, Eros, Thanatos.
    Like every god of vegetation, every soul succumbs to death;
    Like every god of vegetation, every soul returns to life.

    The goddess Hera, Zeus’ wife, despised his half-breed bastard child
    and plotted ways to kill the boy. But Zeus, aware her heart did rage,
    soon placed the boy into the care of guards he thought that he could trust.
    But Hera bribed them to her side, and gave a mirror to the child
    who stared into it, hypnotized, full fascinated with his face –
    beguiled by mere reflection, mere illusion, false reality –
    until unwittingly he wandered blindly into Hera’s trap:
    the cave of bitter co-conspirators, the Titans, chained below,
    who caught and tore the boy to pieces, boiled his flesh, and ate their fill.

    But Wisdom’s goddess, who had shared the treachery of Zeus’ wife,
    now repented of her actions and retrieved the young god’s heart.
    Athena brought it back to Zeus, who nurtured it and from the heart
    he brought his son, the god of wine, now resurrected, back to life.
    Then Zeus, enraged, took hold his mighty thunderbolt and aimed it true,
    and all the murderous Titans held below were soon reduced to ash.

    But in those ashes were retained the remnants of the wine god’s flesh,
    so from those ashes Zeus determined that his friend Prometheus
    would now create composite creatures, dust and soul, a human race,
    their lower nature made of stardust, ashes of the elder gods
    (who had grown bitter from their long interment deep in matter’s world),
    but also with a higher nature: charred remains of Zeus’ child.
    And thus these bodies, temples, all belong to Bacchus, lord of song.

    Who among us can deny the hypnotizing force of death,
    beguiling us with cruel and false illusions that we think are us?
    Like souls upon the shore awaiting Charon’s craft we fight to be
    the first aboard, the first to yield, the first to feed death’s hungry jowls.
    But all’s not lost if in our hearts a seed of Bacchus still resides,
    and if the spirit still can claim that seed and guide it to rebirth,
    permitting the celestial goddess, Aphrodite, to perform
    her task, releasing life from matter, back to our celestial home.



  • Featured Image Another Snowy Evening

    Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

    by Robert Frost

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.
    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    This gallery contains 1 photographs in all as  frost photograph etc.


  • Featured Image Thomas Merton

    mertonToday is Thomas Merton’s 100th birthday.

    One day, on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky, the famous Trappist Monk found himself surrounded by Jews, Christians, Blacks, and Whites. He suddenly experienced what he called a radical sensation of inclusion. “It was like I was waking from a dream of separateness,” he later wrote, “of spurious self-isolation in a ‘special’ world – the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The sense of liberation from this illusion of difference was such a relief, that I laughed out loud.

    “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race.”

     



  • Featured Image THE CHANUKAH STORY

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    1. THE REIGN OF TERROR

     

    After the death of Alexander the Great, his three generals divvied up his Empire. The Greek city-states went to Antigonus. The northern region from Persia through Babylonia and Assyria was taken by Seleucis. The southern region, including Egypt and Palestine, was taken by Ptolemy.

    For 125 years, the Ptolemies (i.e., Ptolemy I, Ptolemy II[1], etc.), ruled Palestine with a generally tolerant, hands-off attitude: as long as the Jews paid their taxes, they could govern themselves and worship however they pleased.

    Even so, the Greeks expected their vassals to adopt their language, manners, customs, and ideals. Among other alien ideas, the Jews had to cope with the popular philosophy of Epicureanism that encouraged a life of cynicism, in which Divinity played no role in human life, and our only purpose was to free ourselves from concerns about morality so that we could pursue a life of physical pleasure. As has always been the case, this was a very fashionable and attractive philosophy for many people, especially among the young. Between the prosperity and the pleasure, many Jews were happy to be Hellenized.

    In response to this, however, there was a conservative reaction among those Jews who still revered the Mosaic Law and the religious culture of their ancestors, and who maintained a firm belief that the royal line of David would one day be restored to the throne. These Jews became members of a political group known as the Hasideans. So the nation was soon split between pro- and anti-Hellenists.

