Religious encounter in the thought of Martin Buber and of Jeremiah
Price, Robert Preston II
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The purpose of this dissertation is to determine what takes place on the human side when a man says he has an encounter with God, with special reference to the thought of Martin Buber and of the Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah. The method has been to characterize each man's thought; to pay particular attention to the data lending themselves to psychological description, to the end of analyzing encounter with God in its epistemic, psychological and existential modes. On the basis of these characterizations, each of these men has been compared to the other to determine likenesses and differences; to assay the effect of culture at points of difference; and to summarize the points of likeness which might have abiding value. Findings and conclusions are: 1. Buber and Jeremiah find man's essential nature incomplete apart from relation to God. Fulfilment is possible in what Buber terms an I-Thou relation--a subject-subject relation as opposed to the subject-object relation of knowledge. Subject-subject relation is made possible by a unique category of being, which Buber calls the inborn Thou. This is not to say that man has an original self. A self has to be won. 2. A sense of lack (anxiety), a reaching out, the dual gestalt of man's own being together with objective reference of the Thou, a sense of fulfillment by a Persons over against one, standing in the relation of love--these minimal elements of encounter constitute the fountainhead of religion and ethics, as well as the occasion for man's social being to emerge and to be kept intact. Revelation comes in the form of Presence--presence as power. No verbal message is given. There is a sense of reciprocal relation, of inexpressible confirmation, and of an urge to act out the power of it in the world. 3. Jeremiah conceived man to be created by God and endowed with a drive to fulfillment like the migratory instinct in birds. Man is free to direct this drive toward God and find fulfilment, or to direct it elsewhere with little promise in the face of his precarious existence. 4. For both men, one's religious knowledge and his cultural modes of thought were part of the whole person taken into encounter and could affect the subsequent interpretation of it. Neither believed that encounter was sufficient without the remainder of experience; nor did either conceive the experience of immediacy as resulting from any form of mystical absorption. Jeremiah's tribal consciousness lends itself aptly both to illustrate the limits which culture can impose on revelation and also to reveal how the Presence can transcend the limits. 5. Relation to God is necessary for maintaining the integrity of one's I; otherwise, the world of things assumes the mastery, and persons are cheapened (Buber); or man loses his moral fibre (Jeremiah). 6. Jeremiah negatively illustrates Buber's judgment that verbal messages are not given in revelation. Recently from the Presence, he put his own thoughts into the mouth of God and delivered them as a "Thus saith the Lord." The mistakes he made indicate that alleged verbal messages in revelation do not stand on their own authority. They need further testing. 7. Buber and Jeremiah fonnd that perceptual data of religion gained in concrete life-situations were a reliable foundation upon which to build coherent religious truth. They would agree that this method of gaining religious truth has been a distinctive contribution of the Hebrew-Jewish religion.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University