Perception Management: Source of the Eternal Conflict between Good and Evil
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
The foreign and domestic policy crises of the current Administration may be blamed someday on Barack Obama if he does not solve them. But, we may hope that historians will admit that he did not create them.
One may find many causes for chaos in the world, both political and financial, but a major one is what Steven Pinker in his book, The Stuff of Thought, has called “perception management.” This is may be defined simply as “cover up.” It can be used both aggressively to impose one’s own power on others or to defend oneself from being outed.
Such false or falsified knowledge is the opposite of what Christian theologians often term the Logos, which is the embodiment of truth in the form of ultimate knowledge. Christians would say that this comes from the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. Muslims say it comes from the Ruh al Quddus or Holy Spirit through the Qur’an.
Perception management is the art of manipulating words or terminology in order to control public debate. At its most sophisticated, this new term equates with what Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene in 1976 called “mimetic warfare,” which consists of using mimes or symbols to control a person’s or a group’s sub-conscious by subliminal suggestion. America’s most prestigious journal, Foreign Affairs, first elevated this twenty years later to the level of paradigmatic combat by offering to university professors and think-tanks a book-length and very academic position paper, entitled The New Shape of World Politics: Contending Paradigms in International Relations, in which Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” was the most sophisticated.
At its worst, perception management / mimetic warfare is the key to ideological totalitarianism, which has been raised in the modern era deliberately into what the Qur’an at the beginning of the first major surah, Al Baqara, 2:10,calls “a disease in their hearts” (fi qulubihim maradun), that is, into a mutually reinforcing syndrome of existential fear of chaos and the utopian worship of one’s own material power as a false god.
In short, managing perception is diabolic. The truth is perceivable only if we get out of the way. This requires, however, some explanation.
Jeremy Henzell-Thomas, who is a leading authority within Muslim circles on the subject of objectivity versus subjectivity, suggests that one can start an explanation by distinguishing between islam and iman as representative of the distinction between so-called rational thought and intellection. The distinction is between what one can assert, for example, in the Muslim statement of belief in God, the shahada, as a logical conclusion based on the improbability or impossibility of the universe creating itself, and what one can know from infused thought through one’s primordial bond with God, which transcends the material universe.
This raises the issue of whether one’s ability to know anything is determined by one’s learned vocabulary or is determined at least in part by the natural capability of every person to understand words that one knows without learning them, as well as the natural capability of one’s soul or non-material being to understand without words.
This is the subject of the Nostratic theory of language, in which Heba al Khateeb Musharraf at Princeton University is probably the world’s leading authority. One can argue whether the physical brain or jizm is wired to have a knowledge of essential sentinel root words or whether this “wiring” is outside the jizm or physical body in the nafs or soul. This properly is in the realm of the ghraib, that is, what we can not definitively know on earth. Muslims would argue that this inherent knowledge in the soul derives, in turn, from each person’s ruh or spirit, which eternally is in the presence of God unless and until one deliberately rejects such knowledge, which is one good definition of hell.
Christian theologians, of course, would say that lack of such knowledge is the default state of every person, which is the essence of the concept of original sin, and that only salvation through sanctifying grace earned by Jesus on the cross can restore one’s original state of grace. Muslims contend, on the other hand, that the default state is one of “sanctifying grace” or inherent knowledge of one’s own being and meaning and that one can lose this state of grace only through one’s own deliberate choices in life, at which point the doctrine of istidraj comes into play whereby the path of least resistance leads inevitably to the permanent loss of the divine presence, subject only to a miracle of restoration beyond justice through divine compassion. Salvation in Islam consists of becoming the person that one was created to be, which is within one’s own power of choice with the help of God.
This theological background helps to explain why the attempt to manage perception, particularly by political usurpation, is diabolical, and why we live today in the most polytheistic era of human history.
Dr. Henzell-Thomas states that the beginning of an explanation can be found from holy scripture in the Qur’anic ayah: And God has brought you forth from your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing – but He has endowed you with hearing, and sight, and knowing hearts, so that you might have cause to be grateful. [Qur’an 16:78]. It is interesting that throughout the Qur’an, when these two sources of knowledge are listed, the source known by Islamic scholars as ‘ain al yaqin or knowledge from direct observation of the material universe comes first. He expands this concept somewhat by introducing the Qur’anic term basirah or “conscious insight based on the higher human faculties of concrete perception and observation.” One might expand it further to include what he calls “abstract mental cogitation.” This would include what he calls the faculty of firasa or “perspicacity, acumen, and minute observation.”
This expanded definition is the same as what Islamic scholars call ‘ilm al yaqin. The bizarre Muslim sect known as Wahhabism holds that this is not a source of knowledge and that the only valid sources are the Qur’an and ahadith. The Qur’an, however, defines the endowment of hearing and sight to include the power of understanding through both rational and inspired thought. In fact, this is precisely what the term iqra in Surah al Iqra, 96:1, means.
The third source of knowledge, besides ‘ain al yaqin and ‘ilm al yaqin, in classical Islamic terminology is haqq al yaqin or divine revelation, which is the most reliable for Muslims if it is properly understood through study of the coherence (nazm) of the Qur’an itself and the substance (matn) of the ahadith (rather then merely the isnad or chain of transmission). Such understanding can come through the “heart,” especially the nafs mutma’ina or enlightened soul. At this level, a person is open to direct inspiration or ilham, which has meaning only for oneself and is never authoritative for anyone else.
As a Franciscan monk (perhaps the only Muslim one in the world), since I never left the Order, I became accustomed to reading regularly from a series of sources. The past thirty years I have tried to read from the Qur’an and recently from the writings of Syyed Hossein Nasr and Pope Benedict XVI. Both of these great scholars are masters in understanding the dire threat of “modernism” or superficial understanding of truth and justice. The only apparent lucuna in the Holy Father’s knowledge is that Islam as a religion has produced the most sophisticated scholars anywhere in the world on precisely what he says is increasingly missing from the world. He seems also to be unaware that Muslim scholars and “saints” were the leading teachers of their counterparts in Christianity.
Yesterday, in my readings I happened to be up to Surah Ibrahim, 14:24-27, which reads, A lam tara kayfa daraba Allahu mathalan kalimatan tayyibatan k shajaratan tayyibatan ... , “Are you not aware how God sets forth the parable of a good word like a good tree ... ,” whereas a bad word, mathalu kalimatin khabithatin, is like an uprooted tree wholly unable to endure. This is interesting not only because it shows that the word daraba throughout the Qur’an never means to “hit” as in “hit your wife” but is used metaphorically, as in “strike a metaphor” or “compare” or “separate from.” More importantly this metaphor highlights the importance of the term kalimatu Allahi, the Word of God, which is the same as the Eastern Orthodox use of the Greek term Logos, in Aramaic kalima, which refers to Jesus as the Word of God, just as the Qur’an uses the same word referring to itself.
In his tafsir as a footnote commentary, Muhammad Asad says, “In its wider meaning, ... a ‘good word’ circumscribes any proposition (or idea) that is intrinsically true and - because it implies a call to what is good in the moral sense - is ultimately beneficent and enduring; and since a call to moral righteousness is the innermost purport of every one of God’s messages, the term ‘good word’ applies to them as well. Similarly, the ‘corrupt word” mentioned in verse 26 applies to the opposite of what a divine message aims at, namely, to every idea that is intrinsically false or morally evil and, therefore, spiritually harmful.” Asad further explains that the translation “wholly unable to endure” comes from ma laha min qarar, whereby qarar means “having no permanence whatever” so that “the corrupt word is ephemeral in its effect, however strong its original impact on the minds of people who fall prey to it.”
The most significant ayah in the entire Qur’an, in my opinion, is wa tama’at kalimatu rabbika sidqan wa ‘adlan, Surah al An’am 6:115, “And the word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice,” which is the basis of all spiritual awareness and of all Islamic jurisprudence. Justice is traditionally defined as perfectly balanced order but only in the sense of order based on truth. As Syed Hossein Nasr put it in his talk, “The Good is What Happens,” on September 17, 1999, every event in one’s life or the life of one’s community is good to the extent that one appreciates it and uses its lessons as a means to recognize falsehood and to increase the good, because “truth is to grow in perfection.”
Pope Benedict XVI comments in his reading for February 20, “Truth and worship stand in an indissociable relationship to each other; one cannot really flourish without the other, however often they have gone their separate ways in the course of history.” And for February 25th, which this year is Ash Wednesday, yesterday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter and the first day of Lent, he writes, “Christian faith is properly the religion of ordinary people. ... It comes about in a state of obedience that places us at God’s disposition wherever He calls. It is the same obedience that does not trust to one’s own power or one’s own greatness but is founded on the greatness of the God of Jesus Christ.”
In his Pre-Lenten reading for February 19th, The Holy Father defines truth: “Thomas Aquinas, as is well known, defined truth as the adequation of the intellect to reality. ... The perception of the truth is a process which brings man into conformity with being. It is a ‘becoming one’ of the ‘I’ and the world, it is consonance, it is being gifted and purified. To the extent then men allow themselves to be guided and cleansed by the truth, they find the way not only to their true selves but also to the human ‘you’. Truth, in fact, is the medium in which men make contact, whereas it is the absence of truth which closes them off from one another. Accordingly, the movement toward the truth implies temperance. If the truth purifies man from egoism and from the illusion of absolute autonomy, if it makes him obedient and gives him the courage to be humble, it thereby also teaches him to see through producibility as a parody of freedom and to unmask undisciplined chatter as a parody of dialogue. It is victorious over the tendency to mistake the absence of all ties for freedom. Thus, the truth is fruitful precisely by being loved for its own sake.”
The most significant verse in the entire Bible or Old Testament is from Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue.” This was the essential teaching of perhaps the greatest spiritual leader in the world during the twentieth century, Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook, who was also a warner. He taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion. The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins.
Alhough his modern followers have reversed much of his teachings, the entire life of Rebbe Kook, who was the Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 to 1935, spoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God’s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind. “For the basic disposition of the Israelite nation,” he announced, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.”