On Connecting the Transcendental, Humanistic & Natural Horizons of Experience

typology

Intuition, Sensation, Thinking and Feeling are the four basic Jungian types.  The mental map of consciousness at the bottom of this page expands upon and integrates the Jungian concept of eight complementary psychological elements with George Santayana‘s idea of the transcendental, humanistic and naturalistic perspectives (See Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe). Religion and Spirituality belong to the transcendental perspective. Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Art and History  all belong to the Humanistic PerspectiveNature and Science belong to the Naturalistic Perspective.

There is an affinity between those who are drawn to the left side of the mental map, especially the INFPs, just as there is an affinity between those who are drawn to the right side of the mental map, especially the ESTJ. These two “pure types” are psychological opposites and will have the most difficult time understanding and appreciating each other.

Religion and Spirituality have an intuitive, imaginative, emotive and aesthetic affinity with Literature, Psychology and the Arts. Nature and Science have a  sensory, rational, temporal-spatial and empirical affinity with Philosophy, History and Science . It is not difficult to see why “sense and sensibility” talk past each other. The tough-minded clinically detached objectivist and the tender-minded relational inter-subjectivist are two halves of a whole person, but each side attempts to absolutize or at least privilege its authority as the final vocabulary and voice of commanding conviction. Now do you negotiate between the transcendental, humanistic and naturalistic perspectives? Do you see any realistic possibility of integration, or are they non-overlapping, incompatible, contradictory or incommensurable?

A MAP OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND CULTURAL SENSIBILITIES

Intuitive Function (N):

THE PRIMAL DOMAIN OF RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY

“The Transcendental Perspective”

~

Intuitive Feeling Function (NF) & Intuitive Thinking (NT) Function

THE PRIMAL DOMAINS OF LITERATURE & PHILOSOPHY

“The Humanistic Perspective A”

~

Introversion Function (I) & Extroversion Function (E)

THE PRIMAL DOMAINS OF PSYCHOLOGY & SOCIOLOGY

“The Humanistic Perspective B”

~

Perceptive Function (P) & Judging Function (J)

THE PRIMAL DOMAINS OF ART & HISTORY

“The Humanistic Perspective C”

~

Sensation Function (S):

THE PRIMAL DOMAINS OF NATURE & SCIENCE

“The Naturalistic Perspective”

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On the Various Ways of Philosophers, Scientists, Literati, Artists…and Mystics

whole_brain_model

It can be argued that the historical period known as “modernity” was dominated by the intellectual domains of Philosophy and Science and that the period known as “post-modernity” has granted a greater primacy of influence to Literature and the Arts, along with the influence of the Political and Social Sciences. It is my view that Philosophy, Science, Literature and the Arts, along with the shape-shifting wild-card of Religion and Spirituality, and the ambitious newcomers of Psychology and Sociology are the separate yet overlapping domains that constitute the variegated and complex  intellectual and cultural tradition  our western civilization, and that each of these domains has a valuable contribution to make.

During the reign of modernity it was Philosophy and Science that shared the throne, with philosophy gradually surrendering the thrown to Science. Both Philosophy and Science were in search of Grand Theories of Everything, but they went about the search in different ways. Continental philosophy in particular begins with abstract metaphysical categories, whether of Kant or Hegel.

Natural and Physical Science begins with classifying the various types of minerals, vegetation, animals and Homo sapiens — from early to late formation, from symbol to complex. It has no need to metaphysical categories. The physical categories will do just fine.  E.O. Wilson offers a Scientistic Theory of Everything in which he maintains that the real and rational world may be reduced to what can be known by the physical and natural sciences, and that the other domains of knowledge and opinion, whether philosophy, religion, psychology, sociology, literature or the arts can best be explained in terms of the laws and patterns that govern the physical and natural world.

For those endowed with a literary and artistic cast of mind, neither the methods of rational philosophy and of empirical science are both unsatisfying and insufficient. Literary and artistic types are less interested in abstract philosophical categories of “being” and abstract scientific taxonomies of “species” than they are in the unique, complex, ambiguous, many-sided, nuanced and idiosyncratic individual.  The genius of Shakespeare exemplifies this sensibility, as Jonathan Bate points out in his books, “The Genius of Shakespeare,” and “Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare.” Literary critic Harold Bloom locates Shakespeare at the center of the Western Literary Canon. Bloom writes in the spirit of Shakespeare in his book, “Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds.” Bloom uses the Mystical Esoteric Kabbala as a complex template for exploring various writers with family resemblances.” Quoting Emerson who said he “read for the lusters,” Bloom groups his exemplary writers into twenty “lusters.” For Bloom as for Shakespeare there are more things in heaven and earth than are contained in our philosophies..and our sciences.

The point is not that literary and artistically minded persons like Bloom do not themselves use abstract templates, categories, rubrics and taxonomies to classify various kinds of writers and artists, for they most surely do. But what is of greatest interest to writers and artists is not the general rubric or category but “the particular and unique individual and his story.” What Bloom and other literati are doing when they write about many authors and artists is to use both hemispheres of the brain — the rational and the imaginative, the convergent and divergent, the general and the particular, the analytical and the existential.

It now becomes more clear why literati and artists prefer local concrete narratives to grand abstract narratives. The best writers and artists give us a vivid sensation, intensified perception and heightened awareness of immediate experience within the web of our relationships with ourselves and between other human beings, the natural world, and the mystery of being. And that is why we need literature and art, because abstract philosophical categories of ontology and scientific rubrics of taxonomical classification are not enough to sustain the soul that thrives in the midst of mystery, ambiguity, plurality and paradox, or what the literary critic Lionel Trilling called “variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty.”

For the post-modern sensibility, it is literature, linguistics, literary criticism and social criticism that play the central epistemological role. Richard Rorty is is exemplary of this view. He is a neo-pragmatist whose central themes are Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. He combined “private irony” and “liberal hope.” For Rorty as for Bloom the commanding authorities of rational philosophy and empirical science are replaced by what Bloom called “the stong poet.”

Literati and artists rely upon local narratives and creative artifacts to “tell all the truth but tell it slant,” and are wary of the pretensions of rationalism and scientism when philosophers and scientists claim to have found Grand Theories of Everything. Our creative writers and  artists have different fish to fry, yet perhaps it is not too much to hope that one day our philosophers, scientists, poets and artists may make good fishing buddies.

What is at the root of the differences between the ways that philosophers, scientists, poets and artists experience life and seek to understand and explore it? Among other things it may have to do with brain quadrant preferences. I know, another theory, though not quite a Grand Theory of Everything. The chart at the top of this blog suggests why these four cultures tend to talk past each other. Their sensory, emotive and cognitive processes simply work in different ways. Each type chooses to emphasize certain things and  minimize the rest. What about Facts, Form, Feelings and Future? Facts correlates with the scientific way. Form correlates with the philosophical way. Feelings correlates with the literary and artistic way.

But what about the Emergent Future, or for that matter the Historical Past and  Present Moment? It seems to me that the “Future” in the four quadrant model at the top of this blog correlates with the Transcendental Perspective of the Visionary Intuitive. The Visionary Intuitive may be associated culturally and religiously with the archetypal Shaman, Druid, Sage, Mystic, Priest, Prophet and Evangelist,  whose functions are to use insight, illumination, ritual, tradition, memory and hope to integrate the complementary functions of Facts, Forms and Feelings into a synoptic vision of the wholeness of life within the Unity of Being. Are not each of these  also expressions of “the Strong Poet?”

As it turns out, the Philosopher, Scientist, Literati and Artist need one more companion for the road, the Visionary Intuitive with a Transcendental Perspective who appreciates the “languages” of Facts, Forms and Feelings, and who integrates them with a “tacit knowlede” of the Historical Past, the Eternal Now, and the Emergent Future.

In Praise of Creative Nonfiction & the Lyrical Reflective Essay

I love (heart) creative nonfiction

I enjoy all kinds of writing, fiction and non-fiction alike, but recently I’ve become enamored and enthralled by the genre known as creative nonfiction, or more precisely what John D’Agata calls the lyrical essay.

Let me lay the groundwork for a few comments wish to make by including the following extended quote from the Wikipedia article on “creative nonfiction.”

Creative nonfiction (also known as literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction and poetry.

 “For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique. “Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”[1] Forms within this genre include biography, food writing, literary journalism, memoirs, personal essays, travel writing, and other hybridized essays. Critic Chris Anderson claims that the genre can be understood best by splitting it into two subcategories—the personal essay and the journalistic essay—but the genre is currently defined by its lack of established conventions.[2]

Literary critic Barbara Lounsberry — in her book The Art of Fact — suggests four constitutive characteristics of the genre, the first of which is “Documentable subject matter chosen from the real world as opposed to ‘invented’ from the writer’s mind.”[3] By this, she means that the topics and events discussed in the text verifiably exist in the natural world. The second characteristic is “Exhaustive research,”[3] which she claims allows writers “novel perspectives on their subjects” and “also permits them to establish the credibility of their narratives through verifiable references in their texts.”[4] The third characteristic that Lounsberry claims is crucial in defining the genre is “The scene”. She stresses the importance of describing and revivifying the context of events in contrast to the typical journalistic style of objective reportage.[5] The fourth and final feature she suggests is “Fine writing: a literary prose style”. “Verifiable subject matter and exhaustive research guarantee the nonfiction side of literary nonfiction; the narrative form and structure disclose the writer’s artistry; and finally, its polished language reveals that the goal all along has been literature.”[6]

Aldous Huxley suggested that there are three different types of essays. The first is the personal or autobiographical essay. The second is the objective, factual, concrete and particular essay about about given topic. The third is the abstract, universal, philosophical essay. Huxley himself saw no necessary contradiction in writing essays that combine all three elements.

The essay is a literary form of creative nonfiction. Some literary historians trace the birth of the essay to Montaigne, but Montaigne himself was influenced by reading the classical Greek and Roman essayists and by reading Plutarch‘s “Oeuvres Morales” (Moral Works” about exemplary men of antiquity. Influential historical exemplars of the best writing of creative (or literary) nonfiction include Matthew Arnold, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt, Thomas de Quincey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and in the 20th Century, T.S. Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, Charles du Bos, Lionel Trilling, E.B. White, George Orwell, and many others. Other literary essayists who have influenced my sensibility and perspective include Wendell Berry, Loren Eiseley, Annie Dillard, Morris Berman, Edward Abbey and Lewis Lapham. There are literally hundreds of brilliant contemporary writers of creative nonfiction to choose from. One can easily find on the Web selected lists of the best living exemplars of the lyrical essay and creative nonfiction.

My recommendations for introductions to the art of the literary essay and creative nonfiction include “The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present,” by Phillip Lopate, and “The Lost Origins of the Essay,” and “The Next American Essay,” by John D’Agata.

“Creative nonfiction” in general and the “literary reflective essay” in particular serve as a “personal lingual playground” that encompasses and illumines the rich diversity of human experience –whether of nature or culture, myth or history, spirituality or sexuality, art or science. The lyrical essay educates the mind, delights the senses, enchants the  imagination, and expands new horizons. Quite simply, it makes some beautiful music.

William James: Not a Simple Temperament

William-James-In-the-Maelstrom-of-American-Modernism-a-Biography-Paperback-P9780618919895

In his masterful biography, William James in the Maelstrom of American Modernism, Robert D. Richardson writes that William James was not a simple temperament. Allow me to quote Richardson at length:

“James’s temperament was ruled neither by sturdy cause and effect nor by the familiar old matter versus spiritual. Empirical by choice, artistic by inclination, believing that experience always trumps theory, James was characterized by what Emerson calls, in his essay on experience, the ‘lords of life,’ namely, ‘Illusion,Temperament, Succession, Surface, Surprise, Reality, Subjectivity.’

“James temperament shines through all his works and days. It is not a simple temperament — nothing so manageable as mere optimism, nothing so steady as to count for even a closeted determinism, but always there, like the fifth string on the banjo. James’s temperament is a nuancing one, always fine-tuning, always shifting, often elusive. And in that always present temperament is the general note of sadness, sometimes a ‘minor key of sadness’ such as Charles Eliot Norton found in the Rubaiyat, sometimes the ‘epic wind of sadness’ James himself found in the poetry of his friend Nathaniel Shaler.

