Multidimensional Diversity
Cultural diversity has many dimensions

This morning I woke up to Maria Callas singing Bellini's La Sonnambula, but did not get aroused out of bed until I heard Offenbach's A cheval sur la discipline, piff paff pouff! to sleepwalk to the shower.

Before heading into other dimensions, I just have to tell you this story about La Callas. It came to me through the C-Span book channel, when three Churchill scions were giving a talk on their grandpapa. 

Shortly after the end of WWII, the Churchills had been guests on Ari's yacht in the Mediterranean and were visiting the Greek seaport of Thessalonica. As they looked out over the harbor, they saw an entire hillside covered in flowers. The erstwhile  Mrs. Onassis exclaimed in wonder at the beauty of the sight--then turned to Churchill's daughter and asked: But dear, why are those flower beds in the shape of a V? To which the reply was: Because, dear Maria, those flowers are not for you--they're for Papa! causing Maria to sulk for a day.

Maria is probably not the only soprano with an ego problem. Many people tend to think primarily in terms of themselves, how they see and experience the world, and they view things most  specifically related to themselves. Maria had expected to see a C  for Callas--and not for Churchil, especially since she was the undisputed mistress of the high C on the high sea at the time. That tends to cloud one's judgement.

The same can be said of cultures with an ego problem. Europeans suffer from Eurocentrism, but that disease is not limited to them either. Most if not all cultures are myopic and cannot see other ways of approaching human issues than the ones they happen to be  familiar with because they grew up with their unique cultural solutions. Even as a human species we have an ego problem. We think we are het neusje van de zalm, the nose of the salmon in Dutch, the very best--the top of creation. And we are not. We are just another species that had better luck than, let's say, the dynosaurs or the Neanderthals. And our luck may be running out.

We look at something and exclaim--how wonderful! But why is it in the shape of a V? Considering my last name begins with a V, I would never ask that question of course, but I might still jump to the wrong conclusion--and be no better than La Callas.

But then God or someone acting in God's behalf  enlightens us.

So it was that I got an email which posed the following question: Allah or the Lord Jesus Christ?

My short answer to that question was simply: Neither

The remainder of this journal entry will attempt to amplify that answer, but let me first provide you with the entire text of the email in question so you all know what I am talking about. Here it is: 

-------------------------------------------------------------

 Subject: Allah or The Lord Jesus Christ?
 Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2008 10:26:01 -0500


    A friend of mine sent this to me. It is a true story. I thought
it was very thought provoking.
   Last month I attended my annual training session that's required
for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the
training  session there was a presentation by three speakers
representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths who
explained each of their beliefs.
    I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to
say. The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam,
complete with a video. After the presentations, time was provided for
questions and answers.
   When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked:
"Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most Imams and
Clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the
Infidels of the world and, that by killing an infidel, (which is a
command to all Muslims) they are assured of a place in heaven. If
that's the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?"
   There was no disagreement with my statements and, without
hesitation, he replied, "Non-believers!"

   I responded, "So, let me make sure I have this straight. All
followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of
your faith so they can have a place in heaven; is that correct?"
   The expression on his face changed from one of authority and
command to that of "a little boy who had just been caught with his
hand in the cookie jar." He sheepishly replied, "Yes."
   I then stated, "Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine
Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or
Dr. Stanley ordering all Protestants to do the same in order to
guarantee them a place in heaven!"
   The Imam was speechless!
   I continued, "I also have problem with being your 'friend' when
you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me!
Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah, who tells
you to kill me in order for you to go to heaven, or my Jesus who tells
me to love you because I am going to heaven and He wants you to be
there with me?"
   You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame.
   Needless to say, the organizers and/or promoters of the
'Diversification' training seminar were not happy with Rick's way of
dealing with the Islamic Imam and exposing the truth about the
Muslims' beliefs.
   In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to
elect the President! I think everyone in the e U.S. should be required
to read this, but with the Liberal justice system, liberal media and
the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized.

Please pass this on to all your e-mail contacts.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The above will serve to illustrate three or more dimensions of cultural diversity.  

Let me first of all point out that Arabic speaking Christians pray to Allah just as much as their Islamic counterparts, for  Allah is the generic Arbabic word for God--it is not a proper name like Yahweh or Jesus.

