Thursday, June 14, 2007

“Ah, my friend, the Mica chist layer; do you remember when...?”

"One of the greatest privileges of my life was the opportunity of knowing a man given to human wonder and divine seizure who was in turn so loving of everyone and everything whom he saw or met that the universe turned a corner for those of us fortunate enough to be in his presence. His was truly the Christic journey and his path was strewed with many miracles of love made manifest. Let me tell you what being with him was like. Let me tell you about walking the dog with Teihard De Chardin, or Mr Tayer as I called him then.
When I was about fourteen, I used to run down Park Avenue in New York City, late for high school. I was a great big overgrown girl (5 feet eleven by the age of eleven) and one day I ran into a rather frail old gentleman in his seventies and knocked the wind out of him. He laughed as I helped him to his feet and asked me in French-accented speech, "Are you planning to run like that for the rest of your life?"
"Yes, sir" I replied. "It looks that way."
"Well, Bon Voyage!" he said.
"Bon Voyage!" I answered and sped on my way.
About a week later I was walking down Park Avenue with my fox terrier, Champ, and again I met the old gentleman.
"Ah," he greeted me, "my friend the runner, and with a fox terrier. I knew one like that years ago in France. Where are you going?"
"Well, sir," I replied "I’m taking Champ to Central Park."
"I will go with you," he informed me. "I will take my constitutional."

And thereafter, for about a year or so, the old gentleman and I would meet and walk together often several times a week in Central Park. He had a long French name but asked me to call him by the first part of it, which was "Mr Tayer," as far as I could make out.

The walks were magical and full of delight. Not only did Mr Tayer seem to have absolutetly no self –consciousness, but he was always being seized by wonder and astonishment over the simplest things. He was constantly and literally falling into love. I remember one time when he suddenly fell on his knees, his long Gallic nose raking the ground, and exclaimed to me, " Jeanne, look at the caterpillar. Ahhhh!" I joined him on the ground to see what had evoked so profound a response that he was seized by the essence of caterpillar. "How beautiful it is," he remarked, "this little green being with its wonderful funny little feet. Exquisite! Little furry body, little green feet on the road to metamorphosis." He then regarded me with equal delight.
"Jeanne, can you feel yourself to be a caterpillar?"
"Oh yes," I replied with the baleful knowing of a gangly, pimply faced teenager.
"Then think of your own metamorphosis," he suggested. "What will you be when you become a butterfly, une papillon, eh? What is the butterfly of Jeanne?" (What a great question for a fourteen-year-old girl!) His long, gothic, comic-tragic face would nod with wonder. "Eh, Jeanne, look at the clouds! God’s calligraphy in the sky! All that transforming, moving, changing, dissolving, becoming. Jeanne, become a cloud and become all the forms that ever were."
Or there was the time that Mr Tayer and I leaned into the strong wind that suddenly whipped through Central Park, and he told me, "Jeanne, sniff the wind." I joined him in taking great snorts of wind. " The same wind may once have been sniffed by Jesus Christ (sniff), by Alexander the Great (sniff), by Napoleon (sniff), by Voltaire (sniff), by Marie Antoinette (sniff)!" (There seemed to be a lot of French people in that wind.) " Now sniff this next gust of wind in very deeply for it contains… Jeanne d’Arc! Sniff the wind once sniffed by Jeanne d’Arc. Be filled with the winds of history."

It was wonderful. People of all ages followed us around, laughing - not at us but with us. Old Mr Tayer was truly diaphanous to every moment and being with him was like being in attendance at God’s own party, a continuous celebration of life and its mysteries. But mostly Mr Tayer was so full of vital sap and juice that he seemed to flow with everything. Always he saw the interconnections between things - the way that everything in the universe, from fox terriers to tree bark to somebody’s red hat to the mind of God, was related to everything else and was very, very good. He wasn’t merely a great appreciator, engaged by all his senses. He was truly penetrated by the reality that was yearning for him as much as he was yearning for it. He talked to the trees, to the wind, to the rocks as dear friends, as beloved even. "Ah, my friend, the mica schist layer, do you remember when...?" And I would swear that the mica schist would begin to glitter back. I mean, mica schist will do that, but on a cloudy day?! Everything was treated as personal, as sentient, as "thou." And everything that was thou was ensouled with being, and it thou-ed back to him. So when I walked with him, I felt as though a spotlight was following us, bringing radiance and light everywhere. And I was constantly seized by astonishment in the presence of this infinitely beautiful man, who radiated such sweetness, such kindness.

