The Chapel Feralous

ArcanePerspectives.vs.MundaneTimes

The Day of Judgement (pts 1&2) June 26, 2008

I’ll get around to hyperlinking this up ASAP- if you read it before I’ve inserted all kinds of abstract meanings and correlations to it, make sure you check back!

Big ups to Infinafta/Popovich for bringing this to my attention!

The day of judgmentEnd-time thinking – the belief in a world purified by catastrophe – could once be dismissed as a harmless remnant of a more superstitious age. But with the rise of religious fundamentalism, prophets of apocalypse have become a new and very real danger, argues Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan
Saturday May 31, 2008
Guardian

Since 1839, the world inventory of photographs has been accumulating at an accelerating pace, multiplying into a near infinitude of images, into a resemblance of a Borgesian library. This haunting technology has been with us long enough now that we are able to look at a crowd scene, a busy street, say, in the late 19th century and know for certain that every single figure is dead. Not only the young couple pausing by a park railing, but the child with a hoop and stick, the starchy nurse, the solemn baby upright in its carriage – their lives have run their course, and they are all gone. And yet, frozen in sepia, they appear curiously, busily, oblivious of the fact that they must die – as Susan Sontag put it, “photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading towards their own destruction …”

“Photography,” she said, “is the inventory of mortality. A touch of the finger now suffices to invest a moment with posthumous irony. Photographs show people being so irrefutably there and at a specific age in their lives; [they] group together people and things which a moment later have already disbanded, changed, continued along the course of their independent destinies.”

We are well used to reflections on individual mortality – it is the shaping force in the narrative of our existence. It emerges in childhood as a baffling fact, re-emerges possibly in adolescence as a tragic reality which all around us appear to be denying, then perhaps fades in busy middle life, to return, say, in a sudden premonitory bout of insomnia. One of the supreme secular meditations on death is Larkin’s “Aubade“:

… The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

We confront our mortality in private conversations, in the familiar consolations of religion – “That vast moth-eaten musical brocade,” thought Larkin, “Created to pretend we never die.” And we experience it as a creative tension, an enabling paradox in our literature and art: what is depicted, loved, or celebrated cannot last, and the work must try to outlive its creator. Larkin, after all, is now dead. Unless we are a determined, well-organised suicide, we cannot know the date of our demise, but we know the date must fall within a certain window of biological possibility which, as we age, must progressively narrow to its closing point.

Estimating the nature and timing of our collective demise, the end of civilisation, of the entire human project, is even less certain – it might happen in the next hundred years, or not happen in two thousand, or happen with imperceptible slowness, a whimper, not a bang. But in the face of that unknowability, there has often flourished powerful certainty about the approaching end. Throughout recorded history people have mesmerised themselves with stories which predict the date and manner of our wholescale destruction, often rendered meaningful by ideas of divine punishment and ultimate redemption; the end of life on earth, the end or last days, end time, the apocalypse.

Many of these stories are highly specific accounts of the future and are devoutly believed. Contemporary apocalyptic movements, Christian or Islamic, some violent, some not, all appear to share fantasies of a violent end, and they affect our politics profoundly. The apocalyptic mind can be demonising – that is to say, there are other groups, other faiths, that it despises for worshipping false gods, and these believers of course will not be saved from the fires of hell. And the apocalyptic mind tends to be totalitarian – which is to say that these are intact, all-encompassing ideas founded in longing and supernatural belief, immune to evidence or its lack, and well-protected against the implications of fresh data. Consequently, moments of unintentional pathos, even comedy, arise – and perhaps something in our nature is revealed – as the future is constantly having to be rewritten, new anti-Christs, new Beasts, new Babylons, new Whores located, and the old appointments with doom and redemption quickly replaced by the next.

Not even a superficial student of the Christian apocalypse could afford to ignore the work of Norman Cohn. His magisterial The Pursuit of the Millennium was published 50 years ago and has been in print ever since. This is a study of a variety of end-time movements that swept through northern Europe between the 11th and 16th centuries. These sects, generally inspired by the symbolism in the Book of Revelation, typically led by a charismatic prophet who emerged from among the artisan class or from the dispossessed, were seized by the notion of an impending end, to be followed by the establishing of the Kingdom of God on earth. In preparation for this, it was believed necessary to slaughter Jews, priests and property owners. Fanatical rabbles, tens of thousands strong, oppressed and often starving and homeless, roamed from town to town, full of wild hope and murderous intent. The authorities, church and lay, would put down these bands with overwhelming violence. A few years or a generation later, with a new leader, and a faintly different emphasis, a new group would rise up. It is worth remembering that the impoverished mob that trailed behind the knights of the first crusades started their journey by killing Jews in the thousands in the Upper Rhine area. These days, when Muslims of radical tendency pronounce their formulaic imprecations against “Jews and Crusaders”, they would do well to remember that both Jewry and Islam were victims of the crusades.

Now, the slaughter has abated, but what strikes the reader of Cohn’s book are the common threads that run between medieval and contemporary apocalyptic thought. First, and in general, the resilience of the end-time forecasts – time and again, for 500 years, the date is proclaimed, nothing happens, and no one feels discouraged from setting another date. Second, the Book of Revelation spawned a literary tradition that kept alive in medieval Europe the fantasy, derived from the Judaic tradition, of divine election. Christians, too, could now be the Chosen People, the saved or the Elect, and no amount of official repression could smother the appeal of this notion to the unprivileged as well as the unbalanced. Third, there looms the figure of a mere man, apparently virtuous, risen to eminence, but in reality seductive and Satanic – he is the anti-Christ, and in the five centuries that Cohn surveys, the role is fulfilled by the Pope, just as it frequently is now.

Finally, there is the boundless adaptability, the undying appeal and fascination of the Book of Revelation itself, the central text of apocalyptic belief. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, making landfall in the Bahaman islands, he believed he had found, and was fated to find, the Terrestrial Paradise promised in the Book of Revelation. He believed himself to be implicated in God’s planning for the millennial kingdom on earth. The scholar Daniel Wojcik (in his brilliant account of apocalyptic thought in America, “The end of the world as we know it”) quotes from Columbus’s record of his first journey: “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St John … and he showed me the spot where to find it.”

Five centuries later, the United States, responsible for more than four-fifths of the world’s scientific research and still a land of plenty, can show the world an abundance of opinion polls concerning its religious convictions. The litany will be familiar. Ninety per cent of Americans say they have never doubted the existence of God and are certain they will be called to answer for their sins. Fifty-three per cent are creationists who believe that the cosmos is 6,000 years old, 44 per cent are sure that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead within the next 50 years. Only 12 per cent believe that life on earth has evolved through natural selection without the intervention of supernatural agency.

In general, belief in end-time biblical prophecy, in a world purified by catastrophe and then redeemed and made entirely Christian and free of conflict by the return of Jesus in our lifetime, is stronger in the United States than anywhere on the planet and extends from marginal, ill-educated, economically deprived groups, to college-educated people in the millions, through to governing elites, to the very summits of power. The social scientist JW Nelson notes that apocalyptic ideas “are as American as the hot dog”. Wojcik reminds us of the ripple of anxiety that ran round the world in April 1984 when President Reagan expressed that he was greatly interested in the biblical prophecy of imminent Armageddon.

