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tags: transcendence, spirituality, dualism, hive mind, philosophy, history, religion, thinking, freedom, Immanuel Kant

A thing to be found in the history of philosophy, a thing which has been carefully avoided, is the fact that the thinking of a series of people who did philosophical work progressed through a slow development from ancient times and finally became confident in a fundamental breakthrough, the essentials of which are present in the work of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) along with plenty of contradictory and distracting material. The breakthrough is substantially this: the message of personal spirituality is not subordination to an eternal and infinite disembodied spirituality (caring), but instead is individual creative autonomy, an active transcendence at the level of the embodied individual: transcendent individualism.

The Transcendence of Local Spirituality

Philosophical spirituality is not obscure. It is your personal experience, intelligence, or consciousness, but the word “consciousness” implies something impossibly passive, and impossibly “here and now”. Without there, there is no here. Without then, there is no now. The there and the then are always brought to the here and now spiritually by a person’s intelligence intervening in the here and now. Ordinary mental intervention that includes perception of here and now must also include ideation, abstraction, memory, caring, lessons learned, expectations, and aspirations in effortful progress within the sense of the passage of time. It is creative activity, a thought or idea of temporal opening that is thinking itself into the world. Philosophy is (often) a descriptive exploration of that local and temporal spirituality, a recognition of its transcendence in spite of its everyday familiarity. This transcendence is orientation (existence as intelligence) within a continuous newness, with invention, creation, and the openness of alternative and devised possibilities, which is more or less the ordinary sense of being alive, of consciousness. By contrast, in the world of materialism, without transcendence, there may be cycles and variations on similar kinds of events but all within a world that is fundamentally formed and bounded, completed, closed, in something like an unalterable Great Chain of Being. The difference is between a closed world of determinism or an open world of ongoing creation. Normal experience always includes openness, but an openness that must assert itself against the world’s tendency to go closed. The transcendence of the opening is always part of a dualism with closed determinism as its surroundings. That transcendence is the only way in which everything does not have to be as it is. The loss of transcendence carries the implication that everything has to be just what it is. So, philosophical spirituality is a recognition of transcendence at the level of individual embodied intelligence.

What is Religious Spirituality?

This highlights the fact that there are two main contesting concepts of spirituality: the religious and the philosophical. Among religions, there is a widespread assumption that spirituality is inseparably connected to a guilty conscience supposedly inherent in every human, and, from that guilt, a reaching out in surrender to a higher being for forgiveness, healing, and release from the taint and disgrace of being-part-of this world of trouble and strife. The guilty conscience and certain events are considered to be deliberate messages to humans from a supernatural parallel universe containing personified entities of caring with effective power over our world. Those entities and their world cannot be known otherwise, so the behaviour of humans toward them demands belief without evidence, faith in the legends of their mysterious power, and demonstrations of fear decreed by those legends. (faith, fear, guilt, surrender, transcendence of disembodied intelligence) The mystical version is an overwhelming sense of release from guilty individuality through spiritual uptake into the absolute, primordial, and eternal unity of everything. Almost everybody is brought up under the influence of some religion or other, emphasizing obedience to divinely proclaimed rules, with guilt and punishment for disobedience; but hardly anybody learns anything about philosophy as a different (breakthrough) encounter with spirituality.

The problem now is that, culturally, we lost a sense of transcendence during the nineteenth century in an onslaught of scientific materialism, which also had a decisive, and in some ways helpful, role in Enlightenment politics, having gone a long way to undermine the political power of institutions deriving their credibility from the religious story of transcendence. However, we are still wallowing in the metaphysical slough of pre-Kantian materialist determinism. The credibility of the old religious transcendence has been in steady and terminal decline, but is still clung to desperately by many people who remain unaware of any alternative, and who recoil from nihilist materialism. In its combination of scientific denial of transcendence and a clinging to discredited religious conceptions of transcendence, the cultural hive mind that is made available to us in the Euro-American cultural system of the early twenty-first century is debilitating and toxic. What is required now from philosophy is a metaphysics of transcendence in personal spirituality, but that metaphysics has existed for a long time already as the spirituality and transcendence of ordinary consciousness.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.