When the (O)ther Comes Crashing into History
Here it is important to emphasize that the encounter with the "raw" Other is prior to religion. For example, none of the people who actually saw Jesus in the flesh were Christians. And who knows -- to be cynical about it -- perhaps they wouldn't even have seen him if they had been. The Christianity only came later, as an attempt to comprehend ("hold in the hand"), memorialize, and "extend" the contact. But anyone who thinks this is an effective substitute just hasn't been paying attention. Of course it can be, but much depends upon what the individual brings to the program. Transfigurers don't lie, but you can't say the same for all their followers.
Now clearly, all human cultures throughout history and prehistory have had encounters with the Other, and in fact, as Taylor points out, they are generally founded upon this contact. Culture comes from cult, and when you get right down to it, all cultures are cults that extend back into an atemporal mythology, or "sacred time," when their founding heroes walked the earth. This isn't just true of religions, but of secular societies as well. Look at the way the Soviet Union mythologized their founding, or the transparent manner in which American liberals create substitute religious idols such as FDR, JFK, MLK, ACLU, and other graven initials.
As Taylor writes, the political organization of all pre-modern societies was based on adherence and fidelity to some notion of the Other, which forms the basis and the possibility of their unity. This is one of the reasons why a purely secular society cannot survive, because they can only have the pluribus but no true unum. Under the OMbrella of the unum all men are brothers, but in the shadows of the pluribus, all men are a nuisance.
Primitive societies recognize this, which is why they always revolve around the sacrifice, which is the ritual re-enactment and re-collection of their primordial unity. It dissipates anger, aggression, paranoia, and other mind parasites by projecting them into the sacrifical "container," and then doing away with the container. Does it work? Yes, but it must be repeated again and again, because the mind parasites always return, thus requiring ongoing ritual sacrifices to maintain unity.
This can be seen today in a myriad of thinly disguised ways, especially in the liberal media, who you might say are the sacrificial priesthood of the secular elite. They choose the victim, rip out the heart, drink the blood, and mindlessly move onto the next victim. Yesterday it was American GIs. Today it will be someone else to "unite" the left. This is the true meaning of victim, by the way. The 3000 who perished in the Twin Towers were victims of Islamic human sacrifice, just as George Bush has been a perpetual voodoo doll for the media priesthood.
I believe it was Gil Bailie (following the work of Rene Girard) who said that human sacrifice is "unanimity minus one," which is as close as human beings can get to total agreement on the horizontal plane (his book is highly recommended).
Here we can see how one of the "purposes," if you will, of Jesus, is to transpose this ineradicable urge to sacrifice to a "higher key," so to speak, thus uniting all humans as brothers. It is intended to be the "ultimate" sacrifice and therefore the final sacrifice, thereby being a permanent memorial to this unique encounter with the Other, which can be meditated upon "endlessly," instead of compulsively and repulsively acted out again and again in the manner of, say, the Aztec or the New York Times editorial pages.
Taylor attempts to outline the lineaments of the Other, writing of the abiding human conviction that "Somewhere, in some activity, or condition, lies a fullness, a richness; that is, in that place (activity or condition), life is fuller, richer, deeper, more worth while, more admirable, more what it should be." It is also experienced as a moving and inspiring "place of power"; at times we may catch glimpses of it from afar, while other times it can come crashing through more dramatically in the manner of (?!), or, for the secular person, (WTF?!). It is "an experience which unsettles and breaks through our ordinary sense of being in the world, with its familiar objects, activities and points of reference."
Ultimately, this is the only way you can really prove the existence of God to your own satisfaction (but never to another). You can't just take somebody else's word for the word. I mean, there are perfectly sound and reasonable ontological arguments for God's existence, but they tend not to "take root" in the absence of a pretty dramatic or harrowing (?!). Put another way, once you've had the (?!), then religious stories and explanations begin to make sense, from Moses on Sinai, to the disciples atop Mount Tabor, to Paul on the road to Damascus, to innumerable contemporary examples. In fact, I love reading and collecting these stories of (?!), as, taken together, they begin to create a composite portrait of O, which no single surface could possibly scratch.
Again I return to the comment a couple of days ago to the effect that "Jesus is the truth, and it is only for us to surrender to it." Yes, yes, fine, I'll certainly go along with that -- although I'm not one of those people who limit Christ to Christianity. The same reader asked what sort of Christian I am, or "who do I say Jesus was?," or words to that effect. First of all, I make no claim to be an orthodox anything except Transdimensional Raccoon. If I were anything else, I'd just be lying to you and you wouldn't be able to see right through me anymore. I don't think about it all the time too much, but when Purusha comes to Shiva, I suppose I would just say that the strangest damn thing that has ever happened or could happen would be for O to actually take human form. Is such a thing possible, or only inevitable?
It reminds me of something nine year-old Terence McKenna said to his mother after reading The Doors of Perception: "Mom, if even one tenth of this is true, we've got to do something about it!"
Whatever will we do about O?