Saturday, April 01, 2006

Development of Religious Thought

I'm reading te Holy Father's book, Truth and Tolerance, right now. Not surprisingly, he starts by changing the camera angle on the question of spiritual experience. He distinguishes three paths for the development of religious thought beyond the confines of myth: mysticism, which places absolute value on an unnameable experience; monotheism, which puts absolute value on the Divine call; and "enlightenment," which puts absolute value in rational knowledge. Because the latter is primarily a rejection of absolute religious or spiritual values, except inasmuch as they aid the development of society. In the first chapter, then, he focuses mostly on mysticism and monotheism.

He notes that the commonly accepted view of the mystics (and a mistaken view) is that monotheistic religion is somehow a stalled or stunted form of spiritual experience and that one must essentially divest oneself of the illusion of personhood to attain a true glimpse of the Divine. This sets up a God that is essentially passive, one that waits to be experienced. However, he distinguishes the path of the monotheist from the non-Christian mystic by positing that monotheism is not a stunted path but one in which the active principle is God, not man, and that it is God's Divine call to us (and His revelation) that enables us to experience Him.

The mystic sees himself as someone who has progressed beyond the secondhand religious experience of the believer and is the possessor of the firsthand religious experience. From the monotheistic perspective, ALL spiritual experience beside God's is is secondhand, and we receive it through God's Divine call. By secondhand, the Holy Father means that the experience of a believer comes as an indirect experience from those who are really in the know. Here is the narrow gate of the Gnostics.

The lure to contemporaries who delve into Eastern mysticism or who fuse different spiritual traditions is the notion that they're set apart from the masses and somehow more "enlightened." They believe the lie that they can be like Gods. Oddly, as much as the mystical experience is about annihilation of the self to experience the oneness, most New Age spirituality is all about the self, about individuality, about something being "true to me." New Age spirituality is more about self-absorption than religious experience.

However, the monotheist, by submission and obedience to a Divine Person (or three Divine Persons, for Christians), preserves selfhood while seeking a greater Divine person. Individuality is preserved in a monotheistic religious experience without it being centered on self.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, the last two paragraphs are my thoughts. The first three are a synopsis of the first chapter of the book.
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