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Symbolism
Symbolism

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Respect, Reverence & Revision, 13. Dezember 2009
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Symbolism (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Here Whitehead deals with perception, epistemology, Hume, Kant, Burke, instinct, emotion & action in a rather challenging read. When one examines how a society shapes its individual members to function in conformity with its needs, it emerges that the primary agency must be our vast system of inherited symbolism. Symbols evoke loyalty to vague notions that are fundamental to humanity's spiritual nature.

The author pursues the thesis that symbolism is a key factor in the way we function as a result of direct knowledge. Distinguishing 'Direct Recognition' from 'Symbolic Reference,' he shows that all symbolism may be reduced to trains of reference which connect percepts in alternative modes of direct recognition.

Immediate perception of the external world is defined as 'presentational immediacy' whilst the other purely perceptive mode of experience is 'causal efficacy'. Conceptual analysis as third mode of experience introduces analyzable components into actual things in the real world, plus abstract attributes, qualities and relations.

He identifies the flaws of Hume & Kant in their objections to the notion of the direct perception of causal efficacy. Both schools find causal efficacy to be an importation into the data, a way of thinking about or evaluating the data. Hume's assumption that time is merely the generic notion of pure succession is an example of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. Where Hume errs with time, the Kantians err with space and time.

Whitehead also neatly assesses the best and the worst of Burke's thought with reference to his writings on the American & French revolutions, showing that Burke's revulsion at the excesses of the French one played a part in his subsequent regrettable opposition to all progressive reform and his embrace of the "prejudice" concept.

In order to appreciate the function of symbolism in the life of society one must scrutinize the binding and disruptive forces at work. The advantages of social cohesion and the contrary stimulus of heterogeneity bestowed by freedom are equally important and need to be balanced. Whereas the force of instinct suppresses individuality, symbols simultaneously preserve the health of the community and the freedom of the individual. Symbolic expression preserves society by tying instinct to emotion thus assisting reason to dissect the particular instinct.

Symbolism makes space for the individual within society and at the same time promotes stability and an environment for co-operation between individuals. Whitehead carefully categorizes action as instinctive, reflexive and symbolically conditioned. Pure instinctive action is the response of an organism to pure causal efficacy. Reflex action is a relapse towards a more complex type of instinct by those who have experienced symbolically conditioned action.

The great process philosopher argues that symbolism needs to be constantly pruned and modified by new forms of expression. Old symbols must be remolded in accordance with changes in social structure. The rituals and ceremonies associated with symbolic concepts tend to remain unchanged or become frozen in time while their interpretations are in constant flux. When instinct is not expressed, it becomes toxic as it festers underground, unknown and unexamined by the the force of reason.

Linguistic change is a good example; new words appear, old ones fall into disuse and others undergo shifts of meaning. Language is a living process built on layers of dead metaphor. Sounds and expressions participate in this process of change so in a way, expression is symbolism. A language unites a nation whilst permitting individual opinion including those contrary to the consensus.

Symbolic transference may involve arbitrary and malevolent attributions. Whitehead's analysis reminded me of Chantal Delsol's observation on the current intellectual climate in Europe. Without a sense of purpose, mankind embraces the fatuous as revealed in banal and clichéd discourse. Delsol calls it the "clandestine" ideology of our time, overt ideology having become taboo. This black market substitute is sickly sentimental, arbitrary and intolerant despite furious claims to the contrary.

With reference to the band Rammstein whose act is a particularly grotesque example of what Delsol terms "black market nationalism," Claire Berlinski reveals what the repression of profound instincts leads to. This brilliant analysis, simultaneously hilarious and horrifying, encompasses translations of their lyrics, their use of Leni Riefenstahl footage, their album cover imagery, videos of their songs and the nature of their live performances.

As a community changes, rules and cultural norms need to be revised in the light of reason. When old symbolic systems are rapidly discarded as in the case of the 20th century's secular salvationist ideologies or "isms", violent revolution, oppression and mass murder ensue. Stagnation which leads to regression brings about the same toxic fruits of tyranny and terror that we are witnessing today in the Jihad.

Both rigidity and disruption lead to human sacrifice. Preserving a free society thus requires respect for tradition combined with the constant reappraisal and revision of symbolic codes. Michael Polanyi's view of the role of tradition in his little classic Science, Faith and Society is quite enlightening in this regard. I also recommend Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, a seminal study of the nature of mass movements.


Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect
Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect
von Alfred N. Whitehead
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 23,99

5.0 von 5 Sternen Reverence and freedom of revision, 12. Dezember 2009
Whitehead differentiates types of symbolism like algebra and language, and symbolism from sense-presentation to physical bodies as the most natural and widespread of all symbolic modes. Direct experience-based knowledge is infallible as opposed to symbolism that may induce actions, emotions and beliefs about things that are simply notions without those examples in reality which the symbolism suggests. Whitehead pursues the thesis that symbolism is a key factor in the way we function as a result of direct knowledge.

The human mind functions symbolically when some components of its experience elicit consciousness, emotions and beliefs related to other components of its experience. The former cluster of components is the symbols whilst the latter constitutes the meanings. 'Symbolic reference' is Whitehead's designation for the transference from symbol to meaning. Understanding the mind requires an explanation of how we can truly know, how we can err, and how we can distinguish truth from error, by investigating perception.

Whitehead distinguishes 'Direct Recognition' from 'Symbolic Reference,' illustrating that all symbolism may be reduced to trains of symbolic reference which connect percepts in alternative modes of direct recognition. Components of experience are both symbols & meanings. Examples of the inversion abound in language. A word is a symbol that can be either written or spoken. Sometimes a written word may suggest the corresponding spoken word and its sound may suggest a meaning. In such a case, the written word is a symbol and its meaning is the spoken word, and the spoken word is a symbol and its meaning is the dictionary definition of the word, spoken or written.

But often the written word effects its purpose without the intervention of the spoken. In this case the written directly symbolizes the dictionary meaning. Otherwise the written suggests both the spoken word as well as the meaning whilst the symbolic reference is made more definite by additional reference of the spoken word to the same meaning. Poetry proves that in the use of language there's a double symbolic reference: from things to words by the speaker and from words to things by the listener.

Immediate perception of the external world is defined as 'presentational immediacy' which explains why contemporary events are relevant to each other whilst simultaneously preserving mutual independence. This relevance amid independence is the peculiar character of contemporaneousness. The universe discloses itself as a community of things, real in the same sense that we are. Abstraction expresses nature's mode of interaction and isn't merely mental. He calls the other purely perceptive mode of experience 'causal efficacy'.

Symbolic reference interacts closely with conceptual analysis. Conceptual analysis as third mode of experience introduces components analyzable into actual things in the real world plus abstract attributes, qualities and relations. By symbolic reference the various actualities disclosed by the modes of pure perception are either identified or correlated together as interrelated elements. Thus the result of symbolic reference is what the actual world is: that datum that produces feelings, emotions, actions and finally the topic for conscious recognition when conceptual analysis comes into play. Most of our perception is due to the enhanced subtlety arising from concurrent conceptual analysis.

Whitehead points out that Hume views time as pure succession rather than the derivation of one state from another. Time in the concrete is the conformation of later to earlier; pure succession is an abstraction from the relationship of settled past to derivative present. The notion of succession reflects that of colour. There's no mere colour but always a particular colour like blue; there's no pure succession but always some particular relational aspect in which succession occurs. He concludes that Hume's doctrine is great philosophy but not common sense as it fails the test of obvious verification.

Kantians admit that causal efficacy is a factor in the phenomenal world but deny that it belongs to the data presupposed in perception; it resorts instead to ways of thinking about data. The phenomenal world, as in consciousness, is a complex of coherent judgments, framed according to fixed categories of thought, and with a content constituted by given data organized according to fixed forms of intuition. This Kantian doctrine accepts Hume's naïve presupposition of `simple occurrence' for the data, being the assumption of `simple location' by applying it to space as well as time.

Humeans & Kantians have diverse but allied objections to the notion of any direct perception of causal efficacy. Both schools find 'causal efficacy' to be an importation into the data, of a way of thinking about or judging the data. One school calls it a habit, the other a category of thought. The logical difficulties attending the direct perception of causal efficacy have been shown to depend on the assumption that time is merely the generic notion of pure succession. This is an example of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

The final chapter explores the dynamics of symbolism which inheres in the very texture of society. By means of an elaborate system of symbolic transference humanity draws on the past to enter the future. But each symbolic transfer may involve an arbitrary imputation that is dangerous. As a community evolves, rules need revision. The art of a free society involves the maintenance of the symbolic code and occasional bold revisions to ensure the code continues to serve the purposes of enlightened reason. Societies which fail to combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision either explode into anarchy or stagnate and regress under the burdens of the past.


DMT, La molécule de l'esprit : Les potentialités insoupçonnées du cerveau humain
DMT, La molécule de l'esprit : Les potentialités insoupçonnées du cerveau humain
von Rick Strassman
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen Extraordinary research into consciousness, 4. Dezember 2009
This work is a detailed report on the author's clinical research into the substance DMT, a plant derived psychedelic which is also produced by the brain. It remains one of the most thought-provoking studies on altered states of consciousness. The volunteers reported an amazing variety of positive mystical or frightening hallucinatory experiences including encounters with intelligent entities.

Strassman's research connects DMT with the pineal gland; this corresponds to the esoteric belief that the pineal, connected as it is with the Crown, Keter or Sahasrara chakra, eases the spirit's movement into different states of consciousness or different dimensions of existence. Further DMT research might lead to major progress in the study of consciousness. Graham Hancock's Supernatural similarly explores the use of psychedelics to induce altered states or allow the soul to enter other dimensions.

