§1 Absolute Transcendence

The paradox of the principle of ontological undecidability was resolved by positive transcendence only at the cost of a Being which is neither subject nor object and where "everything is everywhere." This may seem to substitute a paradox not unlike the original one, and our curiosity is natural if we wonder whether anything meaningful can be said about absolute transcendence -- transcendence as it is in isolation, without any relation to any subject or object or immanent reality as we have previously exclusively considered it. This is what remains for us of the Kantian problem of the thing in itself as a limit on what can be known about reality. Indeed, positive transcendence cannot be known in separation from the intentionality that is at once the form of all knowledge and the essence of immanent reality. On the other hand, absolute transcendence does seem to have a more than theoretical interest for us; there is a prima facie case for an object language of value being grounded in it; and we do have available to us a non-cognitive theory in the Friesian tradition that can help describe our relationship with it.

We can conceive of a phenomenological meaning for absolute transcendence when we realize what an absence of internal and external transcendence signifies: an absence of consciousness. This means no less than three very specific things for us: 1) we know that at one time we did not exist as individuals, and we probably remember something of the first dim experiences of childhood that were the first flickerings of conscious experience; 2) we undergo the daily experience of loss of consciousness in sleep -- our virtual annihilation in deep sleep, the vague awareness of dreams, and the curious rebirth of awakening; and 3) we anticipate the final annihilation of death. In each of these we contemplate, or endure, a condition where we as subjects do not exist and where the world as objects does not exist for us. What is the most emotionally and existentially disturbing for us is death. No one returns from death to tell us about it, as even the Egyptians used to say, but this has not prevented all peoples at all times from having the very strongest beliefs about it. Such beliefs are one of the most important aspects, if not the most important aspect, of religion; and religion, indeed, is the object language of value that we will consider to be grounded in positive transcendence as such. Even so, religion is itself a thing of immanent reality, and perhaps even most of the doctrines of religion, not excepting the eschatological ones, concern immanent objects. It could hardly be otherwise.

Questions of religion and absolute transcendence will be treated under two headings. First is a major problem of religions and for us, the problem of evil. This continues the theory of purposive value by at last addressing the hitherto presupposed polarity of value, although the discussion belong to absolute transcendence because it may be taken to be a general characteristic of positive transcendence (and so characteristic of it as such) and because its meaning seems to be bound up with the meaning of our existence and non-existence. Second is the topic of numinosity, which on the basis of the Friesian doctrine of Ahndung we will take to be the special mode of value and the quality of the non-cognitive ground of religious object languages. By way of the concept of numinosity the traditional philosophic problems of religion such as Kant's questions of God and immortality can be approached.

With these discussions the theory of value will be complete, for absolute transcendence represents the original and the strongest sense of value, without the complication of the various relationships that must be considered between objects and persons in the four modes of purposive necessity. All value, indeed, tends to numinosity, as numinosity represents the only adequate form of answer to the ultimate questions of the real meaning and worth of conscious existence. Numinosity represents the absolute and separate existence of value; and in the absence of the polarizing field of intentionality, all the modes of value and necessity may be imagined to fall together in a unity with numinosity -- just as they were historically already a unity in the earliest religions. As religions claim the force of the necessity of all value to rest, not on their several independent grounds, but only and entirely on the numinous ground of religious revelation, numinosity will thus be said to constitute an additional and final category of necessity -- but as a pseudo-necessity, since when we attribute to the other modes of value their proper independence and separate them from the authority of any religious revelation, nothing remains of the numinous necessity but an unanalyzable, material nimbus with definite cognitive content.

§2 The Problem of Evil

For our approach to evil, I will adopt a certain simple hypothesis, perhaps even an over-simple hypothesis, which I will then use to investigate the ontological character of the polarity of value. This will be that the essence of evil is death, together with all that bespeaks, contributes to, and attends death. This is the Zoroastrian sense of evil [175] and so is due a certain respect if we are to believe that Zoroaster initiated belief in the general conflict between good and evil. By what bespeaks, contributes to, and attends death, we will understand disease, decay, pain, violence, mutilation, disfigurement, disability, and anything else that is itself a threat to life, a warning of a possible threat to life, part of the phenomenology of threats of possible threats to life, or the results of such threats, especially those which are actually damage done to the organism and so impair the functioning of life as it otherwise would have occurred.