Secondly, trinitarian Christians believe that Jesus is in fact God and  in Arabic Jesus is Allah--to ask the question Allah or the Lord Jesus Christ is therefore absurd on the face of it-- it is like asking: God or God?

The above will serve to illustrate three or more dimensions of cultural diversity.

The story was of course intended to show the cultural difference between two contemporaneous religions as well as the superiority of one religion over the other. But apart from the absurdity of the question itself (or the way it was worded, in any event) whoever wrote it was totally unaware of two other dimensions of diversity:  one evident in history and another in the level of consciousness and mentality. 

To get away from the mine field and killing fields of religion, let's take language as an example.

1. There is the diversity between  English and Dutch--and of course there is diversity between all languages, but let's keep it simple.

2. There is historical diversity within each language: Beowulf - Chaucer - Shakespeare - Dickens - me.

I am not good at reading Beowulf, a tad better at reading Chaucer or Shakespeare, pretty good at Dickens, but I speak and write contemporary English.

Nomsane? That's an example of contemporary English for: Do you know what I am saying? Capisce?

Same thing with Dutch. There was that mediaeval Dutch of the amorous Flemish monk who wrote the famous plaintive remark (dated around the 11th century):  

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan  (hebben alle vogels nesten begonnen -have all birds nests begun)
hinase hi(c) (e)nda thu (behalve ik en jij - except I and you)
uu(at) unbida(n) (uu)e nu  (wat wachten we nu - what wait we now)

In English: Every bird has begun nesting, except me and you. What are we waiting for? In modern Dutch the text reads: "Alle vogels zijn met hun nesten begonnen behalve ik en jij. Waar wachten wij nog op?"

The above text (except for the parenthetical translations, which I provided myself) came from:

Andragoski zavod Maribor Ljudska Univerza - About the Dutch language

From  http://www.inl.nl/onw/literatuur-vogala.html ) I got t a photocopy of the original Olla vogala text:

 

Few of our contemporaries will even recognize this  early querulous inquiry  as Dutch. 

For another good website on the historical diversity of Dutch check:

Old Dutch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

From the above link I quote the following interesting sample of linguistic evolution:

.................................................................................................

Translation of Old Dutch sentence in Middle and Contemporary Dutch

The following sentence of Old Dutch offers an evolutionary view of the Dutch language starting with an Old Dutch sentence written around 900 till the modern Dutch language.

Old Dutch

"Irlôsin sol an frithe sêla mîna fan thên thia ginâcont mi, wanda under managon he was mit mi."

 Middle Dutch

"Erlosen sal hi in vrede siele mine van dien die genaken mi, want onder menegen hi was met mi"

 Modern Dutch

Due to the loss of most of the inflection of both Old and Middle Dutch, contemporary Dutch uses a different word order.

(Using same word order)

"Verlossen zal hij in vrede ziel mijn van zij die genaken mij, want onder menigen hij was met mij"

(Using correct contemporary Dutch word order)

"Hij zal mijn ziel verlossen in vrede van hen die mij genaken, want onder menigen was hij met mij"

.................................................................................

Since the above quote did not provide an English translation, I will do so myself hereunder:

"He will free my soul in peace from those who confront me, for among many he was with me"

For members of my own family, the Old Dutch of 900 was what our family must have spoken around the time of the first reference to a place named Voirthusen as it appeared in an Imperial Decree by  Otto I issued originally in Ravenna  in 962 AD--and as recorded a few years later in a local Kroniek or Chronicle:

970,  3 aug.,  "concedimus ... Voirthusen" Gift van Voorthuizen door graaf Wichman aan het klooster te Elten.

http://www.barneveld.nl/index.asp?p=http://www.barneveld.nl/tDocumenten/detail.asp?pKey1=271

A little later (in the 12th or 13th century) there was:  

Karel ende Elegast (Dutch poem) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia 

or also: Elegast - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (which provides the entire text on line)

written in a Dutch somewhat more recognizable to moderns, as the following few lines may illustrate:

Hij was in vele gedochten, (He was in many thoughts)
Waer hi best henen varen mochte, (where he might best take himself)
Daer hi stelens soude beghinnen. (To where he could begin stealing)
Doe quam hi in een wout binnen,  (Then he entered into a wood)
Karel den edelen man, (Charles the noble man - i.e. Karel de Grote, Carolus Magnus or Charlemagne)
Dat niet van verre stont van daen. (which stood not too far away)

