“Religion and the Human Image” by Carl A. Raschke, James A. Kirk, and Mark C. Taylor (Prentiss-Hall, 1977) came onto my screen as backstory to Taylor’s current new book about the end of universities. I wish I’d had this textbook overview of comparative (world/history) study of religions when I was in seminary, though I suppose I was learning the same material in a more roundabout way. Most of the bibs at the ends of these chapters are familiar to me, even though I haven’t read all the books.
What strikes me now is that the last chapter “The Contemporary Social Crisis and the New Forms of Transcendence” are like a map to the psyche of Tim Barrus (not necessarily the one you know), which is part of the reason I’m so “into” him. Here’s a list. They are not jigsaw pieces of the same big picture, so they don’t fit together necessarily. They do not replace each other as the new idea develops but are additive, requiring reconciliation or complexification. They are all strategies in the search for transcendence, a new and reliable “take” on a dependable core for a life. These are notes for development into a proper essay later.
First of all, the writers propose, is trauma. Social trauma (world war, depression, collapse of lifestyles, mortal consequences of stigma and so on kick off the need for explanations. The death of both “God” and progress, including social mobility.)
1. The Beat movement. A new delight in myth, magic and mystical ecstasy: “the new Reformation.” (Peter Goodman)
2. The counter-culture (Theodore Roszak) reacting to the burning of ghettos, the corruption and ineptitude of authority, third world suffering, a questioning of whether there is ANY sensible approach to life. The valuing of the individual rather than society. Return to primitivism: nature worship, vegetarianism, sexual liberty, political “theologies.”
3. The cult of youth: reinvention of the world, the “now generation” that values only the present. “The experience of the recurrently new becomes in itself a custom.” Keep moving.
4. “Post traditional man [sic] strives for experiences that do not necessarily have a common point of orientation. In his case experience must be dramatic and unrepeatable, unmediated by familiar forms of interpretation.” “A dazzling confrontation by the individual in his solitude with extraordinary panoramas of the spirit.” “A private and intense conviction that something genuine has occurred.” (Kierkegaard) Ecstasy. (Harvey Seifert) Alan Watts.
5. “The new transcendence rests upon a picture of humanity that implies the loss of a sense of place or rootage.” (“Journey to Ixtlan” by Carlos Castenada) “Existence is a flame which constantly melts and recasts our theories. . . . We find in the other’s communication an experience of relationship [to another person] established, lost, destroyed or regained. We hope to share the experience of a relationship, but the only honest beginning, or even end, may be to share the experience of its absence.” “The Homeless Mind” Peter Berger.
6. “Tradition is seen as limiting men’s radical openness and personal freedom. Only the spontaneous creation of fabulous, unchartered worlds of intuition and imagination, the dizzying delight in all that roils in the miind, regardless of its conscious or unconscious sources, is appropriate to the Protean type of humanity.” [Scriver: is Trickster-- Hermes -- only a by-product of Proteus, a judgement on the part of observers?] “The New Polytheism” by David Miller.
7. Chemical transcendence. Timothy Leary. Beatles. Marijuana and acid. Psychedelia. “The Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley. Masters and Houston suggest that LSD releases memories from early in life. Claudio Naranjo also thinks so. Marlene Dobkin de Rios writes about Peruvian Indians. Some former users have moved to a straight religious version. Hare Krishna. “The destruction of the tenacious ego, the surrender of personal identity.”
8. “Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America” by Robert Ellwood, Jr. observes cults, witchcraft, fortune telling, exorcism, meditation, -- a jumble of alternative realities.
9. “The New Dionysian” centered on sexuality, nudity, lack of censorship in media, the elevation of emotion, catharsis, abandonment. The valuing of “play,” fantasy, spoofing. “Bending oneself to the supple rhythms of living.”
10. “Concurrent with the rise of the new Dionysianism there developed a notion of transcendence as liberation from dehumanizing social conditions. In the main, this idea entailed a fundamental critique of capitalism and the overall status quo. Herbert Marcuse. “Political theology” or “the theology of hope.” “Thus repression of sexuality, fantasy and play functions as an instrument by which certain classes of society can dominate others for the manufacture of wealth.” Transcendence is a creature of the far future.
11. The Human Potential Movement, John E. Biersdorf, director for Advanced Pastoral Studies, says its the valuing of “the sensitivities, experiences and achievements of the most loving and creative among us.” “Human nature is infinitely diverse ad malleable.” Abraham Maslow. Fritz Perls. Then Zen: “All ideation is harmful because concepts hypnotize us into faulty perceptions and wrongful thinking. It divides the individual against himself and separates him from the rest of creation.” Zen “supplies an ecstasy of self-discovery within the whirling vortex of contemporary social and historical change.”
12. This strand of social thought is NOT in this book because it is too new: the insistence that all suffering must be eliminated, esp. for animals. This includes pain-ameliorating drugs rather than the mind-altering kinds. A kind of neo-Jainism that requires people to live without being at the expense of existence. [IMPOSSIBLE !!] I think this is a blind alley. Rather, live in a way that justifies one’s existence with contributions to life. Barrus suffers intensely all the time -- does not step away from it except in the interest of raw survival. Tells his boys to make a contribution.
13. Another source of ideas and point of view comes from science: particle physics, the cosmos, and the like. The major telescopes and colliders. Deeper wonder at the vastness than ever before.
14. Inside, exploring the pre-frontal cortex: empathy, morality, decision-making, insanity. Simply speaking of the Dionysiac release of sex is not enough. There is plenty more to know and find out, particularly about “Haptic bonding.” The nature of the instrument itself: our bodies.
One of the major insights here is that one can only speak of post- this and post-post-that so long. Then the Gestalt must shift to the “pre-” something. The next step is exactly pre- what? Creation? Serving others? Self-discipline??? Envisioning.
So I ordered Mark C. Taylor's book "The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture," U of Chicago, 2001. Only trouble is I can't understand it. Is it the instrument: me? Is Taylor too deep into jargon? It's thirty years since I was on that campus. Maybe I've lost the context. No matter. I have a new one.