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Archive for the ‘selections’ Category

“Over the past year I’ve learned

Some ends don’t have endings.

Some empty space will never be filled.

Sometimes your hands intertwine perfectly,

But your minds just don’t.”

Emma-Lidewij (selected from Chaos & Catastrophe ©)

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Louis XV is in his deathbed. Much has changed in France since he lay ill some three decades earlier and now he is dying and people go about as though they couldn’t care less. Thomas Carlyle examines the role of history,Belief,Pomp and Circumstance and the symbolic value of Power

“Realised Ideals.

Such a changed France have we; and a changed Louis. Changed, truly; and
further than thou yet seest!–To the eye of History many things, in that
sick-room of Louis, are now visible, which to the Courtiers there present
were invisible. For indeed it is well said, ‘in every object there is
inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of
seeing.’ To Newton and to Newton’s Dog Diamond, what a different pair of
Universes; while the painting on the optical retina of both was, most
likely, the same! Let the Reader here, in this sick-room of Louis,
endeavour to look with the mind too.

Time was when men could (so to speak) of a given man, by nourishing and
decorating him with fit appliances, to the due pitch, make themselves a
King, almost as the Bees do; and what was still more to the purpose,
loyally obey him when made. The man so nourished and decorated,
thenceforth named royal, does verily bear rule; and is said, and even
thought, to be, for example, ‘prosecuting conquests in Flanders,’ when he
lets himself like luggage be carried thither: and no light luggage;
covering miles of road….

For ours is a most fictile world; and man is the most fingent plastic of
creatures. A world not fixable; not fathomable! An unfathomable Somewhat,
which is Not we; which we can work with, and live amidst,–and model,
miraculously in our miraculous Being, and name World.–But if the very
Rocks and Rivers (as Metaphysic teaches) are, in strict language, made by
those outward Senses of ours, how much more, by the Inward Sense, are all
Phenomena of the spiritual kind: Dignities, Authorities, Holies, Unholies!
Which inward sense, moreover is not permanent like the outward ones, but
forever growing and changing. Does not the Black African take of Sticks
and Old Clothes (say, exported Monmouth-Street cast-clothes) what will
suffice, and of these, cunningly combining them, fabricate for himself an
Eidolon (Idol, or Thing Seen), and name it Mumbo-Jumbo; which he can
thenceforth pray to, with upturned awestruck eye, not without hope? The
white European mocks; but ought rather to consider; and see whether he, at
home, could not do the like a little more wisely.

So it was, we say, in those conquests of Flanders, thirty years ago: but
so it no longer is. Alas, much more lies sick than poor Louis: not the
French King only, but the French Kingship; this too, after long rough tear
and wear, is breaking down. The world is all so changed; so much that
seemed vigorous has sunk decrepit, so much that was not is beginning to
be!–Borne over the Atlantic, to the closing ear of Louis, King by the
Grace of God, what sounds are these; muffled ominous, new in our centuries?
Boston Harbour is black with unexpected Tea: behold a Pennsylvanian
Congress gather; and ere long, on Bunker Hill, DEMOCRACY announcing, in
rifle-volleys death-winged, under her Star Banner, to the tune of Yankee-
doodle-doo, that she is born, and, whirlwind-like, will envelope the whole
world!

Sovereigns die and Sovereignties: how all dies, and is for a Time only; is
a ‘Time-phantasm, yet reckons itself real!’ The Merovingian Kings, slowly
wending on their bullock-carts through the streets of Paris, with their
long hair flowing, have all wended slowly on,–into Eternity. Charlemagne
sleeps at Salzburg, with truncheon grounded; only Fable expecting that he
will awaken. Charles the Hammer, Pepin Bow-legged, where now is their eye
of menace, their voice of command? Rollo and his shaggy Northmen cover not
the Seine with ships; but have sailed off on a longer voyage. The hair of
Towhead (Tete d’etoupes) now needs no combing; Iron-cutter (Taillefer)
cannot cut a cobweb; shrill Fredegonda, shrill Brunhilda have had out their
hot life-scold, and lie silent, their hot life-frenzy cooled….  They are all gone; sunk,–down, down,
with the tumult they made; and the rolling and the trampling of ever new
generations passes over them, and they hear it not any more forever.

And yet withal has there not been realised somewhat? Consider (to go no
further) these strong Stone-edifices, and what they hold! Mud-Town of the
Borderers (Lutetia Parisiorum or Barisiorum) has paved itself, has spread
over all the Seine Islands, and far and wide on each bank, and become City
of Paris, sometimes boasting to be ‘Athens of Europe,’ and even ‘Capital of
the Universe.’ Stone towers frown aloft; long-lasting, grim with a
thousand years. Cathedrals are there, and a Creed (or memory of a Creed)
in them; Palaces, and a State and Law. Thou seest the Smoke-vapour;
unextinguished Breath as of a thing living. Labour’s thousand hammers ring
on her anvils: also a more miraculous Labour works noiselessly, not with
the Hand but with the Thought. How have cunning workmen in all crafts,
with their cunning head and right-hand, tamed the Four Elements to be their
ministers; yoking the winds to their Sea-chariot, making the very Stars
their Nautical Timepiece;–and written and collected a Bibliotheque du Roi;
among whose Books is the Hebrew Book! A wondrous race of creatures: these
have been realised, and what of Skill is in these: call not the Past Time,
with all its confused wretchednesses, a lost one.