To the secular mind, the polling figures have a pleasantly shocking, titillating quality – one might think of them as a form of atheist’s pornography. But perhaps we should enter a caveat before proceeding. It might be worth retaining a degree of scepticism about these polling figures. For a start, they vary enormously – one poll’s 90 per cent is another’s 53 per cent. From the respondent’s point of view, what is to be gained by categorically denying the existence of God to a complete stranger with a clipboard? And those who tell pollsters they believe that the Bible is the literal word of God from which derive all proper moral precepts, are more likely to be thinking in general terms of love, compassion and forgiveness rather than of the slave-owning, ethnic cleansing, infanticide, and genocide urged at various times by the jealous God of the Old Testament.

Furthermore, the mind is capable of artful compartmentalisations; in one moment, a man might confidently believe in predictions of Armageddon in his lifetime, and in the next, he might pick up the phone to inquire about a savings fund for his grandchildren’s college education or approve of long-term measures to slow global warming. Or he might even vote Democrat, as do many Hispanic biblical literalists. In Pennsylvania, Kansas and Ohio, the courts have issued ringing rejections of Intelligent Design, and voters have ejected creationists from school boards. In the Dover case in 2005, Judge John Jones III, a Bush appointee, handed down a judgment that was not only a scathing dismissal of the prospect of supernatural ideas imported into science classes, but was an elegant, stirring summary of the project of science in general, and of natural selection in particular, and a sturdy endorsement of the rationalist, Enlightenment values that underlie the Constitution.

Still the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, and perhaps its most bizarre, certainly one of its most lurid, remains important in the United States, just as it once was in medieval Europe. The book is also known as the Apocalypse – and we should be clear about the meaning of this word, which is derived from the Greek word for revelation. Apocalypse, which has become synonymous with “catastrophe”, actually refers to the literary form in which an individual describes what has been revealed to him by a supernatural being. There was a long Jewish tradition of prophecy, and there were hundreds, if not thousands of seers like John of Patmos between the second century BC and the first century AD. Many other Christian apocalypses were deprived of canonical authority in the second century AD. Revelation most likely survived because its author was confused with John, the Beloved Disciple. It is interesting to speculate how different medieval European history, and indeed the history of religion in Europe and the United States, would have been if the Book of Revelation had also failed, as it nearly did, to be retained in the Bible we now know.

The scholarly consensus dates Revelation to AD95 or 96. Little is known of its author beyond the fact that he is certainly not the apostle John. The occasion of writing appears to be the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Domitian. Only a generation before, the Romans had sacked the Second Temple in Jerusalem and are, therefore, identified with the Babylonians who had destroyed the First Temple centuries earlier. The general purpose quite likely was to give hope and consolation to the faithful in the certainty that their tribulations would end, that the Kingdom of God would prevail. Ever since the influential 12th-century historian Joachim of Fiore, Revelation has been seen, within various traditions of gathering complexity and divergence, as an overview of human history whose last stage we are now in; alternatively, and this is especially relevant to the postwar United States, as an account purely of those last days. For centuries, within the Protestant tradition, the anti-Christ was identified with the Pope, or with the Catholic Church in general. In recent decades, the honour has been bestowed on the Soviet Union, the European Union, or secularism and atheists. For many millennial dispensationalists, international peacemakers, who risk delaying the final struggle by sowing concord among nations – the United Nations, along with the World Council of Churches – have been seen as Satanic forces.

The cast or contents of Revelation in its contemporary representations has all the colourful gaudiness of a children’s computer fantasy game – earthquakes and fires, thundering horses and their riders, angels blasting away on trumpets, magic vials, Jezebel, a red dragon and other mythical beasts, and a scarlet woman. Another familiar aspect is the potency of numbers – seven each of seals, heads of beasts, candlesticks, stars, lamps, trumpets, angels and vials; then four riders, four beasts with seven heads, ten horns, ten crowns, four and twenty elders, twelve tribes with twelve thousand members … and finally, most resonantly, spawning 19 centuries of dark tomfoolery, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred, three score and six.” To many minds, 666 bristles with significance. The internet is stuffed with tremulous speculation about supermarket barcodes, implanted chips, numerical codes for the names of world leaders. However, the oldest known record of this famous verse, from the Oxyrhynchus site, gives the number as 616, as does the Zurich Bible. I have the impression that any number would do. One senses in the arithmetic of prophecy the yearnings of a systematising mind, bereft of the experimental scientific underpinnings that were to give such human tendencies their rich expression many centuries later. Astrology gives a similar impression of numerical obsession operating within a senseless void.

But Revelation has endured in an age of technology and scepticism. Not many works of literature, not even the Odyssey of Homer, can boast such wide appeal over such an expanse of time. One celebrated case of this rugged durability is that of William Miller, the 19th-century farmer who became a prophet and made a set of intricate calculations, based on a line in verse 14 of the Book of Daniel: “unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Counting for various reasons this utterance to date from 457BC, and understanding one prophetic day to be the equivalent of a year, Miller came to the conclusion that the last of days would occur in 1843. Some of Miller’s followers refined the calculations further to October 22. After nothing happened on that day, the year was quickly revised to 1844, to take into account the year zero. The faithful Millerites gathered in their thousands to wait. One may not share the beliefs, but it is quite possible to understand the mortifying disenchantment. One eyewitness wrote:

[We] confidently expected to see Jesus Christ and all the holy angels with him … and that our trials and sufferings with our earthly pilgrimage would close and we should be caught up to meet our coming Lord … and thus we looked for our coming Lord until the bell tolled twelve at midnight. The day had then passed and our disappointment became a certainty. Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all our earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawned.

One means of dealing with the disillusionment was to give it a title – the Great Disappointment – duly capitalised. More importantly, according to Kenneth Newport’s impressive account of the Waco siege, the very next day after the Disappointment, one Millerite leader in Port Gibson, New York, by the name of Hiram Edson had a vision as he walked along, a sudden revelation that “the cleansing of the sanctuary” referred to events not on earth, but in heaven. Jesus had taken his place in the heavenly holy of holies. The date had been right all along, it was simply the place they had got wrong. This “masterstroke”, as Newport calls it, this “theological lifeline” removed the whole affair into a realm immune to disproof. The Great Disappointment was explained, and many Millerites were drawn, with hope still strong in their hearts, into the beginnings of the Seventh Day Adventist movement – which was to become one of the most successful churches in the United States.

In passing, I note the connections between this church and the medieval sects that Cohn describes – the strong emphasis on the Book of Revelation, the looming proximity of the end, the strict division between the faithful remnant who keep the Sabbath, and those who join the ranks of the “fallen”, of the anti-Christ, identified with the Pope whose title, Vicarius Filii Dei (vicar of the son of God) apparently has a numerical value of 666. I mention Hiram Edson’s morning-after masterstroke to illustrate the adaptability and resilience of end-time thought. For centuries now, it has regarded the end as “soon” – if not next week, then within a year or two. The end has not come, and yet no one is discomfited for long. New prophets, and soon, a new generation, set about the calculations, and always manage to find the end looming within their own lifetime. The million sellers like Hal Lindsey predicted the end of the world all through the seventies, eighties and nineties – and today, business has never been better. There is a hunger for this news, and perhaps we glimpse here something in our nature, something of our deeply held notions of time, and our own insignificance against the intimidating vastness of eternity, or the age of the universe – on the human scale there is little difference. We have need of a plot, a narrative to shore up our irrelevance in the flow of things.

