Reality Concerns in the Metaphysics of Religious Experience


I’ve failed
Something is wrong…
I’m in a different world… it’s false
It’s a world of unbelief…it’s a world of bondage
How?
The root is my attempt to avoid, escape…
The root is a lack of renewing of mind….

Reality concerns play a very important role in the metaphysics of religious experience. There are usually three different approaches that humans usually have taken towards reality:

  1. Denial
  2. Affirmation
  3. Both Denial and Affirmation
  1. In the Denial group are those who discourage attribution of absoluteness and ultimacy to the material world and material life. On the other hand, they encourage a disregard and renunciation of this world. The concepts of Sanyasa (Hinduism), monasticism (Christianity), nekkhama (Buddhism), aparigraha (Jainism), and Zuhd (Islam) incorporate the denial of ultimate value to this world. The nature of the denial and the metaphysical view of reality linked with it differ from religion to religion. For instance, for some denial may be the path to enlightenment; to others, the result of enlightenment. Also, the metaphysical view about the world that we experience with our senses differs from religion to religion.

  2. In the Affirmation group are those who encourage embracement of the material world, power, and life. They discourage immaterialization of religion. Religion is the medium of attaining material prosperity in this life and in the life after. The heaven of this group is also materialistic in nature, flowing with milk and wine and filled with all sensual pleasures. Popular and polytheistic religions usually embrace the concepts of energy acquisition, material prosperity, and sensual myths, rituals, and festivals. The gods and goddesses are portrayed as this worldly in form, passion, and conduct. They are subject to rage, lust, and envy. Myths talk of natural means of attaining immortality, immense energy, and magical powers to create and do whatever one likes. The fancy with materialism involves avoidance psychology; while this-worldly reality is affirmed, the negative concept of death is denied in the immediate consciousness. Heidegger (1889-1976) observed that people attempt to disregard and forget about their mortality by immersing themselves in the daily routines of life. However, when face to face with death, the question of ultimate reality stares in the face.

  3. In the Both Denial and Affirmation group are those who affirm and deny the reality of this world. They may call this world a lesser reality (phenomenal, Maya) or regard it merely as transitory, ephemeral, and temporary. The world is real and actions done here have eternal ramifications. Life is a pilgrimage; but, denial of the world doesn’t mean social isolation and extreme asceticism. One is called to involvement in the worldly affairs (politics, economics), yet disenchantment against and non-attachment to the things of the world. In Hinduism, there is the concept of dharma, duty boundedness with respect to age, sex, family, and truth. In Islam, man is God’s viceroy on earth and is called to faithful stewardship. There are paths in other religions that try to take the middle path that avoids the extremes of denial and the extremes of affirmation.  In Christianity, one is called to be a responsible family person, a responsible social neighbor, and a responsible citizen; yet, he must not forget that his true citizenship is in heaven. Also, heaven is not a place of material comfort and sensual pleasure, but is a place of worship and fellowship. We are called not to be conformed to the passing fashions of the world, but embrace within ourselves the absolute, immutable principles of divine nature and be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

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