    Also during these years, there was constant fighting between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, both of whom wanted control of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard which included Palestine. Finally, in 200 BCE the Seleucids, under Antiochus III, wrested Palestine from the Ptolemies. Still, Antiochus continued to allow the Jews freedom of worship and the right to govern themselves, so it didn’t make much difference and once again many people were perfectly content to be tax-paying vassals of the latest Hellenic emperor.

    Antiochus soon decided that he wanted to expand his empire even further, and he marched into Egypt intending to collect more property. There, however, he ran into the latest contender for world domination, the Romans, who had only recently become the masters of all Italy and were now beginning their own expansionist policy. One look at the Roman legions and Antiochus turned back.

    But he still thought he might be able to defeat these upstarts if he had the help of a truly united empire behind him. So Antiochus embarked on an intense project of Hellenization throughout his realm, including placing statues of himself, as a god, everywhere. In Palestine, of course, the Jews objected vehemently to this idol-worshipping project, and Antiochus decided to let them be — so long as they demonstrated their continued loyalty by providing taxes and soldiers. But then Antiochus III died, and the son who soon took over, ‘Antiochus Epiphanes’, was not so agreeable.

    In time, the aristocratic pro-Hellenist forces in Palestine, believing it to be in their best interest to support Antiochus Epiphanes in his Hellenization program, convinced him (and very likely bribed him) to appoint one of their members, a priest named Jason, as the new High Priest. The High Priesthood, which controlled the great wealth of the Temple, had fallen into a corrupt institution. Within a year there were Greek statues and Greek rites in the Temple. In response to this, more and more moderate Jews flocked to the anti-Hellenist Hasidean party, and the divisiveness in Palestine approached a state of civil war.

    Antiochus Epiphanes’ Hellenization project was successful in the rest of the Seleucid Empire, and even in Palestine he had some supporters. So, believing he was strong enough to face the Romans, he headed once again to Egypt. He was quickly sent packing by the Roman legions[2], and a rumor reached the Jews in Palestine that he had been killed. Members of the Hasidean party took this news as a signal that the time was ripe to purge the nation of traitorous Jewish supporters of Hellenism and desecrators of the Temple. Many were killed, and the Greek statues in the Temple were thrown over the wall and smashed.

    Antiochus, however, was very much alive. And when news of the uprising reached him, right on the heels of his humiliation by Rome, he was enraged. He marched into Jerusalem, slaughtered thousands of people indiscriminately, installed new statues in the Temple, looted the Temple’s wealth, and invited pagans to come to Jerusalem and settle there. Still angry, he then outlawed the Sabbath, forced Jews to sacrifice pigs to pagan gods in their own Temple, and forbade circumcision.

    It was a reign of terror.

     

    2. THE MACCABEES

    In 167 BCE, in a small town near Jerusalem, a Greek official ordered an old Jewish priest named Mattathias to sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. It would set a good example, the official said, and he promised Mattathias a handsome reward if he complied. The old priest defiantly refused, but while he was upbraiding the official a Hellenized Jew approached the altar and began preparing to offer the sacrifice. Mattathias, filled with a blazing anger and indignation, grabbed a sword and killed both the renegade Jew and the Greek official. He then turned to the crowd that had gathered and said, “Follow me, all of you who are for God’s law and stand by the covenant!”

     

    Those who joined Mattathias, including his five sons, hid in the hills and organized a guerrilla army led by the eldest son, Judah. Judah and his soldiers were so successful that they were given the nickname “the Hammers” – in Hebrew, “the Maccabees” – because of all the hammer blows they dealt the enemy. Though vastly outnumbered, they waged a long and bitter war, which they eventually won, and the legend of the Maccabees spread throughout the empire, causing the Seleucid rulers much consternation.

     

    Antiochus first sent a small force to stop the revolt. Judah annihilated them. Then a larger force was sent. This time, Antiochus was so confident of victory that he brought slave auctioneers with him and promised them a large supply of Jewish slaves after the battle. Again, the Maccabees were victorious.

     

    After the third year of fighting, Judah was able to reconquer Jerusalem and chase away the Hellenist sympathizers. When the Maccabees entered the Temple, they found it desecrated, filled with Greek statues, overgrown with vegetation, and its holy implements – including the golden Menorah (the Candlestick) – stolen: in fact, much of the Temple’s wealth had been used by the Seleucid kings to pay the Romans their tributes. Judah and his followers threw out all the idols, cleansed everything, constructed a new Menorah, and rededicated the Temple on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, in 164 BCE.

