Tuesday, July 03, 2007

i and i and thou

So from time to time I tend to ride on strange trains of thought. A while ago I wrote a post called the tao passes the turing test which tried to give an alternative way to think about God's existence (or more specifically, God's intelligence). Then I started to wonder if one could make use of Martin Buber's distinction between I-It relationships (objective, detached) and I-Thou relationships (loving, unconditional) to make a similar point. It isn't really surprising that Buber says it is possible to have I-It relationships with other people because it is all-too-easy to find examples of alienated, dehumanizing relationships. The funny thing is that Buber says it is possible to have I-Thou relationships with trees...

which for me evokes some lines from the Spearhead song, "Of Course you can"
In school they tried to tell me
that a rock is not alive
but I have seen a volcano growin' up and die
In school they tried to tell me
that a tree it couldn't feel
but I have felt a tree and it was bleeding for real
In school they tried to tell
me animals couldn't talk
but they can understand it when a dog starts to bark
in school they tried to tell me
man doesn't have a soul
"whet happened to his" I say "cause mine is
still whole!"

But if I-Thou relationships are possible with trees, then perhaps with "the Tao" as well? In other words, the question of God's personhood may have more to do with our subjective perspective than God's objective ontology. So if a hardcore skeptic has trouble accepting a theistic personal God, perhaps another kind of spiritual path would start with belief in a not-necessarily-personal Ultimate Realty (the Tao, Higher Power, Nature) but would then still find meaningful ways to relate to this Reality as an intelligent (in the sense of Turing) Thou (in the sense of Buber). Just a thought.

But that's all background. Actually the thought which most directly inspired this post was the question of whether anyone out in the blogosphere had ever compared Buber's terminology with the Rastafarian use of the phrase "I and I". And a couple of Google searches later I came across Caribbean blogger and published author, Geoffrey Philp and his fascinating post on Reggae, Rastafari and Aesthetics.

And more recently I was reading in Sadiq Alam's post Language of the Sufis how within Islam, mystics have also used pronouns in unconventional ways in order to transmit a higher level of truth. In fact, one could probably draw other analogies between the relationship between Rastafarianism and Christianity and the relationship between certain Sufi orders and Islam. But that will have to wait for another day.


geoffreyphilp101@gmail.com said...

I look forward to the analysis.


Abdul-Halim V. said...

hmmm... a lot of thoughts are coming to mind right now, especially around the question of how to exactly define a "Muslim Rasta" so to speak. Initially I was thinking of soem African Sufis who tend to grow dreadlocks... and I would still like to write on them eventualy... but then I also remembered that in black muslims in the uk I had already made reference to some Muslims of African-descent who also have Pan-African and mystical leanings... except in other respects they seem very different from the Rastas.

but yes, a more thorough presentation will wait till later...

geoffreyphilp101@gmail.com said...

Dear Abdul-Halim,
I was also thinking specifically around the constellation of these three posts:

and the conclusion that there is One Power known by many names and yet unnameable.


Abdul-Halim V. said...

feel free to share more of your own thoughts...

I agree with you that there is one God with many names... and more specifically, I would echo Sadiq's point that folks (especially mystics) in the Abrahamic tradition seem to be doing some specific and distinctive things with propositions in order to convey some wisp of what God is like.

In Sadiq's examples (to some degree) the language is used to express something of God's absence.. which makes sense especially with the Sufi poets who use the language of loving and longing for the beloved.

In contrast, the Rasta use of I and I overwhelmingly emphasizes the unity and connection both among our fellow human beings and between the human being and God.

Sufis (especially some of the ecstatic Sufis like al-Hallaj and Bistami) have made famous utterances which also express unity with God. But my sense is that the message of unity is at times mixed in with other language which emphasizes the seperation between God and the creation.

geoffreyphilp101@gmail.com said...

Yes, Abdul-Halaim, you are quite right, there is a difference between the two groups of mystics.
The ecstatic Sufis such as al-Hallaj (I know a little about his work) seem to follow the Abrahamic tradition of separation and exile from God whereas Rastafari follows the Gnostic Christian tradition of the unity with God.
What fascinates me with Rastafari--and so little is known about the early mystics of Rastafari--is how they forrmulated this theology without, as I can tell any access to the Gnostic Christian texts. Not that I'm saying one NEEDS texts to be aware of these things that demonstrate the connection to the Almighty, but the sentiments, the corelations are just amazing.


Abdul-Halim V. said...

hmmm... i wouldn't consider myself an expert on Gnostics or Rastas but I generally didn't think of mysticism as something which needed to be transmitted just in order to exist.

Or maybe another way to say what I'm thinking is that the Bible is already a big complex book with alot of different messages which can be found between its pages. And there are already alot of verses in the Bible which can be used to support the idea of unity between God and man, or between human beings. So it isn't that surprising that the Rastas exist even if they weren't necessarily exposed to historical Gnostic writings.


But actually, one posibility which comes to mind is that the Rasats do have a certain connection with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and that branch of Christianity actually does have a larger canon than either the CAtohlics or Rrotestants. I'm not sure if some of those extra books are especially "Gnostic" but it is a possibility.

hmmm.. might be worth checking into.

geoffreyphilp101@gmail.com said...

The early leaders of Rastafari and even now do have a connection to the texts of the Ethiopian Othrodox Church, but that may just be my bias and reliance on texts...

A more likely explanation is an epiphany....

To paraphrase our friend, Sufis cry, Buddhists laugh, and Rastafari sing, "One Love, One Heart, Let's get together and fell all right."


malangbaba said...


hmm...u should come visit brooklyn...

in bed-sty and crown heights, muslims and rastas live by each other, share storefronts, and street vendors work the same streets...so some interesting intertwining goes on...

rastas who occasionally drop by the masjid for salaat...or at the least give salaam on the street, while younger muslims dap them up, and talk about life, faith, politics, etc...