Thursday, September 15, 2005

Angelism


I was reading an essay by Phillip M. Thompson, "Thomas Merton and Leo Szilard -- The Parallel Paths of a Monk and a Nuclear Physicist" (Zygon Vol 39:979-986, 2004). It's a great read all by itself, but a section of the essay caught my eye. I'll quote the pertinent sections:

"... Their evolutions reveal some striking parallels, including the tendency at different times in their lives to break radically from and toward the world, a love for and ambivalence about their vocations, and a tendency towards angelism. (emphasis mine)

The tendency toward angelism is a temptation common to religious and scientists. Novelist Walker Percy describes angelism as not a love of angels but the tendency of intellectuals to zealously seek a specialized and esoteric knowledge that transcends ordinary human experience. Persons engaged in this quest often assume that their pursuit of an aspect of knowledge will yield some ultimate Truth. The inherent distortion in such a quest often eliminates or minimizes the value of other types of truth or reality. The seeker is propelled into an "orbit" of refined reflection that makes the reentry of the seeker into the normal flow of normal human life very difficult. A proper balance of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs is lost to the demands of a pure and almost monomaniacal pursuit of the intellect or spirit (Percy 1983, Lost in the Cosmos, 115-19, 135, 160-75)."

I read this paragraph out loud to TBO after dinner last night and it sparked a good conversation. I had never seen before, in writing, an accurate description of what is going on with me internally. And what happens when your pursuit is both intellectual AND spiritual? TBO saw it immediately, of course, but also acknowledged my recent progress in moving towards a balance of "physical, emotion, intellectual, and spiritual needs". I struggle to contain my intense curiosity and need for informational input as well as control the monkish side to my personality, which always wants to withdraw into contemplative silence. The richness of my relationships with my partners is the pull in the opposite direction that keeps me from falling completely into my head. I feel very lucky to have them in my life.

No comments: