Mysticism, (Huh), What is it Good For? Absolutely Nothing (But Relatively Something)

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Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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24 Responses

  1. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    “To bring back the American example, how often has all this mystical experientialism caused people to really radically re-think the social order of the United States or its relation to the world?”

    But let’s contrast this to an older, more traditional version of spirituality that Ross seems to be advocating. How often did, say, Catholicism in Ireland or Russian Orthodox religion lead people to radically rethink the social order? I’m not sure the case has been affirmatively made for the positive value of more grounded, traditional forms of spirituality.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Dan Miller says:

      that’s a good question. In the Irish case, it was the church that in many ways started the movement away from tribal warfare (talking way back). Similar to the Russian conversion of Vikings. Though then the church (in both cases) becomes embedded in the (new) traditional order.

      The Russian Orthodox Church (generally speaking, exceptions in every case) offered an often quiet resistance to the Soviet state but now has (at its top leadership) gone back to a Romanov style fusion of state-religion with its admiration for Putin.Report

  2. Avatar William Brafford says:

    I find myself wondering what Walt Whitman would thought of LSD. Or what he would have written if he’d had access to it.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to William Brafford says:

      LSD is interesting given that it’s synthetic.

      You know Whitman better than me, does he ever talk about taking peyote or some “natural” drug? Opiate?

      Sherlock Holmes used cocaine in a recreational sense.

      My (not very intelligent I bet) guess is that Whitman would more obviously favor the latter category. As to the former….hmmm good question.Report

  3. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    Can anyone tell me what the word spiritual is supposed to mean?

    I ask because I consider myself not-spiritaul and not-religious. I’m just trying to experience good love and laughs while not being too much of a bastard to the other 6+ billion people during my estimated 29220 spins on this quaint rock.

    10692 or so down, 18528 to go.Report

  4. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    “Mysticism,” the league is great!
    To embrace a “rational,” immanent or dream world existence experienced in progressivism, positivism, Marxist, or any of a number of contemporary ideological disorders, is to participate in an existence that is less than human, and I really don’t mean to insult a considerable number of the league’s membership.
    The tension of existence, defined by Plato and the Neo-Patonists as a Metaxical reality, is where we experience reality, order, and truth because within this metaical reality we experience that which we, as human beings, long for. The divine/human relationship.
    And, it is this experience of divine reality explicated and differentiated as a tension between theologia mystica and theologia dogmatica that begins in history as far back as the “patres” where, until recently a pernicious dogma has been allowed by Christian thinkers to separate from the mystical experience that engendered the dogma, resulting in a decline in the Christian community.
    I am very pleased to see the subject of mysticism brought forward and I look forward to the discussion.Report

    • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say I’m not going to get to Voegelin any time soon. There’s just so much on my reading list… I hope we can still talk to each other.

      But the tension between mysticism and dogma is an interesting one. When do you think the two got separated? Or perhaps there’s no clean historical break, but rather a dominant historical trend: your comment made me think immediately of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr, the theologian and the mystic. (Von Balthasar is fairly high on my reading list.)Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to William Brafford says:

        Voegelin has the power to change your life both noetically and pneumatically. All philosophy, true philosophy leads to theology.
        Consequently, I’m disappointed you won’t read an essay or two. As to the mystical/dogmatic phenomenon it is best understood within the tension of existence, e.g. being experiences the divine, that experience is recorded as symbols to be transcribed and retained by believers and in time becomes a dogma. The strength of the mystical experience begins, at once, to fade and the believer falls back on the dogma rather than comprehending that the Gospel’s strength is in the presence of the Unknown God “in a man’s existence to his death and life.”
        The Greeks, Voegelin pointed out were right, man discovered his consciousness when he understood that his existence was predicated on immortalizing, and that occurred throughout the world from 800-500 BCE, the great “leap of being.”
        You must read Voegelin.

        Re: Von Balthasar Voegelin began his gnostic studies on Balthasar’s Prometheus book, he was a favorite of EV.Report

        • Avatar William Brafford in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

          Well, I can read an essay or two. Which three would you recommend to a beginner? It’ll just be a while before I can get to a book.

          I’ve been very interested in theological aesthetics for the past few years, so I’m hoping to get to some of Balthasar’s The Glory of the Lord.Report

          • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to William Brafford says:

            I have Von Balthasazar’s “Theo-Logis” three volumes. He’s a brilliant, controversial figure who had a great deal of difficulty with the Creator administring ‘judgement’. He thinks very much like EV. We’re talking here about men who forgot more than I’ll ever know. Men, who sought the Good, God and the truthof existence. Man, it doesn’t get better than that.

            The book you want is Vol. 12 of the CW, and the three essays:
            1. Immortality: Experience and Symbol
            2. The Gospel and Culture
            3.Reason: The Classical Experience
            and if your switch gets flipped:
            4. On Hegel: A Study of Sorcery
            5. On Classical Studies

            If you have a pneumatic Illumination email me and I’ll give you the BEST order of the CW to read (robertcheeks@core.com) My pal, DW Sabin, is reading EV!!!!Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I don’t think that drugs can produce anything close to a mystical state… but I do think that they can produce states that are significantly different from the mundane. Insofar as they can show people what significantly different looks like, maybe they can be useful to help people know what to look for when they look for the mystical, if only to help cover the “seriously, nothing like the mundane” part.

