Monday, 23 January 2017

Modern Religion

I wrote 'Meeting the Masters' seven years ago and inevitably there are some things I would express a little differently if I wrote it today. The account of my experiences with the Masters themselves, which is the main point of the book, would remain the same, of course. It was as it was. But I would put some of the more metaphysical speculations slightly differently or with a different emphasis. The main one concerns the nature of God where I would now stress his personal aspect over the so called impersonal, see here. When I wrote the book my intellectual position was that I was trying to reconcile all spiritual approaches in a kind of higher unity, but I think (and hope) my real feelings kept peeping through. I mean by this that my instincts are fundamentally Christian even though I have always been drawn to Eastern mysticism as well not to mention Western esotericism and many other spiritual traditions too, most of which have something to offer. Often one can supplement another by filling in gaps that the other might have. But I would still go along with G.K. Chesterton when he wrote that paganism was the greatest thing but Christianity was greater. It really does include more of reality and it can't be absorbed into a general 'spirituality' without something absolutely essential being lost. That doesn't mean that other religions might not have elements in them that Christians can learn from, but I still believe that the vision of truth presented by Christ is the highest there is. And I also believe that his appearance in the world changed something radically. It really was the Incarnation of the Word and did redeem mankind and nature or, at least, make the redemption of mankind and nature now possible.

When writing the book I was trying to appeal to a wide variety of spiritual seekers while knowing that many people nowadays in the West look everywhere but to Christianity perhaps because its familiarity means they neglect its profundity. So I was hoping to incorporate bits of Christianity while taking a more general approach overall. Incidentally, I should say that the Masters themselves gave no theological teaching as such. They assumed the reality of God but left me to work out the details myself, presumably because their purpose is to enable their disciples to develop their inner insight and intuition themselves. As far as I was concerned they contented themselves with practical spiritual training.

Anyhow, with that out of the way, what I want to comment on here is the remark made by the Masters in response to a question of mine about Michael Lord (their medium, or python as I like to think of it) and his attachment to the Catholic Church. He had been a Benedictine monk in the 1950s and, though he had left the monastery, citing as one reason that he did not want to become a priest which apparently he would have had to have done in that order, he still had a strong feeling for the church. At the time I was rather against conventional religion which I viewed as focusing only on the outer aspects of spirituality. I still tend to that belief though, with the greater tolerance that comes with age, I can now see that it is by no means necessarily so. But even so, from my perspective, Christianity (some branches more than others) does seem to have lost some of its inner spiritual light over the centuries, and that is especially so in the 20th century.

Here is the passage in question.
I asked the Master if it was wrong of me to try to ease Michael away from the Catholic Church and he replied that he had told me before to trust my instinct. He said that the Catholic Church, like any outward form of religion, was good for souls on a certain level but it was time to lead Michael away from it into a new and higher understanding of life.  He told me not to be intolerant but to do this with love and patience.

My comment on this passage was as follows:
'The remarks about the Catholic Church relate to discussions Michael and I had been having about organised religion and its place in the mystical life. Although not born a Catholic, Michael had converted in order to become a monk in the Benedictine order and he retained a soft spot for that way of life even though he had abandoned it because he found it restricting. But he still tended to idealise religion and overlook its faults whereas I was more inclined to view as it was, and as it was now rather than as it might have been in the past in a possibly purer form. Although he had turned away from it himself, Michael still considered that organised religion continued to have a role to play in modern spirituality, but I thought that one needed to go beyond it and that it would bind its members as much as it would release them. I did occasionally go to church with Michael and could respond to the ritual and traditional element, but my feeling was that Catholicism, or certain aspects of it at least, tended to crush the human spirit with its authoritarian dogmas and conviction that it alone offered a path to salvation.'

These are the remarks of someone who was reacting against a modern form of religion that, in his opinion, had lost touch with its roots and focused more on the letter than the spirit, and they should be taken in that light. I think the distinction between salvation and theosis is helpful here. If we wish to do what is necessary to qualify for simple admittance to the heavenly kingdom then the outer observances of religion should be enough, though obviously our inner life and motivations should not contradict these. However this is just a beginning. For those who would not just believe in Christ but who actively seek to become as he is, more is required. My feeling at the time was that Michael was limiting himself by adherence to an outer form of truth and consequently not opening himself up sufficiently to the inner reality behind it, a not uncommon phenomenon. The Masters confirmed that to the extent that they said that following an outward form of religion was a step that needed to be gone beyond. However they were not saying that it could not be gone beyond in the context of a religion only that there was a new and higher understanding of life to be found once one had gone beyond outer things. Quite clearly that can be done within a religious context and in the past practically always was. But the 20th century is unusual in that it was a time of spiritual decay so sometimes the inner path could be pursued more easily outside of the context of religion.

