Friday, February 27, 2009

evil plots and new religions

Not surprisingly the Vatican was unimpressed by Richard Williamson's non-apology for his rampant antisemitism (Holocaust denial is only the beginning).

On a related note, Williamson apparently approached David Irving for advice in how to present his conspiracy theories to the public in a manner that would not cause such an uproar. Irving suggested that he admit the extermination of Jews in three camps (without mentioning any numbers, because those "need to be checked"), but went on to say that Williamson was the target of a Jewish plot designed to distract from the attacks on Gaza:
Israel set off this storm against the church, led by a German pope, to distract the world from the massacre in Gaza.

To round out the insanity, upon his arrival in London, Williamson was met by Michele Renouf. Renouf had previously supported Irving during his trial for Holocaust-denial in Austria. Renouf claimed that Williamson was the victim of an unreasonable persecution by the adherents of a new religion: "Holocaustianity".

Thursday, February 26, 2009


The Catholic, Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, apologized again for the consequences of his remarks on the Holocaust.

Not surprisingly, there is nothing in the remarks to suggest that Williamson has changed his mind. What is more troubling is that Rome does not seem to have been troubled by his views enough to start with, nor has the Vatican reacted to any of the other whacko conspiracy theories to which Williamson subscribes, nor have they asked him to apologize for his rather blatant misogyny.

Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind
Peter Bruegel the Elder, "The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind" (1568) [Tempura]

The most troubling aspects of this sordid mess have little to do with Williamson. Williamson is exactly what we thought he was; he is exactly what the Vatican ought to have known he was. And there is nothing to suggest that, despite the recent attempts of the SSPX to distance themselves from him, that he does not represent that already fringe breakaway from Catholicism. After all, they made him a bishop and up until last week had him in charge of one of their seminaries, directing the intellectual and spiritual formation of the young men there.

What is most disturbing is the failure of the Vatican to pursue these other matters suggesting that they see Williamson primarily as a PR problem in their attempt to reconcile with the SSPX movement and strengthen traditionalists within the Catholic communion at whatever cost. They do not see Williamson or his group for what it is. This means that either the Vatican is so obsessed with reconciling with the lover that jilted them that they cannot see how grossly deformed the SSPX is (the antisemitism is, as I have said, only the beginning) or, they actually do not find the spiritual deformations of the movement problematic. Either is frightening.


Monday, February 23, 2009

the struggle (part 2)

Ad Reinhardt, Untitled (1960-1966)

there is no salvation outside of History.

they were told in the garden that if they ate of the fruit of the tree they would surely die. to be like god, knowing good from evil, this is politics and the beginnings of all war. every city is babel.

in a broken world, one must write broken sentences.

if the world were perfectly closed there would be no hope. because it is broken one can hope, for that means there is passage beyond what we are.

politics substitutes the borders of the de-personal state and the declaration of war that leads to the rape and plunder of all its subjects for the caress of the body, the communion of love and the worship of that by which love is made possible.

moses was told that no one could see god and live. so, since he was moses, he did not see god. but he misunderstood: we must be no one.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

the struggle

prayer in the desert
Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Prayer in the Desert" (1864) [oil on panel]

the labor of writing is not that of trying to get the words out of oneself, as if it were an exorcism. it is instead a matter of trying to find one's place within the words. this immersion is difficult because we do not know how to rest.

while the anorexic desires nothing as if it were something, the ascetic desires even less and thereby attains the Whole.

an individual: a shadow of what one is meant to be

whoever desires the infinite but sets aside the finite will only find themselves mired in finitude because they have insisted that the infinite is limited. but the one who immerses themselves in the finite will find it transfigured and every limit removed.

war: the belief that death is a greater good than peace

a standing army that sits unused is a waste. a standing army that is used is a waste.

a definition of theology: thinking through sin in the hope of salvation


Friday, February 20, 2009

always already

friend: what would you be if you couldn't be christian anymore?