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Mr Tayer was the way that he would suddenly look at you. He looked at you with wonder and astonishment joined to unconditional love joined to a whimsical regarding of you as the cluttered house that hides the holy one. I felt myself primed to the depths by such seeing. I felt evolutionary forces wake up in me by such seeing, every cell and thought and potential palpably changed. I was yeasted, greened, awakened by such seeing and the defeats and denigrations of adolescence redeemed. I would go home and tell my mother, who was a little skeptical about my walking with an old man in the park so often, "Mother, I was with my old man again, and when I am with him, I leave my littleness behind." That deeply moved her. You could not be stuck in littleness and be in the radiant field of Mr Tayer.

The last time that I ever saw him was the Thursday before Easter Sunday, 1955. I brought him the shell of a snail. "Ah, escargot," he exclaimed and then he proceeded to wax ecstatic for the better part of an hour. Snail shells, and galaxies, and the convolutions in the brain, the whorl of flowers and the meanderings of rivers were taken up into a great hymn to the spiralling evolution of spirit and matter. When he had finished, his voice dropped, and he whispered almost in prayer, "Omega…omega…omega…" Finally he looked up and said to me quietly, "Au revoir, Jeanne.""

From Jean Houston, "Godseed; The Journey of C--".

Joseph Campbell’s hegemony in popular theory of Mythology

As we all know, Yahadut gets attacked with 'religion' and 'myth' (in good part by not defining any of the terms) - and one of the first things that comes to mind in the wake of the phrase "Myth" is that 'myths' are not 'true'. At university, one of the first things taught about 'religions' is that they are primarily about 'myth' - and (left to ascertain yourself if you are not told), that the most significant thing about 'religions' is that they are not about truth. I think one man is primarily responsible for defining the significance and meanings of the terms Myth and Religion for millions of educated Westerners - and due to this influence, one of the most effective modern antisemites - Joseph Campbell. I hope to edit in some specific discussion of his antisemitism and the proliferation of his particular theory of myth and the significance of it for religion later, but here are some sources, some of which are online;

Ellwood, Robert. The Politics of Myth; a Study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. SUNY: Albany, NY, 1999.

Friedman, Maurice. “Why Joseph Campbell’s Psychologizing of Myth Precludes the Holocaust as a Touchstone of Reality”, Journal of The American Academy of Religion. Summer 1998, v.67 p.385

Gill, Brendan, "Faces of Joseph Campbell”, New York Review of Books, 28/9/89

Lefkowitz, Mary. “Myth of Joseph Campbell”, American Scholar, Summer 1990. p.429

Manganaro, Marc. Myth, Rhetoric, and the Voice of Authority: A Critique of Frazer, Eliot, Frye, and Campbell. (1992)

Segal, Robert. “Joseph Campbell as Antisemite and as Theorist of Myth: A Response to Maurice Friedman”. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 1999 v.67 p.461

Segal, Robert. "Joseph Campbell on Jews and Judaism" Religion Volume 22, Issue 2, April 1992: 151-170.

Segal, Robert. Joseph Campbell; An Introduction.

“Brendan Gill vs Defenders of Joseph Campbell-An Exchange”. Various Authors. New York Review of Books, v. 36, number 17 (November 9, 1989) (after this piece came the pieces discussing his anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism).