Observe, however, that of man’s whole terrestrial possessions and
attainments, unspeakably the noblest are his Symbols, divine or divine-
seeming; under which he marches and fights, with victorious assurance, in
this life-battle: what we can call his Realised Ideals. Of which realised
ideals, omitting the rest, consider only these two: his Church, or
spiritual Guidance; his Kingship, or temporal one. The Church: what a
word was there; richer than Golconda and the treasures of the world! In
the heart of the remotest mountains rises the little Kirk; the Dead all
slumbering round it, under their white memorial-stones, ‘in hope of a happy
resurrection:’–dull wert thou, O Reader, if never in any hour (say of
moaning midnight, when such Kirk hung spectral in the sky, and Being was as
if swallowed up of Darkness) it spoke to thee–things unspeakable, that
went into thy soul’s soul. Strong was he that had a Church, what we can
call a Church: he stood thereby, though ‘in the centre of Immensities, in
the conflux of Eternities,’ yet manlike towards God and man; the vague
shoreless Universe had become for him a firm city, and dwelling which he
knew. Such virtue was in Belief; in these words, well spoken: I believe.
Well might men prize their Credo, and raise stateliest Temples for it, and
reverend Hierarchies, and give it the tithe of their substance; it was
worth living for and dying for.

Neither was that an inconsiderable moment when wild armed men first raised
their Strongest aloft on the buckler-throne, and with clanging armour and
hearts, said solemnly: Be thou our Acknowledged Strongest! In such
Acknowledged Strongest (well named King, Kon-ning, Can-ning, or Man that
was Able) what a Symbol shone now for them,–significant with the destinies
of the world! A Symbol of true Guidance in return for loving Obedience;
properly, if he knew it, the prime want of man. A Symbol which might be
called sacred; for is there not, in reverence for what is better than we,
an indestructible sacredness? On which ground, too, it was well said there
lay in the Acknowledged Strongest a divine right; as surely there might in
the Strongest, whether Acknowledged or not,–considering who made him
strong. And so, in the midst of confusions and unutterable incongruities
(as all growth is confused), did this of Royalty, with Loyalty environing
it, spring up; and grow mysteriously, subduing and assimilating (for a
principle of Life was in it); till it also had grown world-great, and was
among the main Facts of our modern existence. Such a Fact, that Louis
XIV., for example, could answer the expostulatory Magistrate with his
“L’Etat c’est moi (The State? I am the State);” and be replied to by
silence and abashed looks. So far had accident and forethought; had your
Louis Elevenths, with the leaden Virgin in their hatband, and torture-
wheels and conical oubliettes (man-eating!) under their feet; your Henri
Fourths, with their prophesied social millennium, ‘when every peasant
should have his fowl in the pot;’ and on the whole, the fertility of this
most fertile Existence (named of Good and Evil),–brought it, in the matter
of the Kingship. Wondrous! Concerning which may we not again say, that in
the huge mass of Evil, as it rolls and swells, there is ever some Good
working imprisoned; working towards deliverance and triumph?

How such Ideals do realise themselves; and grow, wondrously, from amid the
incongruous ever-fluctuating chaos of the Actual: this is what World-
History, if it teach any thing, has to teach us, How they grow; and, after
long stormy growth, bloom out mature, supreme; then quickly (for the
blossom is brief) fall into decay; sorrowfully dwindle; and crumble down,
or rush down, noisily or noiselessly disappearing. The blossom is so
brief; as of some centennial Cactus-flower, which after a century of
waiting shines out for hours! Thus from the day when rough Clovis, in the
Champ de Mars, in sight of his whole army, had to cleave retributively the
head of that rough Frank, with sudden battleaxe, and the fierce words, “It
was thus thou clavest the vase” (St. Remi’s and mine) “at Soissons,”
forward to Louis the Grand and his L’Etat c’est moi, we count some twelve
hundred years: and now this the very next Louis is dying, and so much
dying with him!–

But of those decadent ages in which no Ideal either grows or blossoms?
When Belief and Loyalty have passed away, and only the cant and false echo
of them remains; and all Solemnity has become Pageantry; and the Creed of
persons in authority has become one of two things: an Imbecility or a
Macchiavelism? Alas, of these ages World-History can take no notice; they
have to become compressed more and more, and finally suppressed in the
Annals of Mankind; blotted out as spurious,–which indeed they are.
Hapless ages: wherein, if ever in any, it is an unhappiness to be born.
To be born, and to learn only, by every tradition and example, that God’s
Universe is Belial’s and a Lie; and ‘the Supreme Quack’ the hierarch of
men! In which mournfulest faith, nevertheless, do we not see whole
generations (two, and sometimes even three successively) live, what they
call living; and vanish,–without chance of reappearance?

In such a decadent age, or one fast verging that way, had our poor Louis
been born. Grant also that if the French Kingship had not, by course of
Nature, long to live, he of all men was the man to accelerate Nature. The
Blossom of French Royalty, cactus-like, has accordingly made an astonishing
progress. In those Metz days, it was still standing with all its petals,
though bedimmed by Orleans Regents and Roue Ministers and Cardinals; but
now, in 1774, we behold it bald, and the virtue nigh gone out of it…

Who is it that the King (Able-man, named also Roi, Rex, or Director) now guides? His own
huntsmen and prickers: when there is to be no hunt, it is well said, ‘Le
Roi ne fera rien (To-day his Majesty will do nothing). (Memoires sur la
Vie privee de Marie Antoinette, par Madame Campan (Paris, 1826), i. 12).
He lives and lingers there, because he is living there, and none has yet
laid hands on him.

