I'm currently reading Nicolas Berdyaev's Slavery and Freedom, a good example of a terribly-written brilliant book. Berdyaev's ideas are stimulating stuff, but his writing style is so leaden that I'm not surprised the book has remained consistently undiscussed.
His premise is that personality is the one truly human atttribute, and through that we find God -- and not the God of the Bible or even the church, but the God that those other things can only point to. He also seems to be of the same mind as Maimonides in that spiritual literalism is a mistake, that the words of prophets are actually more powerful as metaphor than they are any other way.
You're probably wondering what a staunch atheist is doing reading this material, and no, it's not a know-thy-enemy thing. Well, not that alone. If I had someone like Berdyaev on my side, I wouldn't mind, as long as he kept out of my hair about my own beliefs.
The deal is this: Both Welcome to the Fold and at least one future book I'm considering touch on many themes Berdyaev brings up, and it behooves me to be well-equipped. With Fold, it's the idea of personality as the sacred, and how dehumanization debases both the one being dehumanized and the one doing the dehumanizing. The way this unfolds is not always obvious, and I'm still digesting what the book says (again, Berdyaev's plodding prose doesn't help), but I expect a lot of what's brought up in it to be examined in Fold and beyond, even if only indirectly.
Writing Flight of the Vajra forced me to deal with the idea that spiritual paths and religious belief are not going to be evaporating any time soon. As much as we would like to believe the human race as a whole can be talked out of this stuff, or argued out of it, or reasoned out of it, it isn't happening. If anything, those impulses only seem to get stronger as we become that much more technologized. I don't want to say "scientized", because that brings the wrong connotations to mind; it's not that we subject life to scientific scrutiny (that's a good thing!), but that we try to use technology to fix problems that are not themselves technological.
Belief systems are one expression of the fact that we are not rational creatures. How we go about implementing that in our lives is what matters, though. I'm OK with the idea of finding the existence of God to be absurd; that's the camp I've been in more or less continuously since adolescence. I'm not OK with the idea of thinking that because someone else believes in God, even if no harm is done to me in the process, somehow that automatically makes them an idiot.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind