Killing your Buddhas

Continuing our discussion of the correspondences between Heraclitus and the Zarathustras, we have the directive that each one find truth for oneself; that one must never follow. As the old Buddhist epigram goes, “if you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill him.” Heraclitus, likewise, bids his readers not to listen to him, but rather to the Logos. Heraclitus also says “eyes are better witnesses than ears.”

Peters Denial of Jesus

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, likewise, is intent upon shaking off his disciples, for their own good:

Verily, I counsel you: go away from me and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And better still: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he has deceived you. … One repays a teacher poorly if one always remains only a student.

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1.22.3: On Bestowing Virtue

Zarathustra continues, cautioning his disciples against idolizing him:

You revere me; but what if your reverence should someday collapse? Be careful lest a statue fall and kill you!

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1.22.3: On Bestowing Virtue

As Heraclitus says, “I went in search of myself”, so Zarathustra instructs his disciples to do the same:

Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1.22.3: On Bestowing Virtue

This sounds curiously similar to the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus:

Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.

— John 13:37–38

In a sense, I can personally claim to have been similarly instructed by the Idol of my youth, Bahá’u’lláh, who chased me off with his manifold contradictions while he subtly—perhaps unintentionally—instructed me in the ways of divine Godlessness.

Unfortunately, I know of no doctrine of virtuous denial in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings.

The Perfect Sin

Here’s my latest PowerPoint presentation, saved as a movie, then merged with an audio file with QuickTime and exported. The subject is idolatry (don’t act so surprised!) and Islam. The soundtrack is Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum” sung by Maria Zadori, one of my all-time favorites.

I considered “James Dean” by the Eagles for an ironic twist, but solemnity won out over humor in the end, and besides, there’s ample irony in using a idolatrous prayer as the soundtrack for this sequence.

The lyrics:

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes
laudate eum, omnes populi
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus,
et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.

Gloria Patri, et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Secut erat in principio, et nunc, et simper,
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen

And in English:

O praise the Lord, all ye nations;
Praise him, all ye peoples
For his loving kindness has been bestowed upon us,
and the truth of the Lord endures for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

I haven’t, as of yet, been able to upload the movie at full quality to YouTube. Perhaps YouTube has trouble processing the fade transition between slides, as removing those transitions appears to enable YouTube to process the file. So here it is, posted on the blog. This required that I do some customization of my blog header file, which was a bit of a hassle.

The Trinity of Islam

I was raised a trinitarian of sorts. I was taught that the Prophets of God are like perfect mirrors, where God is like the sun. The sunlight, though not God, was like the spirit of God—what Christians call the Holy Spirit and my Baha’i friends sometimes call the Maid of Heaven. The idea is that if you want to see God, all you have to do is look in the mirror. I mean—you know what I mean—don’t you?

Muhammad and Gabriel

Muhammad and Gabriel

Now that’s behind us; let’s look at Islam. How does it compare?

Islam’s creed gets off to a great start:

I testify that there is no god but God, …

… but then in falls into idolatry mid-sentence:

… and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.


If we are somewhat generous, we might recognize unitarianism in the first phrase of the creed; an assertion that no man can claim any partnership with God.

Unfortunately, that lofty ideal is nullified by the second phrase, which essentially causes the creed to state, “There is no god but God, but every word and act of Muhammad is of God.” Just look at how Muslims generally revere Muhammad as the perfect example of man.

There you have it: a divine incarnation; God in the flesh.

It doesn’t do any good to debate whether God really is incarnate. The only thing we need concern ourselves with is, as they say, the taste of the pudding. Is it a divine image, or isn’t it?

Now Muslims may insist that there’s a difference between “what would Jesus do?” and “what would Muhammad do?”, but I think it all comes down to a choice from among idols.

Moving right along, Muslims generally consider the Qur’an, that is, the words spoken by the Angel Gabriel, to be inerrant and uncreated (eternal). That sure sounds a lot like the Holy Spirit to me. What do you think?

So let us review. The following are the fundamental elements of Islam (more fundamental than the pillars themselves):

1) Father = Allah

2) Son = Muhammad

3) Holy Spirit = Gabriel (uncreated, divine words spoken by Holy Angel)

These three things that Muslims revere above all else are ultimately one in spirit; that is to say, they are one in their divine purpose. They are one so far as the believer is concerned. Muhammad may not be God in his essence, but he is divine in appearance; he is a “mirror”, as the Baha’is say. Is this not a trinity?

I have for years regarded my religion of birth, the Baha’i Faith, to be a trinitarian corruption of Islam, but lately I’m beginning to realize that Islam has been trinitarian from its beginning. I have on several occasions accused Baha’is of elevating Muhammad to a divine station that Islam does not claim. I’m beginning to suspect that I was mistaken.

Sorry guys!

Offender of the Faithful?

This blog got its name “Idol Chatter” for a reason, or even a couple of reasons. First of all, the blogger is a rather militant unitarian (note lowercase ‘u’). Secondly, he tries not to take his own chatter too seriously.

By “unitarian” is here meant anyone who recognizes the tendency of leaders, doctrines, and ideologies to become idols that stand in the way of our search for truth. Idolatry, according to this school of thought, is a mighty sly shape-shifting devil. As a former Unitarian minister once challenged us:

“We boast our emancipation from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is through a transfer of the idolatry.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Similarly, a Greek philosopher once cautioned:

“It is wise to listen not to me, but to the Logos, …” — Heraclitus

I use the term “unitarian” because this cautious mode of thinking is embodied in the Unitarian tradition, in which some Christians long ago determined that worshiping Jesus is missing the message of Jesus, who did not forbid blasphemy against himself, but rather forbade blasphemy against “the spirit”. It is the spirit of the message that gives life, he said, not the flesh of the messenger; not even the letter of the message.

In this sense, we can see that Jesus, whom some identify with the Logos, was not so different from Nietzsche’s anti-prophet Zarathustra:

“All the names of good and evil are parables: they do not declare, but only hint. Whoever among you seeks knowledge of them is a fool!” — Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The Great Iconoclast

Imagine if you will a medieval man, centuries after Christ, who was familiar with Judaism and Christianity. Imagine that this man was impressed by the Judaic aversion to idolatry, but also recognized Christ as a man—or messenger—of Truth. Imagine that he rejected the Trinity, and the notion that Jesus is God. Imagine that this man became quite well known for his opinion that Jesus is not God, such that we might consider him the first Unitarian. Imagine that he was a man of his time, and realizing the efficacy of power, mustered an army and ordered that army to pursue idolators and smash idols to the ends of the earth.

Let us call this man, for lack of a better name, Muhammad. Maybe this man was so single-minded about smashing idols that he might be called a prophet. Perhaps he was such a dedicated Unitarian that he rejected the very possibility of any religion other than the religion of Unitarianism, going so far as to call himself “the Seal of the Prophets”:

“Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Apostle of God, and the seal of the prophets: and God knoweth all things.” Qur’an (Rodwell translation)

Let us further imagine that this man was seen by by his enemies as a militant religious fanatic and his followers as a crusader for his god Allah. Perhaps we can imagine that they had him wrong. Perhaps we can imagine that he was after something more fundamental, and that the rest—his doctrines, methods, and even his personal beliefs—was all circumstantial.

Idolatry in Islam

The man in the painting is not going bowling. If we look closely enough, we find that even Muhammad was an idolator; but who isn’t? Shall Muslims be permitted to rise above the man? Not if they continue to idolize him.

It is commonly understood that Islam means “submission”, but submission to what? Submission to Islam? Certainly not. That would be circular, would it not? It has always been understood to mean “submission to God”; but what is God? Is God to be taken as the Islamic image of God, “Allah”, or is God to be taken as that ultimate, unknowable creative essence behind—or within—things? Perhaps the core meaning of Islam is “submission to no idol, however subtle”.

“Seek knowledge even unto China” — Muhammad

If we were to take this as the essence of Islam, could this not be a religion of the future? Could we go so far as to say that Islam is faith in Reason? If this seems like too much of a stretch, can we at least see how Islam might be seen as a medieval attempt to free humanity of idolatry?

Let the true Muslims step forward to smash the idols of Islam.

Jesus laughed.

The SF Bay Area is a good place for those who enjoy trading their wages for palatable art and entertainment, but those who really desire the cutting edge—we head to Fresno.

Jesus or Bust
Barry Smith (photo by Mark Fox)

Now I understand that the book Science Made Stupid defines half-life as “Saturday night in Fresno”, and yes, there was something in there about Fresno and the event horizon of a black hole, but hey, times have changed!

I had run into Barry Smith on the aether a couple years ago, and just last Thursday I was cleaning out one of my email boxes when I stumbled on the remnants of our brief correspondence. I wandered onto the web and browsed through his tour schedule: coming to Fresno—tomorrow!

Coincidence? You be the judge.

I had six hours to drive to Fresno and back and catch Barry Smith’s show Jesus in Montana in between. I’d be locked out if I got there a minute late, so I left San Jose hoping that the 2 1/2 hour drive would not be extended to 3 hours by some unforeseen calamity (as it often is).

I turns out I arrived with time to spare, so I ran down Olive Avenue, wolfed down half a California burger, ran back to the Starline and dropped the price of admission out of my wallet onto the table. I had finally made it. I stumbled into the dark club, felt around for a chair, and basked in the glow of anticipation.

It was certainly therapeutic to sit in the dark laughing in unison with total strangers about a Baha’i doomsday cult, but what was perhaps just as exhilarating was re-living the grand chase for prophecy and universal annihilation that Barry Smith so hilariously describes in his expertly timed PowerPoint presentation.

This is not just any PowerPoint doomsayer. Move over Al Gore.

Barry Smith sees prophecy in the most mundane source material. He even finds Jesus in a street address from his childhood. Ludicrous, eh? Maybe so, but it’s not as uncommon as you may think, and you might want to try it some time. It can bring on quite a buzz.

I have been there. As a young Baha’i, I studied Biblical prophecy, American Indian prophecy, Hindu prophecy, Zoroastrian prophecy, Tibetan prophecy, Nostradamus, blah blah, but I never quite grasped the “Paul is dead” scandal; not, at least, until now.

Perhaps Barry Smith is having fun at the expense of others, but as much as anything, he is poking fun at himself. Perhaps that is the most therapeutic aspect of the whole show.

This must be made available on DVD someday. Come on Barry: if Al could do it, so can you.

A few notes for Baha’is …

I should warn you that “Jesus in Montana” has been rated “R” by—er, Barry?—for foul language, and references to drugs, Armageddon, fornication, religion, and one particular sex offender; but it isn’t all that hard on the Baha’i Faith.

Barry Smith goes so far as to say that, as part of the Baha’i doctrine of progressive revelation, prophecy is the way that God tells us how to recognize the Manifestations. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard it put that way before, but that seems to be the way a lot of Baha’is look at it. One might call it the “Thief in the Night” wing of the Baha’i Faith.

I understand that Baha’is of the dominant Haifan group are strongly advised to avoid any discussion of the sect that Barry Smith has so much fun with, but it seems to me there is little to fear. Smith pokes fun particularly at the minute size of the BUPC, and estimates, quite charitably, the total number of Baha’is at seven million. He does poke a little fun at progressive revelation, but in a good-natured way. Moses, for instance, taught us not to eat paste, and Jesus taught us how to write in cursive.


Yes, it is true that, like the cult leader that Barry Smith celebrates, I too am a Jensen, and yes my father is a Baha’i Chiropractor, and it’s true that he has been expecting Armageddon since he first read the Scriptures and the pilgrim notes; but that is where the similarities end. Well, my mother was born in Montana. Oh, and there was that guy named Barry who lived in our basement. Hmmm … maybe I didn’t actually grow up in California …