LoA: a neoplatonist

friend: *sigh* but you already ARE a neoplatonist

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the erosion of idenity: the national religion as freedom for indifference

It is hardly surprising that our handy Gallup Poll also finds that among Americans who identify themselves as religious, the overwhelming majority (70% nationally) say that the particular religion a person practices is simply one of many such ways that a person could approach God and that many different religions are equally good at helping people achieve their eternal salvation. I am not sure that people can take political liberalism’s “freedom of religion” seriously, both as a value and as a cultural practice, unless they do not think there is anything serious at stake in which religion you are a member of. It would be naive to try and disentangle the particular way in which America understands and practices the cultural and political values of "freedom of religion" from the below average importance that religion holds in American lives according to the poll and the widespread American belief that which particular religion you are is not important to your eternal salvation.

Daniel Greene, Ring-a-Ghoul
Daniel Greene, "Ring-a-Ghoul" (2006)

One of the reasons the Evangelical Right is so "whacko" is precisely because they think that those who do not subscribe to their view of the world generally, and to their Christianity in particular, are going straight to hell…and, moreover, are trying to take the country there with them. They are at one edge of the American political spectrum because they continue to identify their religious beliefs with the State, i.e., they continue to insist upon "a Christian America". This allows them to wage both figurative and literal war upon those they identify as the enemies of God and the State with a confidence that would otherwise boggle the mind. They are on a mission from God to save America and the world -- with a gun and through the death of their enemies when necessary.

Taken more broadly though, it seems that the “religion” practiced by most people in a politically liberal state like America is a liberalism which is more or less nationalist depending on its adherent, but is largely indistinguishable from some aspect of liberal culture. The traditional religions are increasingly vestigial-hangovers from an earlier age that liberalism has been happy to mobilize as much as it can in support of its own meta-religion which subsumes all others. This is the power and genius of the modern liberal state.


Monday, February 16, 2009

the erosion of identity: christian twilight

gallup poll, 2008
Gallup Poll, 2008

Returning to another part of that Gallup poll mentioned earlier...

Why isn't the conclusion of that poll that, despite the number of adherents that Christianity can very legitimately claim for itself, it is a dying religion (to be as hyperbolic as possible)? This seems especially true of Protestant Christianity (whose traditional center has been America and Northern Europe). What that poll tells me, at the very least, is that, in the areas dominated by Christianity, Christianity is not the primary means of either interpreting or organizing people's lives.

That is obviously a broad generalization and the reasons for the erosion of Christian identity in these areas are diverse (Orthodoxy in Russia has obviously faced different pressures than the Christian stew that is found in America). And one would also need to be attentive, in a manner I have not, to the flourishing of Christianity in Africa and South America


hat tip to Abu Noor

Sunday, February 15, 2009

reactionary catholicism: the sspx and perennialism

The events of the last few weeks have reminded us that the SSPX is haven for reactionary-Catholics of great variety. This gives us a moment to recall and reflect on the intersection of Catholic traditionalism and perennialism. The most famous example of these two movements converging in person is Rama Coomaraswamy. At first associated with the SSPX, it eventually turned out that the SSPX was not traditionalist enough for him and he broke away from that organization to form the SSPV (Society of St. Pius V).

It is pretty clear why Catholic perennialists and Catholic traditionalists are attracted to one another. And in Franco-phone Europe where the SSPX was born, both sides moved in some very similar circles vis-a-vis the Vichy Govt in WW2 France, and French Catholic fascism more generally. One can note some obvious points of convergence between the two sides, especially with regards to their anti-modern and anti-liberal stances which are inevitably translated, in both groups, into a fairly radical sense of nostalgia for more organic, rural, traditionally structured (including a generous dose of misogyny), "spiritual", forms of life.

time arrested by death
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), "Time Arrested by Death" [terracotta]

The big difference between much Catholic-traditionalism and the perennialists, as I understand them, would be the denial of the existence hidden/lost super-religion buried as esoteric wisdom within the exoteric practices of the world religions. The SSPX generally see the other religions as nothing but error and one of their main complaints with the Vatican is what they see as the missionary-failure after Vatican II. Having said that, Rama Coomaraswamy was always open about his perennialism and this was never itself an issue with the SSPX.