By the way, Elegast or Elvegast was the name of the King of the Elves, or Dwarfs--here is a blurb from the Wikipedia link that explains the strange reference to stealing or robbery (Daer hi steelens soude beghinnen):

Karel ende Elegast was an original poem in Dutch that scholars think was probably written at the end of the 12th century, otherwise in the 13th century and set in the region of Charlemagne's castle in Ingelheim. It is a Frankish romance of Charlemagne ("Karel") as an exemplary Christian king who was led on a strange quest to be a robber.[1]

For members of my own family, this was around the time of our first known direct paternal ancestor, Bernardus (or Berendt) van Voorthusen (circa 1200 - 1293)

A few centuries later we come across comes Vondel, known to the Dutch as the Prince of Poets with his play:

Gijsbreght van Aemstel — Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679)

This schouwspel (show-spell, or play) was traditionally performed in the Stadsschouwburg of Amsterdam (the first municipal theatre in Europe)  around the beginning of each  New Year from 1638 until 1968--and will soon to be the subject of a movie:

In Development at Sigma Pictures

Here is a sample of the Dutch language from our Gouden Eeuw, our Golden Age (the sixteen hundreds) from het voorspel, the foreplay or prologue (again with my own translation in parentheses):

De trotze Schouwburgh heft zijn spitze kap (The proud Theatre lifts up its steep roof)
     Nu op, en gaet de starren naderen,  (and comes close to the stars)
En wellekoomt met dartel handgeklap (and welcomes with lively applause)
     Al ’t Raedhuis, en ons wijze Vaderen. (all of City Hall and our wise Fathers)

And again, to provide a personal reference, our direct paternal ancestor around the time of Vondel was Peter Gerrits van Voorthuijsen (born circa 1585 - died shortly after April 15 1641) If you scroll down all the way I will provide a complete list of 25 generations of our family for those interested. I feel it is a way we can connect more directly with events in the past, and raise our awareness of all the changes that have happened throughout history. 

OK, I  think I made my point about historical diversity within one language, be it Dutch, English or any other. Like science and art, language evolves--that is well recognized and no one has a quarrel with that.

The same is true of all expressions of human culture, including religion--they evolve over time.  Early Christianity is quite different from mediaeval or contemporary Christianity. It is undeniable. The Christianity I grew up with has already changed significantly in the last half century, believe me. Not that the basic doctrines are different, but how they are interpreted in actual practice certainly reflects the vastly different cicumstances we live in today.

3. So let's look at the third dimension, or what I call the diverse levels of consciousness--and perhaps yet another level difference involving  socio/economic class mentality:

Meister Eckhart (1260 -1328) was a mediaeval Christian mystic. So was the anonymous monk who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing--this link provides the complete text. 

The Sufis are Islamic mystics:  What is a Sufi? The answer is "One who does not separate himself from others by opinion or dogma; and who realizes the heart as the Shrine of God." And remember that separation or putting asunder, afzonderen, is the root of sin, zonde, Sunde. People who allow dogma to separate themselves from others are in fact sinning.

Here is an excerpt from the above excellent link:

 

What is a Sufi?
One who does not separate himself from others by opinion or dogma;
and who realizes the heart as the Shrine of God.
What does the Sufi desire?
To remove the false self and discover God within.
What does the Sufi teach?
Happiness.
What does the Sufi seek?
Illumination.
What does the Sufi see?
Harmony.
What does the Sufi give?
Love to all created things.
What does the Sufi get?
A greater power of love.
What does the Sufi find?
GOD.
And lose?
self

  Buddha was a Hindu mystic whose followers are now called Buddhists, just as Jesus may have been (we are not sure in his case) a Jewish mystic whose followers now call themselves Christians. There have been mystics and spiritual adepts throughout history and in all cultures--I don't want to go too far afield here, but you can take my word for it--I have done that homework. You can too, if you are so motivated.

be aware however that studying mystics does not necessarily mean you have the capacity, previous life experience, or past lives experiences,  to become a mystic yourself--few are called to that practice. Call them the unfrozen chosen. The same can be said about art, or any other area of human endeavor. But one can at least gain some intellectual understanding of what, let's say the Eleusinian mysteries were all about, to name yet another example, or the mysticism of the Kabbalah.