Death to us means one thing, the permanent loss of consciousness. This is not the same thing as biological death. The difference is that biological life is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for conscious life. Threats to biological life are thus threats also to conscious life; and in fact a threat to biological life may fail in destroying it but all the same result in an impairment of the organism that destroys consciousness. From an external perspective, our view of death and evil is determined by the physical conditions and natural laws that enable biological mechanisms to function. From the same perspective we understand how violence, which for Zoroastrianism is nearly as equivalent to evil as death itself, is a manipulation of natural forces to the injury, or threat of injury, to the biological mechanism.

On the other hand, from an internal perspective, we confront the paradox of our existence as conscious life. Our personal existence is not existence as such. A stone or a dead body or a terminally comatose body all exist and exist as much as we do. But they possess, a Jung says, "mere being" [176]. The being that is valuable to us is given to us by the form of intentionality, although intentionality really creates a loss of being in the sense that the material content of internal existence is projected immediately into external existence. Sensation cognitively belongs to external objects. Life to us thus consists of an alienation from existence, and death itself is no more than a threat to return us to our previous condition in which no alienation from self existed. Of course no self, as conscious ego, happened to exist in that state. Intentionality thus lifts a fragment of existence out of blissful oblivion into a curious dissociation of itself in which "life" appears to exist because of the threat of a "death" that will return it to its previous oblivious "mere being." We must be careful, however, not to simply think of death as reducing us to external existence. That is how we must view the death of others when we see the body which, to us, possess external transcendence but which no longer betrays any signs of internal transcendence. Internally, however, both internal and external transcendence are aspects of the same thing; so in the death of the ego, internal existence is reduced to undifferentiated existence and not merely to external transcendence.

In these terms we must conclude that evil only belongs to immanent reality. The threat of loss of consciousness only becomes possible once conscious existence has come to be; and the evils of suffering become possible only when violence and the impairment of biological function can appear to a conscious being as the pain and distress which threaten to presage its biological death and conscious extinction. A stone, in its mere being, can be crushed to fragments by natural forces without being wronged or suffering evil; but any creature with glimmering of consciousness undergoing the same destruction will suffer pain and genuine evil and, should its destruction have been willfully arranged by some other conscious being, it will have been morally wronged (unless the destruction is a retribution of justice, should we believe in that sort of thing).

The loss of existence in intentionality is the creation of the emptiness of negative transcendence. Value, as the uncovering of positive transcendence, makes god the loss and beings to us the presence, both in internal and external transcendence, of Being. The polarity of positive transcendence reflects the ambiguity of our position: merely being is genuinely neither good nor evil; but if our conscious life is good, then by comparison merely being, to which death would return us, appears as evil. Good seems more essential to Being because the biological growth in external transcendence is what makes possible and then gives us the conscious being in which this growth, life, consciousness, and existence first appear as goods. As we lose consciousness and life, it seems contrary to a long evolution of effort. In considering all this, the final sense of the meaning of value may be this: that existence and value are essentially the same and that the difference between them which exists for us is due entirely to the dissociation created by the form of intentionality. Existence to us has come to mean, not a "mere being" which is the true ontological irreducible substance of reality, but this precarious, transient, vulnerable, ephemeral state of consciousness in which the ego exists. This inversion of Being creates the tragic state of human existence. We at once yearn for the original, invulnerable state of unity yet fear that in being returned to it the existence we now have, where we have been able to become aware of ourselves, will be destroyed.

In our association of evil with the polarity of consciousness, there is one religious representation that is of great interest. The Biblical myth of Adam and Eve is a classic explanation of the origin of evil and suffering, but from this myth it is possible to draw conclusions that are very different from those traditionally given in the religions that esteem the story. Thus following the example of Jung's treatment of the story of Job, [177] we may build a new perspective by rethinking the subtle truths of old. The premise of the Adam and Eve story is that the forbidden fruit provides knowledge of good and evil. The principal effect of Adam and Eve's ignorance of evil, curiously, is that they do not know that it is shameful to run around naked. What we may note about the situation immediately, on the other hand, is that in not knowing good from evil or right from wrong Adam and Eve could hardly be aware that it would be evil to disobey God's command not to eat the fruit. For that they would have to know that disobedience to God is wrong, sinful, or evil; but they are oblivious to such things. This makes a doubly curious outcome: first that Adam and Eve can only know that they have sinned after they have eaten the fruit, and second that, as the expression of their new knowledge, Adam and Eve recognize that God has for some inexplicable reason endowed them with shameful bodies which ought to be covered.

