Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Experience of Experience of the Mystery of Mystery

Or something. This book on Karl Rahner turned out to be a bit of a chore. Seems rather disjointed and repetitive, plus the attempt to translate English into English renders the prose hardly less annoying. I'll salvage what I can. 

This chapter -- Man in the Presence of Absolute Mystery -- begins with a meditation on the very meaning of the word "God." What if the word were stricken from the dictionary? For an atheist, I suppose nothing would be lost, since the word refers to nothing anyway.

But even then, it must refer to something, even if only to a universal subjective experience, since there is no language that doesn't have an equivalent term for the ultimate transcendent ground of reality. 

Either the word will disappear or it will survive as a question..., a question about the goal and meaning of life. 

This is why I came up with the idea of using a semantically unsaturated symbol (O) for what the word "God" represents to different people -- and the symbol (?!) for the spontaneous irruption of the Experience.

Problem is, if everyone has their own idiosyncratic meaning, then no communication is possible. Rahner seems to have similar concerns, so "instead of a concept," he

uses the phrase "holy mystery." He calls it the "term" of transcendence. Term is related to terminus, end, or goal. This term is both present in transcendence and as the way to transcendence. 

Which very much reminds me of Voegelin, since he too sees transcendence as a term or pole of the great In Between we inhabit -- more like an arrow pointing toward a reality we can never reach: human experience is between the poles of immanence and transcendence. Moreover, the QUESTION is Voegelin's term for 

the transcendental pole of truth as such: "not just any question but the quest concerning the mysterious ground of all being." 

Clearly there is mystery at both ends of the tension (ours and God's), and it seems to me that the majority of mid-to-lowbrow cultural activity is designed to deny the mystery, to make it go away, or to distract us from it. But there it is. It's not going anywhere. Indeed, Rahner refers to it as a permanent existential, and why not? It is "a part of who we are," but

The discovery of this experience itself is a mystery. The mystery is not reducible to what we can say about our transcendental knowledge. 

Ultimately, "the concept of God is not a concept we can grasp. It is, rather, what grasps us." It is always over the subjective horizon, while at the same time being the ground of subjectivity. 

It reminds me of the Big Bang, only on the inside, in that consciousness too forever expands and differentiates. But from what and into what? It's a mystery, but not the unintelligible kind, rather, the infinitely intelligible kind. Like an owl staring at the sun, there's not insufficient but too much Light.

That's me talking. Or at least the caffeine. What does Rahner say? 

transcendental experience allows us to know ourselves as finite beings -- finite beings who can transcend their finitude.

And -- me talking again -- it seems that experience as such is always transcendental. Which is why it is impossible to describe or define, since any description or definition presupposes experience. It seems that experience as such is a rock-bottom, permanent existential -- that it is a ceaselessly flowing Mystery, and that this is simultaneously the least and most we can say about it.

Geez, I hope I'm not turning all Germanic on you, but wading around down here at the bottom of subjectivity is tricky. Here is Voegelin's stab at defining EXPERIENCE: it is "a 'luminous perspective' within the process of reality." And EXISTENTIAL CONSCIOUSNESS is

the reflective self-awareness of human existence in the metaxy, i.e., between poles of immanence and transcendence, finitude and infinity, imperfection and perfection, and so on. See also "truth of existence." 

Okay, don't mind if I do. This latter is "transcendentally oriented conscious existence" and 

involves the experience of: (1) finiteness and creatureliness; (2) dissatisfaction with imperfection and a sense of transcendental perfection; (3) the luminosity or manifestness of such experience in consciousness; (4) the self-transcending tendency of consciousness seeking fullness of truth.

Sounds like a luminous movement toward perfect truth, goodness, and beauty, or something.

For Rahner, 

transcendental knowledge comes from a direct contemplation of the source of transcendence. We contemplate it and call it "God."  

The problem -- or temptation -- is that

by speaking of God, we might lose sight of what we mean. What we mean is the source of the experience of transcendence, the holy mystery. It might be obscured by the concept we use to express it. If we try to describe the source as "absolute being," we might settle for an abstraction, not the source itself.

Now, the Big Question is whether this post is getting anywhere, or if we're just going around in circles on some kind of wild nous chase. I can't answer that, but Rahner "proposes that we call the source of our original experience of transcendence the 'holy mystery,'" so as not to confuse it "with a stereotype, a myth, or a conventional image."

Certainly we can agree that "Anyone searching for God 'contained in' reality seeks a false God." But not so fast, because "Those searching for a God wholly other and distant will never know God or themselves" either.

So, it seems we can say a lot about God, but we can always say more: "that is why we acknowledge that God is infinite, indefinable, and ineffable." 

It's repetitive, but maybe it needs to be:

The experience of transcendence opens up to us the holy mystery. It is a "mystery" because we cannot fully fathom it.... Rather, holy mystery is what we encounter in the experience of transcendence. Transcendence moves us in freedom and love towards its goal.  

Which we never reach. For again, "We human beings are the tension"

between our categorical statements about God and the transcendental reality itself.... it is the experience of all people who know themselves as being constantly in a relationship with a mystery....

Instead of being an object we know, God is what allows any knowledge whatsoever to take place.

I'll buy that, but I'll tell you what: wouldn't it be nice if God himself could accommodate us and just incarnate as the Mystery or something? That would be a big help. Perhaps we'll tackle this subject in the next post. Or move on to a less annoying subject.

1 comment:

julie said...

wouldn't it be nice if God himself could accommodate us and just incarnate as the Mystery or something? That would be a big help.

I think that's the question Job was asking, as well. He was simply anticipating Christ by a couple millenia...

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