Personal Illumination, Revelation, Ecstasy

Cover. Nipple Mountain [2014] Photography: Katya Smolina.


This text is an excerpt from Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences [1964] by psychologist and philosopher, Abraham Harold Maslow [1908 - 1970].



Since this book was first written, there has been much turmoil in the world and, therefore, much to learn. Several of the lessons I have learned are relevant here, certainly in the sense that they are helpful supplements to the main thesis of the book. Or perhaps I should call them warnings about over-extreme, dangerous, and one-sided uses of this thesis. Of course, this is a standard hazard for thinkers who try to be holistic, integrative, and inclusive. They learn inevitably that most people think atomistically, in terms of either-or, black-white, all in or all out, of mutual exclusiveness and separativeness. A good example of what I mean is the mother who gave her son two ties for his birthday. As he put on one of them to please her, she asked sadly, 'And why do you hate the other tie?'

I think I can best state my warning against polarisation and dichotomising by a historical approach. I see in the history of many organised religions a tendency to develop two extreme wings: the 'mystical' and individual on the one hand, and the legalistic and organisational on the other ... Most people lose or forget the subjectively religious experience, and redefine Religion* as a set of habits, behaviors, dogmas, forms, which at the extreme becomes entirely legalistic and bureaucratic, conventional, empty, and in the truest meaning of the word, anti-religious. The mystic experience, the illumination, the great awakening, along with the charismatic seer who started the whole thing, are forgotten, lost, or transformed into their opposites. Organised Religion, the churches, finally may become the major enemies of the religious experience and the religious experiencer. This is a main thesis of this book.

* I have found it useful to differentiate the subjective and naturalistic religious experience and attitude from the institutionalised, conventional, organised Religions by using lower case for the former [calling it [small r[ religion[] and capitalising the R in 'big R Religion.'


Chapter I. 


Some time ago, after the Supreme Court decision on prayer in the public schools, a so-called patriotic women's organisation - I forget which one - bitterly attacked the decision as antireligious. They were in favor of 'spiritual values,' they said, whereas the Supreme Court was destroying them.

I am very much in favor of a clear separation of church and state, and my reaction was automatic: I disagreed with the women's organisation. But then something happened that set me to thinking for many months. It dawned on me that I, too, was in favour of spiritual values and that, indeed, my researches and theoretical investigations had gone far toward demonstrating their reality. I had reacted in an automatic way against the whole statement by the organisation, thereby implicitly accepting its erroneous definition and concept of spiritual values. 

In a word, I had allowed these intellectual primitives to capture a good word and to put their peculiar meaning to it, just as they had taken the fine word 'patriotic' and contaminated and destroyed it. I had let them redefine these words and had then accepted their definitions. And now I want to take them back. I want to demonstrate that spiritual values have naturalistic meaning, that they are not the exclusive possession of organised churches, that they do not need supernatural concepts to validate them, that they are well within the jurisdiction of a suitably enlarged science, and that, therefore, they are the general responsibility of all mankind.


'I want to demonstrate that spiritual values have naturalistic meaning, that they are not the exclusive possession of organised churches, that they do not need supernatural concepts to validate them, that they are well within the jurisdiction of a suitably enlarged science, and that, therefore, they are the general responsibility of all mankind.'


That is to say, very many people in our society apparently see organised religion as the locus [a particular position or place where something occurs or is situated], the source, the custodian and guardian and teacher of the spiritual life. Its methods, its style of teaching, its content are widely and officially accepted as the path, by many as the only path, to the life of righteousness, of purity and virtue, of justice and goodness, etc.

This is also true, paradoxically enough, for many orthodoxly positivistic* scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals. Pious positivists as a group accept the same strict dichotomising [divisions; contrasts] of facts and values that the professional religionists do. Since they exclude ['spiritual'] values from the realm of science and from the realm of exact, rational, positivistic† knowledge, all values are turned over by default to nonscientists and to non-rationalists [i. e., to 'non-knowers'] to deal with. Therefore, it appears that such scientists and such philosophers really have no argument either for or against the churches; even though, as a group, they are not very likely to respect the churches. [Even this lack of respect is, for them, only a matter of taste and cannot be supported scientifically.]

positivism [n.] Generally, any system that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical [what cannot be reached through objective studies of material reality] speculations.

Something of this sort is certainly true for many psychologists and many educators. It is almost universally true for the positivistic psychologists, the behaviorists, the neobehaviorists, and the ultra-experimentalists, all of whom feel values and the life of value to be none of their professional concern, and who casually renounce all consideration of poetry and art and of any of the religious or transcendent experiences. Indeed, the pure positivist rejects any inner experiences of any kind as being 'unscientific,' as not in the realm of human knowledge, as not susceptible of study by a scientific method, because such data are not objective, that is to say, public and shared. This is a kind of 'reduction to the concrete,' to the tangible, the visible, the audible, to that which can be recorded by a machine, to behaviour.

The other dominating theory of psychology, the Freudian, coming from a very different compass direction winds up at a similar terminus, denying that it has anything much to do with spiritual or ethical values. Freud himself and H. Hartman after him say something like this: 'The only goal of the psychoanalytic method is to undo repressions and all other defenses against seeing unpleasant truth; it has nothing to do with ideologies, indoctrinations, religious dogmas or teaching a way of life or system of values.' Observe here the unwitting acceptance of the unexamined belief that values are taught, in the traditional sense of indoctrination, and that they must, therefore, be arbitrary, and also that they really have nothing to do with facts, with truth, with discovery, with uncovering the values and 'value-hungers' that lie deeply within human nature itself.

And so official, orthodox, Freudian psychoanalysis remains essentially a system of psychopathology and of cure of psychopathology. It does not supply us with a psychology of the higher life or of the 'spiritual life,' of what the human being should grow toward, of what he can become [although I believe psychoanalytic method and theory is a necessary substructure for any such 'higher' or growth psychology. Freud came out of nineteenth-century, mechanistic, physicalchemical, reductionistic science; and there his more Talmudic followers remain, at least with respect to the theory of values and everything that has to do with values]. 