In neither the traditionalists nor the perennialists can Nostalgia ever be satisfied. Increasingly isolated as History passes them by, they must invent wild conspiracies and secret religious pasts to explain the chaotic forces of freedom which they are unable to perceive as the shared project of human creation. Indeed the activity of humanity in its own history is interpreted here, as with the gnostics, as a Fall into the devastation, fragmentation and filth that is time. Frightened of time and history they become twisted into something unreal and inhuman.

Friday, February 13, 2009

daydreams of conformity: dante gabriel rossetti

Everybody's life is pervaded by daydreams: one part of this is just stale, even enervating escapism..., but the other part is provocative, is not content just to accept the bad that exists, does not accept renunciation. This other part has hoping at its core, and is teachable. It can be extricated from the unregulated daydream and...can be activated undimmed. Nobody has ever lived without daydreams, but it is a question of following them deeper and deeper and in this way keeping them trained unerringly, usefully, on what is right.

Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope I (1959)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "The Day Dream" (1880)

there has always been an element of contradiction to the work of dante rossetti. one of the founding members of the pre-raphaelites, he had enthusiastically embraced the romantic ideals that the group called a return to nature. they wished to portray events as they might happen, in their natural light and setting and in more natural poses. what this involved for a great many of the pre-raphaelites, and what they became very well noted for, was the extreme detail that appeared in their works, their determination to work from nature and the narrative content of their work. but rossetti was never as technically proficient as a millais or hunt and after one early failure, never showed his paintings in the official settings provided by victorian society. instead, for rossetti painting was a way of reimbuing the world with mystery. he painted medieval tales or highly catholicized religious images, allowing him to depict a world which married nature and grace.

in general, like most of the other pre-raphaelites and those who were influenced by them, rossetti searched for a way to resist the increasingly industrialized world, its coldness and mechanization....and along with it the modes of production that determined art and artistic production, with a consequent loss of quality and increasingly alienation from 'nature'. yet as he gained in popularity and success, rossetti's lack of any real committment to truth (which was assumed in the other pre-raphaelite's turn to nature) began to tell upon his work. his path of resistance became one of autonomous beauty: paintings of isolated women, with no narrative context, idealized and divinized (in some cases literally: astarte syriaca, proserpine). the romantic ideal of beauty becomes rossetti's only goal. but as a result, his works begin to take on a mass-production quality that mirrors the industrialized world he wanted so badly to escape. figure after nearly identical figure comes out of the rossetti studio (again just compare this painting with his famous image of proserpine or astarte syrica or almost any of the others for which jane morris was his model). rossetti became a brand; an easily recognizeable something to own, and the rossetti-brand catered to the need of the newly wealthy industrialists to advance their way up the status ladder. rossetti's beauty-without-truth-content proved easily assimilable to that which it once rejected. and what was once the day-dream of hope, resistance to capitalist industrialization, became escapist fantasy living off of and supporting that same industrialization.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Proserpine" (1877)


Thursday, February 12, 2009

things the pope wishes he had said a lot earlier

In a meeting with Jewish leaders today, the Pope called the Holocaust a crime against God and humanity and said any denial of its reality or magnitude was untenable. This was an attempt to mend fences after the whole debacle surrounding the Pope lifting the excommunications of four SSPX bishops, including the Holocaust-denying Richard Williamson.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

belief-o-matic: hours of endless entertainment

Those "hours", btw, don't come all at once, but due to my continual return to this funny little survey. With all due respect to Aziz's blog, Belief-O-Matic is my favorite part of Beliefnet. The results vary, depending on when I take it and my overall mood, but the following are typical results for me (including only those results above 90%)...

1. Hinduism (100%)
2. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (99%)
3. Orthodox Quaker (92%)
4. Eastern Orthodox (91%)
5. Roman Catholic (91%)


1. Hinduism (100%)
2. Eastern Orthodox (94%)
3. Roman Catholic (94%)
4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (94%)

For those of you who don't know, my home church is Melkite (which is Catholic), though I quite regularly attend the Orthodox parish immediately behind our house since the closest Melkite parish is about an hr away. Thus at some level, the results are quite satisfying. The tool clearly measures my deep identification with the Catholic/Orthodox tradition.

