When someone seems to know through insight, intuition and experience how best to act or how things will likely work out, we say they’re wiser than those who make superficial, snap or conventional judgments.
Wisdom may or may not involve academic, specialized, scientific or factual knowledge. The intuitive aspects of wisdom may involve revealed, infused, illuminated, transpersonal or transcendent knowledge—that is, knowledge that saints, mystics and seers from many different religions say extends beyond the usual understanding of space and time.
The idea of wisdom has been debated among religious traditions. Hindus, for example, might see Christians as slaves to externally imposed dogmas and rituals that seal them in ignorance, while some Christians may see the works of the devil binding Hindus to false or incomplete beliefs that deny or ‘water down’ the belief that Christ is the only Messiah.
Even within a given religion, opposing viewpoints can be found about the nature of wisdom. Fundamentalist Christians, for instance, often react strongly against the deeper aspects of Christian mysticism. In fact, some Fundamentalists go as far to say that all mysticism is Satanic.
The Protestant Josh McDowell seems to lean in this direction. In his book The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell notes that there are many types of mysticism but only discusses the alleged errors of the “pantheistic mysticism of the East.”¹ More importantly, his discussion equates the term ‘mysticism’ as if it only applied to Eastern mysticism, particularly that of Zen Buddhism.
McDowell’s argument overlooks the plain fact that a mature discussion on mysticism applies to a wide variety of religious experiences, along with the key question concerning their transcendent origin and ethical orientation. In fact, Catholics and some Protestants take great pains to differentiate interior experiences that are from God and those that are not. Moreover, mystics can variously describe God as being wholly other or as some kind of natural or pantheistic consciousness.
¹ Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999: 643-658.
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