     

    But they could only find enough oil to keep the Menorah burning for one day (it was supposed to burn continuously), and it was an eight day journey to bring back and prepare a new supply of oil. Miraculously, the oil continued to burn for the full eight days.

     

    This miracle is still commemorated by the Festival of Lights, the Chanukah Festival, when Jews light candles on a Menorah for eight days.

     

    The word Chanukah comes from the Hebrew word chein, which means Divine ‘Grace’ – i.e., God’s Light. With God’s help, the Maccabees overcame incredible odds. The candle lighting ceremony of Chanukah is meant to remind us of God’s Grace and to rekindle Hope in the human heart during times of adversity.

     

    Judah’s triumph, however, was not yet complete, and there would be many more years of fighting. But in battle after battle, the Seleucids were forced to retreat. Mattathias and Antiochus Epiphanes both died during this time, and four of Mattathias’ sons would eventually die in battle, including Judah Maccabee. But at last, in 143 BCE, Antiochus’ successor, no longer certain of victory, tired of the endless guerrilla warfare, and feeling weak and threatened by Rome, signed a peace treaty with Mattathias’ only surviving son, Simon.

     

    The Israelite Nation was free.

     

    *********

    Find out more about this fascinating period of history in

    “FROM JOSHUA TO JESUS: A Brief Chronicle of the Kings, Empires, Legends and Ideas that Paved the Way to Bethlehem”!

    The perfect little Holiday Gift!
    ***


    [1] It was Ptolemy II who compelled seventy Jewish sages to translate the Torah into Greek. The translation is known as the Septuagint. Ptolemy II and his Greek subjects were pleased to have another volume of human wisdom on their shelves, but the sages grieved. They knew that without the Oral teachings, the Greek Torah was just another ‘literary classic’ that could only be read literally – as history and a description of social legislation – rather than symbolically and spiritually.

    [2] In fact, the Romans declared themselves henceforth the ‘Protector’ of the Greek-speaking peoples, and Antiochus was forced thereafter to pay them an annual Tribute. So the citizens of Palestine were now, by some strange logic of politics, simultaneously the vassals of the Greek Seleucids while under the ‘protection’ of Rome.

     



  • Featured Image THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC – A SPECIAL POST FOR ROSH HASHANAH

    Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when the story of the Binding of Isaac is read in Temples throughout the world. Here is an interpretation of this troubling story that may provide some food for thought. L’ Shana Tova!

    THE BINDING OF ISAAC

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    The most important story about Isaac in Genesis, and one of the most important (and troubling) stories in the Bible, is this terrifying story of sacrifice. God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.” So the next morning, Abraham and Isaac headed off to Moriah.

     

     

    Abraham gathered and split wood for the sacrificial fire, and placed the wood on Isaac’s back – not unlike the Roman practice of crucifixion, in which the victim carried his own wooden cross on his back. Abraham took the fire and the knife, and the two walked off together. “Father”, asked Isaac, “Where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Abraham said that God would provide the sheep. When they arrived at the place God had appointed, Abraham built an altar, laid out the wood, and bound Isaac. He lifted his knife, and then a voice called to him from heaven: “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from me.” Abraham then saw a ram stuck in a thicket. He got the ram, and offered it to the Lord in the place of his son.


    If Abraham, as the Kabbalah states, is the essence of Mercy and Kindness, how could he do this? The usual interpretation is that it demonstrated Abraham’s absolute devotion to God, it showed that he was prepared to put God’s wishes above everything else, even the welfare of his own child, and God appreciated this and rewarded him.

    But there is something utterly horrific in this interpretation of a God who would torment his loyal followers in this way, and even pretend to demand that they sacrifice their children for His pleasure. And Abraham himself comes off as an inhuman monster.

     

     

    There has to be more, and there is.

    The usual image of Isaac is that he was a helpless little boy. But the information in Genesis suggests, and the Talmud and the Kabbalah confirm, that Isaac was a fully grown man of thirty-seven, old enough to make his own decisions. Sarah’s death is recorded immediately after the binding of Isaac. She was 90 when he was born, and died at the age of 127 (when Isaac was 37), presumably a result of the stress and shock. As additional evidence, we note that a boy of five or seven could not carry the amount of wood needed for a sacrifice on his back up a mountain. But nowhere is there any indication that he tried to stop the sacrifice: Abraham built the altar, placed the wood, bound Isaac, and lifted the knife, all without a single word of objection. 

