I have read John Horgan’s book “Rational Mysticism” many years ago. I returned to it recently because this book represented some unfinished business as far as I am concerned. Horgan is a great writer and he knows how to extract emotional reaction from his readers. I was no exception. I reacted to the opinions expressed in this book ten years ago and I still have strong reactions today.
For his “Rational Mysticism” book Horgan interviewed many people. Huston Smith, Bernard McGinn, Steven T. Katz and Ken Wilber stand out in my mind. As you can guess, I completely reject the premise of Steven T. Katz’s arguments. According to Horgan, Katz and McGinn argue “that all mystical revelations are unprovable, hence they cannot be distilled into a single, coherent worldview such as perennial philosophy.” By “perennial philosophy” Horgan is referring to the universal spirituality.
It seems to me that Bernard McGinn and Steven T. Katz are against the universal spirituality because they think that the universal spirituality removes the distinctiveness of their respective religions. They are clearly in a defensive position. They use highly intellectual language and manipulate the subject with impressive analytical philosophy but for a clear thinker these arguments are nothing but a “snow job.”
It is absurd to think that Jewish spirituality is different as Katz seems to claim. It is equally absurd to think that there are different types of spirituality as in Christian spirituality, Islamic spirituality, Buddhist spirituality or Hindu spirituality.
I am sure that there is a communication problem here. Their definition of spirituality must be different than mine.
Soul (divine component – core – of all beings), ego, suffering, love are universal concepts. The experiences associated with these concepts are the same for all human beings.
Soul, ego, suffering, love are also the central topics in spirituality. Therefore, spirituality must be universal.
Spirituality is universal by definition. Do you see my point? If a particular experience is not universal we would not count it as a spiritual experience.
Cultural expressions of spirituality may be different. Spiritual practices can be very different. Intellectual conceptions of the divine can be very different. But, the experiences of the divine are universal.
I define those universal experiences of the divine as spirituality.
In the What is Universal? piece I said that if a cultural expression (art, music, philosophy, religious practice, or any human activity) touches the soul then it is universal because soul is universal.
When philosophies, ideologies or religions become dogmatic by creating rigid mental structures and create divisions within humanity, they are no longer touching our hearts and souls and they are no longer universal. Dogma can never be universal.
In the “On multiple perspectives” piece I reiterated my conviction that universality as in “unified theory of everything” cannot be achieved in science. When we view the infinite dimensional Reality from the confines of the physical universe which has limited number of dimensions we will keep discovering new perspectives.
So, am I conflicting myself? No, the perspective of the soul is special.
There will be multiple perspectives of Reality when we try to explain it with physical science.
There will be multiple perspectives of Reality even when we try to explain it with sophisticated mental constructs and academic metaphysics.
The perspective of the soul is special because supposedly it is the vantage point where the “need to explain” does not arise.
The key word here is “supposedly.” This is the critique of Steven Katz. He is saying that we can never prove that the “perspective of the soul” experience is universal. I have not experienced the “perspective of the soul” yet. Even when I experience it I can never be sure that it was a universal experience. On this, I have to rely on the wealth of human experiences going back thousands of years and glimpses of insight I have had in my own life and compare. I have been doing this comparison for 40 years ever since I was 15 years old. I am 55 today and I know deep in my heart that soul is universal.