Sir Thomas Brock (1847-1922), Eve, 1900, Tate Britain, London, 2019
The naivete of this story is striking, pathetic, and important
. The lesson that is seems appropriate to draw from it now is that the knowledge of God is the real source of the evil that God, in a tantrum over Adam and Eve's genuinely thoughtless disobedience, causes to drastically infect, as punishment, all of human life. Before the Fall evil only existed in the mind of God; and if we were to take Kant's notion of intellectual intuition seriously, we might expect that something could not exist in God's thoughts without being made a reality. In effect this is what happens in the myth; and even apart from the logic and morality of obedience, the situation with the nakedness in the garden seems to indicate the ambivalence of God's creativity. When Adam and Eve are embarrassed at being seen naked, God asks, "How did you know you were naked?" [178] He knew they were naked all along; but they only realized how shameful their state was after they acquired knowledge of what evil was. God created the shame and seemed to value it; and the best that we can say for God about it is that he may have had much more modern, and Western, sensibilities than the makers of the myth (or the makers of the fruit) did; and since the myth is an expression of the unconscious, that circumstance is not as meaningless as it may sound at first. Or God may have been a good Heraclitean, knowing that the innocence of Adam and Eve wouldn't mean anything unless there was something to be innocent of. That is about the only way that God's creation of shameful bodies makes any sense, though even that is a peculiar sort of sense -- the whole thing savors of a dirty trick or practical joke, like pinning a sign to someone's back, without their knowing, covered with obscenities. But then the major humor of a practical joke is when the victim discovers the trick, while God's reaction to the discovery was very far from having a good laugh. It was more the defensive anger of someone who feels guilty and doesn't want their tricks found out.

That the knowledge of God was the origin of evil means for us that knowledge itself, the form of intentionality, makes evil possible and, in the natural order of events, real. The God of the myth is a frustrated personality who, in Jung's terms, [179] often fails to consult his own omniscience. The tantrum of punishment has a dreadful inevitability, even as in Milton's story the perfection of the world has already been compromised by another of God's creations gone astray -- in the revolt of Lucifer. It is a reality out of God's control, and indeed God's fury partially seems to come from the disobedience of his creatures as a threat to him: for he says,
Sir Thomas Brock (1847-1922), Eve, 1900, Tate Britain, London, 2019
"Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live for ever--," [180] he must be driven from the garden. This seems to make the essence of divinity, as with the Greek gods, immortality. A God so in thrall to the logic of good and evil and the conditions of immanent reality is an interesting comment for us on the nature of religious myth making. As I have said, religions cannot escape their immanent context. Where the myth of Genesis may have been intended to blame evil on our disobedience, the result instead is the depiction of a confused and violent, Euripidean deity; and I do not think that we would go very far wrong to take this as [erratum corrected] an authentic representation of numinous reality.

The reality of evil in immanent existence poses a practical problem to which there are two broadly opposing solutions. The one is to resolve the dilemma of suffering by taking good and evil as essentially interconnected, so that to escape the latter we must escape the former also and return to the undifferentiated mere being whence we came. The other is to suppose that the development of mere being which brought conscious life into existence also holds out the promise that further development will defuse the power of evil and banish death and suffering, leaving purified and exalted life and goodness. The first solution I will call the Buddhist and the second the Zoroastrian. I choose "Buddhist" in particular because, by one interpretation of the Buddha's teaching, there is no ultimate reality, no God or soul, behind the illusion of the immanent world, so that nirvâna, "extinction," literally is reality vanishing into Not Being. This is suitably indicative of the manner in which we must regard the loss of consciousness and our return to mere being as annihilation. Next, even though I choose "Zoroastrian" as a label for the second solution, our modern secular notions of progress and the modern secular apocalyptic notions such as the Marxist revolution are very much part of this approach.

