Friday, October 23, 2009

Are You a Secret Mystic?

Many of us would like to believe we are rational individuals living in an increasingly rational world in which mysticism is being correspondingly marginalized. Even though you may regard yourself as a fundamentally rational person, you could in fact be a mystic with a predisposition to hinder the advancement of rationality.

To understand how this could be, let me first provide some background. Mystics are essentially people inclined to believe there are mysteries that can never be solved. Whether the mystery is religious (“why did God create evil?”), philosophical (“why is there something instead of nothing?”) scientific (“how did life originally emerge from non-living matter?”) or personal (“why can’t I catch a break?”), if you accept that it can never be rationally explained you are a mystic. It is a disposition towards harboring such beliefs that fundamentally defines mystics, not the supernatural powers, arcane knowledge, meditative trances and various magical artifacts that are typically attributed to them.

If that is all there is to being a mystic you may wonder what is the harm in it? It might be kind of cool to be able to walk up to strangers at a party and introduce yourself as a mystic; thus implicitly claiming membership in a club that is often characterized as a exclusive, mysterious, powerful and perhaps even a little dangerous.

The problem with being a mystic is that it is an inherently self-limiting perspective. The critical factor in being a mystic is a fundamental belief that there are unyielding constraints on what we can rationally comprehend. This means that to be a mystic is to believe there is an absolute limit on the power of rational thought.

In accepting this premise mystics typically assert the existence of entities that transcend the boundary of rationality. These mystics recognize that they can never rationally understand these great, yet inherently mysterious beings. This situation eventually leads them to personify and worship, the Primal Mystery underlying everything that resides beyond what they perceive to be the absolute limit of rationality. This perspective characterizes virtually all of today’s religions. The fact that they are founded on the Primal Mystery is why all of our major religions are fundamentally mystical.

Ironically, there are people who think that religions have outlived their usefulness and at the same time accept that there are limits to the power of rational thought. Some of these individuals are not merely irreligious, they express open hostility towards religions, yet their mystical disposition is sympathetic to the idea underlying those ‘intolerable’ institutions. This situation is analogous to gay people who speak out against homosexuality.

No matter how rationally antireligious you claim to be, if you are inclined to believe we can never objectively explain what triggered the Big Bang, how consciousness manifests in the brain, why the uncertainty principle works or any other important mystery, then at your core you are a rationality-limiting, religion-sympathizing mystic.
Powered by WebRing.