Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spiritual suspension of disbelief

DiVineImage by janoimagine via FlickrSo, what do you do if you are trying to find, reconcile your problems with, increase the depth of your spiritual path? There are many possible answers, and no one can list or describe them all.

However, a major stumbling block is the suspension of disbelief.

When you read a novel, attend a play, or watch a television program or a movie, even when playing some video games, part of you agrees to react as if it were really happening. If you are unable to suspend your disbelief even a little, then the program can become tedious--perhaps straying into boredom, annoyance or frustration.

This can also be an obstacle when you are trying to search out the meaning and insights of a sacred tradition, and in fact, it can snuff out any chance of really appreciating that tradition or its wisdom before you've even really started exploring it. In that situation your future efforts have already been sabotaged and the pattern of your expectations has already been set.

For example.

You are told that some object or ritual or individual embodies what the theologian Paul Tillich referred to as "the objective of ultimate concern", which could be framed as "God" or maybe "enlightenment". And this object, ritual or individual, the external expression of this ultimate concern, which serves as its focus, is in both just a regular "thing" and also the complete embodiment of "God" or "enlightenment".

The idea of the ultimate concern and its focus is ubiquitous in sacred traditions around the world, and it is a paradox of literalism merged with metaphor, in some ways a meta-metaphor, creating a tension that is said to be needed to break people out of their habituated ways of thinking and expand their hearts and minds in order to accommodate a more comprehensive and fulfilling engagement with life.

But here's the catch. You have to pass through that initial suspension of disbelief, not just agree that is is necessary or make an effort to be sincere. Not that those things aren't worthwhile, but the message one hears over and over is that they aren't enough. You really have to be vulnerable to something you may on some levels find strange, absurd or even senseless. If that's the case, no wonder so many people reject religion either by abandoning it or turning it into something that serves their ego.

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