Greg Leake emails: Hi Luke,
I was just reading your entry ‘The Torah Is Not In Heaven.’
This may seem tangential, but I feel that religion basically faces two major metaphysical challenges today. They are:
1) the enlightenment experience
2) the near-death experience
When I was a kid growing up in Midland, Texas, (President Bush was in one junior high school, Laura Bush in another, and I in a third.. there were only four) there were only two ways to be religious. You could be either a Protestant or a Catholic, and you heard rumors of a Jewish faith from afar. I don’t think I ever met a Jew until I was in college.
Sometime in the 1940s Mircea Eliade and others started the Humanities discipline of the history of religions. Since that time all of the world’s religions have come under the scrutiny of scholars, pundits, and sages. We now know as much about satari and samadi as we do about salvation.
One of the things that we have discovered is the enlightenment experience. The whole of Buddhism surrounds this ultimate experience of enlightenment. Naturally, throughout the twelve or so different philosophies derived from India, enlightenment and refined versions of enlightenment are the ultimate centerpiece. We have nods in the direction of enlightenment within other religions as well. In scholastic Catholicism, there is the “contemplation of divine beatitude” through the grace “luminum gloriem”.
However one cognizes it (perhaps as part of Tikkun HaNefesh), it is now a recognizable part of the established study of comparative religions and the history of religions and the study of altered states of consciousness. And it is realized as an authentic example of fulfillment of a human potential that is not with the province of most of us to experience.
Now our organized religious structures have not worked very diligently at trying to ask the question, “What perspective does the enlightenment experience bring to the pronouncement of saviors and profound religious teaching?”
For example, when I read the teachings of Jesus bin Joseph, I simply see the point of view of the enlightenment experience. The individual nature having been sacrificed to the univeral nature. Perhaps when one really comes to the solemn depths of the individual nature, one discovers that, lo and behold, it was ultimately the universal nature all along. Frankly, it is irrelevant to me whether Jesus fulfilled some Jewish prophecies. His pronouncement rise or fall on the basis of whether he was enlightened.
I would say that the problem for many Christians is whether Jesus bin Joseph was the only one in the history of humanity to exhibit enlightenment properties or if there have been others who shared similar experience. And I would say that the problem for Jews in respect to Jesus bin Joseph is to determine the efficacy of his ministry irrespective of whether it fits into the messiah context.
The second point I will be brief about. In the 1800s eminent Cambridge don Frederick Myers wrote his classic book Survival of the Personality After Bodily Death. Since that time, we have had a hundred years of serious research establishing the plausibility of survival beyond the death experience. Thirty or thiry-five years ago, Moody wrote his original book on the near-death experience, the shelves have filled with books by doctors, professors, and ordinary people who have experiences beyond clinical death that should suggest survival that mimics what we learned from Myers and the Society for Psychical Research. Even the CIA has messed around with out-of-body experience.
Frankly, without going into lengthy citations, the preponderance of evidence today suggests strongly for survival after clinical, biological death. And moreover, it does not seem to be a major factor whether one sees a Jesus figure or not. Some do, some don’t. Jews might see Elijah or someone. And a lot of people do not seemingly encounter any specific religious figure.
At any rate, if either of these subjects seems dismissible, it would merely indicate a lack of familiarity with the literature. And my contention is that in the end religion in the West has to find a way to shed its perspective on these ontological and metaphysical experiences.
Religion requires some raison d’être relative to the ultimate nature of the universe and life after death. And if religions abandon the field, then doctors, philosophers, transpersonal pyschologists and psychiatrists and will have more answers than the priest or rabbi, and religion will lose its position as arbiter of spiritual matters.
LUKE SAYS: Everything you write is foreign to me as a Jew. I’ve never heard talk of “enlightenment” from a traditional Jew. I believe the Jewish view is that our task is simple and difficult — control our will to destroy and to instead to do good. There’s no special teaching that will unlock all of life. There is no esoteric knowledge we need to do what is most important — righteousness and holiness.
Every minute one spends thinking about the next life one is not living this life.
Judaism is unromantic religion. Christianity is romantic religion. By contrast, Judaism will usually seem much less spiritual and much more this worldly.