But the point is that our adherence to a religion must be more than an external thing and should never be allowed to limit our conception of truth. True religion is an inner thing and the lamp should never be mistaken for the light. At the same time, as I mentioned in the book, few of us are sufficiently deeply spiritually rooted to be able to do without religious support and direction of some kind. The last 150 years have seen far too many people wandering off the spiritual straight and narrow because they thought they had found a 'new and higher understanding of life' but were actually straying into paths of illusion and self-deception.

It's a delicate balancing act, this one between proper authority and personal vision, but it's one we must get right if we are to progress and become truly spiritual ourselves. We should not reject either but give to each its proper due in the overall scheme of things.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Are We Intrinsically Good or Fallen?

This question is at the heart of the modern deviation. For the common belief these days is that human beings are basically good unless they have the bad luck to grow up in an environment that stunts this or prevents it coming out in some way And, like all the best lies, this contains elements of truth. But, also like all the best lies, it leaves out something crucial. We certainly have the capacity for goodness and an unfortunate environment when growing up clearly has the potential to turn us into bad ways. However we are not intrinsically good. You only have to see a baby to realise that. Good and bad run through all of us together and if we would bring out the former we must work at it. Proper goodness is not something that is effortless and natural but something that must be developed, even struggled for. To achieve real goodness it is not enough to walk along the flat. We have to climb uphill and the hill is steep.

I think the Christian doctrine of the Fall of Man is the one that best explains how human beings are. It tells us that we may have been created in one way but have become another through the misuse of the gift of free will. Before the Fall we were innocent and therefore neither good nor bad. Afterwards we became capable of both but nevertheless there was now something rotten at our hearts which was the self-centred ego, the distortion of individuality. We had become corrupt and needed mending.

Today the idea of original sin is rejected as a sort of self-hating abasement before a dominating authority figure, and there is a degree of truth in that. The doctrine can be twisted to become that, and I certainly don't go along with the idea, present in some forms of religion, that human beings are entirely worthless and corrupt. But the opposite is also wrong. We surely are children of God but we have taken a wrong turn and that is reflected at the deepest level of our psychology and requires something truly profound to root it out. Christians would say it required the Incarnation and that the advent of Jesus offered the chance for those who would accept it of a way back to goodness. But this goodness cannot be ours since it is precisely the sense of ourselves as autonomous, separate individuals that blocks it out. It can only come when we stand aside from ourselves and know that, of ourselves, we are nothing and that all we are comes from God. If even Jesus said that 'I of myself can do nothing' how much more does that apply to us?

Since the Fall all human beings have a tendency to deny the reality of God, preferring the pseudo-reality of our own separate selves. Thus walking the path of holiness requires effort and often means swimming against the tide of our nature, or that aspect of it with which we are most identified. It is not a totally natural way of being as might have been the case had we not fallen into the duality of sin. For the reality is that all of us are born in a state of sin, meaning separation from God, because of our innate self-centredness. This truth needs to be set beside the idea that we are also all sons and daughters of the Most High and made in His image but it is still the position that, in this life, we all start from. And we can only get out of it through the spiritualising process summed up in the words repentance, humility and grace. Thus any true goodness we might eventually have comes not from us but from God. Personal goodness enters in only to the degree that we acknowledge God.

If you ask a saint, or any true-hearted person, if he thinks of himself as good he will answer no and this is not because of disingenuousness or false humility but because he perceives the innate egotism in his being. Of course, to us he might appear good, or even be good, but that is precisely because he is aware of his own lack of personal goodness and taken the necessary steps to allow God into his heart. One of the tragedies of the modern world is that so many of us walk around thinking we are good people with no sense of our fallen condition. That doesn't mean we should be beating our breasts thinking we are miserable sinners. That's self-concern of a sort too and we need to walk upright, facing the world with confidence. But we should know the truth about ourselves and strive to put it right through humble acceptance of God, and recognition that we are indeed hollow men without him, though with him we can accomplish miracles.

Modern forms of religion that tell us we are loveable in ourselves are wrong, ignorantly, foolishly wrong, even pridefully wrong. We may be loved by God but we are certainly not loveable as we are. We are corrupt. There's no getting away from this and unless we accept it we cannot make any progress on the spiritual path.  But once we do accept it and realise that all real goodness is in God then we can advance towards becoming a repository of goodness ourselves.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Are All Saved?

