My professor consistently appears disheveled. Clothing is most definitely an afterthought. Whenever I see him around campus, I always want to greet him, but he perpetually seems to have his head in the clouds, looking out at the physical world, but not really a part of it. The last thing I would want to do is interrupt his thoughts.
Obviously, I have a soft spot for him. He never strikes me as anything but serene. I envy him his peace. That is how I want to move through this world.
Our text in this class is William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” It’s easily discernible from the text that James is an empiricist. He is first and foremost a scientist and observes the importance of religion for the mind. The first chapter is a bit of a hard slog, but the rest of the book is a rather wonderful read.
Right now we are discussing discordancy as a means toward the spiritual realm.
We have earthly and spiritual natures. James writes that the discordant type of person sees or becomes aware of her earthly nature. The spiritual, and therefore the strenuous, life begins by taking stock of one’s earthly nature, one’s personality and habits. You begin to experience yourself when you stand against habit. We stand against our automatic identity states, the states that become apparent as we grow older. The creation of identity states is a response to the world.
To remain identified with my personality, is to be an animal. An animal does whatever it does. Animals answer their impulses.
To be spiritual is to mobilize an intentional effort to be. To experience what I actually am, and not just what I do. We may choose to disregard our impulses. The point is not to destroy the personality, but to control it and refuse to be at its mercy.
Some may argue that this free will is what most makes us like God.
Thus, Life becomes more difficult because I begin to fight with myself, but this, this is the fire that allows one to sense the forces that created the personality in the first place. The first beginnings of penetration into the other realm. This internal struggle is the price of real consciousness.
The issue at hand soon becomes the struggle to unite one’s self with the spiritual. This is the goal, to unite all parts of your being through awareness and understanding.
For James, religion is the experience that happens privately in individuals. He believes the job of religious institutions is to cultivate this experience. To James, skepticism is incredibly valuable to the inquiry of religious experience.
We’re on a chapter entitled “The Value of Saintliness.”
The first impulse upon briefly touching the spiritual realm is not one of certainty, but of horror, for I realize how really far away from the spiritual realm I am. It is an immediate sense of humility. That other reality is so far removed from me.
The hunger for certainty is the desire to prove that one knows. This is arrogance. This is naïveté. It is the letting go, the allowing for the insecurity, and the willingness to become simply a living thing that brings us closer to the spiritual. We have to let go of the desire to manage life.
Insecurity is actually a higher state in the relationship to reality.
It is OK not to know.
The wisest of critics is an altering being, subject to the better insight of the morrow, and right at any moment, only ‘up to date’ and ‘on the whole.’ When larger ranges of truth open, it is surely best to be able to open ourselves to their reception, unfettered by our previous pretensions. ‘Heartily know, when half-gods go, the gods arrive.’”
I think it’s fairly clear why and how I enjoy this class so much. This is perhaps my favorite course of the semester. Heaven forbid that I actually claim to enjoy the TEXT of this class.
Great lecture with which to start the day.