Here is a stimulating short defense of mystical experience, balanced by a nod to our rational faculty. I wonder if ROx and EOx folks would take exception to the points raised? I’m not sure how to judge the article yet, it will take me a while to think about it, but I’d like your input.
It’s copied from the MavPhil website ; if I have any comments they will be in a font of another color.
Dave Lull has once again pointed me to a fascinating post, Michael Sudduth Follows His Monad Back to Vaishnava Vedanta. Excerpt:
(the following is MavPhil quoting from the fascinating post above)
A major problem with Scholasticism is the innate desire that all men have to participate directly and ontologically in their God. We all want that real connection. Sudduth explains, “I pondered this experience for several minutes, while at the same time continuing to experience a most blissful serenity and feeling of oneness with God”.
The fact is Van Tilism and Scholasticism, its Grandfather, can never give man real and ontological connection because like the fools they were, they tried to take the Ultimate Principle of Plotinus and the Pagans and somehow get a Christian worldview out of it with their theory of Absolute Divine Simplicity. This leaves only a pagan ecstatic trance state for Christian men to seek in their attempts to connect to their creator. Thus Sudduth, was in my opinion, simply following his monad back to its Pagan source. He is being consistent. Sudduth says, “I had gone so far in my Christian faith, but it was now necessary for me to relate to God as Lord Krishna.” Notice he doesn’t say, “through Lord Krishna” but “as” Lord Krishna. In Plotinus’ construction hierarchies of being emanated from the One which represent levels of composition , and at each hierarchy was an intermediary. In different versions of this metaphysical construction, the gods are intermediaries on this chain of being. As one move up the chain of being one becomes ontologically identified with the intermediary. Sudduth says, “Since this time I have experienced Krishna’s presence in the air, mountains, ocean, trees, cows, and equally within myself. I experience Him in the outer and inner worlds, and my heart is regularly filled with serenity and bliss.” You see on his view, God is in the state of mind not the proposition.
In conclusion, I commend Sudduth for his logical consistency. When will the rest of the Scholastic Reformed have the courage to do the same? My Scholastic reader, Sudduth is taking Absolute Divine Simplicity to its logical end. I have two options for you.
1. Follow Sudduth
2. Leave Scholastic Neoplatonism for Gordon Clark’s Scripturalism: An absolute Triad: Three ontologically distinct persons; three distinct complex-non-simple eternal divine minds who find their hypostatic origin in the person of the Father.
(So ends MavPhil’s quote from the article. The following are his comments on the article; those that really caught my attention are in blue)
Earlier in the post, the author writes, “Once someone believes that truth and God cannot be found in a proposition, but in a psychological state, truth by definition becomes something subjective and arbitrary.” The full flavor of this no doubt escapes me since I haven’t read Van Til or Gordon Clark. Not that surprising given my background, which is Roman Catholic, though as ‘Maverick Philosopher’ suggests, I aim to follow the arguments where they lead, roaming over the intellectual landscape bare of a brand, and free of institutional tie-downs and dogmatic ballast. The lack of the latter may cause my vessel to capsize, but it’s a risk I knowingly run.
But speaking for myself, and not for Sudduth, though I expect he will agree with me, I do not understand how anyone could think that the ultimate truth or God (who is arguably the ultimate truth) could be found in a proposition or a body of propositions. Doctrine surely cannot be of paramount importance in religion. That is a bare assertion, so far, and on this occasion I cannot do much to support it. But I should think that doctrine is but a “necessary makeshift” (to borrow a phrase from F. H. Bradley) to help us in our “Ascent to the Absolute” (to borrow the title of a book by my teacher J. N. Findlay). The name-dropping gives me away and indicates that I nail my colors to the mast of experience in religion over doctrine. (Practice is also important, but that’s a separate topic.)
Thoughts lead to thoughts and more thoughts and never beyond the circle of thoughts. But I should like to experience the THINKER behind the thoughts, which thinker can no doubt be thought about but can never be reduced to a thought or proposition. Philosophy operates on the discursive plane, cannot do otherwise, and so is limited, which is why we need religion which in my view, and perhaps in Sudduths’, is completed in mystical experience.
The path to the ultimate subject that cannot be objectified, but is both transcendentally and ontologically the condition of all objectivity, is an inner path. I needn’t leave my own tradition and make the journey to the East to find support. I find it in Augustine: Noli foras ire, in te ipsum redi. In interiore homine habitat veritas . “Do not wander far and wide but return into yourself. The truth resides in man’s interiority.” The way to God is through the self. The way is not by way of propositions or thoughts or doctrines, and certainly not by fighting over doctrines or condemning the other guy to hell for holding a different doctrine, or a doctrine that plays down the importance of doctrine.
The ultimate truth is not propositional truth, which is merely representational, nor the ontic true of things represented, but the ontological truth of God. (This tripartition can be found in both Heidegger and in Thomas.) Now if I find God, but not “in a proposition,” but by experience (in fitful glimpses as if through a glass darkly here below, in the visio beata yonder) does it follow that that I have merely realized “an arbitrary and subjective psychological state”? That is a false alternative. Not that I wish to deny that some mystical experiences are nonveridical and misleading. Humans are subject to deception and self-deception in all areas of life.
There is also the matter of the divine simplicity. Here I will just baldly state that a God worthy of worship must be an absolute, and that no decent absolute can be anything other than ontologically simple. For more, I refer you to my Stanford Encylopedia article and the divine simplicity category of this weblog.
This is hotly contested, of course. Athens and Jerusalem are in tension, and you can see that my ties to Athens – and to Benares! – are strong and unbreakable. There are deep, deep issues here. I am not a master of them; they master me. One issue has to do with the role of reason and the power of reason. While confessing reason’s infirmity, as I have on many occasions in these pages, I must also admit that it is a god-like faculty in us and part of what the imago Dei must consist in – and this despite what I have said about the discursive path being non-ultimate.
I grant that the Fall has (not just had) noetic consequences: our reason is weaker than it would be in a prelapsarian state. But we need it to protect us from blind dogmatism, fundamentalism and the forms of idolatry and superstition that reside within religion herself such as bibliolatry and ecclesiolatry.
We should not paper over the deep tensions within Christianity but live them in the hope that an honest confrontation with them will lead to deeper insight.
And a little Christian charity can’t be a bad idea either, especially towards such ‘apostates’ as Michael Sudduth.
-end of MavPhil’s comments-