Ash and Ecstasy

THE VOICE - September 18, 2002

It has been suggested by some that each religion is unique. These people maintain that a religion is an entirely contextual construction, and thus, the project of looking at the intersection of two or more religions is doomed to turn up empty. In other words, we must abandon attempts at synthesis between the various traditions that the people of our world practice. This is to say that there can be no common core of Truth of which all religions are an expression. Perennial philosophy is dead. Long live the context of our flesh. However, this position leaves us as floundering and blind as if we decided that the only thing to the world’s religions is the common core”?divided we fall. In our previous examinations we have seen that there is good (un)reason to think that whatever the big omega Truth might be, it appears to us in the form we’ve denoted as A & ~A. [1] In this analysis we shall answer the criticisms of those who oppose synthesis, and further, we shall see that Contextualism must be composed with Perennial Philosophy if we are to really make an attempt at deciphering our contradiction.

In “A Problem For Radical Pluralism,” Purusottama Bilimoria boldly states “:there is neither one “?absolute’ or “?decisive’ truth content:in religion: nor a plurality of expressions or articulations inscripting the same truth content” (581). [2] While this is a strong assertion in itself (and one which is at least partially correct), does it follow from such a conclusion that we “:ought seriously to consider rejecting belief in the Absolute:altogether” (580)? Let us suppose that the answer is yes. This requires that every religion be founded upon nothing other than human whim; that is, if there is no Absolute Truth which each religion attempts to express, then there is only relative truth. If there is only relative truth, then this implies that the truth of any religion is an entirely artificial construction of some group of humans. Since we are terminally fallible, this means that there is no good reason to suppose that any religion expresses any truth what so ever. In other words, the truths of a religion are created ex nihilo. However, as we established in “The Infinite and The Eternal,” relative to everything in our universe the Truth contains emptiness in its paradoxical formulation (our unknowable ~A): truths from nothing are implied by our examination of the Truth. Thus, by rejecting the belief in the Absolute, we end up again (in part) at the Absolute.

Keeping the idea of the Absolute, we can still agree with Bilimoria in his criticism of the idea that we are waiting to decide which relative truth is the final formulation “:of the one true Ultimate” (577). In the spirit of our contradictory formula, they all are”?but not one is! This is what Frithjof Schuon appears to say in “The Transcendent Unity of Religions.” A religion does not communicate Truth in its formulations of the divine. The truths of a religion are, “:transitory and limited by definition” (556). [3] This is due to what he characterizes by the word “dogmatism.” However, a given formulation is no longer limited when “:it is understood in the light of its inherent truth” (ibid.). It is this “esoteric” understanding which acts as a catalyst for contact with that which transcends our universe. The dogmas have the potential to trigger a personal and immediate confrontation with the unknowable. For, the foundations of religions “:are not chosen arbitrarily and artificially but are established by virtue of a genuine intellectual originality” (557). This spontaneity is generated by the individual insight of the transcendent. Thus, while “[e]xoteric doctrine:by no means possesses absolute certitude” (558), it is exactly these doctrines which have inspired various people throughout history (in affirmation, reformulation, confrontation, or denial) into an experience of Truth. So here we see that when we seek the transcendent, we must do it through the context of this world. In other words, by going after our ~A, we must use things that are in the world; that is, we find the immanent A as a component of the Truth.

From the above two paragraphs, we can see that there is a natural bridge spanning the divide between the Perennial Philosophers and the Contextualists. The idea that there is an Absolute beyond our world is dependent upon the very fact that there is a contextual environment. If there was no world, then clearly there could not be something beyond it. As well, we have seen that structured religious systems are a direct result of an individual’s immediate experience of that transcendent Truth. Without some type of esoteric experience there would be no religious movement to be founded. Therefore, a better way to approach the world’s religions is with a Contextual and Perennial view.

However, Georges Bataille would be critical of our project: since it is a synthesis, it lacks “:the virility necessary for joining violence and consciousness” (69). [4] His stance falls in line with the contextualists where “:the universal sum is necessarily that of the religious sensibility in time” (70). Bataille feels that a particular religious structure existing at a certain period of time provokes this unity of “violence and consciousness” in the individual. It is the composition of the wrenching esoteric experience with the worldly formulations of human intellect. However, this is exactly the synthesis that our project is trying to get at.

Our formulation colludes within a metaphorical collision. It is striving for “:the highest degree of clear consciousness” in order to promote “:the sovereign[‘s]:presence in the world” (ibid.). A & ~A acknowledges the importance of dichotomy while recognizing that dualism collapses to singularity. Thus, it seeks to liberate us from our self-imposed structures while maintaining that we must impose structure upon the Self. Clearly, the absurdity of such a formula is a blatant attempt to invoke “:the impossible in laughter, ecstasy, or tears” (ibid.). Since the impossible is by definition not possible, the logicians are right to call this expression a damn lie. They shall tell us this with solemn demeanour, and they shall never shed a tear over their certainty in the formula’s self defeat. It is in this dry climate that the spark of ecstasy is easiest to ignite. Before the phoenix there were only ashes.


Photo Credit:Michelangelo: Creation of Adam

[1] As a reminder, we have used A & ~A to denote the following pairs: (immanent, transcendent), (infinite, eternal), and in a subtler presentation (self, other). These pairings are unordered in accordance with a Principle of Complements put forth in the unpublished paper “Post-Mortem” by b.e. hydomako. It suggests that all things are composed of a set of unordered pairs which alternate between the conjuncts of any arbitrarily chosen instantiation of A & ~A (or in that paper’s notation,A & A’).

[2] References to Bilimoria are from the anthology, “Philosophy of Religion Toward a Global Perspective,” by Gary E. Kessler. Printed by Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, CA, USA, 1999.

[3] References to Schuon are from the anthology by Kessler.

[4] References to Bataille are taken from the reading package prepared by B. Moran for Philosophy 331 at the University of Calgary, Spring Semester, 2001. Printed by the University of Calgary Bookstore and Printing Services.

b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.