The nobles, in like manner, have nearly ceased either to guide or misguide;
and are now, as their master is, little more than ornamental figures. It
is long since they have done with butchering one another or their king:
the Workers, protected, encouraged by Majesty, have ages ago built walled
towns, and there ply their crafts; will permit no Robber Baron to ‘live by
the saddle,’ but maintain a gallows to prevent it. Ever since that period
of the Fronde, the Noble has changed his fighting sword into a court
rapier, and now loyally attends his king as ministering satellite; divides
the spoil, not now by violence and murder, but by soliciting and finesse.
These men call themselves supports of the throne, singular gilt-pasteboard
caryatides in that singular edifice! For the rest, their privileges every
way are now much curtailed. That law authorizing a Seigneur, as he
returned from hunting, to kill not more than two Serfs, and refresh his
feet in their warm blood and bowels, has fallen into perfect desuetude,–
and even into incredibility; for if Deputy Lapoule can believe in it, and
call for the abrogation of it, so cannot we. (Histoire de la Revolution
Francaise, par Deux Amis de la Liberte (Paris, 1793), ii. 212.) No
Charolois, for these last fifty years, though never so fond of shooting,
has been in use to bring down slaters and plumbers, and see them roll from
their roofs; (Lacretelle, Histoire de France pendant le 18me Siecle (Paris,
1819) i. 271.) but contents himself with partridges and grouse. Close-
viewed, their industry and function is that of dressing gracefully and
eating sumptuously. As for their debauchery and depravity, it is perhaps
unexampled since the era of Tiberius and Commodus. Nevertheless, one has
still partly a feeling with the lady Marechale: “Depend upon it, Sir, God
thinks twice before damning a man of that quality.” (Dulaure, vii. 261.)
These people, of old, surely had virtues, uses; or they could not have been
there. Nay, one virtue they are still required to have (for mortal man
cannot live without a conscience): the virtue of perfect readiness to
fight duels.

Such are the shepherds of the people: and now how fares it with the flock?
With the flock, as is inevitable, it fares ill, and ever worse. They are
not tended, they are only regularly shorn. They are sent for, to do
statute-labour, to pay statute-taxes; to fatten battle-fields (named ‘Bed
of honour’) with their bodies, in quarrels which are not theirs; their hand
and toil is in every possession of man; but for themselves they have little
or no possession. Untaught, uncomforted, unfed; to pine dully in thick
obscuration, in squalid destitution and obstruction: this is the lot of
the millions; peuple taillable et corveable a merci et misericorde. In
Brittany they once rose in revolt at the first introduction of Pendulum
Clocks; thinking it had something to do with the Gabelle. Paris requires
to be cleared out periodically by the Police; and the horde of hunger-
stricken vagabonds to be sent wandering again over space–for a time.
‘During one such periodical clearance,’ says Lacretelle, ‘in May, 1750, the
Police had presumed withal to carry off some reputable people’s children,
in the hope of extorting ransoms for them. The mothers fill the public
places with cries of despair; crowds gather, get excited: so many women in
destraction run about exaggerating the alarm: an absurd and horrid fable
arises among the people; it is said that the doctors have ordered a Great
Person to take baths of young human blood for the restoration of his own,
all spoiled by debaucheries. Some of the rioters,’ adds Lacretelle, quite
coolly, ‘were hanged on the following days:’ the Police went on.
(Lacretelle, iii. 175.) O ye poor naked wretches! and this, then, is your
inarticulate cry to Heaven, as of a dumb tortured animal, crying from
uttermost depths of pain and debasement? Do these azure skies, like a dead
crystalline vault, only reverberate the echo of it on you? Respond to it
only by ‘hanging on the following days?’–Not so: not forever! Ye are
heard in Heaven. And the answer too will come,–in a horror of great
darkness, and shakings of the world, and a cup of trembling which all the
nations shall drink.

Remark, meanwhile, how from amid the wrecks and dust of this universal
Decay new Powers are fashioning themselves, adapted to the new time and its
destinies. Besides the old Noblesse, originally of Fighters, there is a
new recognised Noblesse of Lawyers; whose gala-day and proud battle-day
even now is. An unrecognised Noblesse of Commerce; powerful enough, with
money in its pocket. Lastly, powerfulest of all, least recognised of all,
a Noblesse of Literature; without steel on their thigh, without gold in
their purse, but with the ‘grand thaumaturgic faculty of Thought’ in their
head. French Philosophism has arisen; in which little word how much do we
include! Here, indeed, lies properly the cardinal symptom of the whole
wide-spread malady. Faith is gone out; Scepticism is come in. Evil
abounds and accumulates: no man has Faith to withstand it, to amend it, to
begin by amending himself; it must even go on accumulating. While hollow
langour and vacuity is the lot of the Upper, and want and stagnation of the
Lower, and universal misery is very certain, what other thing is certain?
That a Lie cannot be believed! Philosophism knows only this: her other
belief is mainly that, in spiritual supersensual matters no Belief is
possible. Unhappy! Nay, as yet the Contradiction of a Lie is some kind of
Belief; but the Lie with its Contradiction once swept away, what will
remain? The five unsatiated Senses will remain, the sixth insatiable Sense
(of vanity); the whole daemonic nature of man will remain,–hurled forth to
rage blindly without rule or rein; savage itself, yet with all the tools
and weapons of civilisation; a spectacle new in History.

