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Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences
Abraham H. Maslow
Chapter VIII. Conclusions
There is, then, a road which all profoundly "serious," "ultimately concerned" people of good will can travel together for a very long distance. Only when they come almost to its end does the road fork so that they must part in disagreement. Practically everything that, for example, Rudolf Otto (78) defines as characteristic of the religious experiencethe holy; the sacred; creature feeling; humility; gratitude and oblation; thanksgiving; awe before the mysterium tremendum; the sense of the divine, the ineffable; the sense of littleness before mystery; the quality of exaltedness and sublimity; the awareness of limits and even of powerlessness; the impulse to surrender and to kneel; a sense of the eternal and of fusion with the whole of the universe; even the experience of heaven and hellall of these experiences can be accepted as real by clergymen and atheists alike. And so it is also possible for all of them to accept in principle the empirical spirit and empirical methods and to humbly admit that knowledge is not complete, that it must grow, that it is in time and space, in history and in culture, and that, though it is relative to man's powers and to his limits, it can yet come closer and closer to "The Truth" that is not dependent on man.
This road can be traveled together by all who are not afraid of truth, not only by theists and non-theists, but also by individuals of every political and economic persuasion, Russians and Americans, for instance.
What remains of disagreement? Only, it seems, the concept of supernatural beings or of supernatural laws or forces; and I must confess my feeling that by the time this forking of the road has been reached, this difference doesn't seem to be of any great consequence except for the comfort of the individual himself. Even the social act of belonging to a church must be a private act, with no great social or political consequences, once religious pluralism has been accepted, once any religion is seen as a local structure, in local terms, of species-wide, core-religious, transcendent experience.
Not only this, but it is also increasingly developing that leading theologians, and sophisticated people in general, define their god, not as a person, but as a force, a principle, a gestalt-quality of the whole of Being, an integrating power that expresses the unity and therefore the meaningfulness of the cosmos? the "dimension of depth," etc. At the same time, scientists are increasingly giving up the notion of the cosmos as a kind of simple machine, like a clock, or as congeries of atoms that clash blindly, having no relation to each other except push and pull, or as something that is final and eternal as it is and that is not evolving or growing. (As a matter of fact, nineteenth-century theologians also saw the world in a similar way, as some inert set of mechanisms; only for them, there was a Someone to set it into motion. )
These two groups (sophisticated theologians and sophisticated scientists) seem to be coming closer and closer together in their conception of the universe as "organismic," as having some kind of unity and integration, as growing and evolving and having direction and, therefore, having some kind of "meaning." Whether or not to call this integration "God" finally gets to be an arbitrary decision and a personal indulgence determined by one's personal history, one's personal revelations, and one's personal myths. John Dewey, an agnostic, decided for strategic and communicative purposes to retain the word "God," defining it in a naturalistic way (14). Others have decided against using it also for strategic reasons. What we wind up with is a new situation in the history of the problem in which a "serious" Buddhist, let us say, one who is concerned with "ultimate concerns" and with Tillich's "dimension of depth," is more co-religionist to a "serious" agnostic than he is to a conventional, superficial, other-directed Buddhist for whom religion is only habit or custom, i.e., "behavior."
Indeed, these "serious" people are coming so close together as to suggest that they are becoming a single party of mankind, the earnest ones, the seeking, questioning, probing ones, the ones who are not sure, the ones with a "tragic sense of life," the explorers of the depths and of the heights, the "saving remnant." The other party then is made up of all the superficial, the moment-bound, the here bound ones, those who are totally absorbed with the trivial, those who are "plated with piety, not alloyed with it," those who are reduced to the concrete, to the momentary, and to the immediately selfish. Almost, we could say, we wind up with adults, on the one hand,-and children, on the other.
What is the practical upshot for education of all these considerations? We wind up with a rather startling conclusion, namely, that the teaching of spiritual values of ethical and moral values definitely does (in principle) have a place in education, perhaps ultimately a very basic and essential place, and that this in no way needs to controvert the American separation between church and state for the very simple reason that spiritual, ethical, and moral values need have nothing to do with any church. Or perhaps, better said, they are the common core of all churches, all religions, including the non-theistic ones. As a matter of fact, it is possible that precisely these ultimate values are and should be the far goals of all education, as they are and should be also the far goals of psychotherapy, of child care, of marriage, the family, of work, and perhaps of all other social institutions. I grant that this may turn out to be an overstatement, and yet there is something here that we must all accept. We reject the notion of distant value-goals in education under the penalty of falling into the great danger of defining education as mere technological training without relation to the good life, to ethics, to morals, or for that matter to anything else. Any philosophy that permits facts to become amoral, totally separated from values, makes possible in theory at least the Nazi physician "experimenting" in the concentration camps, or the spectacle of captured German engineers working devotedly for whichever side happened to capture them.
Education must be seen as at least partially an effort to produce the good human being, to foster the good life and the good society. Renouncing this is like renouncing the reality and the desirability of morals and ethics. Furthermore, "An education which leaves untouched the entire region of transcendental thought is an education which has nothing important to say about the meaning of human life."Manas (July 17,1963).
Footnote1. Baumer (6) speaks of such people who can "be recognized precisely by the fact that the fundamental questions are no longer mentioned at all by these true secularists" (p. 234). (back)
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