Posted on: September 5th, 2023 DBH & the Paradoxical, Transcendental Structure of _Geistliche_ Reality

I’m almost finished re-reading David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, and near the end of the penultimate chapter (on bliss) he stresses the “transcendental structure” involved in our human interactions with reality, in our experience of the world.

Our experience, that is, of spiritual reality, since all reality is spiritual. And yet, I choose “geistliche” instead of spiritual, for that latter adjective in English has many sad connotations. I do not mean to conjure up sentimental “mountain top” experiences of spiritual “high’s,” nor do I wish to evoke feelings associated by praise & worship music or “Precious Moments” figurines or Thomas Kincaid paintings.

Rather, I mean the reality of the mind, the way that we humans experience, process, interpret the world around us, including all the assumptions that condition the way we “see” the world—what Owen Barfield might call “collective representations.” Geistliche, from the German Geist.

But how is the human experience “transcendental”? Well, before I answer that, let’s take “paradoxical.” The human experience of the world is paradoxical, according to DBH, in that the world, or reality, never actually delivers to us what we seek. It never fully gives us what we seek in terms of the rational desire for knowledge, in terms of the ethical desire for goodness, or in terms of the aesthetic desire for beauty (spiritual or geistliche realities, all). I might long for full and final knowledge or to have an experience of beauty that consummates my desire, but these desiderata are always, in the final analysis, elusive. And what this means, in turn, is that they are not the ultimate thing(s) we are striving to find or to have or to grasp. No: to quote C. S. Lewis’ “The Weight of Glory,” they “are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of the flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited….”

Our desire for them, that is, is paradoxical: it is never fully satisfied in this world.

But it, or the context in which it occurs, is also transcendental in its structure. What does this mean? It means that, without this never-fully-satisfied desire, this never-finished quest for that which is beyond all we can find or achieve or experience, we would never strive for anything at all. We would never seek out a lover. We would never read a book or engage in a research project or scientific experiment; we would never lift a finger to grab a glass of water or a snifter of Belgian ale.

God, or being, or goodness, or beauty, is “that without which not.” God is the condition of the possibility for any other striving: for knowledge, for justice, for beauty. God, and our desire for God, is transcendental.

In sum, our “spiritual” experience of reality (intellectual, ethical, esthetic) is both paradoxical and structurally transcendental.

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