Mysticism, Democracy, and Authority

Loyalty is offered only to one’s experience and convenience. This is one of the most profound and costly assumptions or axioms of the modern age. It is fundamentally destructive to community and trust. 

This came up in a conversation on experiencing God with a disgruntled catholic or agnostic. She wondered why some people claim to experience the love and presence of God palpably in some tangible way and others do not. She questioned the experiences of a hispanic mystic that I remain unfamiliar with but her friends were pretty confident. 

You see for me, mysticism is an encounter with God that strips away the layers between you and God. There is no promise of this type of encounter, but I cannot imagine a better counter to Atheism or agnosticism than to admit that these encounters do occur. The assumption that the ultimate authority comes from the confirmable experience or shareable experience. 

You have to hand it to them, this is science right? Or at least marginally follows the principles of empiricism. 

Of course at this point one wants to pull out some Aristotle and say in jest, “If someone denies the first principle (God) they should be beaten and burned until they can admit that being beaten and being not beaten or burned and not burned are not the same state.” Ok so it’s a bit of a paraphrase, and Aristotle does not mean by a first principle what Christians mean by God or even what Plato means by God. 

However, what Aristotle says here is what Descartes means when he says he “Doubts there for he is”. Existence is proof of an origin of some kind. But I bring this in here because Atheists in using demanding their own personal experience deny the very democratic way in which science appeals to authority. The experiences of many Christians and other religions are denied simply because they are not universal. 

So, why do they do this? 

Well, I’d be lying if I said there is a consistent reason for their denial, and I don’t want to insult them by trying to hard. What I would like to do is suggest that authority, or how we determine the truth of a claim, can find itself rooted in experiences of others even with a reasonable skepticism without being presumptuous or dismissive. I also believe that mysticism is rooted within the means of grace. Tradition offers us a picture of both the thought and the places, or practices, where we can encounter God.

Of course, I’m very open to mysticism, and perhaps that desire and openness changes my perspective or makes room for others to be skeptical when I say I believe I have encountered God.   

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About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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