Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Arena Culture

Someone sent me a copy of New York Times’ columnist David Brooks’ recent commentary on All Things Shining, a book co-authored by contemporary philosophers Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly. It resonated with my own musings around the widespread interest in spirituality disassociated from institutional religion, and our culture’s intense devotion to sports. Could there be a connection between the two? These philosophers believe there is.

They characterize the past hundred years as a “secular age” strikingly unlike former times when people experienced “themselves as determined or created by God.” While many are still religious, “a unitary totalistic explanation for the universe” no longer prevails and there are no universally shared values. The only certain truth is scientific truth. Consequently, individuals are thrown back on themselves to create their own meaning and fashion their own spirituality—tasks so formidable that the result is “a pervasive sadness” and anxiety.

Fortunately, individuals are social beings who look outside themselves and find meaning in “whooshing up” experiences, namely, “transcendent moments” in which one is caught up in something larger than the self even if only for awhile. While these “whooshing” moments can be solitary: awe-filled encounters with nature, aesthetic responses to music or art, satisfaction from some personally fulfilling activity, they are often social or “arena” experiences associated with sports, political rallies, large public concerts and communal religious events.

Given the current situation, the advice offered us is:
1) be strong enough to live without a unitary and comprehensive explanation for the universe;
2) live open and receptive to transcendent ”whooshing” experiences, and
3) nourish a spirit of gratitude for all the good things the world offers.

None of this is bad advice. However, like Brooks, I’m not sure it’s adequate. I appreciate the critique of excessive individualism and the recognition that a completely “autonomous life is impossible.” Nonetheless, a nagging question persists: “Is their advice sufficient and satisfactory?” If there is no Truth and no certain values, isn’t it all a matter of opinion and personal preference? While I’ve had a fair share of “whooshing” moments and am an avid sports fan, their counsel leaves me hungry for something more substantial.

1 comment:

  1. This is a helpful take on today's transition to a spiritual era less dominated by traditional religions. I also need more than the spiritual advice offered for a solitary spiritual journey. I need association with others who, like me, walk an intentional spiritual journey. We retain our separate and unique visions of spiritual reality while nurturing each other.