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The Parthenon – Portal To The Past

Athens - Acropolis: Parthenon (West Side)

Athens – Acropolis: Parthenon (West Side): wallyg / Wally Gobetz (see photo at flickr for excellent notes)

The Parthenon is a Greek temple designed by the architect Iktinos and built in 477-433 BCE. It sits on top of the acropolis at Athens.

A stunning example of Doric architecture, the pure marble sanctuary was dedicated to goddess Athena, originally containing at center a massive gold and ivory statue of the deity.

Later transformed into a church, then a mosque, it was damaged in 1687 from an explosion while the Turks were at war with the Venetians.

Today the Parthenon is recognized as a world heritage site.

Despite the best efforts of Greek officials to preserve this magnificent portal to the past, its very survival is threatened by acid rain and automobile pollution.

Myself, I haven’t visited the Parthenon in person. After graduating I had a couple of years to peruse travel videos, so have a pretty good idea what it’s about. Wikipedia has this interesting animation, showing what the Parthenon looks like—(probably) then and now.

Image – Wikipedia

Tastes have changed. To me it looks a bit gaudy. The old version I mean. Same thing with Egyptian reconstructions. Most people think of the windblown monochrome look that pervades today. But in the past, things were much more lively.

Related » Acropolis, Pericles


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Looking through a glass darkly – The paranormal, normal and bias

The Latin prefix para means beside or beyond. Like the word supernatural, paranormal refers to any phenomenon that eludes explanation through normal science or conventional wisdom.

Paranormal can be a misleading term because what is ‘normal’ is open to debate and subject to change.

At what precise point, for instance, does intuition or insight become as ESP or clairvoyance?

Funnily enough, the US courts still provide an option for placing the right hand on the Bible while taking oath—and the Bible is a book that invites believers to enjoy eternal rest in the paranormal realm of heaven.

Image: Wikipedia

Likewise, more recent versions of the American psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-x) accept religious beliefs that include the paranormal, providing the religion is well established and actively practiced within a given culture. Individual beliefs, however, are far more suspect, which speaks volumes about the psychiatric worldview.

Traditional religious persons tend to be wary of the paranormal, saying that it deals with magic, evil spirits, the occult, divination and demonic realms. Heaven, on the other hand, is said to be a faith-based concept denoting God‘s realm. So traditionalists tend to use the word supernatural instead of paranormal, as if that resolves all ambiguity about what is good and not good in the uncharted world of the spirit.

Many who have had unusual experiences or who believe they have psi abilities probably do not report these for fear of repercussions. They would not want to be ridiculed, bullied, harassed, stigmatized, marginalized or perhaps, worse, rough-handled by a medical establishment that leans toward what C. G. Jung called “medical materialism.”¹

Vallisca Paranormal Journalism

Vallisca Paranormal
Journalism: billnwmsu / Will Murphy

We can only wonder just how many genuine paranormal encounters go unreported. But one thing seems pretty clear: The data is questionable.

Social credibility bias, misreporting and unreliable statistics compel us to ask whether ‘normal’ and ‘paranormal’ are relative instead of absolute categories. Just as postmoderns deconstruct the idea of the ‘natural,’² the difference between normal and paranormal is relative to cultures and subcultures.

Cultural biases can be subtle but also pervasive. Bias often goes unrecognized because we are blind to our prejudices, expectations and limitations. And despite what many will say on either side of the fence, this happens with both kinds of believers—believers in the paranormal and believers in the normal sciences.³

¹ Things may be slowly changing for the better. But Jung speaks clearly about mid-20th century biases. See http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/nq21958.pdf p. 143.

² This approach was popular in the mid-1980s and 90s, just before widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

³ Some call for a new kind of relational science that could be applied to paranormal accounts. See http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/10/22/the-top-8-paranormal-scientific-studies-what-we-can-learn-from-them, “Daniel Siegel in conversation with Paul Zak” on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/182895570 and http://www.teemingbrain.com/2012/07/23/liminality-synchronicity-and-the-walls-of-everyday-reality/

† Re title: https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/what-does-now-we-see-through-a-glass-darkly-mean/

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A Pagan Place?

The perception of Paganism has changed over the years. Pagans remain a religious minority in most places, and we find different opinions about Paganism as a spiritual path. In advanced countries it is rare and probably illegal to publicly disrespect or, especially, harass someone because they are Pagans or NeoPagans.

But it wasn’t always this way.

The term pagan has roots in 4th century early Christianity. The early Christians took a dim view of Pagans. At best, believers in many gods or those outside the Christian fold were stock to be converted to the Christian understanding of the One True God. At worst, they were victims of harsh insults and cruel persecution.

This disturbing trend came to a fever pitch in the Middle Ages. Many so-called heretics and witches suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of their Christian “saviors” (irony intended).