In such a France, as in a Powder-tower, where fire unquenched and now
unquenchable is smoking and smouldering all round, has Louis XV. lain down
to die. With Pompadourism and Dubarryism, his Fleur-de-lis has been
shamefully struck down in all lands and on all seas; Poverty invades even
the Royal Exchequer, and Tax-farming can squeeze out no more; there is a
quarrel of twenty-five years’ standing with the Parlement; everywhere Want,
Dishonesty, Unbelief, and hotbrained Sciolists for state-physicians: it is
a portentous hour.

Such things can the eye of History see in this sick-room of King Louis,
which were invisible to the Courtiers there. It is twenty years, gone
Christmas-day, since Lord Chesterfield, summing up what he had noted of
this same France, wrote, and sent off by post, the following words, that
have become memorable: ‘In short, all the symptoms which I have ever met
with in History, previous to great Changes and Revolutions in government,
now exist and daily increase in France.’ (Chesterfield’s Letters:
December 25th, 1753.)

End of the selection.

“History repeats itself, not exactly from a script man may draw up from the past but what moral laws Justice and Equity demand. It is God-ordained. Heaven and Earth belong to God so for those in positions of trust, who carelessly mete out injustice because the color of man is wrong and he cannot defend himself if he is defrauded by some unjust laws or by brute force he is a disgrace. Deny Justice and make the nation bleed itself to insignificance is what History teaches-benny”

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(Young Murtius is on the run from a one-camel town and he is heading towards Istanbul but a minor hitch in his travel plans finds him making a hole in the water. He has to make a deal with a great white shark. He promises another one in his place. The selected passage is from the episode How the Pirate Kept His Promise.– B)

“The water was cold, and being a good swimmer he swam for all his worth. Much more was his grim determination since he saw a spectre from underwater bearing upon him.

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It was a great white shark, which surfaced as if out of nowhere. The murderous shark didn’t waver but made a beeline towards him and it meant business. He gave a stiff competition to it. He was saved in time. …It was at that moment two pairs of hands had reached out to draw him up. One turned him over slapping till he had spat out the water and he could breathe freely. He also saw a cherubic face peering at him. Through the mists of wakefulness that follows near death experience he saw the face was curious and was holding out something to him. In a trice he imagined, an angel had come down, to save him. Just as what that old monk in Heliopolis had been telling.

The angel in a tarbush was large and he was coaxing him to drink what he held in his hands. He came around after a hot cup of tea he found himself in a strange vessel and the owner of the vessel, a rather stout fellow beaming at his chance find with unconfined joy. The wet bedraggled man in his early twenties was thankful him. While his host was drying him out and chatting to keep him hold to the present he recalled the shark. He shivered to think he had a deal on his hand.  He knew he would come across the shark again.

The sign of the shark did show a crescent moon. A distinctive mark on its dorsal fin.

Murtius thought it meant Istanbul where the streets in his mind’s eye had already acquired a 24- karat look.

His saviour, a stick-in-the mud type however didn’t have plans to take him to Istanbul but to his home in Izmir. He asked the youth what his name was. He said, “Black Hand.” Those five fellows, who had revenged on him by throwing him overboard, called him Black Hand as they dumped him into the waters. Murtius said simply, “Black Hand”. The name stuck.

Murtius was thus in the boat of Tayyab whose wealth had made Izmir synonymous for watermelons. His savior as he could see was still ecstatic of casaba (a variety of winter melons) of which everything that was to be known he had imparted to his ward; the young man realized in whichever way he changed the subject, it somehow rolled back to casaba. He had nothing personal against watermelons. But. If anyone did think of forming an Anti-Casaba League, he was sure he would have put his name down in the first place.

Naturally his biggest let down was yet to come. In that little effusion of the milk of human kindness Tayyab had acquired a slave for nothing.

“I have been greatly mistaken!” Black Hand exclaimed as he set his foot on the soil of Izmir. Instead of gold he was picking watermelons for his master who made him work from sunrise till sundown. Whom he had thought was an angel made sure he worked till he dropped off in fatigue; where he believed in divine intervention from an untimely death, his master believed in the redeeming nature of work. He had cucumbers and sour yogurt day in and day out. Tayyab intended to get the worth of every ounce of food he doled out to him. He had no choice but eat what little he got to stay alive. All work and no play made him cunning, inhumanly cunning. He knew he needed to lie low as low as his spirits. Before long his rock-hard belief in destiny was floundering. “By the beard of Mar Chrys-o-stom,” he asked in disgust, “what Destiny were you talking me into?”

