The Religious Sense

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chapter 10: How the Ultimate Questions Arise: The Way of the Religious Sense

We have described and analyzed the ultimate questions of meaning that well up in our being and cannot be denied without dire consequences, but how do these questions arise? How does the actual process take place within the human person?

The first step begins with an awareness of presence. Take for example, a baby that has just been born. As soon as her eyes are open she would realize that there are things! This would be her first reaction. The awe of perceiving these "things" around is the amazing realization that there exists something outside of one's own being. The baby would over time come to see that these things are a presence that she interacts with, but do not emanate from her.

At a very elementary level, I know that everything around me is not me, that this reality imposes itself on me, and that I am dependent upon this reality. I know that I do not make reality; I find it, and it attracts me. Attraction to reality, or 'otherness' is the human being's first reaction, a seeking, invoking, and contemplating of what is 'other.' Man's original structure is not oriented towards skepticism and speculation.

The enlightenment culture claims that religion is based on fear, but fear is only the danger of losing something that is important. We do not fear losing things that have no interest to us. Attraction always comes first, like how babies are enthralled by new and unfamiliar objects.

Religiosity is, first of all, the affirmation and development of the attraction. A true seeker's disposition is laden with a prior evidence and awe: the wonder of the presence attracts me, and that is how the search within me breaks out. (102)

At a certain point in my psychological development I realize that I do not make myself, or hold myself in being. I understand myself as "I" and then come to know that I am distinct from other things. "It is from this that the idea of life as gift originates" (103).

Furthermore, this attraction becomes known to me as beauty, as having some sort of harmony and order that is favorable to me. Throughout time religions have made providence central to our relationship with the divine. The rhythms of night and day, the four seasons, and womanly fertility are signs of rejuvenation, refreshment, and gift.

Man is grateful for the beneficence and providence of this presence. He "becomes aware of himself as I, recovers this original awe with a depth that establishes the measure, the stature of his identity" (105). I realize, if I am mature, that I do not hold myself in being, but rather than I emerge from something else. "I am you-who-make-me — except that this you is absolutely faceless" (105). The pronoun you is the only adequate term for this faceless other, but in the religious tradition we call this you God. Although our dependence on God seems at first like a constraint, it is liberating once we understand that only in existing as God's creations do we have peace.

Similar to how the world is imposed on us in our first moments outside the womb and we come to realize how we are held in existence by an Other, there is another thing which imposes itself on our experience: good and evil. We have an awareness that things are either good or evil, "that certain things must be either approved or rejected" (107). Some schools of thought in sociology and philosophy hold that concepts of good and evil are really just constructs of the mind, but when man makes himself step aside from all his material comforts and barriers of indifference he can see good and evil as plainly as night and day. When you are betrayed by a friend, when those you love are brutally slain for love of power or greed, when bread is stored up in castles as your whole nation dies of starvation outside the walls, then you cannot deny the difference between good and evil. It is set upon the human heart.

The distinction of good and evil is "used by the Creator to draw to itself all of our existence" (107). In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes that there is a law written inside out hearts, and that even the Gentiles testify to it when they keep the law by instinct, even if they do not have the complete, revealed law of the Jews. Along with the realization that we do not hold ourselves in being, this "natural law" is also part of the emergence of the ultimate questions of the religious sense.

Now the question is this: How can this complex, yet simple, this enormously rich experience of the human heart — which is the heart of the human person, and therefore, of nature, the cosmos — how can it become vivid, how can it come alive? How can it become powerful? In the "impact" with the real. The only condition for being truly and faithfully religious, the formula for the journey to the meaning of reality is to live always the real intensely, without preclusion, without negating or forgetting anything... The mark of great souls and persons who are truly alive is an eagerness for this search, carried out through their commitment to the reality of their existence. (108-109)


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