This is a continuation of the blog series Today’s White Niggers.
To start reading from the beginning, go to Part 1.

America creates dark feelings in whites. These dark feelings can be transformed into a luminous darkness that can mend racially-ravaged hearts. America’s niggers of all colors can unite and emerge free of the racial fabrications that have confined our lives and restricted our ability to heal and transform ourselves, others, and the world.

Religious beliefs, after all, are about ideas, creeds, and doctrines. Spiritual feelings are about emotions dived into and held onto until they are healed and transformed by life itself. The shining light of this luminous darkness is unconditional love. When felt, the night is as bright as the day (Psalm 139:12).

America creates dark feelings in whites. These dark feelings can be transformed into a luminous darkness that can mend racially-ravaged hearts. The shining light of this luminous darkness is unconditional love.

There is precedence for this kind of spiritual-but-not-religious exploration. The first book published on this kind of spirituality in the Christian West, after all, was written for religion’s “cultured despisers.”

Friedrich Schleiermacher, the nineteenth-century German father of liberal theology, wrote his first book for the artists, atheists, intellects, and other “cultured despisers” of Christianity.[1] He called them the “true priests” of religion because they had felt the joy, the freedom, and the creativity that comes from experiencing the infinite universe in a finite moment of their own lives. They did not even have to believe in God, he said. They could be atheists or agnostics because the foundation of spiritual experience is not an idea, a doctrine, or a set of beliefs, but rather the experience of unconditional love. It’s the experience of love beyond belief.

Schleiermacher’s project failed because he mistakenly assumed that the non-rational, affective state of self-consciousness foundational to his theological system would be immediately self-evident to his readers. It wasn’t.

The neurological material and fact of consciousness that served as the foundational referent for his new theological system was Affekt [affect], which he defined as the product of stimulated “nerves or whatever else is the first ground and seat of motions in the human body.”[2] His neuro-conceptual analysis of human consciousness was ahead of its time.[3] The science needed to find and track this neurological fact of consciousness as the immediate inner experience of feeling was established a century and a half after his death. With the establishment of affective neuroscience and the publication of its first textbook in 1998,[4] the location of human spirituality can be disclosed exactly where Schleiermacher located it: outside the religious domain.

An easy way to find this domain today is to walk with the experimental music composer John Cage when he entered a small, six-walled, echoless chamber constructed with special soundproofing materials to eliminate all external sound. He expected to experience absolute silence. Instead he heard two sounds: one was the high-pitched tinsel sound of his nervous system in operation; the other was a lower sound made as his blood coursed through his veins.

With the establishment of affective neuroscience, the location of human spirituality can be disclosed outside the religious domain.

Cage heard the universe—not figuratively, but literally—strumming his nervous system and drumming the life pulse of his blood. This experience of his own nervous system, namely, the experience of his own “intrinsically biological”[5] feelings—his affective states of consciousness—happened more than half a century ago to the experimental composer and musician. But something also just happened to us as our mind’s eye followed Cage into the place between thoughts where he and the universe met. We went there with him.

This meeting place is found in the luminous darkness of feelings enveloped by infinite life. Cage felt the floor and his shoes and the skin on his feet as they met and altered the pattern of his nervous system. He saw light patterns sparkle the walls in the room, which altered his retinas and thus colored his nervous system. He felt the air in the room enter his lungs. The quality and temperature of the air affected his breathing and thus the flow of his blood.

His turn inward led him into the very heart of cosmic interior life. Here’s how he described the interior journey:

The turning is psychological and seems at first a giving up of everything that  belongs to humanity… This psychological turning leads to the world of nature, where gradually or suddenly, one sees that humanity and nature, not separate, are in this world together; that nothing was lost when everything was given away. In fact, everything is gained.[6]

This meeting place is found in the luminous darkness of feelings enveloped by infinite life.

Schleiermacher described his own experience of this state as a “mysterious moment” of sense perception when objects flowed into one another and became one, before returning back to their original position. And he called this experience the “natal hour of everything living in religion.”

The experience, Schleiermacher insisted, wasn’t about religions, which he identified as cultural creations, social artifacts and human constructions of rituals, beliefs and practices. Rather, he claimed to have experienced religion in its “pure state,” which Schleiermacher called the “interhuman dimension of our experience,” the “inner side of human nature and the world,” and the inner experience of the “mysterious moment” in which consciousness “hovers” between the universe and the self.

According to Schleiermacher, the experience is:

The first mysterious moment that occurs in every sensory perception . . . where sense and its objects have, as it were, flowed into one another and become one, before both turn back to their original position . . . It is as fleeting and transparent as the first scent with which the dew gently caresses the waking flowers, as modest and delicate as a maiden’s kiss, as holy and fruitful as a nuptial embrace; indeed, not like this, but it is itself all of these. A manifestation, an event develops quickly and magically into an image of the universe… I lie on the bosom of the infinite world.[7]

This kind of experience, Schleiermacher insisted, is an innate spiritual capacity of human nature.

I experienced such a moment when I went to a concert to hear the master violinist Isaac Stern. I sat just a few rows back from the stage and eagerly awaited his entrance. When he entered, dressed in a formal black tuxedo with split tails, my immediate reaction disquieted me. This portly man looks like a penguin, I thought to myself. Try as I did, I could not expel this thought from my mind. But then he began to play. To describe this experience I use the lyrical language evoked in me. First Stern disappeared. As he continued to play, his violin disappeared. And as the music continued, I disappeared. And I experienced a moment of my own creation as more than myself alone. I was now part of a cosmic orchestra, a wave of sound resounding the universe in me.

Recall your own Isaac Stern experience. Find a peak experience when you and the universe were one—and you have found the source of spiritual experience in your life. This source is your cosmic consciousness of life as a swirl of creation, a tidal wave of life, a moment of infinite creation unfolding in you. This feeling has the power to heal terrified souls.

Niggers of all colors unite.

Continue to Part 10  >

[1] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern in Schleiermacher Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Günter Meckenstock (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995). On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, Richard Crouter’s English translation of the 1799 first edition of Über die Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
[2] Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Freedom, trans. Albert L. Blackwell (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992,) 131.
[3] Karl Bernecker, Kritische Darstellung der Geschichte des Affektbegriffes (Von Descartes bis zur Gegenwart), Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der philosophischen Fakultät der Koëniglichen Universität Greifswald (Berlin:  Druck von Otto Godemann, 1915).
[4] Jaak Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
[5] Jaak Panksepp and Georg Northoff, “The trans-species core SELF: The emergence of active cultural and neuro-ecological agents through self-related processing within subcortical-cortical midline networks,” Consciousness and Cognition18: (2009) 193-215 (journal homepage:,198.
[6] John Cage, Silence (Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1961), 8.
[7] Schleiermacher, On Religion, 32.