doubt, faith, awe

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the book of Job as Sasot claims, teaches us about what faith entails, but about vanity of the gods. Why does Job suffer? Because god has placed a bet with Satan. Let’s pause for a moment and just think about this. Religious people of all persuasions insist Satan is the source of their problems always tempting them. In the story of Job, we learn they, Satan and god, are work colleagues, each granting the other a favour when need be.

Sasot, taking Job 38:4 out of context, uses it to castigate Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for advising Job to repent. In actual fact, that particular verse is god refusing to answer Job’s query on why he suffers, instead he goes on a rant.

I find it strange, coming from an atheist, when she writes

What this implies is that nothing and no one can tell us what exactly God wants but God himself. Anyone or anything who weren’t there when He laid the foundations of the earth are all ignorant of how the Divine would unravel.

Which god?

In this next paragraph, she makes a virtue out of faith. She tells us

Fundamentalism is based on absolute certainty, while faith is based on uncertainty. Fundamentalism claims, faith trusts. Fundamentalism is unreceptive, faith is welcoming. Fundamentalism is the negation of doubt and the annihilation of the doubtful, while faith is the presence of doubt and the refuge of the doubtful. Fundamentalism arrests, faith surrenders.

And I am yet to meet a religious person who has faith and doubts they are destined for heaven or even entertains the possibility there are no gods and that they are wrong about religion and all that comes with it.

I agree with her when she says

Inspire your children to find their unique path to self-realization.

and only add that encourage children to doubt, to ask questions and to be open to new knowledge.

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why liberalism failed

by Peter Deneen

If I was to give the book a subtitle, it would a christian lament. But I go ahead of myself.

As with most writers, Deneen assumes that his readers know what liberalism is and therefore doesn’t bother to define it. But this is remedied, slightly, I think, when he says liberalism, as an ideology, was premised on

the limitation of government and the liberation of the individual from arbitrary political control.

which he notes and I would agree, that in many places, this promise is anything but a mirage. The people have very little control of the political processes and their contribution remains limited to voting and submitting tax returns without so much being able to influence the policies of the government.

On education, he writes that liberalism is killing liberal arts education. That in most universities, the focus is mainly STEM. Here, I will let him speak

[..]The emphasis on the great texts—which were great not only or even because they were old but because they contained hard-won lessons on how humans learn to be free, especially free from the tyranny of their insatiable desires—has been jettisoned in favor of what was once considered “servile education,” an education concerned exclusively with money making and a life of work, and hence reserved for those who did not enjoy the title of “citizen.”

What these great texts, of course we are not told.

Elsewhere, he writes,

Claiming to liberate the individual from embedded cultures, traditions, places, and relationships, liberalism has homogenized the world in its image—ironically, often fueled by claims of “multiculturalism” or, today, “diversity.”

and one would ask is his intention be that culture remains static, not changing not adopting to changes in the accumulated knowledge of the race? The claim, and the reason for my subtitle, is that for Deneen, the world has moved away from a Christian ideal and become godless. He seems deeply saddened by the separation of state and church and especially in American schools. Liberalism has made it possible to have abortion, divorce and these, to Deneen are not any signs of progress.

He writes that in a liberalized world

personal relationships became dominated by considerations of individual choice based on the calculation of individual self-interest, and without broader consideration of the impact of one’s choices upon the community, one’s obligations to the created order, and ultimately to God.

In a sense, for Deneen, personal choice should be subservient to other considerations, such as what god, the Christian one, wants, who your village elder thinks is the right partner for you and all. It was love at first sight must remain only in the domain of poetry. Maybe, marriage should be based on property considerations.

I disagree with him when he tries to argue that we are without gods not because of the absence of evidence supporting any deities, but because of liberalism. His insistence that the world should be more christian ignores the colourful, I mean, bloody christian heritage.

Where we almost agree, as I wrote in a recent post, is the damage monoculture and excessive use of fertilizers among other things is causing to the soil and leading to starvation in many places, especially in the global south.

Deneen seems to me to be enamored by the work of Wendell Berry who he refers to many times in this particular work. In one place, referring to Berry’s work, he writes

Berry insists that they are justified in maintaining internally derived standards of decency in order to foster and maintain a desired moral ecology. He explicitly defends the communal prerogative to demand that certain books be removed from the educational curriculum and to insist on the introduction of the Bible into the classroom as “the word of God.” He even reflects that “the future of community life in this country may depend on private schools and home schooling.”

In my view, while there could be some merit in this particular work, it seems to me, largely a lament about a Christianity that no longer has control in the public sphere on human affairs. Though I also think he writes mainly for an American audience and as such to a person so removed from that setting, some of what he writes has no rhyme.