In The Sense of an Ending , Frank Kermode proposes that the enduring quality, the vitality of the Book of Revelation suggests a “consonance with our more naive requirements of fiction”. We are born, as we will die, in the middle of things, in the “middest”. To make sense of our span, we need what he calls “fictive concords with origins and ends. ‘The End’, in the grand sense, as we imagine it, will reflect our irreducibly intermediary expectations.” What could grant us more meaning against the abyss of time than to identify our own personal demise with the purifying annihilation of all that is. Kermode quotes with approval from Wallace Stevens – “the imagination is always at the end of an era”. Even our notions of decadence contain the hopes of renewal; the religious minded, as well as the most secular, looked on the transition to the year 2000 as inescapably significant, even if all the atheists did was to party a little harder. It was inevitably a transition, the passing of an old age into the new – and who is to say now that Osama bin Laden did not disappoint, whether we mourned at the dawn of the new millennium with the bereaved among the ruins of lower Manhattan, or danced for joy, as some did, in the Gaza Strip.

Islamic eschatology from its very beginnings embraced the necessity of violently conquering the world and gathering up souls to the faith before the expected hour of judgment – a notion that has risen and fallen over the centuries, but in past decades has received new impetus from Islamist revivalist movements. It is partly a mirror image of the Protestant Christian tradition (a world made entirely Islamic, with Jesus as Mohammed’s lieutenant), partly a fantasy of the inevitable return of “sacred space”, the Caliphate, that includes most of Spain, parts of France, the entire Middle East, right up to the borders of China. As with the Christian scheme, Islam foretells of the destruction or conversion of the Jews.

Prophecy belief in Judaism, the original source for both the Islamic and Christian eschatologies, is surprisingly weaker – perhaps a certain irony in the relationship between Jews and their god is unfriendly to end-time belief, but it lives on vigorously enough in the Lubavitch movement and various Israeli settler groups, and of course is centrally concerned with divine entitlement to disputed lands.

The day of judgment, part twoApocalyptic beliefs are now as much a part of secular life as religious, says Ian McEwan in part two of his essay on end-time thinking

We should add to the mix more recent secular apocalyptic beliefs – the certainty that the world is inevitably doomed through nuclear exchange, viral epidemics, meteorites, population growth or environmental degradation. Where these calamities are posed as mere possibilities in an open-ended future that might be headed off by wise human agency, we cannot consider them as apocalyptic. They are minatory, they are calls to action. But when they are presented as unavoidable outcomes driven by ineluctable forces of history or innate human failings, they share much with their religious counterparts – though they lack the demonising, cleansing, redemptive aspects, and are without the kind of supervision of a supernatural entity that might give benign meaning and purpose to a mass extinction. Clearly, fatalism is common to both camps, and both, reasonably enough, are much concerned with a nuclear holocaust, which to the prophetic believers illuminates in retrospect biblical passages that once seemed obscure. Hal Lindsey, preeminent among the popularisers of American apocalyptic thought, writes:

Zechariah 14:12 predicts that “their flesh will be consumed from their bones, their eyes burned out of their sockets, and their tongues consumed out of their mouths while they stand on their feet.” For hundreds of years students of Bible prophecy have wondered what kind of plague could produce such instant ravaging of humans while still on their feet. Until the event of the atomic bomb such a thing was not humanly possible. But now everything Zechariah predicted could come true in a thermonuclear exchange!

Two other movements, now mercifully defeated or collapsed, provide a further connection between religious and secular apocalypse – so concluded Norman Cohn in the closing pages of The Pursuit of the Millennium. The genocidal tendency among the apocalyptic medieval movements faded somewhat after 1500. Vigorous end-time belief continued, of course, in the Puritan and Calvinist movements, the Millerites, as we have seen, and in the American Great Awakening, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Adventist movement. The murderous tradition, however, did not die away completely. It survived the passing of centuries in various sects, various outrages, to emerge in the European 20th century transformed, revitalised, secularised, but still recognisable in what Cohn depicts as the essence of apocalyptic thinking – “the tense expectation of a final, decisive struggle in which a world tyranny will be overthrown by a ‘chosen people’ and through which the world will be renewed and history brought to its consummation”.

The will of god was transformed in the 20th century into the will of history, but the essential demand remained, as it still does today – “to purify the world by destroying the agents of corruption”. The dark reveries of Nazism about the Jews shared much with the murderous antisemitic demonology of medieval times. An important additional element, imported from Russia, was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , the 1905 Tsarist police forgery, elevated by Hitler and others into a racist ideology. (It’s interesting to note how the Protocols has re-emerged as a central text for Islamists, frequently quoted on websites, and sold in street bookstalls across the Middle East.) The Third Reich and its dream of a thousand-year rule was derived, in a form of secular millennial usurpation, directly from Revelation. Cohn draws our attention to the apocalyptic language of Mein Kampf : “If our people … fall victims to these Jewish tyrants of the nations with their lust for blood and gold, the whole earth will sink down … if Germany frees itself from this embrace, this greatest of dangers for the peoples can be regarded as vanquished for all the earth.”

In Marxism in its Soviet form, Cohn also found a continuation of the old millenarian tradition of prophecy, of the final violent struggle to eliminate the agents of corruption – this time it is the bourgeoisie who will be vanquished by the proletariat in order to enable the withering away of the state and usher in the peaceable kingdom. “The kulak … is prepared to strangle and massacre hundreds of thousands of workers … Ruthless war must be waged on the kulaks! Death to them!” Thus spoke Lenin, and his word, like Hitler’s, became deed.

Thirty years ago, we might have been able to convince ourselves that contemporary religious apocalyptic thought was a harmless remnant of a more credulous, superstitious, pre-scientific age, now safely behind us. But today prophecy belief, particularly within the Christian and Islamic traditions, is a force in our contemporary history, a medieval engine driving our modern moral, geopolitical, and military concerns. The various jealous sky-gods – and they are certainly not one and the same god – who in the past directly addressed Abraham, Paul, or Mohammed, among others, now indirectly address us through the daily television news. These different gods have wound themselves inextricably around our politics and our political differences.

Our secular and scientific culture has not replaced or even challenged these mutually incompatible, supernatural thought systems. Scientific method, scepticism, or rationality in general, has yet to find an overarching narrative of sufficient power, simplicity, and wide appeal to compete with the old stories that give meaning to people’s lives. Natural selection is a powerful, elegant, and economic explicator of life on earth in all its diversity, and perhaps it contains the seeds of a rival creation myth that would have the added power of being true – but it awaits its inspired synthesiser, its poet, its Milton. The great American biologist EO Wilson has suggested an ethics divorced from religion, and derived instead from what he calls biophilia, our innate and profound connection to our natural environment – but one man alone cannot make a moral system. Science may speak of probable rising sea levels and global temperatures, with figures that it constantly refines in line with new data, but on the human future it cannot compete with the luridness and, above all, with the meaningfulness of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel or Revelation. Reason and myth remain uneasy bedfellows. Rather than presenting a challenge, science has in obvious ways strengthened apocalyptic thinking. It has provided us with the means to destroy ourselves and our civilisation completely in less than a couple of hours, or to spread a fatal virus around the globe in a couple of days. And our spiralling technologies of destruction and their ever-greater availability have raised the possibility that true believers, with all their unworldly passion, their prayerful longing for the end times to begin, could help nudge the ancient prophecies towards fulfilment. Wojcik quotes a letter by the singer Pat Boone addressed to fellow Christians. All-out nuclear war is what he appears to have had in mind. “My guess is that there isn’t a thoughtful Christian alive who doesn’t believe we are living at the end of history. I don’t know how that makes you feel, but it gets me pretty excited. Just think about actually seeing, as the apostle Paul wrote it, the Lord Himself descending from heaven with a shout! Wow! And the signs that it’s about to happen are everywhere.”

