Thursday, March 14, 2024

My Political Apology


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

History suggests that nations rise and fall because of leaders who put their own interests ahead of the welfare of the people they are supposed to serve.

I support Nikki Haley because I believe she has integrity and truly cares about our country. She is a seasoned and sane political figure whose life is not wrapped in criminal accusations.

She has an expansive view of world events. She is not an isolationist. Neither is she a war monger. I believe she would make an excellent president. Perhaps that will happen in the future.

As a lifelong conservative Republican, I cannot vote for Joe Biden. Neither can I in good conscience vote for Donald Trump who has shown himself to be arrogant, self-serving, and abusive. Even people who have supported him have experienced the abuse. Just ask Pence, Haley, some of Trump's former legal advisors, and others who served on Trump's cabinet.

I value our republican system and hope it is preserved. Political demagoguery threatens our freedoms. 

I appreciate the uniqueness of the US Constitution. Our Bill of Rights is truly exceptional and is the target of censorship by totalitarian governments around the world.

Having lived in other countries, including Iran, Greece, Spain, and the Philippines, I appreciate what the United States of America has to offer its citizens. We work hard. We think big. We are an innovative people, offering the world useful technologies, advancements in science and medicine, and intellectual property. 

We grow our economy, even in economic downturns. We support thousands of non-profit service organizations. The number of nonprofit organizations based in the USA is staggering. A Child's Hope International, American Medical Resources Foundation, Compassion International, World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, etc.

We are a generous people. Only the hardened cynic would suggest that all US foreign funding is self-serving. 

For me, the 2024 presidential race is a choice between two equally weak candidates: Biden and Trump. I will not be voting in November.

Some have argued that by not voting, I am voting. That misses the point. This is a matter of conscience. With Nikki Haley I had a choice. The Trump machine has taken that choice away from me. That is another reason for me to deny Trump my vote. His grasping for power appears to have no limits. Such men are dangerous.

Pray for our nation.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Peter Kreeft's Book "Ethics for Beginners"

Peter Kreeft has taught philosophy at Boston College for more than 50 years. In this book Ethics for Beginners, he provides a good introduction to ethics for people of religious convictions, especially Roman Catholics. Bishop Robert Barron (Word on Fire) recommends the book which he describes as "a digestible introduction to moral philosophy woven together with Kreeft’s trademark wit and humor."

The book presents the thoughts of 32 great thinkers of history. Kreeft believes that studying the ideas of the great philosophers helps people to take responsibility for their own thoughts and opens the mind to arguments on both sides of controversies. 

He asks:

What qualifies you for ethical wisdom? It is not your ideological beliefs or scholarly expertise but your character traits. And those character traits come in pairs, so that it is very easy and very common to emphasize one half of each pair and forget the other one. These traits include:

• Adamant, committed honesty and flexible, experimental open-mindedness;
• A hard (logical) head and a soft (loving, empathetic) heart; toughness and tenderness;
• Fair, unbiased, impersonal detachment and personal commitment and loyalty;
• Impatience (passion) and patience (maturity);
• Idealism and practicality; and
• Profound seriousness and lightness, playfulness, and a sense of humor.

Peter Kreeft asserts that ethics is real, that good and evil are knowable, and that we are happier people when we act well. Kreeft claims that the study of ethics is important in answering life’ questions: What is the meaning of life? How should I live? How should I treat other people?

This book is especially appropriate for use with high school students.

The book is available to purchase on Amazon.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Stolen Picasso and Chagall Paintings Recovered


Paintings by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall stolen 14 years ago from a Jewish family were recovered by police during a search of a cellar in Antwerp.

The works are Picasso’s portrait Tête (1971) and Chagall’s L’homme en prière (1970). Both were found in their original frames and in good condition. They were stolen were from the home of an art collector in Tel Aviv in 2010. At the time of the theft the works were collectively valued at nearly $1 million, local authorities said in a statement

Some $680,000 worth of jewelry was also stolen from the collector in the same heist. However, the trove of jewelry remains missing.

