Saturday 7 November 2020

What is Mysticism? (And Christian Mysticism)

Traditional religion regards the bottom-line of knowledge as deriving from one or a combination of Tradition, Theology, Church authority and practices, or Scripture. These are external and 'objective' (i.e group consensus) sources.

By contrast, Mysticism is the conviction that the bottom-line source of knowing is subjective and experiential. Personal and subjective is regarded as potentially ultimately real; indeed the primary understanding of reality is subjective, personal, experiential.

In short: Mysticism is a kind of experience; and for 'the mystic', Mystical Experience is primary.  


The primacy of Mystical Experience can be seen in its use both as validation and source. It may be used to check the validity of external sources of information, such as tradition, theology, church authority or scripture. 

And Mystical Experience may also generate knowledge. For example, knowledge may arise in thought as ideas, concepts, information; or knowledge may arrive via perceptual communications - as with visions, or hearing voices - or combinations, as when reading the vision of a written text.  

Thus Mystical knowledge is not defined by the nature of its content; but by how the knowledge is acquired. In other words, Mysticism is a theory of 'epistemology' (the philosophy of knowledge). 

But an assertion of epistemology requires metaphysical foundation - because a theory of valid knowledge entails a metaphysical theory about the ultimate nature of reality - to explain why Mystical Experience is the most valid source of knowledge. 

So, Mysticism is always (whether implicitly or explicitly) associated with an understanding of reality that explains how valid knowledge may arise by mystical means. For example, to explain why Mystical Experience is necessarily primary, or how subjective personal knowledge is also objective reality.


Mystical Christianity can therefore be understood as that Christianity for which knowledge of Jesus Christ - e.g. his identity, nature, teachings, mission, work, achievement, current role etc. - are primarily based-upon Mystical Experience; derived-from and/or validated-by subjective, personal experience. 

Being a Mystical Christian first entails a conviction that Mystical experience is important, valuable - indeed essential. And having reached this conviction, will naturally set the stage for wanting Mystical Experience, for understanding (including checking) such experiences in oneself, and for developing Mystical capacities and practices.




agraves said...

As I see it just about anyone with interest can become a church scholar, priest, phd, etc. Study the books,pass the tests, and get the grade. But Mysticism requires sensitivity not only to the subject of study but life in general. One is born sensitive or not, ones' intuition operates automatically or not. A sensitive cannot explain how they know something or why, they just do. What the mystic receives is often not understandable to others and there is no point in trying to explain it.The real difficulty for the mystic is when the knowledge he receives is very different from what the authorities say. In many cases being sensitive today works against a person in this sick world, so you are left to paper over what you know and let the crowd continue on.

edwin faust said...

One might add that the desire for mystical experiences can be of two kinds: one is rooted in a desire for truth, the other in a desire for the exotic and unusual. The second sort is most popular today and can be had via LSD, magic mushrooms, etc. Lots of people have had "far-out" experiences. But to judge the value of any experience requires a criterion, a metaphysical understanding as context, as you point out. Lacking this, experiences do not cohere and cannot offer us either verification or direction. But then the question arises: how is the criterion to be verified? Unless we accept that knowledge is infused, intuited from an infallible source, the problem of the criterion will remain. This is why most modern philosophy goes nowhere: it lacks a reliable criterion for truth. And it seems that we could never recognize something as true if we did not already possess the truth in some measure or it were not accessible to us through an act of will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - Sure, but Bible/ Christian scholarship has been a 200 year history of subversion - dominated by secular values and academic fashions; the churches are leftist, corrupt - and mostly shut anyway; and all the main Christian churches from Conservative Bible-based evangelicals to the Tradition based Eastern Orthodox, have fallen in line with the birdemic.

The disadvantages and advantages of Mysticism are two sides of the same coin. When the Mystic knows and accepts that he cannot persuade others of his subjective and experiential insights; then there is no possibility of 'using' Mystical insights to gain power, money, social status - in the ways that churches use their institutional structure, academics use their expertise and so forth.

A Mystic may legitimately share his experiences - which are neither harder nor easier to communicate than any other qualitative matter. For example, try communicating *exactly why* you love your mother, wife or child - it is impossible to do it fully and universally, and for the same reasons as the impossibility of communicating a Mystical Experience. But Mysticism is no more incommunicable than that, or describing the taste of honey, or the music of Mozart.

Mysticism compels us to focus on the spiritual aspects of our own life; which are what is most needed - as well as being just about the only thing possible in 2020.

@edwin - As I always say, motivation is primary: Bad motivations lead to bad spiritual outcomes. And vice versa.

When we are motivated by truth, we will surely zig-zag our way towards truth, learning from our experiences (which God puts our way).

There are numberless paths to truth, as well as to error. There is always a way to be found for good motivations; and no way of stopping bad motivations from going off the path.

For Christians, love is the necessary motivator to good - and chosen exclusion of love is the only certain damnation.