Part One deals with psychedelic substances in science and society, describes the chemical qualities and molecular structure of DMT and discusses the pineal gland and its role in the psychedelic experience. Part Two relates the history of the author's research, from the actual research proposal through the process of obtaining permission; this section may be skipped by the average reader.

Part Three describes the process of selecting volunteers, obtaining DMT and the first experiments, whilst Part Four details the case reports: what the volunteers said and did, their behavior, etc. This makes for strange and fascinating reading. Some experiences were positive and illuminating, resembling the mystical states achieved during meditation, whilst others were eerie or deeply unpleasant.

Part Five takes stock of these reports and considers the question of whether it was worth it for each individual. There is an attempt to determine the ultimate benefit derived from the experience for the person concerned. Definitions come into play but it seems to me that the experiments did benefit each individual in some way or other.

Part Six is an absorbing discussion of the soul/psyche and different states of consciousness. It would seem that spontaneously occurring psychedelic experiences are mediated by elevated levels of endogenous DMT. This spiritual molecule thus provides access to unknown parts of the psychic realm. If the analogy of brain as receiver may be used, the substance fine-tunes the brain so that the individual consciousness moves beyond familiar awareness into invisible realms, most of which are inhabited.

There is a difference between this expanded awareness and normal dreaming. Current psychological theory does not satisfactorily explain the phenomenon or the peculiar experiences, especially as regards the entities encountered. This leads to a speculative discussion on cosmology, the possibility of parallel universes, a multiverse and dark matter, with reference to David Deutsch's book The Fabric of Reality.

The author concludes this study with a discussion on the practical use of psychedelics as therapy, to stimulate creativity or as entheogens. In this regard I recommend Huston Smith's Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals.

The literature on this issue is vast and arresting. There's the old classic Phantastica by Louis Lewin, Aldous Huxley's collection of 1960s essays titled Moksha, and more recent contributions like Chaos, Creativity & Cosmic Consciousness by Abraham, McKenna and Sheldrake and Animals and Psychedelics by Giorgio Samorini. Plants of the Gods by Schultes et al is a valuable encyclopedic reference work on ethnobotany that is occasionally updated and enhanced.


A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel
A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel
von Robin Shepherd
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 25,49

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5.0 von 5 Sternen In every generation they rise against Israel, 29. November 2009
The relentless torrent of anti-Israel propaganda turned out by leftist and liberal European media during the past two decades is finally bearing loads of toxic fruit. The far left really started the campaign on a low key after the 1967 War, it intensified during the 1982 incursion into Lebanon, escalated during the second Intifada, took a leap forward during the 2006 Hezbollah War and went mainstream during the Gaza Operation in early 2009.

The war against the Jews has two fronts: one of physical violence in the Middle East and the other of verbal violence in the media where the battle of opinion is raging. Israel is well equipped to defend itself physically but is losing the other war as Stephanie Gutmann wrote some years ago. Openly antisemitic antagonism towards Israel has always been common in the Arab world. Spread through mosques, madrassas and the internet, this propaganda has infected the entire Islamic sphere including Europe where Muslim numbers and influence are increasing. This demographic factor is expertly dissected by Rafael Israeli in his book on elemental and residual antisemitism.

Robin Shepherd examines the battle of ideas about Israel between non-Muslim westerners. Documenting and analysing in meticulous detail the expanding scope and power of this hostility among European opinion-formers, he notes how it has spread from the far left to the mainstream liberal-left as Bernard Harrison also reveals in The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism and Manfred Gerstenfeld in Behind The Humanitarian Mask with reference to Scandinavia. Major UK media like The Guardian, Independent and BBC are in the vanguard while on the continent recent examples were provided by the Swedish paper Aftonbladet and the Spanish El Mundo.

Shepherd identifies the cause as Europe's civilizational exhaustion and its symptoms like the post-Holocaust guilt complex and the intelligentsia's embrace of pacifism, appeasement, nihilism and relativism. The World Wars and the continent's murderous salvationist ideologies have made them reject all frameworks like nationalism or religion. As Chantal Delsol observes, Europe now believes in nothing but the welfare state. The far left and to a lesser degree the liberal-left hate many things, especially America and Israel, but have no idea what they want since the collapse of communism.

Shepherd's examples of the crude demonization of Israel correspond exactly with the analyses of Delsol and Harrison. Emotion & indignation have become the preferred channels for a morality which is negatively defined. Artists and intellectuals in particular express an angry form of piety in hysterical fits of morality of which the relativism, rage and selectivity betray it as fatuous posturing. It is demonstrably contradictory in the way it clings to moral absolutes whilst affirming the universality of relativism. Delsol considers it an empty morality of despair and withdrawal.