I wouldn’t consider it a must read. I think it fails to deliver on its promise; to tell us why liberalism has failed. In another place, it can be used a sermon.

 

 

Gertrude

Is a book all of you should read just to be entertained, to be moved to tears or just to pass time.

But I don’t know whether Hesse could have just title it Muoth. What does it matter what the title of a book is anyway. It is a lovely book about love, life, betrayal, death, music, passion, family, youth and old age. It is also beautifully told.

In a conversation between our narrator (Kuhn) and his friend Muoth, on wisdom, the latter says

“As far as I am concerned, I don’t care for accuracy. I believe that wisdom comes to naught. There are only two laws of wisdom. Everything between them is mere babble.”

and when asked to explain his meaning, he says

Well, either the world is wicked and worthless, as the Buddhists and Christians say. Then one must chastise oneself and renounce everything. One could become quite happy in this belief, I think. Ascetics do not have as hard a life as is believed. But if the world and life is good and right, then one must take his part in it—and afterwards, die quietly, for then he is ready.

and when asked by his friend which he chose, his response  was

That is a question you must never ask anyone. Most people believe both, depending on what the weather is, and how they feel, and whether they have money in their pockets. And those who believe, do not always act accordingly. It is that way with me. I believe even as Buddha, that life is worth nothing. But I live according to my senses, and as if pleasing them were the primary thing. If it were only more satisfying!

My friends, I don’t know about you, but I find this quite sublime.

I implore you to get yourself a copy and be reading. You will thank me for it.

African Religion and Philosophy

by Canon John Mbiti

This is a good introductory book to students on African religion. It is short on philosophy though. In any case, the only time he talks about anything close to philosophy is when he talks about African time and the concept of evil, justice and ethics, on this, shortly.

It seems to me however, that at some point his ideas of god, African gods, is coloured by his christian beliefs. It is Christianity that has an abstract or unnamed god. The Egyptians named their gods and one would expect, at least, named gods if the idea of god was not an abstract thing among traditional societies in Africa.

There seems to be a thin line between secular and religious authority. In fact, this distinction doesn’t even come into play. There is no sphere of life, per Mbiti, that is not religious or doesn’t involve religious feeling.

I am not sure I agree with Mbiti that there was no irreligiousness in African traditional societies. This, in my view is erroneous and should be worthy of study. In every age there have always been people skeptical of the traditions, including the religious ideas active in their times. So of interest to me is how skepticism was articulated.

His comments on evil, ethics and justice I found to be quite interesting and it is to that we now turn.

He writes for example about the Ankore who do not feel they can offend god because god is the final principle or among the Azande, Akan and so on who believe god has no influence on people’s morals.

Among the Bavenda, they believe in a god who punishes the community for the infractions of the chief.

Among the Nuer, he tells us, there is a belief that to be proud of one’s wealth may offend god causing them to take away cattle and children.

What I find deeply disturbing is the belief among some communities that never or rarely does a person or being of higher status do what constitutes an offence against a person of lower status. It is this belief or principle that supports the argument that god cannot commit evil against his creation.

The belief on restitution is however quite interesting. African life is earthbound, very much so. Mbiti tells us that according to most African peoples, god punishes in this life. The gods are concerned with the moral life of mankind and that with a few exceptions, there is no belief that a person is punished in the hereafter for what they do in this life.

I am not sure of the source of his next point concerning the Africans view of humanity in totality. He says to most peoples, no person is inherently good or bad but acts in ways which are good when they act in conformity with the mores of the community and bad if contrary. So for example, in a society that does not forbid sleeping with another’s wife, to do so is not bad unless there is a breach, maybe sleeping with a person’s wife not in your age group or cohort.

To expand on this, he argues in African societies, morality is more ‘societary’ than spiritual. It is a morality of conduct rather than a morality of being, that is, it defines what a person does rather than what they are. That is to say, a person is what he is because of what he does rather than he does what he does because of what he is. Kindness is not a virtue unless someone is kind.

Moving away from the above considerations, I found his comments on secularism, communism and capitalism interesting, and I will quote it extensively

[]In their extreme positions, these -isms despise, reject and even oppose religion. They are movements away from religion, and it is this which makes them relevant to any discussion on religion.

Secularism has an undermining effect upon religion, but it may well be to the good of religion if the latter injects religious principles into secular life instead of waging a war against secularism.

Capitalism, he writes, is anti-religious when it exploits man to such a degree that he becomes simply a tool or robot and loses his humanity. If capitalism reduces man to the material level only, then it has contradicted the religious image of man which in all traditions, depicts man as both physical and spiritual.

