Tuesday, October 07, 2008

strife is justice

Heraclitus; Dike eris, "strife is justice"

By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 07, 10 Mashiyyat 165 BE

John the Evangelist, known to early Christians as the beloved disciple, gained profound insight into the Message of Jesus not only by his long, close and direct personal relationship with the Master Himself, but also by his evident familiarity with the fragmentary writings of the Ephesian pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. Being thus intimate with Biblical and philosophic traditions, John was in a position to combine the core teachings of both in the famous opening of his gospel,

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

This idea of Word, or Logos, as the creative, divine essence of all things in the universe combined the religious genesis myth with the best that natural philosophy (known after the mid-19th Century as science) could offer. Indeed science has hardly gone beyond this Logos concept even today. More than a few physicists point to the implication of quantum mechanics that the entire universe is a giant calculating machine, performing essentially what Heraclitus saw as the task of Logos, what Baha'is call the Manifestation of God. In John's statement that "the Logos was with God, the Logos was God" we see the first glimmering of the Baha'i principle of harmony between science and religion.

The idea of Logos is characteristic of the many profound insights of Heraclitus, of which we only have snippets. I have unbounded admiration for him; I think he is among the greatest geniuses ever, and that he probably ranks as a minor prophet. Without his pioneering of terms like justice and "Logos," the Baha'i idea of the Manifestation of God would be incomprehensible. Baha'u'llah, for example, uses the idea of Logos, or "first Word," in the following meditation:

"I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth, and the First Call gone forth from His lips than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths." (Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, CLXXVIII, p. 295)

Heraclitus did not use the Logos in isolation. It is inherent to his concept of justice. This in turn is part of the best known idea of Heraclitus, that everything is in flux, that the universe is ever changing,

"For, it is impossible to step twice in the same river." (Heraclitus, fr. 91)

Heraclitus's universe is a calculating machine, working according to binary principles, just like our computers of today. Just as a computer calculates with numbers that are no more than strings of ones and zeros, the stuff of the universe is ever leaning into existence and then quickly flaring off into nothingness. This is Heraclitus's concept of Dike Eris, or "strife is justice." Dike (meaning right) was a daughter of Zeus who sat at his right hand distributing justice; Eris or strife was the twin sister of the god of war, symbolizing the divisive words and attitudes that are the preconditions of physical confrontation. Thus justice is the one and strife the zero of the ever fluctuating binary processes of existence and non-being in the universe. Yet in the end, after all the ones and zeros are gone, what remains? Nothing. Hence, as Plato cited Heraclitus, "All things going and remaining not at all." The Wikipedia article on Dike eris further explains,

"Heraclitus here references the Scythian bow, the horns of which pointed forward unstrung but back strung, or the deformation of the cross-bar of the lyre under string tension. The palintropos of an object would therefore be its stinting from the growth of the current instant by the decay of the object of the previous. This identity-not-identity accounts for such statements as:[44]

"It is one and the same thing to be living and dead, awake or asleep, young or old."

"A change is the result of a change in balance."

"Cold things become warm, and what is warm cools; what is wet dries, and the parched is moistened."

Yet beyond this impersonal flux is a higher justice, a greater intelligence whose love infuses all with purpose and meaning. The great computer has a Programmer. Baha'u'llah uses very Heraclitean language in the continuation of the mediation begun above.

"Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness." (Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, CLXXVIII, p. 295)

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