If this possibility of a willed nuclear catastrophe appears too pessimistic or extravagant, or hilarious, consider the case of another individual, remote from Pat Boone – President Ahmadinejad of Iran. His much reported remark about wiping Israel off the face of the earth may have been mere bluster of the kind you could hear any Friday in a thousand mosques around the world. But this posturing, coupled with his nuclear ambitions, becomes more worrying when set in the context of his end-time beliefs. In Jamkaran, a village not far from the holy city of Qum, a small mosque is undergoing a $20m-expansion, driven forward by Ahmadinejad’s office. Within the Shi’ite apocalyptic tradition, the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, who disappeared in the ninth century, is expected to reappear in a well behind the mosque. His re-emergence will signify the beginning of the end days. He will lead the battle against the Dajjal, the Islamic version of the anti-Christ, and with Jesus as his follower, will establish the global Dar el Salaam, the dominion of peace, under Islam. Ahmadinejad is extending the mosque to receive the Mahdi, and already pilgrims by the thousands are visiting the shrine, for the president has reportedly told his cabinet that he expects the visitation within two years.

Or again, consider the celebrated case of the red heifer, or calf. On the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the end-time stories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam converge in both interlocking and mutually exclusive ways that are potentially explosive – they form incidentally the material for the American novelist Bob Stone’s fine novel, Damascus Gate . What is bitterly contested is not only the past and present, it is the future. It is hardly possible to do justice in summary to the complex eschatologies that jostle on this 35-acre patch of land. The stories themselves are familiar. For the Jews, the Mount – the biblical Mount Moriah – is the site of the First Temple, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC, and of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in AD70. According to tradition, and of particular interest to various controversial groups, including the Temple Institute, the Messiah, when he comes at last, will occupy the Third Temple. But that cannot be built, and therefore the Messiah will not come, without the sacrifice of a perfectly unblemished red calf.

For Muslims of course, the Mount is the site of the Dome of the Rock, built over the location of the two temples and enclosing the very spot from which Mohammed departed on his Night Journey to heaven – leaving as his horse stepped upwards a revered hoofprint in the rock. In the prophetic tradition, the Dajjal will be a Jew who leads a devastating war against Islam. Any attempt to bless a foundation stone of a new temple is seen as highly provocative for it implies the destruction of the mosque. The symbolism surrounding Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Mount in September 2000 remains a matter of profoundly different interpretation by Muslims and Jews. And if lives were not at stake, the Christian fundamentalist contribution to this volatile mix would seem amusingly cynical. These prophetic believers are certain that Jesus will return at the height of the battle of Armageddon, but his thousand-year reign, which will ensure the conversion of Jews and Muslims to Christianity, or their extinction, cannot begin until the Third Temple is built.

And so it came about that a cattle-breeding operation emerges in Israel with the help of Texan Christian fundamentalist ranchers to promote the birth of the perfect, unspotted red calf, and thereby, we have to assume, bring the end days a little closer. In 1997 there was great excitement, as well as press mockery, when one promising candidate appeared. Months later, this cherished young cow nicked its rump on a barbed wire fence, causing white hairs to grow at the site of the wound and earning instant disqualification. Another red calf appeared in 2002 to general acclaim, and then again, later disappointment. In the tight squeeze of history, religion, and politics that converge on the Temple Mount, the calf is a minor item indeed. But the search for it, and the hope and longing that surround it, illustrates the dangerous tendency among prophetic believers to bring on the cataclysm that they think will lead to a form of paradise on earth. The reluctance of the current US administration to pursue in these past six years a vigorous policy towards a peace settlement in the Israel-Palestine dispute may owe less to the pressures of Jewish groups than to the eschatology of the Christian Right.

Periods of uncertainty in human history, of rapid, bewildering change, and of social unrest appear to give these old stories greater weight. It does not need a novelist to tell you that where a narrative has a beginning, it needs an end. Where there is a creation myth, there must be a final chapter. Where a god makes the world, it remains in his power to unmake it. When human weakness or wickedness is apparent, there will be guilty fantasies of supernatural retribution. When people are profoundly frustrated, either materially or spiritually, there will be dreams of the perfect society where all conflicts are resolved, and all needs are met.

That much we can understand or politely pretend to understand. But the problem of fatalism remains. In a nuclear age, and in an age of serious environmental degradation, apocalyptic belief creates a serious second order danger. The precarious logic of self-interest that saw us through the cold war would collapse if the leaders of one nuclear state came to welcome, or ceased to fear, mass death. The words of Ayatollah Khomeini are quoted approvingly in an Iranian 11th grade textbook: “Either we shake one another’s hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours.”

And if we let global temperatures continue to rise because we give room to the faction that believes it is God’s will, then we are truly – and literally – sunk.

If I were a believer, I think I would prefer to be in Jesus’s camp – he is reported by Matthew to have said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

But even a sceptic can find in the historical accumulation of religious expression joy, fear, love, and above all, seriousness. I return to Philip Larkin – an atheist who also knew the moment and the nature of transcendence. He once wrote a famous description of a church:

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious …

And how could one be more serious than the writer of this prayer for the interment of the dead, from the Book of Common Prayer, an incantation of bleak, existential beauty, even more so in its beautiful setting by Henry Purcell: “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.”

Ultimately, apocalyptic belief is a function of faith – that luminous inner conviction that needs no recourse to evidence. It is customary to pose against immovable faith the engines of reason, but in this instance I would prefer that delightful human impulse – curiosity, the hallmark of mental freedom. Organised religion has always had – and I put this mildly – a troubled relationship with curiosity. Islam’s distrust, at least in the past 200 years, is best expressed by its attitude to those whose faith falls away, to apostates who are drawn to other religions or to none at all. In recent times, in 1975, the mufti of Saudi Arabia, Bin Baz, in a fatwa, quoted by Shmuel Bar, ruled as follows: “Those who claim that the earth is round and moving around the sun are apostates and their blood can be shed and their property can be taken in the name of god.” Bin Baz rescinded this judgment 10 years later. Mainstream Islam routinely prescribes punishment for apostates that ranges from ostracism to beatings to death. To enter one of the many websites where Muslim apostates anonymously exchange views is to encounter a world of brave and terrified men and women who have succumbed to their disaffection and intellectual curiosity. And Christians should not feel smug. The first commandment – on pain of death if we were to take the matter literally – is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. In the fourth century, St Augustine put the matter well for Christianity, and his view prevailed for a long time: “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try to discover the secrets of nature which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing, and which man should not wish to learn.”

And yet it is curiosity, scientific curiosity, that has delivered us genuine, testable knowledge of the world and contributed to our understanding of our place within it and of our nature and condition. This knowledge has a beauty of its own, and it can be terrifying. We are barely beginning to grasp the implications of what we have relatively recently learned. And what exactly have we learned? I draw here from a Steven Pinker essay on his ideal of a university: among other things we have learned that our planet is a minute speck in an inconceivably vast cosmos; that our species has existed for a tiny fraction of the history of the earth; that humans are primates; that the mind is the activity of an organ that runs by physiological processes; that there are methods for ascertaining the truth that can force us to conclusions which violate common sense, sometimes radically so at scales very large and very small; that precious and widely held beliefs, when subjected to empirical tests, are often cruelly falsified; that we cannot create energy or use it without loss.