I do find several things amusing about the tool though. First, while the rankings vary almost every time I take the test (which keeps me coming back), Hinduism is regularly the first or second choice and I can never remember it coming in lower than 90% (unless I was playing with the survey, trying to get a specific result). This is true despite the fact that I have no real interest in or attraction to Hinduism (ok, I love Bollywood, but that never struck me as in any way Hindu-specific). I did my coursework on it when I had to, with a professor I liked a great deal and who really loved India and Hinduism...but for me...nada. So, the survey, while it did describe my own self-understanding with Catholicism/Orthodoxy, is also measuring something I am not entirely aware of and which runs counter to my own explicit self-description.

At one level I know why and how this happens. At the end of the day I am a Platonist who read too much Hegel. I am very comfy with language of the Absolute, etc., and find the answers which explicitly use the word "God" in the survey to be too mythological for my taste most of the time. Moreover, Hinduism, as it is understood by this survey, is compatible with Christian claims, as understood by this survey, concerning the Incarnation and Trinity. In reality I think that the two are theologically fairly distant from one another and that the survey is capturing a possible similarity in language that is fairly thin in reality. If, realizing this, I try to answer the questions, esp. concerning God, in a manner that stresses the One, Hinduism falls down the list, but so does Catholicism/Orthodoxy for whom the doctrine of the Triune God is central. In fact, because Hinduism shows a great deal of flexibility concerning talk about God, Catholicism and Orthodoxy fall even further down the list than Hinduism does, thereby defeating the purpose of changing my answer.

25. Islam (31%)

Ok, so if Hinduism gets overrated by the survey, Islam gets hammered, despite my deep love and active interest in Islam. Again the reasons should be obvious. Say "Incarnation" and watch Islam plummet down the list. Say "Trinity" and watch Islam literally beg the survey to no longer be included for possible consideration. Still...Islam gets ranked, almost every time I take the survey, down at the bottom of the list with the JWs and nontheism (two which definitely belong at the bottom of my list), and it makes me wonder why.

Clearly, at some level, Islam is simply a category that does not contain a lot of nuance in the survey. In fairness, neither is Hinduism. We are all aware how broad religious practice and belief can be in Hinduism and one category covers the whole spectrum for this survey. It is my impression, though, that in the case of Islam, the category is narrow, not broad, i.e., it does not include a lot of variety in religious practice and belief that are clearly also present in Islam.

In any case, we come to one of the fundamental decisions made by the designers of the survey regarding Xty...or at least my Christianity. The fact that I affirm Christ as God (the Incarnation) places me closer to those who affirm various manifestations of God (and this includes neopaganism and new age, etc.) than it does to Islam or Judaism. This strikes me as fairly poor understanding of Christianity and its history, to say the least, even if it does raise interesting questions, e.g., if a Christian decides that, despite their belief in God, Jesus is not God, do they enter into a world where there are many incarnations (e.g., Jesus is one of many beautiful souls who manifest God) or a world where the prophets, of whom Jesus might be one, point to something Other?)

In any case, I left curious about how other people score on the Belief-O-Matic and what unexpected kinships (or distances) they might find.

Lawrence the Hindu, signing off....

Monday, February 9, 2009

white washing

The SSPX has fired Bp. Richard Williamson from his post as head of a seminary in Argentina because of his Holocaust denial. The Pope had demanded that Williamson recant his views if he wished to continue his service to the Church. The SSPX, a fringe group by any measure, has tried to distance themselves from Williamson on the Holocaust, saying that his opinions were private beliefs and did not represent the organization as whole. Unfortunately, other opinions of Williamson -- misogyny, Islamophobia, some conspiracy involving Oklahoma City bombing, etc., etc. -- do apparently represent the SSPX, though they are doing their best to hide it by scrubbing their website of his writings.

