In a recent post, I referred to something that scientists have taught us, that physical life is not simply as it appears to be at its root is a profound mystery that cannot be reduced to rational, including “scientific” explanation. Life is not “material” as our culture insists, but “immaterial.” Quantum physics teaches us that physical life is mostly empty space and that only our god-given neurological endowment allows us to construct the time and space continuum which gives us this thing we call reality. Our brain endows us with the capacity to objectify subjective experience which makes possible the creation of an “object-world” which eventually evolves into a consensually-validated reality. This does not devalue life as we know it; it merely gives it meaning as it introduces us to the realization that there is another dimension to life that we cannot grasp with our conscious mind.
And religion was given to us to attempt to address this mystery of existence and therefore endow life with meaning. In our primitive past words like “god” had meaning when they were related to the depths of the heart but in time the word became taken as the “thing-in-itself”, taken as that “Wholly Other” dimension of life that cannot be captured with any word but can only be “pointed to” with words. Our word “Holy” comes from the term “Wholly Other” which refers to that dimension of life which is so profound that one poet has described it as that before which we can only, “glory, bow, and tremble.” This is the frightening, and Holy, experience of a liminal moment when the core of our being experiences its vulnerability and the distinction between “inside” and “outside” is unclear for a moment. Liminality is what German philosopher Eric Voeglin and Jewish theologian Martin Buber termed the “in-between” and modern day spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra simply, but beautifully termed, “the gap.” Buber said that it is only here that we can make connection with other people, a connection that is not routine given its profundity, merely a gift between two people who have found the courage to climb out of their egoistic prison and proffer a “hand that reaches across the abyss” hoping that it will be received by the other, i.e. the “Other.” Buber called this an “I-Thou” moment because of its profound reverence and Holiness
Our modern “material” culture which is intrinsically bound by linear thinking cannot conceive of spirituality in this sense. Spirituality bound by culture cannot escape itself so that this “Holiness” can be encountered occasionally…and it can only be encountered “occasionally,” as noted by the wisdom of T.S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much of reality.” Instead, reality offers a steady diet of dogma and sterile tradition to which the linear-thinking mind can rigidly adhere to and convince itself of its “godliness.” This is what Jesus recognized in the religious establishment of his day when he so unceremoniously called them “hypocrites” or actors. Culture-bound faith is performance art. And that would not be so bad as life is performance art and therefore faith must be also most of the time perfunctory compliance with ritual and tradition. But the problem arises when the “performance art” dimension of faith is mistaken for the whole of it and the heart-level dimension which would make it meaningful is not taught, and is even discouraged. This style of faith, bound by the “letter of the law” or tradition, is culture-bound and will always be amenable to cultural influences and will find it difficult or impossible to question the prevailing values of “the tribe.”
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