Lent, Fasting, And The Hierarchy Of Love

Growing up in a world of different religions has taught me that God tailors religion to the particular psyche and bent of various people. However, I instinctively felt that at the core of each religion there was a similar universal principle – loving God and loving others as yourself.

We can find the principle of Love in all religions, yet humans strangely miss this point when they become intolerant of various faith-systems. I have made it a point in my life to identify similar strategies for spiritual growth in all religions – like fasting and sacrifice.

Some form of fasting and sacrifice not only can be found in all religions but it demonstrates that all religions understand that inner growth and salvation involves targeting the human heart. Intellectual knowledge changes nothing unless it can change what we LOVE and intend. When we are fasting for instance, we are sacrificing physical pleasure for a higher ideal. Fasting involves the sacrificing of one level of love (natural appetite) for a more evolved level of love (spiritual appetite).

To better understand the dynamics of personal transformation, the various distinct qualities of love that make up the full spectrum of human experience needs to be articulated. So I provide you with an easy-to-grasp list below:

1) Corporeal Love (love of the world and physical pleasure)
2) Sensual/Imaginative Love (love of wealth and riches)
3) Intellectual Self-Love (love of power)
4) Love for Civility (rationality)
5) Love of the Neighbor (spiritual rationality)
6) Love of God (all-inclusive love)

The above list of “loves” is not some arbitrary order. As evidence, those who seek wealth will gladly sacrifice physical pleasure to achieve it (because corporeal pleasure is recognized as an inferior love to acquiring the nicer things in life). Similarly, those who seek personal or political power will gladly sacrifice riches and wealth to achieve it. Those who wish to be civil will freely choose to give up personal power and self-importance to achieve ethical and moral standards (the beginning of rationality involves seeing the bigger picture). True love of the neighbor involves moving beyond civil responsibility and helping others from a more elevated principle of spiritual love, which is the beginning of wisdom. And Loving God is the most inclusive love of all because it also requires loving all things in God’s universe.

Religion understands what neuroscience is gradually coming to acknowledge – that emotions (derivatives of love) focus our attention and ultimately forge the information in our memory into our personal paradigms, world-views, and faith-systems. What we love most, takes the highest position in our inner reality, and from that vantage point, governs all our cognitive functions like a king on a throne.

Our Ruling Love (what floats our boat) is what we perpetually seek, in this world and in the next. The true purpose of religion is to provide a roadmap by which our Ruling Love can evolve and transcend our biological selves. Religion has our eternal welfare in mind, and, constantly reminds us that we are spiritual beings.

Can you think of yourself as being different from what you love?

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Physics And The Easter Miracle

The Lord’s resurrection on what is now celebrated as Easter Sunday certainly challenges our modern assumptions about physics. Not only did this miraculous event require radical reverse entropy (the reversal of disorder and decomposition), the Lord’s restored physical body seemed to have also gained new capacities. For instance, the Lord could completely disappear from the tomb and reappear before Mary Magdalene. His physical body could ascend to heaven and descend back to earth. He could suddenly be present in a room with shut doors as well as be physically touched by His disciples and even eat fish.

Did the resurrection event require God to suspend the laws of nature or make use of laws that were already in place? If it is the latter, which I am proposing, then new and richer scientific concepts are required for unveiling the hidden nature of reality. If the natural world is not the ultimate reality then it must be a lawful expression of some greater dynamic.

Some serious scientists, whom I have studied and become acquainted with, feel that the answer to the Easter miracle may have something to do with quantum physics. Quantum physics does seem to be tied to “consciousness,” however, its uncertainty principle offers us very little information about how an all-knowing Creator does things. In fact, quantum physics needs to be reformulated. If science and theology are to be united, Divine action in the world should show that nature’s laws are consistent with God’s nature, which is Infinite Love. And, Divine action is certainly purposeful.

Like Einstein and David Bohm, I reject ontological indeterminism. Rather than fundamental reality consisting of irreducible chance, there is irreducible love. The reason for this faith-based thesis is that quantum behavior, while it seems to us to be random, generates the regularity we see in the classical world of Newtonian physics. Randomness is at odds with nature’s compulsion for self-organization. The wave function and its superposition principle do not explain how outcomes of measurement (actualization) lead to an orchestrated universe.

