Reading Paul Tillich, “The Essential Tillich”
“Religious symbols do exactly the same thing as all symbols do - namely, they open up a level of reality, which otherwise is not opened at all, which is hidden. We can call this the depth dimension of reality itself, the dimension of reality which is the ground of every other dimension and every other depth, and which therefore…is the fundamental level, the level below all other levels, the level of being itself, or the ultimate power of being. Religious symbols open up the experience of the dimension of this depth in the human soul.” There is some of Tillich’s very useful analysis and wisdom. Though written in the 1960s, it feels directly relevant to today, at least to me. More broadly, “every symbol opens up a dimension of reality for which non-symbolic speaking is inadequate.”
I want to know: what are the symbols that do that for us today. Given that so many of us disassociate from traditional religion (and the symbols therein), what is working currently - if anything - to open those deep levels in us. Is part of the sickness of this time, part of the anxiety and depression and political existential chaos of today a result of having lost access to the depth dimension? Are we only superficial now? I fear this may be true.
I was contemplating the proposal of surveillance camera’s in downtown Northampton. I do not argue with the proposal on legal grounds; I don’t necessarily think we have a legal right to privacy in public spaces. But I argue with it on a soulful level; I believe in the value of hiding, hibernating, being out of sight sometimes, being unseen, as a deeply necessary part of the process of becoming human; to know that we can remake ourselves, come out of darkness, go into darkness. Being seen all the time - even if on a distant camera - threatens this generativity. It is like the studies just out about how the presence of our smart phones, just sitting there on the desk in view, or in our bags or even in the next room, negatively impacts our ability to think, to cognize. I fear we are being flattened.
Is there yet a symbolic dimension which is functioning to activate, to open, the depth dimension? Black Lives Matter: do those three words together and the movement they've emerged from and expanded, form a symbol which is opening the level of ultimate reality in us? Is the experience of being opened to the depth dimension, to the level of the Really Real always one of peacefulness? Or is violence, rejection sometimes of response?