A meeting between old friends

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Yesterday (Saturday, 18 November) I had the great pleasure of participating in the annual World Goodwill seminar held by the Lucis Trust‘s London branch. For those from yesterday’s audience who may be stopping by this space to read some of my previous work, especially on the issue of spirituality and journalism, two notes for you:

The first note is that, alas, I have not been able to keep this space properly updated in recent years, and perhaps to the chagrin of some of you my most recent post was on something quite worldly: an online video game! (My first Master’s degree was in history, and I have gotten involved in FreeCiv Web, an online massively multiplayer role-playing game that involves historical simulation. So it goes!)

Nonetheless, the second note is that this space does contain some of the initial reflections that ultimately led me down the path of researching “philosophy of journalism”. My thoughts on the matter have evolved quite a lot since these, but if you want to read them, click here. If you might be interested in the broader assortment of ruminations and whatnot herein, click here to go to the “Virgil” section of this space, which has more information about what you can find.

World Goodwill

For those among my readers who are unfamiliar with the Lucis Trust, it is the fiduciary trust for publishing the works of Alica Bailey. Within the broader modern-day esoteric/occultist movement, Lucis Trust historically originates in Theosophy, and alongside the Theosophical Society it serves as something of the intellectual core of the New Age, hence it is one of the old guards of an important contemporary spiritual movement. The invitation to participate came out of the blue, and considering the Lucis Trust’s status, perhaps not within the mainstream but certainly within many other walks of life, it was quite an honor.

I was one of three presenters, the others being Dr. Andreas de Bruin who researches mindfulness and meditation within the institutional context of higher education, and Deborah Ravetz, who in academic terms can be understood as an artist engaging in forms of art-based existential therapy or logotherapy. Andreas is doing interesting and rigorous academic work down in Munich and the results of his studies will soon be available via the Mind and Life Institute. Deborah is remarkably eloquent and if I had to sum up her presentation, it would be with the Baha’i Writings: each of us really needs to see things with our own eyes, hear things with our own ears.

My presentation, entitled, “Mirror of the World: The Spiritual Quest of the Journalist”, is derived from my ongoing doctoral research into the phenomenology of news-writing. The gist of my presentation is that the notion of the “Impartial Spectator”, or Objectivity generally-speaking, operates for journalists a lot like the divine does for religious believers, and indeed one can even compare the journalist’s quest as a mystical imitation of the divine. I need to do some tweaking to the PowerPoint, but I will soon make it publicly available here and on the Lucis Trust website.

In all honesty, I found the World Goodwill seminar, including the discussions with the audience, substantive, not to mention uplifting, far more so than, well, two major international academic conferences I participated in this past academic year. I also felt there was more of an exchange, not only between the three of us presenting, but with the audience as well as the staff of the Lucis Trust. On the one hand, the seminar was comparable to the recent academic conferences in terms of audience size but much smaller in terms of presenters. On the other hand, I feel that there was not only a lot more sincerity and, yes, good will in the event than what one may find in academic conferences in general, but also much more intellectual rigor.

A meeting long overdue…?

I just want to close this post with this observation: for us Baha’is, the Theosophical Society actually occupies a special place in our history, as Abdu’l-Baha during his momentous travels across the West from 1910 to 1913 gave some of his most important speeches to Theosophists, the most well-known of which were to those in Paris and here in London. Both their movement and ours have evolved immensely in the century since these original encounters, but it really felt like a meeting between old friends who were out of touch for far too long.

Considering the fact that, like Abdu’l-Baha, I had come to the event from the East (He from Acre, myself from Bishkek), the archetypal nature of this meeting between old friends is… well, it’s interesting, to say the least. I am not trying to elevate myself to the level of Abdu’l-Baha of course; rather, it feels as though I had been, what? — chosen? permitted? — to engage in some kind of deep pattern, and for this I am truly grateful.

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Inside Belgium’s heart of darkness

Yesterday Liza and I biked to Tervuren to visit the Musee Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, otherwise known more simply as the Africa Museum. In terms of sheer aesthetic creepiness, this museum is second only to Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, but in moral terms it may be far worse because of what it says about the history of Belgium, colonialism, and science. Briefly, for those of my readers who don’t know, the Africa Museum was established by King Leopold II to showcase the Congo Free State, but which was in reality an active act of apologetic for, if not even deception about, the horrible brutalization of the Congo’s native peoples. Much of the Africa Museum today remains relatively unchanged since its start, revealing much about the mindset that constituted it.

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Is Transhumanism the next Nazism or Islamism?

I’ve been reading Paul Berman‘s The Flight of the Intellectuals (many thanks to my boss here at RFE/RL, Jay Tolson, for lending me a copy). Although the book’s primary goal is to unearth the true ideology of Tariq Ramadan, a man whom both fans and opponents alike acknowledge is difficult to pin down, its elucidations of the links between Islamism and Nazism, located roughly speaking in the first half of the book, are extremely valuable. Berman not only provides an excellent summary of the most recent and important scholarly research into the topic, but he accomplishes the goal of making an intimate call to arms within the reader to face up to the true horrific countenance of certain ideologies.

This theme of avoidance, in Berman’s words, “the multi-motivated disinclination to discuss or even think about the very largest of crimes,” on the part of Western intellectuals, “The urge to look somewhere else — to look anywhere at all, except at the main thing,” is central to his book, and serves as the diving board for this reflection. You see, this little blog of mine is saturated by Transhumanist themes, and insofar as it reflects my mind (as close friends and sharp readers have noted, I’m not entirely candid in this digital space) it can be said to be an expression of a worldview that is, although not exclusively Transhumanist, is nevertheless deeply informed by such an outlook.

So, you’ll understand the depth of my concern when I say that Transhumanism, or at least some varieities of it, may be the Nazism, Communism, and Islamism of the future. Specifically, I fear that, if so, then it may one day be looked upon by distant generations from now as the twenty-first century’s equivalent of the antisemitism and eugenicism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — in other words, a belief system that promotes horrifying goals via terrible means, yet somehow is espoused by otherwise perfectly rational and decent people.

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Burning the Qur’an is un-Christian and wantonly destructive

Somehow, until now, I missed the news of Terry Jones‘ intention to burn the Qur’an on the anniversary of the 11 September attacks. I’m not certain whether this is a misguided pursuit of publicity or a misguided act of fanaticism, but I am certain that it is the antithesis of Christianity and thoroughly, wantonly destructive.

Spiritually-speaking, burning the Qur’an is gross sacrilege to Holy Writ and a gross offense against humanity. Practically-speaking, it can only serve to incite the rage of other fanatics and invite more violence upon the world.

I am speechless in the face of such hatred. Hence, I shall let Abdu’l-Baha speak for me. In his Tablet to the Hague, he writes, “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that religion must be the cause of fellowship and love. If it becomes the cause of estrangement then it is not needed, for religion is like a remedy; if it aggravates the disease then it becomes unnecessary.”

As a member of the Baha’i Faith, I add my voice to the global condemnation of this decision and implore Jones not to make a mockery of his faith and of faith in general! And if Jones will not hear us, then I pray law enforcement authorities in the United States will stop him before he can do untold damage.

Quantum religion 2

Was Averroes right: do the activities of science and religion somehow ontologically resonate?  In my last post I lightly explored what this might mean for the content of scientific theory and religious belief vis-à-vis each other. Therein I tentatively proposed a “quantum religion”, which solicited responses both positive and negative, including comparisons to Deepak Chopra and Roger Penrose.  I’m taking a controversial stance for sure, but also a dangerous one.

Continue reading “Quantum religion 2”