The Buddhist and Zoroastrian perspectives may be elaborated into sharply differing doctrines, but at root they may also be viewed as complementary. The former speaks to our passive and aesthetic relation to reality, the latter to our active moral and hortative agency. As exclusive attitudes these each become one sided. However optimistic we may be, there is in fact relatively little in the way of genuine progress that our deliberate agency can accomplish in one lifetime. An appreciation that a passive acceptance is equally valuable with aggressive agency thus makes for a healthy perspective on life. On the other hand, complete quietude and rejection of the value of the world is tantamount to a rejection of life and a dismissal of the meaning of all our actions -- and this can easily result in a real moral callousness. Buddhism itself, while preaching abstention and non-violence, passed into Chinese and Japanese traditions of Zen where the aesthetic affinities of the viewpoint were developed and much of the thrust of the doctrine was subtly altered [181]. Thus Zen became the special branch of Buddhism for the samurai warrior class of Japan, where violence, far from being rejected, was exalted into art. Death and killing, indeed in this world of illusion, were of no significance if done with enlightened detachment. The same detachment, in the spirit of Chinese Taoism, rendered them aesthetic objects whose tragic beauty could be appreciated. The ease with which this could pass over into revolting extremes of moral callousness should be obvious, especially when death is so little feared and the manner of a glorious aesthetic death so exalted that Japanese soldiers in World War II were expected to die rather than surrender, while the Allied soldiers who so dishonored themselves by surrender were treated with contempt, brutality, torture, and murder.

In general, an exclusively aesthetic attitude towards reality is often elaborated into morally false doctrines. I take the modern exemplars of this to be especially Nietzsche and Heidegger. Nietzsche's brand of "beyond good and evil" aestheticism becomes a philosophic theory of evil in Heidegger that the goods of one age are simply destined to become the evils of the next. To be creative, therefore, one must be "evil" in its contemporary sense. What one creates, however, will soon be seen to constitute the new "good." Heidegger thus speaks of the Greek word díkê, "justice," as meaning "the overpowering order" [182] which must be shattered if anything new is to come of things. On the surface this is no more than a correct description of what happens in the course of historical change. The established order is almost always very threatened by change and views the proponents of change as evil and depraved, while the proponents see themselves as doing no more than instituting justice, which is just what posterity will say about the changes that do take place.

From the Socratic perspective here, however, this notion of evil making the future is very much beside the point. If knowledge is different from opinion, then it is not "justice" that in fact we see being continually overthrown but the opinion of justice, which is most likely to be defective in some major respect. The opinion of justice is doomed to repeated destruction until knowledge of justice appears. The failing of Heidegger's view is a simple consequence of its aesthetic over-generalization. The established order is taken as an aesthetic concrete whole, which can only be destroyed as a whole and replaced by some new whole. The unity and concreteness reflect an aesthetic independence and perfection even while they conceal the flaws of obvious evils. This aestheticism has become an inappropriately active doctrine; and our scepticism about its suitability in that role is fully justified by the kind of political movement that Heidegger believed exemplified his ideals: National Socialism [183] -- which appropriately founds its historical ally in the Japanese military tradition. In their exaltation of death and pitiless violence, both the Nazis and the Japanese militarists managed to create, briefly, living hells undreamt by Dante.

The Zoroastrian approach to evil may itself be broken into two, perhaps complementary, orientations. These can be conveniently labelled the violent and non-violent perspectives. Each of these presupposes a certain theory about the meaning of evil. Violent Zoroastrianism accepts the negative expression of value so long as it is turned upon itself. Thus violence may be met with violence; murder may be punished with death; injury of any kind is to be punished with a like or proportionately equivalent injury. In practical terms this is common practice and even common sense; and even societies which now agonize over capital punishment for criminal wrongdoers have few doubts that the violent destruction of Nazism, with its immense cost in lives, was a appropriate response in the circumstances. This use of death in behalf of life is also evident in the universal destruction of life for nutrition. We may even take the killing of things for food, whether plants or animals, as a fundamental expression of the essence of violent Zoroastrianism and of its sense that the destructiveness of evil can be used by the good in its own behalf.

The alternative, non-violent Zoroastrianism, is suitably associated with another religion, Christianity. The conspicuous modern advocate of this perspective, however, was Mohandas Gandhi. The Hindu context of Gandhi's thought is very similar to the Buddhism above; and there is even an equivalent of the Zen samurai in the argument of the Bhagavad Gita that it is appropriate for a warrior to obey his duty, dharma, and kill people because, after all, this is all an illusion and killing and dying are not as they seem. Gandhi, however, interpreted this allegorically. He thus saved for himself his Hindu roots, but we shall be closer to the truth to take him under the category of Zoroastrianism as the effect of his doctrine and efforts was an endorsement of the possibility of progress towards the good. The theory about the meaning of evil to be found both in Christianity and in Gandhi, indeed, is that good must be returned for evil. Violence is thus to be met with non-violence, murder with self-sacrifice, and injury with forgiveness. The classic text for this is in one chapter in the Gospel of Matthew: "Do not resist (mè antistênai) one who is evil" [184].

You have heard that is was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [185]

On this remarkable view, the "perfection" of God consists in treating with equal goodness the good and the evil (though the more disturbing correlate, unmentioned, is that God seems to inflict disasters on the innocent as well as on the guilty). Virtually meaningless in practical terms for centuries, this exhortation was given an astonishing political reality by Gandhi and then by civil rights leaders in the United States such as Martin Luther King.

The solution in Christianity to the presence of evil, however, is strongly reminiscent of aspects of Socratic ethics. It was a principle of Socrates also that good should be returned for evil, and a theoretical tenet that no one knowingly does evil. If that is true; then evil is ignorance, "virtue is knowledge," and persuasion is the unique, and non-violent, means of vanquishing evil in human affairs. Indeed, Gandhi's technique of non-violent struggle essentially included persuasion. Satyagraha, or "Truth Force," was before all else a way to win over the "enemy" and make him a friend. Non-violent resistance was not for Gandhi simply a moral means of intimidation and coercive pressuring. A non-violent campaign meant nothing unless the "enemy" was treated as a friend right from the beginning [186]. On this perspective knowledge of the good is a necessary condition of non-violent Zoroastrianism, and thus Platonic progress is required, in the recovery of knowledge of value, before progress is possible in history towards the elimination of evil. Such a condition enables us to reconcile violent and non-violent Zoroastrianism, for we may see the former as inevitable, indeed necessary, unless some realization of Socratic philosophy begins to make the latter possible. Whether such realization has occurred may be judged by the event; and in this century, despite the isolated and limited successes of non-violence, it is revealing that they have occurred at all. Our confidence in continued progress in this direction will wax in proportion to our confidence that the Socratic description of our ignorance is true and that the Platonic description of our unrealized possession of non-intuitive knowledge of value is also true. Since both of these are endorsed in terms of the theory here, the reader may take me to endorse confidence in such continued progress. On this view, also, the realization of positive transcendence as knowledge of value is evidently essentially as positive value: Socratic knowledge is never of negative value; and this is consistent with the thesis that the polarity of good and evil is confined to immanent circumstances.

Buddhism, violent and non-violent Zoroastrianism, and Christian and Socratic non-violence are not explanations or justifications for the presence of evil, but simply solutions or responses to its presence, presupposing some judgments about its nature. We might like to think that if there is progress towards a good end, then in the light of that end, the death, misery, and suffering that have occurred in the course of the progress will be explained and redeemed. This is no more than a hope, however, and a hope whose only force can come from a numinous prophecy. At the same time, no amount of Socratic progress can touch the natural evils that befall us regardless of the moral condition of humanity. While technological progress seems to increasingly promise an amelioration of natural evils, a sweeping and complete obliteration of them would also seem to be a matter of numinous prophecy -- beyond our reckoning and reasonable expectations. Therefore, numinosity will now be our concern.

§3 Numinosity

A Friesian intimation of the numinous is a sense of a breakthrough between immanent and transcendent. This can mean a couple of things of interest to us. First it can mean a complete loss of intentionality and a breakdown in the distinction between subject and object. There is not much very meaningful that we can say about that possibility, though it does enter into our considerations. Second, and more interestingly, it tends to mean something very specific in immanent terms, with no breakdown in intentionality, and that is a suspension of the laws of nature. This can come in at least three forms: 1) a supernatural being, who is personally exempt from the limitations of causality; 2) events which are miraculous, whether effected by supernatural being or by otherwise ordinary persons; and 3) an apocalypse, where the laws of nature are radically transformed and immanent reality is made over into an eschatological domain. We need to believe that these miraculous sorts of violations actually occur for them to be of interest to us -- as metaphors for absolute transcendence, without intentionality. At the same time it is curious that the ground of conditioned necessity alone of the modes of necessity should be opaque and intrinsically hidden from us. The possible removal or transformation of that ground belongs to a level of reality beyond our reckoning, even though it is firmly immanent in the negative transcendence of external existence. A transformation of that ground would also strike at the root of the conditions of natural evil. Such transformations, however, would not suspend causality as such: supernatural beings are still agents, and miraculous events are still caused.

