The sacred torch, the cross and the earthquake

Dharma WheelFirst, Catherine and I want to make it clear that we are not gloating over the suffering caused by the earthquake in China.   We will ask our local Catholic Priest to offer a special prayer for the earthquake victims at mass next Sunday.

But that throws all the recent babble about the “sacred” Olympic torch and Jin Jing the “angel” into clearer perspective, doesn’t it.

For all of the Chinese PR babble about the “sacred” torch and Jin Jing the “angel”, how many victims of the earthquake are now taking the slightest bit of comfort, consolation or spiritual sustenance from contemplating the Olympic Torch?

crucifixAll it takes is a reminder of the essential human conditions of vulernability, suffering and death, for false idols like the Olympic Torch to be revealed as deaf, dumb, mute and impotent gods, powerless to inspire faith, hope or charity.

Meanwhile the truly sacred symbols of the Buddha, the Koran and the Cross of Christ continue to inspire those three “great things that last” – faith, hope, and charity – among the Chinese believers in those true faiths, in ways the Communist Party is revealed, once again, to be impotent to do.

Islam symbolTrue, neither the Buddha nor the Koran nor the Cross of Christ could prevent the earthquake.    But the spiritual power in those truly sacred symbols is the power to inspire transcendence of suffering and death, a power which does not reside in the “sacred” torch or in its corporate sponsors.    Call the Christian eucharist (the consecrated bread and wine, the “body and blood” of Christ) a superstition if you will, but those who believe in it are sustained mentally, spiritually – and thereby even medically, to some extent – by its symbolism of transcendence of suffering and mortality.    The same will never be true of Coca Cola, and Lenovo’s computers will never inspire righteous moral struggle in the way the Holy Koran does.


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23 Responses to The sacred torch, the cross and the earthquake

  1. Adriana says:

    I pray too for the suffering people of China, and may their tears have an end.

    The torch how can it help them? At bottom it celebrates the strong and healthy and beautiful, and they are not, they can admire it and praise it, but it will not bend in their direction. This is the dirty secret of neo-pagan symbols, they are with you when you are strong and “worthy” and abandon you in your hour of need. It means, it will be with you as long as you do not need it.

  2. Ned Kelly says:

    Yes it’s a pagan symbol, and in particular it’s a phallic symbol.
    It would make a good dildo, a phallic sex toy for its homoerotic promoters to play with in their own overstretched rectums.

  3. Mark Anthony Jones says:

    Ned, I am still snowed under with work, though I will be making an online come-back next month, with the launch of a new website to coincide with my book launch. I can’t resist the temptation to respond to this last comment of yours though, despite my present workload:

    Yes, I agree, the Olympic Torch is a phallic symbol, and yes, it is homoerotic. Actually, I have always seen it as a phallic symbol, but I have never made the connection with homoeroticism. Very insightful of you, Ned. The more I think about it, the more I agree. I don’t have a problem with the torch being a phallic symbol, or a homoerotic symbol though. Despite being inherently pagan in origin (or fascist, in its 20th century reincarnation), the torch today has been appropriated in numerous ways, by both nation states, and through popular culture, and now represents different things to different people. The torch contains many layers of meaning, do you not agree?

  4. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ, good to hear from you as always. Of course I was mostly just being snarky about the phallic symbol – it’s not the main point of this post – but a bit more seriously my secondary point is that its sexual implications are part and parcel of its symbol of power for power’s own sake. This is not to say power is bad; power is amoral, but that’s why power-worship is essentially pagan, and does not provide any sustenance (even if only “psychological” sustenance) for the weak.

    And I consider sport to be a categorical good, per se. But the Torch has nothing to do with sport – no more than Coca Cola does.

    Pop around again, anytime. And when your website is up we might blogroll it.

  5. Mark Anthony Jones says:

    Ned, we are once again in agreement here. The Torch has nothiing to do with sport, apart that is, from its promotional role. The torch promotes sporting events, as staged by the Olympics.

    Or should we perhaps turn this equation around, arguing instead that sport is no longer about sport, but is instead staged to advertise commodities. In his book The Transparency of Evil (Verso, 1993), Jean Baudrillard argues just this. ‘Sport itself,’ he writes, ‘is no longer located in sport as such, but instead in business, in sex, in politics, in the general style of performance.’

    Regards again,
    Mark Anthony Jones

  6. Ned Kelly says:


    Did Baudrillard ever really exist? 😉 (Reminds me of the best philosophy joke of all time. Rene Descartes goes into a bar, has a glass of wine, and then the bartender asks if he’d like another. Descartes says, “I don’t think…” and then vanishes into thin air.)

    I would say that especially in America, as well as in other countries to a lesser extent, sport has become commodified in the most grotesque ways. Personally I’ve enjoyed partaking in athletic activities – mostly individual instead of team sports – but have never had much interest in being a spectator. Why should I pay to watch some thyroid-freak stuff a ball through a hoop? Or “support” my “local” team whose members don’t even come from my home city?

    That said, I do enjoy watching women’s figure skating, because it’s just good to watch beautiful women dancing around in short skirts. But in the 1988 Winter Olympics I hoped for the East German skater Katerina Witt to win – I cheered for the “enemy” – because, well, she was hot.

    But otherwise I won’t consider any spectator sports to be REALLY “sacred” or “spiritual” unless they are performed as seriously as they were when the Aztecs gave their sport champions the prize of becoming human sacrifices.

  7. C.A. Yeung says:

    We shouldn’t forget the pagan origin of many Catholic symbols, with the cross itself being one and the image of Jesus as a shepherd another.

    It is through investigating the pagan origin of Catholicism that I come to realise how Chinese indigenous religion, as expressed in various forms of Taoism, has a lot in common with other pagan religions around the world. Take the Celtic cross as an example (by the way, one of the pictures that I embedded for this post, the one on the right hand side, is a version of the Celtic cross), it has its origin as a Hindu symbol of sexual union, and hence is a phallic symbol. It is also related to the 4 seasons and the 5 directions, with the circle as the all encompassing centre, which connects the 4 directions in the cycle of life. Incidentally, this reverence to the Centre as the sources of life is a main theme in some of the ancient Taoist texts uncovered at Mawangdui. In these texts the Yellow Emperor personified the Centre of a correlated cosmology. He was also described symbolically as the sources of Yin and Yang, or the life-giving source. A coincidence? – I’m not too sure.

    MAJ, I agree with you that the symbolic significance of the Olympic Torch changes over time. However, I am not convinced that all symbols and/or their transformations are of equal significance. Some symbols are more enduring than others because they are grounded in deep rooted genetic memories that go back a long way. They help invoke a sense of spatial and temporal transcendence that will give “meaning” to the sensors by alleviating them from their otherwise mundane existence.

  8. Mark Anthony Jones says:

    Dear Catherine,

    I wasn’t trying to suggest that every layer of meaning embodied in a symbolc object is of equal significance. I agree with you. When you say that symbols are ‘grounded in deep rooted genetic memories’ I assume you are referring to what Jung called ‘archetypes’. Circles and crosses (which you mention above) were also identified by Jung as archetypal symbols of Self – of the unity of Self that comes about through the processes of individuation. Archetypes are universal, which is why the symbolic representation of the Yin/Yang symbol has so much in common, as you have noted, with certain Celtic symbols.

    The phallic torch, with its burning flame of ever-lasting desire, is surely an archetypal symbol, and is reminiscent of the flaming torches commony depicted in Hollywood films as having been used at night by ‘primitive’ peoples, sexualised and exoticised as ‘noble savages’. Such flaming torches are often also depicted as having adorned sacrifical alters – bringing together yet again all the elements of sex and religion, with virgins to sacrifice, together with notions of life and death.

    Regards again,

  9. Ned Kelly says:

    Hm. Now this discussion is becoming very cool indeed!

    MAJ and Catherine, as I am a great admirer of (and to a large extent a student and even a bit of an expert on) the American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) – and so is Catherine but to a lesser extent than I – I do think Jung was onto something in his hypotheses and theories about “archetypes.”

    But as I am a – for lack of a better term – a “Campbellian” (a very provisional term because Joseph Campbell excoriated all “gurus”) – I agree with Joseph Campbell that Jung’s speculations about “archetypes” advanced our understanding, but were nonetheless a bit myopic (as Jung could not help but have limited vision according to his limited lights in his own time, as we all do.)

    Campbell thought – and I agree with him – that Jung was a great advancement beyond Freud, because Freud tended to reduce everything to infantile development, whereas Jung put MORE emphasis on ADULT development. And Campbell believed – as I do too – that Jung broke new ground as a pioneer, in perceiving the commonalities among all religions and semiotics of ALL Human “cultures”.

    However, Campbell (born around 40 years after Jung) did not call himself a “Jungian”, even though he acknowledged a great debt to Jung for being a pioneer. And – and this is the important bit I’ve been leading up to – the difference between Jung and Campbell, is that Campbell did even MORE historical research than Jung, through which Campbell discovered that Jung was PARTLY MISTAKEN in his theory of “archetypes.”

    Jung deduced – for good reasons – that the explanation for the common themes among religions and myths of ALL Humans all around the world, was because of “archetypes” based in biology/spirit. Well, that might be partly true. But then Campbell discovered that it’s more complicated than that. What the preponderance of evidence indicates, is that most – like 90 percent – of the common mythological and symbolic themes of all cultures, had a common origin in ancient Sumer (now Iraq) around 5,000-6,000 years ago, and then were spread out all around the world.

    And that includes most of the mythology of the Polynesians, and the myths of most sub-Saharan Africans. Those so-called “primitive” cultures were not so primitive, and most of their symbols were imported, originally, from what is now Iraq. Yes, even among the Maori of New Zealand.

    And many Native Americans too, although their stories are SLIGHTLY more “autochthonous”, but not totally. For example – one of my favourite examples – many Native Americans in what is now the USA,
    used the symbol of the swastika. And they used it in the SAME WAY as the BUDDHISTS DO! For the Native Americans, as well as for Buddhists, a swastika going clockwise means “creation”, and a swastiak going COUNTER-clockwise (the Nazi swastika) means “dissolution of consciousness into a larger whole; death.”

    The oldest swastika yet found by archeology, was found in Ukraine, around 10,000 years old or so. And as the Native Americans descend from “immigrants” of around 20,000 years ago, it’s pretty clear that the Native American swastika comes from the same tradition as those of Europe and Central Asia and Siberia.

    Now, there are two possible explanations for why the Native American swastikas mean the SAME THING as Eurasian ones. One explanation would be Jung’s, of “archetypes.” But wouldn’t a more logical explanation be what Campbell called, “cultural diffusion”, symbols and myths being disseminated all over the world from a common source? From the common parents of our worldwide Human Family?

    I like the second explanation better, because it suggests that all Humans are one family, with a shared history all the way back to our first parents, tens of thousands of years ago.

    And not just family in a “genetic” way, but in an even more important way of shared history and shared traditions.

  10. Ned Kelly says:

    PS, just a snarky aside which I cannot help but indulge in: don’t look for any really good philosophical conversations like this one anywhere in the “mainstream” China blogosphere, whose current putative leader has banned me and Catherine and MAJ.

    For vapid, boring discussions which go nowhere, go to “that other China-blogosphere site.” But for real discussions – and (who would have imagined?) courteous ones, where we can agree to disagree and then educate each other in truly productive ways, come and hang out with Catherine and Ned and MAJ. And with the ghost of “Ivan” too… 😉

  11. Pingback: Ivan comes back to talk about Mark Anthony Jones (MAJ) « Under the Jacaranda Tree

  12. Mark Anthony Jones says:

    Ned – I’m not familiar with the works of Campbell, but his research and theories do sound very interesting. I will examine his arguments in more detail at some point in the future, if ever I get the time! The idea of a “shared” history is appealing, I agree.

  13. C.A. Yeung says:


    I will not describe Jung’s notion of the archetypes as myopic. I don’t think that it is fair to compare Campbell with Jung and conclude that Campbell’s teaching was superior because he did more historical research. We have to remember that Jung and Campbell did not study mythology for the same reason. Jung was a clinical psychiatrist. He explored the worlds of dreams, art, mythology, religion and philosophy in order to understand the human psyche. He developed the concept of achetypes to explain the ways in which collective consciousness would have informed individual thought and behaviour. Campbell, on the other hand, was a comparative historian. His studies would understandably have involved identifying common elements in world civilisations and conducting historical research to explain similarities and differences. I haven’t had a chance to read all of Campbell’s writings. But I doubt very much Campbell would have said that Jung was partly mistaken in his theory of the archetypes. You are of course welcomed to correct me if I’m wrong.

  14. Ned Kelly says:

    I’ll just clarify what I meant by citing the following, and then leave it at that. From Otto Rank’s “In Quest of the Hero”:

    “Where for Jung the archetypal contents of myth arise out of the unconscious, only in some works of Campbell do they do so. Even then, sometimes the unconscious for Campbell is, as for Freud, acquired rather than, as for Jung, inherited. Other times the contents of myth – contents that Campbell calls “archetypal” simply because they are similar worldwide (Ned’s note; this is very different from Jung’s speculation about “collective unconscious”) – emerge from the imprint of either recurrent or traumatic experiences. (Ned’s note: the recurrent floods of ancient Eygpt would be a good example of how this works.) In all of these cases, as for Jung, each society creates its own myths (Ned’s note: but Campbell did not attribute this to a “collective
    unconscious”, but rather to historical conditions) – whatever the source of the material it uses. Other times, however, myths for Campbell, in contrast to Jung, originate in one society and spread elsewhere.”'m+not+a+Jungian%22&source=web&ots=spjF3ufPM-&sig=WfJtTMeHNISTon7F3McuN9KO-e8&hl=en

  15. Ned Kelly says:

    Damn, I didn’t intend for the wink-emoticon in the above.

  16. justrecently says:

    Gee. There’s more to that simple torch than I would have imagined. But even as good Catholics, aren’t you taking this a bit far? I mean, it’s just an Olympic torch, it is mostly a mob that calls it “sacred”, and it has been to many places before it went on its recent tour.
    Besides, I think that any religion, plus the Olympics and its symbols, can be for good or bad. We’ve known this about religion for a long time, and as for the Olympics, if we didn’t care about that before, we sure do now. But I’d say the fact that it has been sinisised and anti-sinisised (or -pekinised) recently doesn’t mean that the Olympic Charter is now meaningless, does it?

  17. Ned Kelly says:

    Welcome, “Justrecently.” We have a few disagreements with your comment – in particular that you seem not quite to understand that our main objection to the exploitation of the Torch is its lack of authenticity – but we’ll respond to you in more detail in another day or so. Still, you raised some interesting points worth addressing.

  18. justrecently says:

    Thank you. Let’s dive deep into the world of archetypes.

  19. Ned Kelly says:

    Well that’s my first point of disagreement, although Catherine might differ. Even if we hypothesise about “archetypes”, why do you assume they’re “deep”? This reminds me of the tendency of many Germans to confuse “depth” with greater truth or greater wisdom, but isn’t the opposite more true? I mean, doesn’t consciousness have more to do with light and clarity than with depth and obscurity?

    Now responding to your points seriatim,

    “…even as good Catholics, aren’t you taking this a bit far?”

    You misunderstand our premise and our argument. The problem we have with the Torch-as-religious-symbol is not that it disagrees with our religion. We tried to make that clear by contrasting the torch-religion with non-Christian religions such as Buddhism and Islam; those other non-Christian religions are not ours, but we respect them because there is a lot of truth and authenticity in them, and their symbols really do HELP their believers to transcend suffering. But the Olympic Torch does not, because it is an inauthentic, commercially manufactured symbol, and even worse, it is a symbol of glorified power/strength for power’s own sake.

    “I mean, it’s just an Olympic torch, it is mostly a mob that calls it “sacred””

    No, the “mob” did not come up with this idea spontaneously. The idea was manufactured by the Communist Party’s propaganda department. This is our objection, that the religious symbolism of the torch did not arise from the People or their culture or customs; it was commercially manufactured and then imposed upon the People from above. Now, one could retort that Christianity has often been imposed from above for political purposes (at least in the past, like in Rome circa 300s AD), but the symbols of Christianity originated in ancient customs (which the Torch IS NOT! The Nazis invented it) and (contrary to Marx) their origins were not commercial or political, but authentically spiritual and/or “psychological.” The same goes for the symbols of Islam, Buddhism and other traditional religions and mythologies. The Torch is categorically different because it was literally manufactured for cynical commercial purposes.

    “Besides, I think that any religion, plus the Olympics and its symbols, can be for good or bad.”

    We are not saying authentic religions cannot be used (or rather, abused and corrupted) for bad purposes. We are saying that the Torch is an inauthentic, manufactured symbol which – because it is inauthentic – has absolutely no power for any good religious or psychological purpose.

    “We’ve known this about religion for a long time”

    I repeat, we are not saying the Torch is a religion. We’re saying it’s a cynical, manufactured simulation of religion.

    “and as for the Olympics, if we didn’t care about that before, we sure do now. But I’d say the fact that it has been sinisised and anti-sinisised (or -pekinised) recently doesn’t mean that the Olympic Charter is now meaningless, does it?”

    The problem is not that the Olympics have been “Sinicised.” Sinicisation of the Olympics would be a good thing, IF the Chinese Communist Party really had anything to do with traditional Chinese culture. But it doesn’t. (Catherine is Chinese and can elucidate this better than I.) If anything, the Beijing Olympics are very AMERICANISED! Americanised in their cynical employment of commercial kitsch, “public relations” and advertising. “China” has not made the Olympic Charter meaningless, but the Olympic sponsors like Coca Cola have, and so have the mostly Western whores of the IOC.

  20. justrecently says:

    Hehe. Your last paragraph sounds pretty German, too. We habitually frown at everything that happened to the Olympics in and since Atlanta (commercialisation and all that).
    As for “diving deep”, I unconsciously stole that one from China Radio International’s English Service – on air, they recommend that their listeners “dive deep” into its confusing website contents.

    I’ll have to read up about the recent history of the games and its symbols before I can comment there. But while I agree that the mob was in many cases acting with phrases defined by the propaganda departments, I still think they are responsible for the nonsense they have been talking.

  21. lirelou says:

    In re: “True, neither the Buddha nor the Koran nor the Cross of Christ could prevent the earthquake.”

    In the case of the Buddhas, it is not their duty to prevent human or natural calamities. Buddhism is about the next existence, not he present one. I believe the same is true about the core beliefs of Christianity. Folk beliefs among the laity, however, and practices of previous faiths, fuse themselves into all religious traditions. I am reminded that it was the Eastern Christians who became the iconoclasts, and the western Christians (previously Romans or Roman subjects) who peopled their churches and homes with myriad saints and blessed virgins. For those East Asians to whom Buddhism was a bit austere in the divine help department, they simply added Daoist or Hindu gods and goddesses to their local pantheon, or opted to attend Daoist services as part of their religious repetoire. I am reminded of Taiwan’s Goddess of Mercy and Korea’s Mountain Spirit temples, both of which exist to obtain powers of protection or better fortune for their adherents. As for the Christian cross being a phallic symbol, I must disagree. Had the Christ not been crucified, it would hardly have been incorporated as a christian symbol. And in this light, it is interesting to note that other Christian crosses (v.g., Saint Andrews, etc) are also meant to remind believers of how that Saint died. I fail to see how an implement used in a tortuous death qualifies as a phallic symbol.

  22. Ned Kelly says:

    Lirelou, you need to read more carefully. Catherine and I aren’t saying that the cross is a phallic symbol. Our reverence for the cross ought to be evident.

    What we ARE calling a phallic symbol is the Olympic Torch.

  23. lirelou says:

    No, you didn’t mention the cross as a phallic symbol, by commenter Yeung did at: “Take the Celtic cross as an example (by the way, one of the pictures that I embedded for this post, the one on the right hand side, is a version of the Celtic cross), it has its origin as a Hindu symbol of sexual union, and hence is a phallic symbol.”

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