At the end of a previous post I pondered on what might happen to souls who reject the truth of God, and speculated that they might be given another opportunity to embrace reality elsewhere, though it would probably involve a tougher journey for them since they had proved recalcitrant this time around. I thought it might be interesting to explore the idea of spiritual refusal further because there is clearly such a thing and it has consequences, serious ones, which we should try to understand.

It has become almost 'unspiritual' to believe in hell because we think that a God of love could not possibly have made such an environment. The only problem is that the place where we learn most about a God of love, which is the Gospels, is the same place where there is the most emphasis on hell. Jesus, the incarnation of love, speaks many times, and in no uncertain terms, about the reality of hell and how those who reject his message may end up there. How can we resolve this apparent contradiction?

Perhaps we can start by saying that God did not create hell. Hell was created by the rejection of God, firstly by fallen angels and then by those humans who joined them in that rejection. A reasonable definition of hell is a place or state where God is not so how can we blame God for it? We can perhaps blame God for the possibility of it but only because he gave creatures free will to accept or reject him but we cannot blame him for the fact of it. It exists because it has been created by the created not by the Creator.

If it does exist then what is it? What form does it take? Biblical descriptions were probably intended to convey symbolically something of its nature to people at the time, but they may also be external manifestations of internal states since the idea is that in the afterlife outer and inner become one so our environment is, to a degree, a reflection of what is in our mind. However I think the key element of hell is separation. Hell is the state of egotism carried to its ultimate degree where the person is so centred on himself that he is separated from everything else. It is a state where the 'I' has become all there is in the sense that nothing else has any intrinsic reality or value of its own. Everything other than the 'I' is perceived only in terms of its usefulness to that 'I'. And this tells us that not only did God not create hell he does not send us there either. We send ourselves there by our rejection of him and our refusal to let go of our own separate egos. It may even be that we go there in full knowledge of what we are doing.

But do we stay there? The answer must be that it depends on what we mean by hell. I would say that there are places in the non-physical worlds where souls closed to God go who are not past redemption and for whom there is a way back if they chose to take it. It may be that the great majority of erring souls follow this path. But there is also the possibility of spiritual destruction for if free will means anything it must mean that a definitive choice can be made from which there is no turning back. It is this spiritual destruction that is the true hell. The lesser or more relative hells are not eternal in that even here a soul can repent and turn its face to the light. Whether it will or not is entirely down to it but the possibility is there.

The thoughts on this post were prompted by a question I was asked elsewhere about how heaven could be heaven if those we love are not there. That is to say, in hell. This is a very profound question and I am certainly not qualified to answer it fully but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

First of all, it is axiomatic that nothing impure can get into heaven. So sinners by definition cannot do so whether they are those we love or not. But then nor can any of us without God's grace. So there is always hope even for the most obdurate of souls. Secondly, we have to ask what is hell? Heaven is surely supreme reality and that implies that hell is actually unreal. How can it be real if it is outside God who is reality itself? So maybe it is only the unreal part of us that goes there. Inside every human being there is something of God and it is that which gives us our reality. This cannot go to hell so maybe this part of us is always salvaged and somehow made new while the dross is burnt away.

Does this mean that somehow everyone will be saved? That would seem to go against justice and free will. But maybe in the next world opportunities exist for every soul to turn round, though the way back will be longer and harder. If these opportunities are still ignored then maybe the seeds that have not blossomed as they should, or the spiritual essence of these seeds, are gathered up and resown and that might happen until everyone is indeed saved. So the crop that's not grown properly is burnt (in hell) but the essence of it, the essence of the person, is preserved and given another chance to grow correctly, and so on until the spiritual essence of the soul is indeed saved though the form it takes will not be the same as it originally appeared. This idea seems to reconcile the demands of free will, of justice and of love. We, as individuals, must take the consequences of our actions and if we choose not to be saved that is our right. But that part of us which is God himself cannot be destroyed. So this could come back in a new form until eventually it finds its true being in heaven.

This means Hitler as Hitler may have gone to spiritual destruction but the spiritual essence of Hitler, which cannot be destroyed because it is of God himself, will have a new chance somewhere further down the line. It is a fresh start and a new outer person but it is the same divine reality behind that outer person. You might say that this is no longer Hitler because he is gone and you would be correct, but the inner truth that anyone who may ever have loved in him is still there and would be known albeit in a quite different form.

These reflections lead me to think that our notions of hell may refer to two different things. The first is a place (or state) of darkened consciousness where those go who have not accepted God in this lifetime, or those things that God stands for, but who still have a chance of redemption if they will but receive it. They have created this hell for themselves but there is a way out. (Note that this is different to the idea of purgatory because that is for souls who acknowledge the light but are not yet sufficiently pure enough to be worthy of it). But the second hell is spiritual destruction of the individual and that is eternal in that it is final. However it may be that, saved from that destruction, is the divine essence of that soul and this does have a new chance of salvation.

But, as I say, all this is speculation. It is certainly no reason not to seek salvation here and now.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Christianity and the New Age

The topic of this post was prompted by a comment on the previous one asking whether people in the New Age might eventually move on to Christianity as a more substantial form of spirituality. I wrote in response that an interest in New Age teachings could certainly develop into a renewed engagement with Christianity if the seeker was fundamentally serious and sincere, two essentials for any kind of genuine spirituality.  But I added what I think is a very important point, namely that their Christianity might well be a deeper form than if they had not been exposed to a New Age influence in the first place because there are aspects of spirituality in New Age teachings which are neglected or not properly developed in modern Christianity, certainly not Christianity of the mainstream going to church on a Sunday variety.

Foremost among these are mysticism and the idea of immanence. For though I wrote in the previous post that God Immanent should always stand in the light of God Transcendent that does not mean that the immanence of God should not also be acknowledged and, not only acknowledged,  but actively sought. Christianity has become an exterior sort of religion, seemingly concerned with belief, doing good, being a good neighbour and so on. Doing just enough to be saved but otherwise leading a fairly normal life; indistinguishable, in fact, from a nonbeliever in many respects. This is not what Jesus taught nor is it, in my opinion, what we are put on this earth to achieve. We are here to learn to become godlike ourselves as in the well known saying that God became Man so that Man might become God.

So I would not recommend a conventional Christianity as the way forward to anyone. What we need nowadays is a mystical Christianity that sees Christ as a forerunner and exemplar of what we ourselves should be. This is not disrespectful or hubristic because it can only happen when we give ourselves entirely to God. And it is not a question of divinisation of the earthly man (which is a New Agey sort of concept) but of a new man being born, one in whom the seed of Christ has blossomed and flowered. It is a matter of getting to the state where we can say with St Paul that  "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." What the New Age can take from Christianity is the need for crucifixion of the self. What Christianity can take from the New Age is the idea that we and Christ are truly one and that our purpose in life is to realise that. But we can only realise it when we empty ourselves of self and do what we do for God's sake not our own. For if we would become godlike it must be on God's terms and conditions not ours.

Christianity has been led astray, I believe, by a focus on salvation as its end. Salvation, as in turning to God and away from self, is crucial, of course. It requires repentance and redirection but it is only the beginning of the true spiritual path. It is stepping onto the path but it is not treading it to its conclusion which is found in the attainment of oneness with God or what is called theosis in the Orthodox tradition. This idea is clearly implied in Christianity but has been rather neglected because, I would say, it is so hard. But the goal of real Christianity has always been to make saints and we should not be satisfied with less.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Question on the Spiritual and the Liberal

This question came in response to the earlier post on The Left. Since my reply is quite long I've made of it a new post instead of tacking it on there.

Q. Following on from your post on the Left I have a question. I used to be involved with various New Age groups but found that every single one of them assumed the truth of liberalism, and if you expressed any other opinion they looked almost shocked. Your opinion was branded as 'Piscean' meaning old-fashioned, prejudiced and ignorant rather than 'Aquarian' or liberal and enlightened in social and cultural matters, and the strong implication was you couldn't possibly be spiritual. What do you think is going on here?

A. I've mentioned this before, specifically here, and it's true. Practically all non-traditional forms of spirituality are politically and culturally liberal. It's just an assumption that that's what a good person is. I actually believe this is one of the tests of the present time. Are you able to think for yourself as to what goodness and truth really are or do you just follow the fashionable crowd of perceived goodness and truth?

Probably that has come about for several reasons. First of all, most of the intelligentsia is like this. Liberalism is seen as the default intelligent person's position now, but it has largely come from non-spiritual if not anti-spiritual sources so should be treated with suspicion on that account alone. It is not a response to any traditional spiritual teaching but a manifestation of the democratic spirit and therefore a political thing. But because most people today are educated in liberalism before they encounter serious spirituality they bring their preconceived notions with them, and their spirituality has to fit in to their already existing liberal world view.

