Talking Stick and Spirituality LO20238

AM de Lange (
Mon, 21 Dec 1998 12:08:54 +0200

Replying to LO20192 --

Dear Organlearners,

Bill Harris <> writes:

>I have no idea what your spiritual or religious background is.
>Suppose for a minute you are a devout Christian. Let's say
>you join a company in another culture (pick one that is not
>predominantly Christian in heritage), and this company is big
>on shared vision. They have a large meeting of the entire
>company (some 200-300 people). As part of that meeting, to
>show people's commitment to and union with the organization,
>they have a "communion" in which everyone eats from a
>common loaf of bread and drinks from a common cup of wine.
>Later, others in the organization rave about how this novel
>ceremony gave them a feeling of a common bond. You (in this
>hypothetical scenario) felt revulsion as they secularized and
>profaned something that was very important to you, and you
>felt coerced into participation, because no one else in the room
>shared your beliefs or even understood the meaning and import
>of this act in your eyes and in your tradition.

Greetings Bill,

Thank you very much for a most vivid "thought experiment". It was more
strinking to me than even Ray Evans Harrel's explanation many moons ago
why we should heed caution in using the talking stick as a symbolic

Speaking of the "holy communion", it reminded me of my study (together
with Leo Minnigh) on the Guilds during the Middle Ages as examples of
Learning Organisations. There were different kinds of guilds. The
interesting kind (for our present discussion) was the "nutrition guilds".
This kind of guild is also the oldest known to us. They already existed in
Greece from the the 3rd century BC, known as "eranoi". Poor people paid
regularly a small amount to belong to a "nutrition guilds". These guilds
were also subsidised by rich benefactors who were also members. Thus these
"nutrition guilds" functioned as a voluntary tax-service system. The
members of a "nutrition guild" met at regular intervals to have a "feast".
During the feats they did not only eat and drink, but also learnt good
table manners and food preparation techniques form the better endowed
members. This kind of guild lasted for more than a millenium and a half
until the days of the reformation. Sadly, many reformers strongly
discouraged these guilds on two grounds: they led to carousing habits and
the profaning of the "holy communion". By the beginning of the sixteenth
century these "nutrition guilds" have disappeared from society.

The Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) left my own people (the Afrikaners) very
poor in the Transvaal and Free State, the two countries invloved in that
war. The reason was the strategy of the British forces was to destroy
everything so that the Boere could not sustain the war for long. For
example, when my own grandfather got back to his farm after the war,
nothing was left over. His house and sheds were completely destroyed. All
the farming implements were removed. The bore holes were filled up. There
was no domesticated animals left, not even a chicken. He had to walk for
three months to the cape colocy and back to get his first cow and calf
from a benefactor.

Any way, starvation was a serious problem the next twenty years in the
twons and country side alike. So what happened was that my people
organised "sop kombuise" (soup kitchens). Willing hands prepared on a
daily basis in a "sop kombuis" a rich broth for all the hungry people in
the vincinity, also delivering soup to schools close by. Whoever had some
ingriedient to donate to the broth, did so. (The broth as a rich mixture
hided the fact that the ingredient donated by an individual on its own was
actually poor.) These "sop kombuise" became treasured institutions,
symbolising the spirit of compassion, communion and rejuvenation which
emerged in the poor communities.

The reason why I mentioned the "sop kombuise", is that few of these
people, if any, would have mind if any other culture in the world would
have used these "sop kombuise" as a symbolic token for compassion,
communion and rejuvenation. On the other hand, these same people were very
religious Christians. The far majority would have certainly felt deep
revulsion if some other culture would have used the "holy communion" as a
symbolic token in which compassion, communion and rejuvenation also played
a central role. So why the different behaviours?

I think it is the religious factor itself. The "sop kombuis" was the
people's own solution to their problems. Being religious people, they just
had to find a solution to the problem of starvation. But the solution was
solely the result of their own self-organisation. On the other hand, the
"holy communion" is not the people's own solution to their spiritual
problems. It was Jesus Christ's solution to remind them symbolically why
He lived, died and was resurrected. It was not in their power to change
this symbolism. Thus I find deep wisdom in what Bill writes:

>Whether it profaned the act or not, and whether you
>personally (i.e., in reacting to this scenario) felt revulsion
>or not, is (IMHO) not the issue. (snip) If the goal is to create
>an open and inclusive environment, appropriating such
>religious symbolism for corporate purposes seems very

Each of us have to respect the religion of any other person, no matter
what that religion amounts to. Only when that religion has as its purpose
to destroy all other religions by violent means, may we react against such
an religion. If we do not want to associate with another person's religion
in a constructive sense, it gives us no reason to dissociate ourselves
form that religion in a destructive sense. One of the most important
aspects of any religion is its symbolism. We must also respect that

To respect the symbolsim of religions, is far more complex than merely
thinking logically. The first break through in logics itself was when
logicians in the previous century realised that logics itself dpended on
symbolic repesentation. Since then they speak of symbolic logic rather
than merely logic. The fundamental insight is as follows. Consider the
statement "the plant has leaves". It makes use of certain English words to
convey an abstract meaning. The next sentence in my own mother tongue make
use of Afrikaans words to convey exactly the same abstract meaning: "die
plant het blare". Thus we can represent the same abstract meaning by two
DIFFERENT complex sets of symbols. We can use two DIFFERENT simple symbols
to do the same thing. You may decide to use the symbol P to represent that
abstract meaning and I may decide to use the symbol Q. In other words, we
are "logically free" to use any symbol (simple or complex) to represent a

This "logical freeness" sets up a complementary duality. We are also
"logically free" to use a UNIQUE MATERIAL SYMBOL to represent any
abstract meaning. But as soon as we connect
the ralm of logic. For example, let the unique symbol P represent the
unique abstract meaning conveyed by the sentence "the plant has
leaves". Now, when P connects to that unique meaning, we say that P
has the value T (true). When P connects to any other meaning, even the
meaning "the plant has no leaves", we say that P has the value F

The purpose of logics is to INFER from "given true symbols", the truth
value of other symbolic expressions which is made up by these ""given
true symbols". For example, we have
"P is true" and "P AND S is true". Other symbolic expressions in this
case of which we can infer the truth value, are for example.
"P OR S"
All three these expressions are true. But an expression like
(XOR=exlusive or)
will be false.

Unless we INFER the truth value of a symbolic expression, we cannot simply
assume that its value is one of the two cases TRUE or FALSE. In other
words, unless we INFER (becoming) the meaning of a symbol (being), it can
have any possible meaning, even contradictory (opposite) meanings. It
means that the "becoming" is needed to fix the meaning of the "being". The
task of logic is thus to provide us with a certain kind of "becomings"
which we call inference rules to fix the meaning of "beings" which we call
theorems. The famous logician Kurt Goedel has provided us with a theorem
and its proof that logic which is powerful (complex) enough to sustain the
system mathematics, cannot provide inference rules to prove all its
theorems. In oither words, when a logic becomes complex, it also becomes
incomplete. Shocking, is it not? But this is one of the facets what the
essentiality "openness" is about.

Now, if our complex logic is incomplete, it means that there are certain
symbolic expressions (beings) which we cannot establish the meaning of by
means of LOGIC ITSELF. It does not mean that we cannot establish the
meaning at all. The meanings can still be established by becomings, but
not of the logical kind! The three important ones to me are the becomings
"creating", "learning" and "believing". The act of "believing" suggest
immediately how important religious ceremonies (becomings, behaviours) are
to establish the meaning of religious symbols. These religious symbols
usually defy a logical analyses because of Goedel's incompleteness

Now, back to Bill's timely warning "appropriating such religious symbolism
for corporate purposes seems very dangerous." Unless we commit ourselves
to all the religious ceremonies invloved with a particular religious
symbol, we cannot expect to know its actual meaning. Therefore, any
attempt to give it a meaning without such ceremonies, despite our attempts
to honour the actual meaning, will usuallly, if not always, result in some
other meaning than the actual meaning. In other words, our inference of
such a religious symbol will invariably be false. Thus, the best way to
respect the actual meanings of such religious symbols (beings) if we do
not want to participate in the religious ceremonies (becomings), is to
leave them (symbols) intact just as we left the ceremonies intact. We
should not try to share in the beings if we do not want to share in the

Spirituality means that leaving some spiritual thing intact is far
different from ignoring that thing. How are we then able to learn
about these religious ceremonies and symbols in order to respect them
if we should leave them intact? Think of the five elementary
sustainers of creativity:

I think that dialogue (without judgement) is our best option. People
should participate in dialogue when they want to learn more about the
ceremonies and symbols of other religions. What they never should do, is
to make judgements in order to stop such a dialogue to serve their own

The second option is exemplar-studying. But in this case the observer
should respect the irreversible self-organisation taking place in the
exemplar - "leave the baking of the cake to itself". Eventually exemplaric
studies will have to be supplemented by dialgue to clarify the subtleties.

The option which we should avoid at all costs, is game-playing. Far too
many people confuse game-playing with exemplar-studying. With respect to
religious symbols, this leads to great conflicts.

Best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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