The Interlacing of Culture and Religion

The human experience of life and the Earth is different depending on variables and factors like climate, locale and landscape, or history and so on. No one should think that the African would have the same experience as the Northern European, or the Arab the same experience as the Canadian, or the Canadian the same experience as the Chinese or Indian. The circumstances of our existence differentiate us endlessly, and it is our various responses to these circumstances, both individual and collective, that define us, including, of course, our responses to the presence of “the other” — the famous “them”.

In fact, this very diversity has been the basis for all human progress. And even in times of hostility, different cultures were influencing each other, even fertilising each other, in very subtle ways which we might call “co-evolutionary” ways. The survival of these societies, even the flourishing of culture, has very much depended upon their conscious openness to that influence and fructification (or leavening) and not by shutting down and erecting walls and fences against it.

All civilisations are in a sense mongrel affairs or, we might say better, that they are confluences of different streams of the collective human experience. Always the first objection to the conservative or reactionary type is Blake’s Proverb of Hell: “the standing water breeds pestilence”. That is especially true of civilisations, for it means that the civilisation is no longer learning. Learning is the reason why we are here, and so an open society is a matter of learning, while a closed society is one which is decadent because it no longer learns or changes in the misguided belief it is preserving its “purity”.

The Islamic Golden Age was the confluence of Abrahamic religion and Greco-Roman philosophy. The European only started to emerge from the Great European Dark Age when he or she started to learn from the Arabs. Algebra, alchemy or chemistry, algorithm, and so on are all Arabic words. Even some Arthurian heroes and knights of the Round Table were apparently Arab Muslims or “Saracens” (Sir Palamides and Safir). It’s around the 12th century when the names of great Muslim scholars like Avicenna or Averroes begin to circulate in Europe, preparing the breakthrough that has come to be known as the Renaissance. Even the Knights Templar, who are generally recognised as Europe’s first bankers and financiers, learned their skills in finance and accounting from the Arabs during the Crusades. From China the West learned the compass and gunpowder, two inventions that have had such an extraordinary influence on the making of the Modern Era.

Modern music traces its geneaology to Africa, and the black experience of being literally uprooted and transported to the New World. Jazz, Blues, Soul or Rock and Roll are literally unthinkable except as inspired by the legacy of Africa combined with Western influences and instruments. Pablo Picasso’s art is really jazz on canvas, and he also arrived at his style by carefully studying and imitating African art — during his so-called “Negroid phase”.

Everyone is in the business of influencing everyone else, “co-evolving” whether in war or peace. It’s a spurious argument to speak of “cultural appropriation” (although that might confuse appropriation and misappropriation) since “plagiarism is the basis of all culture”, as folk singer Pete Seeger once put it. The West even borrowed its religion from other sources. It borrowed its science and philosophy from the Arabs and the Greeks. It borrowed its legal and political systems from the Greeks and Romans.  It’s beginning to borrow its environmental and ecological sensibilities from the native North Americans.

There isn’t much that is distinctly “Western” at all, really except this amazing readiness to extract and profit from history and from the experience of other people — the “Open Society” — and to adapt it all to the exigencies of its own historical experience. The European was once barbarian, (even called once “the hairy ones”) and even now much remains of the barbarian still, by which I understand “closed-minded” and unwillingness to learn, which goes hand in hand with the “culture of narcissism” and the empathy deficit. Even the word “bigot” once was practically synonymous with the word for “barbarian”. Reputedly, “Visigoth” became “bisgoth” became “bigot”. So the ignorant wretch, who is proud of his ignorance, still dwells amongst us, as indeed amongst all, even as the “fanatic” who is just as much a barbarian as the bigot.

