A Religion of No Religion

Richard Gull is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. RIchard's essay about the Esalen Institute was published in the January through April 2014 issue.

Richard Gull is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. RIchard's essay about the Esalen Institute was published in the January through April 2014 issue.

By Richard Gull 

I said at the end of the article "Esalen at 50: A Memoir About America’s Spiritual Reformation" that Esalen’s gnosis is nature mysticism. But this must be understood in the context of “a religion of no religion.” Kripal writes:

“. . . I can only hope that my words, my attempts to capture ‘Esalen,’ that is, to name the unnameable, will function more as Spiegelberg’s miraculous key to understanding. . . . I do not believe that Esalen can or should be defined. Its genius resides precisely in that empty space of non-definition, in that refusal to be pinned down to any final position. To the extent that Esalen seeks a place at the table of established religions, it has ceased to be what it is — that is, a religion of no religion — and has begun its own burial. The deepest meanings of Esalen, in other words, resides precisely in a constant deferral, in a refusal of closure, and in a sacralization of the future as a constantly receding horizon of unimaginable potential.” [p.455]

 This means that

“. . . one must often go back to move forward. This was certainly Spiegelberg’s position. As many in his midst often commented, no one was more respectful of religious tradition, and no one was more critical. This in turn, of course, produces the logical structure of the religion of no religion, a kind of postreligious position that engages the religious past, but only to move beyond it.”[p. 456]

Thus the “religion of no religion” is a kind of meta-religion, a philosophy of religion that both takes the traditions seriously but considers them critically in order to transcend them.

Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.

In his novel Island, Aldous Huxley imagined a utopian island, Pala, with no organized religion. Kripal writes:

“’We have no established church,’ one of the islanders explains, ‘and our religion stresses immediate experience and deplores belief in unverifiable dogmas and the emotions that belief inspires.’  Hence the humorous prayer of Pala: ‘Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.’  The islanders even integrated this religion of no religion into their agricultural affairs. The scarecrows in the fields were thus made to look like a . . . Buddha or a God the Father, so that children who manipulated the scarecrow-puppets with strings to scare off the birds could learn that ‘all gods are homemade, and that it’s we who pull their strings and so give them power to pull ours.’”[p. 90]

The religion of Pala seems to be Huxley’s idea of a religion of no religion.

Posted on January 29, 2014 and filed under Winter 2014 Issue, Philosophy, Spirituality.