Understanding ISIS

Apropos of Understanding Islam, this article on ISIS is also rather illuminating:

What ISIS Really Wants
“The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.” ~ Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, March 2015).

–> Understanding Islam


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Understanding Islam

Note:  More about this video, below…

I consider myself a friend of all the worlds’ major religions, including Islam.  In addition to the evening news, my understanding of Islam has been mediated by the following:

  • My reading of the Quran, from cover to cover, in these two translations:
    • The Qur’an: A New Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem
    • The Koran Interpreted: A Translation by A.J. Arberry

So while I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on Islam, neither am I simply a beginner (though there is a sense in which I am, in all things, a perpetual beginner, but that’s another story).  Be that as it may, this week, my understanding of Islam was unexpectedly raised a notch or two by these videos of Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein of Trinidad–the one posted above on Basirah (Islamic Spirituality) and the one posted below on Islam and Russia’s Tryst with Destiny.  These videos probably won’t change your general attitude toward Islam, but they will almost certainly increase your understanding thereof.  I highly recommend them.


[2/16/15]  This article on ISIS is also rather illuminating:

What ISIS Really Wants
“The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.” ~ Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, March 2015).

[1/30/15]  In the event the imbedded videos, above, don’t work for any reason, here are the direct links:

Islam and Russia’s Tryst with Destiny by Sheikh Imran N. Hosein

[Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein] Basirah : An introduction to Islamic Spirituality

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What is the “Good News” of the Gospel?

These thoughts came to mind this morning in the context of a discussion about what the gospeli.e. what the good news really is.  My two cents:

good newsMake no mistake–I love the old, old story and if I had children, I would be raising them in church and grounding their lives in the liturgical year (probably in an Anglican, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox community).  But if and when the question arises, I would also acknowledge that if the good news is really dependent on our knowledge of (and faith in) the alleged historical events that are associated with the life of Jesus, as reported in the scriptures– i.e. his virgin birth, his ministry and miracles, his physical crucifixion, and his bodily resurrection/empty tomb –then the vast majority of human beings seem to be living and dying without the grace of God and without any point of access to the light of life.  As such, IMO, we must look deeper– deeper than Our Sunday School Theology –if we are to recognize the light of the world that Jesus says he is/we are/I Am!

In contrast to Our Sunday School Theology, however, if we understand the metaphorical and symbolic (or archetypical) significance of the story (apart from any overarching concern with its historicity), then we can also acknowledge that there is a light which lights everyone who comes into the world and that the grace of God has appeared to all men.   Indeed, it is from this point of view that we may truthfully say that whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely–and it is in this light that we can truly understand the tradition as an authentic revelation of God whether or not it is true in every (imagined) historical, prophetic, and/or metaphysical detail.

Gospel of Thomas 113  His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”

Good news!     Let us take up our cross–the kingdom of heaven is at hand; within us; among  us (cf. Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24-25; Matthew 3:2; Luke 17:20-21).

–>  What Do We Have To Lose?

death and resurrection

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John S. Uebersax’ Home Page

uebersaxAs I said last summer with regard to Jeff Benner’s Ancient Hebrew Resource Center, every now and then I stumble onto a website that presents what seems to me– rightly or wrongly — a vast quantity of extremely valuable information in a relatively easily intuitable form.  I then become extraordinarily enthused with the material and want to share my enthusiasm with as many people as possible.  This happened again yesterday when I discovered John Uebersax’s Home Page.  Here’s how it all unfolded:

Plotinus-214x300As I was discussing Plotinus with a friend, via email, I was trying to remember the word procession, but could not, at first come up with it.  So I decided to google the phrase: “another word for emanation in Plotinus”.  I don’t think that’s how I finally came up with the word procession– I think I finally just remembered it –but in the process of looking for it, I happened to open up this article on Plotinus and noticed this sentence:

” Plotinus’ doctrine that the soul is composed of a higher and a lower part — the higher part being unchangeable and divine (and aloof from the lower part, yet providing the lower part with life), while the lower part is the seat of the personality (and hence the passions and vices) — led him to neglect an ethics of the individual human being in favor of a mystical or soteric doctrine of the soul’s ascent to union with its higher part. Plotinus’ doctrine that the soul is composed of a higher and a lower part — the higher part being unchangeable and divine (and aloof from the lower part, yet providing the lower part with life), while the lower part is the seat of the personality (and hence the passions and vices) — led him to neglect an ethics of the individual human being in favor of a mystical or soteric doctrine of the soul’s ascent to union with its higher part.”

The word soteric then caught my attention (as in soteriology).  I wondered if there might be a relationship to the word esoteric, as well–might it be that the esoteric offers us the safety of the inner circle?  In any event, I then decided to do a search for soteric and found this:

soteriaSoteria is what we would today call the self-actualizing principle, a beneficent force that guides our development, helping us to reach the desired end of psychological salvation, integration and happiness.”

[omitting some discussion of the middle Platonists and Philo]

“In Christianity, the figure of Christ personifies soteria.  As Christ is understood as teacher, healer, redeemer, Good Shepherd, helmsman etc. of the soul, so all these attributes apply to the soteric principle.”


My years of working for an Internet access provider (1994-1999)– and years of futzing around with my own web pages –has made me curious to explore websites beyond the first page that I happen to land on, but not merely by following the links that are obvious.  Rather, what I often do is simply work my way up the “directory tree” toward the root directory–amazing what you find sometimes:


That brought me to this page:

Index of /plato/words

Since both nous and anamnesis had been on my mind recently, I looked at each of them and was pleased and intrigued, to say the least.  So I then clicked on the last entry– words.htm –and found a discussion of The Prisca Theologia  [which is “the conjecture that there was in ancient times a pure or ‘pristine’ religion (prisca theologia), uncontaminated by modernism”].  This is also related to the idea of traditionalism (e.g. Guenon and Schuon, et al) and, more broadly, the perennial philosophy.   I was also pleased to find Peter Kingsley  mentioned on that page.

Moving on up the “tree” of this directory brings us to:



Religion  |  Platonism  |  Wisdom  |  Cicero  |  Transcendentalism | Education  |  Society  |  Peace  |  Patristics  |  Depth Psychology
See also blogs on: Cultural psychology and Western spirituality

Wow–it looks as if one could get quite an education exploring this one little nook and cranny of the web by itself, eh?  I clicked on the Platonism section and noticed (among many other interesting items) the following:

Islamic Platonists and NeoplatonistsThis page lists some important Islamic philosophers, theologians, and writers influenced by Platonism and Neoplatonism (and, in some cases, Neopythagoreanism). The purpose is to help demonstrate the extent of continuity between Christian and Islamic philosophy, which are both very strongly influenced by the Greek philosophical tradition.

And there is also a page on The Divided LineHe writes:

After the Bible, it’s hard to find anything in Western literature that contains so much in so short a passage as Plato’s Divided Line Analogy, which appears at the end of Book 6 of the Republic (Rep 6.509d – 6.511e).

The full text, from public domain translation of Benjamin Jowett (1892), is supplied below.

Elsewhere, I found links to pages on Christian Gnosis and Cultural Psychologyboth of these are must see links, IMO.

christian gnosis

Finally, I decided to read through the aforementioned page on The Divided Line and that led me to this wonderful piece:

The Pathology of American Thinking: How Plato Might Have Helped Us Avoid an Iraq Debacle
“This short article will explain how Plato’s division of human knowledge into four kinds relates to the disordered thinking–public and governmental–that led to America’s Iraq problem.”

Many thanks to John Uebersax for sharing the fruits of his labors over all these years!  Keep up the good work, John! :)

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Leaning Into This Moment

Lean into this moment…

This expression is a variation of Rule # 5 from the movie, People like us.  It goes as follows:

“Rule # 5:  Lean into it.  It means the outcome doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’re there for it.  It doesn’t matter what it is, good or bad — kind of like right now.”

this moment welcomes you

This moment welcomes you just as you are…   Can you welcome this moment?

Aldous Huxley touches on the same theme in his novel, Island:

“Here and now, boys,” the bird repeated yet once more, then fluttered
down from its perch on the dead tree and settled on her shoulder.

The child peeled another banana, gave two-thirds of it to Will and offered what remained to the mynah.

“Is that your bird?” Will asked.

She shook her head. “Mynahs are like the electric light,” she said. “They don’t belong to anybody.”

“Why does he say those things?”

“Because somebody taught him,” she answered patiently. What an ass! her tone seemed to imply.

“But why did they teach him those things? Why ‘Attention’? Why ‘Here and now’?”

“Well …” She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-evident to this strange imbecile. “That’s what you always forget, isn’t it? I mean, you forget to pay attention to what’s happening. And that’s the same as not being here and now.”

“And the mynahs fly about reminding you—is that it?”

She nodded. That, of course, was it. There was a silence.


rumi silence

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Meditations on the Tarot

the greater trumpsIt has been an unexpected joy for me– this (past) spring and summer –to delve into the history, mystery, and lore surrounding Tarot cards.  My focus has been on their psychological significance, in a Jungian sense– and on their philosophical and theological significance –not on their popular employment as a means of divination.  When it comes to fortune telling, I’m like Aunt Sybil in Charles Williams’, The Greater Trumps.  The sentiments that I have in mind are expressed in the following  exchange between Sybil, her niece Nancy, and Nancy’s boyfriend, Henry:

“What did you mean about fortune-telling?” [Nancy] said, addressing ostensibly Mr. Lee, but in fact Henry. Both of them came jerkily back to consciousness of her. But the old man was past speech; he could only look at his grandson. For a moment Henry didn’t seem to know what to say. But Nancy’s eager and devoted eyes were full on him, and something natural in him responded. “Why, yes,” he said, “it’s here that fortunes can be told. If your father will let us use his pack of cards?” He looked inquiringly across. Mr. Coningsby’s earlier suspicion poked up again, but he hesitated to refuse. “O, if you choose,” he said. “I’m afraid you’ll find nothing in it, but do as you like. Get them, Nancy; they’re in my bag.” […] “Right,” said Nancy […] She found the Tarot pack and ran back again […] “Who’ll try first?” she went on, holding out the Tarots. “Father? Aunt? Or will you, Mr. Lee?” Aaron waved them on. “No, no,” he said hurriedly. “Pray one of you–they’re yours. Do try–one of you.” “Not for me, thank you.  I’ve no wish to be amused so–” Her father hesitated for an adverb, and Sybil also with a gesture put them by. “O, aunt, do!” Nancy said, feeling that if her aunt was in it things would be safer. “Really, Nancy. I’d rather not–if you don’t mind,” Sybil said, apologetic, but determined. “It’s–it’s so much like making someone tell you a secret.” “What someone?” Henry said, anger still in his voice. “I don’t mean someone exactly,” Sybil said, “but things…the universe, so to speak.  If it’s gone to all this trouble to keep the next minute quiet, it seems rude to force its confidence.  Do forgive me.”  She did not, Nancy noticed, add, as she sometimes did, that it was probably silly of her. Nancy frowned at the cards. “Don’t you think we ought to?” she asked. “Of course, if you can,” Sybil answered. “It’s just–do excuse me–that I can’t.” “You sound”, Henry said, recovering a more normal voice, “on remarkably intimate terms with the universe.  Mayn’t it cheat you? Supposing it had something unpleasant waiting for you?” “But,” said Sybil, “as somebody says in Dickens, ‘It hasn’t, you know, so we won’t suppose it.’ Traddles, of course. I’m forgetting Dickens; I must read him again. Well, Nancy, it’s between you and Henry.”

Likewise– while  I am not suggesting that anyone else should feel the way Aunt Sybil and I do about fortune telling –I want to make clear to others who do feel that way that I know where they are coming from.  But it is also worth noting that Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis were friends and fellow inklings.  As such, those of us who (like Charles Williams) find ourselves nonetheless fascinated by these cards are not necessarily (or for that reason alone) in bad company.  One may well ask, however,

If you aren’t interested in divining the future, what is your fascination with Tarot cards? 

As it happened, my interest sprouted almost immediately– and began to blossom very quickly  and unexpectedly –when a friend handed me Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism, by Valentin Tomberg. mott-ver4This amazing book is written in the form of 22 letters– addressed to the unknown friend –with each letter pertaining to one of the 22 Major Arcana or Trumps of the Tarot.  Each letter is a sustained meditation on a particular card, relating it to the teachings of the western, Catholic tradition, to the so-called Hermetic tradition, and to other religious and quasi-religious philosophies from a variety of cultures and epochs.  Moreover, most of the letters also refer to several of the other letters, at least in passing (and to their corresponding Trumps), creating a very dense network of interlocking symbols and multifarious modes of discourse  which is extremely difficult to summarize, but which– in conjunction with a contemplation of the Trumps themselves –tends to captivate the imagination and open the heart in a way that has, for me, been truly extraordinary.   I say this in spite of the fact that I have not been reading it uncritically.  At some point, perhaps, I will write a sympathetic critique in which I will address, among other things, what are, in my opinion:

  • The Many Imaginative Leaps in the Arguments
  • The Seemingly Blind Defense of Catholic Tradition and Dogma
  • Its Less than Fair Treatment of Nondual Philosophies
  • Its Less than Fair Treatment of Nietzsche
  • Its Occasional Lack of Scientific Rigor

These criticisms notwithstanding, it is– in contrast to Our Sunday School Theologya breath of fresh air.  And even if it is not (in my opinion) completely fair in its presentation of other philosophies and religions, it at least attempts to represent them as having a share in the truth which, from its own point of view, both antedates and ultimately finds fulfillment in the Catholic faith. But over and above this, the author seems to appreciate– fully and without reservation –that faith is not merely a matter of believing in sacred texts, religious dogma, or some imagined series of historical or prophetic events, but entails entering into the One life Divine, here and now.  And, my brief but pointed criticisms notwithstanding, his treatment of other faiths and other philosophies is, it seems to me, fair enough and comprehensive enough to build a bridge that can allow traffic to pass both ways (i.e. into or out of the Roman Catholic Church for which he is an apologist).  Indeed, with respect to the Hermetic tradition, this highly recommended website quotes him as follows:

