Monday, December 29, 2014

Magda Goebbels: Adolf Hitler as god

Magda Goebbels (1901 - 1945)
image wikimedia

The concept of God is actually very difficult to define in human languages.

Martin Luther gave a very practical - and therefore working - definition "to whom you attach from all your heart and whom you trust is your God".

We can assume that for millions of citizens in Third Reich Adolf Hitler was the one to whom people were attached from all their hearts and whom they trusted more than anything else - their Führer, their God. This is a helpful point of view releasing the concept of one's god from organized religion.

As for secular gods, Jesus said that a person may have earthly wealth, Mammon, as god and can then not worship also God.

The complex personality and history of Magda Goebbels (11 November 1901 – 1 May 1945) is an example of a person whose real god was Adolf Hitler even when she knew also the real God. She was from a Christian home and had been given the very Biblical name of Maria Magdalena.

But knowing that God exists was not enough: she could not worship both of Führer and God as one of them was for her true god.

Magda's farewell letter to her son from a previous marriage, Harald Quandt, two days before she killed her six children and herself is a powerful document about the significance of the chosen one, who sits in the throne of our hearts.
My beloved son! By now we have been in the Führerbunker for six days already—daddy, your six little siblings and I, for the sake of giving our national socialistic lives the only possible honourable end ...
You shall know that I stayed here against daddy's will, and that even on last Sunday the Führer wanted to help me to get out. You know your mother—we have the same blood, for me there was no wavering. Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvelous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and national socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and a merciful God will understand me when I will give them the salvation ...
The children are wonderful ...
there never is a word of complaint nor crying. The impacts are shaking the bunker. The elder kids cover the younger ones, their presence is a blessing and they are making the Führer smile once in a while. May God help that I have the strength to perform the last and hardest. We only have one goal left: loyalty to the Führer even in death. Harald, my dear son—I want to give you what I learned in life: be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country ...
Be proud of us and try to keep us in dear memory ...

Joseph and Maria Magdalena Goebbels had six wonderful children that they drugged and then killed with cyanide capsules in Mayday 1945

Helga Susanne
Hildegard "Hilde" Traudel
Helmut Christian
Holdine "Holde" Kathrin
Hedwig "Hedda" Johanna
Heidrun "Heide" Elisabeth

"Straight after Hitler's death, Mrs. Goebbels came down to the bunker with her children," Mr Misch recalls. "She started preparing to kill them. She couldn't have done that above ground—there were other people there who would have stopped her. That's why she came downstairs—because no-one else was allowed in the bunker. She came down on purpose to kill them.

"The kids were right next to me and behind me. We all knew what was going to happen. It was clear. I saw Hitler's doctor, Dr Stumpfegger give the children something to drink. Some kind of sugary drink. Then Stumpfegger went and helped to kill them. All of us knew what was going on. An hour or two later, Mrs Goebbels came out crying. She sat down at a table and began playing patience. This is exactly how it was."
Rocush Misch BBC News

These were not the only worshipers of Adolf Hitler who made suicide following the example of their god of choice.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Que reste-t-il de nos amours?

Nana Mouskouri touches the heart of Charles Aznavour with the sad song
Que reste-t-il de nos amours? (What Remains of Our Love?) is a French popular song, with music by Léo Chauliac & Charles Trenet and lyrics by Charles Trenet.

The song was first recorded by Charles Trenet in 1943. It was used extensively in the François Truffaut film Stolen Kisses (1968), its French title, Baisers volés, having been taken from the song's lyrics. The song was also used in the films "Iris" (2001), "Something's Gotta Give" (2003) and "Ces amours-là" (2010).

The song is best known to English-speaking audiences as "I Wish You Love", with new lyrics by Albert A. Beach: introduced in 1957 by Keely Smith as the title cut of her solo debut album, "I Wish You Love" would become one of Smith's signature songs.

Que reste-t-il de nos amours?
Ce soir le vent qui frappe à ma porte
Me parle des amours mortes
Devant le feu qui s' éteint
Ce soir c'est une chanson d' automne
Dans la maison qui frissonne
Et je pense aux jours lointains

Que reste-t-il de nos amours
Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours
Une photo, vieille photo
De ma jeunesse
Que reste-t-il des billets doux
Des mois d' avril, des rendez-vous
Un souvenir qui me poursuit
Sans cesse

Bonheur fané, cheveux au vent
Baisers volés, rêves mouvants
Que reste-t-il de tout cela

Un petit village, un vieux clocher
Un paysage si bien caché
Et dans un nuage le cher visage
De mon passé

Les mots les mots tendres qu'on murmure
Les caresses les plus pures
Les serments au fond des bois
Les fleurs qu'on retrouve dans un livre
Dont le parfum vous enivre
Se sont envolés pourquoi?

{au Refrain}

François Truffaut - Baisers volés

Saturday night I watched in a satellite channel Baisers volés (1968), a movie by the celebrated French cinematographer François Truffaut (1932+1984). The film is continuation to the semi-autographic Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) that was for him a sensational break-through as a first class movie director. Here he shows to the world what auteur theory is all about.

