On Being A Mystical Liberal



On Be­ing a Mys­ti­cal Lib­eral


WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be a Mys­ti­cal Lib­eral? One upon a time, I was a mem­ber of a group who en­joyed chat­ting and ar­gu­ing while drink­ing large quan­ti­ties of cof­fee. We that met every Sat­ur­day morn­ing at the Cross­roads Shop­ping Cen­ter in Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton. 1

The core group was Lynn Terp­stra, Don Mor­ris­sey, and my­self, be­cause we were al­ways there and were un­stop­pable once we got go­ing. It was a gen­der­i­cally mixed group and so top­ics such as re­la­tion­ships, dat­ing, and din­ing min­gled freely with pol­i­tics, con­spir­a­cies, and re­li­gion.

We even talked some sports — usu­ally when the Mariners, Sea­hawks, or Son­ics were win­ning. This is the only time ca­sual sports fans dis­cuss sports, and by East Coast stan­dards, most West Coast sports fans are ca­sual fans at best. 2



If my mem­ory is serv­ing me well here, I re­call Free In­quiry, a sec­u­lar hu­man­ist mag­a­zine avail­able on news­stands, reg­u­larly run­ning a list of 35 be­liefs or prac­tices that de­fine a sec­u­lar hu­man­ist. I was in ac­cord with #2 through 35 but not with their #1 re­quire­ment: athe­ism.

Old dialectical materialists don’t die

Among the five reg­u­lars, Don was the clos­est to a di­alec­ti­cal ma­te­ri­al­ist that we had go­ing for us. The de­f­i­n­i­tion for that little-used term is “the Marx­ist the­ory that main­tains the ma­te­r­ial ba­sis of a re­al­ity con­stantly chang­ing in a di­alec­ti­cal process, and the pri­or­ity of mat­ter over mind.” (Merriam-Webster)

Mor­ris­sey was more di­alec­tic (“a method of ex­am­in­ing and dis­cussing op­pos­ing ideas in or­der to find the truth”) than Marx­ist, al­though most rea­son­able forms of so­cial­ism — es­pe­cially those that could both coöper­ate with and tem­per the rav­aging ten­den­cies of cap­i­tal­ism — were cer­tainly top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion.

I am best de­scribed as skep­ti­cal (“an at­ti­tude of doubt­ing the truth of some­thing, such as a claim or state­ment”) with a need to play devil’s ad­vo­cate, even when I agree with some­one.

De­spite also be­ing a bor­der­line sec­u­lar hu­man­ist, I was of­ten at log­ger­heads with Don about is­sues. My ex­pe­ri­ences with as­pects of life not broached by sci­ence made for a weird mix, es­pe­cially for some­one like Mor­risey. 3


The Mas­ter of the Mys­tic Arts, Dr Strange stares into one of the may won­drous worlds cre­ated by artist Steve Ditko in the Mar­vel Age of Comics (the ’60s and never since).

Mystically liberal and loving it

So it was that while I was the one mem­ber of the klatch that most of­ten agreed with Don and backed him up in ar­gu­ments with oth­ers, I was the one most likely to dis­agree and ar­gue with him on fun­da­men­tal is­sues of the hu­man life ex­pe­ri­ence. For my hav­ing what he con­sid­ered to be a mas­sive case of philo­soph­i­cal cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance, he dubbed me a “mys­ti­cal lib­eral.”

He meant the term to be hu­mor­ously con­de­scend­ing — any di­alec­ti­cal, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, athe­is­tic per­son would only ever use mys­ti­cal in such a man­ner — but I was im­me­di­ately taken by the term and have used it to de­scribe my­self and my set of be­liefs as mys­ti­cal lib­eral since! 4

What about the politics?!!?

I re­side in the as­tral plane of pro­gres­sivism and do my best to vote in a man­ner that re­flects that world­view. I still yearn for a Pres­i­dency for Den­nis Kucinich so that he could im­ple­ment his promise of a new Cabinet-level group ti­tled the De­part­ment of Peace.

This mar­velous car­i­ca­ture of Karl Marx (“Work­ers of the world unite, you have noth­ing to lose but your chains”) hold­ing up the peace sign to ac­com­pany his world-weary coun­te­nance is by Braldt Bralds.

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1   The Cross­roads Shop­ping Cen­ter was owned by a gent who took um­brage at any­one re­fer­ring to his place as a ‘mall,’ de­spite it be­ing a mall in every way ex­cept that at one time most of the stores were in­de­pen­dently owned. It was not a cookie-cutter mall with the same chain-stores in the same lo­ca­tion as al­most every other mall in Amer­ica. It ac­tu­ally had some soul to it at one time.

Then, as the rent and CAM charges es­ca­lated year af­ter year, the small mom-and-pop shops moved out and the face­less cor­po­rate fa­cades moved in. Nonethe­less, it re­mains a so­cial hub for folks of Belle­vue who too un­cool to make the real mall scene at down­town Belle­vue Square.


Kevin Cost­ner as Crash Davis and Su­san Saran­don as An­nie Savoy in my fa­vorite base­ball movie.

2   Base­ball is dif­fer­ent: I can go on end­lessly about the joys of read­ing early Bill James when no one else knew who he was and how I use base­ball metaphor­i­cally to ex­plain other top­ics; it’s amaz­ing how use­ful the game is in that re­spect. And, as An­nie savoy has ob­served:

I be­lieve in the Church of Base­ball. I’ve tried all the ma­jor re­li­gions and most of the mi­nor ones. I’ve wor­shipped Bud­dha, Al­lah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mush­rooms, and Isadora Dun­can. I know things. For in­stance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a base­ball. When I learned that, I gave Je­sus a chance . . . I’ve tried them all, I re­ally have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul day in, day out, is the Church of Base­ball.

You see, there’s no guilt in base­ball, and it’s never bor­ing — which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his ca­reer. Makin’ love is like hit­ting a base­ball: you just gotta re­lax and con­cen­trate. Be­sides, I’d never sleep with a player hit­ting un­der .250, un­less he had a lot of RBIs or was a great glove man up the mid­dle.”

3   My first psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence was a clas­sic psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence, a ‘level four’ ex­pe­ri­ence as de­scribed by Robert E. L. Mas­ters and Jean Hous­ton in their 1968 book Psy­che­delic Art. It changed every­thing — or per­haps I should say it opened me to what every­thing is in­stead of what I wanted it to be.

4   And those be­liefs, un­cod­i­fied as they may be, are nonethe­less taught the world over by my acolytes un­der the um­brella term neal­ism (with a small ‘n’ — no room for un­nec­es­sary ego here).

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