In every religion there is a powerful sense both of the good and of the miraculous. Part of the vulnerability of religions has come from the ease with which these senses may be disconfirmed in practice. The God of the Old Testament, while jealous to be praised as just and righteous, at the same time inflicts appalling punishments, kills children and the unborn, and otherwise conducts himself with the sort of erratic inconsistency that leaves us doubting whether he even knows what compassion and goodness are. The moral failings of gods, however, are a problem for most religions. Greek religion was really killed off by the philosophic scepticism that we directed towards the mythological antics of its gods. The peculiarly Hellenic thrust of religion thereafter was an emphasis on the goodness and rationality of the gods or God to the detriment of all other features. Even the miraculous aspect of religion, despite the thaumaturgy of the Neoplatonists, went into decline out of a sense that violations of the laws of nature would reflect opportunism or lack of foresight on the part of the divine. Christianity swung back away from such an extreme, but the desire for a justification of the goodness of God and of his presumed acts in the world remained very strong and was even briefly felt by Islâm (the Mutazilite school [187]). Moral criticism continues to be a powerful force, both for religious self-justification and for attacks upon religion. The situation is usually very confused, however, for the real power of religion, its numinosity, does not depend on whether the religion is actually particularly good or not. Religious self-justification glorifies in exalting trivial mores as the symbol of its morality, just because these are commanded by divine revelation, while carrying out at the same time gross injustices and the most sickening deeds. Thus a religion hates to admit that it may not represent a complete and necessary system of goodness and knowledge. An attack upon religion that takes these failings as decisively refuting the status of religion also confuses the appearance for the reality: the criticism will have no effect on any who have the proper sense of the numinous essence of the religion -- an essence embodied in the dogma of revelation but in no way dependent on it and whatever rational character if any, it may have.

The miraculous powers of religion, while perhaps easily disconfirmed as such, shade into other potentialities that are less clear cut. A major responsibility of all ancient religions was thus the fertility of the land, sufficient rain, protection from invaders, etc. These things seem more matters of chance than of miracle. Favorable chance is an important aspect in this way of numinosity, and Jung has a special term of it: synchronicity [188]. Even when the laws of nature do not seem to necessarily bring natural evil, it is chance that directs the paths of disaster that do occur. The "meaningful coincidence" of synchronicity is determined neither by chance nor purpose, but much for good and evil can depend on it. "Meaningful coincidence" may even approach a sense of fatalism, as chance events are constellated in a way that suggests inevitability or plan; but this is a level of necessity far beyond the perfect aspect and its sense of fatalism. Synchronicity can be, not just a cap of good fortune atop the inner goodness of a happy life, but an aura of destiny which is a happy end with a sort of numinous endorsement. This aspect of religion, like the power of prayer, is something that can neither be proven nor disconfirmed. It is a phenomenon of the numinous essence of religion, however, that belief in fortunate synchronicity and destiny and even the ultimate of miraculous powers will survive despite constant evident failures in practice. As with moral weakness, these failings will never damage religion so long as the root of numinous experience or insight is intact.

The power of religion, or of its supernatural objects, tends to expand even beyond miraculous alterations of nature and the fortunate cooperation of chance. Doctrines of an omnipotent God inevitably begin to strip away the force of all the modes of necessity, not just that of natural law. The god and evil, past and future, and even non-contradiction begin to be seen as all matters of God's arbitrary choice. Ontologically this is rolling reality back to a level of contingency before even analytic necessity: an ur-contingency. There is not much we can do with that, but it is often part of the sense of numinosity. At the same time numinosity is just the opposite -- an overpowering sense of necessity. Such a necessity is like a ninth mode, a post-optative necessity, but the object languages which seem to be founded in numinous necessity do not, as such, represent any knowledge. Numinous necessity commonly attaches itself to other modes of necessity, the modes of value and sometimes even the necessities of nature; but where some part of numinous object language -- "revelation" or "prophecy" -- derives no necessity from another category, it easily, to a dispassionate observer, appear completely arbitrary. In time, even within a continuous religious tradition, it may even be denuminized and judged arbitrary and inessential by its very own former adherents. A sense of arbitrariness alone, however, is not sufficient, since it can just be a coupling of ur-contingency and numinous necessity: these two can be two sides of the same coin, that all necessities are arbitrary in terms of ur-contingency, while all necessities, including the irrational contents of a numinous object language, are equally necessary by virtue of their like derivation from the arbitrary choice of God.

As a theory of God, the natures of ur-contingency and numinous necessity are beyond our reach -- we cannot have a philosophically introspective theory of such a separate supernatural being. On the other hand, the thing in particular that makes God, or a god, a god in religions is something that is within our reach: and that is personality. Personality first of all means our own identity and our own internal transcendence, and religions have commonly treated of a supernatural aspect of this, namely soul. Two of Kant's great problem of the Transcendental Dialectic, God and immortality, are somewhat more accessible when we take them as elaborations on the problem of soul. A theory of soul can go in a number of different directions. Soul can be the charisma or numinosity of a particular personality (a "great soul"). It can also be the numinosity of every person, in the sense that if the soul survives death it is a supernatural entity -- a spirit or ghost. And, again, soul can lead directly into a God: doctrines of mystical identity with God are found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam but are most conspicuous in Hinduism, where the most famous school, the Advaita Vedanta, is named "non-dualist" to signify that soul and God are identical [189]. In these senses we may take it that soul is the original and primary problem, while God and immortality are derivatives. The Indian tradition, indeed, depersonalizes the "non-dualist" soul to an extreme; but this is an anomaly of philosophic abstraction, ignored by popular Indian religion, which we should ignore also. Personality, with numinosity and miraculous goodness, is as essential feature of all religion, although seemingly one of the lest rational when it comes to seeing personality outside of human beings and some animals. Personality even in human beings, however, should be a sufficient wonder and curiosity to occupy our theory: personal identity is really a very slippery notion. By thought experiment we can remove our memories, our bodies -- all the material clues that in a practical sense anchor us to our identity -- yet still imagine ourselves as the same continuous consciousness. Formal identity, Kant's "I," is not sufficient for that since it is identical for each of us. Instead we have a material identity, the material of our individual internal transcendence, and this is not simply the same as its corresponding external transcendence, which thought experiment can remove and which in physical terms is continually altering. The peculiar and unaltered identity of internal transcendence is signified by the numinosity of soul.

If soul is our personal gateway into absolute transcendence, the realization of which, however, is beyond our reckoning at the event of death, then notions of an apocalypse signify a general gateway for history and the world into absolute transcendence. The Zoroastrian apocalypse, the Frashkart or "Making Excellent," [190] is paradigmatic in this respect. That apocalypse is a complete transformation of the physical world with a total eradication of death and evil from existence, even to the point of the purification of those who have been damned to punishment for their choice of evil and the destruction of the hell to which they have been committed. The promise of such an apocalypse was simultaneous in Zoroastrianism with a radical denunciation, similar to the Greek philosophic moralism, of the powers of evil which hitherto had figured in religion. As previously noted, whether a religion happens to be particularly good in its practice is secondary, and it is also true that a religion may actually fail to make any clear distinction between good and evil at all. What is commanded by religion simply in terms of the will of the gods or the practice of the tradition can explicitly include aspect of evil, as with destructive gods whose malevolence must be placated. Although with Zoroaster that changed completely for Middle Eastern religions, change in religion did not necessarily mean change in the practice, as we might call it, of God -- hence the agony of theodicies continually disconfirmed by experience. Our lesson from this, however, should be that the practice of God is less important than the sense of the numinous insight in religion. We can leave God as an ambivalent being of Euripidean undependability while any sort of numinous prophecy of goodness and excellence is germane to the role that our own numinous existence has with respect to absolute transcendence. This is because the knowledge of good and evil and the exhortation to the good is not dependent on numinous necessity; and all the difference that any numinosity in connection with it can make for us, since we will continue doing the same things anyway, is to add a dimension of hope and reassurance. The Zoroastrian apocalypse, unlike those of Christianity and Islâm, is explicitly dependent on the political actions of human beings. There is even a bit of that in Islamic tradition, where a suitably numinous human, the mahdi ("rightly guided") initiates the events, political and military in nature, which shortly are to be taken up by the agency of God and expanded into a supernatural transformation. Similar events in Christian tradition are taken as signs of the coming apocalypse, but it is not clear that they make any positive contribution to a good end.