Jean-Pierre Léaud and Claude Jade in Baisers volés (1968)
The experience of watching this movie was very powerful but not completely pleasant. The problem for me is Truffaut's ability to take almost total control of my attention and focus using cinematic tools that I do not know so well. I was led along the seemingly simple love story of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) with unstoppable power - but did not understand exactly how he glued me to the seat. Most movies do this in obvious ways and it is easy to accept that manipulation keeping my freedom of choice. Here the freedom is lost in the stream of images that control me without asking my permission.  

Why is that stairwell so important? Filming the opening of the elevator door through a mirror hanging on the wall... Fast change of everything and yet the audience hangs on the story line... That mysterious man who only speaks at the last minute of the movie...

How does he do that? I do not know. But there is obviously painstaking attention to every detail and the uncanny sense of movie magic of a gifted student of Alfred Hitchcock. While the master of suspense controls our deep fears and creates excitement and tension Truffaut brilliantly applies the same cinematic techniques to ordinary human stories. 

A good example of this attention to detail is how Truffaut introduces the seductive Fabienne Tabard. Camera work is intensive, her dress, make-up, hair-style, position and smile perfect. The first shots of her are like taken from a fashionable high class portrait studio in Paris looking for best angels to emphasize her charm and no hurry to rush forward with the story. I was almost shocked saying to myself "those French women really are beautiful." Truffaut emphasizes her elegance understanding also the aesthetic value of the person sitting in front of his camera.   

Delphine Seyrig as Fabienne in Baisers volés (1968)

Well, the truth is, of course, that Delphine Claire Beltiane Seyrig (1932-1990) was an exceptionally beautiful woman. But too often hasty camerawork and cliches minimize the effect of such feminine beauty. Not in this movie. Poor Antoine has no other choice but to run away for his life from this seirene!

Baisers volés is an unforgettable movie about humanity. Strangely concealed under everyday images the powerful direction leaves watchers no chance but to let the movie take them for a ride using cinematic tools in ways that only masters of the art know.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sônia Braga and hymen

Sonia Braga... Arnaldo Jabor's... Eu Te Amo
youTube link 
Sônia Maria Campos Braga is an exceptionally beautiful actress known from many Brazilian and international films and TV series. She has been nominated for three Golden Globe Awards and for an Emmy Award. On personal note, she tells about relationships in the past but she has not married and has no children.

In the youTube clip from the Portuguise movie Eu Te Amo (1981) which became a Brazilian blockbuster, she tells in rather cynical way the loss of virginity of Maria, the fictional woman she is acting.

But alas, the story she tells is probably that of thousands and thousands of teen age and younger girls around the world: the loss of virginity way too early to a carpenter with filthy finger nails, an uncle or other horny man near or far.

It may be a bad experience or something enjoyable, as Sônia here brags, but invariably breaking the hymen too soon permanently damages the growing woman and causes life long difficulties in sexual life and marriage. Violating that growing rose, opening that bud too early, is a serious crime, even if the underage girl agrees to the proposal.

In the movie Sônia is gallant about the history of the person she is acting but I think in real life she - as all other women - think otherwise. Virginity is of great importance both to the woman and to the man who marries a virgin.

For humans hymen has a clear purpose. Also many other mammals have them from monkeys to elephants. But it is not just a quirk of blind evolution but rather something that marks a permanent relationship between a human male and female couple.

W.A. Mozart even wrote an opera, one of his best, Le Nozze di Figaro, about the right to the first night.  Count Almaviva requires this privilege from his servant Figaro's future bride Susanna. The old habit recognizes the special value of virginity and was still known if not anymore practiced in 1786 when the opera had its first performance, Not so long ago.

Virgin Mary
Sônia Braga is a celebrated actress in Brazil, the country of many beautiful women and with the largest Catholic population among the countries on the Earth.

In the movie Eu Te Amo, Maria was sent to a convent school to be taught by nuns and to study among many virgin catholic girls. Religious values on purity and virginity.

Even world famous Brazilian Carneval was originally a Christian feast "entering to the Easter fast". World famous statue of Cristo Redendor spreads His hands atop Corcovado blessing the people living in Rio de Janeiro, in its lush palaces and in the miserable slums.

Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ, pray your Son for us.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lulu in Barcelona 2010

Berg's Lulu performed at Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona in 2010

"Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera."
Jim Zychowicz

The faustic, mesmerizing and surrealistic performance of Alban Berg's Lulu in Gran Teatro del Liceu works as a whole. It only works as a whole.

Taking apart from the whole, Berg's 12 tone music with all its brilliance and emotional power would be in-comprehensive.

Remove the extraordinary setting of the stage, the props, the neon lights, and you take air out of the wheel.

Replace the wide-eyed lead singer Patricia Petibon with someone else and I wonder do you have the same experience of an artist giving her everything to perform art in this most sophisticated and twisted form of modern opera.

Same goes for the lesbian Countess Geschwhitz, Julia Juon, who makes this dark tale so real to life.

And the list goes on. This performance of Lulu works as a whole and is an unforgettable experience for the viewers.