Multiculturalism, or the “Silk Road strategy” as we might call it, is the official policy of Canada with this in mind — that all the great societies of history were not monolithic but places of collection and re-collection, convergence and confluence for many different human experiences, which became mutually fructifying. Canada is deliberately trying to model in itself McLuhan’s “Global Village” as befits its name (for “Kanata” is Huron for “village”). It’s based upon an insight into history, and the belief that respect for different people’s different historical experience can only be culturally enriching. It’s a sound social philosophy and policy, but only if everyone remains committed to openness and learning from one another. And here, as elsewhere, many are not. But you could say even that Canada is a laboratory for a grand social experiment in constructing a “universal history”. It can succeed if everyone wants it to.

And so that change of name from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Ministry of Global Affairs with the new Trudeau government is something I hold as being a highly significant shift in orientation.

The uneducated and the too narrowly educated share much in common though. Polls show they are the most resistant and most reactionary about interculturalism or internationalism. It’s here, if anywhere, that Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy, pedagogy, and formula for the “new mind” should be a great interest: respondeo, etsi mutabor — “I respond, although I will be changed”. If people don’t greet and approach the events and circumstances of their lives, challenging or not, as an opportunity for learning, then they have simply wasted their time and probably everybody else’s. All the most remarkable people I have known in my life lived Rosenstock-Huessy’s maxim without even knowing it. They had a wide-eyed, child-like openness and curiosity about everyone and everything — always at the dawn of things: “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.

The cynic, the dogmatist, the bigot, or the fanatic are just symptoms of already exhausted inspiration and life.

 

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22 responses to “The Interlacing of Culture and Religion”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Probably should have added that the term used for this type of interweaving or interlacing is “tapestry”, although in Canada it is called “cultural mosaic”. Cultural tapestry would be a better term.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    It is nicely reflecting the spirit of our time that it is speeding toward the collective realization of unity. Diversity is the only road to unity, as the unity is the only road to diversity. in the opposite lives the opposite in complete harmony,if only we pay attention with the purity of intention. It is an inner call to read, the tool for our learning. It is a universal call for all to enter the process of initiation. Hearing god speaking to us through his nature, is the initiatic process you covered in your previous post, the voice they send their grown up children to hear. Why did Mohamad entered the cave but to hear that voice and he said he heard it and we have no choice but to accept it or say he is an impostor. Why Mary took a veil from her family but to receive the word, and her story is well-known. It is a free choice ever since the beginning. In the bygone time the prophet is an individual that made unity diversified, in our time the prophet has to be a nation or a large group that made the diversity unified. It seems we are lapidified to the degree that we no longer listen to the voice of nature, thinking, it is deaf and dumb, What a misleading interpretation that turns us into deafness and dumbness and forget the opposite of this life. It is sad not to recognize the vitality of the cosmos until we die, when in the the process of death we get awake, an awake of no much benefit because it came too late. No wonder he who is blind in this one is more blind in the other one. The opposite that will becomes real, moving from the imaginal to the realm of actuality.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    “The European only started to emerge from the Great European Dark Age when he or she started to learn from the Arabs. Algebra, alchemy or chemistry, algorithm, and so on are all Arabic words.”

    The first sentence is not true, but the second sentence holds the evidence to this great misconception that Europeans learned from Arabs.

    I do know that Ancient Greeks learned some things from the ancient Egyptians who themselves had learned from “Speakers” who were apparently former Lumanians who had integrated themselves with the indigenous people in Africa after abandoning their own technological civilization.

    One thing that Europeans surely learned from Arabs was: Slavery. Not much else after that.

    But I say your second sentence:

    “Algebra, alchemy or chemistry, algorithm, and so on are all Arabic words”

    holds the key to the misconception in the first sentence because Persians and Persian scientists were banned from speaking in Persian, writing in Persian, and even naming their children Persian names for 70 years after Persia was conquered by Arabs, who were given the key and were taught the secrets to bringing down the Persian Empire by their close brethren and cousins: the ancient Jews of Mesopotamia. i.e. the Money Changers. A tradition that continues to this day in full swing.

