Friday, June 16, 2017

Experience of Transcendence: The Core of Religion and Spirituality

Transcendence beyond the limits of human cognition, and thus reason and even religious beliefs is notoriously difficult for the human mind to grasp; even if as I suspect the human mind has an instinctual urge to yearn to go beyond cognitive and perceptual boundaries (i.e., beyond our ordinary experience), that same mind also has a dogged proclivity to cloth wholly-other religious objects (e.g., a deity) in familiar garb. Transcendent experience itself is immune, hence focusing on the experience itself is superior to getting caught up with the presumably certain divine attributes of a religious object, yet even such experience can be held back, or unduly circumscribed, when the transcendent reference-point is rendered conveniently familiar. Hence the dictum against graven images.  

As “an emotional and sensuous being,” a human being, Feuerbach suggests, “is governed and made happy only by images, by sensible representations,” including those that are fabricated by the imagination.[1] In other words, we have “an instinct, an internal necessity, which impels [us] to think, to perceive, to imagine.”[2] This instinct sees nothing wrong with applying itself to religious objects, essentially robbing them of their rightful transcendence.

The Son, is, therefore, expressly called the Image of God; his essence is that he is an image—the representation of God, the visible glory of the invisible God. The Son is the satisfaction of the need for mental images, the nature of the imaginative activity in man made objective as an absolute, divine activity.[3]

Feuerbach must have read Hume, for he too laments how inherently difficult it is for the human mind to hold onto the divine as a pure, incorporeal spirit for long;  the mind automatically sets about clothing it in anthropomorphic attributes because they are familiar, which is in itself is “so agreeable to the mind.”[4] In other words, “an invisible spiritual intelligence is an object too refined for vulgar apprehension,” so we “naturally affix it to some sensible representation.”[5] By means of the instinct described by Feuerbach, the human mind tends to render the transcendent perceptual by our senses, and thus firmly within the limits of perception. In fact, Hume goes so far as to define idolatry as the portrayal of the invisible divine, which the human mind has trouble holding onto, in terms of “some sensible representation.”[6]

Is worship of a god-man, as in God made flesh, therefore an instance of self-idolatry? The very structure of man worshipping a god-man would suggest so. Furthermore, God made flesh in the Incarnation as Jesus Christ renders worship of the eternal Word, the Logos, surreptitiously susceptible to actually being worship of the human form idealized.[7] Augustine points to the significance of the human form of the second person of the Trinity:

[Jesus] was a baby, he grew as a man, he walked as a man, he hungered, thirsted as a man, he slept as a man, then at last he suffered as a man. . . . In the same form he arose, in the same form he ascended into heaven. . . . When, therefore, you think about the form of the servant in Christ, think of his human shape, if there is faith in you.[8]

Faith is tied here to Jesus Christ having a human shape (i.e., a human body).  It is not as if Augustine were unaware of the risks involved, for he warns against associating the form of the human body with the divine, which inherently transcends finite forms or embodiments:

(L)et every human configuration vanish from your heart; let there be driven from your thought whatever is limited by a bodily boundary, whatever is confined by the extent of a place or is extended with any bulk whatsoever; let such a fictitious image disappear from your heart. . . . Now, O man, if you cannot see your wisdom with the eyes of the flesh, nor think of it with such imaginings as bodily things are thought of, do you dare to impose the form of the human body on the wisdom of God?[9]

Hume stresses that the human brain cannot help but create such perceptual imaginings of bodily things to render the transcendent familiar at the expense of being wholly other and thus transcendent. Feuerbach points out that “the relations of humanity are not excluded from God” in that “God has a Son; God is a father”[10] Sensing that such relations render the deity too humanlike at the expense of being wholly other (as transcendent), Augustine strictly warns his readers that “no carnal thought creep up” in interpreting Jesus’s expression, “As the Father has taught me” in terms of a human father teaching his son. To liken the Trinitarian relationship to a (merely) human one would be, Augustine writes, to “fashion idols” in one’s heart.[11] Unfortunately, such idolatry is a danger even in spite of this warning, for “it is only natural that our own experiences or observations of father-son relations would mold how we view Jesus’ relation to his Father.”[12] In other words, our minds are susceptible to rendering the transcendent in familiar terms even to the point that the religious object is, as Feuerbach contends, actually human potential without our limitations as individuals.

Augustine exempts the case of Jesus Christ, however, on account of divine revelation attesting, albeit by faith alone, to the truth of the Incarnation; Jesus Christ is not just human potential, as divinity is something more even if it manifests as a Son in human form. Yet does this mean that the godhead tempts us mere mortals into self-idolatry by clothing the divinity in such brazenly anthropomorphic garb? At the very least, Feuerbach suggests, understanding repudiates the application of anthropomorphisms to God.[13]

Not so, Kierkegaard would undoubtedly reply, for the eternal coming into history through the Incarnation transcends human understanding, and thus cognition itself. Larger principles, in other words, are involved than the anthropomorphism. As Kierkegaard points out, “faith is not a knowledge, for all knowledge is either knowledge of the eternal, which excludes the temporal and the historical as inconsequential, or it is purely historical knowledge, and no knowledge can have as its object this absurdity that the eternal is the historical.”[14] Absurdity and paradox, which stress transcendence beyond human cognition, are two terms that Kierkegaard uses to describe distinctly religious phenomena.

In Fear and Trembling, for instance, Kierkegaard places the absurd above even human morality. The divine command given to Abraham that he sacrifice Isaac is not in a religious sense murder.  In other words, the religious sacrifice is above the moral verdict of murder—yet another indication that religion does not reduce to morality, and thus spiritual leadership is not really just ethical leadership. The absurd, unlike a moral system, lies beyond the clutches of reasoning. In Fear and Trembling, the absurd is Abraham’s faith that God would not break the promise that Abraham’s offspring would go on to fill nations even though that same God has commanded the old man to sacrifice his only child. This makes no sense, and yet for God all things are possible. Similarly, the eternal in a historical person, albeit historical in a faith narrative, is a paradox that can only be taken on faith.

The paradox is “the god’s planting himself in human life.”[15] This is no trivial point in historical Christianity, for, as Kierkegaard states, “(t)he heart of the matter is the historical fact that the god has been in human form.”[16] Christianity, he explains, “by means of the historical . . . has wanted to be the single individual’s point of departure for his eternal consciousness.”[17] Unlike Socrates, a teacher is needed who can occasion a re-birth of sorts in a person. The condition must be so significant that the person would never forget it.  “(I)n order for the teacher to be able to give the condition, he must be the god, and in order to put the learner in possession of it, he must be man. This contradiction is in turn the object of faith.”[18]

Feuerbach admits that “out of the need for salvation is postulated something transcending human nature, a being different from” human beings, yet “no sooner is this being postulated than there arises the yearning of man after himself, after his own nature, and man is immediately re-established.”[19] Therefore, “the contemplation of God as human,” with love as the unifier of the two, is “the mystery of the Incarnation.”[20] “In the Incarnation religion only confesses” what theology will not admit, “that God is an altogether human being.”[21] That which is supposedly “mysterious and incomprehensible” (i.e., suggesting of transcendence) about the notion that “God is or becomes a man” is actually “nothing more than the human form of a God, who already in his nature . . . is a merciful and therefore a human God.”[22] Neither the human form nor the idealized human qualities of mercy, goodness (benevolentia), power (omnipotentia), and knowledge (omniscientia) are particularly transcendent, as they pertain or come out of our realm and are very much within the limits of our perception and cognition, respectively.  Even in terms of human sentiments, a religious person “unhesitatingly assigns his own feelings to God; God is to him a heart susceptible to all that is human; . . . feeling can appeal only to feeling.”[23] Hence, petitions through prayer appealing to God’s goodness and mercy. Even in such a momentous condition in salvation history, therefore, the human mind leans toward seeing the transcendent through heavily-tinted anthropomorphic sunglasses such that the god is essentially rendered as human at the expense of transcendence.

Even though Kierkegaard considered the mystery of the Incarnation—the absolute paradox, in other words, as an object of faith rather than knowledge—to be beyond the limits of cognition, even his paradox may not reach transcendence in a religious sense. Generally speaking, the ultimate paradox of thought is “to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.”[24] The mind, in other words, paradoxically seeks to go beyond itself. So far, the understanding evinces the notion of transcendence. In “its paradoxical passion,” Kierkegaard writes, “the understanding does indeed will its own downfall.”[25] Likewise, cognition and reasoning fall before the Lord.

Yet if the eternal in history—in a human form no less!—is merely a species of the human imagination borne out of instinct rather than begotten by a godhead whose existence is not just idealized human qualities as Feuerbach suggests, then the absolute paradox is not beyond thought. For that matter, I could imagine a unicorn standing on the moon even though the actual science defines reason. Just as my imagination is not bound by the strictures of science, religion is not bound by science, or even metaphysics (i.e., what is real?) Even Feuerbach’s own notion of God holds back from transcending cognition, for “God is thy highest idea, the supreme effort of they understanding, thy highest power of thought.”[26] In other words, “God is what the understanding thinks as the highest.”[27] Religious yearning, on the other hand, goes beyond the point where understanding ends.

 Kierkegaard too holds back, as he is content to remain on the cusp of the unknown, where it collides with the understanding, rather than pushing further. “The paradoxical passion of the understanding,” he writes, “is continually colliding with this unknown. . . . The understanding does not go beyond this; yet in its paradoxicality the understanding cannot stop reaching it and being engaged with it, because wanting to express its relation to it by saying that this unknown does not exist will not do, since just saying that involves a relation.”[28]  The understanding does not go beyond the edge of the unknown that can be made known, and Kierkegaard is satisfied to remain there rather than to venture into the unknown, and thus to God beyond cognition. “But what, then, is this unknown, for does not its being the god merely signify to us that it is the unknown?”[29]  In other words, the unknown is the god. Yet the unknown to understanding is none other than ignorance, and the god, as omniscient, is hardly that. God extending beyond human understanding does not necessarily mean that the god is just the absence of understanding. Furthermore, that the god is mysterious, and thus not fully known, is not to say that it is simply the unknown.

In short, the understanding stops at the beginning of the unknown—arriving at it—whereas religious faith, and thus experience, extends into the wholly other, or absolutely different.  “To declare that God is the unknown because we cannot know it, and that even if we could know it we could not express it, does not satisfy the passion,” Kierkegaard states, “although it has correctly perceived the unknown as frontier. But a frontier is expressly the passion’s torment, even though it is also its incentive. And yet it can go no further. . . . What, then, is the unknown? It is the frontier that is continually arrived at . . . it is the different, the absolutely different.”[30] To arrive at something is not to go past its border into it. To be sure, it is not the understanding that can venture so. “Defined as the absolutely different, it seems to be at the point of being disclosed, but not so, because the understanding cannot even think the absolutely different; it cannot absolutely negate itself but uses itself for that purpose and consequently thinks the difference in itself, which it thinks by itself. It cannot absolutely transcend itself and therefore thinks as above itself only the sublimity that it thinks by itself.”[31] This is why it is so difficult for the human mind to conceive of God as wholly other; it is in the very nature of thought to conceive of objects in terms that bear some familiarity to the mind, which “cannot absolutely transcend itself and therefore thinks as above itself only the sublimity that it thinks by itself.”[32] To even try to think of something absolutely different involves an arbitrariness, and yet we affix such certainty to our knowledge of the divine attributes. Consequently, Kierkegaard points out that “at the very bottom of devoutness there madly lurks the capricious arbitrariness that knows it itself has produced the god.”[33] Hence the nature of the god—the religious object—may not be the basis of religion. Religious experience, on the other hand, is felt on our side of the line, within the known, and yet crucially its object or aim transcends even the border to the absolutely different that cannot be known, sensed, or perceived. The nature of the experience is thus unique. As such, it is part of the native fauna in the religious garden. In fact, being in itself immune from anthropomorphism from within our realm, the sui generis experience is, I submit, the defining characteristic of religion and spirituality. We can indeed transcend even the masks of eternity that we hold as ultimate. In achieving such transcendence, a person enters religion’s inner sanctum—that which religion really is.

The essay pertains to chapter 3, "Spiritual Leadership Revised," in Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical, which is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.




1. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, George Eliot, trans. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 75.
2. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 78.
3. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 75.
4. David Hume, The Natural History of Religion, sec. 5, in Principal Writings on Religion including Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and the Natural History of Religion, ed. J. C. A. Gaskin (Oxford: Ox-ford University Press, 1993), 150.
5. Hume, Natural History, 152.
6. Hume, Natural History, 152.
7. Worden, God’s Gold, 338. See John 1:14.
8. Augustine, Tractates on John, 127.
9. Augustine, Tractates on John, 127.
10. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 56.
11. Augustine, Tractates on John: Books 28-54, 40.4, trans. John W. Rettig, Fathers of the Church: 
A New Translation 88 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993), 126.
12. Skip Worden, God’s Gold: Beneath the Shifting Sands of Christian Thought on Profit-Seeking and Wealth (Tucson, AZ: The Worden Report, 2015), 339.
13. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 35.
14. Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments or A Fragment of Philosophy, Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, eds. and trans. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 62.
15. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 107.
16. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 103.
17. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 109.
18. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 62.
19. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 45.
20. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 50. See also p. 48.
21. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 56.
22. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 51
23. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 55.
24. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 37.
25. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 47.
26. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 38.
27. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 38.
28. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 44.
29. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 44.
30. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 44.
31. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 45.
32. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 45.
33. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 45.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical

In this essay, I provide a synopsis of my booklet on spiritual leadership in business. In the text, I suggest that while it may convenient in the business world to conceptualize spiritual leadership as being essentially ethical in nature, this convenient tactic does not do justice to the distinctly religious basis and connotations of spirituality. By religion, I do not mean only theism, or even just organized religion (i.e., religious organizations); rather, I have in mind religious experience—whether through prayer, meditation, worship, or another means that is oriented to yearning beyond the limits of cognition, sentiment, and perception—as if an inherently limited human brain were nonetheless “hard-wired” for beyondness itself whether or not a transcendent religious object (e.g., a deity) exists. Rather than expunging spiritual from its native terrain and reconfiguring it to fit within a secular context as ethics, we can relate the religious sense of spirituality to the secular world of business with due deference to their respective natures rather than muddling them into something murky.[1]

The full essay is at "Spiritual Leadership in Business."


The booklet, Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical, is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.




1. By analogy, the notion that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine—a theory coined at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E.—involves taking the human as human and the divine as divine rather than reconfiguring one term to suit the other. Just as one essence, or ousia, has a human element and a divine element, spiritual leadership can be reckoned as having a religious and a secular element. One essence can contain a notion of spirituality that is religious in nature and a theory of leadership that is been derived in a secular context. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Is Humanism a Religion?

Is Humanism a religion?  I contend that Humanism does not qualify, but it is compatible with religious experience. Beginning with how religion was defined in ancient times, I argue that the element or aspect of transcendence is vital. I then look at whether transcendence is and could be in Humanism.

Religio, religionis (f, Latin) is translated principally as "supernatural constraint or taboo" or "obligation," in line with the verb religare (to bind). Secondary meanings of religio include "sanctity" and "reverence, respect, awe." In short, the etymology of religion indicates that the phenomenon is based on the binding nature of a religious object that is transcendent (i.e., not based in our realm, including Nature), hence the supernatural attribute or manifestation associated with the nature of the binding, or obligation. So religion is not based on feeling obliged to respect Nature. Hence the ancient nature religions had as a core belief the notion that deities, which are not based in our realm, control various features of Nature. For example, Zeus controls lightning, and Poseidon causes storms on the seas. Somethings (i.e., deities) were premised to exist that transcend Nature. Therefore, Nature itself not get us far enough in referring to religion even in the nature religions. In theism, too, a religious object is believed to exist that is "other-worldly" and hence supernatural.

I submit that the most determinative aspect of religion—indeed, I would even say its essence—is transcendence, an orientation whose reference-point lies beyond the limits of human cognition, sentiment, and perception. Transcendence is something that a person does; it is experiential even as it is not experience as we know it. Technically, transcendence does not require a belief in religious object, such as a deity (i.e., an intelligent being with a personality based beyond our realm—that of Creation). On a bare basis, the focus can be to a focus-point that is beyond the limits of human cognition, sentiment, and perception; as a point, which by definition has no surface-area, the referent operates as a non-attribute-holding place-holder that engenders “deep” transcendental yearning or striving.  Such an undertaking, I contend, serves as the foundation of religion and spirituality. Accordingly, the binding is ultimately applied to the yearning or striving, rather than to normative strictures ensuing from a religious object (e.g., the Ten Commandments).

It follows that respecting human potential, such as exists within Nature, does not get us to religion. Nor does Nature itself get us there. Feuerbach errs, I submit, in attributing divine status to Nature, and, more specifically to the potential of our species (i.e., our better instincts). He points to the case of nature religions, which he claims involves the “worship of nature as a divine being” because “nature is primary and fundamental, and cannot be derived from anything else.”[1] Yet having such a placement within Creation, for example, does not render something divine for lack of a transcendent extension. Even as representations of “the world in a mode differing from sense perception” rather than “a being different from the world,” the original conceptions of gods fell short.

Feuerbach can ironically be drawn on to attest to the shortfall. “I do not look on nature as a god, as supernatural, supersensual, remote, recondite, and One; [Nature in contrast] is a manifold, public, actual being which can be perceived with all the senses.”[2] There being “nothing mystical, nothing nebulous, nothing theological” in his use of the term, Nature, it falls short of being divine because it is based and confined to our realm without a transcendent dimension.[3] So too does his conception of God as “abstracted from the world”—God being “only the world in thought.”[4] Such a god cannot, by definition, extend beyond the world. Feuerbach’s characterization of the word divine as “beneficent, magnificent, praiseworthy, and admirable” also falls short in accounting for the term’s distinctly religious connotations; a political ruler, for example, could be praised as being beneficent, magnificent, and admirable without any hint of anything religious or even spiritual.[5] Similarly, Feuerbach’s claim that spiritual means “intellectual and abstract” falls short, as these descriptors could apply to the orientation of a secular scholar whose trade is theory.[6] Feuerbach, being such a scholar, also characterizes "divine" as "supreme”—his reference here being to Nature itself. The religious connotations of the word, divine, are not satisfied, however, for something can be supreme and yet not transcendent.[7] Life, for example, “is the supreme good.”[8] In fact, Feuerbach maintains that God, as a supreme being, “is in its origin and basis nothing but the highest being in space, optically considered: the sky with its brilliant phenomena.”[9] Being the highest being in Creation may be impressive by our standards, but this does not get us to religious transcendence, which is qualitatively different than even infinite space and time.

In his ascension in his resurrected body into Heaven, for example, Jesus goes up skyward, but not simply up and up into the sky. Rather, he becomes engulfed in a cloud, which signifies the inherent mysterium of a transcendent divine object (i.e., God) that inherently goes beyond the limits of our ability to think and see yet not in the sense that the infinite space in the sky lies beyond our conceptual and visual abilities. Feuerbach rejects this sui generis transcendental dimension of religion, claiming that all “religions of some imagination transfer their Gods into the region of the clouds . . . all Gods are lost at last in the blue vapor of heaven.[10] The transcendent to him is merely the fiction of human imagination; God’s goodness is “merely the utility of nature, ennobled by the imagination.”[11]

So Feuerbach tries to secularize religion, claiming it “is merely the art of life and simply expresses the forces and drives which directly govern the life of man.”[12] Accordingly, he misapplies religious terms to “earthly” objects—which in religious terms is idolatry.  In fact, in claiming that “man has in himself the measure, the criterion of divinity,” Feuerbach can be said to be engaging in self-idolatry.[13] Hence, he posits, “if a being’s worthiness to be worshipped, hence his divine dignity, depends solely on his relation to human welfare, if only a being beneficial and useful to man is divine, then the ground of divinity is to be sought solely in human egoism.”[14]

Feuerbach thus hails Nature as sacred, for example, because we are so dependent on it.[15] “All the strange and conspicuous phenomena in nature, everything that strikes and captivates man’s eye, surprises and enchants his ear, fires his imagination, induces wonderment, affects him in a special, unusual, to him inexplicable way, may contribute to the formation of religion and even provide an object of worship.”[16] Just because something is captivating or enchanting, even special or unusual, does not render it sacred—which is to say, with significance that transcends our realm. Yet Feuerbach attacks the attribution of the sacred to transcendent religious objects. Such “an object first takes on its true intrinsic dignity when the sacred nimbus is stripped off; for as long as a thing or being is an object of religious worship, it is clad in borrowed plumes, namely, the peacock feathers of the human imagination.”[17]

Humanism, moreover, also falls short of religion and even spirituality in eschewing the sheer existence of any transcendent religious object(s). Put another way, Humanism limits itself to recognition only within the limits of human cognition, sentiment and perception. Yet Humanism can be religious or spiritual, I contend, on account of the human (instinctual) urge to undertake transcendent yearning. Given the salience of religious experience both cross-culturally and through human history, the human brain may have an instinctual urge—admittedly stronger in some people than others—to engage in transcendent experience whose orientation or focus is curiously beyond the capacities of the human brain.  If transcendence is simply one of many human qualities or abilities, pursuing its potential is consistent with the aims of Humanism: to develop human potential.

The key for Humanists whose transcendentalist urge is ardently felt lies in distinguishing the experience—the yearning itself—from whether religious objects exist beyond the limits of human cognition and perception. No such objects need be presumed to exist in order to engage in the human yearning whose focus lies inherently beyond the capacity of the brain; it is enough—and indeed, crucial—for the focus to be beyond. This is what enables Humanism to be religious without having to believe in God. Put another way, God for the Humanist may be the transcendence itself, rather than a transcendent entity. Both Augustine and Calvin stress that the Christian god is love; God is the love between people that issues out in universal benevolence. Yet such love, having a divine basis, cannot merely be moral in nature; transcendence cannot be of own kind, or sui generis, and yet reduce to morality. So a religious Humanism cannot simply be human morality; a unique way of being human hitherto assumed to be conditioned on belief in particular conceptions of religious objects (e.g., God) must be uncoupled for the Humanist to admit to his or her own human religious nature.

In summary, Humanism in the limited sense that it is commonly "understood" does not qualify as a religion for lack of transcendence. To niggardly hold to the ideologically constrained common view and presumptuously erase and replace the default meaning of religion does not do justice either to Humanism or religion. Like the "other shore" in Buddhism, the very existence of the abyss that Humanists and Theists alike insist separates Humanism and religion is, I submit, an illusion foisted by narrow-minded, partisan thinking. Humanism is not, but could be, religious.



1.  Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 89.
2.  Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 91.
3. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 91.
4. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 114.
5. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Religion, trans. Alexander Loos (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004), p. 7.
6. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 116.
7. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Religion, trans. Alexander Loos (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004), 4.
8. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 53.
9. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Religion, trans. Alexander Loos (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004), 11.
10. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Religion, trans. Alexander Loos (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004), 11.
11. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 111.
12. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 53.
13. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 53-54.
14. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 62.
15. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 37.
16. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 45.
17. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 38.







Sunday, May 28, 2017

On the Paradox of Transcendence and Self-Idolatry on Human Dynamics

Ironically, a focus on a transcendent religious object, or even on the experience of transcendence itself, can engender or bring about more humane human relations than may ensue from humanism.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Realive: Lazarus Reanimated!

In 2016, Robert McIntyre, a graduate of MIT, became the first person to freeze and then revive a mammalian brain—that of a white rabbit. “When thawed, the rabbit’s brain was found to have all of its synapse, cell membranes, and intracellular structures intact.”[1] The film, Realive, made that same year, is a fictional story about a man with terminal cancer who commits suicide to be frozen and revived when his illness could be cured. In the context of McIntyre’s scientific work, the film’s sci-fi demeanor belies the very real possibility that cryogenics could realistically alter fundamental assumptions about life and death even just later in the same century. What the film says about the life and death is timeless, however, in terms of philosophical value.

The full essay is at "Realive."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Spirituality as Distinctively Religious

To be at its fullest, the notion of spiritual leadership applied to business should not shirk the religious basis of spirituality to make it somehow more fitting to business-or a certain rendition of business. Many of Gilbert Fairholm’s descriptions of spirituality risk embalming spirituality in a secular tomb in keeping with the bias typically found in the business world against anything religious. Fortunately, some of his other characterizations of the term provide an alternative basis for an invigorated notion of spiritual leadership applied even in the business world.

To be sure, the increasing secularity enveloping Western society in the last half of the twentieth century doubtlessly supplied the gravitational pull under which the leadership scholar crafted his business-friendly notion of spirituality. Even so, his survey of managers on the topic must have swayed most—but crucially not all—of his characterizations.  “In a work context,” Fairholm explains, “spirituality is perceived to include a much broader range of experience while religion and faith are seen as limiting the discussion to experiences that arise in traditional religious institutions or ways of thinking.”[1] Most of the managers had non-religious, even secular, conceptions of spirituality. Morality figured prominently for the managers who believed that success in “leading on the basis of spirit is . . . based on a mutually accepted cultural morality”; the task of the leader being to create such a culture and then foster its “values and customs” among followers.[2] More narrowly, those managers believed that spirituality “in organizations refers to the inner values of the leader and the followers.”[3] Spirituality is essentially tucked into corporate culture, such that spiritual leadership is made more palatable in business terms yet at the cost of only a wan or enervated spiritual aspect remaining. Put another way, spirituality itself gets remade into leadership itself. In “standing for something bigger than you that others can believe in also,” spirituality “is also leadership.”[4] In fact, spirituality “is the quintessence of leadership.”[5] The managerial view of spirituality, as “those essential human values that teach us how our basic humanity fits within the overall scheme of things and how we can attain harmony in life and in our work,” is “the essence of leadership” when manifested.[6] Why then even use the expression, spiritual leadership then? Why not simply call it leadership and be rid of any inconvenient religious connotations?

In stating that spirituality “does not apply to particular religions,” Fairholm himself treats religion as if it had become taboo, although he does admit, “the values of some religions may be a part of a person’s spiritual focus.”[7]  To wit, he insists that there is “a clear difference between spirituality in religion, founded on sacred writ, and the spirit or soul of people, defined holistically as body and spirit, of the head and the heart. . . . spirit, a life-giving principle, that is concerned also with higher moral qualities.”[8] The problem here is that soul is a religious term, so it does not reduce to morality, and yet Fairholm characterizes spirituality as “the activating mechanism of our moral character” and declares that spiritual leaders are “moral leaders,” as if the two kinds of leadership were synonymous.[9]

Even so, Fairholm reports that some managers view spirituality as a “personal belief system” that highlights “being true to [a person’s own] beliefs, . . . internal values and ethics.”[10] This view effectively secularizes spirituality as a sort of ethical authenticity or integrity. Lest integrity be thought to have a religious tinge here in being “a function of feeling whole, total, connected,” its necessary use of self-discipline suggests that the wholeness or totality consists of a person’s motive, word, and deed rather than anything greater, such as communion with God.[11]

It bears stressing that religious faith does not reduce to morality; in fact, they may contradict each other. Kierkegaard, for example, points to the divine command given to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. “The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that he was willing to murder Isaac; the religious expression is that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac.”[12] It is only with respect to faith that the father of a faith is willing to murder his son, and herein lies the basic contradiction between a faith of divine decrees and a human moral system. Put another way, omnipotence (i.e., being all-powerful) cannot by its very nature be confined to fit within a moral system. What God wills is right because it is so willed.[13] Grace itself “is arbitrary love” because grace can also “condemn its object; thus it is a groundless, unessential, arbitrary, absolutely subjective, merely personal love.”[14] Abraham searches in vain for any ethical justification “for suspending the ethical duty to the son.”[15] Abraham’s higher duty is to do God’s will—and so to be wholly dependent on God’s grace. Accordingly, “the ethical is thus teleologically suspended.”[16] Abraham’s telos, or overriding goal, is to comply with the divine command “for the sake of God because God demands this proof of his faith.”[17] In faith, Abraham is an individual—a particular—above the universal, the moral.

In fact, a malevolent principle capable of immoral acts may be part of the very nature of faith. Within faith, says Feuerbach, “lies a malignant principle.”[18] The prejudiced nature of faith—its “(d)ogmatic, exclusive, scrupulous particularly”—does not play out among the faithful, but, rather, against heretics qua unbelievers.[19] This is so in any religion. Hence in Christianity, it is Christian faith that “is the ultimate ground” of the persecution of heretics.[20] “Faith recognizes man only on condition that he recognizes God.”[21] To the person who does not believe in the divine personality, religious hatred, it should be admitted, comes naturally, eclipsing even “universalistic” Christian neighbor-love. “He is not for Christ is against him; that which is not chiristian is antichristian.”[22] It would be to dishonor God to love those who dishonor God. “Hence faith has fellowship with believers only; unbelievers it rejects. It is well-disposed towards believers, but ill-disposed towards unbelievers.”[23] Hence Luther declares, “What I cannot love with God, I must hate; if they only preach something which is against God, all love and friendship is destoyed;--thereupon I hate thee, and do thee no good. For faith must be uppermost, and where the word of God is attacked, hate takes the place of love.”[24] Yet does not hate actually attack a deity which Augustine points out is love itself? Even so, Luther insists, “Rather than God’s word should fall and heresy stand, faith would wish all creatures to be destroyed; for through heresy men lose God himself.”[25] Is it not rather through hatred though? That even a faith of love admits so readily of partiality and thus of hatred suggests that malevolence enjoys a place at the table of faith, even crowding out morality. It follows that to reduce spirituality to morality is to seriously alter, or disfigure, faith.

Even so, Fairholm maintains that “(s)pirituality provides a moral point of view that reflects the cognitive and affective foundations of a mature conscience.”[26] Reave goes even further, bringing in the religious basis of spirituality. “The voice of conscience and values often comes from religious teachings or a spiritual sense of connection with a Higher Power or God.”[27] To be sure, “It is true that ethical values may be enacted without spiritual faith or intention. However, true spirituality cannot be demonstrated without ethical values.” [28] Spirituality must therefore provide a moral point of view.

Given the affective (i.e., of feelings, or sentiments) element of the foundation of a spiritual/moral conscience, Fairholm’s notion of spirituality may rest not on a moral basis; the foundation even of morality be sentiments. David Hume’s ethical theory provides a grounding for the ethics-feelings linkage; he considered the ethical judgment to simply be the sentiments of approbation (i.e., approval) and disapprobation. Determining an intent or act to be unethical is simply feeling the sentiment of disapprobation. Feuerbach provides the spirituality-sentiment linkage in his claim that “spirit is nothing outside of and without sensibility.” In fact, “spirit is only the essence, the sense, the spirit of the senses.” Because “God is nothing other than spirit conceived as universal,” God is therefore is actually of human sentiments.[29]

It is not surprising, therefore, that Fairholm found that for some managers, spirituality “is an emotional level, a feeling”—how we feel emotionally in soul and body.[30] Yet such a soul is limited to the emotional state of a person—hence a psychological rather than a religious construct, the confines of which are on this side of life. Similarly, as “the side of us that is searching for meaning, values, ethics, and life purposes,” spirituality is to some managers “any doctrine or philosophy that lifts us and gives meaning to our lives.”[31] Meaning, and that which we value and hold as ethical, can be well within life’s purposes, which in turn are literally biological in nature. A person’s life-force can be viewed as being similarly this-worldly.

Spirituality, Fairholm writes, “primarily has to do with our inner or private being, our ‘life-force.”[32] A person’s life-force is literally one’s energy. Spirit “is the essential, energizing force or principle in each person, the core of self.”[33] Although he suggests that “spirituality connotes the essence of who we are, our inner self, separate from the purely physical, but including the physical,”[34] here he has in mind the energizing part of the self. “The spiritual in us describes the animating or life-giving principle within us.”[35] It resides in a person, and yet Fairholm includes an other-worldly aspect. “Spirit refers to aliveness, the vitality dwelling in our body, the fountain of our energy. It involves constant spiritual awareness. Both the spiritual and the worldly coexist as a unified whole, overlapping.”[36] Notably, spirituality “in religious (doctrinaire) terms . . . is the quality . . . of recognizing the intangible, life-affirming force in self and all human beings. It is a state of intimate relationship with the inner self of higher values and morality.”[37] Yet such higher values have a human ceiling on account of the association with morality. “Spirit is each person’s vital, energizing force or principle, the core of self. It is inseparable from self. It is the fertile, invisible realm that is the wellspring for our species’ creativity and morality.”[38] As inseparable from self, the energizing force in a person may well be laudable morally speaking, but the transcendent element of spirituality is absent.

Even in Fairholm’s characterization of spiritual capacities as “a significant, even vital, part of our true self,”—a person’s spirituality being “the essence of who he or she is,” “rooted in our true nature”—such authenticity is in itself secular.[39] Managers who view spirituality as the essence of a person—the “inner self”—provide a “secular definition of the essence of the person.”[40] Likewise, spirit as “the part of us that we use or rely upon for comfort, strength, and happiness”—a view held many managers—is in personal rather than “metaphysical” terms.[41]  In other words, spirituality as “the deep inner self, striving for inner peace, happiness, contentment, meaning, purpose,” can be interpreted in a secular sense as personal development and satisfaction.[42]

Fairholm’s references to internal values in spirituality also deny the distinctly religious origin of the term.  For example, he states, “Spirituality is the process of living out a set of deeply held personal values, of honoring forces greater than the self.”[43]  A “relationship with something intangible, beyond the self” can still be within our realm—this worldly.[44] That is to say, going beyond the self is not necessarily religious in nature; Cicero’s other-concerning ethic involves going beyond the self, first to family, then on to friends. Yet in characterizing forces greater than the self as “a presence,” Fairholm provides a religious tint to the values in that they are oriented to an external being (i.e., God).[45] Even so, as just discussed, if the values are oriented to ethics and life purposes, the something beyond the self is this-worldly.

Fairholm reports that a significant proportion of managers view spirituality as “an inner awareness that makes integration of the self and world possible.”[46] This, according to the managers, is the essence of what distinguishes our species from all the others. Relatedly, Fairholm also reports that some managers in his study defined spirituality “as the acceptance of universal values.”[47] Accordingly, “we can define spiritual as the essential human values from around the world and across time that teach us how humanity belongs within the greater scheme of circumstance and how we can realize harmony in life and work.”[48] He believes that spirituality defined in this way “is critical to understanding organizational life and leadership.”[49] Such a wholeness, however, falls short of communion with something intangible that transcends the limits of human cognition, feeling, and perception, so the experience cannot be regarded as spiritual in a religious sense. Neither, by the way, is integration of individuals and an organization, such as a business, rightly spiritual in nature.

Nevertheless, a distinctly religious tint can be gleamed from some of Fairholm’s other characterizations of spirituality and two views he found held by managers; these descriptions can be useful, therefore, in carving out spirituality as distinct from ethics and life purposes such as contentment and happiness. In some of his characterizations of spirituality, Fairholm uses distinctly religious terms. For example, he points to a dictionary definition of spirituality that includes “the soul or inner nature of humans.”[50] He adds, “Spirituality enlarges our soul and gives it purpose.”[51]  The term soul is of course distinctively religious—a person’s soul being that which seeks its home in another realm, in God. A soul is not biological energy; nor is the aim simply being ethical or valuing life. Lest theism be frowned on, soul can be said to be that of a person which yearns for beyondness; the soul is that of a human being that is drawn to the experience of transcendence, whether oriented to an external religious object or inwardly in a qualitatively different sort of experience—as “inner consciousness.”[52]  Fairholm reports that some managers view spirituality as partaking “of the transcendent. It is acting out in thought and deeds the experience of the transcendent in human life.”[53] Transcendence holds in abeyance our experience of daily life—and even ordinary experience itself—with “an eye” oriented beyond the limits of human cognition and perception.  This view is thus in sync with the theistic belief in the divine as a deity.

Fairholm found that some managers viewed spirituality as an inner conviction if a higher, more intelligent force, which is not far from the view of God as an intelligent being. Spirituality is here the awareness that certain intangible principles or beliefs defy logical proof and in fact may seem impossible and yet be deemed trustworthy and valuable nonetheless. Such spirituality as faith highlights having a relationship with the higher power. Fairholm concludes that this managerial view of spirituality retains “strong religious overtones.”[54] Transcending the limits of our cognition (e.g., logic) and what we can perceive and even feel, God has a wholly other quality even though anthropomorphic trappings are—according to David Hume—inevitable given the nature of the mind. Nevertheless, Fairholm’s claim that spirituality “implies a relationship with something beyond the self” can be taken in a religious sense.[55] Hence spiritual leadership cannot be synonymous with ethical leadership. Nor can spiritual leadership just be about establishing harmony in corporate culture, the world or even life. Instead, such leadership must involve some sense of transcendence—an orientation beyond our world—and with real relevance in an utterly profane context such as business. In short, spiritual leadership combines two qualitatively different elements—spirituality and business-leadership—maintaining the integrity of both parts rather than caving one into the other.




1. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 73; Fairholm is drawing on Peter Vaill, Managing as a Performing Art (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989).


2. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 15.


3. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 219.


4. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 25.


5. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 54.


6. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 73.


7. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 29.


8. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 74.


9. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 192, 187.


10. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 31; Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 121.


11. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 144.


12. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (London: Penguin Books, 1985): 60.


13. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 320.


14. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 320.


15. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (London: Penguin Books, 1985): 86.


16. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (London: Penguin Books, 1985): 90.


17. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (London: Penguin Books, 1985): 88.


18. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 252


19. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 251.


20. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 321.


21. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 321.


22. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 251.


23. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 252.


24. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 325.


25.Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957): 325.


26. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 75.


27. Reave, Laura. “Spiritual Values and Practices Related to Leadership Effectiveness,” The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005): 664-65


28. Reave, Laura. “Spiritual Values and Practices Related to Leadership Effectiveness,” The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005): 665


29. Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, Ralph Manheim, trans. (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 86-87


30. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 31.


31. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 121; Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 30.


32. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 119.


33. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 79.


34. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 73.


35. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 25.


36. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 56.


37. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 29.


38. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 24.


39. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 130, 132, 29, 75.


40.  Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 30.


41. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 30.


42. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 56; See Jack Hawley, Reawakening the Spirit in Work: The Power of Dharmic Management (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1993).


43. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 131.


44. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 121.


45. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 107.


46. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 120; Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 30.


47. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 30.


48. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997); See Berry Heerman, “Spiritual Core Is essential to High Performing Teams,” In The New Leaders (San Francisco: Sterling and Stone, March/April, 1995).


49. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 30.


50. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 219.


51. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 131.


52. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 65.


53. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 31. See Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 121.


54. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 30.


55. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 130, 132.