Sunday, July 31, 2011


In every major religious movement, runs a trend towards so-called mysticism. Ecstatic movements and some forms of monasticism in Christianity, Sufism in Islam, Kaballah in Judaism, etc.

Can a Latter-day Saint gain any insight, learn any truth, from mysticism? Or should it all, like seances and ouija boards, be left alone as utterly incompatible with our faith?

I ask because my personal study of history and literature has now brought me to the Middle Ages, when Christian mysticism was all the rage, and I would like to understand its foundations. I read 30 pages of Dionysus the Areopagite's "The Divine Names" today and understood virtually nothing of it -- it seemed as bizzare and contradictory as the Tao philosophy of China. Clearly, some mental effort will be required to gain even a basic understanding.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Count Belisarius

Way too late last night, I finished Robert Graves' 1938 novel, Count Belisarius. My edition was a battered 1966 paperback reprinting I bought at some booksale years ago and finally have read.

If Graves' depiction of this era in history, the world of sixth century Byzantine Rome, is to be believed, there perhaps never existed a stupider, less grateful sovereign than Emperor Justinian, nor a better, less-appreciated general than Belisarius. Time after time, the general saved the Eastern empire from its enemies, only to be punished again and again by his myopic, jealous emperor, against whom he never would raise a finger, however justified. I heard echoes of the Saul-David story, and even of Stowes' Uncle Tom-Simon Lagree portrayal. Evil is ever resentful of good. The more patient in suffering the good, the more incandescent in fury true evil becomes.

They say every writer is a product of his or her times. But Graves' novel didn't feel dated, other than one odd reference to primitive communism.

Now, time to move on, to a very strange old book given to me by a good friend, Chuck B., who knows that I love strange old books. Mystical Theology and the Celestial Hierarchies purports to have been written by Dionysius the Areopagite of New Testament fame, but is believed by scholars to have been composed sometime around the 5th Century A.D.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meditations on China

I read some pages in Chinese history today. I thought about a program I recently watched detailing the incredible feats of engineering now underway in that land -- highways, bridges, dams and cities that dwarf anything in the West.

For thousands of years, the land we in the West call "China" was at once a place of immense mystery and incredible innovation. Clock mechanisms, paper, silk, gunpowder,sailing technology, ship rudders, the compass and other inventions enriched her culture and then crossed the borders into the West. Her explorers traveled the world.

Then she turned inward. She became weak. The rising West took full advantage and China suffered. And she has never forgotten.

Now we are in 2011 and China has again become the colossus of Asia. She has, her admirers will say, finally regained her historic, rightful place in the world. There's just one problem. She's carried with her into the new century the ragged remnants of a Western political disease called communism -- jettisoned most of its basic philosophy but hung onto its most loathsome symptom, an obsession with tyrannical control over her own people. She insists on it, for stability.

Who knows what the future holds? Will the Middle Kingdom ultimately become a democracy, allowing full freedom of speech, worship and the press? Or will it forever manage to alienate those inalienable rights?

China must also now share the globe with nations unborn in the days when she, Persia and Imperial Rome alone ruled the world. That day has passed forever. How will she behave amongst new friends, foes and rivals? Will the global community ultimately bless or curse her modern rise to power?

Ask a Tasman, if you can still find one, how enlightened the British Empire was in its behavior towards his ancestors ... or a Cherokee how the rising U.S. nation treated his people ... and these are the "good guys" of history. What will be said of China? The page is yet unwritten.