The Latin term paganismus was first used in the 4th century, by early Christian community, in reference to populations of the Roman world who worshipped many deities, either because they were increasingly rural and provincial relative to the Christian population or else because they were not milites Christi (soldiers of Christ).¹

In Medieval and early modern times the Christian Church sanctioned successive waves of barbaric torture and killing under the guise of purifying individual souls – and the Earth – of Satan’s demons, which included Pagan deities. Catholics weren’t the only sadistic psychopaths doing this. Protestants burnt people alive too—something many Catholic-detractors downplay or simply don’t know about.

But it didn’t begin in the Middle Ages. The mistrust of Paganism stems back to Biblical times. Competing with the term pagan is polytheism, which the Hellenistic Jew Philo had been using since the 1st century to denote those who didn’t believe in Jewish monotheism. And if we browse through the Christian Old Testament, it’s not too hard to see what unspeakable violence and plunder took place in the name of God before the coming of Christ.

Today the Catholic Church has softened its stand on Paganism, along with most non-Christian religions. Not accepting all aspects of non-Catholic faiths, Catholics do profess to accept all that is from God within non-Catholic belief and practice. There is some truth among the ‘shadows’ of error, is how the Catholic Catechism tends to put it.

Sounds good to some. However, Catholics remain cautious when dealing with Pagan religions. They claim that Pagan beliefs contain elements of error.

Funnily enough, many Protestants – especially Fundamentalists – believe that Catholicism has lapsed into Paganism. After all, Catholics believe in intercession and venerate the saints (to include the Virgin Mary, the Queen of all saints). And not only Catholics. Orthodox believers too.

Panagia Church Virgin Mary Iconography, Orthodox via MaxPixel

Most contemporary scholars cleverly conceal or make ambiguous any negative connotations around the word Paganism. For better or for worse, universities are bastions of political correctness. And to not fall in line can cost you your job. Nevertheless, some scholars still denounce Pagan belief, especially those on the payroll of Christian fundamentalist publishers. They see it as their holy duty to “set the record straight.”

Like most, perhaps, all aspects of life, scholarship, does not enjoy a magical banner of objectivity. The misguided belief in objectivity arguably is a kind of religious folly. But the folly is not about religion, as in Erasmus‘ day.  The folly is the belief that human research and analysis should be elevated to a lofty position that, in reality, is often undeserved.²

Peter Gay traces the development of contemporary Paganism to the European Enlightenment and Renaissance, where new ideas and fresh ways of seeing things apparently enabled mankind to deconstruct its dogmatic Christian heritage.³ By way of contrast, Dinesh D’Souza argues that Christianity, itself, is the core of all that is good in contemporary culture (for him, American society).4

Wikipedia outlines what the term Paganism means today:

Modern Paganism, or Neopaganism, can include reconstructed religions such as the Cultus Deorum Romanorum, Hellenic polytheism, Slavic neopaganism (Rodnovery), Celtic reconstructionist paganism, or Germanic neopaganism, as well as modern eclectic traditions such as Wicca and its many offshoots, Druidry, Heathenry, and Discordianism.

However, there often exists a distinction or separation between some… [groups] over numerous issues such as; the importance of accurate orthopraxy according to ancient sources available, the use and concept of magic, which calendar to use and which holidays to observe, as well as the use of the term pagan itself.

Many of the “revivals”, Wicca and Neo-druidism in particular, have their roots in 19th century Romanticism and retain noticeable elements of occultism or theosophy that were current then, setting them apart from historical rural (paganus) folk religion. Most modern pagans, however, believe in the divine character of the natural world and paganism is often described as an “Earth religion.”5

Some scholars point out similarities between aspects of Christianity and Paganism. What matters is how we interpret these similarities.

Here are three examples in Catholicism:

  • With the Eucharistic Celebration, Catholicism claims to have finalized and transformed the previously barbaric acts of sacrifice and atonement
  • Many Catholic (and Christian) feast days fall on the dates of older Pagan festivals—for example, Saturnalia and Christmas
  • Catholics say their religion transforms and ennobles all that is good in the annals of mankind. So the Vatican collects priceless Pagan statues because these represent artistic ‘greatness.’ God must have been present, they argue, because the statues were so superbly conceived and executed.

On this last point, some non-Catholics take this as rank idolatry, greed and hypocrisy masked as piety. For the critics, it is false to see God working through non-Christian pathways. The Catholic replies that the heavenly Jesus exists in all of time so can influence historical periods that took place – or some might say that are taking place – before his earthly manifestation.

