Is There a Postsecular Transcendence?

There are religious and secular gatherings. I know both.

Within religious gatherings, for example church conventions or theological conferences, it is normal to insert certain traditional practices into the procedure: singing for example, or prayer, silence, bible study. Although I sometimes and somehow like these forms of opening up for another reality that we Christians normally call „God“, I often feel embarrassed by their real performance. Why? First, because, acting them out, we are usually supposed to call THE MYSTERY „Lord“ or „King“ or „Creator“ although everybody knows that IT is not male. Second, because we use a language that is either time-honored but does not express what we really believe or an awkwardly modernistic ingratiation. Third, because usually nobody thinks about the fact that, by singing certain traditional songs, we might exclude people who have somehow arrived here but belong to another tradition. Fourth, because I know that my sister, for example, would never attend one of these meetings since, as a musician, she fears the claustrophobic and tasteless customs that insiders consider to be normal – or have simply got used to.

So, being fed up with all these contradictions and ambiguous feelings, I enjoy the gatherings of secular people where nobody thinks of interrupting debates by petty songs or moments of strange worship of „The Lord“. In these meetings plainly and simply one comes after the other: lectures, panels, questions, debates, coffee breaks, workshops, plenary sessions, luncheons, receptions, book presentations, informal conversations, meeting friends, parties, bedtime. It’s very efficient, it’s very informative, it’s very good for career management, it’s …, it’s so tiring and self-involved. There is missing something. I’m craving silence, singing…

What is missing?

It is possible to understand the traditional customs that are habitually part of religious gatherings not as an outdated practice but as a structure that makes sense. What sense does it make to discontinue a conference by carrying out certain rituals that, by apparently sidetracking our attention, at first glance seem to be a mere waste of time? – I think that the wholesome meaning of these practices consists in an opening up for the outside, for a wider context, for transcendence in a broad sense, in bringing to mind that what we are doing in here is not the center of the world and not an end in itself, but should be connected to the well-being of all. Opening up a conference in this sense is at the same time relaxing and challenging: we are not able and we do not have to save the world right here and now, but we are able and we are bound to continually create connections to THE MYSTERY that, as we know from all our religious traditions, is, essentially, justice, peace and wellbeing for all…

How will we, in a world that cant return to traditional forms of religion but nevertheless feels the void left behind by them, find new ways of relating to what could be called postreligious or postsecular transcendence?

Silence is what first comes to my mind. Moments of common quiet or rest could be a relatively feasible, plausible, non-embarrassing practice to begin with. Common interruptions of the seemingly eternal frantic flow of speech not accidentally seem to be part of all religious traditions. In a secular context they would allow all of us to find our own words inside, to link to our own manner of being connected to THE WHOLE. Finding words or rituals beyond a mere common time-out will be much more difficult. The European Enlightenment’s project to create a neutral and rational religion has already failed, so let’s be patient…

There is another quite surprising experience that I made during my last conference that was the 24th annual conference of the “International Association for Feminist Economics” in July 2015 in Berlin: Instead of joining the crowd for a reception in the evening of a very intense and packed Friday I returned to my WLAN-equipped room. I poured myself a glass of wine, I sat down by the window, watching the busy Berlin street outside, gradually calming down, and then I turned to Social Media, summarizing what were the conference’s essential insights for me, sharing them with my Facebook friends and Twitter followers. It was a process of turning the inside out to the world, to the cosmos, an opening up to another reality that we Christians normally don’t call “God” – but that, in this very moment, felt a bit like (touching) the immemorial and ever-present MYSTERY…

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