Love offers us a principle for potential actualization that is every bit as legitimate as randomness (which I tackle in my next book, Proving God).

We live in a world that is ordered, has orientation, and is unified. Since the essence of love is to unite, I have maintained that love is the creative causal principle and formative substance (substantia prima) of creation and the ultimate science. The world is unified through shared utility. For something to exist, previous things must coexist. And coexistence emerges from mutual support and interdependence.

All self-organization finds its existence in some form of utility, which is an analog of altruism and spiritual love. A God of love cannot create anything that is not ultimately useful. What this means is that higher causal levels of order and activity (like conscious love) adapt the lower level forms of nature to their own disposition (emergence of complexity). The scientist/theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg, called this top-down self-similarity the science of correspondences.

The closest idea to Swedenborg’s science of correspondences I have found in modern thinking is the concept of supervenience, whereby higher leveled phenomena, like ethics, morality, and altruism influence the lower level properties of nature and biological structure. The unity of nature is a causal consequence of Divine Love.

The science of correspondences implies that the laws of nature are, in fact, an extension of spiritual laws and forces into the constraints of spacetime. This means that the universe and its laws are perfectly fine-tuned for the Easter resurrection to occur.

God’s heavenly spirit supervened into a human body provided by the virgin birth, where it reached its ultimate actualization in the measurement outcomes of the Lord’s life of fulfilling Scripture on earth. Making the Word “flesh” was a lawful process by which higher-level realities and lower-level realities became perfectly united. Put into scientific terms, the a-temporal and a-spatial dynamics of the hidden microworld became fully expressed in the Lord’s macro bio-structure or physical body. So “quantum tunneling” through the shut doors of the room where the disciples had gathered after the crucifixion was no problem for the Lord’s resurrected body.

Do you think science and theology can be unified? Would that strengthen your faith?

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Evil – Can anyone be so characterised?

evil
Ratko Mladic

Ratko Mladic was the key player and commander of the Bosnian Serb forces that tried to eliminate Muslims from large parts of Bosnia. His forces were responsible for much social evil, massacring eight thousand Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995: the brutal siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995 resulted in the death of 10,000 people. His capture and trial for war crimes reminds us of the torture, mass rape, arson and genocide that formed part of this ‘ethnic cleansing’.

How does one explain these evil crimes against humanity? How could someone like Mladic fundamentally go against human values, and be outside of what civilisation universally sees as acceptable behaviour?

Can a person be evil?

When someone, like Mladic, or one of his followers, harms another person, should they be considered as evil? Or are they so out of harmony with themselves, they should be seen as sick or ill rather than wicked? This may be so. But even if no individual person is evil, this does not mean that some human behaviour cannot be properly considered evil. According to this second view evil is part of the process of individual choice rather than the quality of the person doing the choosing.

Is evil a useful term?

Some people ask whether the social context in which harm to human beings is done, calls into question the idea that such acts can be universally considered as evil. For them, standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice and that the very word ‘evil’ is an outmoded concept no longer fit for purpose.

However, others point out that what counts as evil is all to do with the individual intent, independent of culture. Arguably, those who are willing to go against moral codes will justify their actions if it suits them to do so, whether they be those ship captains and plantation owners who engaged in the slave trade, the Nazis who found mass extermination of the Jews acceptable, or the leadership of the United States Union Army’s massacre of “savage” Native American Indians.

Is evil an illusion?

The results of evil intent are real enough whether they be seen in times of war, suffering of victims of serious crime, or simply those on the end of spiteful gossip. But should we understand evil as a powerful identity that causes suffering in the world? Or is it just a man-made idea that has no reality? Should we ditch the idea of Satan as just old hat?

In one sense perhaps we should. Ever since Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Church has defined evil as the absence of good. Just as cold is defined as the lack of warmth, and darkness the deprivation of light, so evil is defined in terms of good. To understand evil one thus needs to understand what is meant by good. For evil is its opposite. To appreciate cruelty one first needs to experience tender care. To comprehend malice one needs to know love. To understand a state of ignorance one needs to fathom a state of knowledge.

