Saturday, July 30, 2011

Aati: May this poem haunt you.

The Doer of Good by Oscar Wilde

It was night-time and He was alone.

And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the city.

And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet of joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud noise of many lutes. And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-keepers opened to Him.

And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of marble before it. The pillars were hung with garlands, and within and without there were torches of cedar. And He entered the house.

And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a couch of sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and whose lips were red with wine.

And He went before him and touched him on the shoulder and said to him, ‘Why do you live like this?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer and said, ‘But I was a leper once, and you healed me. How else should I live?’

And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.

And after a while He saw one whose face and raiment were painted and whose feet were shod with pearls. And behind her came, slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours. Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the eyes of the young man were bright with lust.

And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and said to him, ‘Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, ‘But I was blind once, and you gave me sight. At what else should I look?’

And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and said to her, ‘Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of sin?’

And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and said, ‘But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.’

And He passed out of the city.

And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside a young man who was weeping.

And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and said to him, ‘Why are you weeping?’

And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer, ‘But I was dead once and you raised me from the dead. What else should I do but weep?’
My article in Us magazine.

"Disaster happens when people adopt sexual liberation without imbibing the feminist egalitarian mindset to go with it." This was a key line in the article which I had added later after initial submission, but was apparently forgotten during editorial processing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

There is a life I want to spend with you
Without which I am incomplete
But it's not the only life I want
And love is not the only goddess I worship

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Read the article at Salon: Sex and the married Muslim

Meet Dr. Heba Kotb, the first certified sexologist and host of a sexual advice show in Egypt. The good things about her are that she promotes a positive view of sex, encourages a healthy sex life, and insists that female sexual pleasure is important. Plus she says all that with a backing of Islam.

However, despite all this, she is hardly a liberal. Her merit is that she talks about sex openly, but the catch is that she inherits most of the conservative attitudes towards sex that exist in Islam.

She calls for women to explore their sexuality, but forbids female masturbation, in essence saying that the way for women to explore their sexuality is by letting their husband do it:

"You have encouraged women to explore their bodies -- does that include masturbation?

The woman, by means of instinct, does not need masturbation. She's not like the man whatsoever. It's not a call of nature for her. So that's why I'm not very sympathetic with young women and girls choosing to masturbate. They're ruining their sexual future -- a woman has to remain blank until she gets married and by masturbating she's forming her sexuality."
I think she is outright wrong about female masturbation. And her saying that a woman has to remain 'blank' actually makes me cringe.

What makes me cringe even more? Her saying that homosexuals are "just like the alcoholics and the drug-takers" followed by her outrageous claim that she has actually been curing homosexuals of their disease. The first certified sex therapist of Egypt apparently has a lot to learn about sexuality!
"Sex is one of the things that is forbidden before marriage and outside of marriage; on the other hand, it's allowed within marriage with a lot, a lot of freedom. This creates a balance."

"In Islam, everything between a husband and wife is allowed sexually, except for two things: anal intercourse and intercourse during menstruation. One caller said she desired to be penetrated from behind. I got mad because this is a closed subject -- this is haram."
Let's face it. Dr. Heba Kotb is a heteronormative, islamonormative, marriage-normative conservative who happens to very vocal and open about sex but only within the limits she thinks it is permitted. Better than nothing, perhaps, but not good enough to garner the support of liberals.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My article for The Friday Times Blog "What is Liberal Islam?"

It's an introductory article, I would love to answer questions if there is any confusion, clarify concepts, expand, and depending on the responses, perhaps even follow it up with another article.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How would a fideist theist, who believes in the superiority of blind faith over reason for arriving at religious truths, respond to a hypothetical 'fideist atheist' who says "I have faith that there is no God!"?
Speculative play

G: What do you think you were in your past life?
Me: I suspect I was someone very ordinary with ordinary ambitions, who wanted to do things the socially acceptable way.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Aati: The girls wanted to go to Jammin Java. Papa started from 'wahaan daters aatay hain? Allah karay un sab ko goli maar di jaaye.' Narrated stories of girls who got themselves raped and murdered and therefore destroyed their fathers' lives and shamed them. And 'main nahi chahta khaandaan main aik aur love marriage ki zillat iss ghar pe paray. Mujhe raaton ko neend nahi aati yeh soch ke. Iss se pehle ya main marr jaaon ya yeh.' Haha. 'kantpatiyon pe goliyan maar doun agar inn main se kisi ne love marriage ki koshish ki.' 'maine jab unki beti ko kehti suna k maine issi aadmi se shaadi karni hai, pehle main bolnay laga phir darr laga ke mujhe bhi kal ko yeh din dekhna paray. Aadmi hee suffer karne walay hotay hain.' Haaye Allah Awais! Bechaaray aadmi!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Should the tolerant tolerate the intolerant?