    I’m not clear when the ban was actually lifted, but whenever it was it had already done the damage to Persia’s legacy. So, you have all these Persians whose knowledge is being picked up by the European people all the way to the Vikings in the north – but because all the work was published in Arabic by Arab named scientists – for the reason I explained – Arabs end up receiving the credit today. The Arab conquerors of Persia lived in tents and had no notion of even architecture. It would be quite a jump to go from that to teaching Europeans about mathematics, science, and medicine.

    To the best of my knowledge, the first serious and monumental rebuttal to Arabs’ invasion and revival of the Persian culture and language came more than 200 years after the Arabs invasion with the work of Ferdowsi with his publication of Shahnameh. So, it was not with sword that Persians fought back the great rape of their culture and language.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I don’t think it is disputable that the Islamic Golden Age during the Abassids was centred in Baghdad, and that the Islamic Golden Age was the result of the propituous confluence of different streams of religion and civilisation — Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, and Greco-Roman, and likewise the co-mingling of Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Hindu influences. Nor is it very much in dispute that the Islamic Golden Age came to a end with the sack and the terrible destruction of Baghdad by the Golden Horde in 1258.

      The wikipedia article on the Islamic Golden Age only tells part of the story of the remarkable Islamic Golden Age.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age

      And I forget to mention besides Averroes and Avicenna (or the Jew Mamonides for that matter) Alhazen, whose name is also familiar to those who study the history and philosophy of science and technology and who was also quite influential on the thinking of 12th century Europeans.

      It’s the kind of typical Euro-centric viewpoint that the Christian monk Roger Bacon was the “first scientist”. But Bacon, by his own confession, owed much to precedents who he mentions by name — Alhazen, Averroes, and Avicenna.

      One thing that Europeans surely learned from Arabs was: Slavery. Not much else after that.

      That’s an extreme statement, and a bit over the top, don’t you think. Slavery was a near universal institution in the ancient world. The Celts kept slaves even before there were any “Arabs” to speak of. It was the ancient world’s chief source of energy, and taking slaves was often the chief motive for warfare (as oil often is today). Even some North American tribes raided others in order to get slaves. You’re not going to try to pin that on the Arabs and Jews are you?

      The ISIS fools who want to restore the Caliphate seem to have overlooked this all important feature of the Islamic Golden Age — that it was the attempt to coordinate these four streams of historical experience — the Jewish, the Christian, the Indian, and the Egyptian within an Islamic framework, like the four rivers that fed the Garden of Eden. Even the mathematical innovation of including the Indian “zero” was less motivated by pure utilitarian interests than by religious ones, as it is the symbol for Chaos or the Void, as well as the shape of the ancient ouroboros.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I don’t always trust Wikipedia, but I was surprised to see this Wiki page state something I think few people know:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baghdad

        “The name Baghdad is pre-Islamic. The site where the city of Baghdad came to stand has been populated for millennia and by the 8th century AD several Aramaic Christian (Assyrian Christian) villages had developed there, including a Persian[7][8] hamlet called Baghdad, the name which would come to be used for the Abbasid metropolis.[9]

        It has been proposed that the name is of Indo-European origin[10] and a Middle Persian[11][12][13][14][15][16][17] compound of Bagh (Baghpahlavi.png) “god” and dād (Dadpahlavi.png) “given by”,[18] translating to “Bestowed by God” or “God’s gift”. In Old Persian the first element can be traced to boghu and is related to Slavic bog “god”,[10] while the second can be traced to dadāti.[19] A similar term in Middle Persian is the name Mithradāt (Mihrdād in New Persian), known in English by its Hellenistic form Mithridates meaning “gift of Mithra” (dāt is the more archaic form of dād, related to Latin dat and English donor[10]). There are a number of other locations within Iran proper whose names are compounds of the word bagh, including a village called Bagh-šan (lit. “house of God”, however bagh was also used as a title in reference to kings and queens).[20″

        So, yes, I don’t think very many people know that “Baghdad” is a Persian name and it was a Persian town/village at the time when science and scientists were pouring out of it or moving to it to continue their study of science or philosophy. The demography of the town has of course changed over time, but I’m not clear as of when the town became populated with vast majority Arab populations and lost its Persian language and culture.

        Also, you have to keep in mind that the Arabs that invaded Persia – in 700 A.D. – did not come from Baghdad (since Persians would not invade themselves!) nor did they come from Mesopotamia. They came from what is known today as the Arabian Peninsula. They were the armies of Muhammad’s caliphs.

        Alhazen, which you refer to, was apparently born in Basra. But apparently he was also known as “Al Misri,” or “the Egyptian.” Why is that? I don’t know. So, his lineage of thought, upbringing, and culture and ancestry are not totally clear. Besides, I was responding to your comment that “….Algebra, alchemy or chemistry, algorithm, and so on are all Arabic words……” and why they were Arabic words even as the leaders in those fields were Persian. I explained a fact as to why these Persian scientists who were major contributors to those fields, did not write or speak in their native tongue as they would have had, if the Arab invasion had not occurred.

        “Even some North American tribes raided others in order to get slaves. You’re not going to try to pin that on the Arabs and Jews are you?”

        Well, I just might…… 🙂 No, seriously, I mean even the Egyptians, which at the time of Pharaohs were vast majority non-Arab, kept slaves. But the definition of a “slave” and the way slaves were treated by their owners throughout history and within various cultures were not at all the same as you make it seem.

        Our linguistic laziness and fault of lumping everything together under one label – “slaves” – does not accurately reflect the actual life of a slave in these various cultures throughout various times.

        Having said that – to the best of my knowledge – Arabs originated the “slave trade,” and when the Europeans joined the “slave trade,” they seem to have tapped into the same pipeline as the Arabs. Egyptians did not do that, for example. Egyptians held slaves whose duties were more akin to today’s “servants.” The slaves that Egyptians retained could say “no” to their masters. Yes, I know, the Charlton Heston movie “Ten Commandments” portrays slaves in Egypt as having a different life than that. But there is definitely a disagreement between what one reads in some books and the Hollywood dramatization of it. I’m sure the “slave trade” did not originate with the North American tribes 🙂 And neither were they ever involved in it at any stage; that is to say, buying and selling humans en masse, like cattle.

        Your comment above seems to presume that I have an axe to grind with all Jews. Again, that’s not true. Only those Jews that belong to a secret cult in the Middle East who cloak themselves as something else (Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Ayatollah Shahroudi, the Larijani brothers, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Barzanis, etc. etc.) and even as opposing poles so to speak, whereas if you look at what they have wrought for the people of the region, they have formed a perfect synergy that has brought nothing but death, destruction, utter corruption, and total insecurity for the indigenous peoples of these regions.

        • Scott Preston says :

          You read Stein’s article. His reference to the “European Cross” is Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. Whether Stein was aware of Rosenstock I don’t know, but his thinking is very similar.

          The “cross” refers to Europe’s problem and necessity of coordinating these various streams of influence that Stein mentions North, South, East, West. Or, as Rosenstock-Huessy put it, the tribal Bard, Greek Philosophy, Roman Law, and Abrahamic religion — Poetic, Philosophic, Political, and Prophetic voices. This was the stimulus for the Renaissance.

          In the Middle East, empires have arisen and fallen in succession Sumerian, Hittite, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arabic. The Arab conquest of the Middle East met with the same pressing problem of coordination of the different streams of historical influence of the lands and peoples. The Islamic Golden Age was this process of coordination, centred on the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, which is probably the first university. Those streams of influence which needed coordination were again the Northern, the Western (Greco-Roman), the Eastern (China, India) and the Southern (the indigenous Arabic, the tribal). So there was also an “Islamic cross” you could call it. Only in this case it was symbolised as four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel (Tigris), Perat (Euphrates).

          It is the same anywhere. The stimulus for intellectual development is the need to coordinate and synchronise. Diversity and pluralism is the precondition for creative intellectual development and innovation.

          So when the President of Sudan, Bashir, says, as I was reading this morning: ” “We don’t want to hear anything about diversity – Sudan is an Islamic and Arabic country.” this is not only monotonous and totalitarian, it is completely self-defeating. Same for ISIS. If they think their Caliphate is going to restore the Islamic Golden Age by dogmatism, totalitarianism, ethnic cleansing and massacre of minorities, they are deluded. They are just preparing another Islamic Dark Age.

          The same may be said of Moorish Spain, before the reconquest by the Christians. There was more freedom of thought and conscience and religion, and greater intellectual activity in consequence, than after the Christians retook Spain and launched their own ethnic cleansing campaign, and launched the notorious Spanish Inquisition.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            Bright and illuminating, as always. Thank you, Chief.

            “Diversity and pluralism is the precondition for creative intellectual development and innovation.”

            Exactly! At the same time, here are two things that come to my mind based on what I have seen on the ground.

            1. In Europe and the West: Preventing diversity (like the President of Sudan, Bashir, is saying) and forcing diversity on a population are two sides of the same coin. They both will fail. I think this latter approach is what is taking place now on a global scale. This is why, in my opinion, the attempt to integrate the recent global wave of various refugees into populations that are unwilling to accept them will lead to much unrest and blowback worldwide. This lopsided willingness to diversity is not the right path to diversity.

            2. In the Middle East: Jews in the Middle East are the most exclusive and anti-diversity force there is on this planet. And I mean this, economically. This is not going to work.

  4. alex jay says :

    “Reputedly, “Visigoth” became “bisgoth” became “bigot”. So the ignorant wretch, who is proud of his ignorance, still dwells amongst us, as indeed amongst all, even as the “fanatic” who is just as much a barbarian as the bigot.”

    “Reputedly”, perhaps, but by whom? As usual, recorded history has a funny knack of delving into the realms of part fact and a large dose of bullshit, depending on the purveyors of the narrative – usually the winners in whatever timescale is examined. While there is little doubt that the Visigoths were brutal conquerors in their limited space-time, they also evolved – thaks to Isidore – into a model of Christian -European monarchy, which would last for a couple of centuries. The merits or demerits of which can be argued about ’til the cows come home. But “proud of his ignorance””, I think not …

    Suffice to say, that, if wasn’t for Roderick (the king circa 700 AD) and his sexual obsession with the wife of his general, Julian and the subsequent rape of the dear lady (after watching her bathe naked – original “Peeping Tom”), the fate of Europe and the Islamic incursion might have turned out differently? For, you see, Julian with justifiable indignation, invited the Muslims, who by that time had swept through Africa to Morocco, to come and give a hand in revenging his slight against Roderick. The end result being that the Muslims didn’t have to invade Spain by force; they were invited, with the obvious unintended consequences that resulted thereafter ( for 700 years no less -talk about oustaying your welcome?). Also, vampires have to be invited into your home, they cannot break in (think about it).

    I’d like to add so much more to this debate, but short of time.

    Oh … as an aside: After the Umayyad of the last survivor, Abd al-Rachman escapd the Abbasids from Damascus and turned Islam into a civilising force for the quest of knowlege from his exiled land in Spain (though still offering the choice of conversion or taxation to the Christians and Jews who refused to accept the final and definitive revelations of a pretty mediocre mythology – more like a code of conduct, but then the 10 commandments are basically a power trip designed to enslave the great unwashed – so,if you take them all in consideration, the Islamic version may be the last, but it certainly isn’t the best … except for certain interpretations, which are understood by only a small minority and transcend all fundamentalist brainwashing.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    the Visigoths were brutal conquerors in their limited space-time, they also evolved – thaks to Isidore – into a model of Christian -European monarchy, which would last for a couple of centuries.

