Paul L. Caron

Sunday, February 5, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: The Rationality And Danger Of Spiritual Experimentation

New York Times Op-Ed:  Be Open to Spiritual Experience. Also, Be Really Careful., by Ross Douthat:

[T]he dissolution of the old order of American religion — the decline of churches and denominations and the rise of deinstitutionalized spirituality — means that more and more religious lives are lived in between worldviews, in experimental territory where it’s a mistake to expect coherence, theological consistency, a definite set of prior assumptions or beliefs.

In this column I want to defend the rationality of this kind of spiritual experimentation and then to warn about its dangers. ...

[T[he basic pattern of human existence and experience, an ordered and mathematically beautiful cosmos that yields extraordinary secrets to human inquiry and supplies all kinds of wild spiritual experiences even in our allegedly disenchanted age (and even sometimes to professional skeptics), makes a general openness to metaphysical possibilities a fundamentally reasonable default. And this is especially true if you have no theological tradition, no religious upbringing to structure your encounter with the universe’s mysteries — if you’re starting fresh, as many people nowadays are.

But precisely because an attitude of spiritual experimentation is reasonable, it’s also important to emphasize something taught by almost every horror movie but nonetheless skated over in a lot of American spirituality: the importance of being really careful in your openness and not just taking the beneficence of the metaphysical realm for granted.

If the material universe as we find it is beautiful but also naturally perilous and shot through with sin and evil wherever human agency is at work, there is no reason to expect that any spiritual dimension would be different. ...

I’m writing as a Christian; my religion explicitly warns against magic, divination, summoning spirits and the like. ... And it makes sense that in a culture where people are reacting against the Christian past there might be an instinct to ignore such prohibitions, to regard them as just another form of patriarchal chauvinism, white-male control.

But the presumption of danger in the supernatural realm is hardly confined to Christian tradition, and the presumption that pantheism or polytheism or any other alternative to Western monotheism automatically generates humane and kindly societies finds no confirmation in history whatsoever.

So from any religious perspective, there’s reason to worry about a society in which structures have broken down and masses of people are going searching without maps or playing around in half-belief or deploying, against what remains of Christianity, symbols that invoke multiple spiritualities at once.

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