The apocalypse is the highest conception of religion in immanent terms. The importance of this, to be sure, is usually undercut by an expectation of supernatural agency. Even where the apocalypse has been completely secularized, as in ideologies of revolution, the event is still often numinized with the attribution of a virtually supernatural agency to the "forces of history" or some such thing. Instead, and this is a valuable lesson for us with respect to religion in general, we should be aware that any sense of numinosity, whether in traditional religion or in the enthusiasm of some secular political ideology, is deceptive in that it adds nothing to the rational necessities of morality and ideal ethics. Thus, our hope for success in reaching a good end in history depends, not on our enthusiasm for numinous prophecy, but on our understanding of rational value. It is nearly impossible, indeed, to maintain both attitudes at once. That difficulty, while dangerous for political attitudes, is otherwise a natural and important effect of the fact that numinous promises about the hereafter and the supernatural have little if any rational basis. The apocalypse is distant; death is close; and a religious believer personally has more to lose by the denuminization and weakening of his hopes against death than by clinging to irrational apocalyptic doctrines. In any event, argument would be ineffective with a genuine believer and unnecessary with anyone in the least inclined to rational scepticism.

Since it is not knowledge, it may already be apparent that numinosity is not a matter of non-intuitive immediacy. If anything, it has the ontological status more of pleasure and pain, although it mimics cognitive forms and conveys the sense of a necessary cognitive ground. While it is thus suitable to call it a kind of pseudo-necessity, this has been complicated, as we have seen, by its parallel sense of ur-contingency, as though the modes of necessity and contingency were a cycle that issues from numinous contingency and culminates in numinous necessity -- unified by the numinous force of our sense of absolute transcendence.

§4 Conclusion

In this final section I have surveyed some of the elements of religion phenomenology which are relevant to the system of the epistemology and ontology of value present here. If the good, on the Zoroastrian hypothesis above, is indeed life, then the final hope of all positive value can only come in the numinous prophecy of life beyond individual death and of a transformation of the world to completely eradicate evil in nature. A succinct expression of such a promise is found in the New Testament:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things all be yours as well. [191]

In practical terms, this is nonsense. In rational terms, it is absurd. Yet what speaks more to the heart of fear in the human condition when we know that years of goodness and diligence, foresight and wise preparation can all the same be suddenly overthrown into utter misery, want, and degradation? What is the difference between a numinous prophecy which is a promise of amelioration, what at least bespeaks the possibilities of the unknown, and a mere Existential protest against an absurd world, which tragically and hopelessly all the same arrogates to itself a certainty of that absurdity? The difference, indeed, is hope; and when Kant asked, "What can we hope?" he was revealing the real substance of his wisdom [192]. It is no accident that many are consoled in life by religion and few by philosophy (pace Boethius). The demands of hope are no source of knowledge, but we cannot help but think that they are as much the motive for life as life is the motive for them. All value, from pleasure to morality to beauty, has a hollowness, flatness, and tragedy without hope; and that is why our final questions about value have concerned absolute transcendence. The identities of pleasure, righteousness, goodness, and beauty are not enough; for we can still despair of their realization or even that their truth and worth is as it seems. It is indeed the human condition not to know, as from day to day we pass from confident expectation of good things to numb horror that some catastrophe has overtaken us. With or without God, we are at the mercy of what we cannot comprehend or anticipate; but our own hope, as it speaks out of our own occasion of will in positive transcendence, does seem to reach further to the root of existence than would a simple private fantasy. And so we are caught, living a life we did not choose in the face of a despair with which we would not have chosen life in the first place. If we then chose life in spite of it, it is only with a hope and expectation beyond reasoning.

Table of Contents


Home Page

Copyright (c) 1985, 2013, 2019 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved