On Being a Mystical Liberal

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be a Mys­tical Lib­eral? Once upon a time, I was a member of a group that 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 (sic) 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


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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


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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.

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.

As stated, the term mys­tical lib­eral isn’t mine—I did not coin it. It was given to me in an af­fec­tion­ately mocking manner. But it fit. You might want to give it a try: the next time someone asks, “So just what are you?” try an­swering, “Why, I’m a mys­tical lib­eral, of course.”

It sounds so . . . right.





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 are too un­cool to make the real mall scene at down­town Bellevue Square.


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Kevin Costner (Crash Davis) and Susan Sarandon (Annie Savoy) in my fa­vorite base­ball movie Bull Durham.

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).