Transcendentalism. What does it mean? According to a book called ‘Masterpieces of Literature’, edited by Frank N. Magill, the Transcendentalists had “a healthy irreverence for secondhand customs and beliefs, especially those transplanted to America from England … a desire to mend the supposed split between God and man in order to glorify God-man, and they insisted that Christ be seen as a historical personage, a man …” This was around the 1840’s.
In the article written by brooklyn on this same website, Ralph Waldo Emerson had this problem: “Emerson’s inability to serve as a traditional pastor caused him serious distress. Stumbling for appropriate words at the bedside of a dying veteran of the American Revolution, he was famously told by the irritable patient, ‘Young man, if you don’t know your business you had better go home.'”
There are many variations to what people believe in Transcendentalism. You don’t have to be an atheist, for example. The beauty of Transcendentalism is that we can discuss these things without fear of judgement. I had the good fortune to discuss the meaning of God with a number of people on this website. I will refer to these fellow travelers by their screen names.
joshuagriffin writes: “Okay, so, to answer the question of ‘God’: I believe in the prime catalyst; that is to say that the “thing”, for lack of a better term “god”, that was the mechanism for the first chemical reaction that began evolution … not necessarily of Humankind, but of everything. I’m against organized religion, because it only offers close-minded regurgitations of texts written centuries ago. Unfortunately, I’m basically ignorant in the details of every major religion; however, I believe that I know enough about the basics of Religion in general to write/speak my opinion. I feel that one should have ideas of their own, rather than memorizations of the all-encompassing book of whatever religion. In closing, Ideas lead to Spirituality and memorizations lead to meaningless conversation. Remember this, ideas are better conversation topics.”
Then there was a response by jamelah, which said, “what about the issue of faith? i think faith transcends religion.”
Then there is microknee finger, who responded to a question about brain synapses, that mysterious moment in the brain when thought sparks like electricity, who said, “Actually, electricity is made of electrons, I believe (I think it’s time to dip into my Feynman’s Lectures on Physics again), which are subatomic. But yeah, the idea that conscious thoughts are physical I find incredibly fascinating that subatomic particles can mingle in just such a way to create and sustain life and consciousness is nothing short of mind-bogglingly beautiful …”
And popejoebaby says: “Native Americans have it right as far as i’m concerned. They worship that which gives, and sustains our lives. Air — the first breath we take feeds life to our presense. It is present all around all that is present. Water — we come from water, the water of our Mothers. Water gives us spiritual cleansing. That’s why it comforts us when we hear it, see it, feel it. Earth — our true Mother. We live upon her, feed from her, die upon her, and in the end, return to her unbounded by human frailties. If we have hunted, been brave, been kind, been with the spirit of life, we will live again.”
There is a theory that when we first noticed our thoughts, we thought it was God speaking to us. Like when an idea pops into your head from somewhere, they thought, “God is telling me this.” And you can always find someone, like my friend Jim Westcott — and no one can prove he is wrong — who will say, “I was thinkin’ about the brain speakin’ to itself and I heard God say, ‘Of course I speak through your brain, you moron, how else would I speak to you?'” and if you think about it, it makes sense that all we can know is what our senses and mind can grasp; the physical realities of our world — planets, atoms, protons & electrons; carbon and oxygen, iron & orange juice, and whatever. Am i a robot? (ooh, that would be kind of cool).
My favorite book of the bible is Ecclesiastes, because it’s so much written from the physical, down to earth, mortal viewpoint — trying to find reason and meaning and satisfaction in work, play, sleep, sex, money, wine, knowledge. To me it has a zen quality to it. Balance.
It’s funny how humans almost have to believe in something. In Communist Russia, where they officially didn’t believe in god, up until the 80’s they were studying psychic phenomena like someone bending a car-key or spoon just by thinking about it, or a medium with a crystal ball solving a murder.
My friend Richard Phelps, who was a seminary student, kept asking questions of his teachers, until one professor finally said, “If a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump it’s ass on the ground.” Apparently the boy had been asking a lot of “if” questions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s nice to know that even a seminary professor can get to the point where he can talk about a frog’s ass.