Some of the main defenses of Campbell have been based in contending that he was a anti-zionist, a defense which serves two purposes; 1) to butress the claim of a meaningful distinction between anti-semitism and anti-zionism by associating campbell with anti-zionism 2) sanctifies him as a liberal vanguardist for making an open political stance at a time when admirers can only harbor the sentiment. That it seems he was also a paleoconservative regarding important liberal concerns makes no difference. I came across this blog by Maggie Macary [], on Joseph Campbell and anti-Semitism, but it appears to be down; from the introduction I read elsewhere [], the authors questioning of the definition of anti-Semitism (which would seem to be central to her defense of Campbell against allegations), fails in the same sense that deliberately obfuscating “anti-Zionism” and anti-Semitism fails [links]. Maggie Macary worked for the Pacifica Institute, which hosts - revealingly – a joint “Joseph Campbell and Marija Gimbutas Archive”…for Gimbutas, just Google for critiques (and Pagan/radical Gender Feminist claims that the arguments - like all arguments - are inherently patriarchal and irrelevant…), also here [Goddess Unmasked].

Recent conversation with a coworker made it clear that there are those who would see criticism of his antisemitism (known, acknowledged, documented), as merely reactionary, that the allegation of antisemitism is due merely to the truth-claim of the critics religion being challenged. None of the sources I offered to him, or here, are by remotely Orthodox people!! "Semites" obviously aren't all religious fundamentalists...and to comfortably claim that the criticisms are being made by, for example, Jewish fundamentalists - is to obfuscate Judaism and Jews as people...i.e. to fulfill the historical definition of an antisemite. I had him shaking, it was cute.

A Related Topic; Early Man, primal cultures and Monotheism as a “late development”;

Brandewie, Ernest. Wilhelm Schmidt and the Origin of the Idea of God
Evans-Pritchard. Theories of Primitive Religion
Rambam. Mishneh Torah. Avodat Kochavim. Ch. 1
Schmidt, "William" (Wilhelm?). Origin and Growth of Religion

hopefully more sources/editing to come.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Rav Yehuda Amital; Hear the Cry

Sinai as the Religious Experience of "the Person" Israel

Of recent in philosophy of religion, there has been discussion of the value of the "religious experience" for doxastic practice and epistemology, whether it has a place in the gauntlet of justifiable thinking (Alston, Plantinga, Clouser, etc). I'd like to see the collective experience of Am Israel at Sinai compared to these discussions of the meaning and significance of individual experiences. In part I'd like to ask it through 'evidence' - through ASCs (though they are only one aspect of the discussion of Religious Experiences, a hotly debated one at that); over the course of Yetziat Mitzraim, a lot of phenomena often described by individuals experiencing Altered States of Consciousness occurs regarding the entire nation Israel; synesthesia (crosswiring of the senses; hearing the lightning and seeing the thunder), Near Death Experience (a bit of a stretch, but isn't there Midrash about everyone dying?), etc. I wonder how such a comparison would affect the "Argument from Sinai", possibly refining it against certain kinds of critique.

I would also note that the 'standard' state of consciousness, lauded by 'rationalists' both 'secular' and religious - is regarded by the great number of historical human perspectives as being merely one of many, and often the least fruitful - Matrix-mind, a sleep state). The discussion of ASCs, Shamanic states (shamanism I think may be situated as "PreAdamic"), etc, deserves it's own post. See Charles Tart's website, links and similar recent discussion for implications pending me writing such a thing.

Also the equation of Israel not merely as a model nation, but as a model individual, collectively experiencing stages of human individual experience, growth and travail. There are those who say [sources to come] that of human entities, only Am Israel and individuals from among the Nations have Nefesh Ruach and Neshamah - the prerequisites to full engagement in Creation. Only they have an antiquity preceding Bavel, reaching to the First Man - before the nations were born. This could in part make a greater context for the phenomena of religious experiences, personal 'revelations', etc., throughout history while also limiting their significance beyond the individual stage.

[rambly bit]
The 'personal' nature of an encounter (also R. Eliezer Berkovits' lengthy discussion in God Man and history), as being no less real for being unscientific (though obiously not necessarily an encounter with 'the' Divine), for not being submitable to the gauntlet of the lab; also the inadmissability in Halacha of "Bat Kol", of insights that are not testable by others via argument, etc. similarly, personally experiences are submitted to communal 'testing' in many cultures (the famed Vision Quest, trances, etc). What could Sinai be compared to in the "marketplace" of human experiences? anything but individual religious experiences? How many nations, as such, were taken into Israel? Individuals could make "the connection", but as groups not a potentiality.

Such a comparison might also make things more 'interesting'; there are things we are Given by HKBH, that individuals of the nations achieve to receive - levels of refinement that are of one status in Torah rubrics that have a different status outside of it. Rav Kook notes the relatively low level of Olam Haba, since it is achieved by all Israel, even the lowest [emph mine];

I tend to think that the Rambam means to say that having a portion in the world-to-come is an inferior level (although it too is very great). Since even wicked and ignorant Jews attain it, it is–compared to [truly] spiritual levels–low. The Rambam says that intellectual awareness brings a person much closer to [understanding] the righteousness of God's Providence.
Therefore, having a portion in the world-to-come is a level attained by the righteous of the nations who have not attained an intellectual awareness, but who have rather accepted the faith simply, with heart-felt emotion, and have acted well, as a result of having accepted the concept that the commandments were given by God. But if a person has come to understand the seven Noahide commandments [*achieving, as a concept coorellary to the Noachide laws*] as a result of his own thinking, he is truly wise of heart and filled with understanding. Such a person is considered one of their wise men, for the trait of wisdom is very great. And it is superfluous to say that he has a portion in the world-to-come. [Indeed,] he stands on a holy level that needs to be spoken of with a fuller expression than "having a portion in the world-to-come."

Igrrot HaRa'ayah, v. 1, p.100

The Tiferet Israel notes distinction between the merit of Israel by inheritance and what those among the nations have by achievement;

"The advantage of the [other] nations over Israel is that they, through their own free choice and efforts made themselves – and this is certainly a greater [human] achievement than Israel, who were led toward perfection by the force of G-d and who therefore cannot claim the credit for what G-d did for them in the merit of their ancestors." Tiferet Yisrael to Avot 3:14

What has this to do with religious experiences? Individual religious experiences, achievements, may be of some import and even content, but not accumulate beyond the individual, and may not constitute much of a challenge - and not merely by dimissing all 'religious experience' as ultimately dillusional or epistemologically valueless. While we're at it, what is religious about religious eperience? Following Dooyeweerd's definition of 'religious' (as held by a great number of thinkers over the millenia), there is a profound poverty to the definition of religion as utilized in the secularist language game courts (and by the Kiruv people like to 'take them on at their own game'). Here and throughout my blog, I have gone at great length about 'religious', but I will just quickly say that the best definition of religious, the most perennially valid, encompasses the great number of theoretical systems of any complexity, including atheism, materialism, etc. That being said - 'religious' experiences of epiphany-type nature, of a sense of 'revelation', abound in secular realms of thought. Charles Tart has a nice site giving examples of such experiences on the part of scientists, but the sciences themselves are rife with incidences of dream-state revelation, non-rational cognition of central facts, etc, that have made for profound developments in the scientific endeavor[sources]. I only mention sciences, but these things have occured throughout human endeavors. None of this may need to be discounted to be nullified as challenges to Torah faith.

All this might relate to something I said a while back;

The various perspectives of the world - from atheist materialism, an 'after-life' or 'reincarnation' or whatever might emerge from a philosophy - could all be understood on their own terms as possible outcomes of lives lived in accord with their host philosophy - but they would neither amount to the state of Olam Haba, nor would they be related to it (I have considered this especially with "reincarnation" compared with gilgulim; perhaps gilgulim is an "upgrade" or souped up version of an otherwise natural phenomena known as "reincarnation"). This would make sense of the world of examples of "afterlife" phenomena of Non-Jews, including post-death contact, well as the phenomena of the Charedi Jewish kiruv literature on "Olam Haba"-related issues, which abounds with Non-Jewish source material about "afterlife" and "reincarnation"!!!

Perhaps in what is said above, we could exchange 'olam haba' for many other concepts and phenomena - distinguishing their value as products or experiences of individuals, or beliefs assented to by nations, vs. what we experienced at Sinai and how we believe or should be believing (also distinctions between 'assenting' to a belief vs actually grasping it, Rambam's perspective vs. those of others on it all, etc).

What is seemingly an infinitely tiny molecule in this immense universe (individual achievement), is (through Am Israel - not Am Israel as such), evidenced as the way to the source of the universe itself.

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