Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Mystic Pieces

Today’s New York Times op-ed by Ross Douthat begins on a note (sort of) of hope:

“Mysticism is dying…Monasteries have dwindled. Contemplative orders have declined. Our religious leaders no longer preach the renunciation of the world; our culture scoffs at the idea…”

But it was too good to last. A little later Ross continues with these glum tidings:

“Yet by some measures, mysticism’s place in contemporary religious life looks more secure than ever.”

Oh well. As always with Ross the piece is intriguing and well worth reading, not least in this case for the rather vivid description of what mysticism is said to involve:

“[T]he quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable, the tremor of bliss and the dark night of the soul. “


And then, of course, there is the part that mysticism is meant to play in “what’s supposed to be the deep promise of religious practice:”

“[T]hat at any time, in any place, it’s possible to encounter the divine, the revolutionary and the impossible — and have your life completely shattered and remade.”

Promise? Sounds more like a threat to me.


  • Clark · March 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I find mysticism one of those nebulous terms that means something different to nearly every person. However I think that the transition has often been to a kind of more nebulous mysticism that seems equally as compatible with atheists and non-atheists alike. So while Europe has become less Christian (outside of a sort of pride of culture) I don’t seem much evidence Europe has become less mystic – especially when you look at the influence of pseudo-scientific alternative medicine. Often there isn’t even discussion of God or even a “master force” yet the language bears an uncanny resemblance to mysticisms tied to either pagan religion or Christianity.

    While it’s harder to make this judgment in the US, while I do see rates of atheism or agnosticism rising there hasn’t been corresponding studies regarding the acceptance of more mystical beliefs or practices.

  • Lorenzo · March 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Robin Hanson has some observations about the role of mysticism.

    I posted about my own mystical experience here.

  • OneSTDV · March 8, 2010 at 7:34 pm

  • Flashback To Our Mystic Past « Around The Sphere · March 10, 2010 at 2:32 pm

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  • Ron Krumpos · March 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Mysticism is non-sense; the experience of mystics cannot not be perceived or measured. Mysticism is heretical; it does not conform to the tenets of any religion, but bridges them all. Perhaps mystics experience some of the missing 95%.

    What missing 95% you ask? Contemporary astrophysics says the dark matter is 25% and dark energy 70% of the critical mass of the Universe. These widely accepted theories may imply that current science can now study only 5% of that Universe.

  • John · March 13, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Ron, if mystics could tap into this 95% of the universe, why didn’t they tell us about it? It was the physicists who found it.

    I’ve thought that one of the best arguments against astrology was the failure of astrologists to find the planet Neptune. Astronomers looked at the orbits of the known planets, found a perturbation, inferred that there was a missing planet, and Neptune was right where they thought it should be. Astrologers couldn’t do this.

  • Ron Krumpos · March 14, 2010 at 6:08 am


    Astrology is nonsense and is rejected by most religions and mystics. I was introduced to mysticism in 1959 by Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel physicist at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory.

  • Marylander · March 15, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    “Mysticism is heretical; it does not conform to the tenets of any religion, but bridges them all.”

    That sounds a lot like Theosophy to me.

  • Ron Krumpos · March 17, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Personally, Theosophy does not appeal to me. It is an admixture of Christian and Hindu teachings begun in 19th C. New York before moving its headquarters to India. There are many people of both faiths who denounce it.

    You do not have to be religious to be a mystic. You do not even have to believe in “God,” although many of them do use that word. Meister Eckhart called it “God beyond God,” the ultimate reality beyond conception or perception. For that he was proclaimed a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Ron Krumpos · March 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm


    I overlooked your question:
    “Ron, if mystics could tap into this 95% of the universe, why didn’t they tell us about it? It was the physicists who found it.”

    They have been telling us about for more than 2,000 years. We haven’t been listening. That’s why I wrote my e-book at

    There are some things that a rational mind cannot understand, which are beyond reason, logic and images. Love is one example.



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