Extraordinary Realities

The religious impulse is perhaps best understood today as a desire for something extraordinary to break into ordinary existence. This “extraordinary” might be a God “outside” the universe who can and does intervene from beyond to transform our world; or it might be an extraordinary outlook & intuition: new, unusual practices and ideas that work to suddenly liberate us from the pervasive misconceptions of our inherited ways of life. However it is taken to manifest itself, the extraordinary must burst into the universe so that nothing remain the same after — our hope is for a pointed, salutary revolution in what we do and how we think.

This religious expectation for something extraordinary & new is nothing but the eternal intuition that our ordinary understanding of the world has always already built an invisible prison around us. We know there is much more to the world and life than what we see and have been told — but how are we to discover this inconceivable reality? The religious impulse is just this attempt to be free of the oppressive, mundane, ordinary world. When properly directed, it can be an unstoppable force for bettering our lives, for miraculously happening upon exceedingly better worlds.

The ordinary world against which religion must rebel is often that of science, the economy, ethics or politics; these make up a good but insufficient world that continuously traps us in its shortcomings. These realms are very real and must never be ignored or sidestepped by a religious outlook: the perspectives are in an important sense true; and yet, they are also myopic and oppressive in their simplifications; they have never been able to conceal their gaping, dangerous blindspots. The religious outlook must search for extraordinary solutions to the problems these ordinary views of the world cannot fix, escape routes from our always closed understanding of reality. But religious attempts will only prove successful if they can compel the ordinary world to accept their extraordinary solutions on its own terms. Though the religious inspiration is extraordinary, the solutions it offers must become conveivable, that is, they must transform the ordinary world as they are incorporated into it — at which point, of course, even better extraordinary realities must be sought.

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