The local prosecutor said the main suspect has been arrested. Read more here.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Rulers of the Ancient Water Systems


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Before the first civilizations appeared in the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley, human populations were drawn to ancient water systems. Rivers and lakes came under the control of local chiefs. The water systems were a source of wealth for these early lords, and places where religious rites were performed. Water came to be regarded as a substance of life, healing, fertility, and cleansing. 

As technology advanced, local rulers relied on the skills of boatbuilders, masons, smiths, and scribes to build and expand their territories. The early Hebrew ruler-priests were in the service of the early kingdom builders such as Nimrod, a Kushite kingdom builder (Gen. 10). 

Nimrod left the Nile Valley and through marriage to the daughter of a Sumerian king named Asshur he became established in the region of Mesopotamia. Nimrod’s Sumerian wife may have served as a singer or dancer at the water temple of Uruk/Erech which was initially constructed around 5500 B.C. The later “Stone-Cone Temple” was built over it. Among Nimrod's descendants were other kingdom builders such as Arpachshad, Asshur, Nahor the Elder, and Abraham’s father Terah. 

The advances of the early civilizations were under the powerful leadership and authority of "the mighty men of old" (Gen. 6). These "first lords of the earth" were governed by sacred law codes as early as 3200 B.C. They established commerce, built temples, patronized masons, metal workers, priest-physicians, and astronomers. Royal scribes were conversant in multiple languages and able to write using the various scripts of the Fertile Crescent and the Ancient Near East.

The royal water shrines were tended by priests who used the water to tend their flocks and herds. The water shrines were under the control of regional lords, but visitors were welcome to the water. Wells and water shrines were neutral ground and natural gathering places. Biblical narratives speak of Hebrew men meeting their future wives at wells, water shrines, or oases.

Royal Women and Water Shrines

Royal mothers ensured that their sons received the best foods available, the best medical attention, and training in kingship so that they would be prepared to rule and maintain power. The queen mother’s role was never separate from the identity of the royal house and its political strategy. She played an important role in securing proper marriage partners for her sons. These marriages formed political alliances. Hebrew mothers were instrumental is preserving the caste’s unique identity by arranging caste endogamous marriages for their sons and daughters. They were consummate matchmakers.

Royal mothers exerted authority in their own rite. They engaged in rituals at royal temples and shrines and attended royal banquets. These queen mothers held royal titles such as eresh (queen), šarratum (queen), gore/kore (a female head of state), gibrah (from the Hebrew gibor, meaning powerful), and ra-bitu.

The wives and daughter of these early Hebrew ruler-priests served at the royal water shrines. One title for royal ladies who served at Bronze Age water shrines was rabitu. The term is likely related to an Ancient Egypt word bity and to the earlier Akkadian words for water (raatu) and house/shrine (biitu). The emblem of the rabitu was the spindle. In the Ugaritic story of Elimelek, the queen mother holds the title rabitu and her emblem is the spindle.

Many women had names associated with Neith as she was the patroness of water shrines, rivers, pregnant women, and women in childbirth. It is likely that Neith was a holy woman who lived at one of the early water shrines along the Nile before Egypt emerged as a political entity (c.3000 B.C.). Joseph's wife Aseneth was named after her. She was the daughter of a priest at Heliopolis, a prestigious shrine city on the Nile River.

Earlier in history, a queen named Merneith (Beloved of Neith) gave birth to a son known as Hor-Den. Hor-Den was his Horus name and testifies that he was a devotee of God Father (Ra) and God's son (Horus/HR). This was when the Upper and Lower Nile regions were first united (c. 3000 B.C.), and Den was the first ruler depicted as wearing the double crown as the sovereign over the Upper and Lower Nile regions.