And as I mentioned earlier, I am not sure of some of the views Mbiti expressed were not coloured by his Christianity. At the end of thos work he writes or rather wrote

I consider traditional religions, Islam and other religious systems to be preparatory and even essential ground in the search for the ultimate. But only Christianity has the terrible responsibility of pointing the way to that ultimate identity, foundation and source of security.

I should in passing that he saw schools as breeding or recruitment grounds for churches and was for the idea that schools should be used to indoctrinate.

Clerambault: The story of an independent spirit during the war

I am no Clerambault, but I agree with most of his declamations against war. He is no blind pacifist. But he sees war as a waste of humanity, which I think it is. There are those of you enamored by big military complexes. For me, they represents the greatest of human folly. You can argue all day, if you wish, that militaries have made some very useful and great inventions, that maybe be, but it still a monument to human folly. Arming itself so it can spread peace, democracy and whatever else they convince the common people to believe. To each their own, anyway.

I don’t think I can do the book any justice by reviewing it. It is enough for me to say that I liked it. I disagree with Romain on his reference to Africans as savages. I don’t think he could find Africa on a map. His views on women can only be excused to have belonged to that time in history.

What I can do, however, is to share some of the passages that resonated most with me. I have shared some previously.

About the Buddha,

It would not be enough for me, and I cannot content myself either with the wisdom of a selfish Buddha, who sets himself free by deserting the rest. I know the Hindoos as you do, and I love them, but even among them, Buddha has not said the last word of wisdom. Do you remember that Bodhisattva, the Master of Pity, who swore not to become Buddha, never to find freedom in Nirvana, until he had cured all pain, redeemed all crimes, consoled all sorrows?

On warring people

Why do they not see the imbecility of their conduct, in face of the gulf that swallows up each man that dies, all humanity with him? These millions of creatures who have but a moment to live, why do they persist in making it infernal by their atrocious and absurd quarrels about ideas; like wretches who cut each other’s throats for a handful of spurious coins thrown to them? We are all victims, under the same sentence, and instead of uniting, we fight among ourselves. Poor fools! On the brow of each man that passes I can see the sweat of agony; efface it by the kiss of peace!

On fate

A man’s fate is made every day by himself, and none knows what it will be; it is what we are. If you are
cast down, so also is your fate.

On the secrets of life

He who has deciphered the secret of life and found the answer, is no longer bound on the great wheel of existence, he has quitted the world of the living. When illusion vanishes, nothingness resumes its eternal reign, the bright bubble has burst in infinite space, and our poor thought is dissolved in the immutable repose of the limitless void.

On anti-natalism

Why bring children into the world, if it is to butcher them like this?

On freeing others

You cannot set others free, in spite of them, and from the outside; and even if it were possible, what good would it do? If they do not free themselves, tomorrow they will fall back into slavery. All you can do is to set a good example, and say: “There is the road, follow it and you will find Freedom”.

On life or meaningless of life

Since he who is destroyed, suffers, and he who destroys has no pleasure, and is shortly destroyed himself, tell me what no philosopher can explain; whom does it please, and to whose profit is this unfortunate life of the universe, which is only preserved by the injury or death of all the creatures which compose it?”

If you have time to spare, this books for light reading. You can add it to your reading list as recommendation from yours truly.

the fraud of feminism?

Is a book by E Belfort Bax written in 1913 against the feminist cause.

In it he argues that the claims of feminism are unfounded and are buttressed by fallacy upon fallacy. He argues women are  physically, intellectually and morally inferior to men. I am going ahead of myself.

Bax says feminism consists of the assertion of equality in intellectual capacity, in spite of appearances to the contrary, of women with men. In his view, because of the inequalities, women shouldn’t have been allowed to vote. He was assuredly against the suffragettes. To the question of why men of decidedly inferior mental capacities could vote when women couldn’t, he deferred to an argument for averages. He says in all these matters we have to deal with averages.

Bax tells us and he would gratify those who see women only as sexual objects

[…] the truth in question consists in the fact, while man has a sex, women is a sex.

Quoting Otto’s book Sex and Character, he writes

Woman is only sexual, man is also sexual. In woman, sexuality is diffused over the whole body, every contact on whatever part excites her sexually.

But he doesn’t stop here, he goes on to write

……woman has continued to find her chief function in the direct procreation of the race.

We are told specialists are all agreed that at all ages, the size of a woman’s brain is smaller than that of a man. And this difference also differs with civilization.

He says hysteria is an affliction that affects women only and has its origins in the uterus.

A strand of argument that still seem to have currency in our day is the argument that feminism is an anti-men crusade. I should mention here, that in this treatise, Bax is mainly responding to male feminists. He says the female feminist is too biased for her opinion to be considered. In support of this thesis, he writes

we see the legislature, judges, juries, parsons all vie with one another in denouncing the villainy and baseness of the male person and ever devising ways and means to make life hard for him.

Examples he give include (remember this is 1900s England)

  1. the marriage laws in England are a monument to feminist sex partiality- if you promise to marry a damsel and go back on your word, jail or fine for you
  2. the right of maintenance accrues solely to the woman
  3. the law affords the woman to commit torts against third parties, the husband alone being responsible
  4. the wife can obtain, if not a divorce, a legal separation by going whining to the nearest police court[?], for a few shillings, which the husband has to pay!

He said the law made it a crime to receive succor from a woman who plied the sex trade (refer to White Slave Trade Act).

He argues, the feminists present the woman always as the “injured innocent“. In his view, where crimes are involved, the feminists ditch the argument for equality with men and pursue a line of innocence for the women. To them, he says divine woman is always the injured innocent not only in the graver crimes of murder but also in minor offences. He gives a number of cases where the punishment meted out to women and men for the same crimes differed with the women getting a fairer and shorter punishment.

He argues chivalry has been turned on its head.

Women, he argues, are not the weaker sex. He says women can endure more pain, live longer than the men folk, that child mortality is higher in males than females.

He goes on and on and I am tired of going on.

I have read this book, so you don’t have to read it.

And today we end in a song.

The hypocrisy of third wave feminists. Bax seems to still have supporters though not all through

You must set forth at dawn

Is an autobiography by Wole Soyinka, I think his second. If you have not read any work by W.S, then I recommend you read this. When I finished reading this book, I felt a desire one to meet Wole and the next was to ask myself what I have done with my life. This fellow, Wole, has done so much with his life from a young age and he is still going strong.

In this book he tells of the theft of artifacts from West Africa (Benin, Nigeria) by the British government or is it British Museum (are they different?) and an attempt to recover one particular burst of a god and the scandal that ensued. Of how the issue was mishandled by the police or was it a case of betrayal by the government?

He tells us of his meetings at Aso Rock with the different occupants of that seat except Abacha with whom he said he would not share a table with.

And of his home in Abeokuta. Of his hunts in his backyard. Of his collections of art pieces and the cousin who sold them while he was jailed.

It is the story of a Road Safety Corps started by Wole after he got tired of seeing the brains of his students and colleagues plastered on the tarmac near his university.

It is the story of Ogun, his protector god or is it as Socrates would say, his daemon? There is the story of his drive into Lagos when Abacha deposed the despicable Shonekan.

It his about his tempting of fate and maybe protection by the gods? Who can say? Or about his being sought by the killing squads of Abacha and how people within the dreaded SSS who were sympathetic to the democratic forces always passed on information to him and others.

It’s about the detained passports, restrictions on travel and freedom of movement. Or his daring escape in the early dawn through Benin to Paris then USA when Abacha through his killer squad wanted him dead.

It’s about the complicity or duplicity in world leaders to fail to sanction Abacha. Of the death of Saro Wiwa. It’s about Femi, a man with a generous appetite for good food and a great friend.

He talks about his enduring friendships with Femi and other writers and dissidents.

Of all the dictators Nigeria have had, I think, reading Wole, Abacha was the worst of them. Paranoid, a killer with no qualms. Calculating and cruel with the mind of a lizard (his words, not mine).

This book is also about death or should I say, murder most foul. Abiola the democratically elected president at the fall of Ibrahim Babangida is put in jail then Ernest Shonekan is appointed interim president before being deposed by Abacha.

I would like to know from Nigerians if any reads this blog how they could vote for Obasanjo and Buhari, the two having been military dictators? How would they believe Buhari would address corruption when he as head of the petroleum industry condoned it. A man who as dictator banned democracy and so on. It is something I really would like to understand. But I digress.

He talks of the Nobel Prize for Literature, his reactions and those of the Nigerian state. Of his involvement in the struggle for return to civilian rule during the different military dictatorships. Of his involvement in trying to get Mandela and Buthelezi to meet and end the violence before the first elections at the end of the apartheid regime.

He writes of their efforts to reach Ngugi Wa Thiong’o when he detained by the Moi regime.

Of the diplomatic mix-up with the Egyptian government at the beginning of Africa Cup of Nations.

He writes of the moment in the streets of New York where he tried to intervene in what seemed a case of domestic violence only for the victim to plead with him not to injure the aggressor. And the realisation that he was a black a man intervening in an all white affair.

It is also about his views on violence and of when he thinks it is appropriate to use violence, for example, to oust a regime that is ruling through violence. A regime that has in its activities dehumanized the population and there is need for the ruled to rise and challenge their oppressors. He finds gratuitous violence despicable and war inhumane.

You must read this book.