    Isaac, in a supreme act of inner strength and unselfishness, offered himself to be sacrificed.

     

     

    If Isaac had objected, Abraham could not have continued. Mercy and kindness could not pull this off alone. But Isaac’s role in the story (and this is the necessary human quality that he represents symbolically within our individual souls) is to rein in any extravagant excess of kindness with a strength and severity that is able to make difficult decisions and judgments. Isaac is a counter-balance to Abraham, and it is not quite correct to say that Abraham did this thing: they both did this thing, two consenting adults who needed each other. In other words, both of these qualities – Abraham’s ‘Mercy’ and Isaac’s ‘Severity’ – must be present for our soul to flourish.


    Just as Mercy can ‘go too far’, the quality of Severity, which opposes and balances the giving-nature of Mercy, can also ‘go too far’, becoming fierce and selfish. Isaac, the beloved child who had been longed for for a hundred years, had naturally been rather spoiled by his doting parents. It was his nature to receive, to take, always for himself. He had to give that up to follow this command of God. That day in Moriah, with each others’ help, both men sacrificed their weaknesses.

    All of this, of course, is a level of psychological interpretation. There is also a spiritual meaning in the story. In its most esoteric sense, the sacrifice of Isaac actually is completed! Isaac dies! That is, the inner ‘Son’ [here, Isaac] of the ‘Father’ [here, Abraham], precisely by not returning to God, makes the supreme sacrifice of ‘dying’ to the heavenly life of eternal Being, and descends into the material life of Becoming in order to experience mortality.

     

     

    It is interesting to note that in the Islamic tradition it was Ishmael, not Isaac, who went up the mountain with Abraham to submit to the sacrifice. We can argue to the end of our days about the historical veracity of these two competing claims, but this is beside the point. Both stories are symbolic representations of the same profound psychological and spiritual processes that occur deep within the human soul, and in this sense both stories are equally true. 

     

     

    Immediately after this, Sarah passed away. When the time of mourning was over, Abraham, still the doting father, sent his servant to the land of his birth in order to find a wife for Isaac. The servant brought ten camels laden with gifts, and when he arrived outside the city he stopped beside a well and prayed for a sign. Instantly the beautiful Rebecca appeared, who turned out to be the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor, and who possessed a generous and loving nature much like Abraham himself. Rebecca agreed to return with Abraham’s servant and marry Isaac.    

     

     

    Just as Rebecca reached the home of Abraham, “Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi”, which means ‘the well of the Living One who sees me’, and was so named many years earlier by Hagar, Ishmael’s mother and Abraham’s banished concubine. He ‘looked up’ and saw Rebecca approaching on a camel. She also ‘looked up’ and saw Isaac. “Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebecca as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” 

     

    In the very next sentence the Bible tells us that Abraham also now remarried, this time to a woman named Keturah, and they had several children. Before he died, he gave these children many gifts, and sent them “to the land of the East.” Abraham lived to be one hundred and seventy-five years old, and then “breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented, and he was gathered to his kin.” Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah beside Sarah. After this, we are told, “Isaac settled near Beer-lahai-roi.” The episode then ends with a summary of the posterity of Ishmael, all of whom “camped alongside all their kinsmen.”

    This perplexing medley of information begins to make sense when we learn from the oral tradition that ‘Keturah’ was another name for Hagar. ‘Keturah’ means perfumed, and it is said in Jewish lore that Hagar was ‘perfumed with good deeds’. Now consider all the implications. Before Rebecca arrived, Isaac had been in Beer-lahai-roi — which strongly suggests that he had been living with Hagar and his brother Ishmael. Isaac and Ishmael evidently brought Hagar and Abraham back together again after the death of Sarah. Abraham lived another thirty-seven years and had many more children, as did Ishmael, and this formerly divided family lived all together once again, everyone “alongside their kinsmen”. When Abraham passed away, Isaac and Ishmael brought him home and buried him with Sarah, and then Isaac returned to the family and “settled near Beer-lahai-roi.”