Two years of hard labour however paid dividends. In his case he was taken out from dirt and put in a not so seaworthy felucca. He was all for a watery grave than rubbing his nose any more in the dirt. So he happily took control of the Casaba. The first time he smelled the sea after two years of drudgery and felt its salty spray on his cheeks he thought it was time he gave Destiny a not so gentle nudge…”

Selected from the Horrible Adventures of Captain Black Hand by Q-bitz available through Amazon

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During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Catholic and Protestant theologians were at the forefront in the attempt to resolve the moral dilemmas posed by the changing economies of the Mediterranean, the Atlantic world, and the Baltic. They notably agonized over how to square Christian doctrinal and legal positions with banking ethics and the prohibition of usury. Figures as diverse as Calvin and Cardinal Cajetan did not reject the emerging banking houses and their place in society, with their increasingly sophisticated forms of credit, but they strove to define what constituted ethical commerce.

Thinkers of that era grappled as well with anxiety. It lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, and of Calvinism in particular, and formed the basis of Max Weber’s understanding of the “Protestant work ethic.” Weber shrewdly perceived that the radical separation of the spiritual and material in the Re- formed tradition, a “disenchantening” of the world, left humanity worried that there was no discernable path to the divine. He saw the anxiety engendered by this shattering realization as transformative.

Signs of Salvation

Weber primarily looked to seventeenth-century Puritans, but the story begins earlier. Following Martin Luther, John Calvin’s conversion experience in the 1530s arose from a deep sense of spiritual anxiety. Calvin never questioned his own election, though he chose not to write about it, and when dealing with parishioners wracked by doubt he directed them to the love of Christ. Outward actions and events – he was emphatic – could never be taken as signs of salvation. Pastorally, however, this proved deeply troubling to the Reformed faith, and Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, made greater accommodation by allowing human deeds to be at least partial indicators of God’s love.

The question of certainty and its attendant pastoral issues remained in tension within the Reformed churches as they emerged in the Netherlands, England, and New England. The matter was not abstract, but hotly contested in terms of how the Bible was to be read, of relations of the church to temporal authority, and of the Christian in the secular world. The Reformation principle of sola scriptura had thrown open the question of how the Bible should be interpreted. Calvin and the Reformed leaders sought to ground interpretation once more within the church, but in so doing they faced fierce criticism that they were doing little more than restoring Roman authority. The Reformation made Christianity’s sacred text a battleground over contesting claims to authority – another source of the new anxiety.

With regard to the state, the issues were no less momentous. Although Calvin did not anticipate the separation of church and state, there can be little doubt that in Geneva during his lifetime significant developments began the process of secularization. Drawing on the Augustinian model of the separation of the two kingdoms, Calvin passionately believed that the church should be free in questions of doctrine and discipline. He fiercely resisted what he regarded as the unwarranted intrusion of the magistrates in the central affairs of the church.

In Geneva, however, he lost this battle. The Swiss model of churches ruled over by secular authorities prevailed, and Calvin was bitterly disappointed. Nevertheless, what emerged from his thinking is highly significant for modernity. Calvin increasingly conceived of a state where the rulers were limited in order to ensure protection of religion. They were expected to preserve the circumstances in which true religion could be practised. This was the resolution of the devastating Thirty Years’ War in 1648 when the Peace of Westphalia essentially removed religion from the political equation.

Building on medieval models, Protestantism of the sixteenth century named and sanctified work and commerce as part of the godly life. Calvin viewed economics as a way of linking the life of the community with the divine will. In many respects his perspective was entirely practical: as the leading author in Geneva he was responsible for the growth of its printing industry. He involved himself in the commercial life of the city, while his brother Antoine controlled his financial affairs. Calvin understood that loans and lending were an essential part of the market and of Geneva’s place as a trading center at the heart of Europe. He approved of the charging of interest and rejected older notions of usury on the condition that it not be abused. The poor, for instance, should not be forced to pay interest.

Theology of Work

Calvin argued for moderation in business ethics. Lending and profit-making should be permitted only insofar as they were useful, never simply to build personal wealth. All of this fell within his understanding of work and labor as vocations. In performing useful work a person served both God and humanity, and the rewards should be commensurate. His arguments were not new or radical in themselves, but they formed part of his larger theology that sought to understand the relationship of the human and divine. Work and service were for the honor of God, but once more the door was opened to a new, more secular view, that work might exist for its own sake.

This gathering tension in the relationship between the fruits of labor and vocation became explicit after Calvin’s death, during the golden age of the Dutch Republic. In his magisterial account, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Vintage, 1997), Simon Schama has related how the prosperous Calvinists of the Republic were deeply unsettled about their material success, seeing it less as a sign of election than as a form of reprobation. The enormous wealth generated by the Republic’s trading empire financed the nation’s protection against enemies. At the same time, however, it brought material temptations that could destroy the godly society from within. The result was an unresolved anxiety that, in Schama’s interpretation, deeply troubled any sense that capitalism and Protestantism were easy companions.

In performing useful work a person served both God and humanity, and the rewards should be commensurate. His arguments were not new or radical in themselves, but they formed part of his larger theology that sought to understand the relationship of the human and divine.

Revisiting Weber

This returns us to Max Weber’s famous account Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904/5), in which he interpreted the Calvinism of the seventeenth-century as an important source of modern economic practice. The broad outlines of the argument are familiar, though more often than not crudely caricatured. Weber was a subtle and perceptive student of history, theology, and economics. He never argued for a simple causal relationship between Protestantism and capitalism. Rather he identified the ways in which Calvinism contained a “spirit” or “ethic” that made possible the rise of capitalism and granted it legitimacy.