Alban Berg (1885 - 1935)
Image Wikimedia

Austrian composer Alban Berg died only 50 years old from complications of an insect bite in Christmas 24, 1935. Today Berg's star is rising like that of his artist friend in the Vienna school, painter Gustav Klimm.

And yes, Alban Berg too was there in the blood soaked trenches of the First World War seeing first hand one of the worst human slaughterhouses in history. It certainly had him thinking the state of humanity and the meaning or meaninglessness of life.

The next chapter, the Anshluss of Austria to Germany, took place about three years later in March 1938. Lulu thus represents the post World War I culture in central Europe before the cultural purges even as it was composed between 1929 and 1935 during the time Nazis were rising to power so despising the weaklings and decadence of the 20's portrayed in the opera.

The power of Lulu as performed in Barcelona is in the strange impact of the whole as the real human experience, being a man and being a woman. It speaks not so much to the rational man or woman but rather to the human soul inside. It uses the language of music and symbolism to explore the depths and heights of human existence. Not only is money mentioned, but the exact sum of 20.000 marks.

The performance ends with naked Lulu dying at the hands of Jack the Ripper in the position of the Crucified.

I did not see the ending before curtain fall as blasphemous.

Rather, I saw it as a silent prayer "Somebody out there help us humans, we are dying in our sins."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dr Rope Kojonen, ID and Creationism

Dr. Rope Kojonen
Photo copyright 2014 Helsinki University

Today 22.10. 2014 Rope Kojonen defends his dissertation Intelligent Design: A Theological and Philosophical Analysis in the Theological Faculty of Helsinki University.  The book can be conveniently read in the eThesis service of the Univeristy.

Rope Kojonen is a Theologian and was recently a Visiting Scholar, CTNS, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, USA.

The mere fact that Intelligent Design is discussed in this way at the highest academic level is significant. The academies in Finland carry on the German tradition in which dissertations are taken very seriously and are usually preceded with years of intensive study and writing. (Some say that perhaps too seriously...). Kojonen's work is therefore a significant contribution to Finnish Christians by raising the level of discussion and criteria used when dealing with the subject.

Creationism has been a hot subject among Finnish Christians for decades and is dearly beloved by many. More recently, proponents of ID theories have contributed prominently to the discussion on Creation by publishing books and articles and by participating in social media forums. This book is the first time that the argumentation is analyzed both from Theological and Philosophical point of view in international context. In my opinion, Kojonen's study can be also of great interest and assistance to those involved with ID also beyond the borders of Finland.

Congratulations, Doctor Rope!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

John Polkinghome on Science and Religion

John Polkinghore photographed in 2007
image wikimedia
The Rev Dr John Charlton Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS (born 16 October 1930) is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest. A prominent and leading voice explaining the relationship between science and religion, he was professor of Mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge from 1968 to 1979, when he resigned his chair to study for the priesthood, becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1982. He served as the president of Queens' College, Cambridge from 1988 until 1996.

Polkinghorne is the author of five books on physics, and 26 on the relationship between science and religion; his publications include
The Quantum World (1989),
Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship(2005),
Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion (2007)
Questions of Truth (2009).

The Polkinghorne Reader (edited by Thomas Jay Oord) provides key excerpts from Polkinghorne's most influential books.

He was knighted in 1997 and in 2002 received the £1 million Templeton Prize, awarded for exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension
Read the entire article from Wikipedia

Read on line his article on Physics and Theology

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Simon Barnes on Richard Dawkins and Down's syndrome

image Simon Barnes The Spectator
"I know that Richard Dawkins is wrong about Down’s syndrome, because I know my son"

Simon Barnes' article September 6, 2014 in The Spectator is a truly spectacular message to all humanity.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Janis Joplin - her last song

There is only one Janis Joplin - even Pink knows this despite of some similarities.

Her uniqueness is emphasized by the creative years of Rock&Roll, Psychedelic Punk, Blues and Pop from 1950'ies to 70'ies. After the Beatles revolution the big guys took over realizing that youth has money to invest on recordings. This led to the birth of the multi-billion industry of today producing slick popular music carefully targeted at audiences to make that hit song or a new idol.

With good reasons her interpretation of Summertime from Porgy&Bess is considered a masterpiece. The listener cannot but help to think who else that crying baby is but Janis herself.

Similarly, the enormous intensity of her performance of Ball and Chain at Monterey Jazz Festival, California totally captivated the audience with an impact few other white female singers have made.

The Woodstock generation of artists were living the music to the tilt and were not aware of the risks involved with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Not only Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin paid for the ignorance by their lives but certainly many anonymous young people around the world who imitated their way of life as the coolest thing.

Mercedes Benz
There are many other outstanding performances by Janis Joplin that remain classics of popular music. But her last recorded performance is "A song of social and political import"
"Mercedes Benz" is an a cappella song written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, and originally recorded by Joplin. In the song, the singer asks the Lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz, a color TV, and a "night on the town". According to Bobby Womack, Joplin was inspired to come up with the lyrics after going for a ride with him in his Mercedes-Benz. It was recorded in one take on October 1, 1970, along with a couple of rowdy verses of "Happy Birthday" sung for John Lennon. These were the last tracks Joplin ever recorded; she died three days later, on October 4. The song appeared on the album Pearl, released in 1971.