Then there's love. Everyone knows you should love and liberalism is perceived as being more in line with that doctrine because it tends to treat everybody the same. It is more 'loving'.  But love is not indiscriminate nor does it deny truth for, if we are told to be as innocent as doves, we are also told to be as wise as serpents. Love should not be used as an excuse to deny spiritual reality, which is hierarchical when it is in its expressed form, nor should it be limited to man as he is in this world. What appears to be love to the outer man might not be at all when considered in the light of the whole man. Obviously love is good but real love can only be understood in the context of the whole picture and liberalism denies most of the picture as it is totally a 'this world' focused doctrine.

Then there's sex. Traditional spirituality understood that this incredibly powerful force must be contained or it will cause havoc. Unless it is contained (in marriage), and if it is seen as an end in itself, it will lead an individual or a society away from any true spiritual development or self-transcendence to a concern with self-fulfilment; that is, a fulfilment of the lower earthly self rather than the soul or spiritual self. An over-concern with physical sex keeps you in the earthbound mind and body like nothing else precisely because it is a form of spiritual unity translated to the physical plane. So if you give free rein to this energy in a physical sense you are unable to express it spiritually. But for liberals everyone should have the freedom to do as they want if they don't harm another, and sexual freedom has become one of their most important freedoms. What they don't see is that, in the context of spiritual truth, you are harming someone, namely yourself, when you pursue certain apparent freedoms. Controlling sex is often seen as a vice or a weakness rather than a virtue by the liberal mind but that is because many people don't want to control it and look for an excuse not to do so.

Then there is freedom itself. For the liberal, freedom, like love, is seen as a universal good but in actual fact, like love, it must be seen in the context of, and be subordinate to, the reality of God. Taken out of its proper context, as it is in liberalism, it becomes a means to extend the domination of the ego or unrepentant and unreconstructed autonomous self. The restraint of sex and freedom, so important in traditional monastic disciplines that were founded on chastity and obedience, has been rejected by liberal spirituality but why have these been rejected? If you look beneath the excuses you see it is because the ego wants to have its cake and eat it too.

Following on from all these things we can see that modern, non-traditional spirituality is human centred. That means that implicitly, if not explicitly, personal growth or 'healing' rather than salvation or sanctification is the order of the day. For most New Age type spirituality humanity is not regarded as fallen and in need of repentance but full of spiritual potential which just needs to come out if you use the right techniques. No doubt we do have great potential, Jesus told us we did, but this will only come out after there is true repentance which is an admission that you of yourself are nothing and all you are comes from God.

And here we come to the heart of the matter. God is not an important figure in modern spirituality. He is either surplus to requirements or an embarrassment or something to be gone beyond or so transformed by having to adapt to human interests that he is not God at all any longer. But God the Father, God the Creator of Heaven and Earth is not important. If he were then everything else would have to fit into that, as it should, but when he is dismissed or downgraded or changed into something else then spirituality is not about man making himself right with God but about man, in effect, becoming God himself. And here I think we come to the real reason that New Age spirituality is liberal. It is because the true motive of the New Age is to supplant God with Man.

Some liberal and spiritual people would say they do believe in God but actually what they often seem to believe in is a sort of idealised mother figure who loves all her children as they are now and doesn't require them to change or grow in any serious way. Someone who comes down to them where they are now rather than someone who requires them to go up to where he is. This is not the real God as taught by all serious religions, especially Christianity, who is love and truth together not just unconditional, undiscriminating love. Nor, may I say, was it how the Masters who spoke to me were. They had greater love than any human being I have ever come across but they expressed this in the context of the knowledge that we on this Earth are out of kilter with truth and need to put ourselves right. We need to straighten up and straighten out. Of course, God loves us but he loves the real us created by him in his image not the false self we have created for ourselves in our own image down here. 

Looking at this another way, you could say that those who think of themselves as spiritual and liberal focus largely on God immanent to the exclusion of God transcendent but the former must always be seen in the light of the latter.

As for the Piscean and Aquarian jibe, don't worry about that. Outer things may change but inner realities don't nor does the path to God. Yes, it may grow and develop and take in more of truth but, just as Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them, so any higher understanding of truth must build on the old not replace it with something quite new and different. This is how things work in the spiritual world and it is how they work in Nature too.

Basically what I am saying here is that those who are liberal and spiritual don't understand the spiritual because they see it in the context of this world rather than the other way round which is the correct way.

Conclusion: if you are spiritual and liberal (culturally speaking and in the modern sense) it is because you have things back to front.