    So what? Are you suggesting that with their conversion to Christianity the bigots suddenly became humble? Nonsense. So they switched from being self-described “noble ones” to being the self-righteous and fanatic ones…. Big deal. That’s like someone exchanging Hitler-worship for a Stalinist “cult of personallity” and thinking he’s undergone a deep “conversion”. Soon they’ll tire of that and turn to the Pope, too.

    The Visigoths were reputed for their arrogance amongst the peoples they conquered, who they pretty much treated as beasts of burden and inferior peoples. And I think you are sadly mistaken if you think that the barbarian has “evolved”, as you put it, out of his barbarism and bigotry, given the events of the last century and up to today. That much should be obvious to anyone. Tribalism has not “evolved” or departed the human mind.

    And arrogance is nothing else but pride in one’s own ignorance.

    As for the rest, it is irrelevant. It hasn’t much of anything to do with the theme of the post. “Whited sepulchres” — sparking clean on the outside, but full of rot and dead men’s bones on the inside — are found in every way of life. The mask of piety and righteousness or “principle” is always exaggerated on the outside exactly in proportion to the strength of naked egoism, self-seeking motivations, and naked will to power on the inside. And the deeper the darkness of the Shadow, of venality and corruption inside, the more exaggerated are public demonstrations of piety and righteousness.

    Of much more relevance we can thank Steve’s mention of Stein’s article on “What is Europe?”

  6. davidm58 says :

    Good essay, bringing to light important observations about interconnectedness that we often miss, or at least minimize the value of.

    On a related theme, some other items I’ve been reading lately:

    In 1975, Bernard Loomer, the Dean of Univ. of Chicago Divinity School gave a lecture on “Two Conceptions of Power” that has fortunately been preserved here:
    http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2359

    Loomer was a student under Henry Nelson Wieman and Charles Hartshorne, both important influences. Hartshorne credited Loomer with naming Whitehead’s thought as “process philosopy,” but Loomer later regretted that, and said it should be called “process-relational philosophy.

    A student of Loomer’s, C. Robert Mesle was present for that 1975 lecture, and has carried it forward with is own 14 page essay written in 1983 on “Aesthetic Value and Relational Power: An Essay on Personhood.”
    http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2549

    Mesle has also composed a short blog post on Relational Power for a general audience: http://www.jesusjazzbuddhism.org/relational-power.html

    According to Mesle, Relational power has three dimensions:
    1) Active, Intentional Openness
    2) Self Creativity
    3) The Strength to Sustain Mutual Relationships

  7. abdulmonem says :

    I read the article send by Steve that ignites all this storm. The article is divisively speculative and full of heathenish soft balls and the only issues raised that worthwhile are his distinction between the incarnated soul and the non-incarnated soul which is still debated, without forgetting the basic role of the Transcendence in this multivaried interactions which no human can claim to be able to encompass, save in a very limlted way that correspond with the limitation of the human mind. It is dangerous and unbecoming to jump to sweeping conclusions. I envy Scott and thank him for his balanced attitude and resolving manner in this time where hate-mongering and opposition caterings are amok.A time where empathy and love is most needed. Ibn Arabi came to my mind in his saying; My heart has become a meadow for deers and a monastery for monks, a place for heathen worshippors and an abode for believers, a tableau for the bible old and new and pages for the quran. I worship Love wherever its caravan moves. for love is my love and my conviction. Wake up peoples we are living in an urgent and critical time where slowing down is needed

  8. LittleBigMan says :

    “And so that change of name from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Ministry of Global Affairs with the new Trudeau government is something I hold as being a highly significant shift in orientation.”

    I’m happy that you are keeping us up to date about the ongoing recent transition in Canada. It will be interesting to see if Canada can keep away from becoming the next prized chip in the hands of Big Money interests.

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