The Impropriety, If Not Impiety, of Mysticism


mug with life is a mystery on itImage: “life is a mystery” mug, a photo by Flickr user Cheryl, used under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

In The Fountainhead (1996 Signet paperback edition), Ayn Rand, atheist philosopher-novelist and widely known proponent of a godless and (to my eye) Nietzschean version of capitalism, caricatures the mystical mindset, with its frequent appeals to the “mysterious” and the “ineffable,” in the person of her character Peter Keating. She writes:

Peter Keating had never felt the need to formulate abstract convictions. But he had a working substitute. “A thing is not high if one can reach it; it is not great if one can reason about it; it is not deep if one can see its bottom”—this had always been his credo, unstated and unquestioned. This spared him any attempt to reach, reason or see; and it cast a nice reflection of scorn on those who made the attempt. (233)

Since humans can have experiences that they either are not permitted to verbalize (2 Corinthians 12:2–4) or that they are unable to verbalize (Romans 8:26), Bible believers would be wrong to condemn every appeal to the mystical, mysterious, and ineffable. Rand’s words, however, should caution us against making such appeals too quickly or too frequently. God did not inspire a lengthy collection of books, preserve them for us through the ages, and gift us with intellects able to understand them so that we could lazily elevate the unknown and unknowable in their place. If we are honest, almost all things we feel inclined to call mysterious or ineffable are in fact just things that we have not yet fully explored and come to understand, or that we have not yet figured out how to describe in words. By keeping this in mind, and communicating accordingly, we may avoid encouraging unbelievers to think Rand’s caricature a fair portrayal of us.

Of course, “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18), so we should not be surprised if many unbelievers continue to believe this and other unfair caricatures. Such caricatures are just one more way for unbelievers to suppress the truth they can’t help being aware of but don’t want to believe (Romans 1:18).


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One Response to The Impropriety, If Not Impiety, of Mysticism

  1. Pingback: Shall We Listen to the Peacemakers? | Pious Eye: Seeing by the True Light

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