Indeed this reductionism goes so far sometimes that the Freudians seem almost to say that the 'higher life' is just a set of 'defenses against the instincts,' especially denial and reaction-formation. Thus, psychoanalysis often comes perilously close to being a nihilistic* and value-denying philosophy of man. It must be said to Freud's credit that, though he was at his poorest with all the questions of transcendence, he is still to be preferred to the behaviorists who not only have no answers but who also deny the very questions themselves.

* nihilism [n.] 1817, 'the doctrine of negation' [in reference to religion or morals]. In philosophy, an extreme form of skepticism. The political sense, 'rejection of fundamental social and political structures'.  

Neither are the humanistic* scholars and artists of any great help these days. They used to be, and were supposed to be, as a group, carriers of and teachers of the eternal verities [truths] and the higher life. The goal of humanistic studies was defined as the perception and knowledge of the good, the beautiful, and the true. Such studies were expected to refine the discrimination between what is excellent and what is not [excellence generally being understood to be the true, the good, and the beautiful]. They were supposed to inspire the student to the better life, to the higher life, to goodness and virtue. What was truly valuable, Matthew Arnold said, was 'the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world.' And no one disagreed with him. Nor did it need to be spelled out that he meant knowledge of the classics; these were the universally accepted models.

* humanistic [adj.] In reference to Renaissance or classical humanism. From 1904 in reference to a modern philosophy that concerns itself with the interests of the human race.


'Neither are the humanistic scholars and artists of any great help these days. They used to be, and were supposed to be, as a group, carriers of and teachers of .... discrimination between what is excellent and what is not [excellence generally being understood to be the true, the good, and the beautiful]. They were supposed to inspire the student to the better life, to the higher life, to goodness and virtue. What was truly valuable, Matthew Arnold said, was 'the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world.' And no one disagreed with him. Nor did it need to be spelled out that he meant knowledge of the classics; these were the universally accepted models.'


But in recent years and to this day, most humanistic scholars and most artists have shared in the general collapse of all traditional values. And when these values collapsed, there were no others readily available as replacements. And so today, a very large proportion of our artists, novelists, dramatists, critics, literary and historical scholars are disheartened or pessimistic or despairing, and a fair proportion are nihilistic or cynical [in the sense of believing that no 'good life' is possible and that the so-called higher values are all a fake and a swindle].

Certainly the young student coming to the study of the arts and the humanities will find therein no inspiring certainties. What criterion of selection does he have between, let us say, Tolstoy and Kafka, between Renoir and DeKooning, or between Brahms and Cage? And which well-known artists or writers today are trying to teach, to inspire, to conduce to virtue? Which of them could even use this word 'virtue' without gagging? Upon which of them can an 'idealistic' young man model himself?

No, it is quite clear from our experience of the last fifty years or so that the pre-1914 certainties of the humanists, of the artists, of the dramatists and poets, of the philosophers, of the critics, and of those who are generally inner-directed have given way to a chaos of relativism*. No one of these people now knows how and what to choose, nor does he know how to defend and to validate his choice. Not even the critics who are fighting nihilism and valuelessness can do much except to attack, as, for instance, Joseph Wood Krutch does; and he has nothing very inspiring or affirmative to suggest that we fight for, much less die for.

* relativism [n.] 1865, in philosophy, 'the doctrine that knowledge is only of relations'.  Roughly put, it is the claim that standards of truth, rationality, and ethical right and wrong vary greatly between cultures and historical epochs and that there are no universal criteria for adjudicating between them.

Only truth itself can be our foundation, our base for building. Only empirical, naturalistic knowledge, in its broadest sense, can serve us now. I hesitate to use the word 'science' here, because this itself is a moot concept; and I shall be suggesting later in this essay an overhauling and redefinition of science that-could make it capable of serving better our value purposes, to make it more inclusive and less excluding, more accepting of the world and less snobbish about its jurisdictions. It is in this broader sense, which I shall be sketching out, that science - meaning all confirmable knowledge in all its stages of development - begins to look capable of handling values.

Especially will our new knowledge of human nature probably give the humanists and the artists, as well as the religionists, the firm criteria of selection, which they now lack, to choose between the many value possibilities which clamor for belief, so many that the chaos may fairly be called valuelessness.


Chapter II. 

Dichotomised Science and Dichotomised Religion 

My thesis is, in general, that new developments in psychology are forcing a profound change in our philosophy of science, a change so extensive that we may be able to accept the basic religious questions as a proper part of the jurisdiction of science, once science is broadened and redefined.

It is because both science and religion have been too narrowly conceived, and have been too exclusively dichotomised and separated from each other, that they have been seen to be two mutually exclusive worlds. To put it briefly, this separation permitted nineteenth-century science to become too exclusively mechanistic, too positivistic, too reductionistic, too desperately attempting to be value-free. It mistakenly conceived of itself as having nothing to say about ends or ultimate values or spiritual values. This is the same as saying that these ends are entirely outside the range of natural human knowledge, that they can never be known in a confirmable, validated way, in a way that could satisfy intelligent men, as facts satisfy them.


'To put it briefly, this separation permitted nineteenth-century science to become too exclusively mechanistic, too positivistic, too reductionistic, too desperately attempting to be value-free. It mistakenly conceived of itself as having nothing to say about ends or ultimate values or spiritual values .... Such an attitude dooms science to be nothing more than technology, amoral and non-ethical.'


Such an attitude dooms science to be nothing more than technology, amoral and non-ethical [as the coronavirus hoax taught us]. Such a science can be no more than a collection of instrumentalities, methods, techniques, nothing but a tool to be used by any man, good or evil, and for any ends, good or evil. This dichotomising of knowledge and values has also pathologised the organised religions by cutting them off from facts, from knowledge, from science, even to the point of often making them the enemies of scientific knowledge. In effect, it tempts them to say that they have nothing more to learn.