“James’s astonishing openness to experience in all its shifting, momentary, inconstant shadings meant openness to trouble, both his own and other people’s–and also, we must keep in mind, openness to healing and recoveries of all kinds. Aldous Huxley, who knew D.H. Lawrence well, said Lawrence’s ‘great responsiveness to the world came from the circumstance that his existence was one long convalescence, it was as though he were newly reborn from a mortal illness every day of his life.’ James was like Lawrence in that regard, and he was like Coleridge, in that he could take ‘failure itself as his most liberating and radical subject.’

“Spending his life caught inside this gorgeous, always shifting labyrinth of ever-flowing perceptions, ever-shifting mental states, and ever-fluid temperament, James seized on habit formation as the thread to guide him…. Having only the habit of having no habits, his life was a ‘buzzing, blooming confusion’ that was never really under control.”

What are we to make of this remarkable man who had not a simple temperament, this man of always shifting, ever-flowing, ever-fluid temperament? It has been said that William James, the psychologist,  wrote like a novelist while his brother, Henry James, the novelist, wrote like a psychologist. William James intellectual and cultural interests were varied and diverse. It become evident in reading Richardson’s biography that James was deeply absorbed and passionate engaged in the domains of psychology, philosophy, religion, spirituality, nature, science, medicine, the Greek and Roman classics, literature and the arts. His ever-flowing and ever-fluid mind “transgressed” the boundaries between these domains freely. James was an “outsider” to such territorial ways of thinking. He was an “organic intellectual” in the independent spirit of Emerson, “a man of many turns” and who went his own way.

In his book, “The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Geneology of Pragmatism,” Cornel West tells us that Emerson was an organic intellectual whose dominant themes of individualism, idealism, voluntarism, optimism, amelioration, and experimentation prefigure those of American Pragmatism. The Emersonian spirit is one of provocation. At the center of his project is activity, flux, movement, energy. The Emersonian self is protean, mobile, performative. It is anti-hierarchical, egalitarian, and democratic in its relations. One begins to see how it is possible to draw a line as Cornel West has done between Emerson the proto-pragmatist and William James, the American Pragmatist come of age. There were also differences between Emerson and James, and Robertson acknowledges these differences as well in his biography. The point is that William James in his restless and provocative spirit, in his openness to experience, in his contemplation of the possible, reflects something essential about the American character.

It is perhaps assumed today that successful specialists in various professional and technical fields will be persons of homogeneous and uncomplicated temperament. By contrast has had probably always been true that general polymaths, whether they happen to earn their livings as psychologists like William James or as novelists like Henry James, have always been persons of heterodox and complexly nuanced temperament. William James was himself fascinated by the notion of different casts of mind. He wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience of the difference between the temperament of the Healthy-Minded and the temperament of the Soul-Sick, the Once Born and the Twice Born. He also wrote of the difference between the temperament of the Rationalist and the Empiricist, the one who begins with rational theories and the one who begins with sensory observations. One wishes that he had also turned his attention to write about the homogeneous temperament and the heterodox temperament, or in more current parlance, the Hedgehog who his One Big Idea and the Fox who has Many Small Ideas. In a way William James did explore this idea in his lecture and book entitled “A Pluralistic Universe.” George Simmel writes, “If art is an image of the world seen through the temperament, then philosophy may be called a temperament seen through the image of the world.” Indeed! James’s image of the world is one of infinite variety and possibility, ultimately ineffable and incomprehensible to our finite minds. He compares our comprehension of reality to that of our dogs and cats in our libraries. They have no idea what those books are about. His heterodox and polymorphic temperament is a response to that pluralistic vision. James’ characteristic open-ended response to the fundamental questions of life and our place in the cosmos, and to various worldview perspectives that may strike us as contradictory or paradoxical is, “Perhaps this too, in ways that are yet opaque to our small understanding, may yet be so, or just so.”

Global Ethics: Four Ethical Responsibilities of Every Individual & Every Institution

global-ethics

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about Hans Kung‘s catholic vision of an ethical world. In his book “What I Believe” he summarizes the major principles of the Declaration toward a Global Ethics under four guiding commitments: They are the following:

1. Commitment to a culture of non-violence and a respect for all life: respect life. According to an age-old directive: ‘Do not kill’ – do not torture, torment, violate.

2. Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order: act justly and fairly. According to an age-old directive: ‘Do not steal’ –do not exploit, bribe, corrupt.

3. Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness: speak and act truthfully. According to an age-old directive: ‘Do not lie’ — do not deceive, forge, manipulate.

4. Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women: respect and love one another. According to an age-old directive: ‘do not abuse sexuality’ — do not cheat, humiliate, dishonor.

Kung points out that the “Declaration toward a Global Ethic” of the World Religions recurs with identical content but in UN language in the proposal by the InterAction Council of former heads of state and governments under the presidency of the former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt for a 1997 Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities (see www.interactioncouncil.org on the Internet).

Without broadly conceived ethical principles and commitments to guide our individual and collective lives, we find ourselves adrift on a sea of moral and social chaos, and a world ruled by violence, exploitation, deception and humiliation. While we  each fall short of the ideal of moral perfection in the course of our lives, and our institutions fail to live up to their potential as well, it is still imperative that we do all that we can to make virtue rather than vice, love rather than hate, justice rather than exploitation, truthfulness rather than falsehood, and mutual respect rather than dishonor the guiding orientation of our lives.

Hans Kung is challenging us to commitment ourselves not only to living ethical lives on the personal level but also to extending our ethical commitment to all the institutions of our society. Moreover, he is challenging us to embrace the idea of global citizenship, an idea perhaps whose time has finally come. How we can effectively put such a commitment into practical action will be one of the greatest challenges we face in the global age where the problems of one society are increasingly becoming the problems of all societies.

One way to approach global ethics is within the context of mutual values. In the “page” on “Mutual Values” at the top of this website I’ve outlined what it might mean to constructively connect various clusters of reciprocal and mutual values within the Religious, Spiritual, Humanistic and Secular Quadrants of our pluralist society and global commonwealth. Once we realize that we live in a religious, spiritual, humanistic and secular society with a diversity of value orientations, the challenge is to connect those values to each other in a way that is not lethal and alienating but constructive and cooperative, even while living across our real differences.

Hans Kung’s Catholic Vision: A Universal Human Ethic of Mutual Understanding, Respect, Cooperation & Dialogue

Hans Küng wird 80

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about Hermann Hesse’s Romantic Vision of a brotherhood with the souls of all epochs, nations, and languages. There are, of course, others who have had such dreams of understanding, respect, cooperation and peace among all Peoples. Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a “first reading” Hans Kung‘s book “What I Believe” (2009). I will go back a second time to read it more carefully. Having read several of his other books, including “On Being a Christian” (1974), Does God Exist: An Answer for Today (1976; 1980), Christianity and the World Religions (1984), and most recently The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion (2007), I was interested to see how Hans Kung might summarize and distill a lifetime of reflection about many of life’s biggest questions. I was not disappointed. Kung’s vast knowledge and astute erudition reaches out in many directions to encompass philosophy, psychology, religion, spirituality, music, art, science, technology, ethics, economics, ecology and culture.

Kung is that rare thing in any age, a “Catholic Intellectual” whose comprehension of the great ideas and whose deep respect for people of many traditions  makes him a living exemplar of what Hermann Hesse describes, except that Kung has remained within his own Catholic tradition as a vigorous and outspoken critic. In the meantime He has gone about his business of reaching to build bridge of understanding, respect, dialogue and cooperation between some of the world’s most influential and divided camps. Within the Christian communion kung has facilitated dialogue between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. Within the Abrahamic faiths he has facilitated dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Within the major faith traditions, he has facilitated dialogue between the Abrahamic faith, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, among others.

And beyond interfaith dialogue, Kung has facilitated dialogue between religious and secular worldviews, and between the major domains of liberal knowledge, including the humanities, arts and sciences. While others have been busy putting up walls, Kung has been busy taking them down and building bridges of mutual understanding and respect.

Kung offers his reasons for “fundamental trust” in life and for belief in “God” as “the infinite dimension of reality.” Like Karl Barth before him, Hans Kung believes in the superlative Genius of Mozart (certainly more than he believes in the centralized authority of the Pope). He believes that religious faith, philosophical reflection, scientific knowledge and artistic creations can find a way toward complementary value and  mutual respect. Kung believes in religion but not superstitious religiosity; in reason but not hyper-rationalism; in science but not reductive scientism; and in art but not effete aestheticism.

On the practical level Hans Kung believes in setting forth a “universal ethic” that respects the freedom, dignity, rights and responsibilities of all peoples of the earth and “all our relations” with the natural world.

What else? Well, Kung believes in the integration of Eros and Agape. He believes in the power of love, and of love as the fulfillment of the global ethic. He believes in peace through renouncing exclusive rights, including the right to dominate and oppress others. He believes in using power in favor of others. He believes in being moderate in consumption. He believes in upbringing in mutual respect. He believes in fairness in sports. He believes in health but not fixation on health. He believes in both the art of living and the art of dying. In a realy sense, Hans Kung is larger than any single tradition, even though he happens to fully deeply inhabit the Roman Catholic tradition. Like Hermann Hesse, Hans Kung is “a man for the ages.”

Hermann Hesse’s Romantic Vision: A Universal Brotherhood With the Souls of All Epochs, Nations, and Languages

universal brotherhood

In his book of “Reflections,” Hermann Hesse writes: “In speaking with members of a church or religious community, I am careful to say nothing that might undermine their faith. For most men it is a very good thing to belong to a church and faith. The first experience of those who break away is a loneliness that makes a good many of them hanker for the old community. Only much later will they discover that they have entered into a new community, great but invisible, which encompasses all peoples and all religions. They will be poorer in all dogmatic, national goods, but richer in brotherhood with the souls of all epochs, nations, and languages.”

Anyone who has felt the need to break ties with a church or religious community because it felt too small, parochial, myopic and provincial to encompass the infinitude of the human spirit will know what Hesse is talking about. Hesse wants to identity with the “One Spirit” that for him is “above all images and multiplicities.” In this way he hopes “to belong to the universal brotherhood of all souls across all ages and civilizations.” It sounds like a noble idea, however difficult it is to work out such an ideal in practice. Hesse’s own approach as a mystic was to create “a church of one.” But that makes some sense when you realize how passionate he was about protecting the solitary individual against the corrupting, compromising, banalizing and leveling influences of all social collectives, whether religious, educational or political institutions.

As I see it, our encounter with every world religion presents us with a variety of different interpretive options. People usually stick with the same option, no matter which religion they encounter along the way.

The first option held by “the new atheists” is the view that all religions are misguided, ignorant, superstitious and harmful.

A second option held by dogmatic fundamentalists is the view that only their religion is absolutely true and divinely revealed – “from God’s lips to man’s ears.” 

A third option held by many religious “mainliners”  today is the view that their religion is NOT “the one true faith” but that, all things being equal, it is in some ways the best faith, or it is existentially “the best faith for them.” 

A fourth option held by religious liberals is the view that religious beliefs ought not to be taken literally but they ought to be taken seriously — how so? — as symbolic, metaphorical and mythical ways of speaking about the ineffable mystery that is beyond language and words.

A fifth option held by pantheistic monists is the view that because “God is the One Spirit above all images and multiplicities,” all the world religions and spiritual paths are saying essentially the same thing in different symbols and words. In this view words like Atman (True Self), Anatta (No Self), Tao (Integral Harmony), Torah (Divine Law) and Grace (Unmerited Kindness) are all different aspects of the One Spirit where all polarities converge in Universal Unity.

A sixth option held by metaphysical pluralists is the view that there are not only different ways to salvation, enlightenment, fulfillment, at-one-ment (whatever word we choose to use) because there many religious means to many religious ends. We’re not all heading up the same mountain, but rather heading up different mountains. Each ascent has its own unique merits and is not interchangeable with the others.

A seventh option held by indifferent “ignostics” is the view that the perennial religious and spiritual quest for transcendent meaning, purpose, fulfillment and hope is not worth thinking about. They are simply indifferent to it.

An eight option is the view held by “reverent agnostics” is the view that if there is an ultimate meaning and purpose to life and human existence that death does not utterly destroy, that transcendent meaning and hope remains for them an Ineffable Mystery.

Which of these eight (or more) options we choose will depend upon many factors, including our life experiences, psychological disposition, social conditioning and educational environment.

Like Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream,” Hermann Hesse’s German Romantic vision of “a brotherhood with the souls of all epochs, nations, and languages” may remain an impossible but relevant ideal.