In May 1967 the author wrote to some friends: “My meditations on the Tarot are no scientific undertaking. Rather, they are a wide-ranging effort, by means of the symbolism of the Hermetic tradition, to enter again deeply into the all-encompassing stream of the Catholic tradition, so through a shift in perspective, through a purifying atonement, the Catholic and the Hermetic traditions might be seen as one, in harmony with each other” (EnglishWordPlay.Com).

So, if one is willing to roll with the punches– to go along and get along so to speak –this book is, on balance, rather ecumenical and inclusive.  In fact, I think it could, with sufficient nuance on the part of the instructor (and in conjunction with other texts offering alternative and supplemental points of view), be used in a college level course in comparative philosophy and/or religion. Rather than struggling to summarize the content of this extraordinary book in this brief review, I recommend that anyone who is so inclined follow the link below to a beautiful summary presentation (of several of the Letters) complements of BBC Radio Drama Producer, Shaun Macloughlin:

jack2http://www.englishwordplay.com/tarot.html English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy Meditations on the TAROT

And, for additional online resources, see my new blog which, among other things, is designed to pull together as much quality content as possible from around the web pertaining to this text:


blog banner book mark3

In the process of reading these 650+ pages, I decided to purchase a deck of Tarot cards and became increasingly fascinated by the Major Arcana as I continued to work my way through the text.  Later, I decided to print my own deck of Teeny Tiny Tarot Trumps and also secured copies of the following:

The Symbolism of the Tarot, by P.D. Ouspensky

The Greater Trumps, by Charles Williams (a novel)

The Fools Pilgrimage: A Kabbalistic Meditation on the Tarot, by Stephan A. Hoeller

The Tarot: History, Mystery & Lore, by Cynthia Giles

The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination — Created by Ed Buryn (Based on the works of William Blake)

In the process of exploring this material, I also found something very much akin to my own default philosophical position echoed in the writing of P.D Ouspensky, via Cynthia Giles.  The image, at the bottom, is based on this quotation:

00. resized“If we imagine twenty-one [numbered Tarot Trumps] disposed in the shape of a triangle, seven cards on each side, a point in the centre of the triangle represented by the zero card, and a square round the triangle (the square consisting of fifty-six cards, fourteen on each side), we shall have a representation of the relation between God, Man and the Universe, or the relation between the world of ideas, the consciousness of man and the physical world. The triangle is God (the Trinity) or the world of ideas, or the noumenal world. The point is man’s soul. The square is the visible, physical or phenomenal world. Potentially, the point is equal to the square, which means that all the visible world is contained in man’s consciousness, is created in man’s soul. And the soul itself is a point having no dimension in the world of the spirit, symbolized by the triangle. It is clear that such an idea could not have originated with ignorant people and clear also that the Tarot is something more than a pack of playing or fortune-telling cards.” ~ D.P. Ouspensky, “THE SYMBOLISM OF THE TAROT”

Making suitable allowance for the context– and keeping in mind (as Donald Tyson point out) that the fool was originally an unnumbered card and that, later, it was numbered “0” (zero) by occultists and esoteric philosophers –I think Ouspensky’s formulation articulates very well (in the imaginal context of the Tarot) my own implicit idealism (derived from my admittedly idiosyncratic  reading of Kant and Spinoza) which I sometimes refer to (only half jokingly) as Trinitarian panentheism. Here, in conclusion, is Ouspensky’s formulation as represented by Cythia Giles: Giles on Ouspensky

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Romans 7 in retrospect…

romans 7-15Each of the articles linked to below pertain to  the classic dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit as described in Romans 7.  This text and this problem have been on my mind (to one degree or another) for 40 years.  The third article contains the key that, for me, effectively resolves the conflict.   Depending on one’s interests– or where one is in their spiritual walk –the first two articles may be more or less helpful.  Take what seems good to you and leave the rest… 

Flesh and Spirit in Conflict
This is an older essay outlining the problem as I understand it…

The Order of Being and the Life of Faith
This offers further scriptural analysis leading up to the solution…

The Mind of Christ and the Power of the Spirit
This describes the kind of transcendental vision and existential decision which, by the grace of God, effectively resolves the conflict…

tug of war

–>  Download all Three Essays in a single PDF File

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