December 24, 2020 Category: Religion


{1  This involves “epieikeia”: a spirituality informed by reason, moderated by temperance.  Note that none of this omits the more existentially salient features of healthy prayer: hope and appreciation–both of which enable prayer to enhance life.  In its most estimable form, contemplation is a way of empowering oneself–marshaling the gusto to rise above, to flourish, to become a better person (more wise, more virtuous), to endure / overcome tribulation, etc.  By stark contrast, in its crudest form, prayer is treated as the celestial version of the home shopping network (as an articulation of a wish-list).  In its loftier versions, one prays that a loved one will recover from an ailment or that one will fare well in an upcoming trial, proving oneself up to the task.  Praying for good fortune seems to be the most elementary form of prayer.  Meanwhile, prayer-as-appreciation is its most existentially profound form.  In this way, prayer is reflective / introspective: stopping to take stock, inhale life, and experience the full exhilaration of–and gratefulness for–being alive.  In this way, prayer is an opportunity to count one’s blessings, to marvel at existence, to experience wonder.  Both aspects–hope and appreciation–are about getting in touch with oneself as well as with the divine.  Both are in keeping with the sort of contemplative activity described at present.  In sum: Hope (so long it is not selfish or delusive) and appreciation (of the sort that goes beyond quotidian gratitude) imbue life with meaning; and are often best realized through prayer.}

{2  This exalted state is generally referred to as “enlightenment”.  In Eastern traditions, it is alternately dubbed “vipassana”, “panna”, and “bodhi” (“satori” / “ken-sho” in Japanese).  It is comparable to what the Ancient Greeks dubbed “arete”, Zoroastrians dubbed “ushta”, Hindus / Buddhists dubbed “bodhi”, Jains dubbed “kevala jnana”, those in the Talmudic tradition dubbed “bahir”, and the Germans dubbed “aufklärung”.}

{3  By “erudition” here, we might reference what the ancient Greeks dubbed “episteme” (in the more scientific sense) or “gnosis” (in the more spiritual sense); and what the ancient Hindus dubbed “abhijna” / “jnana” / “yukti”.}

{4  Such routine cannot help but create cognitive scotoma (i.e. mental blind spots)–the analysis of which is explored in Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly”.  (This condition is sometimes referred to as “introspective neglect”.)  A handy rule of thumb: If everyone in a space is saying and doing the exact same thing, then individual autonomy is probably not involved.  Coordinated chanting has about as much to do with genuine spirituality as obeying orders has to do with genuine probity.  Anyone can follow instructions.  Insofar as prayer is scripted, it can not possibly involve an authentic spiritual experience.  The idea of repetitious chanting seems to be as follows: In vocalizing a scripted sequence of phonemes over and over and over, supplicants might be able to tap into an imagined magical cosmic force, invoke some divine power, or have their petitions heeded by a presiding super-being (who is presumably awaiting their next, properly-articulated utterance).  In some Eastern traditions, such invocations work ONLY if the supplicants manage to achieve just the right syncopation.  In traditions where the deity is far more authoritarian (as with the Abrahamic religions), propitiation is largely a matter of pleading–as a slave would a master.}

{5  Ref. Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast & Slow” p. 41.}

{6  Note: By “mind” here, I mean the brain’s capacity for careful analysis and critical reflection (i.e. meticulous deliberation).  Analytical / critical thinking–insofar as it is logically rigorous and methodical–is precisely what scripted prayer is NOT about.  Genuine prayer is primarily about contemplation; so one’s autonomy needn’t be compromised to do it.}

{7  The weekly “jumu’ah” is also part of this regimen.}

{8  Other analogies for the pantomime include: Hearing without listening; looking without seeing; inhaling without smelling.  Another possible analogue is the distinction between fucking and love-making.}

{9  The ostensive aim is to achieve “hesykhia” (inner stillness), in which contemplative prayer silences the mind–enabling it to progress along the path of “theosis” (the divine path toward unity with god).}

{10  This description may sound harsh, but it is accurate.  The repetitive, jerky bowing motion (“shuckling”) is creepy for any sane bystander to observe.  Such spasmodic propitiation is especially pronounced when performed by the most neurotic supplicants.  Haredim engage in this bizarre ritual with cloying affectation–as if acting like a spastic buffoon were somehow a great way to commune with the divine.  These awkward gesticulations are illustrative of the present point: If we were to observe a disheveled hobo, drenched in his own urine, doing such a thing ALONE on a street corner (whilst uttering inanities to himself), we would rightly deem him to be off his rocker.  Yet when a GROUP of people do it in unison, we simply call it “religion”.  In countenancing such an inconsistent taxonomy, the idea is that one is magically conferring upon (what is, in reality) sanctified rigamarole immunity from any / all frank critical analysis.  Exemption from honest critique is seen as dialectically impenetrable simply because it has been SACRALIZED by a cadre of True Believers. The more fanatical Jewish men wrap “tefillin” around their heads and arms during morning prayers. They are used to affix two small black boxes (one above the forehead, one on the upper arm) containing bits of parchment on which key verses are printed.  (The term was Aramaic for talisman; yet has come to refer to black leather straps and the accompanying boxes.)  The fact that anyone can be convinced that someone is better situated to get in touch with–or flatter–the divine by engaging in such Tom-foolery is a disconcerting testament to the zany proclivities of the human mind.  The use of “tefillin”–as with, say, the “metzitzah b’peh” for the “brit milah”–is a striking commentary on the potential foibles of human psychology (read: how harebrained people can behave when they’re thoroughly deluded); yet we are exhorted to NOT NOTICE this…and begrudged if we DO notice it. Think about the logic here: If a lone weirdo does something equally silly, we are at liberty to call it bonkers; but when numerous people do it in a coordinated manner (as a sacrament), it becomes taboo to say anything negative about it…even though it is EFFECTIVELY the same behavior.  Such duplicity warrants a query: What other mechanism could persuade an otherwise sane person to behave in such a daffy manner?  And what other pretext could succeed in rendering such loopy behavior off-limits for candid assessment?}

