Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Barbarian at the Gates of St. Peter

I have been mulling something that I read in the Meditations of Thomas Traherne, the English poet and priest.  What he says is that faith in God is to the soul, as the soul is to the body.  This schema has helped me to understand religion in general, and monotheistic religions in particular.  That hierarchical vision of mind/body dualism that we all know so well from the history of Christianity, in which the body is a kind of animal controlled by the higher power of the soul has another layer, in Traherne's schema. Faith governs and inspires the soul as the soul inspires the body.  To put it another way, faith in God gives the faithful a kind of super-power.  A spiritual and moral super-power.  No wonder religion is so appealing! This individual super-power is on top of the social power that is concentrated and organized by religious institutions and shared by those who belong to a church, etc.  Traherne's formulation might not be so revelatory to someone with a better religious education than I, who was only lightly exposed to religion as a child, and never truly understood the appeal of the Abrahamic religions.  I can grasp a little better how important faith can be in a person's life.
What I love about Traherne is that he is an uncommonly honest and paradoxical mystic. He speaks of the amorphous with brutal clarity. He sees the violence that is half-concealed in Christianity and owns up to it. For him, universal oneness is not a nice feeling but a never-ending and total responsibility to all the world.

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