Religious Classicism

For many years, I have sought a term for my religious identity.  “American Transcendentalist” was close, bearing rightly on the penultimate theological importance of Mind, its Divinity, and transcendence, and reflecting my genuine adoration for Emerson, Thoreau, and company, but I desired a more concrete reference to particular religious traditions which inspire me.  For some time I employed “Hellenic Muslim,” which seemed to me to capture the Graeco-Roman and Abrahamic traditions which together form a crucial foundation of and elaboration on (respectively) my influence, though the absolutely critical influences of Mohism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Chan Buddhism which form the center mass of my religious thought are omitted entirely thereby.  At one point, I attempted a purely abstract designation of my own design, “Syncretic Existential Mysticism,” which I had intended to reflect the fact that the driving force behind my pursuit is something which all religious traditions seek, but I found myself without that concrete reference yet again.  I tried instead accomplishing more concretely the effect of that self-generated designation with a reference to the Din I Ilahi, which is a most excellent reference indeed, but it is too esoteric for a general title intended to convey information to a general audience.

Everywhere I choose a designation it seems I am doomed either to an eventual conceptual claustrophobia or a vastness lacking in discriminatory significance.  And though I want to demonstrate my embrace of those wonderful aspects of nearly every religious tradition I have encountered, I must avoid either becoming or appearing to have become nothing but a mindless new age kook.  It cannot be denied that there are mounds upon mounds of incompatible claims made between religious traditions, and if I am to argue that there is a rational means by which to discern between them, accepting that which is valuable from every tradition and rejecting those aspects which have gone astray, I must make the case that there is a shared intent or purpose among them which must be held above any individual tradition when making one’s judgments.

Long have I been attracted to the idea of classicism, for it seems to me an appropriate designation for this purpose; it is a designation aiming to capture those values which are universal to humanity, and that is precisely my religious goal.  Classical literature consists of those great works of history which illuminate in their unparalleled fashion those values most important to human beings.  They should transcend cultural boundaries while nonetheless drawing upon cultural particularities.  They should universalize from the particular and guide the audience to the truth.

But, I was disheartened by the lack of a compelling, authoritative definition of the term.  It seemed it would land me right back on the second horn of that initial dilemma, and I would be stuck with a vague term lacking in discriminatory value.  Though the rough definition I have put forth above is widely accepted as generally correct, I was looking for a more precise enumeration of those ideas after which classical works seek.  It was on this account that I rejected the use of the term for my purposes, but it is after some years of study that I return to it with the acceptance that this sort of enumerated list (or whatever should be generated in its stead) is surely the philosophical end of any moral theory, and therefore the term itself is bound to encounter the same difficulties as they.  Those years of study had given me what seems to be some valuable conclusions in that field, and it now seems that I have the information I need to resolve this difficulty with the term “classicism.”

I have sought after that fundamental, primordial faith as have many before me.  I seek a clear exposition of its nature and a relentless exhortation to its vigorous pursuit.  In the course of this pursuit, I have concluded that the ultimate explanation rests upon a faithful belief in the goodness of the Divine Mind from which all action stems.  It is a conclusion about what cannot be understood from what can be understood, and it seems as sound as any conclusion I have made, for my very freedom of will, which I cannot doubt, depends upon its veracity.  And it is a conclusion on which the meaning of “classic,” in the religious context, can be based.

And this does not prohibit me from identifying myself as  Muslim, a Christian, a God-fearer, a Neoplatonist, a Cynic, a Daoist, a Buddhist, or what-have-you, for all of these systems of thought ultimately seek that same Divinity from which all is ushered forth, and it is only that to which my religion refers.  Though I can see God in polytheism and monotheism alike, I do so without brushing past their discrepancies, but rather, I do so with clear respect for their accuracies and inaccuracies.  Though I consider myself a Cynic, I can’t bring myself to accept their radical showboating (yeah, that’s right; I said it).  Though I consider myself a Christian in that I follow the core of Jesus’ message (that we are to love our God and our neighbors as ourselves), I reject the Trinity.  Though I consider myself a Muslim in that I believe in God and the Last Day, I reject the co-eternality of the Koran and many of the beliefs which demarcate modern Sunnism or Shiism.

In short, I have found perhaps a few traditions with which I have no disagreement.  And yet, those traditions are by themselves somehow inadequate to convey to a general audience the nature of my project.  I have therefore great value in a designation such as “Religious Classicist,” as this would bring to mind the overarching importance for which I seek in conjunction with the strong focus I encourage on studious observation of the particular claims of every religious system.

So though I consider myself equally worthy of many a title others would reject as inapplicable to my life, this strikes me as perhaps the best description of my project which I have yet determined, and therefore I’d like to publish it here where many of my other important beliefs and findings are made clear.

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2 Responses to Religious Classicism

  1. John says:

    A very interesting read, good sir. However I must ask, if after all this searching, why have you not come to the conclusion that you need no title, descriptor, or designation for your faith?
    You seem to be quite like Thomas Jefferson, in that your life’s journey has led you to believe that all religions are flawed, but there still seems to you that there is an intentional power at work in the universe that cannot be explained by science, majik, or flights of fancy. Jefferson referred to it as “Divine Providence.”
    If someone asks, simply say “I am a Theist.” (of course pronouncing it as to not be ambiguous 🙂 ) If this does not suffice their need to label you – for some I have found to have an overwhelming desire to put people into neat little groups, classifications, and sub-genus – and they cannot see you for the kind, humane person you are, perhaps they are not worthy of further conversation.

    • Hey, thanks for the comment. Fundamentally, I suspect you are right – there is no absolute need for a title. Insofar as it is useful, I like the idea of the simple designation “Theist,” (also, good “a theist”/”atheist” joke) but I guess I think I could provide more information than that. Maybe not, though; yours is a good suggestion. I may also be suffering from such a desire to converse about religious matters that I am trying to find something equally as sensible, but perhaps a bit more provocative. =)

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