Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
I referenced this book in the horror & spirituality and creative madness threads, linking to a free e-copy. This is one of those pivotal and seminal tomes that in essence started the human potential and transpersonal psychology movements, ultimately leading to us here. I think it might behoove us to explore it, especially since it is free, and also quite deep and fascinating. Recall some of the insights it provided in the above threads. To kick off this thread, since we're exploring expressions of an integral postmetaphysical spirituality, let's see how James defines religion and divinity in Lecture II:
"Religion therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. Since the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual, it is evident that out of religion in the sense in which we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow. In these lectures, however, as I have already said, the immediate personal experiences will amply fill our time, and we shall hardly consider theology or ecclesiasticism at all."
(Recall recently this article that points to exactly this focus in transpersonal psychology, and to the neglect of the social aspect.)
"The sort of appeal that Emersonian optimism, on the one hand, and Buddhistic pessimism, on the other, make to the individual and the sort of response which he makes to them in his life are in fact indistinguishable from, and in many respects identical with, the best Christian appeal and response. We must therefore, from the experiential point of view, call these godless or quasi-godless creeds 'religions'; and accordingly when in our definition of religion we speak of the individual's relation to 'what he considers the divine,' we must interpret the term 'divine' very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike, whether it be a concrete deity or not.
"But the term 'godlike,' if thus treated as a floating general quality, becomes exceedingly vague, for many gods have flourished in religious history, and their attributes have been discrepant enough. What then is that essentially godlike quality- be it embodied in a concrete deity or not- our relation to which determines our character as religious men? It will repay us to seek some answer to this question before we proceed farther.
"For one thing, gods are conceived to be first things in the way of being and power. They overarch and envelop, and from them there is no escape. What relates to them is the first and last word in the way of truth. Whatever then were most primal and enveloping and deeply true might at this rate be treated as godlike, and a man's religion might thus be identified with his attitude, whatever it might be, towards what he felt to be the primal truth."
Metaphysical? Post? Neither? Both? Combination?
Now we're getting somewhere, from the same lecture:
"But all these intellectual operations, whether they be constructive or comparative and critical, presuppose immediate experiences as their subject-matter. They are interpretative and inductive operations, operations after the fact, consequent upon religious feeling, not coordinate with it, not independent of what it ascertains.
"The intellectualism in religion which I wish to discredit pretends to be something altogether different from this. It assumes to construct religious objects out of the resources of logical reason alone, or of logical reason drawing rigorous inference from non-subjective facts. It calls its conclusions dogmatic theology, or philosophy of the absolute, as the case may be; it does not call them science of religions. It reaches them in an a priori way, and warrants their veracity."
James does admit that such feelings are themselves dumb and it takes the intellect to articulate them. He might hint that the latter is what in fact transforms base feelings into the divine through interpretation. Nonetheless without the base feeling there is no leg to stand on, literally. And said interpretations are shaped by culture (but I like the way he says it better):
"The philosophic climate of our time inevitably forces its own clothing on us."
It is also our philosophic interpretation of experience that seeks the general from the particular, the universal formulas to add coherence to what otherwise might seem random, brute impulse. It is here that we seek “objective” standards. James comments:
“It will suffice if I show that as a matter of history it fails to prove its pretension to be 'objectively' convincing. In fact, philosophy does so fail.”
So our drive to universalize said religious feeling fails. James derails the argument by design, the moral argument and the argument ex consensu gentium. It is the rational drive to make sense and order out of chaos, which then overlays “reality” with said order that wasn’t there from the start. In essence, it creates an “underlying” reality that pre-originates the sensible reality and hence takes the metaphysical, absolutist turn.
Ah, back to “work.” To be continued.
“The Continental schools of philosophy have too often overlooked the fact that man's thinking is organically connected with his conduct. It seems to me to be the chief glory of English and Scottish thinkers to have kept the organic connection in view.... An American philosopher of eminent originality, Mr. Charles Sanders Peirce, has rendered thought a service by disentangling from the particulars of its application the principle by which these men were instinctively guided, and by singling it out as fundamental and giving to it a Greek name. He calls it the principle of pragmatism.”
He then launches into a diatribe against Kant's transcendental ego and like minds that came thereafter, like Hegel, who do not maintain this organic connection. However philosophy is redeemed in that it can provide an invaluable service, much like what our friend Sam Harris champions:
“Both from dogma and from worship she can remove historic incrustations. By confronting the spontaneous religious constructions with the results of natural science, philosophy can also eliminate doctrines that are now known to be scientifically absurd or incongruous.”
Wow, t - what an amazing story. The website Brain Pickings is quite trippy too - I think I'll read a few of the articles.
Quote above from Nancy Frankenberry, in Religion and Radical Empiricism (p. 96), referencing Lecture 20 (Conclusion) of The Varieties of Religious Experience. The actual William James quote is:
"What the more characteristically divine facts are, apart from the actual inflow of energy in the faith-state and the prayer-state, I know not. But the over-belief on which I am ready to make my personal venture is that they exist."