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Reaching For The Ultimate

by Martin, Malachi

Publ: E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, NY (1974)

ISBN: 0-525-16553-3


VER 1.0 (UPDATED 09/19/2012 20:02 -0500)Z

This book was described by M. Scott Peck, M.D. as Martin’s best book, and the book Martin himself considered his best work.

Define “Best” . . .

Best use of language? Best written/verbal expression of the ineffable? Best articulation? Most comprehensive? Most accurate? Best attempt to convey the mystical and religious experience which underlies various groups’ dynamics? Best expression of religious experience as central to cultural and political movements?


In many ways, this book is all of the above. It should be read by everyone as part of a comprehensive course on religion.

I found the book quite disturbing and abandoned reading it after about half, however. It’s simple: do we really care about the basis for Islamic extremism? Yes, we know they are true believers (in their faith). But why should we bother to try to understand the basis for their murderous practices and intolerance? Does it help us in dealing with the problem to know how their practices and beliefs developed? Does it help in any way to know the inner mind of a serial killer? Is there any “understanding” of murderous insanity? Does it somehow lessen the crime or ameliorate the evil to know its source?

Do we really want to slog through the cultural and religious justifications for the Jews’ self-absorption?

This book tries — and succeeds — to convey the exuberance felt by those who share a powerful mystical experience, without making a critical analysis of the tenets of the various faiths it examines (all of the major faiths). And I guess we should try to understand, to grasp, to experience vicariously the mystical power behind religious movements. Yet it leaves me wondering what is the point?

If a writer could convey to the reader the spiritual experience of, say, a cannibal eating the heart of his enemy . . . would there be any purpose to it? Any reason to do so? Any reason to write it or any reason to read those words?

Yes, there is meaning and purpose here. But before a person tackles such advanced spiritual issues, shouldn’t one at least learn the basics of the Christian faith? Most people never get beyond the introductory material in their study of Christianity, unless it is to be distracted by the words of countless frauds, flakes, or blowhards. This book helps answer some hard questions such as, “How can the Jews, who reject God at every turn and have done so throughout history, have the gall to proudly stand and acclaim that they are God’s special people, chosen from all the peoples of the earth?” In their myopic vision can they not see that they have failed to make the grade, so to speak, and have been rejected just as Moses foretold in his final assembly of the Israelites? In their vanity they think they are the wheat but in reality they are the chaff. This book does help us to understand the psychological basis for their delusional state . . . . The Jews, for example, glory in their intelligence, their political unity (that’s a joke) and in particular their cultural history (ugly as it is).

. . . but it offers no solutions.

In the end, I found this book hard to read because of its content but easy to read because of its style — truly the work of a master of English prose who understands his subject (religious experience) with special — perhaps unique — insight. But with regard to its content, which leaves me feeling uneasy, I think I can sum it up by pointing out that religious ecstacies are usually counterfeit — the ecstacies are not from God or His Spirit. Just look at an assembly of “holy rollers.” Watch the countenance of the sham faith healers. Watch the sweating faces of the snake handlers as they take up serpents. Listen to the mumbo-jumbo of charismatics “speaking in tongues”. All of the religious movements described in this book share this sort of spiritual exuberance which overwhelms the senses and the human spirit. But that does not mean these overwhelming spiritual experiences eminate from God. The very presence of such vivid spiritual experience in each and every one of the major religious movements is almost by definition proof that these are false religions, for God wants us to know and worship Him in truth, while Satan, the father of lies, would rather confuse mankind with any number of different religions. For Satan’s purposes, the lie that “one religion is as good as another” is actually true. If we base our faith and religion on nothing more than a powerful spiritual experience (coupled with unimportant and often quite different “messages”) we will through a lack of discernment be following false Gods.

God is more sublime. Christ leaves us his peace to better contemplate the mystery of the divine. It should be obvious that (so-called) mystical experience or spiritual exuberance is not usually a sign of the presence of the Spirit of God. That such overwhelming religious experiences are at the core of all major faiths should come as no surprise to the thoughtful Christian. The fact that the presence of such counterfeit mystical experience is always at the core of false religion should warn Christians to be wary of displays of piety (like the Bagwan Shree Rashneesh), delusions (such as the “Reverend” Jim Jones), secret knowledge and insights (such as the mahirashis and yogas of the East), certitude of the mind of God (such as the Muslim scholars among the followers of Mohammed), and most of all of undignified displays of religious exuberance passing as the movement of the Holy Spirit (as the ranting and raving of the charismatics is often called).

This book is short, interesting, and easy to read. Each chapter describing one of the major religions is about a dozen pages. It might be interesting, maybe even helpful, to have each chapter available for students of comparative religions or history of religion to read as they finish reviewing the history of, and especially the beginnings of, each of the major faiths. Reading it all at once without this context seems meaningless to me. OF COURSE the founders of each of the world’s religions and the followers thereof were moved (and are still moved) by deep stirrings of the spirit (mystical experiences, if you will). Otherwise they would not have founded religions, and the adherents would not have followed. But to try to describe those experiences is to try to explain the ineffable. I think this book should be left for only the most advanced students of theology, if for no other reason that because there are so very many more important, and more relevent, books to read.