Filed in Science

The Transcendent Imperative

At a time when our spiritual traditions struggle to remain relevant in a culture dominated by scientific materialism, Andrew Cooper considers the pros and cons of a new religious model based on the psychology of “flow.”

Andrew Cooper

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Throughout history, human beings have understood the transcendent imperative in a manner that reflected their own deepest and most characteristic experience of themselves and their world. For us, living as we do at a time when the truth of plurality outweighs the truth-claims of any specific point of view, religion, if it is to avoid the pull of regressively contrived certainty, must be, in key ways, different in character from how it was for those of earlier periods. For us, religion must be consonant with science—“our most trustworthy mirror of reality”—but not defined by it. The key issues in religious life no longer revolve around the particular faith one holds but how one holds one’s faith.

I am reminded here of a passage from the philosopher David Miller’s fine book Gods and Games: Toward a Theology of Play. For Miller, religious faith is something distinct from belief, something that need not correspond to actual fact:

Faith is being seized, being gripped by a pattern of meaning that affects one’s life pattern, that becomes a paradigm for the way one sees the world. . . . Faith is make-believe. It is playing as if it were true. It is not that the religious story is not true. It is simply that questions of truth are irrelevant while in the midst of make-believe, while in the midst of faith.

It is something of a truism to say that religion must accommodate science. But perhaps science must in turn accommodate religion. For if science is to serve religious ends—that is, if it is to teach us not just how things work but what meaning and purpose they hold—then it must partake of religious means. It must, in other words, entail active and vital faith. Given this, the need to understand the transcendent imperative anew and the fact that strong arguments exist both for and against evolutionary complexity are for the best. For faith must ripen through uncertainty and doubt. It must open us to something larger than our concepts, for these arise from within the limits of the self. Faith must, in the end, leave room for mystery.

Contributing editor Andrew Cooper lives in Oakland, California. He is currently taking the gradual path to writing his next book.

Image 1: Infected Lattice, 2003, ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches, © James Siena, Courtesy of Pacewildenstein; Photograp courtesy of Pacewildenstein
Image 2: Four Nesting Spirals, Second Version, 2000, enamel on aluminum, 2-1/16 x 22-11/16 inches, © James Siena, Courtesy of Pacewildenstein; Photograp courtesy of Pacewildenstein
Image 3: Floppy Recursive Combs, James Siena, 2004, wood engraving, 5 x 4 inches, paper size 12 x 10 inches, edition of 60. Printed by Pace Editions Ink; Published by Pace Editions, Inc.

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Jakela's picture

I hope his book is better edited than this endless piece.

jackelope65's picture

This is avery thought provoking discussion. Flow can not be judged from the outside and I do not believe that the flow experienced by a Trappist monk is inherently better than from the flow required to pitch a perfect baseball game. I have experienced flow running/walking in nature, surfing, playing tennis, studying & reading, meditating and so forth, but I would not rate one 'better' than the other. After all the post meditation state may be as important and beneficial as meditative absorption, which, to me, seems the point. But I do agree that flow during knowingly unethical behaviours may not prove to be of much benefit in the long run. Further increasing complexity may or may not be the eventual outcome of evolution when sometimes the change is "cooperation within a species" as Darwin stated. Often when solutions become too complex, we are just missing the point. Though I'm not necessarily convinced of any role science may have to play in proving or disproving God; God may just be totally different than anything we could imagine. Scientism is a mistake as science is deeply lost in the questions that it produces and can only be measured in the technological advances/problems that arise from its evolution. We do not even know, very basically, if we discover or invent math and science. I really enjoyed the complex issues stemming from this article and will look forward to exploring Csikszentmihalyi's research and literature further. After all, I have very little certainty on these subjects. Thank you.

kentc33's picture

I'm wondering just what the word "God" refers to for you?

Dominic Gomez's picture

re: Miller's "Faith is make-believe." In Buddhism faith equals daily life.

Kesho's picture

The best line for me was "leave room for mystery" we "just sit" our instructions from the Buddha. Thanks you Andrew Cooper. As an academic letting go of the scientific-rational thinking and reaching for something more....this is very satisfying.....

mralexander99's picture

Is this really "Much ado about nothing?"…or is it "Much ado about everything?"

sschroll's picture

Thank you for this article. Clarified some important issues and stirred life inside.

janetmartha's picture

Mucho ruido, pocas nueces.

sschroll's picture

Aramos, dijo el mosquito !!!