Caroline Glick, Bruce Bawer and Claire Berlinski share the opinion that European elites have rejected the lessons of the Holocaust. The simplistic fallacies that nationalism is the ultimate evil and that war is never justified are denials of reality. Nationalism is a neutral concept that must be judged by the way it is expressed whilst pacifism permits evil to flourish; it is neither pious nor benevolent as it holds justice in contempt. The collapse of the USSR pushed the Left over the edge and was the main reason for its eager acceptance of postmodernism & multiculturalism.

These evil philosophies are behind Europe's refusal to defend Western values. European elites deny the reality of Islamist terrorism whereas Israel has no choice but to confront it. The fad of Moral Relativism is not applied to both sides; it is used to justify suicide/homicide bombing but never to the measures taken by Israel to defend itself. The far left's hatred of Israel and the USA has made it an ally of radical Islamism despite the ideological chasm between them. Jamie Glazov explains this unholy alliance with great insight in his book United in Hate.

In the war of ideas, academia is the source & the mass media the disseminator of anti-Western pieties du jour of which the seeming benevolence masks a profound self-loathing. The double standards of "human rights" organizations and trade unions are breathtaking. Shepherd doubts that Western anti-Zionism is rooted in the old antisemitism; he argues that this vitriolic hatred of Israel represents an entirely new mutation of the mental disease.

The last chapter, Contagion: Is America Next? investigates why the quality of Middle Eastern discourse in the USA has not deteriorated to the same extent as in Europe. He warns however, with reference to Wart and Smearsheimer, that it could happen. In this regard it's important to consider Andre Glucksmann's theory that a contagion of hatred must be taken literally as a mental disorder that invades minds, bodies and society. Immune to reason, such an outbreak inoculates itself against opposing ideas.

Shepherd's informative book ought to be read with Denis MacShane's Globalising Hatred that highlights the plague as a factor in international politics with important geostrategic implications. MacShane also points out what scant attention is paid in the West to the Islamic sphere's brazen antisemitism which is promoted by state media and appears in the charters of Hamas & Hezbollah. Authors like Nonie Darwish, Brigitte Gabriel and Phyllis Chesler have been trying to raise awareness of the phenomenon for years.

It is incumbent upon friends of Israel to counteract this descent into madness. Shepherd's is not the first warning; in the 1990s Alan Dershowitz, William F Buckley and William Nicholls saw it coming, while more recently Oriana Fallaci, Bat Ye'or, David Horowitz, Melanie Phillips, Gabriel Schoenfeld, Abraham Foxman, Dennis Prager, Nick Cohen, Walter Laqueur and David Solway have sounded the alarm. This time the Jewish people must not be abandoned to fight the battle on their own. As for the how of counteracting it, the best book by far is The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther by Yoram Hazony.


Jung and the Lost Gospels
Jung and the Lost Gospels
von Stephan Hoeller
  Videokassette

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4.0 von 5 Sternen With the Divine in Mind, 30. Oktober 2009
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Jung and the Lost Gospels (Videokassette)
A well-written introduction to Gnosticism, this work is unique in its comparison of the Nag Hammadi Library to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hoeller examines the mysticism and mythology of the Essenes and the Gnostics within the framework of Carl Jung's depth psychology. The almost simultaneous discoveries at Qumran and Nag Hammadi revealed an ancient psycho-spirituality that had been virtually forgotten for almost 18 centuries. In both cases the retrieval/collection, translation and publication took years to complete and some documents are undoubtedly lost forever.

The author emphasizes Jung's awareness that Gnosticism was the only tradition which considered the psyche or soul as the meeting point of the divine and the human. The open practice of Gnosticism endured to the third century of our era (except for the Mandaeans of Mesopotamia that survived to the present day). Jung called for a revival of this ancient heritage and for a return to the understanding of God as an immanent and transformative presence. His view of the symbols, myths and metaphors of the Gnostics inspired his life's work. Many decades after having written them, he commented as follows on the Seven Sermons to the Dead: "All my work, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies ... everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them ..."

The first part deals with the discovery and significance of these mystical texts, both representing an inner tradition that was later branded 'heretical' by ecclesiastical Christianity when it became dominant towards the end of the second century and especially under and after Constantine. The author compares the Gnostic Christ and the Essene Messiah, looks at various feminine concepts of wisdom and identifies the similarities between the two sets of texts. There were colonies of Essenes in Hellenistic Egypt which was a crossroads of many religious influences. People like Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Lucius Charinus and Marcion are discussed here.

Part Two, The Other Reality, is devoted to myth. Amonst those investigated are the myths of Sophia/Wisdom and its relation to the Dancing Savior or Gnostic Christ who descended from the heavenly pleroma and fused its nature with that of Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River. Others examined are those of the evil angels or `Watchers' who descended on Mount Hermon and interbred with human beings, and that of the Song of the Pearl. It includes a look at modern myths in a chapter that opens with Jung's controversial view of The Book of Job and then explores examples of gnostic symbols and motifs in the dreams and imaginations of individuals from our era.

