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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thinkquote of the day:The weak point of mysticism

Via Christian quotation of the day, a great early twentieth century divine comments:

The Gospel used to be presented as an appeal to believe in the Savior who "did it all for me long ago," and then retired to a remote heaven where He receives the homage of believers till He comes again to inaugurate the Millennium. The mind of our generation, having little comprehension or taste for such a message, is usually content to try to discover "the Jesus of
history," conceived as a human example and teacher of a distant past. Meanwhile, there exists always alongside all forms of religious belief the great tradition of mystical experience. The mystic knows that, whatever be the truth about an historic act or person, there is a Spirit dwelling in man. In our time, even natural science abates its arrogant denials and admits the possibility of such immanence... The weak point of mysticism, as seen at least by a matter-of-fact person, is
that it is apt to be so nebulous ethically. What the Immanent is, those who claim most traffic with It can often least tell us. Is It a power making for righteousness, or is It a higher synthesis of good and evil? Or is It not a moral--that is to say, not a personal Being at all?... The raising of these
questions is not intended to throw any doubt upon the validity of mystical experience as such; but we have a right to ask what content is given in the experience. Paul was a mystic, but all his mystical experience had a personal object. It was Jesus Christ, a real, living person--historic, yet not of the past alone; divine, yet not alien from humanity.
- C. Harold Dodd (1884-1973), The Meaning of Paul for Today, pp. 128-129 [1920]

The problem Dodd identifies is another aspect of the problem noted earlier, the language of mysticism does not adequately convey the experience. Also, culture certainly plays a role in interpretation of mystical experience. Of course, the confusion and misunderstanding that may follow from different cultural interpretations are not unique to mystical consciousness. It is a fact of everyday life in the large, multicultural city in which I live.

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