But something is happening now to both science and religion, at least to their more intelligent and sophisticated representatives. These changes make possible a very different attitude by the less narrow scientist toward the religious questions, at least to the naturalistic, humanistic, religious questions.

Just as each science was once a part of the body of organised religion but then broke away to become independent, so also it can be said that the same thing may now be happening to the problems of values, ethics, spirituality, morals. They are being taken away from the exclusive jurisdiction of the institutionalised churches and are becoming the 'property,' so to speak, of a new type of humanistic scientist who is vigorously denying the old claim of the established religions to be the sole arbiters of all questions of faith and morals.   

Isolating two interrelated parts of a whole from each other, parts that need each other, parts that are truly 'parts' and not wholes, distorts them both, sickens and contaminates them. Ultimately, it even makes them nonviable. An illustration of this point can be found in Philip Wylie's fascinating novel The Disappearance. When men and women disappear into two separated, isolated worlds, both sexes become corrupted and pathologised. The point is driven home fully that they need each other in order to be themselves.

Dichotomised Religion

When all that could be called 'religious' [naturalistically as well as supernaturalistically] was cut away from science, from knowledge, from further discovery, from the possibility of skeptical investigation, from confirming and disconfirming, and, therefore, from the possibility of purifying and improving, such a dichotomised religion was doomed. It tended to claim that the founding revelation was complete, perfect, final, and eternal. It had the truth, the whole truth, and had nothing more to learn, thereby being pushed into the position that has destroyed so many churches, of resisting change, of being only conservative, of being anti-intellectual and anti-scientific, of making piety and obedience exclusive of skeptical intellectuality - in effect, of contradicting naturalistic truth.

Such a split-off religion generates split-off and partial definition of all necessary concepts. For example, faith, which has perfectly respectable naturalistic meanings, as for example in Fromm's writings, tends in the hands of an anti-intellectual church to degenerate into blind belief, sometimes even 'belief in what you know ain't so.' It tends to become unquestioning obedience and last-ditch loyalty no matter what. It tends to produce sheep rather than men. It tends to become arbitrary and authoritarian.

The word 'sacred' is another instance of the pathologising by isolation and by splitting-off. If the sacred becomes the exclusive jurisdiction of a priesthood, and if its supposed validity rests only upon supernatural foundations, then, in effect, it is taken out of the world of nature and of human nature. It is dichotomised sharply from the profane or secular and begins to have nothing to do with them, or even becomes their contradictory. It becomes associated with particular rites and ceremonies, with a particular day of the week, with a particular building, with a particular language, even with a particular musical instrument or certain foods. It does not infuse all of life but becomes compartmentalised. It is not the property then of all men, but only of some. It is no longer ever-present as a possibility in the everyday affairs of men but becomes instead a museum piece without daily usefulness; in effect, such a religion must separate the actual from the ideal and rupture the necessary dynamic interplay between them.

What happens then? We have seen often enough throughout history the church whose pieties are mouthed in the middle of human exploitation and degradation as if the one had nothing to do with the other ['Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's']. This pie-in-the-sky kind of religion, which often enough has turned into an actual support of daily evil, is almost inevitable when the existent has no intrinsic and constant connection with the ideal, when heaven is off some place far away from the earth, when human improvement becomes impossible in the world but can be achieved only by renouncing the world.

And this brings us to the other half of the dichotomy, dichotomised science. Whatever we may say about split-off religion is very similar or complementary to what we may say of split-off science.

Dichotomised Science

For instance, in the division of the ideal and the actual, dichotomised science claims that it deals only with the actual and the existent and that it has nothing to do with the ideal, that is to say, with the ends, the goals, the purposes of life, i.e., with end-values. Any criticism that could be made of half-religion can equally be made of half-science in a complementary way.

For instance, corresponding to the blind religions' 'reduction to the abstract' - its blindness to the raw fact, to the concrete, to living human experience itself - we find in non-aspiring science a 'reduction to the concrete,' and to the tangible and immediately visible and audible. It becomes amoral, even sometimes antimoral and even anti-human, merely technology which can be bought by anyone for any purpose, like the German 'scientists'* who could work with equal zeal for Nazis, for Communists, or for Americans. We have been taught very amply in the last few decades that science can be dangerous to human ends and that scientists can become monsters as long as science is conceived to be akin to a chess game, an end in itself, with arbitrary rules, whose only purpose is to explore the existent, and which then makes the fatal blunder of excluding subjective experience from the realm of the existent or explorable.

* Operation Paperclip [n.] A secret United States intelligence program - , between 1945 and 1959 - in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were taken from former Nazi Germany to the U.S. for government employment after the end of World War II in Europe. Key recruit includes aerospace engineer and space architect Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun [1912 – 1977], who worked with Walt Disney and NASA - where he served as director until 1972.

So also for the exclusion of the sacred and the transcendent from the jurisdiction of science. This makes impossible in principle the study, for instance, of certain aspects of the abstract: psychotherapy, naturalistic religious experience, creativity, symbolism, play, the theory of love, mystical and peak-experiences, not to mention poetry, art, and a lot more [since these all involve an integration of the realm of Being with the realm of the concrete].

And so it could go on and on almost indefinitely. I have already written much on scientistic, nineteenth-century, orthodox science, and intend to write more. Here I have been dealing with it from the point of view of the dichotomising of science and religion, of facts [merely and solely] from values [merely and solely], and have tried to indicate that such a splitting off of mutually exclusive jurisdictions must produce cripple-science and cripple-religion, cripple-facts and cripple-values.


'One could say that the nineteenth-century atheist had burnt down the house instead of remodeling it. He had thrown out the religious questions with the religious answers, because he had to reject the religious answers. That is, he turned his back on the whole religious enterprise because organised religion presented him with a set of answers which he could not intellectually accept - which rested on no evidence which a self-respecting scientist could swallow.'


Obviously such a conclusion concerns the spiritual and ethical values that I started with [as well as the needs and hungers for these values]. Very obviously, such values and such hungers cannot be handed over to any church for safekeeping. They cannot be removed from the realm of human inquiry, of skeptical examination, of empirical investigation. But I have tried to demonstrate that orthodox science neither wants this job nor is able to carry it out. Clearly what is needed then is an expanded science, with larger powers and methods, a science which is able to study values and to teach mankind about them. 

Such a science would and - insofar as it already exists - does include much that has been called religious. As a matter of fact, this expanded science includes among its concerns practically everything in religion that can bear naturalistic observation [research methodology in which data are collected as they occur in nature, without any manipulation by the observer].

Let me try to say it in still another way. One could say that the nineteenth-century atheist had burnt down the house instead of remodeling it. He had thrown out the religious questions with the religious answers, because he had to reject the religious answers. That is, he turned his back on the whole religious enterprise because organised religion presented him with a set of answers which he could not intellectually accept - which rested on no evidence which a self-respecting scientist could swallow. But what the more sophisticated scientist is now in the process of learning is that though he must disagree with most of the answers to the religious questions which have been given by organised religion, it is increasingly clear that the religious questions themselves - and religious quests, the religious yearnings, the religious needs themselves - are perfectly respectable scientifically, that they are rooted deep in human nature, that they can be studied, described, examined in a scientific way, and that the churches were trying to answer perfectly sound human questions. Though the answers were not acceptable, the questions themselves were and are perfectly acceptable, and perfectly legitimate.


Chapter III. 

The 'Core-Religious,' or 'Transcendent,' Experience 

The very beginning, the intrinsic core, the essence, the universal nucleus of every known high religion [unless Confucianism is also called a religion] has been the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer. The high religions call themselves revealed religions and each of them tends to rest its validity, its function, and its right to exist on the codification and the communication of this original mystic experience or revelation from the lonely prophet to the mass of human beings in general.

But it has recently begun to appear that these 'revelations' or mystical illuminations can be subsumed under the head of the 'peak-experiences' or 'ecstasies' or 'transcendent' experiences which are now being eagerly investigated by many psychologists. That is to say, it is very likely, indeed almost certain, that these older reports, phrased in terms of supernatural revelation, were, in fact, perfectly natural, human peak-experiences of the kind that can easily be examined today, which, however, were phrased in terms of whatever conceptual, cultural, and linguistic framework the particular seer had available in his time.

In a word, we can study today what happened in the past and was then explainable in supernatural terms only. By so doing, we are enabled to examine religion in all its facets and in all its meanings in a way that makes it a part of science rather than something outside and exclusive of it.

Also this kind of study leads us to another very plausible hypothesis: to the extent that all mystical or peak-experiences are the same in their essence and have always been the same, all religions are the same in their essence and always have been the same. They should, therefore, come to agree in principle on teaching that which is common to all of them, i. e., whatever it is that peak-experiences teach in common. This something common, this something which is left over after we peel away all the localisms, all the accidents of particular languages or particular philosophies, all the ethnocentric phrasings, all those elements which are not common, we may call the 'core-religious experience' or the 'transcendent experience.'

To understand this better, we must differentiate the prophets in general from the organisers or legalists in general as [abstracted] types. The characteristic prophet is a lonely man who has discovered his truth about the world, the cosmos, ethics, God, and his own identity from within, from his own personal experiences, from what he would consider to be a revelation. Usually, perhaps always, the prophets of the high religions have had these experiences when they were alone.

Characteristically the abstraction-type of the legalist-ecclesiastic is the conserving organisation man, an officer and arm of the organisation, who is loyal to the structure of the organisation which has been built up on the basis of the prophet's original revelation in order to make the revelation available to the masses. From everything we know about organisations, we may very well expect that people will become loyal to it, as well as to the original prophet and to his vision; or at least they will become loyal to the organisation's version of the prophet's vision. I may go so far as to say that characteristically [and I mean not only the religious organisations but also parallel organisations like the Communist Party or like revolutionary groups] these organisations can be seen as a kind of punch card or IBM version of an original revelation or mystical experience or peak-experience to make it suitable for group use and for administrative convenience.

The Non-Peaker

It will be helpful here to talk about a pilot investigation, still in its beginnings, of the people I have called 'non-peakers:' the person who is afraid of [the peak-experience], who suppresses them, who denies them, who turns away from them, or who 'forgets' them. Any person whose character structure [or Weltanschauung, or way of life] forces him to try to be extremely or completely rational or 'materialistic' or mechanistic tends to become a non-peaker. That is, such a view of life tends to make the person regard his peak-and transcendent experiences as a kind of insanity, a complete loss of control, a sense of being overwhelmed by irrational emotions, etc. The person who is afraid of going insane and who is, therefore, desperately hanging on to stability, control, reality, etc., seems to be frightened by peak-experiences and tends to fight them off. For the compulsive-obsessive person, who organises his life around the denying and the controlling of emotion, the fear of being overwhelmed by an emotion [which is interpreted as a loss of control] is enough for him to mobilise all his stamping-out and defensive activities against the peak-experience.

I have one instance of a very convinced Marxian who denied - that is, who turned away from - a legitimate peak-experience, finally classifying it as some kind of peculiar but unimportant thing that had happened but that had best be forgotten because this experience conflicted with her whole materialistic mechanistic philosophy of life. I have found a few non-peakers who were ultra-scientific, that is, who espoused the nineteenth-century conception of science as an unemotional or anti-emotional activity which was ruled entirely by logic and rationality and who thought anything which was not logical and rational had no respectable place in life. [I suspect also that extremely 'practical,' i. e., exclusively means-oriented, people will turn out to be non-peakers, since such experiences earn no money, bake no bread, and chop no wood. So also for extremely other-directed people, who scarcely know what is going on inside themselves. 

If you will permit me to use this developing but not yet validated vocabulary, I may then say simply that the relationship between the prophet and the ecclesiastic, between the lonely mystic and the [perfectly extreme] religious-organisation man may often be a relationship between peaker and non-peaker. Much theology, much verbal religion through history and throughout the world, can be considered to be the more or less vain efforts to put into communicable words and formulae, and into symbolic rituals and ceremonies, the original mystical experience of the original prophets.

In a word, organised religion can be thought of as an effort to communicate peak-experiences to non-peakers, to teach them, to apply them, etc. Often, to make it more difficult, this job falls into the hands of non-peakers. On the whole we now would expect that this would be a vain effort, at least so far as much of mankind is concerned. The peak-experiences and their experiential reality ordinarily are not transmittable to nonpeakers, at least not by words alone, and certainly not by nonpeakers. What happens to many people, especially the ignorant, the uneducated, the naive, is that they simply concretise all of the symbols, all of the words, all of the statues, all of the ceremonies, and by a process of functional autonomy make them, rather than the original revelation, into the sacred things and sacred activities.

That is to say, this is simply a form of the idolatry [or fetishism] which has been the curse of every large religion. In idolatry the essential original meaning gets so lost in concretisations that these finally become hostile to the original mystical experiences, to mystics, and to prophets in general, that is, to the very people that we might call from our present point of view the truly religious people. Most religions have wound up denying and being antagonistic to the very ground upon which they were originally based.

If you look closely at the internal history of most of the world religions, you will find that each one very soon tends to divide into a left-wing and a right-wing, that is, into the peakers, the mystics, the transcenders, or the privately religious people, on the one hand, and, on the other, into those who concretise the religious symbols and metaphors, who worship little pieces of wood rather than what the objects stand for, those who take verbal formulas literally, forgetting the original meaning of these words, and, perhaps most important, those who take the organisation, the church, as primary and as more important than the prophet and his original revelations. These men, like many organisation men who tend to rise to the top in any complex bureaucracy, tend to be non-peakers rather than peakers.

This cleavage between the mystics and the legalists, if I may call them that, remains at best a kind of mutual tolerance, but it has happened in some churches that the rulers of the organisation actually made a heresy out of the mystic experiences and persecuted the mystics themselves. This may be an old story in the history of religion, but I must point out that it is also an old story in other fields. For instance, we can certainly say today that professional philosophers tend to divide themselves into the same kind of characterologically based left-wing and right-wing. Most official, orthodox philosophers today are the equivalent of legalists who reject the problems and the data of transcendence as 'meaningless.'

That is, they are positivists, atomists, analysts, concerned with means rather than with ends. They sharpen tools rather than discover truths. These people contrast sharply with another group of contemporary philosophers, the existentialists and the phenomenologists. These are the people who tend to fall back on experiencing as the primary datum from which everything starts. A similar split can be detected in psychology, in anthropology, and, I am quite sure, in other fields as well, perhaps in all human enterprises. I often suspect that we are dealing here with a profoundly characterological or constitutional difference in people which may persist far into the future, a human difference which may be universal and may continue to be so. The job then will be to get these two kinds of people to understand each other, to get along well with each other, even to love each other. This problem is paralleled by the relations between men and women who are so different from each other and yet who have to live with each other and even to love each other.

To summarise, it looks quite probable that the peak-experience may be the model of the religious revelation or the religious illumination or conversion which has played so great a role in the history of religions. But, because peak-experiences are in the natural world and because we can research with them and investigate them, and because our knowledge of such experiences is growing and may be confidently expected to grow in the future, we may now fairly hope to understand more about the big revelations, conversions, and illuminations upon which the high religions were founded.

[Not only this, but I may add a new possibility for scientific investigation of transcendence. In the last few years it has become quite clear that certain drugs called 'psychedelic,' especially LSD and psilocybin, give us some possibility of control in this realm of peak-experiences. It looks as if these drugs often produce peak-experiences in the right people under the right circumstances, so that perhaps we needn't wait for them to occur by good fortune. Perhaps we can actually produce a private personal peak-experience under observation and whenever we wish under religious or nonreligious circumstances. We may then be able to study in its moment of birth the experience of illumination or revelation. Even more important, it may be that these drugs, and perhaps also hypnosis, could be used to produce a peak-experience, with core-religious revelation, in non-peakers, thus bridging the chasm between these two separated halves of mankind.]

To approach this whole discussion from another angle, in effect what I have been saying is that the evidence from the peak-experiences permits us to talk about the essential, the intrinsic, the basic, the most fundamental religious or transcendent experience as a totally private and personal one which can hardly be shared [except with other 'peakers']. As a consequence, all the paraphernalia of organised religion-buildings and specialised personnel, rituals, dogmas, ceremonials, and the like - are to the 'peaker' secondary, peripheral, and of doubtful value in relation to the intrinsic and essential religious or transcendent experience.

Perhaps they may even be very harmful in various ways. From the point of view of the peak-experiencer, each person has his own private religion, which he develops out of his own private revelations in which are revealed to him his own private myths and symbols, rituals and ceremonials, which may be of the profoundest meaning to him personally and yet completely idiosyncratic, i.e., of no meaning to anyone else. But to say it even more simply, each 'peaker' discovers, develops, and retains his own religion.

In addition, what seems to be emerging from this new source of data is that this essential core-religious experience may be embedded either in a theistic, supernatural context or in a non-theistic context. This private religious experience is shared by all the great world religions including the atheistic ones like Buddhism, Taoism, Humanism, or Confucianism. As a matter of fact, I can go so far as to say that this intrinsic core-experience is a meeting ground not only, let us say, for Christians and Jews and Mohammedans but also for priests and atheists, for communists and anti-communists, for conservatives and liberals, for artists and scientists, for men and for women, and for different constitutional types, that is to say, for athletes and for poets, for thinkers and for doers. 

I say this because our findings indicate that all or almost all people have or can have peak-experiences. Both men and women have peak-experiences, and all kinds of constitutional types have peak-experiences, but, although the content of the peak-experiences is approximately as I have described for all human beings, the situation or the trigger which sets off peak-experience, for instance in males and females, can be quite different. These experiences can come from different sources, but their content may be considered to be very similar. To sum it up, from this point of view, the two religions of mankind tend to be the peakers and the non-peakers, that is to say, those who have private, personal, transcendent, core-religious experiences easily and often and who accept them and make use of them, and, on the other hand, those who have never had them or who repress or suppress them and who, therefore, cannot make use of them for their personal therapy, personal growth, or personal fulfillment.


Chapter IV. 

Organisational Dangers to Transcendent Experiences

It has sometimes seemed to me as I interviewed 'nontheistic* religious people' that they had more religious [or transcendent] experiences than conventionally religious people. Partly this may have been because they were more often 'serious' about values, ethics, life-philosophy, because they have had to struggle away from conventional beliefs and have had to create a system of faith for themselves individually.

* nontheism [n.] a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterised by the absence of espoused belief in the existence of god or gods. Nontheism has generally been used to describe apathy or silence towards the subject of God and differs from atheism.

The reason I now bring up this impression .... is that it brought me to the realisation that for most people a conventional religion, while strongly religionising one part of life, thereby also strongly 'dereligionises' the rest of life. The experiences of the holy, the sacred, the divine, of awe, of creatureliness, of surrender, of mystery, of piety, thanksgiving, gratitude, self-dedication, if they happen at all, tend to be confined to a single day of the week, to happen under one roof only of one kind of structure only, under certain triggering circumstances only, to rest heavily on the presence of certain traditional, powerful, but intrinsically irrelevant, stimuli, e. g. organ music, incense, chanting of a particular kind, certain regalia, and other arbitrary triggers. Being religious, or rather feeling religious, under these ecclesiastical auspices seems to absolve many [most?] people from the necessity or desire to feel these experiences at any other time. 'Religionising' only one part of life secularises the rest of it.

This is in contrast with my impression that 'serious' people of all kinds tend to be able to 'religionise' any part of life, any day of the week, in any place, and under all sorts of circumstances, i. e., to be aware of Tillich's '[lost] dimension of depth.' Of course, it would not occur to the more 'serious' people who are non-theists to put the label 'religious experiences' on what they were feeling, or to use such words as 'holy,' 'pious,' 'sacred,' or the like. By my usage, however, they are often having 'core-religious experiences' or transcendent experiences when they report having peak-experiences.

In any case, once this paradox is thought through, it ceases to be a paradox and becomes, instead, quite obvious. If 'heaven' is always available, ready to step into, and if the 'unitive consciousness' is always a possibility for any serious and thoughtful person, being to some extent under his own control, then having such 'core-religious' or transcendental experiences is also to some extent under our own control, even apart from peak-experiences .... In principle, it is possible, through adequate understanding, to transform means-activities into end-activities, to 'ontologise;'* to see voluntarily under the aspect of eternity, to see the sacred and symbolic in and through the individual here-and-now instance.

* ontology [n.] 'the metaphysical science or study of being and the essence of things'.

What prevents this from happening? In general, all and any of the forces that diminish us, pathologise us, or that make us regress, e. g., ignorance, pain, illness, fear, 'forgetting,' dissociation, reduction to the concrete, neuroticising, etc. That is, not having core-religious experiences may be a 'lower,' lesser state, a state in which we are not "fully functioning,' not at our best, not fully human, not sufficiently integrated. When we are well and healthy and adequately fulfilling the concept 'human being,' then experiences of transcendence should in principle be commonplace.


Chapter VI. 

Science and the Religious Liberals and Non-Theists

Nineteenth-century objectivistic, value-free science has finally proven to be also a poor foundation for the atheists, the agnostics, the rationalists, the humanists, and other nontheists, as well as for the 'liberal' religionists, e. g., the Unitarians and the Universalists. Both of them, orthodox science and liberal and non-theistic religion, leave out too much that is precious to most human beings. In their revolt against the organised, institutionalised churches, they have unwittingly accepted the immature and naive dichotomy between traditional religion [as the only carrier of values], on one hand, and, on the other, a totally mechanistic, reductionistic, objectivistic, neutral, value-free science.

They make no basic place in their systems for the mysterious, the unknown, the unknowable, the dangerous-to-know, or the ineffable. They pass by entirely the old, rich literature based on the mystical experiences. They have no systematic place for goals, ends, yearnings, aspirations, and hopes, let alone will or purpose. They don't know what to do with the experiential, the subjective, and the phenomenological that the existentialists stress so much, as do also the psychotherapists The inexact, the illogical, the metaphorical, the mythic, the symbolic, the contradictory or conflicted, the ambiguous, the ambivalent are all considered to be 'lower'" or 'not good,'" i. e., something to be 'improved' toward pure rationality and logic.

This is also true for the experiences of surrender, of reverence, of devotion, of self-dedication, of humility and oblation, of awe and the feeling of smallness. These experiences, which organised religions have always tried to make possible, are also common enough in the peak-experiences .... including even impulses to kneeling, to prostration, and to something like worship. This is of especial importance today because of the widespread 'valuelessness' in our society, i.e., people have nothing to admire, to sacrifice themselves for, to surrender to, to die for. This gap calls for filling. Perhaps, even, it may be an 'instinctoid' need. Any ontopsychology or any religion, it would seem, must satisfy this need.

The result? A rather bleak, boring, unexciting, unemotional, cool philosophy of life which fails to do what the traditional religions have tried to do when they were at their best, to inspire, to awe, to comfort, to fulfill, to guide in the value choices, and to discriminate between higher and lower, better and worse, not to mention to produce Dionysiac experiences, wildness, rejoicing, impulsiveness. Any religion, liberal or orthodox, theistic or non-theistic, must be not only intellectually credible and morally worthy of respect, but it must also be emotionally satisfying [and I include here the transcendent emotions as well].

The theory of science which permits and encourages the exclusion of so much that is true and real and existent cannot be considered a comprehensive science. It is obviously not an organisation of everything that is real. It doesn't integrate all the data. Instead of saying that these new data are 'unscientific,' I think we are now ready to turn the tables and change the definition of science so that it is able to include these data.


'Nineteenth-century objectivistic, value-free science has finally proven to be also a poor foundation for the atheists, the agnostics, the rationalists, the humanists .... Both of them, orthodox science and liberal and non-theistic religion, leave out too much that is precious to most human beings. In their revolt against the organised, institutionalised churches, they have unwittingly accepted the immature and naive dichotomy between traditional religion [as the only carrier of values], on one hand, and, on the other, a totally mechanistic, reductionistic, objectivistic, neutral, value-free science.'


Some perceptive liberals and non-theists are going through an 'agonising reappraisal' very similar to that which the orthodox often go through, namely a loss of faith in their foundation beliefs. Just as many intellectuals lose faith in religious orthodoxy, so do they also lose faith in positivistic, nineteenth-century science as a way of life. Thus they too often have the sense of loss, the craving to believe, the yearning for a value-system, the valuelessness and the simultaneous longing for values which marks so many in this 'Age of Longing". I believe that this need can be satisfied by a larger, more inclusive science, one which includes the data of transcendence.

The other side of the coin needs examination, too. One of the most irritating aspects of positivistic science is its overconfidence, I might call it, or perhaps its lack of humility. The pure, nineteenth-century scientist looks like a babbling child to sophisticated people just because he is so cocky, so self-assured, just because he doesn't know how little he knows, how limited scientific knowledge is when compared with the vast unknown. Most powerfully is this true of the psychologist whose ratio of knowledge to mystery must be the smallest of all scientists. Indeed, sometimes I am so impressed by all that we need to know in comparison with what we do know that I think it best to define a psychologist, not as one who knows the answers, but rather as one who struggles with the questions.

Perhaps it is because he is so innocently unaware of his smallness, of the feebleness of his knowledge, of the smallness of his playpen, or the smallness of his portion of the cosmos and because he takes his narrow limits so for granted that he reminds me of the little boy who was seen standing uncertainly at a street corner with a bundle under his arm. A concerned bypasser asked him where he was going and he replied that he was running away from home. Why was he waiting at the corner? He wasn't allowed to cross the street!

Another consequence of accepting the concept of a natural, general, basic, personal religious experience is that it will also reform atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. These doctrines have, on the whole, been simply a rejection of the churches; and they have fallen into the trap of identifying religion with the churches, a very serious mistake as we have seen. They threw out too much, as we are now discovering. The alternative that these groups have rested on has been pure science of the nineteenth-century sort, pure rationalism .... This has turned out to be not so much a solution of the problem as a retreat from it. But if it can be demonstrated that the religious questions [which were thrown out along with the churches] are valid questions, that these questions are almost the same as the deep, profound, and serious ultimate concerns of the sort that Tillich talks about and of the sort by which I would define humanistic psychology, then these humanistic sects could become much more useful to mankind than they are now.

As a matter of fact, they might very well become very similar to the reformed church organisations. It's quite possible that there wouldn't be much difference between them in the long run, if both groups accepted the primary importance and reality of the basic personal revelations [and their consequences] and if they could agree in regarding everything else as secondary, peripheral, and not necessary, not essentially defining characteristics of religion, they then could focus upon the examination of the personal revelation-the mystic experience, the peak-experience, the personal illumination - which then ensue.


Chapter VII. 

Value-Free Education

These dichotomising trends - making organised religions the guardian of all values, dichotomising knowledge from religion, considering science to be value-free, and trying to make it so - have wrought their confusion in the field of education, too. The most charitable thing we can say about this state of affairs is that education is conflicted and confused about its far goals and purposes. But for many educators, it must be said more harshly that they seem to have renounced far goals altogether or, at any rate, keep trying to. It is as if they wanted education to be purely technological training for the acquisition of skills which come close to being value-free or amoral [in the sense of being useful either for good or evil, and also in the sense of failing to enlarge the personality].

There are also many educators who seem to disagree with this technological emphasis, who stress the acquisition of pure knowledge, and who feel this to be the core of pure liberal education and the opposite of technological training. But it looks to me as if many of these educators are also value confused, and it seems to me that they must remain so as long as they are not clear about the ultimate value of the acquisition of pure knowledge. Too often, it seems to me, pure knowledge has been given a kind of functionally autonomous, per se value, as was the case with Latin and Greek for young gentlemen and French and embroidery for young ladies. Why was this so? It was so because it was so, in the same way that someone recently defined a celebrity as one who is known for being known.

Perhaps I can help to make my point clearer if I approach it from the other end, from the point of view of the ultimate goals of education. According to the new third psychology* the far goal of education - as of psychotherapy, of family life, of work, of society, of life itself - is to aid the person to grow to fullest humanness, to the greatest fulfillment and actualisation of his highest potentials, to his greatest possible stature. In a word, it should help him to become the best he is capable of becoming, to become actually what he deeply is potentially. What we call healthy growth is growth toward this final goal.

* The Third Psychology [n.] two comprehensive theories of human nature most influencing psychology until recently have been the Freudian-and the experimentalistic-positivistic-behavioristic. In the last few years, however, these various groups have rapidly been coalescing into a third, increasingly comprehensive theory of human nature, into what might be called a 'Third Force.' It stands for respect for the worth of persons, respect for differences of approach, open-mindedness as to acceptable methods, and interest in exploration of new aspects of human behavior. As a 'third force' in contemporary psychology it is concerned with topics having little place in existing theories and systems; e. g., love, creativity, self, growth, organism, basic need gratification, self actualisation, higher values, being, becoming, spontaneity, play, humor, affection, naturalness, warmth, ego transcendence, objectivity, autonomy, responsibility, meaning, fairplay, transcendental experience, peak experience, courage, and related concepts.

Another consequence of this new insight into the highest human end-goals and end-values is that it holds for every living human being. Furthermore, it holds from the moment of birth until the moment of death, even from before birth and after death in some very real senses. And, therefore, if education in a democracy is necessarily seen as helping every single person - [not only an elite] toward his fullest humanness, then, in principle, education is properly a universal, ubiquitous, and life-long proposition. It implies education for all the human capacities, not only the cognitive ones. It implies education for feeble-minded people as well as intelligent ones. It implies education for adults as well as for children. And it implies that education is certainly not confined to the classroom.

And now I think the point must be clear that no subject matter is a sacred and eternal part of any fixed-for-all-time curriculum, e. g., of liberal arts. Any of the subjects we teach can be wrong for someone. Trying to teach algebra to a moron is idiotic, so is music for the tone-deaf, and painting for the color-blind, and, perhaps, even the details of the impersonal sciences for the person-centered kind of person. Such efforts don't fit the particular person and, therefore, must be at least partially a waste of time. Clarity of end-values makes it very easy to avoid these mismatchings of means and ends. The better we know which ends we want, the easier it is for us to create truly efficient means to those ends. If we are not clear about those ends, or deny that there are any, then we are doomed to confusion of instruments. We can't speak about efficiency unless we know efficiency for what. [I want to quote again that veritable symbol of our times, the test pilot who radioed back, 'I'm lost, but I'm making record time.']

The final and unavoidable conclusion is that education - like all our social institutions - must be concerned with its final values, and this in turn is just about the same as speaking of what have been called 'spiritual values' or 'higher values.' These are the principles of choice which help us to answer the age-old 'spiritual' [philosophical? religious? humanistic? ethical?] questions: What is the good life? What is the good man? The good woman? What is the good society and what is my relation to it? What are my obligations to society? What is best for my children? What is justice? Truth? Virtue? What is my relation to nature, to death, to aging, to pain, to illness? How can I live a zestful, enjoyable, meaningful life? What is my responsibility to my brothers? Who are my brothers? What shall I be loyal to? What must I be ready to die for?

It used to be that all these questions were answered by organised religions in their various ways. Slowly these answers have come more and more to be based on natural, empirical fact and less and less on custom, tradition, 'revelations,' sacred texts, interpretations by a priestly class. What I have been pointing out in this lecture is that this process of a steadily increasing reliance on natural facts as guides in making life decisions is now advancing into the realm of 'spiritual values.' Partly this is so because of new discoveries, but partly it is so because more and more of us realise that nineteenth-century science has to be redefined, reconstructed, enlarged, in order to be adequate to this new task. This job of reconstruction is now proceeding.

And insofar as education bases itself upon natural and scientific knowledge, rather than upon tradition, custom, the unexamined beliefs and prejudices of the community and of the conventional religious establishment, to that extent can I foresee that it, too, will change, moving steadily toward these ultimate values in its jurisdiction.


Chapter VIII.


There is, then, a road which all profoundly 'serious,' 'ultimately concerned' people of good will can travel together for a very long distance. Only when they come almost to its end does the road fork so that they must part in disagreement.

Practically everything that, for example, Rudolf Otto defines as characteristic of the religious experience - the holy; the sacred; creature feeling; humility; gratitude and oblation; thanksgiving; awe before the mysterium tremendum; the sense of the divine, the ineffable; the sense of littleness before mystery; the quality of exaltedness and sublimity; the awareness of limits and even of powerlessness; the impulse to surrender and to kneel; a sense of the eternal and of fusion with the whole of the universe; even the experience of heaven and hell - all of these experiences can be accepted as real by clergymen and atheists alike.

And so it is also possible for all of them to accept in principle the empirical spirit and empirical methods and to humbly admit that knowledge is not complete, that it must grow, that it is in time and space, in history and in culture, and that, though it is relative to man's powers and to his limits, it can yet come closer and closer to 'The Truth' that is not dependent on man.

What remains of disagreement? Only, it seems, the concept of supernatural beings or of supernatural laws or forces; and I must confess my feeling that by the time this forking of the road has been reached, this difference doesn't seem to be of any great consequence except for the comfort of the individual himself. Even the social act of belonging to a church must be a private act, with no great social or political consequences, once religious pluralism has been accepted, once any religion is seen as a local structure, in local terms, of species-wide, core-religious, transcendent experience.

Not only this, but it is also increasingly developing that leading theologians, and sophisticated people in general, define their god, not as a person, but as a force, a principle, a gestalt-quality of the whole of Being, an integrating power that expresses the unity and therefore the meaningfulness of the cosmos? the 'dimension of depth,' etc. At the same time, scientists are increasingly giving up the notion of the cosmos as a kind of simple machine, like a clock, or as congeries of atoms that clash blindly, having no relation to each other except push and pull, or as something that is final and eternal as it is and that is not evolving or growing.

These two groups [sophisticated theologians and sophisticated scientists] seem to be coming closer and closer together in their conception of the universe as 'organismic,' as having some kind of unity and integration, as growing and evolving and having direction and, therefore, having some kind of 'meaning.' Whether or not to call this integration 'God' finally gets to be an arbitrary decision and a personal indulgence determined by one's personal history, one's personal revelations, and one's personal myths.

What is the practical upshot for education of all these considerations? We wind up with a rather startling conclusion, namely, that the teaching of spiritual values of ethical and moral values definitely does [in principle] have a place in education, perhaps ultimately a very basic and essential place, and that this in no way needs to controvert the American separation between church and state for the very simple reason that spiritual, ethical, and moral values need have nothing to do with any church.

As a matter of fact, it is possible that precisely these ultimate values are and should be the far goals of all education, as they are and should be also the far goals of psychotherapy, of child care, of marriage, the family, of work, and perhaps of all other social institutions. I grant that this may turn out to be an overstatement, and yet there is something here that we must all accept. We reject the notion of distant value-goals in education under the penalty of falling into the great danger of defining education as mere technological training without relation to the good life, to ethics, to morals, or for that matter to anything else. Any philosophy that permits facts to become amoral, totally separated from values, makes possible in theory at least .... the spectacle of captured German engineers working devotedly for whichever side happened to capture them.

Education must be seen as at least partially an effort to produce the good human being, to foster the good life and the good society. Renouncing this is like renouncing the reality and the desirability of morals and ethics. Furthermore: 'An education which leaves untouched the entire region of transcendental thought is an education which has nothing important to say about the meaning of human life.' 
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