In brief, he wrote that the God of Calvinism is remote and inscrutable, leaving humans uncertain of their salvation. He focused his analysis on the doctrine of predestination and its effects. It is salvation anxiety that drives the desire to pursue with rigor a secular calling in the world. The pastoral literature of English Puritans revealed to him the depth of this uncertainty. The unknowable nature of God pushed Calvinists to seek signs of election in the world,

(Selected from: Calvinism and Capitalism: Together Again? byBruce Gordon/Yale Divinity School)

 

 

 

 

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Illustration from The Life of Aesop

(Aesop at the age of 12 is brought to the House of Iadmon, a Samoan and he wants to find out more about his new purchase.-b)
Next day Iadmon called Aesop to a room where beautiful musical instruments were kept. “Boy, I am in a mood to be entertained. What instrument will you choose?” There were many wind and stringed instruments. Aesop took a cither saying, “Oh my last master loved this. He would play on for hours.” He expressed he was sorry he did not take up music lessons then.
“So my choice has to be this.” Aesop had a flute in his hands and he made such strange sounds with it. His master winced and stopped him. “Why didn’t you tell me you are such a dunce with a flute?” “Oh master I spared you from my rendition of ‘Oh the mists of Olympus’ on a cither. Had you heard me you certainly would have complimented me to say: ‘I have a way with the flute.’ ”
The master had a hard time to contain his laughter. Managing a very grave demeanor he said, “‘If I ever hear you play flute within my earshot you shall be sorry.” He waved the young slave away.

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Just for Laughs!

“I assure you, sir, I am open minded”
(Selected-Mad Goes to Pieces)

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Chapter- 4

The Mayor Parleys With The Grand Mufti-

The Mayor and Prince compare notes and Al-Wa’sik offers freedom on condition.

 

Prince Al- Wa’sik (meaning Terrible Eyes) was the grand mufti of the Turks. Never was he known to have laughed. He had always known that he was different from others. When he got angry he wore flaming red, which to any Turk meant bad news. It meant that some one would have to pay the price.

Head will roll!” It was the case so far. Because of it he was also called Kismet or Fate.

On that day in April he discovered he could laugh. It was priceless. The discovery made him very happy. It had taken some forty years and the prince could not believe it would have come as it did, far away from home and in one of the strangest places. Laughter was not what his father the most dazzling figure of his age could give him. Having learnt many things from the sultan, of which duty was preeminent, he had kept going never realizing he lost what was of necessity a precious gift.

 

As a young prince he did not laugh; neither did he let himself go. Why? He did not like being thought as irresponsible. He had cultivated gravity, which he had been told by the so called wise men of his age, as appropriate for the movers and shakers of the world.

His tutor let him mix with other children of princely blood. They helped him hone up his skills in hunting and riding. Laughter wasn’t one quality, which they cultivated. ( Isn’t laughter at the right time and in right places sure sign of humanity in its pure form? In that spontaneity it seems to tell all,’Here I am with all defenses down!) The princes took themselves seriously. So did Al-Wa’sik.

So seriously the prince took himself that others for fear of displeasure could not have done otherwise. Had anyone in his suite was in the middle of telling a joke he would have instantly killed it hearing his master’s foot steps. The prince allowed people come to him with their problems and they never laughed to show how he had relieved their distress. His seriousness must have given warning signal to all: “I am Terrible Eyes! Laugh at your own risk!”

In the process what had he become but a human machine to which men in fear paid their respects?

It took a scrappy but lively human being who was in no way his equal in form, advantages or in rank to undo the damage. That day he laughed hard before he could realize what had come over him. In the end he had to agree it was very pleasant.

So naturally he esteemed Calisthenics highly as someone special.

After having spent some time alone disposing of many supplicants and writing orders the prince whispered to his bodyguards to call the mayor. During their first round each wanted to know the other. So they chatted this and that. When it was time for his evening prayer he excused himself. Before parting the grand mufti asked,“ What makes a smile the same as a tear?” “ By facing up to it, of course.” the mayor replied with a laugh.

2.

The next day the prince received the mayor and he was seated in a princely tent erected on the beach. Above the tent flew the prince’s personal standard and around the tent were many janissaries who watched the crowd with suspicion. The grand mufti was still friendly and said,“ As a mayor what sort of problems do you face?”

People are fine O grand Turk. It is just what they have to put up with is the problem. We are called the Sleepy Heads. Do I look sleepy?” The mayor asked. “ No, not by any means.” The prince said with a polite emphasis. “Do you know another joke?” the host asked eagerly.

O Prince why does a peanut come in a pod?” The grand mufti thought for a while and gave up. “You tell me.” The mayor replied, ”Because there are too many nuts jumping the queue.” The Turk laughed. ‘You know what makes a Turk tick?’ the mayor asked. The prince waited eagerly for a surprise. ”Because he is Turkeyed up!”

In the meantime the admiral came in with letters of request from various officials.