{11  Insofar as one is afflicted with epistemic narcissism, one’s own take on things becomes THE ONLY CONCEIVABLE–and thus, the only acceptable–take on things.  A pathological obduracy is the inevitable result.  This explains why is it is so difficult to extricate a True Believer from his dogmatic quagmire: he has rendered himself almost incapable of thinking outside the gilded box he has created for himself.}

{12  This is why pet theories are often misconstrued as incontrovertible truths.  Indeed, we ALL gravitate toward suppositions–however groundless–that seem to confirm what we already believe.  This can go far beyond run-of-the-mill confirmation bias, turning into outright delusion.}

{13  For CPR (circadian propitiation routine) here, I use the qualification “penta-partite” because it is FIVE daily prayers for most Muslims (though most Shiites feel obliged to perform “only” three).  The most important propitiation of the week is the afternoon Friday prayer, known as “salat al-jum’ah” [alt. “jumu’ah salat”], per 62:9-10 in the Koran (and referenced in Bukhari’s Hadith 2/13/51).}

{14  According to Islamic lore, this number is based on a negotiation with the Abrahamic deity undertaken by MoM on his so-called “Night Journey”, recounted in the Hadith.}

{15  The entire idea is fatuous in any case: Propitiations as a sop to the Creator of the Universe, who demands to be placated by groveling supplicants.  (After all, supplication is primarily about placation…in ANY context.)  It’s like a timorous slave pleading before a vainglorious master in an effort to appease him.  “I’ll shower him with praise, for fear that if I don’t flatter him incessantly, I may fall out of favor.”  Imagine a child that found the need to constantly placate an overbearing parent to avoid punishment.  We’d consider such a parent tyrannical.  This is no exaggeration: In 7:10, the Koran’s temperamental protagonist whines about not being sufficiently appreciated.  His ire infuses the rest of the book.}

{16  The Islamic “qibla” began with facing either Jerusalem, which is what the Jews did for “Amidah”.  Which direction is a Muslim to pray from 48 kilometers northwest of the Polynesian island of Timata[n]gi in the South Pacific (the point on the Earth that is antipodal to Mecca)?  This was not a problem, as the Sabahah (and, later, the authors of the Koran) thought the world was flat; and so assumed one needed only follow the “rhumb” line.}

{17  For those in hot climes who also opt to deprive themselves of water (something not required in most fasting traditions), dehydration invariably becomes a problem.  Hunger is neither physiologically nor psychologically salubrious.  It does not “cleanse” one’s body; and it engender augmented empathy for the destitute (and thus ROUTINELY starving).  Handicapping oneself renders one LESS capable to help those in need.}

{18  In this sense, religionism / mysticism and political correct-ness involve the same fundamental error: One mistakes a subjective state for evidence for objective reality (a.k.a. Reality).  A mystical experience–which, by definition, occurs within one’s own mind–is not an indication of what REALLY EXISTS.  That is: an indication of how the cosmos really is, independently of one’s own psychical activity (i.e. personal impressions / sensations).  The mis-step is to treat the phenomenological (an exclusively internal experience) as epistemic bedrock; and thus construe it as a mark of the ONTOLOGICAL.  Intoxication is a DEPARTURE FROM Reality; not a means to intuit it.  A pharmacologically-facilitated “trip” reveals nothing about the cosmos; yet mysticism mandates that one pretend that it is THE ONLY WAY to reveal how the cosmos “really is”.  (Psychedelics, for instance, reveal how the neuro-biology of the homo sapiens brain works; but THAT’S IT.)  Meanwhile, those afflicted with the p.c. bug see their own sentiments as a benchmark for a moral obligation to which all others should be subject–thus treating the personal as a basis for the universal.  Both cases stem from epistemic narcissism.  What is sometimes called “lived experience” says more about the person experiencing than it does about the world being experienced.  “My lived experience” only reveals something about ME.  However, the world is not all about ME; so it does nothing to inform us about, well, ANYTHING ELSE.}

{19  And while I’m at it, shall I punch myself in the face on a daily basis in a gambit to care more about battered housewives?}

{20  Fittingly, it was also during the month of Ramadan (c. 641) that the Great Library at Alexandria was razed, with all its books burned at the instruction of the caliph.}

{21  The same can be said of Seder and Rosh Hashanah for most Jews; Christmas for most Christians and secular Westerners; Diwali for most Hindus; Songkran for most Thai Buddhists; and Kwanza for most African Americans.  Such holidays are not exactly the same; but the spirit behind them (i.e. the role they play in each culture) is analogous.  Sanctified dogmas aside, the point of such auspicious occasions is to show appreciation for what one has.  Each is a celebration of life and good fortune…in its own fashion.}

{22  However, in many Filipino masses, the Lord’s Prayer is sung.}

{23  The crescent was also associated with the goddess, Ataratheh / Astarte / Atargatis / Ishtar / Al-lat.  It was used from the Levant (esp. Petra), through Mesopotamia (esp. Ctesiphon), to the Zagros mountains (as on the Sassanian “Taq-i Bostan”).  It should come as no surprise, then, that the crescent moon was used on pre-Islamic Arabian coins.  Where such iconography came from is, therefore, no big mystery.}

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