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Beyond the Postmodern Mind: The Place of Meaning in a Global Civilization Paperback – July 25, 2003
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"An invaluable collection of essays by the foremost religious writer in America today."
About the Author
Huston Smith, widely regarded as the most learned and literary contemporary writer on the history of religions, is Former Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Syracuse University. His books include The Worlds Religions, Forgotten Truth, and the award-winning Why Religion Matters. He lives in Berkeley, California.
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I love this book. This is the book I wish I had written. In a sense, this is the book we all write, for even if we come down on the other side (the not-God side), this battlefield, this place, this crevice, this crystal, this light is that on which we all dance.
And - as if that were not enough - Huston also is a master chef of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and re-delivery of essays and speeches that came before. Packaged here, the reader gets to ride on centuries of man's efforts to understand and get somewhere in Mind and also in the decades that shaped this one man's epic journey to the end - which remains the beginning.
As for the title of this review ("Weep, Cry Out, Laugh"), yes, those events took place in this reader.
As for "the side", his side being God's side - what is the other side? How could there be another side but the great, great strength of illusion.
As he says at the end, "It's all been very interesting."
While the chapters on the Perennial Philosophy and the relevance of the great religions are concise and to the point, it is the way that he deconstructs the deconstructionists that is unique and powerful. The way he proceeds to point out the flaws in the basic assumptions of the major modern schools of philosophy is refreshing to say the least. There is really no convincing foundation to the materialist (or naturalist) mindset. The scientism and dualist mindset that has grown to dominate the West since the 17th century has no real justifiable basis. The major thinkers in modern philosophy recognize this and have declared their own discipline as dead- except in the most technical and relatively insignificant technical areas. When they conspired to kill metaphysics they killed the source of all possible meaning in the world.
Still, it is not all an attack on modernity. When the author mentioned his discovery of Schuon's works I knew exactly the excitement that he was talking about. They served to validate conclusions that had been brewing in my mind for some time. In the same way, this book has served as a powerful validation.
One thing that jumped out at me was his discussion of the alienation and atomization that characterizes modern life. It is a direct result of the dualist mindset that has gained dominance over the past several centuries. So much of our lives are compartimentalized into separate closed boxes that no one sees us as total human beings- and as such they cannot reflect back this complete understanding to us. Combine this with bankrupt modern philosophies that deny even the possibility of meaning in the world- or our ability to even know reality- and you have the dehumanizing mess that that passes for modernity.
The author repeats the argument of Mara the Tempter when he tried to persuade the Buddha not to teach. The Buddha was told that it was hopeless since no one would be able to fathom his teachings. His response was, " There will be some who will understand."
The good. In this book, Huston Smith a professor of religion presents a series of essays about overcoming the post-modern (or as it's now spelled "postmodern") worldview and re-establishing metaphysics with an emphasis on transcendence. He presents a unique Weltanschauung based upon the world's major religions and a return to traditionalist thought. In this much, I agree with him. His version of perennialism, the primordial philosophy, is far better than the nonsense that passes for philosophy under the guise of post-modernism (postmodernism).
The bad. The problem is that Smith seems to think that all the evils of the West can be attributed to that universal bugbear science, and its growing infiltration into the humanities and philosophy. He is correct in that science is the guiding principle (dare I say, religion) of our times. However, the problem is that he takes this anti-scientism to an absurd extreme. Saying that science (and it's practical application in technology) is the sole cause of the loss of transcendence within our worldview is about as goofy as saying that it can be blamed on "mixing with inferior races". For instance, while the Darwinian theory certainly has problem areas and is ultimately rooted (in perhaps suspect) philosophical assumptions, his dismissal of it strikes me as incredibly facile. At the risk psychologizing things, and thereby engaging in a veiled argumentum ad hominem, I believe his problem with science might best be explained as a personal dislike attributable to working as a professor of religion and philosophy at MIT, a school devoted almost entirely to science and engineering. Perhaps a little bitterness at his colleagues crept in here. Sorry for that.
The ugly. Finally, it's a minor point, but good heavens. Someone needs to tell this guy that outside of the snooty confines of academia no one gives a care about whether you refer to them as "humans", "man", "woman", "womyn", or whatever. Chiding G. K. Chesterton (a conservative Catholic writer) for not being politically correct and referring to humanity in the masculine form "man" is about as ridiculous as someone saying Hitler's _Mein Kampf_ is "marred by an anti-Jewish bias". Sorry for that, but these things need to be said folks. It gets annoying.