As things stand, after more than a century of research in a number of fields, we have no evidence at all that the future can be predicted. Better to look directly to the past, to its junkyard of unrealised futures, for it is curiosity about history that should give end-time believers reasonable pause when they reflect that they stand on a continuum, a long and unvarying thousand-year tradition that has fantasised imminent salvation for themselves and perdition for the rest. On one of the countless end-time/rapture sites that litter the web, there is a section devoted to Frequently Asked Questions. One is: when the Lord comes, what will happen to the children of other faiths? The answer is staunch: “Ungodly parents only bring judgment to their children.” In the light of this, one might conclude that end-time faith is probably as immune to the lessons of history as it is to fundamental human decency.

If we do destroy ourselves, we can assume that the general reaction will be terror, and grief at the pointlessness of it all, rather than rapture. Within living memory we have come very close to extinguishing our civilisation when, in October 1962, Soviet ships carrying nuclear warheads to installations in Cuba confronted a blockade by the US Navy, and the world waited to discover whether Nikita Khrushchev would order his convoy home. It is remarkable how little of that terrifying event survives in public memory, in modern folklore. In the vast literature the Cuban missile crisis has spawned – military, political, diplomatic – there is very little on its effect at the time on ordinary lives, in homes, school, and the workplace, on the fear and widespread numb incomprehension in the population at large. That fear has not passed into the national narrative, here, or anywhere else as vividly as you might expect. As Spencer Weart put it: “When the crisis ended, most people turned their attention away as swiftly as a child who lifts up a rock, sees something slimy underneath, and drops the rock back.” Perhaps the assassination of President Kennedy the following year helped obscure the folk memory of the missile crisis. His murder in Dallas became a marker in the history of instantaneous globalised news transmission – a huge proportion of the world’s population seemed to be able to recall where they were when they heard the news. Conflating these two events, Christopher Hitchens opened an essay on the Cuban missile crisis with the words – “Like everyone else of my generation, I can remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing on the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy nearly killed me.” Heaven did not beckon during those tense hours of the crisis. Instead, as Hitchens observes, “It brought the world to the best view it has had yet of the gates of hell.”

I began with the idea of photography as the inventory of mortality, and I will end with a photograph of a group death. It shows fierce flames and smoke rising from a building in Waco, Texas, at the end of a 51-day siege in 1993. The group inside was the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. Its leader, David Koresh, was a man steeped in biblical, end-time theology, convinced that America was Babylon, the agent of Satan, come in the form of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the FBI to destroy the Sabbath-keeping remnant, who would emerge from the cleansing, suicidal fire to witness the dawn of a new Kingdom. Here is Susan Sontag’s “posthumous irony” indeed, as medieval Europe recreated itself in the form of a charismatic man, a messiah, a messenger of God, the bearer of the perfect truth, who exercised sexual power over his female followers and persuaded them to bear his children in order to begin a “Davidian” line. In that grim inferno, children, their mothers, and other followers died. Even more died two years later when Timothy McVeigh, exacting revenge against the government for its attack on Waco, committed his slaughter in Oklahoma City. It is not for nothing that one of the symptoms in a developing psychosis, noted and described by psychiatrists, is “religiosity”.

Have we really reached a stage in public affairs when it really is no longer too obvious to say that all the evidence of the past and all the promptings of our precious rationality suggest that our future is not fixed? We have no reason to believe that there are dates inscribed in heaven or hell. We may yet destroy ourselves; we might scrape through. Confronting that uncertainty is the obligation of our maturity and our only spur to wise action. The believers should know in their hearts by now that, even if they are right and there actually is a benign and watchful personal God, he is, as all the daily tragedies, all the dead children attest, a reluctant intervener. The rest of us, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, know that it is highly improbable that there is anyone up there at all. Either way, in this case it hardly matters who is wrong – there will be no one to save us but ourselves.

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The Risen! May 22, 2008

Stumbled on this one via The Gnostic Friends Network.

The Risen!” by Ristorante Mystica

Några tänkvärda (?) saker från The Risen av Peter Whitehead:

The Greek word psychosis means the “transforming action of the soul“. UR, yes, it does. But dreams are psychotico-mimetic, they tell us… In the Greek Alchemical text entitled KOR KOSMOU: i. e. “The Universe Maiden” (lovely title!), we find; “Taking from himself sufficient pneuma, and by an intelligent mixture uniting it with fire, he brewed it up with certain unknown substances, accompanying himself with certain secret incantations he agitated the mixture, till there boiled up to the surface, a sort of matter, subtler, purer, more transparent than the ingredients of which it was made. This was made translucent and only HE saw it. God called this composition: PSYCHOSIS.” God is psychotic; is a psychosis…

Dreaming so closely resembles being under the influence of such a drug, that the body must create its OWN psychedelic drug, provoking a momentary psychosis. A rare blessing! A drug related to LSD, mescalin, psilocybin, no wonder dreams are often so fascinating! Well, we found a drug produced during REM periods of sleep, and called it HYPNOTAMINE… So why do we think we merely dream useless dreams? Only reason thinks they’re useless. We dream because a chemical called HYPNOTAMINE is released into the blood stream and the mind becomes psychotic, is trance-formed, capable of being transformed by messages, from the R-Field of re-versed time… Eating the crystal confirms that Hypnotamine provokes the psychosis we call dreaming. Ignore them! Unless you’re one of those enlightened people who knows that psychosis leads to a higher form of truth. In dreams are involutes of knowledge worth unravelling, visions of the future, and messages from other beings trying to be reincarnated through your consciousness, from other networks. From the virtual-time reality network!

…but here was another psychotic idea! Was there not a drug that might even be responsible for narrowing consciousness, responsible for the greatest crime of human history, reason? R D Laing tells us about reason: “A consciousness can exist with or without a sense of ego, an identity. We are clear that the ego is a mental construction intimately chemically conditioned. It can be dissolved in two seconds by nitrous oxide…” And we live by it, depend on it, worship it? And ignore the unconscious that took a hundred million years to create us?

 

Rogue Economics- Loretta Napoleoni on The World Today

I heard this interview on ABC’s “The World Today” on Tuesday and have been hanging out for the entire interview to be popped up…

Loretta Napoleoni talks to Eleanor Hall about global economics, the currently booming slave trade, Shari’a vs Capitalist (Rogue) socio-economics and a few other bits ‘n pieces…

The transcript:

The World Today – Tuesday, 20 May , 2008 12:42:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: Italian journalist and economist, Loretta Napoleoni, is best known for her work tracing the financial web behind global terrorism.

Her new book, “Rogue Economics” attempts an even bigger challenge – to unravel what she describes as the rogue forces driving global capitalism. Her book describes, among other things, a massive explosion in slavery since the end of the Cold War and it shows how the subprime crisis is a product of this new world economy.

Perhaps most controversially she suggests that Islamic finance is the key to challenging rogue economics.

Loretta Napoleoni is in Australia this month for the Sydney Writers Festival and she joined me in the World Today studio this morning.

Loretta Napoleoni thanks very much for joining us.

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Why thank you for inviting me.

ELEANOR HALL: Now you coined the phrase “rogue economics”, what exactly does it mean?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, rogue economics is purposely ambiguous because it is a sort of umbrella under which you do find the terror economy, the criminal economy, the illegal economy but also the formation of grey areas. These are areas where there is no regulation. There is no law and inside this grey areas, the globalisation outlaws as I defined this new rogue entrepreneurs that reap the benefit of the great transformation of today which is globalisation.

ELEANOR HALL: A lot of these are sort of Mafioso type figures?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes, but also individuals who are not necessarily breaking any law. For example the subprime mortgage crisis. It is very much the product of rogue economics. Nobody really broke any law because there were not any laws to be broken.

ELEANOR HALL: The subprime crisis then is a direct consequence of rogue economics?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes it is. If you look at how the crisis came about, it came about through the transformation of a growing debt into an asset and that was made possible by the usage of derivatives. Basically applying this derivatives to mortgages was possible to transform this debt into an asset and sell the debt as an asset across the world.

There was no regulation in place to prevent something like this to happen.

ELEANOR HALL: I want to mention now one of the startling links that you draw. You say that there is a link between democracy and slavery. What is this link?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, basically we see that as democratic countries multiply, why this process happen, slavery start rising. By the end of the 1990s we had 27 million people who were actually slaves in those countries which had undergone the process of democratisation.

ELEANOR HALL: And you are not talking about wage slavery. You are talking about slavery like the sort of slavery trade we saw a couple of centuries ago, aren’t you?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yeah, I’m talking about real slavery people who are deprived of their freedom. People who are trading as merchandise. Now the first sign of this resurgence came actually right after the fall of the Berlin Wall when women from the former Soviet bloc were started to be traded as sex slaves and prostitutes in the west.

ELEANOR HALL: Who was doing the trading?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well predominantly it was the Mafia. Initially, but then other organisations got involved so to a certain extent it is poor people enslaving other poor people and with the food crisis now hitting really hard, we will, for sure see another surge in the number of slaves.

ELEANOR HALL: Now Islamic finance. Interestingly you say that it is the sole global economic force that can challenge rogue economics. Why?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Because it has a built-in code of ethics which we do not have anymore in western finance and this code of ethics comes from the Sharia law. Now when we say Sharia law people tend to associate it with something negative now we’ve got to explain that the Sharia law is nothing to do with the manipulation which has been done of this law by people like Osama bin Laden and the fundamentalists of Islamic.

Sharia law code of ethics which is very similar to the code of ethics of the classic British economist Adam Smith, David Ricardo. For example, money should not produce money. Money should be invested in the real economy and through the growth of the real economy, produce money.

So that is a fundamentally important concept which we have lost to a certain extent. The subprime crisis, it is created by an instrument which is based upon lending money that creates money.

ELEANOR HALL: So instead of a clash of civilisations, we essentially have a clash between rogue economics and Sharia economics?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes, that is a very good point. We do have a clash between rogue economics and Sharia economics whereby Sharia economics is the only force today that will be able to control rogue economics and bringing back within the rules providing, of course, Islamic finance does not fall into the hands of radical groups as you know al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, that is a pretty big risk isn’t it?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: I don’t think it is a very big risk. Actually I think today the risk is much, much less than it was right after 9-11.

ELEANOR HALL: Essentially, we will be seeing a massive shift in values away from the individual and of wealth, won’t we?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: I don’t think that the shift in value will be away from the individual. No, I would say that the individual, especially when we talk about Islamic finance will be more involved in the every day decision in terms of how is this money invested but there will be a new system and the west, in particular the core of the western system which is the US and the UK today, will be at the periphery of the new world.

ELEANOR HALL: Loretta Napoleoni, thanks very much for joining us.

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Italian journalist and economist, Loretta Napoleoni who is in Australia for the Sydney Writers Festival. And if you’d like to hear a longer version of that interview, you can go to our website at abc.net.au.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL INTERVIEW
 

TIBET:TheTruth May 2, 2008

A few YouTubes on the Tibet/China/Rest of the World situation…

 

Sinking Ship April 11, 2008

I thought that, in light (or spite) of much of the other material that I’m beginning to present in this blog, I should pop this up for a bit of abstract perspectivism…

Sinking Ship

by Daniel Quinn

The ship was sinking—and sinking fast. The captain told the passengers and crew, “We’ve got to get the lifeboats in the water right away.”

But the crew said, “First we have to end capitalist oppression of the working class. Then we’ll take care of the lifeboats.”

Then the women said, “First we want equal pay for equal work. The lifeboats can wait.”

The racial minorities said, “First we need to end racial discrimination. Then seating in the lifeboats will be allotted fairly.”

The captain said, “These are all important issues, but they won’t matter a damn if we don’t survive. We’ve got to lower the lifeboats right away!”

But the religionists said, “First we need to bring prayer back into the classroom. This is more important than lifeboats.”

Then the pro-life contingent said, “First we must outlaw abortion. Fetuses have just as much right to be in those lifeboats as anyone else.”

The right-to-choose contingent said, “First acknowledge our right to abortion, then we’ll help with the lifeboats.”

The socialists said, “First we must redistribute the wealth. Once that’s done everyone will work equally hard at lowering the lifeboats.”

The animal-rights activists said, “First we must end the use of animals in medical experiments. We can’t let this be subordinated to lowering the lifeboats.”

Finally the ship sank, and because none of the lifeboats had been lowered, everyone drowned.

The last thought of more than one of them was, “I never dreamed that solving humanity’s problems would take so long—or that the ship would sink so SUDDENLY.”

 

Tibet, Palestine and Western hypocrisy

Just came across this article, and must say, I’m impressed on a lot of levels…

Tibet, Palestine and Western hypocrisy
BY URI AVNERY (World View)

11 April 2008

LIKE everybody else, I support the right of the Tibetan people to independence, or at least autonomy. Like everybody else, I condemn the actions of the Chinese government there. But unlike everybody else, I am not ready to join in the demonstrations.

I support the Tibetans in spite of it being obvious that the Americans are exploiting the struggle for their own purposes. Clearly, the CIA has planned and organised the riots, and the American media are leading the worldwide campaign.

It is a part of the hidden struggle between the US, the reigning superpower, and China, the rising superpower — a new version of the “Great Game” that was played in Central Asia in the 19th century by the British Empire and Russia.

Tibet is a token in this game. What is really bugging me is the hypocrisy of the world media. They storm and thunder about Tibet. It seems as if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force. But are not the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria entitled to the same? The inhabitants of Western Sahara, whose territory is occupied by Morocco? The Basques in Spain? The Corsicans off the coast of France? And the list is long.

Why do the world’s media adopt one independence struggle, but often cynically ignore another independence struggle? What makes the blood of one Tibetan redder than the blood of a thousand Africans in East Congo?

Again and again I try to find a satisfactory answer to this enigma. In vain. Immanuel Kant demanded of us: “Act as if the principle by which you act were about to be turned into a universal law of nature.” (Being a German philosopher, he expressed it in much more convoluted language.)

Does the attitude toward the Tibetan problem conform to this rule? Does it reflect our attitude toward the struggle for independence of all other oppressed peoples? Not at all.

If Immanuel Kant knew what’s going on in Kosovo, he would be scratching his head.

The province demanded its independence from Serbia, and I, for one, supported that with all my heart. This is a separate people, with a different culture (Albanian) and its own religion (Islam). After the popular Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, tried to drive them out of their country, the world rose and provided moral and material support for their struggle for independence.

The Albanian Kosovars make up 90 percent of the citizens of the new state, which has a population of two million. The other 10 percent are Serbs, who want no part of the new Kosovo. They want the areas they live in to be annexed to Serbia. According to Kant’s maxim, are they entitled to this?

I would propose a pragmatic moral principle: Every population that inhabits a defined territory and has a clear national character is entitled to independence. A state that wants to keep such a population must see to it that they feel comfortable, that they receive their full rights, enjoy equality and have an autonomy that satisfies their aspirations. In short: That they have no reason to desire separation.

That applies to the French in Canada, the Scots in Britain, the Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere, the various ethnic groups in Africa, the indigenous peoples in Latin America, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and many others. Each has a right to choose between full equality, autonomy and independence.

This leads us, of course, to the Palestinian issue. In the competition for the sympathy of the world media, the Palestinians are unlucky. According to all the objective standards, they have a right to full independence, exactly like the Tibetans. They inhabit a defined territory, they are a specific nation, a clear border exists between them and Israel. One must really have a crooked mind to deny these facts.

But the Palestinians are suffering from several cruel strokes of fate: The people that oppress them claim for themselves the crown of ultimate victimhood. The whole world sympathises with the Israelis because the Jews were the victims of the most horrific crime of the Western world. That creates a strange situation: The oppressor is more popular than the victim. Anyone who supports the Palestinians is automatically suspected of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Also, the great majority of the Palestinians are Muslims (nobody pays attention to the Palestinian Christians). Since Islam arouses fear and abhorrence in the West, the Palestinian struggle has automatically become a part of that shapeless, sinister threat, “international terrorism”. And since the murders of Yasser Arafat and Shaikh Ahmed Yassin, the Palestinians have no particularly impressive leader — neither in Fatah nor in Hamas.

The world media are shedding tears for the Tibetan people, whose land is taken from them by Chinese settlers. Who cares about the Palestinians, whose land is taken from them by our settlers?

In the worldwide tumult about Tibet, the Israeli spokespersons compare themselves — strange as it sounds — to the poor Tibetans, not to the evil Chinese. Many think this quite logical.

If Kant were dug up tomorrow and asked about the Palestinians, he would probably answer: “Give them what you think should be given to everybody, and don’t wake me up again to ask silly questions.”

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. This article is publised in arrangement with Palestine Chronicle. A larger version of the article is available on http://www.PalestineChronicle.com

 

Pine Gap April 19 to May 3 for a Peace Gathering March 25, 2008

Just picked this up from eye of the cyclone:

Reclaim ANZAC Day from the war glorifiers – gather at Pine Gap April 19 to May 3 for a Peace Gathering

ANZAC DAY

Brian Law

This is an invitation to all Christian and Gandhian nonviolence activists who want to advance their knowledge and practice of nonviolent direct action in Australia together. Other faiths welcome!

For years I’ve dreamed about reclaiming ANZAC Day from the war glorifiers, by re-consecrating it as a day of peace in memory of all those who’ve died in war.

I’ve been able to do little bits in Cairns, sometimes with Stu and Michael Martin (no relations) and Margaret Pestorius. I’ve made some displays featuring testimony from original WW1 ANZACS from Gallipoli and France – to remind people the original ANZACS proclaimed the futility and horror of war. During WW1 Australia defeated two conscription referenda and dedicated itself to international peace. I know from the little bit so far that lots and lots of people engage with ANZAC Day. It’s a prime site for action.

(Margaret tells me the memorialisation of the fallen came out of community movements and committees of folk around Australia in the 1920s and 30s who wished to remember their loved ones).

In 2008 war has changed, society has changed and ANZAC Day has become a day to promote and valorise nationalist military capacity rather than to embrace peace. It’s time we changed that back.


PINE GAP NVDA

For the past two and a half years I’ve been involved with Christians Against ALL Terrorism, and the very successful nonviolent direct action (NVDA) we carried off by inspecting the “technical area” of Pine Gap in December 2005.

A key objective of that action was to demonstrate the powerful effect a well planned and executed small group intervention could produce in a national context, at a time when numbers in the peace movement were small and conditions were hard. Here’s a reflection I wrote about my experiences in that action.

Here’s an article about it from Frank Brennan (a Jesuit priest and hero of mine) from Eureka Street this month.

It has always been my intention to follow up Pine Gap NVDA 1 with Pine Gap NVDA 2. (Persistence produces results).

In consultation with the Pine Gap 4 I used the conclusion of our recent appeal to announce that a second Citizen’s Inspection of Pine Gap Terror Base by Christians Against ALL Terrorism will occur at dawn on ANZAC Day, 25 April, 2008. This announcement has received considerable coverage and ongoing interest from media, both mainstream and independent, across Australia.

I’ve booked Campfire in the Heart, a retreat centre in a community of prayer and hospitality at Alice Springs, between 19 April and 3 may 2008 to act as a base from which to organise the next Act of interventionary NVDA.

If you want to explore nonviolent interventionary action, share insights, hone your skills, or celebrate the developing peace networks on earth, come to Campfire in the Heart this April for ANZAC Day. Participate in your way in a full range of available nonviolence activities and options (including solidarity actions for the Samuel Hill 4 who are on trial 24 April in Rockhampton for Talisman Sabre 07). Samuel Hill blogspot

There’s some possibility we’ll do a vine and fig tree liturgy/action.

A small group of loving activists committed to nonviolence can do anything!

We’ll be seeking 4-6 people from among locals and visitors to make the dawn attempt on ANZAC Day – to penetrate the Technical Area of the Pine Gap Terror Base. I’ll be one of them, and my Grandfather mate Terry Spackman will be another.

There will be solidarity actions around Australia and in New Zealand.

We are going to shine the ANZAC light on Pine Gap, and ask why we’ve abandoned our friends across the Tasman for a murderous Imperial master like the USA and its rampant militarism.


WHY?

There was a special moment during our trial in June 2007 when two dozen support crew gathered together with the defendants at Campfire in the Heart and we did an appreciation circle where supporters were affirmed for all the qualities they brought to our common task (we were a community of peace-makers). My wonderful wife and teacher Margaret Pestorius was being praised for her persistent and powerful organizing of music, liturgy and collective action. Her response to this praise came as a statement “Every skill you want can be taught”.

Margaret was paying tribute to the Australian Nonviolence Network and its long-term emphasis on education and training in all the aspects of Gandhian nonviolence. She was also affirming her belief that human beings are infinitely intelligent and creative, and can organize to make dreams come true. Margaret is an active Catholic.

And so it goes with Christians Against ALL Terrorism and the Citizens’ Inspection of Pine Gap. Everything about it can be taught, adapted and improved. Margaret will lead and assist in workshops liturgy and actions during ANZAC Day @ Pine Gap.

The first Citizens’ Inspection was a real corker. We implemented some cutting edge techniques in maximizing the power of the action to capture the public imagination and produce results:

– Liaison with Police and other authorities was 98% open, 2% circumspect. We looked good and responsible ALL the time.

– Damage to property was embraced to the minimum degree compatible with effectiveness, and was done in a very open and transparent manner. We looked good and responsible ALL the time.

– The personal dynamics, based on prayer, forgiveness and loving one’s enemies created a group which grew closer through shared struggle and became proficient in consensus and tolerance over time. We acted good and responsible most of the time. Every once in a while someone would be cheeky or stubborn.

