A number of readers of these columns have confided to me that they prefer those about love to the others. I think this is because love possesses spirituality. The spirit is the agency that preserves the shared meanings of language. In the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the means of transmission of the Word of the Father (and Son, if we accept the filioque of the Roman church). If the Father is the center as inaccessible Being and the Son is the center as victim, the Spirit is the center as the locus not of figure but of meaning. Spirituality is communication in and through the transcendental guarantee of the spirit.The function of human love as a means of facilitating spiritual communication is implicit in the earliest myths, such as the Babylonian creation story in which the sky-god impregnates the earth-goddess. In the Christian Middle Ages, the idea that my love for another human being provides in its very specificity a model of my love for God gives rise to a new human-based spirituality based on the nearly universal experience of love. In the richness of its reference to our common origin, it is ultimately immaterial whether the object of this love is human or divine.
But the spiritual life of society as a whole is not organized around our experience of finding God in our beloved’s eyes. The locus of spirituality for most remains organized religion. The various religions incarnate historically different insights into the sacred basis of the human. Since the human is one, all religions share the same horizon; but in the critical urgency of deferring violence, each must make its decision before reaching this horizon. The credo quia absurdum is universal: all faiths require the leap of faith. No amount of interfaith dialogue can create a Hegelian synthesis of the different religions each attached to the historical specificity of its founding revelation, whether vouchsafed to an ancient prophet or to a contemporary guru.
Religion is a communal affair; but for the most part we no longer live in homogeneous religious communities. We must either accept other faiths as compatible with our own–Jésus et Bouddha, même combat–or withdraw into closed communities defined by religious orthodoxy. This situation has had a deleterious effect on contemporary religious reflection. When the cognitive value of religion is ignored by both sides and faith reduced to acceptance of dogma, our shared intuitions about the transcendental realm of meaning tend to wither away. In this climate, what passes for spirituality is often sought outside the traditional religions, in cults, sects, and New Age elucubrations of the most embarrassing naïveté. That this latter mode has invaded the very seat of power, from Nancy Reagan‘s astrology to Hillary Clinton‘s channeling, is a distressing sign of spiritual impoverishment. At least Billy Graham, the unofficial White House spiritual leader in the previous generation, was an arguably legitimate bearer of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Cult members suffer from spiritual impoverishment in the form of Durkheim’s anomie: the loss of a set of clear rules of conduct that give meaning to life. They choose a charismatic leader not from the Hobbesian need to end physical anarchy but to still the anarchy of their souls, pulled this way and that by myriad mediating forces. As the mediator of all in the group, the leader creates by fiat or example a set of transcendental meanings that make possible intense spiritual communion. The more aberrant these meanings appear to outsiders, the more the group’s spiritual coherence is reaffirmed; since humans are their own greatest source of danger, we are more critically concerned with the spirituality that guarantees the nonviolent exchange of representations (roughly, Kant’s Vernunft or Reason) than with our ability to manipulate the categories of external reality (the Verstand or Understanding). For those, less openly in crisis, who belong to a particular spiritual community but do not wish to sacrifice all else to spiritual intensity, the question is how to remain open to dialogue with others.
Originary thinking stands at the intersection of the transcendent and immanent modes of thought, the respective foundations of religious and positive spirituality; it is the only form of thinking that can translate between them. But it is not acceptable to offer both parties an imperialistic analysis that neither can accept. If some of my expositions of GA have seemed to present it in this way, mea culpa. Real thinking does not seek to conquer the minds of either side, but to help them better to think their own thoughts through dialogue with each other.
It is wrong to teach GA as a doctrine; it is the minimal component of all doctrines. The originary hypothesis is the minimal hypothesis–too minimal to found a human community, either at the origin or today. Its function is wholly spiritual, in the sense that the Holy Spirit, lacking both the material reality of the Son and the transcendental substance of the Father, is nothing but the subsistence of meaning. I hope to make this aspect and function of originary thinking clearer in the columns that follow.