Bi-Polarity of the Ultimate

bi-polarity, personal identity, pogroms, transcendence

I.         A glorious side:

— We sometimes experience a vague sense of something larger than ourselves that bears on our life, a glimpse of some sort of Ultimate Reality.

— On occasion, an Ultimate Reality becomes compellingly real. And most compellingly comes the conviction that we actually have access to that Ultimate Reality; and from it we transcend all the shortcomings, all the failings, all the pain of the here and now, replaced by pure bliss.

— Viktor Frankl, in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” tells us about a dying woman he encounters at Auschwitz. She is convinced that she has now achieved a state of access to the Ultimate, followed by pure bliss. She tells him that in all her life she has never been happier than right now. In my book, “Our quest for effective living: How we cope in Social Space / Window to a new science,” I give more examples about access to Ultimates that enchant people and appear to bring their yearnings within reach.

II.       There is also a deeply disturbing side:

— Access to the Ultimate can produce extraordinary vulnerability,

— limitless pain and disorientation,

— a seeming rupture of the core of one’s very being.

II-i:      How did I learn about this disturbing side?

II-ii.         From how Muslims responded with the most profound outrage to desecration of, to them, something sacred, the embodiment of the Ultimate:

(1) To a denigrating cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in a Western newspaper.

(2) To a report that a page from the Koran was allegedly flushed down a toilet.

II-iii.       From my own life:

I was born into a Jewish family in a village in Germany. I was living there during Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews on November 9, 1938. That night the sacred Torah scrolls were dragged from our synagogue and thrown onto piles of manure. The memory of this desecration of the Torah scrolls is as painful to me, even now, 76 years later, as the murder of my parents and my brother. It has not left me. It shattered a part of my being.

III.         What does it all mean?

Our access to the Ultimate introduces us to bi-polarity of the Ultimate. On the one hand, it brings transcendence into our immediate, daily life. It helps us go beyond its limitations and encumbrances. It brings a profound sense of meaning to our personal identity by connecting us to the Ultimate. On the other hand, when that transcendence is desecrated – when the Ultimate is besmirched – transcendence once again enters our immediate, daily life. But now it does so in a form that seems to fracture and shatter our mental world, as our very identity is being destroyed.

Both polarities are part of our human condition!