– Faith issues produced some unsettling effects on secular peaceniks, but opened church and other faith based congregations to hear and engage with our material on peace-making. For me that’s a new and significant audience. I noticed there are active Christian peace-making groups emerging across the country. The nonviolent Christ is at work.

– We went all the way through to prison resistance, Adele and Donna experiencing prison for the first time. That it was done in a mutual, supportive environment with good movement awareness and publicity made it a productive experience for all concerned.

– We capitalized on back-fire analysis and won significant legal battles. We did this in Court both as self-represented litigants, and through finding committed Counsel. We did a lot of politics around the Court.

One key objective for ANZAC Day @ Pine Gap is to further the study and practice of NVDA in Australia. For two weeks Campfire in the Heart will be a nonviolence laboratory.

Correspondence began with the new Labor Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon in January this year. I’ve sought a meeting with the Minister, and am awaiting a reply. See cairnspeacebypeace.org (click on Minister for Defence at bottom). I’ve spoken directly with Cameron Ash, the new Deputy Chief of Facility at Pine Gap (the senior Australian DoD official) and Inspector Ken Napier (chief of the AFP Protective Service at Pine Gap) about the action, and they are organizing a security response. (They both attended the Appeal in Darwin and I buttonholed them on the second day). NT Police at Alice Springs are also on the job.

Anyone who wants to share and develop better practices of Police and Authority Liaison is welcome to ANZAC Day @ Pine Gap.

I’m really interested in Christian nonviolence, traditional and contemporary. Call me naïve. Call me blasphemous. I went into this action looking for evidence of God’s work in Earth. I was inspired into this action by my experience of the Brisbane Catholic Worker community in the 1980s, and my continuing friendship with Ciaron O’Reilly, Jim Dowling and Anne Rampa, and their continuing activities.

In his introduction to “Mohandas Gandhi, Apostle of Nonviolence” Father John Dear (a troublesome Jesuit in the USA) discusses the way Gandhi made nonviolence and belief in a nonviolent God the centre of his practice and teaching. Read it at http://www.johndear.org

Gandhi’s role was to discern as best as he was able what God wanted him to do. By clinging to truth, and by prayer Gandhi would devise right action. Then, he seems to say, let God take care of the results. If we’re close to God, the Spirit will act through our actions. Or something like that.

It was a real blast to practice loving our enemies (and our friends during conflict) in a practical way. Way back in 2005 Christians Against ALL Terrorism relied on the testimony of father George Zabelka, a Catholic Priest who blessed the crews and missions of the Enola Gay and Bok’s Car as they flew to drop Atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Father George was later caught up in the civil rights movement. He said

“I worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights struggle in Flint, Michigan. His example and words of nonviolent action, choosing love instead of hate, truth instead of lies, and nonviolence instead of violence stirred me deeply. This brought me face to face with pacifism – active nonviolent resistance to evil. I recall his words after he was jailed in Montgomery, and this blew my mind. He said, “Blood may flow in the streets of Montgomery before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood that flows, and not that of the white man. We must not harm a single hair on the head of our white brothers.”

I struggled. I argued. But yes, there it was on the Sermon on the Mount, very clear: ‘Love your enemies. Return good for evil.’ I went through a crisis of faith. Either accept what Christ said, as unpassable and silly as it may seem, or deny him completely.”

A second key objective for ANZAC Day @ Pine Gap is to continue and develop the expression of Christian nonviolence.

Pine Gap remains a strategically vital component of the US global military machine. Given the US doctrines on pre-emptive war and space war, Pine Gap is critical to maintaining US capacity to deploy space-based intelligence, targeting and missile control in regional battlefields in real time. The objective is a “prompt global strike” capacity to hit any point on the planet with either nuclear or conventional warheads within an hour.

Pine Gap is central to US proposed Missile Defence Shield. Satellites reporting to Pine Gap detect missile launches and collect telemetry data about the missiles’ location and course. The data is then used to direct anti-ballistic missile fire. There is no Missile Defence Shield in East Asia or the Middle East without Pine Gap. Right now there’s a global arms race.

AUSMIN talks in Canberra in February this year agreed that the newly elected Rudd Labor government would consider becoming formally a partner in a regional/global Missile Defence Shield.

About “Defence Relations”, the AUSMIN Joint Communiqué said

“Both countries noted the significant benefit of working together in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and agreed to establish a combined team to pursue options for enhancing collaboration in the field. (Pine Gap, Geraldton, StratCom) Australia and the United States agreed to finalise negotiations on a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to the continuation of the Joint Combined Training Capability, and noted the Joint Combined Training Capability’s significance in reducing the cost and improving the quality of combined training. (Shoalwater Bay, Delamere and Bradshaw Air Ranges) Australia and the United States signed a Statement of Principles establishing a military satellite communications partnership.” see nebraskans for peace

Pine Gap and Shoalwater Bay are significant sites for resistance/transformation in Australia.

The third key objective of ANZAC Day @ Pine Gap is to materially resist the US military machine.

The final objective is to continue experimenting with forms of nonviolent action suitable to the objective conditions of both the oppressive society and the peace movement in today’s world.

I’m mindful of Ciaron O’Reilly’s experience after the acquittal of the Pit-Stop Plowshares in June 2006. As I understand it Ciaron tried to leverage off the success of that action by creating a “group of 100″ pledged to further intervention in a campaign to de-militarise Shannon Airport. The campaign brought security attention and repression, but failed to attract 100 dedicated activists.

Most of the activists I know already feel like they’re doing too much. Such are the difficulties of our times. Jim, Adele and Donna are going in their own directions. The isolation and difficulty associated with Pine Gap and Alice Springs makes it look like a major commitment just to get there. Many have career and family pressures restricting their options.

The next inspection is likely to be something of an anti-climax compared to the first. But then again. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I confidently believe that we can plan an action guaranteed to succeed in building a peaceful world. We will make ourselves better and more powerful activists, while engaging the state in political jui jitsu, and winning converts to spiritual nonviolence.

The original idea was to keep the activist group small and dedicated. (Which is good, ‘cos I can’t imagine achieving anything bigger than “small” by this ANZAC Day). I feel right now much like I did two months before the first inspection. I know I’m going to do it, and I know that a reliable mate (Terry this time) is going to do it with me. And if it comes down to it, two is enough (although 4-6 will be better).

Finally, if we can manage it, I’d like to once more be charged with offences under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952, in the light of the recent decision by the NT Court of Criminal Appeal in which Chief Justice Martin found that:

“Evidence relevant to the issue of whether the Facility was, at the time of the declaration, being used for defence purposes, and whether the declaration was necessary for defence purposes at the time it was made, is admissible because it bears upon the validity of the declaration”. see here

para 115

He found that evidence relevant to the use of the base in 2005 may or may not be relevant subject to argument and findings about the scope of the defence power in the Constitution, and also that discovery and production of relevant government documents might be available to defendants under the DSU, subject to both the constitutional arguments and the submission of sufficiently persuasive arguments that such documents exist and relate in a satisfactory way to the issues at trial re the validity of declarations under Sections 6 and 8 of the DSU.

There would be a great public benefit to the disclosure of such material to the Australian public, and I would certainly be willing to go take the time and trouble to attempt to achieve it.

Thanks for reading this, and please think about how to support the ongoing efforts to hold the Australian government accountable for both Pine gap, and the present defence arrangements in which Australia supports US aggression world-wide.

Cheers

Bryan