Monday, September 15, 2008

Cliff Notes: Other Considerations

James uses this lecture as a bridge between mysticism/philosophy and his eventual conclusions. That is, ever the pragmatist, James's "Other Considerations," spin out a few practical examples of not just mystical experience, but thoughtful analysis of some of the basic elements of the lives of religious people. For just a moment, James talks about the ritual as an extension of the instantaneous.

And James notes a number of the most common religious experiences: sacrifice, confession, aesthetics, prayer, and subconscious manifestation. His treatment of the first two is limited, being mostly to note the ubiquity of sacrifice in all religions, and to call for the value of confession in spite of Catholic excesses and abuse, which do no ameliorate the psychological need that individuals might have to make a confession and seek atonement.

But it is the very notion of reclaiming beneficial religious truth from the (to James) inferior Catholicism that James carries into his next point: many people need, and may find satisfaction in, the elaborate aesthetics the Catholic church has built over the centuries. And James does not deny the real value of this kind of traditional influence or the power of the need that people might feel for it.

Need becomes a theme for James throughout the lecture, as need dwells in the conscious and unconscious alike. Prayer, for example, remains valuable for James not because it necessarily affects events (as in praying for the weather), but because it works as a transmission of energy from the spiritual to the physical. Or, in James's terms, from the unconscious to the explicit. Prayer itself as an act and phenomenon demonstrably reassures and comforts.

This idea of religion as a bridge between the seen and unseen becomes clear as James notes his final religious experience: automatic writing. This has been one of the longest enduring religious experiences, if not always the most well known. But due to the powerful energies involved in many of the feats of automatic writing (entirely new Bibles, for example), James marvels at the capacity of the phenomenon to do precisely this: to bring large amounts of unconscious information to the forefront.

Religion, then, is for James linked entirely and powerfully to the power and influence, often positive, of the unconscious. And this is the idea he takes into his final conclusion.

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