a post modern context, is a publicity stunt any less significant as
theatre than say the presentation of a work by Chekov?"
man has something pressing to say. He is on a mission. He kidnaps a
woman. Ties her up. His associate has a video camera. The woman is
made to plead. The video captures her desperation. The Kidnapper is
now controlling the scene. The horror created by the execution by
beheading is predictable and intentional. The video is edited and
sent off to major networks. An audience around the world tunes into
this live event. Live in the sense that it isn't pre-scripted. But it
is structured. It has a beginning, middle and an end. The authors
know its structure very well. The act is not directly related to any
ill-feeling directed personally at the victim. Rather the act is a
calculated media stunt aimed at affirming a cause for some while
shocking others. They also know their dual audience well. They know
their theme and content. They know the dramaturgy surrounding the production.
another point in time, a group of men are meeting in a Frankfurt
apartment. They play a video of a man screaming as his head is being
sawn off by masked figures. They laugh and become very excited. As
the screams become more tinged with a hellish fevour and "god is
great" becomes the harmonic choir set to counterpoint the
condemned man's final prayer, the holy warriors cheer the collapsed
head as it is removed. They feel it is the command of the Noble
Qur'an and this certainty over-rides any sense of their loss of
humanity. After all, the word of god cannot be contradicted.
another part of the world some months later, Pope Benedict XVI
identifies the evils of "relativism"
as one of the main targets of his papacy. It is seemingly a strange
target. The Pope's certainty rests in his being the conduit for god's
word and god's truth. If god's truth should change, then the Pope
should be the first to hear about it. Relativism whether as a
complete paradigm for thought or as an observable means for
interpreting social and cultural reality is a threat to the certainty
of god's will. Thus the Islamic terrorist and the Pope are in
agreement on this point. The perception of reality from the
Relativist point of view allows the observer to see such a bazaar
connection between the Pope's and the Terrorist's position. The
perception of reality from the certainty of righteous belief denies
murder of somewhere between 50,000 and 3,000,000 people by the
dictates of the Inquisition, the organization which the current Pope
inherited for many years, alongside the constant murders seen all
around the world by Islamic terrorists are justified on the grounds
laid out in either the "Bible"
or the "Qur'an"
and the interpretations of god's conduits: be they Popes, Bishops,
Ayatollahs or various lesser receivers of the light.
The Church once executed
people for challenging the notion that the world was flat. It
devoured even its most ardent practitioners (eg. Joan Of Arc) in the
name of church dogma and the dictates of some antiquated book. Others
who advanced the notion of a greater universe than that of the
biblical cultural cloisters were likewise destroyed. Giordano
Bruno perhaps being the most noteworthy victim of Church dogma.
entire globe, this star, not being subject to death, and dissolution
and annihilation being impossible anywhere in Nature, from time to
time renews itself by changing and altering all its parts. There is
no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in
space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other
bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change in position
throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the center of things."
No wonder he was burnt at the
stake by order of the Inquisition in 1600. Although trained as a
Priest, Bruno had no time for a restricted sense of god or the
personality ascribed by the Church to some notion of the infinite.
Yet, paradoxically, relative to Church teachings of the sixteenth
century, the Church of Pope Benedict XVI has incorporated humanist
and scientific experience into its changing world view. Strange then
that the Catholic and Christian Churches are still blinded to the
reasons for their own historical blindness based on ecclesiastical or
religious teaching and dogma. So when the Pope declares an attack on
relativism, he is still continuing to define the grounds for the
burning of present day and future Giordano Bruno. In his view, dogma
and irrational belief derived in ancient books written for very
different societies and cultures over-ride the experience and
historical learning that is open to anyone.
On this subject it is worth
noting the attacks on Liberation
Theology under the direction of The
Congregation For The Doctrine of the Faith. Radical Bishops in
Latin America found themselves replaced by conservatives supportive
of repressive dictatorships. Some clergy, even after their
assassination by adherents to conservative and repressive
governments, were still denied blessing by the church. The coolness
towards the memory of the assassinated
Archbishop Romero was a notable case. The fear of Marxist ideas and
paradigms for mobilization of the poor and disadvantaged gave rise to
a general attack on clergy of the same faith who invoked models from
outside of the theocratic structure of the Catholic Church. While the
Church has accommodated many humanist ideas and ideals, Communism and
a Marxist analysis of class action was not a negotiable area.
The Vatican could not allow
canopy of the Church to be undermined by the competing
influences even if those influences appear to conform to Church
attitudes to "social justice".
Paradoxically, it is the Church's own teachings on this area that
gave rise to Liberation Theology.
However, a relativist tendency in Liberation Theology may very well
lead to a conclusion where the very institution of religion comes
under question. The doctrines of faith are the pillars of the
institutional church. Any tendency that threatens these pillars must
then be eradicated.
Giordano Bruno's wedding of
philosophy with scientific discovery in the sixteenth century posed
the same threat as do the proponents of Liberation Theology over the
past half century or so. But while Liberation Theologists still
accepted a god with a moral personality, Bruno in the sixteenth
century went further and challenged the personalization of the
concept of god. By understanding the universe from the perspective
and view point of human experience and continuing observation and
analysis, Bruno established a relativist philosophy without a
political or social movement supportive of such contention. The
isolated Bruno had to accept the loneliness of existence. Without the
fabrication of the sacred; without the illusion of a comforting
universe, mankind was left vulnerable, adrift, homeless.
Seen in this light, the
religions and organized secular belief systems (eg. communism)
provide their own fabricated models giving sustenance to the need for
belonging and an antidote for ennui and personal and cultural
alienation. The clergy and the vanguards of social and political
belief systems become tailors weaving the "emperor's
new clothes" of certainty; the new clothes abstracted into
metaphors and then reconstructed into statements of universal
obligation and action; motivating calls to action; guidelines for
social discourse and the manufacture
To challenge the very
existence of the new clothes is a very dangerous course. The
Christian, the Muslim and the Jew have a God which only those blessed
with the right faith can see and hear. This God offers instruction
commanding actions of a particular type. The Marxist has an
abstracted notion of the "laws of history" or "historical
materialism" to mobilize action towards the inevitable
creation of a Utopian human existence on earth as opposed to a
Each has provided a sacred
grounding providing security and certainty. Each provides the basis
for meditation and the concentration of the individual and collective
mind. Each has allowed the individual to transcend the ordinary and
attain an extraordinary even heroic stature. Each has provided a
platform for terror justified by the words in a book. Sam
Harris in The End Of Faith provides a most
provocative and stimulating discussion on this point.