Part Three investigates certain of the Nag Hammadi texts in detail. Some of these contain information on altered states of consciousness and how to attain gnosis through various spiritual practices. They include Allogenes, The Treatise on the 8th and 9th, and Zostrianos, but the Gospel of Philip is the most explicit and comprehensive of these. Hoeller argues that it may be seen as a gnostic sacramental theology. Under the themes of redemption and ecstasy, he discusses the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of the Egyptians. The Gospel of Truth -- possibly a Valentinian text -- is a poetic work of Christian mysticism like The Cloud of Unknowing. It speaks of the Father, the Truth and the Word. The second deals with the Pleromic Region (Ayn Soph), the figure of Seth and the transmission of light from that incorruptible realm to the earthly plane. It further contains the Sacrament of Seth wherein its ecstatic nature is exposed in evidence of glossolalia represented by sequences of vowel sounds.

The epilogue is titled From Hiroshima to the Secret Gospels: The Alternative Future of Human History. This is an assessment of our age, a warning of where humanity is heading, a call for introspection and a plea for renewed efforts at healing the human race. Serious contemplation of the wisdom contained in the Scrolls and the NH library may contribute to this healing process. Recognizing both the evil and the Divine Presence within ourselves is necessary for individuation, both individual and collective. This thought-provoking book concludes with bibliographical notes and an index.

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels would be ideal reading for those who enjoyed this book whilst Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections, an accessible autobiography of the great psychologist's inner life, has much to impart about the Nag Hammadi texts. Other works of related interest include Hoeller's Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James and A Psychology Of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.


Jung and the Lost Gospels: Insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library
Jung and the Lost Gospels: Insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library
von Stephan A. Hoeller
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 14,99

4.0 von 5 Sternen Comparing two sources of ancient psycho-spirituality, 29. Oktober 2009
This informative work serves as an introduction to Gnosticism and a comparison of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Nag Hammadi Library. Hoeller examines the mysticism and mythology of the Essenes and the Gnostics within the framework of Carl Jung's psychology. The almost simultaneous discoveries at Qumran and Nag Hammadi have revealed an ancient psychological spirituality that had been virtually forgotten for almost 18 centuries. In both cases the retrieval/collection, translation and publication of the documents took years to complete and some are undoubtedly lost.

Hoeller emphasizes Jung's awareness that the only tradition which considered the psyche or soul as the connection between the divine and the human was that of the Gnostics that endured to the third century of our era. That's why he called for a revival of this ancient heritage and for a return to the understanding of God as an immanent and transformative presence. Jung's view of the symbols, myths and metaphors of the Gnostics inspired his life work from the start. Many decades after having written them, he commented as follows on the Seven Sermons to the Dead: "All my work, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies ... everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them ..."
.
Part One deals with the discovery and significance of these mystical texts from Egypt and Israel, both representing an inner tradition that was branded `heretical' by ecclesiastical Christianity when it achieved dominance towards the end of the second century and especially under and after Constantine. The author compares the Gnostic Christ and the Essene Messiah, looks at various feminine concepts of wisdom and charts the similarities between the two sets of texts.

Part Two, The Other Reality, is devoted to myth. Here the author discusses the myths of Sophia/Wisdom and its relation to the Dancing Savior or Gnostic Christ, the myth of the tyrant angels and the myth of the Song of the Pearl. It concludes with a look at modern myths in a chapter that opens with Jung's controversial view of Job and then explores examples of gnostic symbols and motifs in the dreams and imaginations of individuals in our era.

Part Three investigates certain of the Nag Hammadi texts in detail. Some of these contain information on altered states of consciousness and how to attain gnosis through various spiritual disciplines. They include Allogenes, The Treatise on the 8th and 9th and Zostrianos, but the Gospel of Philip is the most explicit and comprehensive. Hoeller argues that it may be considered to be a gnostic sacramental theology. Under the themes of redemption and ecstasy, he discusses the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of the Egyptians.

The epilogue is titled From Hiroshima to the Secret Gospels: The Alternative Future of Human History. This is an assessment of our age, a warning of where humanity is heading, a call for introspection and a plea for renewed efforts at healing the human race. This healing may come about by serious contemplation of the wisdom contained in the Scrolls and the NH library. Recognizing both the evil and the Divine Presence within ourselves can only contribute to individual and collective individuation. This thought-provoking book concludes with bibliographical notes and an index.

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels would be ideal reading for those who enjoyed this book whilst Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections is an accessible autobiography of the great psychologist's inner life. Other works of related interest include Hoeller's Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James and A Psychology Of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.