Hebrew wives and daughters who were associated with water shrines include Abraham's wife Keturah at the Well of Sheba (Beersheba), Sarah at Hebron which had four water sources, Asenath at Heliopolis (biblical On), and Moses' wife Zipporah who he met at the well of her priest father in Midian. Likewise, Jacob met Rebekah at the well of her father. Judah had sexual relations with Tamar at Enaim, the cult site of Two Springs (Gen. 38:14).

These women grew up at rivers, wells, and oases over which their fathers ruled. Though these were women of high social standing within their communities, they did not live pampered lives. Rebekah and Zipporah drew water for the livestock, a physically demanding task.

Because water is universally perceived as necessary for life, women seeking to conceive and deliver healthy children visited water shrines where they prayed and made offerings. Water shrines could be at rivers, lakes, wells, or oases. They might even be a ritual bathhouse such as the mikveh. The mikveh is associated with natural water systems. By law, it must be composed of stationary waters and must contain a percentage of water from a natural source such as a lake, river, sea, or rain.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Beauty as Spiritual Therapy


Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and the creation and appreciation of beauty.

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

In this series on aesthetics, we have been exploring impressions of beauty. Is it true that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" or is it possible to speak of an absolute, universal perception of beauty? Clearly, the perception of beauty is subjective and grounded in the individual's sentiments, personal history, and values. Yet the very fact that aesthetics is effectively used instrumentally suggests that humans recognize beauty has value in itself. That may be the truest statement to touch on the universal appreciation of aesthetics.

Arthur Schopenhauer believed that exposure to beauty can help humans overcome misery. It is an antidote to the depression we face as mortals. In his book The Beginning of Wisdom, Leon Kass offers this insight: "Death is the mother of the love of glory, of a beautiful name for splendid deeds. Death is also - and similarly - the mother of beauty, of a concern with the beautification of an ugly world, fated to decay, rife with death." (p. 155)

Clinical psychologists use beauty therapy to elevate mood. Children struggling with difficult life issues often find an emotional outlet through art. In this instrumental view, beauty, art and music are a means to an end. They are tools for building a better future, moral improvement, or bringing a greater measure of health.

St. Paul urged the early Christians to dwell on the good and the lovely. He wrote, "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8) Thoughts are elevated when we ponder the good and the lovely.

In the great world religions, we find beauty is associated with spiritual elevation. Hinduism urges its adherents to "think of all beautiful things" and God is recognized as the source of goodness, truth, and beauty. (Rig Veda 5.82.5-7) 

In Judaism, beauty is a fleeting reminder of God's goodness. 

Islam asserts "God is beautiful and loves beauty." (Hadith of Muslim)

In Confucianism, we find the instrumental claim that a neighborhood is made beautiful by Goodness (Analects 4:1). 

The arts can never be a replacement for religion. In his book What Good are the Arts?, John Carey writes, “Turning art into a religion often carries with it the assumption that there is a higher morality of art, distinct from conventional morality.” (p.136) That is the position of Aestheticism, the opposite of aesthetic instrumentalism. Aestheticism asserts that art belongs autonomously to the realm of the aesthetic. It has no interest in the application of the arts to religion or emotional or spiritual elevation.

Related reading: A First Look at AestheticsBeauty as the Good; Symbols of Beauty; Aesthetic Instrumentalism

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Symbols of Beauty


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Judging beauty is likely to stir controversy. It is difficult to escape the impression that the discernment of beauty is highly subjective. Many philosophers and poets agree on that point. The Irish poet Oscar Wilde wrote, "Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods. Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world."

Likewise, David Hume believed that beauty is a matter of one's mental disposition. He wrote, "Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others." (Hume 1757, 136)

Immanuel Kant believed that beauty is known by the pleasure it gives to the viewer. He wrote, "The judgment of taste is therefore not a judgment of cognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective. Every reference of representations, even that of sensations, may be objective (and then it signifies the real [element] of an empirical representation), save only the reference to the feeling of pleasure and pain, by which nothing in the object is signified, but through which there is a feeling in the subject as it is affected by the representation." (Kant 1790, The Critique of Judgment, Third Critique, section 1)

Hume and Kant perceived that when beauty is treated as a subjective state, it is no longer recognizable as a universal value. Beauty cannot hold a place among the universal forms of Truth, Goodness, and Order. Beauty subjectively judged is fleeting. Such beauty cannot be an eternal form. 

In the East, beauty has been recognized through the contemplation of icons. Icons give pleasure and spiritual attunement. They speak of luminosity and numinosity at the same time. They are designed to mediate the presence of God through beauty. Eastern Orthodox churches are adorned with icons usually on every wall and the ceiling. The colors are vibrant, and the gold reflects light so that one seems to be standing inside a jewel box.

Following the thought of Plato, perfect beauty exists only in the eternal Form of beauty (Platonic epistemology). He believed that the love of beauty in the material sphere can lead to the love of the Ultimate Beauty. Icons are vehicles for apprehending the Ultimate Beauty of God. They are like windows through which something of the eternal can be seen. In this sense, icons are symbols of beauty.

Related reading: A First Look at Aesthetics, Glimpses of Beauty and Truth; Beauty as the Good

Saturday, August 5, 2023

First Lords and Their Authority


Dear Readers,

It has been 40 years coming, but my book The First Lords of the Earth is now available to purchase on Amazon. Options include Kindle, paperback, or hard cover. All are priced to accommodate book lovers on a tight budget.

This book identifies the social structure and religious beliefs of the early Hebrew ruler-priest caste (6200-4000 years ago), their dispersion out of Africa, their territorial expansion, trade routes, and influence on the populations of the Fertile Crescent and Ancient Near East.

The biblical Hebrew recognized three types of authority: derived, attributed, and achieved. Because the ruler was seen as God's earthly representative and the one to enforce divine law, his authority was derived from God.

If the ruler proved over time to be just or righteous in his actions and decrees, the priests would attribute deification. This was noted by the SR designation in the ruler's epithet and or royal name. The historical ruler Osiris was deified as is evident in his name O-SiR. Among the Sumerians and Akkadians SR designated a king (šarrum) and a queen (šarratum).

The early Hebrew rulers were judged after death and the righteous were often deified. Deification or apotheosis was an expression of the flamboyant honor shown to royal masters by their servants. 

Clan chiefs, regional rulers, and high kings achieved authority by victory in combat, great skill in hunting lions, and by living lives of high moral standing. 
Readers of this blog will find the sections on authority and ancient moral codes of special interest. This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of the book:

The Rights of Kings

In the ancient world, it was understood that a king had the right to control trade through his kingdom and to be treated with honor. Emissaries arrived with gifts. Subjects came before the King with tribute.

In April 1892, the New York Times reported on the refusal of the King of Jebu to allow cargo to pass through his independent country which was the only access to the interior of Africa from Lagos. After an unfriendly meeting between the King and the acting British governor of Lagos, the trade route was closed. The British then formed a treaty with the King of Jebu that included payment of £500 to keep the roads and rivers of his country open. However, the British overstepped in requiring the King to forgo his royal right to assess tolls and taxes on the merchants traveling through his kingdom. Eventually, the treaty was broken. The situation became tense when the King threatened to attack Lagos, then the capital of Nigeria.

In the context of the rights of ancient kings, the £500 would have been regarded as a token of honor. However, to deny the King his right to control commerce through his territory was a tragic misstep on the part of the British. It was a diminishment of the King’s authority. Further, that was taken as disrespect of the High God from whom his authority was derived.

Take freedom or property from the average person and you diminish his humanity. Take away the rights of a king and you have cause for war.

*  *  *

There is ancient history, anthropology, and Biblical studies wrapped into one fascinating read. I hope you will find it helpful and informative.

Best wishes to you all,

Alice C. Linsley