...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Them's fightin' words, Gershom G. Scholem

An exerpt from Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, assigned for my Intro to Judaism class (emphasis mine):

"One final observation should be made on the general character of Kabbalism as distinct from other, non-Jewish forms of mysticism. Both historically and metaphysically it is a masculine doctrine, made for men and by men. The long history of Jewish mysticism shows no trace of feminine influence. There have been no women Kabbalists; Rab'i'a of early Islamic mysticism, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Juliana of Norwich, Theresa de Jesus, and the many other feminine representatives of Christian mysticism have no counterparts in the history of Kabbalism. The latter, therefore, lacks the element of feminine emotion which has played so large a part in the development of non-Jewish mysticism, but it also remained comparatively free from the dangers entailed by the tendency towards hysterical extravagance which follows in the wake of this influence."

So, feminine spirituality tends towards "hysterical extravagance"? I do believe I take offense at that, Gershom G. Scholem. What! Do you want me to throw myself off this ferry? DO YOU?

All joking aside, I see where he's coming from; Santa Teresa de Avila, a medieval Spanish Christian mystic, envisioned Christ as a lover who carries her down to the wine cellars and makes passionate love to her, and I guess you could see that kind of thing as "hysterical extravagance." But...that's mysticism, you know? At least in the Jamesian tradition, as laid out in the The Varieties of Religious Experience by 18th-century psychologist William James, mysticism entails an ineffable, noetic, highly sensual experience of the Divine.

Speaking of James (and I should warn you, there is extreme Religious Studies Nerdiness ahead), I was thinking the other day about his yes/no factors. James had this idea that we all are capable of and primed for mystical experiences, yet the impulse towards them is overpowered by the "no" factor that tells us that such experiences are irrational and meaningless. In other words, it's like God's standing at the doorstep, but you've got the music turned up and can't hear the doorbell ringing. James argues that by taking drugs, the "no" factor is reduced and the "yes" factor increases, opening people's eyes to the Divine. Drugs, then, don't cause mystical experiences, they simply allow us to experience the Divine that already surrounds us. I think there's something to that, although I think as an argument it's historically been abused and used to defend recreational drug use. Hi, I'm from Eugene, Hippieville USA.

This week in Judaism we're talking about Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and the Zohar, or Book of Splendors. On Wednesday we read a section from the Book of Ezekiel out of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, in which the prophet describes a vision of God's chariot and there're a lot of colors and animals and four-headed beasts and dragons and stuff. Because of the general unexplainability of the text, there was a lot of exegetical writing about it, including in the Zohar and in later mystical works, as well as a polemic against it by medieval Jewish philosophers, who were absolutely opposed to the anthropomorphism of God. After we read it, one girl in the class remarked, "This reminds me of when my father met God...when he was on drugs in the seventies." That got me thinking again about James and the "no" factor, and now I've forgotten where I was going with this, so...and then I found ten dollars and died!