The mayor took care not to distract Prince Al- Wa’sik while he worked. He could see so many people with different insignias were cooling their heels to have a moment to speak their cases. Having disposed of the letters the prince stroked his beard, which was neatly trimmed and he turned towards him. His face showed a touch of regret as if he could not call that moment as his own. The mayor was about to rise up and go but he restrained him. ‘This shalln’t take much time’, he seemed to say. He beckoned his personal secretary to let the people come one after the other. Calisthenics had a new respect at the way he disposed them. A look said volumes; a gesture in place of so many words saved him time and effort; it put one in a dither and another cheery eyed. Where comfort or encouragement merited the prince spoke softly and as the mayor could hear, his voice acquired a peculiar timbre. His authority expressed with his proud gaze combined with such clear-cut enunciation of syllables so softly spoken was unmistakable. In him was power and gentleness. Even while walking tightrope between duty and mercy neither did betray the other. He had learnt how to perform as a prince who must at all times be just.

Each went off kissing his hand as if he were a holy relic. After he had sent the last man he turned to his guest and the seriousness, which had made his sharp features points of steel gave way to ease. His eyes seemed to say,”Where were we?”

Mayor Calisthenics began. He spoke concisely the history and cultural traditions, which he said if he should write it all down it could be done in one sitting. ” But the Sleepy Heads are known for breaking all such classifications. We have a saying among us, which goes thus:’ In a world of right-handed traditions we are left handed.’ Even there they do not strictly adhere to the rule.”

Really?” the prince could not imagine such a lawless society did really exist.“ If the Sleepy Heads hate to work with me or my council it is the tradition of the ruling class to make the work simplified in a manner the people can understand.”

Must you descend to their level?”

Yes,” the mayor replied seriously,” I am sent to bring order among the Sleepy Heads. Imposing it from the top I think is not a permanent solution.”

The prince was sure an iron fist would make order among the lawless at which the mayor showed in mock-seriousness his agreement. “Only that my Venetian Masters themselves are losing their grip. What avails me then to mould the Sleepy Heads according to their ideals once power itself has changed hands?” After a pause he added,” People friendly that is how the ruling class should be.”

So easily you give in to the mob?”

No, not at all.”the mayor was sure,”I can only work as one who respect the people who are governed. I govern better, so it seems to me, O prince, by turning their natural inclinations into something worthwhile. A catalyst perhaps.”

He defended his people by saying they were yet to divide people according to haves and have-nots.”He paused and the prince was impassive. “Yes it would seem so, we are backward not to let the things rule us.” the mayor added.

So the Sleepy Heads do not put things above the people?” Calisthenics nodded and said,”People come first. Always!”

You rule and your power..”

The mayor replied,” Our power is good up to a point. With such power as I have to hurt, will the ruled trust me freely?”

But should you not correct those over whom you have authority by setting a good example?” “If I set an example to the one lower in rank all that benefits me would be his ill will. Who knows he may complain to the king that I am itching to stand in his shoes. Or some other report to damn me.” “Come, come you are being cynical!” the prince said. “I said from what human nature is capable of,”replied Calisthenics simply, ”I am only human, I am only a Sleepy Head’ as our prayer to the Great One goes.”

I can appreciate you to some extent. But being good… “ “Good in some parts and spoilt in some others ,sir. None of us are perfect. You shall not convince me, prince that you are perfect.”

The prince solemnly admitted he was far from perfect. ‘O Allah kerim!’ and he was quick to add, “ I will not think of using my power for any thing other than to correct…”

By correcting do we change their basic nature or by arm-twisting do we achieve lasting results?” replied the mayor. The prince was deep in thought. Calisthenics asked,” What makes you think you know better how a matter leads to? Did not your prophet, as you believe the truth is, speak the last word on the subject?”

Yes Truth,”the grand mufti said reverentially, ”Nabi-mursil (Prophet-apostle) spoke the truth.”

You revere his message. Don’t you? If that be the case why Shi’ites or Sunnis?” The prince suddenly stiffened. “ Surely we can keep the matters of religion out of our discussion?” The mayor bowed and he soft-pedaled to say, “Merely because I have the power, would it mean I can see the outcome of things better? Or what I say to be the truth will be the last word on it? You may win an argument at the sword point and make the ‘infidel’ retract his stand. He who so retracts does only because he sees some perceived advantages. He is only human.”

You may see it well, O prince,” the mayor explained, ”from the manner a thing is done.” The prince heard him seriously. “You may teach your camel to carry you but he must stop whenever he has come to end of his tether. No amount of your truth or words of wisdom shall suit him if his legs are too tired.”

So human weakness in the end dictate truth?”

Not really,”Calisthenics replied,”the one who dictate what is the truth is as human as the one who must show what it is to be true.”

Whom I rule have their own viewpoint as we who make rules,” the prince said,”is it what you wanted to say?” The mayor nodded and explained by letting the people decide how they wish to be led ‘makes my office easier and leaves me enough time for my own

things.’ The prince frowned at times but he listened to him without interruption.

Somewhere along the line the topic about the Great One came up. Immediately the face of the prince lit up,” We have something common there. Allah the compassionate, Merciful and Just!” The grand mufti spoke the name reverentially and with great wonder. “But I was given to understand we should keep religion out of our discussion?” Calisthenics asked with a mischievous glint in his eye. ”Yes,”the grand mufti said, “My fault. I forgot myself for a moment.” “No, “replied the mayor,”Belief is so essential part of our nature. As easy as we walk. Do we ever wonder if our legs are adequate enough? No, faith is sufficient. If we did not think our legs would hold up would we walk? It is faith.”It surprised the prince. “That faith which we possess sometimes makes us just as you admitted a moment ago, forget ourselves. We are, as I said earlier, humans and imperfect too.”

