9/6/2014--Along with Sam Harris rediscovering transcendence, there is now Woody Allen, famously atheistic, rediscovering magic in Magic in the Moonlight. In the movie, a skeptic confronts a psychic, whom he is convinced is faking contact with the spiritual world, but cannot discover any deception. The discovery that there might be more to this world than grim materialism, that there might be a point or telos to existence, fills him with joy. But, in the end, she was a fake after all. But then in the twist, he realizes he is in love with her. And that love fills him with the same hopeless joy.
So, from this movie, what insight? Well, very much like Sam Harris, Allen is telling us that there are experiences of transcendence in life. But the grim materialist knows this already. Even the skeptic in Magic already knew that music was sublime. But that experience did not help him. Why not?
Same problem as for Harris. Harris needs to reclaim transcendence from religion. Why? So that no one believes the rest of the religious story because of these experiences. For Allen, love must be separated from God in the same way. The skeptic finds himself praying to God and the nature of that prayer is so alienating that God cannot exist and the psychic must be a fake.
But this is a non-problem. It is the constant issue of bad religion. Harris is reclaiming transcendence from a God who is a being doing tricks with the natural world. Allen is reclaiming magic from the very same God. The skeptic cannot ask God to save his aunt. Well, that makes sense. That would be the same God who caused the accident in the first place.
The question is, what does transcendence or magic mean? For Harris, these experiences are like drugs or exercise. Or meditation, which he also removes from its religious origins. But all of this realm is part of a spiritual practice that is supposed to, or if you prefer can, give humans insight into the meaning of life. Into the meaning of reality.
Here it is in a nutshell. Certain ways of life are better than others. Not just better in some opinion, but objectively better. Those ways of life that empty us of ego and turn us toward nature and other humans in an open and loving way are better. This will in fact lead us to a way of life fairly characterized as religious. It just might not be part of any of the existing religions.