The Gnostic Gospels
The Gnostic Gospels
von Elaine Pagels
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 14,99

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Adequate introduction to Gnostic scriptures, 25. Oktober 2009
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Gnostic Gospels (Taschenbuch)
This brief but informative study of the cluster of beliefs known as Gnosticism and its differences with Ecclesiastical Christianity is recommended. Until the 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts very few Gnostic texts were known and those were mostly quotes in hostile treatises attacking these belief systems. Overall there was greater diversity in Christianity in the 1st and 2nd centuries than today, as explained by Bart Ehrman in Lost Christianities. By 200 AD the proto-orthodox version of Ecclesiastical Christianity had triumphed and all other variants were extinguished and their literature destroyed.

Throughout the book, Pagels quotes extensively from Irenaeus, Tertullian and to a lesser extent, Clement of Alexandria and Pope Clement. On the other side, she gives space to Valentinus and Marcion in addition to the unknown authors of NH texts like The Gospels of Mary and Philip, Apocryphon of John and Apocalypse of Peter. A main controversy was the interpretation of the Resurrection -- historical event or symbol? The Orthodox believed in a physical one whilst the Gnostics had various symbolic interpretations. This had significant implications for the development of these two streams of Christianity as a bodily Resurrection promoted a hierarchical institution whilst the symbolic promoted solitary pursuits.

Beliefs about the nature of God always influence earthly authority. The chapter titled Politics of Monotheism reveals how Pope Clement demanded obedience to the institutional church which became supreme. The creation myths of a variety of Nag Hammadi texts are studied here as well as the feminine aspect of deity. Extreme diversity characterizes the Gnostic texts but three main trends may be identified. Note that the ancient mother goddess does not feature at all; there's the Parental Couple, the Spirit and Wisdom (Sophia). Pagels refers to the Gospel to the Hebrews, the Dialogue of the Savior, the Trimorphic Protennoia and The Thunder, Perfect Mind. Similar to the early church, there tended to be gender equality in most Gnostic sects. Montanism had women founders and both Valentinianism and Marcionism had female priests and bishops. With the triumph of the Orthodox at the end of the 2nd century, this equality came to an end.

The chapter on the persecution of Christians draws mainly upon The Second Treatise of the Great Seth and the Acts of John. It's important to relate the two group's views of persecution to their respective views of Christ. Gnostics saw him as a spiritual being (this includes the Docetic view) while the Orthodox considered him a man, therefore they saw blood as the seed of the church and many actively sought martyrdom. Some Gnostics were martyred but various writings opposed martyrdom, fanaticism and what they considered human sacrifice. The author quotes from Tacitus, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius on these persecutions.

Since all Christian writings not legitimized by the Church were destroyed, scholars were only familiar with Orthodox criticism of Gnosticism until the famous NH discovery. One of the most illuminating NH texts against Ecclesiastical Christianity is The Testimony of Truth that attacks the clergy as blind guides that do not seek after God and criticizes the blind conformity of the church. Jesus' command to seek and find is emphasized as the motive for actively pursuing salvific spiritual insight.

Oddly enough, the Gospel of John, a Gnostic text, was taken up in the Canon. Diverse as they are, the NH texts have the following in common, some of which it shares with Psychotherapy: that ignorance (not only sin) causes suffering, that the soul contains within itself the potential for liberation, the possibility of internal transformation and a fascination with the non-literal meaning of words. Pagels quotes extensively from The Gospel of Truth and The Gospel of Thomas in this regard. In contrast with the cryptic replies and aphorisms in Thomas, the book Zostrianos provides a detailed programme on how to pursue self-knowledge whilst The Discourse on the 8th and 9th is a guide with even more specific directions.

Spiritual/Theological ideas manifest as religious experiences. Gnosticism and Orthodoxy articulate different types of these, Pagels points out, that appealed to different kinds of people. Gnosticism was a solitary way, mystical and ecstatic, whilst the Orthodox supported the natural order, encouraged communities and introduced rituals. However, both of these two branches of Christianity emerged as legitimate interpretations of the words of Jesus. For a detailed analysis of which of his words are genuine and authentic, I refer the interested reader to Geza Vermes' Authentic Gospel Of Jesus.

Although these various mystical schools of Christianity had disappeared by the 4th century except for the Mandaeans in Mesopotamia, an underground stream survived as preserved in medieval art and literature. There was the Cathar revival from about 1170 to 1244 and later various individuals emerged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. In the 20th century, the great psychologist Carl Jung was inspired by Gnosticism. More information is available in Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephan A. Hoeller. The Gnostic Gospels concludes with 22 pages of Notes arranged by chapter and an index.


The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature
The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature
von James, William
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen Landmark work on religion and psychology, 22. Oktober 2009
This landmark work remains one of the most influential books ever on psychology and spirituality. The style is accessible and engaging, consistently interesting with well-reasoned arguments. Religions are not compared; the study is restricted to the experiences of the individual. The field of study is clearly defined and circumscribed. Chapter titles include Religion & Neurology, the Reality of the Unseen, the Religion of Healthy-Mindedness, the Sick Soul, the Divided Self & the Process of Unification, Conversion, Saintliness, Mysticism and Philosophy.