That is why Allah has kept the paradise for those who trust in his mercy and do good.” Al-Wa’sik declared. “Paradise is an idea.” The mayor replied,”We have to think of what is so basic, in

terms of ideas. Whereas my dog will approach the same differently.”

Why bring a dog into discussion?” the prince snapped with a frown,”so many other examples would have equally fitted.” Calisthenics excused and said he had a dog which he considered was his trustworthy companion. “I did not know it was a contemptible animal according to your beliefs.”

Where were we?”the mayor asked and he got back where he had been diverted,” We make sense of our world in terms of ideas. If I do hold an idea others will also be at liberty to hold their ideas and of course some may hedge it with some special meanings.”

Touché.” The prince said with a smile and added,

Yes we are ready to fight for our faith and guard it with our lives.” ”Yes, your standpoint is different from mine. As different as your paradise.” the mayor observed.

Still such a vast difference? How is that possible? ” Calisthenics had thought on such things and he explained, “If we believe we live on solid ground it shall lead us to an idea so we may make our house also permanent. Another who loves a life of the open spaces may only want to spend the night under a tree or snuggle into a cave and move on with the first light. My brother is a nomad whereas I love a laid-back and sheltered life style. If my brother cultivate a life devoid of all luxuries and I a sybarite, O prince our standpoint is yet again the cause. Each of us with each day, from cradle to grave, merely adds to that essential self. O prince!”

Do not feel shocked. O prince,” the mayor said.

God is in the laws of Nature and in everything which serve a purpose. As proper for imperfect beings we are, we see Him as some one to serve our purpose. The Great One!”

The grand mufti imperiously waved his hand to desist the mayor from saying something awful. The guest took the hint and said, “In our respect and our love for one another we may still prove all such ideas as coming from one source.”

The prince asked,” The Great One?” The mayor nodded,”Or Allah, since we are calling names!”

Love and other romantic notions serve for a brief wink of time,”the prince commented,”where shall you be hereafter?” “You talk of paradise as if it is not yet come. We believe in the present.”

We Sleepy Heads live for the day,”Calisthenics added,” and we fear neither man nor their rank. For all that we do not consider ourselves as perfect or good. They pray to The Great One. So what? They pray for gifts. I expect their asking for gifts is not for improving their lot but merely a childlike curiosity. They seem to tell the Great One, ’Surprise me!’ The gifts are for the present and not for hereafter as you believe.” Al-Wa’sik heard him out patiently.

 

They talked of this and that. Calisthenics explained they had come to adopt customs on from hearsay. The mayor spoke about Santa Claus and of Sandman who came nightly to give them sound sleep and the prince thought were old wives tales. The mayor quoted Doctor Jerry Can who the prince thought was a dunce beyond belief.

Dismissing what the mayor said as something of a joke he could not understand, he moved to other things. At the end of their meeting he asked the mayor, “You shall dine with me tomorrow?”

At this point the mayor could hear a low roar, which came in waves from outside. It sounded as if people were all shouting and screaming. The grand mufti heard it too. He clapped once. A guard came to whom he spoke in whispers. After a while the same guard returned and spoke in whispers.

After he was dismissed the Turk laughed. “ Do we look like angels sent by Santa Claus whoever he is?” Calisthenics explained, “ Pardon me. Santa Claus is what we call our Great One. It is what our Doctor Jerry Can swears by.”

Outside your people are getting very restless. They want gifts.” The grand mufti said. “If Santa is an angel and one of them happens to take your shape I could believe in Santa as I believe in you.” the mayor answered. “Funny you believe in angels bearing gifts? And you expect me to give them gifts!” The Turk exclaimed.

So what you propose to do?”

Calisthenics knew that the Turk had friendly feelings towards him. So he dared to ask him questions as if he were his equal. “ You, my friend tell me. What sort of gifts you want some cash, clothes or freedom?” “Freedom of course “ the mayor replied.

You made an excellent choice.” The Turk said,” But no one is going to hand it over to you in a platter.” The mayor nodded.

I shall make it easier for you. Prove me your way of life has something good.” “ That is easy.” Replied the mayor, “ There was nothing to laugh for with your way of life. Was there?” The prince gravely nodded. ” The fact that you could laugh now proves the point.” After a pause Al- Wa’sik said, “ Perhaps you are right. I shall make my intentions clear.”

Prince Terrible Eyes wrote an order and folded it many times till it was no wider than an inch. Having folded it crosswise he sealed where the edges met. While the red wax was hot he pressed his signet ring. He instantly brought his guard to whom he commanded,” Here take this to the admiral.” “Hearing and obeying!” the guard went off quickly. The prince had let word around that the Sleepy Heads were under his personal protection.

3.

That night the mayor on reaching home asked his son if he knew two boys of 14 with strange accents. “One is called Rufus and the other a twelve year old, Nevis is his name.” His son replied they were as mysterious as the west wind. After a pause Maxim who was his firstborn wanted to know what was the matter with them. The father with a chuckle answered,” My lips are sealed. Act of Official Secrets and all that.”

He knew his son knew much more than he was willing to tell. So he played dumb in his turn. Like son, like father.

 (To Be Cont’d)

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