Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Notes on the Sacred (without God)

Some notes on the sacred and the secular
In the next few posts, I will be discussing the “sacred secular” by reviewing two very different books published in the last year that take up the problem of the sacred in a world beyond traditional monotheism:
1) “All Things Shining” by Hubert Dreyfus (UC Berkeley) and Sean Dorrance Kelly (Harvard) is a secular/poetic polytheist reading of classics in the Western Canon.
2) “Radical Judaism” by Rabbi Arthur Green (Hebrew College) is a neo-Hasidic reading of Jewish theology
Before taking on any of these three giants, I thought it would be a good exercise to post some notes on the topic, some stabs of my own at death-of-God formulations of the sacred.

Here are some sample definitions for “sacred”:
-whatever is of utmost importance to me, often assumed to be of universal importance. (Ex: Love, Life, Justice, Creativity, Community) These things are sacred because I intuitively tend towards life and happiness, and I universalize those tendencies. My life and happiness are sacred to me, and I wish upon all people those elements which I think ‘make’ life and happiness.
-A basic definition of sacred is “that which is worthy of reverence, often to a superlative degree.”
-Sacred is whatever is of utmost importance and demands to be attended to
-Sacredness inheres in the facts that serve as ground for morals
-Sacred is that which you promote and defend. It’s whatever you put your time, energy, and care into. It’s that serious.
-Because sacred also has a sense of desirability and fragility to it, I like to think of it as “what’s most precious.” The loss of a sacred is usually tragic and traumatic. Only the sacred can be violated.
-The sacred is bound up with the ethical. Not everything that draws human attention and care is sacred. While I think that pleasure in general is sacred, many forms of pleasure are not, or at least can be engaged in profane ways. I believe that most entertainment is profane.
-The sacred is bound up with the ethical. To me, “what’s worth caring about” must include considerations of human flourishing, including an end to suffering.
I will end this post with a graphic I made, mapping out the idea of the sacred.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Atheist Cosmic Consciousness

+I got all cosmic about atheist spirituality in a recent book report. This is an excerpt.

Spirituality equals inter/connectedness, an idea which involves unity, transcendence, and presence. When things are connected, that which appears other is actually bound up with thesame. Thus, in connection, things are unified, and so things extend beyond their apparent boundaries, and so things that appear discrete actually have a certain presence in others. The universe is a complex and deeply mysterious place in which, as science progressively shows us, all the parts are interconnected. Given this interconnection, and man’s increasingly cataclysmic power over the Earth, it might be argued that it is of spiritual importance to modern individuals and pluralities to have an engaged “relationship to the Whole.”

I use this expression “the Whole” to refer to the unity-in-multiplicity without falling prey to other mistakes. “The Whole” is conceptually separate from the parts, in that it represents ‘all things at once and in connection,’ but it’s still difficult to predicate agency to the object of such a phrase. Thus I feel that I can have love and awe of “the Whole” but cannot imagine how it might say “I am.” I can relate to the Whole without having to give it a face and thinking it loves me. By my very existence I can tell that the Whole “abides” me (at least for the time being), and isn’t that enough? I don’t need the Whole to delight in my existence—I can do that myself. I can delight in the “endlessly diverse manifestations” of being, without having to imagine Being-Itself doing the delighting also. Can I appreciate that life is a dance without needing to call the Universe a dancer? Can I typify evolution as “serendipitous Creativity” (Gordon Kaufman) instead of “self-disclosure” and “inner drive”? (20) Most importantly, can I share the universal human imperatives of “justice, decency, and civility” without the concept of tselem elohim (image of God)? (30) Must we call reality “God” in order to inspire humans to be good?

The fact that humans are unique in their ability for self-reflection and world-understanding is what truly matters.That, and the fact that we are powerful. The combination of power and self-reflection produces the fact of responsibility towards The Whole. God doesn’t need to call out to us, asking about our treatment of the world. We can ask it ourselves. We are the only consciousness in/of our world.