James considers the feelings, actions and experiences of individuals, insofar as they understand themselves to be in a relationship with whatever they consider the Divine. It is thus about the religion of everyday life and has nothing to do with churches and dogma. This is similar to what emerges when Geza Vermes explores the Authentic Gospel of Jesus; there's very little on doctrine but much about relationships and behavior towards others.

He mentions the importance of the passionate side of religion and its power of adding enchantment to life. Dealing objectively with a wide spectrum of observed and personally related religious experiences, James quotes from the autobiographical writings of famous authors, theologians and mystics from many traditions including Whitman, Luther, Voltaire, Emerson and Tolstoy.

In his own words: "Both thought and feeling are determinants of conduct, and the same conduct may be determined either by feeling or thought. When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives. The theories which religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary. If you wish to grasp its essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements."

This book is a comprehensive survey which offers valuable insights, revelation, wisdom and points to ponder that contribute significantly to the reader's understanding of consciousness, psychological processes, mystic states, thought, emotion and the individual's relationship with the Eternal Divine. Simultaneously serving as a trenchant plea for religious tolerance, it does sometimes read like a gripping novel, especially the chapters on the religion of healthy-mindedness, the sick soul, and mysticism.

Although it is not a difficult read, patience is called for since every sentence is loaded with multiple layers of meaning; one often has to reread a previous paragraph in order to fully grasp and properly process the insights and information. A mindful, meditative study of the text will richly reward the reader. An even more rewarding experience can be had by studying Richard Maurice Bucke's 1901 classic Cosmic Consciousness and Stephan A. Hoeller's The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead at the same time. These valuable works complement one another in a most marvelous way.

Other works on psychology, religion and/or spirituality that I have found inspiring or informative are The Creative Process in the Individual by Thomas Troward, Religion in the Making by Alfred North Whitehead, The Hidden Power of the Bible by Ernest Holmes, Alter Your Life by Emmet Fox, Cracking the Bible Code by Jeffrey Satinover and above all, A Psychology of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.


The English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century
The English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century
von Karen Armstrong
  Taschenbuch

4.0 von 5 Sternen The Anglo-Saxon mystical tradition, 11. Oktober 2009
The four medieval mystics discussed here bear witness to the depth and variety of English spirituality in the 14th century. By lifting the veil of obscurity, Armstrong makes an admirable contribution towards restoring to prominence some of the important voices of the Western mystical tradition. These texts may show the way forward for a religion that seems to have become sterile in its senescence, especially in its mainstream Protestant tradition and particularly in Europe.

Armstrong analyses each of the four mystics in an introduction to selections from their major works that are reproduced here:
(a) The eccentric Richard Rolle of Hampole and his work "The Fire Of Love".
(b) The unknown author of "The Cloud Of Unknowing" and this moving text.
(c) The sober Walter Hilton and his "Ladder Of Perfection".
(d) Julian of Norwich and her book "Revelations Of Divine Love."

All four of the authors journeyed inward to the core of the self and each in their own way articulated a personal faith that represents an intimate relationship with the divine. In the introduction Armstrong argues that the mystical experience is similar across all religions. Her analyses and interpretations of these texts ought to inspire and encourage contemporary seekers in the Christian tradition.

The Cloud Of Unknowing, accessible and appealing with its gentle humor and emphasis on the heartfelt spiritual experience is mentioned in Leonard Cohen's song "The Window" on his 1979 album Recent Songs. I also relate to the more complicated work of Dame Julian of Norwich whilst Richard Rolle comes across as a bit too intense and one-dimensional for my taste and I found Walter Hilton to be not quite "mystical" enough.

The Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study of Human Nature - A Psychology Classic on Religious Impulse by William James remains a landmark text on the different ways in which spirituality is expressed. James considers the feelings, conduct and experiences of individuals insofar as they understand themselves to be in a relationship with whatever they consider the Divine. It has nothing to do with churches, doctrine or dogma, concerning itself only with the religious experiences of everyday life. For information on contemporary mysticism in the Christian tradition, I highly recommend these two works:

(1) Inner Christianity by Richard Smoley draws upon a wide spectrum of esoteric and mystical sources to demonstrate how multidimensional the Christian tradition really is. In simple language he brings to light the most profound wisdom of the religion as a remedy for the loss of faith in these times. The book explores the history of the hidden teachings with reference to hermeticism, kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, monasticism, the church fathers Clement and Origin, plus Rudolf Steiner and Carl Jung. He also looks at modern practitioners of inner Christianity like Stephan Hoeller.

(2) Practicing The Presence by Deborah G. Whitehouse and C. Alan Anderson applies the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead on life and consciousness (New Every Moment) to spiritual practice. It lays the pantheistic idea of an impersonal deity to rest, a concept which has been problematic for those in the Divine Science (Mental Science, New Thought) tradition who practice faithfully but yearns for a closer relationship with a personal God.

Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes is not a practical guide with ready-made affirmations and visualizations but rather an explanatory text that covers the ideas behind the aforementioned and more. Its greatest benefit for me lies in its convincing arguments for God as a limitless person rather than a set of laws.

It is incumbent to mention that Karen Armstrong's recent works on Islam have deeply disappointed me; the books deliberately omit the less savory aspects of this religion like those acts of violence committed from the very beginning as well as antisemitism and the promotion of violence in its foundational documents. Most of her other books, however are honest, inspiring and well-written.


Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West
Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West
von Christopher Caldwell
  Gebundene Ausgabe

22 von 24 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Europe's uncertain future, 24. September 2009
With approximately 500 million people, the European Union currently comprises Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Potential members include Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia whilst Norway, Switzerland and the microstates of Andorra, Lichtenstein, Monaco, San Marino & the Vatican are totally dependent on the EU.

However, Caldwell's book is about Western Europe, an addition to the growing corpus on the demographic transformation taking place in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Spain. This literature includes Oriana Fallaci's The Force of Reason and The Rage & The Pride that are inspired and passionate polemics of hair-raising political incorrectness.

In Eurabia, Bat Ye'or documents the agreements reached between the then-European Economic Community and the Arab states after the 1973 Yom Kippur War by means of the EAD (Euro-Arab Dialogue) and the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Co-operation (PAEAC).

Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept is an arresting mix of personal experience & analyses with the emphasis on Norway and The Netherlands whilst the witty Menace in Europe by Claire Berlinski is a perceptive travelogue comparing European history & archetypal personalities of the sinister sort with current trends and the "black-market" nationalism thriving underneath the EU veneer. In contrast, Walter Laqueur laments The Last Days of Europe in a resigned and melancholy manner.

Caldwell takes a scholarly approach by analyzing the region's post-war culture, the 1960s cultural revolution, its political elites & the Brussels Eurocracy, welfare statism and multiculturalism. He explores immigration patterns since the end of World War II, the way these have irrevocably altered the demographics as well as the prevailing attitudes of native Europeans & unassimilated communities.

The guest worker programmes of the 1950s were soon complemented by liberal asylum policies that resulted in massive population movements into Western Europe. Caldwell argues that the gates were flung wide open by its political & business elites. The voters were always opposed to immigration but European consensus-style politics offered them no choice.

Unlike the melting pot of the USA, very little integration took place so that Western Europe now consists of two societies between which resentment is growing. The North African, Middle Eastern & South Asian immigrants arrived with their cultures that they weren't expected to adapt; Europeans had no desire and made no meaningful efforts to integrate them. Today, gender equality and secularism are the main issues that divide whilst Anti-Americanism and Anti-Zionism are shared by natives and newcomers.

Among the stream of immigrants there were many opportunists that exploited the generous welfare benefits, the money for which was available because the United States took responsibility for the defense of Europe. Caldwell holds the opinion that the continent never needed foreign workers; that they were imported to satisfy a psychological need of the elites to establish a Eutopian cult of tolerance.

As penance for the Holocaust, the bureaucrats building the EU enshrined multiculturalism and demonized nationalism, as if it were that simple. It is not nationalism per se but the expression thereof that may be good or evil. The author brilliantly captures the contradictions in the words of the secular political class that miserably misjudged the force of faith.

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Strasbourg, Marseille, Malmö, the Parisian suburbs and Eastern London will have Muslim majorities within a decade or two. Exact figures are hard to ascertain so estimates of the unassimilated population of Western Europe vary between the extremes of 15 million & 30 million whilst their fertility rates are far above those of native Europeans. Increased numbers bring about greater assertiveness. Thus far, the desire for consensus across the political spectrum with its resultant censorship has succeeded in containing the unease of native Europeans.

But escalating crime, the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, the 2005 riots in France and those following the Denmark cartoon controversy the next year, plus the threats against Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders bode ill. Worst of all, the ancestral Antisemitism of the alienated communities have been reinforced by the continent's residual forms of the mental virus, especially the leftist, anti-Zionist strain that is so prominent in the mainstream media.

Accelerating demographic, legal, political, religious and social transformation could trigger major upheaval. Caldwell notes that terms like 'majority' & 'minority' become meaningless when an insecure, relativistic culture is challenged by a confident one infused with religious zeal. The secular welfare state is simply no match for a resurgent faith that is determined to dominate.

Two books by the French philosopher Chantal Delsol are of inestimable value in understanding what led to Europe's current predicament: Icarus Fallen and The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century. Other informative works dealing with various aspects of Europe's weakness and the way it imperils Western Civilization include Londonistan by Melanie Phillips, Decline and Fall: Europe's Slow Motion Suicide by Bruce S Thornton and Muslim Anti-Semitism in Christian Europe by Raphael Israeli.


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