They haven't finished scrubbing yet. A picture of Williamson can be found on the top right of the page, here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


downey, the white window
Shaun Downey, "The White Window" (2003)

I call the Sun to witness
and its early morning splendor...
and the day which reveals its radiance...
and the Soul
with the harmoniousness that is given to it
and the enlightenment to know what is unfitting and what is integral to it.
The one who purifies it succeeds
and the one who confines it comes to grief.
Qur'an 91:1,3,7-9 (610-632)

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Cassandria Blackmore, "Dionysios"
Cassandria Blackmore, "Dionysios" (2008) [Reverse Painted Glass]

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth,
The parable of His Light is as if there were a niche,
And within it a Lamp: The Lamp enclosed in Glass;
The glass as it were a brilliant star;
Lit with the oil from a blessed Tree,
An Olive, neither of the East nor of the West,
Whose oil is luminous, though no fire touched it;
Light upon Light!
God guides to the Light whom He will.
Qur'an, 24:35 (610-632)

Friday, February 6, 2009

the erosion of identity

My own read on some of the data on religious identity is that liberal culture erodes Christian identity (I suspect it erodes everyone’s identity, but…). Thus you see the growth in those who identify themselves as “no religion”. Insofar as certain Christian groups were growing, it was limited to those groups that have no historical memory, lack a strong confessional identity and emphasize the immediate psychological experience of the believer as the basis of their Christian commitment (Evangelicals, Pentecostals, non-denominational, etc., etc.). This immediacy, the loss of any sense of belonging to a historically dynamic community, the denigration of rationality, all yield Christians who in fact lack an identity. Identity relies on memory; the absence of it means a Christianity that is simply caught in a perpetual present.

blowing away in the white sense
Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew, "Blowing Away in the White Sense" (2007) [Oil, Thread and Inkjet on Canvas]

In the face of this erosion, communities with a rich historical tradition find themselves resorting to authority to protect themselves from this religious-stream-of-consciousness. Authoritarianism is though just the other side to the coin of identity-loss. It reflects the fact that the persons no longer have a sense of why they believe the things they do and so the traditional practices are maintained, not by an ephemeral feeling, but by fiat. It stands in reaction to social forces that are chaotic, unmasterable by the individual, and therefore frightening. Authority may produce a kind of stability but it is no better at creating identity. Unable to experience the present moment as part of History, we, instead, believe because God (e.g., some guy in a dress, the Church or pick-your-random-book) says that is what we must believe in order to get the reward of avoiding relativism and getting our ticket punched to heaven.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

theater of the absurd

The Pope now claims that he did not know about the views of Bp Richard Williamson on the Holocaust at the time he lifted the excommunications against the bishops associated with the fringe Catholic group, the SSPX. It is hard to know whether such a statement is absurd or absurd. It is absurd if he really didn't know. Ratzinger-turned-Benny16 has a long history with the SSPX, first as JP2's point in the negotiations around their excommunication in the 1980s, and now, again taking it upon himself to begin normalizing relations with that same group. But it is likewise absurd to believe that he did not know, when they turned out to be exactly who everyone knew they were. How is it credible to say that you didn't know, when only a passing familiarity with the SSPX makes it obvious.

Meanwhile, in Austria, the Pope has decided to appoint a man to the post of bishop, that thinks Harry Potter promotes Satanism and that God had it in for New Orleans because of the loose sexual morals promoted by the city. Needless to say, Austrians seem unimpressed, and it is just another case where one wonders what B16's priorities are and who he is taking advice from, if anyone.

Across the border in Germany Angela Merkel has said that the Pope's decisions regarding Bp Richard Williamson "cannot pass without consequences". At the same time, a German theologian has suggested that it might be best if the Pope resign.

American Archbishop and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, tried to offer a bit of a defense for the Pope's actions with regard to SSPX, arguing that it was beneficial to have this group back under the control of the Papacy instead of letting them run free while speaking for Catholicism. But the American Conference of Catholic Bishops, headed by Cardinal George, spoke as a whole today, issuing a statement that condemned Richard Williamson's claims concerning the Holocaust.

In any case, the Papacy of Benedict XVI has severely damaged its own credibility and its voice in the international sphere.