I am providing these references for immediate convenience, but anyone  so motivated may want to do a lot more work on their own--it may help to avoid that cultural and religious ego problem I mentioned--a problem which, like the concept of 'original sin'  (the first separation or afzondering),  all human beings are afflicted with to some extent--and for which the antidote is the raising of our level of awareness.

Even within mysticism (a word that refers to hidden teachings) there are diverse levels as well as cultural and historical diversity. The same can be said about science. There is Chinese science and philosophy, like Taoism,  as well as Western. There is Westen medicine as well as Indian like the Ayurveda, there are Arabic mathematics as well as Greek and Maya Indian mathematics--and they are all subject to diversity of level. There are African religions and Native American (or more accurately perhaps  Siberian-American) religions, some of which might be lower level, others higher level forms of spirituality.

Our 41st President Bush once remarked he could not possibly be mistaken for a holy roller, that he was definitely one of the frozen chosen. Having gone through a frozen chosen college experience myself, I know well what he meant. I too could not possibly be mistaken for a holy roller. These different expressions of religious experience are not necessarily expressions of the level of consciousness. At least I would be  hesitant to attribute that to what may simply be different levels of social class mentality--or social experience, if you prefer.

T. S. Elliot was a poet of  upper class Christianity--he may or may not have had a much higher level of consciousness than someone like a Walt Whitman, a Jack Kerouac, an Alan Ginsburg, whose writings are more representative of the lower echelons of society--yet just as much great literature. William Burroughs is an example of an upper class kid gone slumming--yet even his writings are great literature. As an after thought, all four of these great writers happened to be gay--and I didn't plan it that way. But then so were both Shakespeare and Erasmus. We're everywhere where it counts. Sort of like the Jews. Some great writers were even gay Jews, like Marcel Proust. Some were gay blacks, like Alec Baldwin,  or Langston Hughes.  So there's yet another dimension of diversity within culture--and there may be many more, like the male - female difference:  Emily Dickinson versus Hemingway comes to mind. Cookie cutter approaches just don't serve us well in this respect.

In terms of level, though, maybe we should be talking about at least two kinds of diversity: one having to do with the level of spiritual awareness, the other with the level of social class, or class mentality. The two are not the same, but both display levels of diversity in culture. Educational level also comes into play as well.

Upper class religious mentality and lower class religious mentality are to be found among all cultures as well--that's just a fact of life--and observation.  

Organized religion is meant to serve the needs of its members--and there are many dimensions of diversity among the members of any religion. I don't want to be unkind, but what the prison pastor exhibited was a level of mentality and consciousness  found in trailer trash religion--maybe he thought that that kind of  religion best served the needs of the inmate population.

Much more can be said about this but I am not writing a dissertation just now. It may serve as food for thought--your own thought, your own overpeinzingen, or overdenkingen: think it over for yourself.

I will simply conclude by observing that the prison pastor assumed that one must read scripture literally, word for word, as absolute truth--and the corrolary to that is that he expects that Muslims necessarily read the Koran that way. That's definitely lower consciousness religious thinking. It also is frequently lower class religious thinking--although again the two are not necessarily the same.

Lower forms of religion are most often some form of fundamentalism--where nuance is a bad word, and badly understood.  Most world religions like Christianity and Islam, Judaeism, Hinduism and Buddhism are far too complex and serve the needs of too diverse a membership for anyone with a relatively low awareness of other religions (or even of the true dimensions of their own religion) to pontificate on them and  especially to judge them.

The reason for complexity in religion is the same as the reason for complexity in any human endeavor, and that complexity is found in all cultures. Like science and art, religion explores dynamic relationship structures and provides a way of looking at relationships and describing such relationships--with ourselves, with the divine reality, with our fellow human beings, with our fellow animals, with all of life on this planet--and on other planets once we become aware of them. The soul is another word for that complex set of relationships which we perceive as animating any unique entity or eventity. Ultimately the soul is not meant to be saved, but to be given up into the ultimate divine reality.

But since our good prison pastor reads his scripture literally (eating shell fish is an abomination unto the Lord, and so is homosexuality) he is unaware even of the inconsistencies and absurdities in his own religion (Thou shalt not kill, except when God tells you to do so--and then don't be too sparing) and assumes that the Muslims also read their scriptures literally. And some of them do. The Wahabi sect in particular, of which Al Quaeda is the military arm. You get the point. But the Sufis don't see it that way, and they don't join Al Quaeda. They dance instead. They revel in feeling at one with the Divine Reality. For them jihad is not a war against the infidels, but a struggle of the soul against it's own dysfunctionalities.