This is interesting. So many perceive Catholics as narrow-minded, brainwashed traditionalists. But considering Einstein’s empirically supported ideas about the relativity of space and time, we can safely say that Catholic theology was centuries ahead on this one.6

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paganism

² Academics often use special words and speech patterns to try, arguably in part, to legitimize their brand of thinking. But when we look closer or just think for ourselves, we often see how arrogant, small and uninspiring this can be. (The overuse of the word “magisterial” comes to mind). Recently reading one sociological piece, I had to wade through miles of gobbledygook to get to the main points. And these were so obvious and pedantic, it made me wonder why the author was such a big shot in the first place.

³ See Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism (1966).

4 D’Souza is a great writer. He reminds me of some hip Indian intellectuals and artists whom I met in India. But he simplifies and misrepresents Canada so terribly, I can only wonder what blunders and omissions he commits in other areas. Reading his stuff and watching his films makes me feel like I’m looking at a very bright 15-year-old’s connect the dots picture. The artwork is well above average for a 15-year-old. But an adult gets the sense that too many dots are left out. In short, entertaining but be sure to fact check. See https://www.amazon.ca/Whats-So-Great-about-Christianity/dp/1414326017

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paganism

6 Plato too, one could argue.

† Entry title: https://youtu.be/tfXGt2MtSs8

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Panentheism – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, Lithography p...

Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, Lithography published in: Die reine d.i. allgemeine Lebenlehre und Philosophie der Geschichte, Göttingen 1843 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Panentheism is a religious studies term coined in 1828 by the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781–1832).

Today, it belongs within the umbrella term, pantheism. However, Krause’s concept is more specific.

Panentheism refers to the belief in an eternal God grounded in but also greater than creation. Put simply, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Krause is an interesting character. Largely overlooked by Western philosophy, his predominantly mystical thought was overshadowed by Schelling,¹ Fichte, and Kant, who were his professors. He was also passed over by academe, like a lot of bright people with a bit too much insight and individuality.²

His view of society reminds me of Émile Durkheim’s but with an added mystical flair. For Krause, the universe is an organic whole. And the more that individuals and groups fall into line with that whole, the better society functions.

Krause endeavoured to reconcile the ideas of a God known by faith or conscience and the world as known to sense. God, intuitively known by conscience, is not a personality (which implies limitations), but an all-inclusive essence (Wesen), which contains the universe within itself. This system he called panentheism, a combination of monotheism and pantheism.

Ideal society results from the widening of the organic operation of this principle from the individual man to small groups of men, and finally to mankind as a whole.³

Schelling

Schelling 1775 – 1854 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Variations of this view are found in Taoism and Hinduism, as well as the works of Spinoza and Hegel. But we should be wary of oversimplifying. Important differences are sometimes glossed over by educators, religious authors and New Age enthusiasts.

That may sell sugar coated self-help books and fool gullible students. But it’s far from the truth.4

¹ Schelling is considered by some to have coined the term unconscious and his saying, “Nature is visible Spirit; Spirit is invisible Nature” would make a perfect inspirational quote for social media.

² I’m coming to think that, with a few notable exceptions, the brightest people in the humanities do something better than teach at a university. The more dull-witted stay behind, churning out their conventional, politically correct or trendy tracts mostly designed to get funding and ensure financial security. Nothing wrong with that. But nothing spectacular either.

³ https://www.diigo.com/user/earthpages This is a link to highlighting (notes) I made. I thought it would be a good idea to link to this so additional info that didn’t make this article could be seen. My Diigo page also has the original source.

4 Unless one adheres to the ‘truth’ of selling no matter what b.s. you’re spinning.

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Panenhenism – A WW-II spy comes up big in religious studies

Image via Abe Books

Panenhenism is a religious studies term coined by the WW-II British undercover agent cum Oxford scholar R. C. Zaehner (1913-1974).¹

A minor point for many, perhaps, but panenhenism differs from the more popular pantheism.

Panenhenism refers to the belief that the universe is a unified whole, but without any reference to God.

Zaehner’s term prefigures the semiotic and postmodern agenda to deconstruct words like “God” and what they connote for different individuals and groups—e.g. women, invisible, visible, silent and outspoken minorities.

Zaehner, himself, became a practicing Catholic and emphasized a distinction between what he called monist and theistic perspectives on mysticism.

The monist, he claims, adheres mostly to Asian religions (with some exceptions), where the self is identified with the godhead. The theist, on the other hand, believes that the self is forever individual and has some kind of relationship with God.

To illustrate the latter perspective Zaehner begins his book, Mysticism: Sacred and Profane (1961), by referring to the Jewish writer, Martin Buber. Buber makes a similar distinction with his famous “I – Thou” thesis.

Image via Abe Books

Zaehner was pretty popular when I was in India during the 1980s. By stating his own personal biases at the outset of his study, he is miles ahead of other scholars who conceal their religious convictions while trying to appear ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ when dealing with world religions.

