Jacob Needleman takes away from Kant the realization that the intellect alone cannot know reality, cannot know God. This thought, he recalls, hardened his skepticism, but it also gave him hope. The hope was that the Truth would set him free – free from the absence of certainty – even if the Truth was that there was no Truth.
Needleman, the intellectual, had to admit to himself that “some things can’t be understood by the mind alone.” Besides the knowledge in the mind, there is knowledge in the body, and in the heart. Perhaps the question of God, he mused, had to approached with all of these types of knowledge working together.
“Working together” is the operative phrase, and a tough proposition. The head alone could not understand the heart, and the heart could not tolerate the head.
Needleman reads William James, who made the claim for “religious emotion” as a different kind of emotion from any other – a “higher kind of emotion.” He, Needleman, comes to differentiate “non-egoistic” emotions from other emotions. Non-egoistic emotions, such as empathy, humility, and remorse, can bring to light a different sort of “self,” or Self, behind the ego. Far from being “impersonal” emotions, as they are sometimes called, they can open up the “real” person, the Self.
Likewise, when theologians or academicians referred to the God of Eastern religions as an “impersonal” God, it was misleading. The cosmic force of the Eastern traditions might seem to be “cold,” but it is not, Needleman says – on the contrary, it carries with it a deeper sense of “I.” So reality has the ultimate property of “I-ness,” I-ness without form or incarnation.
Needleman, the atheist or agnostic, starts to see that there might be a God behind the “God.”