(This continues a series of posts about reconstructing the Mormon/Christian narrative. Please read this introductory post first, if you haven’t already, before continuing.)
Who was Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844)? He’s been quite an enigma both within and outside of Mormonism since his death. Many Mormons see him as a deeply gifted prophet of God, in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and even Moses. He recorded and published new scripture, the Book of Mormon, just like ancient prophets. Many Mormons revere him as someone who restored Christianity in its purity, even the original Christian church and true gospel of Jesus. They believe he received true priesthood authority from God to perform real saving rituals, ordinances, and act as a “high priest” to bring others into the presence of God.
This weekend I had the fortunate opportunity to go to Fairfax, Virginia, to attend a seminar hosted by the Shalem Institute, an organization that fosters contemplative living and leadership. Their invited guest to present for their annual Gerald May Seminar was Bernard McGinn, who is Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. McGinn is an American Roman Catholic Theologian and is considered one of the world’s foremost expert scholars on the history of Christian mysticism. He has written seven volumes outlining the history of Christian mysticism, and may write two more, bringing the history up to the present time. This series is known as The Presence of God. Continue reading “Notes on Christian Mysticism from a Seminar with Bernard McGinn”
[Questioner:] You finish with the mystical kind of atheism. It sounds almost like people who have a big drug experience and talk about the oneness of everything.
[Gray:] Well, it’s a radical kind of atheism that asserts that the nature of reality is ineffable—it can’t be embodied in words. Schopenhauer thought the ultimate reality of things was spiritual, but we couldn’t really grasp it with our reasoning. He didn’t have any need for a creator God, but actually, he isn’t so far from certain traditions in mysticism and different religions. Some types of mystical religion come close to atheism in their understanding of God as unimaginable.
What did he mean that some “mystical religion is close to atheism”? Aren’t mystics supposed to be people who find union with God, who become one with God? How could that possibly be “atheistic”? Here is my interpretation.