John Rawls answers in A Theory of Justice:

"Several questions should be distinguished. First, there is the question whether an intolerant sect has any title to complain if it is not tolerated; second, under what conditions tolerant sects have a right not to tolerate those which are intolerant; and last, when they have the right not to tolerate them, for what ends it should be exercised."

"Beginning with the first question, it seems that an intolerant sect has no title to complain when it is denied an equal liberty. At least this follows if it is assumed that one has no title to object to the conduct of others that is in accordance with principles one would use in similar circumstances to justify one's actions toward them. A person's right to complain is limited to violations of principles he acknowledges himself."

"Let us suppose, then, that an intolerant sect has no title to complain of intolerance. We still cannot say that tolerant sects have the right to suppress them... For justice is infringed whenever equal liberty is denied without sufficient reason."

"Suppose that, in some way or other, an intolerant sect comes to exist within a well-ordered society accepting the two principles of justice. How are the citizens of this society to act in regard to it? Now certainly they should not suppress it simply because the members of the intolerant sect could not complain were they to do so. Rather, since a just constitution exists, all citizens have a natural duty of justice to uphold it. We are not released from this duty whenever others are disposed to act unjustly. A more stringent condition is required: there must be some considerable risks to our own legitimate interests. Thus just citizens should strive to preserve the constitution with all its equal liberties as long as liberty itself and their own freedom are not in danger."

"The conclusion, then, is that while an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger. The tolerant should curb the intolerant only in this case. The leading principle is to establish a just constitution with the liberties of equal citizenship. The just should be guided by the principles of justice and not by the fact that the unjust cannot complain."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"If you love someone and are separated from that person, you suffer — this is one of the most common of sufferings, it is the ties which are broken — well, in a certain state of consciousness the real link between two beings cannot be broken, for it does not belong to the domain where things break. Therefore one is above what may happen."

Collected Works of the Mother, Question and Answers, Vol 4

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

169. Christ came into the world to purify, not to fulfil. He himself foreknew the failure of his mission and the necessity of his return with the sword of God into a world that had rejected him.

170. Mahomed’s mission was necessary, else we might have ended by thinking, in the exaggeration of our efforts at self-purification, that earth was meant only for the monk and the city created as a vestibule for the desert.

171. When all is said, Love & Force together can save the world eventually, but not Love only or Force only. Therefore Christ had to look forward to a second advent and Mahomed’s religion, where it is not stagnant, looks forward through the Imams to a Mahdi.

172. Law cannot save the world, therefore Moses’ ordinances are dead for humanity & the Shastra of the Brahmins is corrupt & dying. Law released into Freedom is the liberator. Not the Pundit, but the Yogin; not monasticism, but the inner renunciation of desire and ignorance & egoism.

Sri Aurobindo, Aphorisms

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A very good review of Patricia Churchland's Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

X: Perhaps the reason we do not fit is because we are the same piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
The efficacy of antidepressants vs placebo seems to be quite a tricky issue, especially with all the media hype surrounding it. (Here is a very harsh attack, a somewhat neutral review, and a defence of antidepressants. I lean towards the defence for now.)

There are two studies I wish could be done, but which will remain confined to my speculations for obvious ethical violations:

1) A controlled study of patients of depression (spanning the whole range from mild to severe) who are being administered antidepressants without their knowledge. Would antidepressants treat depression when a patient doesn't even know he is taking the drug?

2) A controlled study of patients of depression who are prescribed antidepressants but are informed by doctors that the effect of the drug may not be any different from that of a placebo. Would antidepressants treat depression when a patient doesn't trust the drug?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

'The plot itself is this: A man (the unbelieving, feeling law student we have met) falls among people of the lowest, vilest sort and accommodates himself to them, in a kind of contest of iniquity. Suddenly -- with the miraculous shock of Crusoe when he sees that human footprint in the sand -- the law student perceives some mitigation of the evil: a moment of tenderness, of exaltation, of silence, in one of the abominable men. "It was as though a more complex interlocutor had spoken." He knows that the wretch with whom he is conversing is incapable of that momentary decency, thus the law student hypothesizes that the vile man before him has reflected a friend, or the friend of a friend. Rethinking the problem, he comes to a mysterious conclusion: Somewhere in the world there is a man from whom this clarity, this brightness, emanates; somewhere in the world there is a man who is equal to this brightness. The law student resolves to devote his life to searching out that man.