Mercedes Benz
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town?
I'm counting on you, Lord, please don't let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

That's it!

Heh heh...

Chris Neal
Writers: Janis Joplin, Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth
Recorded: 1970

It’s Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Sunset Sound recording studio in Los Angeles. Janis Joplin asks producer Paul Rothchild to roll tape. She has a song she’d like to sing.

The services of backing band Full Tilt Boogie, present and ready for action, will not be necessary. Joplin steps to the microphone and makes a declaration. “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import,” she says, a twinkle in her eye. “It goes like this.” Then she begins to sing, exercising soulful control over her enormous, whiskey-soaked voice: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? / My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends …”

“It wasn’t a sad and tragic time,” Rothchild recalled in 1992 (three years before his death). “Fun was the underlying thing.” But the jovial atmosphere in the studio hid a secret: After a period of abstinence, Joplin had resumed the heroin habit that had dogged her throughout much of 1969. She explained to a friend that she was only using it to keep from drinking so much during the making of the album; alcohol hangovers hindered her performance in the studio.

On Oct. 3, Full Tilt Boogie laid down a backing track for the Nick Gravenites tune “Buried Alive in the Blues”; Joplin was set to lay down her vocal the following day. Work finished at around 11 p.m., and the star returned to her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel. There she passed away from a heroin overdose during the night. She was 27. Rothchild and company fought through their shock and grief to spend the next two weeks applying the remaining overdubs needed to complete the album. The result was dubbed Pearl, after a nickname she had lately adopted.

Outside the hotel on the night of her death sat Joplin’s car: not a Mercedes, but a Porsche she had bought in 1968 and paid friend Dave Richards $500 to paint in psychedelic colors. The hippie icon who sang, “My friends all drive Porsches,” was herself well aware of the real—if fleeting—pleasures to be found behind the wheel.

“She’d go against traffic on blind curves, with the top down,” Rothchild recalled, “laughing, ‘Nothing can knock me down!’

By Chris Neal

Oh Lord!
This catchy song by Janis Joplin begins with a rather ironic introduction and ends with a happy giggle as if the prayer is just a joke.

I am not able to judge is the emotion here something similar to John Lennon's mockery of the spirituality of Bob Dylan, kind of light-heart emptiness of the rich and famous. Spontaneous the song definitely is and genuine Janis. She could not know that the dealer would sell her too strong dose that would end her life and bring her to God in only a few days after the recording.

There are other singers in deep troubles who sang from their heart asking good Lord to help them.

For example, the manic depressive singer Donny Edward Hathaway (October 1, 1945 – January 13, 1979) fell or jumped to his death from a hotel room window. But he arrived to the presence of Lord with quite a different song than Janis Joplin.

If only Janis Joplin had publicly asked Lord also for other help and not just another car!

Monday, July 14, 2014

St. Augustine on creation

In the masterpiece of Saint Augustine (354-430) Confessions there is a particularly eloquent text on creation. In finest Latin rhetoric style he summarizes the human search for God in Nature hearing how all creation shouts "I am not He but He made us".

This gentle spiritual exhortation to love and praise God was written at a time when created things instead of their Maker were still widely worshiped in the empire of Rome.

St. Augustine Confessions Book X Chapter VI
Not with doubting, but with assured consciousness, do I love Thee, Lord. Thou hast stricken my heart with Thy word, and I loved Thee. Yea also heaven, and earth, and all that therein is, behold, on every side they bid me love Thee; nor cease to say so unto all, that they may be without excuse. But more deeply wilt Thou have mercy on whom Thou wilt have mercy, and wilt have compassion on whom Thou hast had compassion: else in deaf ears do the heaven and the earth speak Thy praises. But what do I love, when I love Thee? not beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the brightness of the light, so gladsome to our eyes, nor sweet melodies of varied songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers, and ointments, and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs acceptable to embracements of flesh. None of these I love, when I love my God; and yet I love a kind of light, and melody, and fragrance, and meat, and embracement when I love my God, the light, melody, fragrance, meat, embracement of my inner man: where there shineth unto my soul what space cannot contain, and there soundeth what time beareth not away, and there smelleth what breathing disperseth not, and there tasteth what eating diminisheth not, and there clingeth what satiety divorceth not. This is it which I love when I love my God.

And what is this? I asked the earth, and it answered me, “I am not He”; and whatsoever are in it confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the living creeping things, and they answered, “We are not thy God, seek above us.” I asked the moving air; and the whole air with his inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God. “ I asked the heavens, sun, moon, stars, “Nor (say they) are we the God whom thou seekest.” And I replied unto all the things which encompass the door of my flesh: “Ye have told me of my God, that ye are not He; tell me something of Him.” And they cried out with a loud voice, “He made us. “ My questioning them, was my thoughts on them: and their form of beauty gave the answer. And I turned myself unto myself, and said to myself, “Who art thou?” And I answered, “A man.” And behold, in me there present themselves to me soul, and body, one without, the other within. By which of these ought I to seek my God? I had sought Him in the body from earth to heaven, so far as I could send messengers, the beams of mine eyes. But the better is the inner, for to it as presiding and judging, all the bodily messengers reported the answers of heaven and earth, and all things therein, who said, “We are not God, but He made us.” These things did my inner man know by the ministry of the outer: I the inner knew them; I, the mind, through the senses of my body. I asked the whole frame of the world about my God; and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.