One thing is true though: contemporary Islam is in a slump--but so was Christianity in the Middle Ages, before renewed contact with the more enlightend Greco-Roman pagan science, art and philosophy  (with the compliments of a then highly sophisticated and relatively humane form of Islam which had preserved these writings even when the Christian book burners had done away with them) gave Christianity a new lease on life--willy nilly, let it be said. The Age of Enlightenment did not give the Popes a hard-on exactly. Other things did, like burning heretics and  infidels--and, oh yeah, even Calvin did that:

Michael Servetus' Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin

That's why when I was at Calvin College some of the students had sweat shirts with a picture of Servetus on it over a flame, with the words: The Calvin Spark--which also happens to be the name of our Alumni magazine: Calvin College - Spark - Winter 2007

But then Calvin College has never been exactly a holly roller college--it has been and still is a college of the frozen chosen, even though a thaw may be setting in among the elect. Well, at least they were nice to that gay delegation which came to visit them recently--something not likely to have been the case back in my college years, when I felt like my own soul was in deep freeze--Au contraire, mon vieux. Even I was a homophobe then.

In conclusion let me say that what the prison preacher did was very unkind to his Moslem collegue and a disservice to his flock.  It was down right unchristian, and even more unenlightened, onverlicht. That's not the way to approach cultural diversity, in any dimension, at any level, under any circumstances.

He was being a divider, not a uniter.

What we ought to be doing is help people to open their eyes, take off their blinders, open the curtains, abrir las cortinas,  that prevent them from seeing what's really going on in this world, in this reality we all share as human beings, at all levels, in all cultures, throughout history--no human experience is beyond us--or beyond God.

Most of all, unfreeze yourself. Live a little. Life is a great gift, enjoy that gift!

And for God's sake--be thankful for that gift by showing your joy. Dance for joy!

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Addendum on 25 generations:

Saskia Margareta Meyer van Voorthuijsen (Nov 5 1967 - )

Geoffrey Leon Meyer van Voorthuijsen (April 27 1970 - )

John Marinus van Voorthuijsen (Jan 7 1942 - )

Willem Marinus van Voorthuijsen (Nov  1916 - )

Otto Bruno Joan van Voorthuijsen (July 1887-1953)

Bruno Otto Adriaan Johan Thomas Joan v. V. (1856-1901)

Joan van Voorthuijsen (May 25 1827- Jan 22 1871)

Jan van Voorthuijsen (Sep 21 1787 - Jan 17 1835)

Evert Willemsen van Voorthuijsen (Jul 4 1753 - Sep 1 1821)

Willem Evertsen van Voorthuijsen ( ? - Mar 13 1784)


Evert Petersen van Voorthuijsen (c1680 - May 25 1737)

Peter Gerritsen van Voorthuijsen (c1629 - Aug 6 1684)

Gerrit Petersen van Voorthuijsen (c1605 - after Oct 15 1664)

Peter Gerrits van Voorthuijsen (c1585 - after April 15 1641)

Gerrit Cornelis van Voorthuijsen (1555 - ?)

Cornelis Gerritsz van Voorthuijsem (c1530 - before Feb 18 1597)

Gherridt Corneliss van Voorthuijsen (1505 - ?)

Cornelis Gherridtsz van Voorthusen (c1480 - ?)

Gherrit Evertsoen van Voorthuesen (c1435 -  after 1485)

Evert, ridder (knight) van Voorthusen (c1400 - ?)

Volquijn van Voorthusen die Olde (c1355 - ?)

Arnt Blankerts van Voorthusen (c1312 - ?)

Blankart van Voorthusen (c1290 - ?)

Mathias van Voorthusen (c1265 - Jan 10 1310)

Scaken van Voorthusen (c1240 - ?)

Bernardus van Voorthusen (c1200 - c1293)

In my Van Voorthuijsen website I hope to do more with this idea of using the framework of these 25 generations to connect events and eventities--which we can collectively also refer to as  gebeurtenissen or happenings. Just as in English someone came up with the idea that 'I seem to be a verb' in Dutch we can assert: Ik schijn een gebeurtenis te zijn--I seem to be a happening.

Buckminster Fuller - Wikiquote

I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe.