The polytheistic approach is rich in the experience of what they call “whooshing up.” You won’t find this term is dictionaries of philosophy (though the authors equate it, somewhat improbably, with “physis,” the Greek term for “nature”). Whooshing up is the sensation we enjoy at a sporting event when the crowd rises to its feet as one to register a communal sense of awe and admiration before some astonishing athletic feat.
Whooshing up is communal, it is public and it is shared; and so, according to the authors, it is close to the kinds of sensations the ancient Greeks admired and cultivated. Throughout the book, such great athletes as Bill Bradley, Lou Gehrig and Roger Federer are invoked as supreme examples of such shining, almost instinctive, grace. Their greatness lies not solely in their skill, the authors argue, but in their ability to let some outside force course through them, just as the heroes of old were exquisitely attuned to the power of a god working through their bodies.
Messrs. Dreyfus and Kelly acknowledge that this isn’t a sufficient foundation for a new belief; nor is it an adequate remedy for nihilism. After all, however long the whooshing up lasts, it is inevitably brief. Worse still, it is just the sort of sensation cultivated at political rallies. Hitler and Mussolini were great whoosher- uppers. Against this the authors recommend an approach they call “meta-poiesis,” a kind of restraint drawing on disciplined skill, artistry and reverence for the natural world. Here they become a bit entangled in their own over-ingenious categories. What makes their case finally compelling is their insistence on the importance of openness, on attentiveness to the given moment, on what they call “a fully embodied, this-worldly kind of sacred.”