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Hell, Salafis, Philosophers, and Playing the Odds

Over at his blog at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes from this original article over at The New Republic online.  Here’s the part that Rod quotes, my emphasis:

I never asked much of Hesham El Ashry, and Hesham never asked much of me. All I wanted was some conversation about religion and Egyptian politics with someone who had strong views on both.  All Hesham wanted was one more chance to describe in grotesque detail the fate that awaited me and everybody I loved: Our skin would thicken, not with callouses but with soft, thin, tender layers, each more sensitive than the last. Eventually the accumulated layers would be miles deep. And then God—not my god, or the god of the vast majority of so-called Muslims, but the one true Allah, worshiped by Hesham’s fellow Salafis—would burn off those layers individually, savoring the pain until he reached flesh. Then Allah would restore them again, like Prometheus’s liver, so he could blister and rip them away for eternity.

“Do you feel that?” Hesham asked me once, gently handing me a scorching glass of Lipton, poured straight from a whistling kettle. He never missed a chance to illustrate a point. My fingertips burned, and I recoiled a little, losing a splash of the tea. “You feel why Allah chooses heat,” he said. “Because it’s the worst torture there is.”

Hesham is a squat little guy, 52 years old and usually smiling, as guys who think a lot about hellfire and how they are surely going to avoid it often do. Though he is not rich, he spends his time and money freely in an effort to convert new Muslims, and for the last year, I have been a special project. His goal is as much spiritual as hygienic—a quest to purify Islam and the world of heresy and disbelief.

Every couple months, I visited his tailor shop in downtown Cairo for instruction in the narrow, rigid take on Islam known as Salafism. As a Salafi, Hesham explained, he is concerned not only with replicating the ways of the prophet and his companions, but also with erasing all religious “innovation” (other Muslims might call it “development” or “progress”) that has perverted Islam since the eighth century. He always greeted me cheerily, with a “Salaam” and a handshake. Eventually, we achieved a sort of unconventional friendship. “I hate you,” he told me in August, with a smile. “I hate all Jews and Christians, anyone who is not a Muslim.”

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Another Perspective on Reincarnation

It occurred to me that I ought to discuss another perspective on reincarnation that has drawn attention in some circles.  This is less relevant to my “Legends of the Fall” series than the other reincarnation-oriented posts have been, so while I’ll put this in my “Reincarnation” series, I will leave it out of “Legends of the Fall”.

One thing that is very easy to forget about reincarnation–or any other theories of life or continued existence after death is that they are all interpretive frameworks.  They are interpretations of phenomena; interpretations that may be useful, and may even be true, but interpretations, for all that.  Quantum physics gets pulled into discussions of spirituality–especially Eastern or Eastern-flavored spirituality–way too much, and often in wildly inappropriate ways.  Still, a quantum example here is perhaps of use.

According to quantum physics, light, like all other electromagnetic phenomena, can be viewed either as a wave or as particles (photons).  The curious thing is that light isn’t a wave that seems to be a particle, or a particle that acts like a wave; it really is either a wave or a particle, depending on the experiment one conducts.  If one sends a beam of light through a diffraction grating, it behaves exactly like waves, even if one sends a single photon through.  If one switches to using a photon counter, one counts discrete photons, with no evidence of waves.   Read the rest of this entry

Reincarnation: Index

I’m planning a post soon that deals with reincarnation, but which is not part of any of my ongoing series.  It occurred to me as I thought of it that I’d done quite a few posts on that topic.  Looking back through the archives, I realized that I’d done even more than I’d remembered, especially if you count postings of poetry and music with reincarnation as a theme.  I decided, therefore, that the topic deserved its own index.

The first two posts deal with pre-existence.  That’s a separate topic, but some of the philosophical issues are related to those involved in reincarnation, so I’ve put them in, too.  They are part of the “Legends of the Fall” series, and there are two because I’d forgotten that I’d written the first, and wrote another post with the same theme.  I decided not to take the second post down; each makes its point in slightly different ways, so they’re both here.

This series won’t be ongoing in the way that some of my others are, but I will add posts related to reincarnation to this index as I put them up.  Enjoy!

Interlude:  Pre-existence, or Déjà Vu All Over Again

Excursus:  Pre-existence

Reincarnation:  The Ultimate Recycling

Reincarnation:  Haven’t We Been Here Before?

A Reincarnation-Oriented Video

A Poem by Emerson for the Weekend

Another Reincarnation-Oriented Poem for the Weekend

Some Head-Banging for the Weekend

An Original Poem

Reincarnation:  The Disadvantages

Another Perspective on Reincarnation