The Theist-to-Mystic Sidestep

Let’s start by defining terms. As you know, I don’t believe in fixed definitions, so obviously these are my definitions, made to help us communicate on this post:

A Theist: a person who believes is a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, intervening in the world and who responds to prayer.

A Mystic: a person who believes the possibility of union or communion with some god, or absolute or higher level of truth or some such thing. Mystic who believe in a god, don’t necessarily believe in the Theist’s god. (see my post “Monkey God vs. Cat God“)


When I left Christianity, I tried Reformed Judaism for a year — a stripped down Christianity. Then I started reading Christian mystics: Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross and especially Thomas Merton. But I could tell that all these mystics were trying desperately to hang on to their Jesus. So I started reading Buddhism and Taoism — as filtered through the Western forms of these. (see my post on “The Making of Buddhist Modernism“)

Both of these (my Christianity and my mysticism) were largely fed by my weird experiences in life. (see my posts on “My Supernatural/Mystical Experiences“)

But slowly I began to realize that I was trying to add an extra layer of wonder, an extra layer of meaning, an extra layer of hope to both my ordinary and my extra-ordinary experiences. I was valorizing my experience — I was creating a fantasy of deep meaning and hope. Finally, I came to rest with not taking this extra step. And with such a move, my habits of mind became more clear and both the ordinary and not-so-ordinary became more brilliant.

Theism is hard to escape and mysticism offers a much more benign ground to live in. But mysticism comes with its pitfalls of idealism and romanticism all built to support our fears. But heck, all positions come with pitfalls, don’t they.

Mystic Pitfalls:

  • feel that real meaning, real knowledge comes from union with the absolute (be that a god, the universe, Buddha-mind, The One or any such thing).
  • homogenizing, idealizing, romanticizing the world of a myriad of things
  • negating or minimizing the body, normal mind, or normal experiences
  • judging others as not having your amazing connections, perspective and insight
  • valorizing your experiences and your temperament


Please feel free to criticize or try to correct or add to my thoughts above.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

9 responses to “The Theist-to-Mystic Sidestep

  1. Earnest

    I think you are on to something here. I have found that the step from Unitarianism/mystic to Secular Humanism feels uncomfortably large compared to exchanging deist systems.

  2. Thanx for sharing, Earnest. It has been fun to watch you flux over the years. And even more fun to watch myself flux. 🙂

  3. I think maybe there’s even an additional sidestep to this sidestep. Recently online I ran into someone who doesn’t believe in any gods, and didn’t even claim that there was a union possible with some absolute truth. But they still believed in a lot of supernatural-type woo-woo nonsense, like energy bracelets and “forces in the universe” we can tap into, and such. I can see how this would be a further step away from religion, discarding a belief in any kind of “higher power”, but still clinging to the idea that that thinking the right thoughts and doing the right mumbo jumbo can give you some kind of special favor with the universe. I think believers in “The Secret” might also fall into this category.

    Do we have a term to describe somebody like this? (One that’s not insulting, so we could use it in discussion with them.) Mystic Lite? Casual Jedi?

  4. @ ubi dubium,

    That is funny. Yes, I too have residual superstitious tendencies. Heck, I even have both residual theistic and mystical tendencies. (click those links to explore) All of that because our heads don’t hold one consistent set of beliefs — it hold many contrary beliefs and different selves.

    One of the biggest potential pitfalls with any set of beliefs is when we hold them as being more noble than others simply because they are ours or worse, we push them on others. But if we feel we are right and feel we have evidence, what are we to do? Ah, the dilemma.

    Thanx for sharing, dude. Do you have any residual elements you can detect?

  5. @Sabio,
    While I was a monk I was trained to see every single experience as coming from the Divine. I felt so special and loved while I was imagining and pretending and making meaning.

    Mystics do seem to make their own meaning out of their experiences and perceptions.

    We humans all want to feel special in some way, to be adored and loved. Some humans to the point of being megalomaniacs: rock stars, dictators, and religious preachers. Others claim to be humble channels of the Cosmic Energy or Intelligence.

    Ultimately, my mystical meaning making machine backfired. I realized while I was a monk that if everything in the Universe had divine meaning then nothing had divine meaning. All events and experiences, everything, had equal value, all was the same, except for the layers of meaning humans imposed on it.

    I stopped my use of the god or cosmic force meaning making but make other silly meanings all the time.

    Good post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Curt

    Some years ago I defended the idea, here, that human history is being mnipulated by aliens (definition of alien: “beings” from a civilization possibly from another part of our visable universe but also possibly from another part of the univese that is not detectable to human senses or human machines. These “beings” could even be AI robots that have outlasted their creators)
    [rest deleted for violation of comment policy — commenting off OP]

  7. Curt: I looked up your comments in the past and see a pattern. Please try to avoid rambling, stay only on the issues of the OP. Thank you.

  8. -Where is the ‘like’ button?

  9. There is a “facebook” button above for sharing. “Like” is not something I enjoy. I’d rather have comments with substance.

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