Is not this corporeal figure apparent to all whose senses are perfect? why then speaks it not the same to all? Animals small and great see it, but they cannot ask it: because no reason is set over their senses to judge on what they report. But men can ask, so that the invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; but by love of them, they are made subject unto them: and subjects cannot judge. Nor yet do the creatures answer such as ask, unless they can judge; nor yet do they change their voice (i.e., their appearance), if one man only sees, another seeing asks, so as to appear one way to this man, another way to that, but appearing the same way to both, it is dumb to this, speaks to that; yea rather it speaks to all; but they only understand, who compare its voice received from without, with the truth within. For truth saith unto me, “Neither heaven, nor earth, nor any other body is thy God.” This, their very nature saith to him that seeth them: “They are a mass; a mass is less in a part thereof than in the whole.” Now to thee I speak, O my soul, thou art my better part: for thou quickenest the mass of my body, giving it life, which no body can give to a body: but thy God is even unto thee the Life of thy life.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Friday, July 11, 2014

Maimonides - The Guide to the Perplexed Book Three

An artist trying to make sense of Ezekiel's text - with little success, I'm afraid
image elbethelwarriors

The Chariot in Ezekiel - Merkava
And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great wars, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings.
And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.

And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.

And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.  As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
Ezekiel 1:24-28 KJV

Maimonides' interpretation
The beginning of the third book is described as the climax of the whole work. This is the exposition of the mystical passage of the Chariot found in Ezekiel (cf. Merkavah mysticism).
Merkabah/Merkavah mysticism (or Chariot mysticism) is a school of early Jewish mysticism, c. 100 BCE – 1000 CE, centered on visions such as those found in the Book of Ezekiel chapter 1, or in the hekhalot ("palaces") literature, concerning stories of ascents to the heavenly palaces and the Throne of God. The main corpus of the Merkabah literature was composed in Israel in the period 200–700 CE, although later references to the Chariot tradition can also be found in the literature of the Chassidei Ashkenaz in the Middle Ages. A major text in this tradition is the Maaseh Merkabah (Works of the Chariot).
Traditionally, Jewish law viewed this passage as extremely sensitive, and in theory, did not allow it to be taught explicitly at all. The only way to learn it properly was if a student had enough knowledge and wisdom to be able to interpret their teacher's hints by themselves, in which case the teacher was allowed to teach them indirectly. In practice, however, the mass of detailed rabbinic writings on this subject often crosses the line from hint to detailed teachings.

After justifying this "crossing of the line" from hints to direct instruction, Maimonides explains the basic mystical concepts via the Biblical terms referring to Spheres, elements and Intelligences. In these chapters, however, there is still very little in terms of direct explanation.
A brilliant mind facing a text in the heart of mysticism, a truly perplexing description of close encounter with the LORD. As so many others in the past and present, Maimonides could not put his intelligence and knowledge aside with such mighty matters but rather gives a rationalistic exegesis of what Ezekiel's powerful vision of chariots means in scientific terms.

Maimonides deals with the problem of evil (for which people are considered to be responsible because of free will), trials and tests (especially those of Job and the story of the Binding of Isaac) as well as other aspects traditionally attached to God in theology, such as providence and omniscience:

"Maimonides endeavors to show that evil has no positive existence, but is a privation of a certain capacity and does not proceed from God; when, therefore, evils are mentioned in Scripture as sent by God, the Scriptural expressions must be explained allegorically. Indeed, says Maimonides, all existing evils, with the exception of some which have their origin in the laws of production and destruction and which are rather an expression of God's mercy, since by them the species are perpetuated, are created by men themselves."
Maimonides prefers a smooth Philosopher's God over the very personal and dangerous God of Israel we know from nature, the Bible and history.

Rationalism and moralism hand in hand
Maimonides then explains his views on the reasons for the 613 mitzvot, the 613 laws contained within the five books of Moses. Maimonides divides these laws into 14 sections - the same as in his Mishneh Torah. However, he departs from traditional Rabbinic explanations in favour of a more physical/pragmatic approach.

Having culminated with the commandments, Maimonides concludes the work with the notion of the perfect and harmonious life, founded on the correct worship of God. The possession of a correct philosophy underlying Judaism (as outlined in the Guide) is seen as being an essential aspect in true wisdom.
The purpose of the divine commands in Pentateuch is for Maimonides to have perfect and harmonious life. By following the mitzvot a person worships God in the correct way.

The fact that strong rationalism and idealistic moralism are inseparable among the followers of Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The brilliant mind and heart of Maimonides is not an exception to this marriage that appears to make so much sense!.

Maimonides' rationalism and understanding of correct worship of God provoked criticism among some Jewish scholars
In particular, the adversaries of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah declared war against the "Guide." His views concerning angels, prophecy, and miracles — and especially his assertion that he would have had no difficulty in reconciling the biblical account of the creation with the doctrine of the eternity of the universe, had the Aristotelian proofs for it been conclusive — provoked the indignation of his coreligionists.

Maimonides - The Guide to the Perplexed Book Two

Statue of Moshe Maimonides in Cordoba, Spain
image wikimedia

Book two: the physical universe 
The second book begins with the exposition of the physical structure of the universe, as seen by Maimonides. The world-view asserted in the work is essentially Aristotelian, with a spherical earth in the centre, surrounded by concentric Heavenly Spheres.

While Aristotle's view with respect to the eternity of the universe is rejected, Maimonides extensively borrows his proofs of the existence of God and his concepts such as the Prime Mover:

"But as Maimonides recognizes the authority of Aristotle in all matters concerning the sublunary world, he proceeds to show that the Biblical account of the creation of the nether world is in perfect accord with Aristotelian views. Explaining its language as allegorical and the terms employed as homonyms, he summarizes the first chapter of Genesis thus: God created the universe by producing on the first day the "reshit", or Intelligences, from which the spheres derived their existence and motion and thus became the source of the existence of the entire universe.

A novel point is that Maimonides connects the Heavenly Sphere with the concept of an angel: these are seen as the same thing. The Spheres are essentially pure Intelligences who receive spiritual essence from the Prime Mover. This energy overflows from each one to the next and finally reaches earth and the physical domain.

While novel in Judaism, this concept of intelligent spheres of existence also appears in Gnostic Christianity as Aeons, having been conceived at least eight hundred years before Maimonides. Maimonides' immediate source was probably Avicenna, who may in turn have been influenced by the very similar scheme in Ismaili thought.
It seems to me that the stages of emanations as shortly described in the quoted article have their origins not in Aristotle but rather in Neoplatonism for example in the writings of Plotinus..

Maimonides worldview is geocentric but it is combined with an interesting view of spiritual realities in the physical universe above Earth.

Is the universe eternal?
This leads into a discussion about the merits of the debate whether the universe is eternal or created. As in the first book, Aristotle's theory of the eternity of the universe is seen as the best, philosophically. However, this is because Maimonides considered the proofs that the universe was created to be inferior. He still points out supposed problems with the Aristotelian view and states that, while Aristotle's argument is the best, the possession of Divine Revelation from the Torah is the extra piece of information necessary to decide the matter.

This is followed by a brief exposition of Creation as outlined in Genesis and theories about the possible end of the world.
The somewhat convulsed paragraph states the view that Maimonides accepted the scientific worldview of his days which was equivalent to the Aristotelian view that the universe has always been and will always be. Nothing better had been developed during the over thousand years after this Greek genius.

The famed Jewish scholar suggested that Divine Revelation in the Torah complements the scientific worldview adding extra pieces of information to the question of the eternity of the world. Of course, this is soft glossing over the real contrast between Aristotle's eternal world and the Biblical world which has both a clear beginning and dramatic end.

Prophecy and knowledge
The second major part of the book is the discussion of the concept of prophecy.

Maimonides departs from the orthodox view in that he emphasizes the intellectual aspect of prophecy. According to this view, in Biblical times, when God still revealed himself through prophecy, it was possible to combine logic and intelligence with a knowledge of God through the tradition (i.e. the Written and Oral Torah) in order to achieve a certain level of prophecy.

Maimonides outlines 11 levels of prophecy, with that of Moses being beyond the highest, and thus most unimpeded. Subsequent lower levels reduce the immediacy between God and prophet, allowing prophecies through increasingly external and indirect factors such as angels and dreams. Finally, the language and nature of the prophetic books of the Bible are described.
Maimonides raises a very significant hermeneutical point after discussing science and religion, Aristotle and the Bible. He keeps the Jewish concept of Divine Revelation but works on the matter more giving a challenging definition of prophecy vis a vis knowledge.

We can see the great mind at work here doing a selfie of his personal relationship to the Torah. An Einstein in his time, he cannot give up intellectual thinking and submit to blind adherence to Divine Revelation as a package that just has to be accepted in faith. Rather, for him prophecy is a combination of revelation and intellectual thinking, knowledge.

Maimonides - The Guide for the Perplexed Book One

Guide for the Perplexed manuscript from Yemen, dated 13-14th century

The text contains selected quotes from the wikipedia article as a short introduction to some of the subjects discussed in Maimonides' masterpiece that I personally find highly relevant also in modern times. Read the entire article and follow the links given there for further study.

Maimonide's book is available online in Word Digital Library.

The Guide for the Perplexed
The Guide for the Perplexed (Hebrew: מורה נבוכים, Moreh Nevukhim; Arabic: دلالة الحائرين, dalālatul ḥā’irīn, דלאל̈ה אלחאירין) is one of the major works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides or the Rambam. It was written in the 12th century in the form of a three-volume letter to his student, Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, the son of Rabbi Judah, and is the main source of the Rambam's philosophical views, as opposed to his opinions on Jewish law.

Since many of the philosophical concepts, such as his view of theodicy and the relationship between philosophy and religion, are relevant beyond strictly Jewish theology, it has been the work most commonly associated with Maimonides in the non-Jewish world and it is known to have influenced several major non-Jewish philosophers. Following its publication, "almost every philosophic work for the remainder of the Middle Ages cited, commented on, or criticized Maimonides' views." Within Judaism, the Guide became widely popular, with many Jewish communities requesting copies of the manuscript, but also quite controversial, with some communities limiting its study or banning it altogether.

Incorporeal God
The book begins with Maimonides' thesis against anthropomorphism. In the Bible, one can find many expressions that refer to God in human terms, for instance the "hand of God." Maimonides was strongly against what he believed to be a heresy present in unlearned Jews who then assume God to be corporeal (or even possessing positive characteristics).

To explain his belief that this is not the case, Maimonides devoted more than 20 chapters in the beginning (and middle) of the first book to analysing Hebrew terms. Each chapter was about a term used to refer to God (such as "mighty") and, in each case, Maimonides presented a case that the word is a homonym, whereby its usage when referring to a physical entity is completely different from when referring to God. This was done by close textual analysis of the word in the Tanach in order to present what Maimonides saw as the proof that according to the Tanach, God is completely incorporeal.
This leads to Maimonides' notion that God cannot be described in any positive terms, but rather only in negative conceptions.
"As to His essence, the only way to describe it is negatively. For instance, He is not physical, nor bound by time, nor subject to change, etc. These assertions do not involve any incorrect notions or assume any deficiency, while if positive essential attributes are admitted it may be assumed that other things coexisted with Him from eternity."
Encyclopaedia Judaica

Unrestrained anthropomorphism and perception of positive attributes is seen as a transgression as serious as idolatry, because both are fundamental errors in the metaphysics of God's role in the universe, and that is the most important aspect of the world.
The first book ends with Maimonides' protracted exposition and criticism of a number of principles and methods identified with the schools of Jewish Kalam and Islamic Kalam, including the argument for creation ex nihilo and the unity and incorporeality of God. While he accepts the conclusions of the Kalam school (because of their consistency with Judaism), he disagrees with their methods and points out many perceived flaws in their arguments.
It is highly significant how Rambam is deeply immersed both in Jewish and Islamic theology. The Guide to the Perplexed gives deep insights into fundamental issues in the Theology of these two religions based on the Scriptures and, as the article says, has influenced Medieval European scholars leaving lasting impact into Christian Theology, as well.
The Guide had great influence in Christian thought, both Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus making extensive use of it: the negative theology contained in it also influenced mystics such as Meister Eckhart. It was also read and commented on in Islamic circles, and remains in print in Arab countries.

Monday, July 7, 2014


A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics. The term is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung, composed of Welt ('world') and Anschauung ('view' or 'outlook'). It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.
The quoted compact definition of worldview includes two distinct elements that in my opinion should be kept apart for clarity

  • Wide world perception
  • Framework of ideas and beliefs forming a globa description
Perception is subjective understanding, a mental construction of reality that individuals and groups have adopted and learned in very complex manners.It is an interpretation of the world.

Framework of ideas is objective understanding of what is known and believed in the context of the individual or group. It is a description of the world.

Thunder and lightning
The majestic thunder and lightning during stormy weather has always made and still makes a deep impact on us humans. 

In objective terms the phenomenon has been observed throughout human history as loud sound and sometimes fatal flashing in the sky. The meteorological phenomenon is perceived through senses and transmitted to the brain where it is recognized and associated with wind, rain and fire. 

In subjective terms thunder and lightning are understood by individuals and society according to the prevalent worldview. The associations in mind are culturally colored and depend on a multitude of diverse threats of thinking.

Hellenic people heard the sound and associated it with the fearsome wagons of Helios as he is riding on the sky. Zeus shooting his angry arrows.

Variously named storm gods were worshiped in ancient Near East where thunder and lighting occurs. For examples, Canaanites feared Baal of the holy mountains who gave or withheld rain from the thirsty nature. Flashes are the weapons of choice of several Mesopotamian gods and goddesses. 

Similarly, the Bible has texts that describe in Canaanite manner how thunder is the mighty voice of God shaking the high mountains of Lebanon.

In short, thunder and flash are experienced similarly by all humans throughout the ages through our senses and brain activity. What we see and experience, on the other hand, depends on our worldview in a complex network of personal, social and cultural connections and associations.

Scientific worldview
Modern scientists try to adhere to methods and rules that are as objective as possible in the framework of observations and theoretical explanations and free of the coloring of their own perception of the world.

This concentration on the framework of ideas and observations is an essential characteristics of scientific research and has proven invaluable.

However, it is not enough for us humans to know the mechanics of some natural phenomenon such as thunder and lightning. Electricity, friction, air currents - yes. But there is more to it, isn't there!

Not surprisingly, the top scientists of today studying biology or cosmology and other subjects tend to also write about the meaning of things, their perception of the world as Carl Sagan does in his famed Cosmology documentary - a personal voyage (1980).

