Friday, October 03, 2014

The Sacred and the Rational

At Burning Man, the Temple of Grace was something like the sacral center to the whole chaotic affair, an oasis of silence and tranquility amidst the noise, a place of meditation, where people went to commemorate and mourn the dead.

I made quite a few visits there, but my first was in the company of some friends, including the one who diagnosed irony in my dancing. He՚s a big-time rationalist, and I had an urge to start an argument/discussion with him there, to grill him on what the rationalist idea of the sacred was, how these two things were supposed to co-exist in his worldview. I did not do this, because that very urge seemed to go against the mood of the place, it would have been an attempt to generate heat and words in a place of calm and quiet. He (I assume) makes his own peace between reason and sacrality, and why should I trouble that peace at that moment? Quieting mental chatter, internal and external, also seems to go hand-in-hand with the sacred.

But I couldn՚t help mull over the opposition in my own mind, and am apparaently still doing so. Reason wants to break down and analyze and measure everything, the sacred exists outside all of that. The sacred is definitionally beyond reason, beyond all forms of contaminating human inquisition. It is that which demands the highest respect, and in that sense is the same for all religions and rituals. You don՚t have to believe in any particular god or creed to recognize it, and if you aren՚t a jerk you respect other people՚s sense of the sacred even when you disagree with their beliefs. It is that which can՚t be argued with. My own tendency to argue with everything gets put on hold (partially and temporarily) in its presence.

It is almost Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and I am going to go be part of that (with the usual doubt and reluctance that apparently doesn՚t matter all that much). Ritual tunes up your relationship with the sacred. It is apparently something I need to do; probably something most people need to do.

Given our multicultural society there is not much that is held universally sacred. The minimal sacred object is personhood, the inner core of every person that deserves respect no matter how wrong, assholic, or fucked up they happen to be. That may not be enough, there is something about the sacred that demands public ritual. But it՚s better than nothing.

Previous Yom Kippur-related posts also seem to touch on this notion of that which is beyond language and reason. Hm. I am getting almost tediously repetitive. Maybe I need to call it a ritual.

3 comments:

bhyde@pobox.com said...

Occupy sacred?

fiddlemath said...

>The minimal sacred object is personhood, the inner core of every person that deserves respect no matter how wrong, assholic, or fucked up they happen to be.

I often treat mental subagents as valued and sort of sacred, so this can't be the *minimal* sacred object. :)

> I had an urge to start an argument/discussion with him there, to grill him on what the rationalist idea of the sacred was, how these two things were supposed to co-exist in his worldview.

I think there are valuable, psychologically realistic positions that you're missing out on. I find it possible to be reductionistic about things I find evocative, meaningful, and important, and still feel their weight. I don't think I have quite the same mental "sacred" category as you do.

I'm not sure I can yet express this in text, though. We should actually talk in person -- I would love to have this conversation, actually, and would likely have sat outside the temple and poked at it for hours.

mtraven said...

Hey there -- I trust you don't mind me invoking you as a character in these blog posts!

I definitely may be missing out on something. But to be clearer: I don՚t think reason and the sacred are totally incompatible or necessarily opposed. Certainly the tendencies towards both exist within the same person (both of us and probably everyone else). I՚m just a little unclear about how they interoperate. The post was describing a moment where those two tendencies were competing within me. That may have more to do with my own style of reasoning than Reason itself. The sacred demands respect, or (to put it more strongly) is about respect at some fundamental level. Reason (my version of it anyway) is inherently disrespectful.

Would very much like to have that conversation at some point – maybe over dinner; sharing a meal also has a bit of the sacred about it, but at a far less overwhelming scale.