Edging Toward Enchantment: Closing the Doors of Perception

In my last post we shifted away from talking about sacramental ontology to selfhood as we continue to explore how we might "edge toward enchantment" as people of faith in a secular, disenchanted world.

As Charles Taylor has argued it, the disenchanted self is "buffered" against the outside world. In contrast to the enchanted, vulnerable, porous self the buffered self is experienced as being inviolably separate from the external world.

There are a couple of different reasons why I want to ponder how the experience of the self can edge us toward or away from enchantment.

The first reason has to do with a question raised by NYT columnist Ross Douthat in post he wrote entitled "Religious Experience and the Modern Self."

Read the whole column to get Ross's full argument, but the gist of it is this. We often think that the disenchantment of secularism is caused by our tendency to "explain away" weird, uncanny, numinous and spiritual experiences. And given that our selves are "buffered" against the external environment, we tend to look for these explanations within our psyche--these experiences are fantasies, perceptual tricks, mental breakdowns or odd turns of the mind. Your duty in the modern world is to ignore and shake off these perceptual ephemera. Because the origin of these experiences is found within your head rather than in the world. That's the buffered self.

But Douthat's worry about the buffered self runs deeper.

Here's his worry in a nutshell: What if the buffered self isn't simply explaining away perceptions but is changing perception itself?

Phrased another way, what if the buffered self isn't simply involved in intellectually dismissing our experiences of enchantment but is eroding our ability to experience enchantment in the first place?

As Douthat rightly points out, this latter is much more worrying. If you're explaining away experiences of enchantment at least you're having those experiences, you're still bumping into the magic from time to time. And those experiences provide the raw material for religious experience in the modern, secular age. These experiences provide, to go back to an earlier post, updrafts of transcendence as a countervailing breeze against the downdrafts of disenchantment.

But if the buffered self is changing our perceptions and experiences of reality then we're not explaining away the magic, we're no longer experiencing the magic, no longer seeing or bumping into enchantment in day to day life.

And that's a deeper problem.

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