Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The highly honored master & rabbi, Nathanel (of blessed memory) bar Fayyumi."
(his standing, according to Rambam, Responsa of Rambam II, p.i, Lichtenberg edition)
[my emphasis; notes in the text hyperlinked below]
Know then, my brother, that nothing prevents God from sending unto His world whomsoever He wishes whenever He wishes, since the world of holiness sends forth emanations unceasingly from the light world to the coarse world to liberate the souls from the sea of matter — the world of nature — and from destruction in the flames of hell. Even before the revelation of the Law He sent prophets to the nations, as our sages of blessed memory explain, "Seven prophets prophesied to the nations of the world before the giving of the Torah: Laban, Jethro, Balaam, Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar." And again after its revelation nothing prevented Him from sending to them whom He wished that the world might not remain without religion. The prophets declared that the other nations would serve Him from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof : "For from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof great is my name among the nations." And further, "For unto me shall every knee bend and every tongue swear fealty [which is done as a covenant; there are stipulations one follows in doing so]." Us He chose and exalted from among the nations, not because of our surpassing excellence but because of His regard for our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: "Not because you were more numerous than all the other nations did the Lord desire you and choose you — for you are the least among the nations — but because of the Lord's love for you and to keep the oath which He swore unto your fathers ;" I love you,' saith the Lord. And they say, 'In what respect hast thou loved us.' I loved Jacob.'" God chose us, revealed unto us His laws and ordinances, and imposed upon us a weighty task such as He did not impose upon anyone before or after us, in order thereby to make our reward great: "And the Lord commanded us to carry out these statutes for our good throughout all times, to keep us alive, even as we are this day,"" "It shall be accounted righteousness unto us to do all these statutes;'" "He declared His words to Jacob, His statutes and judgments to Israel. He hath not done so to any other nation'"' "And ye shall be unto me a peculiar treasure from among all people;" "For which is the great nation unto whom God is near?"; "For which is the great nation which has righteous statutes and judgment?'"

And he swore by the tongues of the prophets — peace be upon them ! — that if we forsook His law and the duty He has imposed upon us that He would rule over us with force " 'As I live', saith the King, Lord of Hosts, 'I shall rule over you with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.' ". The Koran mentions that God favored us, that He made us superior to all other men: "O children of Israel, remember my favor wherewith I showed favor unto you ; and that to you above all creatures have I been bounteous ;" and further, "I have made you excellent with a settled decree, it is not a rumor." He speaks after this manner in many verses and also to the effect that the Torah has not been abrogated. This contradicts what they assert because of the power they exercise over us, because of our weakness in their eyes, and because our succor has been cut off...

It is further said, "God desireth to declare these things unto you and direct you according to the ordinances of those who have gone before you." That indicates that Mohammed was a prophet to them but not to those who preceded them in the knowledge of God. And he said, "O People of the Book, He shall not accept a deed of you unless ye fulfill the Torah." And again, "If there is any doubt concerning what I reveal unto thee, then ask those who received my Book before thou didst." This indicates that He would not have commanded him to ask concerning the Book had He annulled it. And if they say, "Lo, our Book abrogates your Book, just as your Book abrogates the Book of Abraham," we reply, "That is not true. On the contrary, we uphold the religion of our father Abraham, and especially circumcision which God made incumbent upon him, according to the passage, "For I know him, that he will command his sons and his house after him,' "' etc.

When God sent Moses al-Kalim with the Torah to the Children of Israel they were six hundred thousand. And God made incumbent upon them what He had made incumbent upon Abraham, but to those duties he added what the times required. But He did not annul the Law of Abraham. On the contrary, in a number of passages Moses al-Kalim calls upon God in His name and in the name of Isaac and Jacob...Thus He obligated the Children of Noah to observe only seven laws. This was because the Noachides were few in number and because the pre-Abrahamic period could not bear more laws. When Abraham appeared God enjoined upon him the observance of various additional laws. He carried out the Law of Moses, taking it as a duty upon himself before it was binding. Likewise, when God imposed duties upon the Children of Israel to be performed in the Land of Syria they assumed these duties before they entered the land as a mark of obedience to their Creator...They could have believed in them without doing them, but they did them that they might believe in them. Similarly, Adam, Noah and Abraham. In reference to Adam we read, "And he placed him in the garden of Eden to till and to guard it."' In the case of Abraham we read, "Because Abraham has hearkened to my voice and observed my charge.'" Similarly, God has made incumbent upon us in the days of the Messiah all that pertains to
sacrifices and other things, though there never appears again that which was explained by the tongue of the prophet Ezekiel concerning the offerings and the building of the Temple.
And similarly, the gathering of all the nations unto the Messiah, according to the passage, "All the nations shall be gathered unto it, the name of the Lord.'"'

When they say unto us ; "That was incumbent upon you in the time of Moses but not otherwise; when other times came ye abrogated your Law and entered into another", we reply, "Know that God commanded that all the people should serve according to the Law; and He permitted to every people something which he forbade to others, and He forbade to them something which He permitted to others, for He knoweth what is best for His creatures and what is adapted to them even as the skilled physician understands his patients, and even more since the physician prohibits food and nourishment to whomsoever he wishes, and permits them to whomsoever he wishes, and they dare not contradict him in anything, because they yielded themselves up to him 'in good faith, sincerity and justice, the more reason that the Creator, to whom nothing can be compared, who is above all comparison or thing compared above the intelligent and the intelligible, understands the well-being of all His creatures; their reckoning and their punishment are entirely in His hands. Whomsoever He wishes He punishes, whomsoever He wishes He rewards, and whomsoever He wishes He compassionates. No hand is above His, and neither interdict nor decree are necessary against the one whom He regards worthy of being punished and cut off from the Divine mercy. All are in His service. His mercy gives them ample sustenance in this world and in the world to come, as it is written, "Good is the Lord to all and His mercies are over all His creatures." It is obligatory upon us to observe what is in our hands, that which we have learnt concerning Him [Torah/Mesorah is a limited data set - limited only by God; it is not necessarily an exhaustive account or source for others, can only be considered such for Jews], that we disobey not one of the Divine Laws and become as Holy Writ hath it, "They made me the keeper of the vineyards but my own vineyard have I not kept."

To the service that all His creatures owe Him as He wishes and how He wishes there is a very nice example :
A king required the services of the people of his city to build a palace. Some of them were architects, some were carpenters, some decorators, some mortar mixers, and some smiths. Of these some zealously carried out the command of the king, some were lax, and some deserted the king's service. The king had maintained all of them. The manner of their service was made known to the king and he waited until he sent for them and called them to account for the manner in which they had carried out his command. He rewarded all those who have done well in their trade more than they deserved, and punished all those who misbehaved in their trade and repentance was of no avail to the penitent if good works had not preceded him. Similarly, the Creator — magnified be His praise! — knows the ruin of this world and the abode of the future world. He therefore sends prophets in every age and period that they might urge the creatures to serve Him and do the good, and that they might be a road-guide to righteousness. The one who was saved was saved through his understanding; and the one who perished perished with full understanding. It is incumbent, then, upon every people to be led aright by what has been communicated to them through revelation and to emulate their prophets, their leaders and their regents. Not one people remained without a law, for all of them are from one Lord and unto Him they all return. All call unto Him, all turn their faces unto Him, and every pious soul is translated to Him, as it is written, "And the spirit returns unto God who gave it." We shall follow this subject with the mention of the world to come in the chapter after this — please God ! — since after the Messiah there is nothing save that — truly God knows better and is wiser.

Nathanael Ibn al-Fayummi Bustan al Ukul p.103-108

Monday, November 23, 2009

Agency Detection and The Foundation of All Foundations
I would like to offer that more than a Biblical God (or Deities in general), more than ultimate states of being (Satori, etc), souls, etc, are challenged by cognitive sciences suggestions about the role of "Hyper Active Agency Detection" in religious belief. To my mind (and I don't think I'm alone), any belief in there being That Upon Which All Else Depends for existence, but which "Itself" is radically independent (X for short) - is also challenged if not undermined.

This belief is - according to a great number of the greatest minds throughout human history - the fundamental binding feature of all historical religious belief. The most recent and prolific commentors on this concept, Reformed Christian philosophers Hermann Dooyeweerd (New Critique of Theoretical Thought), and Roy Clouser (Myth of Religious Neutrality), explain that what historically applied to explicit religious belief, can now be seen to apply as thoroughly to the present reigning paradigms - philosophies, materialisms, naturalisms, etc.

Central to every religion is a teaching about what is divine—about what is regarded as utterly independent and on which all else depends. No matter what or whom any religion considers to be divine, that is what it recognizes or defines as the unconditional reality. The divine, in other words, is whatever people consider to be uncaused and unpreventable—as "just there".
The crucial point for our discussion is that this definition of religion makes clear that ideas of divinity are not confined to traditions most people recognize as "religious." Some people trust various parts of this world as divine. For example, some ascribe unconditional or uncaused status to matter, or to mathematical, logical or biological laws, or to the universe as a whole...this is certainly religious, even though, from a biblical point of view, it is false religion.

Whatever is regarded as ultimate, independent reality thereby has the status of divinity, no matter how it is conceived and regardless of whether it is worshipped. Worship is not essential to religion; there have been beliefs in gods that did not include worship and there still are versions of Hinduism and Buddhism that include no worship.

Understanding religion in this way also allows us to see that there are many more religious beliefs involved in scientific theorizing than are generally recognized. No matter how thoroughly some people avoid all organized religious traditions, worship, doctrines, and practices, and no matter how sincere they are about being atheists, they still have a religious belief insofar as they regard anything as being utterly independent or uncaused while all else depends on it.

It is also important to notice that while anyone who believes in God, in Brahman-Atman, or in the Tao is almost certainly aware of doing so, many other beliefs often take the form of unconscious assumptions. A belief that certain aspects of the universe are divine, or that the universe as a whole is divine, often has this character. A person may be unaware that he or she is presupposing that matter is the ultimate, independent reality. But that does not make such a belief any less a religious one, and it still renders any theory based on that assumption a religiously guided theory. Any theory, therefore, whether scientific or otherwise, can be understood only when its basic presuppositions are examined, and there are as many possible versions of a theory as there are religious beliefs that it can presuppose. So the idea that a theory can be religiously neutral is an illusion brought about only by calling an entire range of religious beliefs "secular."

The corrosive effect of such criticisms from cognitive science would then impact all such theorizing - about all origins. X is the Throne, as it were, the foundation belief in that which is the basis for belief in God or anything as Uber Alles. If the throne (throne-ness), is denied, if it is not there to be sat upon, if the category is systematically denied, no Agency can be said or believed or 'detected' to sit in it or presumed for ensuing logics to emerge founded on its presumed status.

Contrary to Dawkins, this divine category belief is not exclusively a pernicious, fruitless "religion problem" or spandrel. This - which until this point has been rendered as a "God" Gene - would be the basis for the logics of solving anything and everything - including every error fruitless or fruitful (the majority of insights, I would argue), therupon based. It is the very ground of all foundations, the very explanation for the capacity for people to convert between divergent uber-foundations (however erroneously) - be they Mormonism to Atheism - the common Rule by which one converts from believing God to be X to believing Matter to be X (i.e., materialism).

If a "God gene" or material 'spot' in the brain can be found, and it be forthwith removed or genetically-engineered out of man, I suggest he'd be less than a beast - due to the heights from which he would be 'falling' - from much higher than we'd thought, if "god" gene is not simply deity belief, but X. On such terms, what would successful Artifical Intelligence really be, or what would it's existence "prove?"

With permission, hopefully granted this week, I will present some material from Kelly James Clark along with Rambam, lhvd'l Hermann Dooyeweerd et al, that will help makes sense of the above ramble.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

More Avraham Avinu "Deep Critique" Radicalism
vs. Contemporary "lifestyle Liberalism"

Derrick Jensen;

Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? [all matters that had historical precident solutions in modalities fostered by deeply transpersonal, society-wide Biblical Ethical Monotheism - ironically condemned and lambasted by Jensen et al as being the source of the problem] Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this [what "this" is seems clear, but our ecoystemic knowledge of water systems is bracketed by our knowledge of economic and political systems] we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.

An exchange on this article appears here. I hear an awful lot that's pertinent to current Jewish religious banter here; our individual acts (sins/mitzvot), are often described as accumulating to make global/communal difference in either social or spiritual capacities (depending on if you're closer to the 'rationalist' or kiruvy Charedi "spiritual" approaches). Such perspectives are often sold with the accompanying counsel on "what you can do" to make "a difference"; those who implant these perspectives want you to see them as the source of the Jewish route to feeling re-empowered, now through their particular Jewish route).

I think there are also similar "misdirections" on the Jewish societal level, steering away from making any system-wide critiques, which might risk shifting ones own perspective on a deep level away from the sanctioned Jewish perspectives. For example, strategic removal of particular teachers is seen as a 'concrete' step in ending sexual abuse in schools - but there is huge debate about reconsidering student/teacher power structures that might "risk" solving several problems at once, but also make for dangerously-democratic and less authoritarian educational settings...

Asking questions of any [dominant] Jewish system can indeed lead to doubts about that Jewish systemization as such...- which can, regretably, lead to dissention from religious modalities themselves (Torah, the inheritance of Israel). but they are more likely to lead to disillusionment and dissention in belief in comparably-recent human institutions (C/O/R Judaisms, Yeshiva world, etc), that may have religious motivations, but not be sacred and hallowed by time unto themselves. Such disillusionment frequently occurs, and is celebrated by the Orthodox when Conservative and Reform-affiliated Jews become [Orthodox-identifying] Observant, lamented when Orthodox kids go Off "the" Derech. But even such dissent is rarely all-or-nothing (systematic). Faranak Margolese determined that upwards of 60+% of adults who left Orthodoxy still believe in God and Torah from Heaven, and maintain certain observances.

The noble goal of consistancy and purity of deed and creed (mitzvot include deeds as well as beliefs), sounds to goal of "lifestyle liberalism", but I fear we are in a state now where "Avrahamic" radical critique may very well be the only way forward through the tyranny of Galut, rife with patriarchy, destruction of the natural world and moral decay, and our coercion into relying on such a system.

But when has all of Klal Israel honestly been fully, systematically observant without some society-wide element of coercion? When Jewish communities met Enlightenment ideas, the capacity of the rabbis and leaders to coerce fell - and so did observance on a huge scale. Is the Ghost of Cain in everything that we do? Is Rav Solveitchik's "Two Adams" as much pathological as it is "progress", technology, science and "dominion" over the earth? We are now in a situation where we are in a network of pathological, counteracting relationships, within Judaism and the greater world.

I think there is a component of the "the source of the problem is the source of the solution", if we admit certain things we already speak. Torah and Tanakh is multivocal. Tanakh contains events and settings in the world at large (expelled from eden, mabul, famines, etc), that are the basis for decisions positive and negative, and condemns the behaviors of certain figures in our history. I think it is doing just's not present in the text merely to prove their sacred origin because, for example, "no other human works condemn in their founding texts condemnations of the founders". Nor is Tanakh giving a little mere environmental background for the Avot changing their social setting. Many societal systems are protrayed therein, some condemned as whole systems, some evidently shared by Israel, changed due to external environmental circumstances, some we transition from and to. But in all of them, we're to have a certain ethic. And interestingly, the social consequences of the narrative of the Mabul included a change in diet and lifeways evidenced in a new convenant with all the Nefesh creatures. We maintain memory of all of this by learning and recounting the deeds and lives of the Avot, from Adam on, transition from Eden to the city-state of Ur and out to the wondering pastoralism to entering Mitzraim.

Tanakh in the hands of the Nations has indeed been used to justify imperialism, slavery, patriarchy, environmental degradation, etc, etc. And at the same time it has been evidenced as being a true awakening away from such negatives as they blossomed in the ancient world. Even as a system, R. Nahum Rabinovitch shows that Judaism can been seen as weening away from certain of it's own Divinely Decreed observances that are no longer morally justifiable - due to the proliferation of other Torah moral principles.

More later, gym beckons.

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