     

    Spiritually, the story reminds us that the various inner forces within the soul, no matter how divergent, can still reunite and work together in a state of harmony. On a psychological and family level, it suggests that it is never too late for broken families to come back to each other and heal their wounds. On a social and political level, given the immense importance of this particular family for all of western history, it clearly tells us that since Isaac and Ishmael could reunite as brothers, there is no reason why their children, Jews and Muslims, cannot do the same.


    ***
     

     

    For many more stories and interpretations from the Bible and Qur’an, see my book,
     

     

    SYMBOLS, MEANING, AND THE SACRED QUEST:
    SPIRITUAL AWAKENING IN JEWISH, CHRISTIAN AND ISLAMIC STORIES
     



  • Featured Image Something to Hold Onto

    sam and frodoSam: In the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer…. I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

    Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

    Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.



  • Featured Image The Sacred Feminine in the Bible: THE SAMARITAN WOMAN (Part 2)

    Chalice BookCover largeAt this point, the disciples appear. John tells us they were “astonished that he was speaking with a woman”, but they wisely kept their mouths shut. The Samaritan woman then left and went back to her village, where she told everyone about Jesus and asked them whether they thought he could be the Messiah. We’re told that “many believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” Then they “left the city” and went to meet him.

    Meanwhile, the text says that Jesus’ own disciples had gone “to the city” in search of food – in other words, they had gone off in the opposite direction, away from Christ, seeking sustenance in the lower realm, in Samaria, while the residents of Samaria were ironically coming upward, searching for sustenance in Christ. Now the disciples have returned and they urge Jesus to eat. But he says he has other food, food they know nothing about. Like the Samaritan woman, they take this literally and ask each other, ‘who gave him food?’ Jesus patiently tries to explain, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” He then tells them not to think that someday ‘in the future’ the harvest will be ready. The harvest of this food is here now. Open your ‘eyes’, he says, “and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”

    At this point the Samaritans arrive and ask him to spend time with them, and Jesus “stayed there two days”. After this experience they said to the woman, “it is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

    This is a major point that the Bible often makes but no one seems to hear it! Faith is not ‘believing what someone else tells us’. Belief is simply adhering to one conviction or another on thoughtless and inadequate grounds: perhaps because someone told us to believe it, perhaps because believing it makes us happy or comfortable, perhaps because it spares us the effort of thinking for ourselves. Faith, on the other hand, is the result of one’s own authentic experience of the reality of God. Faith is knowing, with absolute certainty, for oneself, from one’s own inner efforts and experience.

    ***

    You can read all my work on the Women in the Bible in “The Sacred Chalice”



  • Featured Image The Sacred Feminine in the Bible: THE SAMARITAN WOMAN (Part 1)

    Chalice BookCover largeIn the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to ‘Jacob’s Well’ where Jacob had met Rachel. But this time a high representative of the Feminine doesn’t appear. Instead, a lower representative appears, a Samaritan woman who doesn’t recognize Christ (though she’s heard he’s coming and hopes to see him). She draws some water and Jesus asks for a drink. She’s surprised, since Jews did not share things with Samaritans. Jesus says, “If you knew who is saying, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

    But this is the lower Feminine principle, and she gives herself away with a literal and superficial question: “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” Jesus answers “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water I give them will never be thirsty.”

    She still doesn’t understand, and responds somewhat comically, “Sir, give me this water, so I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus, perhaps a bit exasperated, tells her to “Go, call your husband, and come back.” At first, this seems an odd bit of chauvinism, but he’s speaking symbolically and what this means is that her consciousness is completely attuned to her lower physical nature, which is why she understands everything literally, and he wants her to turn to her higher Mind, her proper ‘husband’. But she says, “I have no husband.” “You’re right”, he says, “for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” The five husbands are her five senses, none of which is appropriate. In other words, she is ‘wed’ – attached – to the material world.

    Slowly, she begins to get a little clearer. She still can’t ‘see’ very well, but she wants to — and this means she eventually will. “I know the Messiah is coming”, she says. And Jesus says, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

    (Come back tomorrow and read Part 2)

    ***

    You can read all my work on the Women in the Bible in “The Sacred Chalice”