Thus we begin to see the book's general scheme: The insatiable search for a soul by means of the delicate glimmerings or reflections this soul has left in others -- at first, the faint trace of a smile or a word; toward the last, the varied and growing splendors of intelligence, imagination, and goodness. The more closely the men interrogated by the law student have known Al-Mu'tasim, the greater is their portion of divinity, but the reader knows that they themselves are but mirrors.... After all those years, the law student comes to a gallery "at the end of which there is a doorway and a tawdry curtain of many beads, and behind that, a glowing light." The law student claps his hands once, twice, and calls out for Al-Mu'tasim. A man's voice -- the incredible voice of Al-Mu'tasim -- bids the law student enter. The law student draws back the head curtain and steps into the room. At that point, the novel ends.'

excerpt from: Jorge Luis Borges, The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim (translated by Andrew Hurley)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

X: Sex is really another language to me, I suppose -- another way of hugging, saying I love you, asking how your day was, telling you not to worry, and so on and on. But... it's a language I can speak in to anyone I love? Even if I don't love them with that sort of passion? So much like women who don't love at all, in anyway, yet have sex for someone else's sake? Who and how many could I have sex with? How meaningful is sex with my lover? It makes me feel monstrous.

Me: I think that sex for you is free from the psychological restraints that others have. I don't think that makes you monstrous or evil. I think it may even put you at an advantage. It is not the capacity for sex that is monstrous, but what you choose to do with it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Robert C Solomon wrote "the meaning of life is to be found in the context of our lives -- the sense they make and the sense we give to them -- rather than in reference to anything outside of life... Indeed, it is more of a metaphor that is required, an image, a vision of life in which you see yourself as having a definite role, a set of reasonable expectations". [See my previous post: The Meaning of Meaning] While I believe that this is essentially correct, and that the meaning of life of an individual's life is primarily determined from within the context of his life, yet the issue is not entirely indifferent to and separate from what does exist outside of life; the questions of "Why are we here?" and "What is life all about?", and more importantly our answers to them, do play a significant role in determining the context of our lives, and hence its meaning. If we come to know that human life on earth is the result of a biological experiment on a planetary test-tube by an advanced alien species, would it not affect how we see ourselves?

When we turn our gaze outwards to discover any purpose to life, something akin to Aristotle's final cause “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, we find ourselves face to face with a universe devoid of any such discernible purpose. While the sciences reveal harmony and design within the chaos, the point of it all stumps us. Bertrand Russell writes "So far as scientific evidence goes, the universe has crawled by slow stages to a somewhat pitiful result on this earth and is going to crawl by still more pitiful stages to a condition of universal death. If this is to be taken as evidence of purpose, I can only say that the purpose is one that does not appeal to me." But if we are to be philosophically honest, we'll see that the knowledge of ultimate reality is beyond the grasp of scientific method, and therefore what we have in front of us is a Wall -- an infinitely vast impenetrable wall of absurdity. What lies on the other side of this wall, if there is an other side to it at all, we do not know. Albert Camus writes "I don't know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know the meaning… What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms."

Arriving at this dead end, we respond to this Wall in various ways. We may shrug and turn back to our lives. Or we may rebel against it and live with a new-found intensity. Or we may fall in despair and nihilism, convinced that nothing we do is of significance. Or we may take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. In whatever way we respond to this absurdity, it provides the background of our lives, shapes the context of our existence and influences the meaning we derive from it.

There is therefore an unknown (possibly non-existing, as atheists would say) purpose or 'transcendent meaning' on the other side of the wall, and we create the meaning of our lives in the background of this lack of knowledge, uncertainty and agnosticism. This is true for the vast majority of us. However, I believe that there a few individuals (I am not one of them) who by means of mystic experience do have an access (to a variety of degrees, varying from person to person and experience to experience) to that transcendent meaning; people who can not just see but also participate in what is on the other side of the Wall, and as Camus realized, it is only when that purpose becomes a part of one's condition, it is only when one can begin to understand in more-than-human terms by participating in divine consciousness than this transcendent meaning begins to mean something for the individual concerned. Mere belief in God does not do that. Even when a person believes as a matter of faith that God exists, that transcendent meaning is beyond his reach, he doesn't know. Spiritual truth cannot be known at second hand; it is directly experienced. Non-mystics may hypothesize about the truth of the message conveyed by the mystics, but that must occur with the consciousness of the absurd, because without that you have fallen into philosophical error and religious dogma.

[Obviously, the validity of this last expressed view depends on the validity of mysticism, which I accept for now, but which I admit the readers are not rationally obliged to believe. It is a topic best reserved for another post.]

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