25 May 2008

On Transcendence: Introduction (1 of 6)

Introduction: Transcendence

If told that transcendence merits close analysis, an attentive student might wonder why the topic deserves such consideration, either philosophical or religious, given (for example) the recent developments in astronomy which enable one to see more of the universe and comprehend the uniqueness of Earth and its inhabitants. In addition, the science of genetics reveals the differences between even the most apparently similar pair of identical twins. These findings, though, no matter how they are construed, offer only pseudo-objective opinions about the vast, generally unexplored realm of being and existence. To further evaluate these findings, one might question the validity of the scientific method as this generation’s technology for truth, especially given its implicit faith in perception and observation which has resulted in many accepted scientific theories being rejected as the ability to “more accurately” observe and perceive has advanced. The very questioning of the scientific method as proposed often offends those whose personal religion has become the worship of technology qua technology, preferring their own inventions to any other thing as the object of their worship. These individuals place at least as much faith in their methods as previous generations have entrusted to God. I say that their trust is at least as great as those whose trust lies in God because most of the self-proclaimed “religious” of this day merely profess belief as an act of conformity or convenience and rarely act according to the beliefs that they so earnestly confess. Such life-changing commitment often remains unrealized because of the lackadaisical atmosphere with which they are comfortable. Compounding the problem, the relativistic rejection of transcendence as a viable source of meaning in life discourages the religious life in general. The effort requisite to attaining the transcendent life, which (incidentally) seems to offer the only true and lasting happiness, often seems too great and the rewards appear too distant or surreal to accept as possible. Just as philosophers have rejected many seemingly valid methods for assessing truth and validity, this age has the philosophical task of evaluating the merits of the technological society in which we now live and recognizing its inability to fully comprehend the world of experience that each of us inhabits and the meaning that this world offers us if we will receive what it is giving. Because of these responsibilities, I find the topic of transcendence to hold renewed life.

By transcendence, I do not refer to the overly-general sense of this term so often misemployed in its use. Many contemporary authors and speakers use this word to mean merely superb or universal. Such simple (pseudo-) synonyms allude to the quality of transcendence, but ignore its intensity, its meaning. I see no equivalence between such pseudo-synonymous terms and transcendence, and prefer to consider transcendence in its more literal and specific meaning of crossing or surpassing boundaries. This sense of crossing and passing brings to transcendence its power and true meaning. Because experiences can transcend personal, societal, political, and religious boundaries (all of which are imposed on the events or experiences artificially), one could refer to such experiences as transcendent; as existing beyond the world as we now perceive and observe it, but nevertheless existing.

This meaning gives life to some literary and religious topics that often are disregarded because transcendence (or transcendent experience) has been reduced to universality, rather than embracing the literary and historical idea of transcendence that has existed throughout recorded history. This transcendence finds its form in myth (including stories of origin), archetypes, and religious systems that proclaim a kind of transcendence in the deity who closes the hermeneutic circle of their worship and takes shape in the transcending need for humankind to partake in certain experiences exactly as these experiences have given themselves to others previously.

To explore this topic, I have selected experiences that seem to transcend time, culture, and all other boundaries, becoming accessible to all of humankind. Though not all share in these specific experiences, their merit lies in their transcendent nature, not in their universality. The events offer (or give) themselves as reaching beyond the existence as defined by societal norms. As such, I recognize that many who read of these transcending experiences will not relate completely to all of the examples presented. To expect this from my attempts here would be to misunderstand my purpose in this work. My aim is not to relate experiences to which all readers can relate; instead, I hope to convey how some particular recorded experiences transcend themselves and that this possibility could extend to others, renewing life’s meaning in our present nihilistic world. An underlying presupposition necessary to enable my completion of my desired task requires me to address topics with which I am familiar. Thus, I limit my discussion to Judeo-Christianity. I emphasize, however, that this limitation merely limits the scope of discussion and does not circumscribe the implications of my findings within this religious context. Because of the nature of the topic of transcendence, I feel warranted in some limitation to my subject matter; yet this limitation ironically opens up limitless possibilities for application of the philosophical topic of transcendence.

Although the topics presented here pertain directly to religion, the subject of transcendence merits attention even by those whose religion (or irreligion) does not accept these particular ideas due to the underlying philosophical outlook presented through these examples which can bring the aforementioned meaning to all lives, regardless of their religious orientation. The examples of transcending experiences presented in this work relay a message of meaning and hope to all. Public memory seems to have (perhaps deliberately) forgotten the idea of transcendence, and, as a result, many who might otherwise find happiness and satisfaction in life wander about purposelessly and meaninglessly, contributing to a mentality of the “here and now” that eliminates some possibilities from all who embrace such an attitude. I believe that the remedy to this malady of despair, almost pandemic in today’s society, lies in the remembrance of transcendence and its return to the forefront of the social conscience. Despair cannot withstand the introduction of transcending events into one’s life. Thus, by recognizing this transcendence, I find that my life carries meaning and hope beyond what I now see. Recognizing the importance of this topic, I find that the treatment that it receives here remains woefully inadequate; nevertheless, I hope that this work can serve as a stimulus to further thinking and incorporation of the ideas presented in it. If you find that you see yourself and the world around you—and the relationship between the two—have changed as a result of your reading this series and reevaluating the concepts that I present in it, then my efforts have served their purpose.

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