The immense success of his masterpiece among the people of the world - the documentary has been shown in over 60 countries and seen by millions - witness the importance and need of talking about what this all means, a personal voyage for each of one according to our capacity of perceiving the world as a whole.

Sagan chose atheism. Hawking keeps asking Big Questions. Sir Isaac Newton chose faith in Creator.

It is important to keep the two elements of Weltanschauung separate - and yet it seems to be impossible to avoid drawing personal conclusions of objective facts, of having perceptions of the world based on the framework of ideas, so to say.

Religion definitely has room in this, both negative and positive. But that requires another discussion.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Idol of Intelligent Design

Professor Michale Behe is a prominent representative of the ID movement
image wikimedia

The Law of Moses states
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."
Exodus 20:4-6

Ancient Near East
In Ancient Near Eastern cultures idols were man made objects unlike anything else. The people had long traditions about gods that were often rooted in prehistoric times. The mental visions of these beings, benevolent or hostile, were expressed in material form with iconic details, powerful semiotic signs. The image of the god or goddess not only represented the society's vision of the divinity but was more - it was his or her actual presence in the ritual. Carrying the image in festive parades from place to place was integral part of the reciting of sacred histories associated with the shrines and temples. The images were catered, given full board service and nightly protection to sleep in peace.

10 Commandments
Ten Commandments has a stern prohibition against such deep rooted religious practices and includes not only pagan gods but also the making of image of God of Israel, the only real God there is.

Iconoclastic disputes within Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities reflect this commandment in the Law of Moses. Especially in Islam the prohibition against religious images of holy men and events has been carried to extreme. There is a deep philosophical and religious idea behind the iconoclastic forms of Islam possibly influenced by the bloody dispute over icons in 8th century Christian church. Nestorian and other theologians discussed with Muslim theologians in Abbasid Caliphate and the ideas were adopted. By making an image of God, Allah, man reduces the majesty of God into something that can be handled by humans.

The Idol of Intelligent Design
"Do not make an image of God" can be extended to other forms of image making besides painting or sculpture. For what else is an image of a god carved from wood than expression of what is in mind into formatted matter?

In search of intelligent design and planning in Nature one must use mathematical, philosophical, theological and other criteria to define, how intelligence appears there. ID movement does not necessarily talk about divine beings to be involved in theory formation and explanation of natural processes. But the great interest in ID argumentation by many groups of Christians reflects the God element so deeply involved in the study of Creation.

The making of a mental image of God through methods and theories corresponds to the ancient need to see God. Unfortunately, the end result is not a genuine image of God at work in Nature but rather an Idol.

This Idol is attacked by atheists who reasonably assume that William Paley has described correctly Judeo-Christian view on how God works in the nature and find logical faults in the mental image. "These and these aspects in Nature do not fit with the image of God you have made for yourself."

What to do?
Do not make an image of God.

Let God give birth of Christ in you through His Word in Holy Spirit.

Study nature, learn about its wonders, ask questions, challenge accepted theories, enjoy David Attenborough's BBC series to the full giving emphasis to what you see rather than the human explanation that you hear. It is an overwhelming religious experience!

Study Scriptures where you find the real image of God which not only is there to be found but affects your person to the bone.

Both when dealing with natural sciences and when studying the Bible keep one thing in mind and never let it go - love of Truth.

They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
2 Thess 2:10b

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dawkins God Delusion and Classic Antiquity

kuva wikimedia
Richard Dawkins and his friends consider faith in a personal God a danger to humanity and are acting today on that basis to save mankind from such a delusion.

Time of Ignorance 
Pallas Ateenalle omistettu Parthenon
kuva wikimedia
Apostle Paul was greatly disturbed by the many temples and images of very personal gods in Athens. This prompted from him this comment
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Apt 17:24-31
Venus de Milo  - Afrodite

I think that highly educated Richard Dawkins admits despite all that the admired masterpieces of Classical Antiquity in architecture, sculpture, literature, mythology and theater are connected to the very personal divinities of Greece and Rome. They are the wonder of the entire world - and for a very good reason.

The current Atheistic Crusade against religious God delusions can be compared to an attempt to remove music from the children of Adam and Eve.

The barren end result of removing religious delusions can only be reached by violence and with revolutionary fire. This we can see from the history and vestigia terrent even in Tibet where the persecuted followers of Dalai Lama do not even believe in any personal god.

Time of Knowing God 
God has patiently waited through the long years of ignorance. But in the heart of civilization, Areiopag of Athens, stoic and epicurean philosophers heard a truly amusing claim: the times have changed and now God commands all people...

Laughter and mockery of believers and their faith is invited also by Dawkins "as it is effective". The frequent visitors to the Hyde Park of Athens could not imagine that times really are changing and that laughable speech by an ugly Jew was actually starting shot for the change of entire Greek culture and civilization. The gods of Olympos would fall by the power of the Word of God of Israel, the only real God there is.

Now we know what the God of Israel commands. Woe to those who ignore His will as they loose the dimension of eternity from their life.