Later, while doing my doctorate in Ottawa, Canada during the 1990s, the notion of stating one’s biases at the outset of a study was a talking point at colloquia.²

¹ Quite an interesting read at Wikipedia » British_intelligence

² Basically, an informal exchange of ideas among those who cared to attend. Not all professors did. Some seemed to prefer volunteering for basic mail sorting chores in the mail room.

Related » Connotation, Denotation, Panentheism, Pantheism, Polytheism


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Quiddity – What is?

Quiddity (Latin: quidditas = whatness) is a medieval scholastic term referring a thing’s essence (primary substance) in contrast to its observable form (secondary substance).

This kind of distinction goes back to Plato and plays an important role in understanding the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist, said to transform in essence but not in observable form.

Catholics and several other Christian churches believe that Holy Communion is not just a memorial but a sacrament in which one partakes of the living body and blood of Christ. Each Christian Church has subtle variations in trying to explain this mystery. For Catholics, by taking the transformed host one goes further into becoming a part of the mystical body of Christ.

For most Christian believers, partaking in the Eucharist is the opposite of natural eating. With the Eucharistic meal, the eater becomes part of the eaten, whereas in natural eating the reverse is true: the eaten becomes part of the eater.¹

Concerning the Catholic theological distinction between essence and form, essence is not to be taken as mere mattery/energy—that is, the fabric of the observable universe.  For Catholics, essence is a spiritual term that means something qualitatively different from matter/energy.

This important point is often misunderstood or entirely overlooked by New Age / Quantum Physics enthusiasts who recast the old myth of naturalistic pantheism into the latest scientific language, which arguably is just another myth.

David Hume

David Hume (Photo: Wikipedia)

Clearly, not everyone accepts the idea of primary substance. Non-believers tend to think of it as mumbo jumbo. And Catholics are sometimes called derogatory terms like “wafer biters.”

The philosopher David Hume and others who probably never felt the glory of the Eucharist argued that since primary substance cannot be perceived, it should not be assumed to exist.

However, many who do experience tangible effects from the Eucharist would likely see Hume’s perspective as limited, one coming from a mind constrained by worldliness, materialism and an over-reliance on conceptual reasoning.  As Wikipedia notes

The claim that substance cannot be perceived is neither clear nor obvious, and neither is the implication obvious.²

¹ Some New Age and Shamanistic believers might dispute this, saying that when we eat an animal we temporarily merge with its soul, which continues into an afterlife.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substance_theory

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The Quakers, past and present

Pete Birkenshaw via Flickr

The Quakers (a.k.a. The Religious Society of Friends) are a religious movement founded in England by George Fox (1624-1691). Wikipedia outlines the interesting origins of the appellation, Quakers.

In 1650, Fox was brought before the magistrates Gervase Bennet and Nathaniel Barton, on a charge of religious blasphemy. According to George Fox’s autobiography, Bennet “was the first that called us Quakers, because I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord”. It is thought that George Fox was referring to Isaiah 66:2 or Ezra 9:4. Thus, the name Quaker began as a way of ridiculing George Fox’s admonition, but became widely accepted and is used by some Quakers

The Quakers were pacifists who rejected the Christian Sacraments, seeing themselves as  true Christians, Saints, Children of the Light, and Friends of the Truth.² They advocated plain speech and clothing, and were persecuted for their nonconformity. Four Quakers, including Mary Dyer, were executed in Boston in 1660.

In the 20th century Quakers made a name for themselves in the world of business, with names like Cadbury and Rowntree leading the pack. BBC points out that not all Quaker businesses succeeded. But we remember the success stories.³

English: The Religious Society of Friends (Qua...

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) Mosedale Meeting House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, pockets of Quakers exist around the globe, often in economically disadvantaged locales where they engage in charitable works.

Quakers emphasize an Inner Light and personal revelation. Liberal Quaker “Friends” recognize different manifestations of what they understand as “The Holy Spirit.” This means that non-Christian religions are seen as valid approaches to God.

The Catholic Church has generally regarded the Quakers as a well-meaning but misguided sect.4

Title page from a book protesting the persecut...

Title page from a book protesting the persecution of Quakers in New England (1660-1661) (Photo Wikipedia)

My only direct experience with a Quaker came through a university professor. While most other professors had PhDs, he was still working on his.

Despite this apparent drawback, he was by far one of my best undergrad professors. Intelligent, witty, kind and encouraging. He brought historical and biographical depth to what otherwise could have been a pretty dry topic—sociological theory.

So if he is any indication of what the rest are like, Quakers have made a pretty good impression on me.

George Fox. This image shows part of an engrav...

George Fox. This image shows part of an engraving by “S. Allen” (published 1838) of a painting by “S. Chinn” – Wikipedia

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

² Ibid.

³ http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-17112572

4 For instance » http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=9765

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