Garden of Eden

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Page 11

First, it is important to take into account the self-characterisation of this type of religious intuition. It conceives itself as revelation, as a communication from G-d to man; in particular, to a narrator of events that no human eye could have witnessed. The word 'revelation' therefore, refers to a process that is hardly less extraordinary - even transcending the ways of nature - than the content of the revelation, in short, the content of the myth. Consequently, a clarification of the meaning of the term would require a translation similar in kind to the one we applied to the mythological record. Let us look at that possibility.

I will admit at once that the boundaries between the two kinds of intuition are fluid. The term 'revelation' can be used, of course, in connection with areas of a rather general intuition, such as the natural phenomenon underlying a dietary ritual or moral and legal ordinances. I shall try to show, however, that the term 'revelation' ought to be reserved for a form of intuition that is rarer and more intense. In order not to prejudge things, let me for the moment avoid the word 'revelation' altogether and speak of 'religious intuition'. Let us look at the differences between the two kinds of cognition involved. General intuition is not confined to visions having a religious content; it is simply the, widely assumed, faculty of an immediate intellectual grasp and can have anything as its object. This kind of general intuition claims evidence for its perceptions and is at work throughout the ages, early and late; it is communicated no less in the language of a myth than in ordinary language; it can speak of concrete things or abstract concepts. Religious intuition is different. It appears only in the epoch of the birth of a religion; it is expressed only in mythological language; it cannot have everything as its subject; it is pre eminently focused on the world view of religion. Very clearly, religious intuition contemplates the theoretical fundamentals of a religion, G-d, the creation of the world and of man, whereas general intuition discovers and establishes the practical consequences, such as the laws of society or regulations on purity. However, fundamentals and commandments are inter-connected and it may be difficult to separate the theoretical aspect of reality in a religion from its demands. Moreover, the activity of general intuition extends in scope throughout the progress of history while its character, to illuminate things, and its application to ever new questions remains essentially the same throughout the ages. Renewed productivity by general intuition could not effect continuing life or an increase in the content of religious intuition. There would have to be a transformation, if that were at all possible. The results of general intuition may be likened to the growth of a body; the results of religious intuition, to the transformation of a germ-cell into a developed organism. Moreover, as the multitude of phenomena to be grasped by ordinary intuition increases indefinitely, as inconsistencies and contradictions between results of an alleged general intuition are bound to arise, criteria must be sought. Which of the many competing, intuitively obtained aspects of a phenomenon is the true one remains an open question.

The working of religious intuition is totally different and we do have criteria to determine what is genuine. Incompatible views of the world, all of which claim to have been reached by a religious intuition, evince a conflict of accounts that is very different from the problematic described above. A first criterion will be success or failure, the evidence of history. Historical criticism, based on the progressing development of thinking, also has a role. When looking to decide the truth of the content of religious intuition, the criterion, as we have seen, is provided by the conceivability of religious solutions. It is possible to examine that conceivability by translating the myth into a coherent if problematic system of rational thought, if, that is, the myth lends itself to such translating. That disposes fairly quickly of all rationally useless and immature mythological imagery. Historically, the Hebrew idea of G-d has proved to be the only one to survive all mythological representations of gods. Although stated as a problem it is the only one capable of yielding ever new, coherent and rational aspects of the Divine and has, on that account, determined the process of thinking on the subject. The Hebrew idea of G-d is thus at the origin of a happening that is unique in the spiritual history of the world. It is hard to realise the tremendous significance of this quite exceptional phenomenon because truth here, in the defined sense, is expressed as a 'story'. That story carries a maximum anticipation of developments, not observed in any other branch of culture. Fascinatingly, the emergence of this truth, its rarity and power to anticipate, the germ-cell character of this fertile myth, as distinct from the thousands of sterile mythological outputs, is related to an involuntary mental event, even though it then reaches into a sphere of the mind that is normally the domain of conscious and voluntary reflection. This is not the psycho-physical or the emotional domain, but that of the higher activities of the mind. It is the function that deals with the most comprehensive and non-practical experience, the contemplation of the All of the world. No automatism operates here. What we have is an unexpected condition that arises where involuntariness ( of impressions, sights, visions) rules in a psycho-physical realm where, normally, it is the will, deliberation, reason and purpose that rule. I would term this condition the highest intuition, that of the visionary, the inspired or prophetic genius.

All the features that we have enumerated are now found simultaneously: the uniqueness of a mythological solution, a vitality that survives innumerable futile mythological shots, a truth embodied in an account that anticipates later epochs in the spiritual development of mankind and manifests an almost inexhaustible productivity of features that reflect the constitution of the actual, rationally interpreted world. Where all of this has been realised, shall we not recognise the features, the very same characteristics which, in religious language, describe revelation, the anticipating, prophetic account, a never-ending, thought-determining factor in the history of mankind?