    But I’ve seen too many people mistake “different” for “it”.
    Hell, I’ve seen too many people mistake the pleasure from (some) drugs for the pleasure that comes from flourishing.

    So I’m neither advocate nor fan.

    But I can see how there might be some people who could get a nudge towards “it” via use of them that they might not be able to find on their own.Report

  6. I was into the drug/mystical experience years ago, and it was mostly a deadend, as Alan Watts said on a different subject “like trying to kiss your own lips”. I say “mostly” because it did open my mind to something larger. I think you too quickly dismiss the “spiritual but not religious” — yes, it can be a meaningless posture, but it can also be a serious attempt at spirtuality disconnected from dogma or belief in a personal God, a spirituality that is simple but helps a person go deeper than the surface, and can transform a person in such a way that action and deep change are inspired. To be truthful, great literature has inspired me to be a better person. But if we connect everything that creates a “true” spirituality with religion, then that’s just saying that whatever is truly spiritual is also religious — we could drop one of those words and just connect to whatever changes us — call it religious or spiritual.Report

  7. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    Sadly, the LOOG is subsumed in a gnosticism or a gnostic conceit, a work of magic, that is descended from the NeoPlatonists. The League is consumed by second realities, but that, gentlemen, is by choice.Report

  8. Avatar Travis says:

    “Spiritual but not religious just keeps people increasingly isolated and individualized and therefore increasingly influenced (if not controlled) by larger social and cultural forces. Like arguing how “you’re spiritual but not religious” is some personal choice when it’s really now a cultural meme.”

    Well said. I see it as a kind of transitional stage after one begins to leave behind a childish or naive conception of religion/spirituality that where you can look around to find where your interests or passions lie. The problem is when you build you home there and spirituality is reduced to confirming your own ego.Report

    • Avatar mike farmer in reply to Travis says:

      What necessitates the childish and naive conception? Suppose it’s a sophisticated and mature concept of spirituality disconnected from any known religion? Is this impossible?Report

      • Avatar Travis in reply to mike farmer says:

        By childish and naive I mean simply that we have to move beyond the conception of God as a really powerful being that lives “out there” somewhere. I grew up a Southern Baptist and left that in my early twenties but have since returned via the Orthodox Church and now the Episcopal Church.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Travis says:

          Sort of a sky god to the old mountain gods, only skyer?

          Perhaps a “space” god…

          Perhaps we could come up with a story covering how the space god fought and defeated the old sky god. We should certainly include a section where the space god took advantage of the old sky god’s impotence…Report

        • Avatar Travis in reply to Travis says:

          Mike,
          I may have misunderstood your question so let me add that I don’t believe it’s necessary to be a part of a established tradition but I myself found it difficult as it can be highly individualistic. As long as there others to keep us in check it’s certainly not impossible.Report

  9. Avatar Erigami says:

    The premise of the post seems to be that religion alters “traits” rather than current state, and that these altered states are a good thing.

    I disagree with both of these assumptions.

    Did good ol’ fashioned religions cause people to “radically re-think the social order”? Not really. When religions are adopted by the state, they preserve the social order. Think of Islam or Catholicism. Universal suffrage, the (US ethnic) civil rights movement, and abolitionism were artifacts of their time that were adopted by populist religious groups.

    When religions are used as tools to change the social order, are the results necessarily positive? No. Just take a look at the crusades or Iran’s Basij (volunteer religious vice squad). We can toss Afghanistan’s Taliban or any number of other self appointed moral police forces throughout history.

    The West’s move away from organized religion probably has more to do with the US anti-establishment backlash of the 60s and the Christian church’s failure to keep up with current morality (viz the Catholic church’s various sexual abuse cover ups, and the spasms of hate reacting against gay marriage and the ordination of women). At the same time, less and less of our lives need a mystical explanation, and people are finding it easier to operate without the small scale mutual aide that religion once provided.

    Religion isn’t falling to mysticism, established religions are creaking under the weight of an open and accepting society. As time goes on, either religion will become more personal (meaning fewer organized religions) or organized religions will adapt to our progressive social landscape. Or we’ll fall into a spasm of social conservativism and the old-skool religions will suddenly be relevant again.

    PS: Is the “the Market” a religion? No, not really. Fervent belief isn’t a religion any more than believing in Santa Claus or cheering on a sports team.Report

  10. Avatar Mr. Prosser says:

    I believe Douthat is referring back to a time that exists only in imagination. The great Christian mystics were not necessarily supporting the the staus quo of thier church at the time. The Hildegards, Eckharts, even Mertons, although embedded in a system were not reinforcing it. I wonder today if the pursuit of a mystical experience is any different than the late Medieval pilgrims traveling to Santiago or Canterbury to be shriven, blessed and shorn then returning to life.Report

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