Where does evil come from?

Likewise for Swedenborg, evil is the inversion of good. He reckons disorder is the inversion of order, and falsity the inversion of truth. Evil is a quality of life which has no independent origin, but is a distortion of the one Divine life.

Using his psychic vision, he describes a way of life of human spirits in a hidden spirit realm, who choose hatred over love, and crime over justice. One is not normally conscious of their influence but if one continually allows their presence into one’s heart and mind, they are said to then prompt and urge cruelty, sexual violence, and self-ascendancy without any concern for human suffering. We don’t know if people like Mladic will join them in his after-life. But allowing himself to be constantly swayed by their impulses and thoughts, he can become crazed with evil, caught up in a crowd baying for blood. The madness feels overpowering and the individual is swept along apparently helpless to fight against the current.

Actually, Swedenborg says this seeming overwhelming power of evil is an illusion. For there is also a divine sphere of justice and humane concern which is available to us all. This good balances the evil flow. And so we have the freedom to inwardly turn in which direction we wish. But without turning towards what is good we would all be vulnerable to the inflow of cruelty and malice.

Many of us human beings sometimes choose to turn our back on the one Source of happiness and opening ourselves to evil impulses. This is when we put self above all else. That is when what we want determines all our actions together with the fear, pride and greed that accompanies self-love. Just look in at the criminal courts of justice and see what trouble can then be reeked; never mind the international court in the Hague where crimes against humanity are tried. Perhaps the Serb nationalists who still support Mladic will then realise the full extent of the evil their hero has really caused.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Admiration – Do you deserve it?

admiration
Silvio Berlusconi

You have seen the young pop performers, posturing on stage, pretentious, reeking of youthful ego and full of their celebrity status. And you wonder if you could have gone up on stage yourself and done that too. Maybe not! But what about something else you do that deserves attention — great disco dancing, passing of academic tests, goal scoring on the sports field?  Don’t you too deserve some admiration?

A politician wanting admiration

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi apparently thinks so. Why else at the age of 74 does he surround himself with a bevy of bimbo escorts and sexual scandal? Is this not an attempt to cut a fine figure wanting the image of admiration, adulation, and adoration?

Admiration for those with power, sexual allure & expertise

This desire for others to have a high opinion of oneself shows in other ways. The over-sensitivities of gangland city youth come to mind. With gang leaders it can be difficult, however carefully you choose your words, to talk frankly without making their hackles rise.  ‘We beat him up because he didn’t respect me’. By respect the gang leader meant ‘cow-towing’.

In addition wanting to be well thought of is seen in the victim of plastic surgery desperate for a ‘boob job’ that will give the allure of sexual status. It is also present in the interest in social standing in those who are proud and touchy over questions of social precedence and correct forms of address on formal occasions.

This apparent need for status can also be apparent in the way business people communicate with each other. Use of specialist language can save time when specialists talk together. But sometimes clarity and succinctness go out of the window when people strive to conform to what they imagine is high status ways of talking. One example is the use of phrases like ‘benchmarking’, ‘roll-out’, ‘synergies’ and other management-speak which is tired and discredited by the time it is introduced into a local setting.

But are the rest of us so radically different? Some of us wouldn’t easily admit it but can we too not be a little touchy over the amount of courtesy shown us by strangers, or the degree of deference we imagine we are due on account of our professional reputation? Of course in traditional British culture, if you want to keep the good regard of others, you don’t make the mistake of allowing any boastful note to creep into how you talk about any achievements. No, you have to show off in more subtle ways!

Admiration and ego

According to Emanuel Swedenborg, in the spiritually transformed person, the needs of ego are set to one side – not annihilated contrary to what some spiritual teachers say — but only put to bed.

The writer Dr Michael Stanley puts it this way

All our troubles “stem from believing in the ego’s illusion – that one is separate and self-contained, and what is in one is one’s own. Cease to fall for this error, and heavenly states are experienced – especially peace.”

Admiration for the source of love and light

Instead of egoism with its showing off and concern for status in the eyes of others, a spiritually changed  person chooses to turn to the source of love and light and as a result is filled with a more elevated state of mind that gives an overriding desire to please others for their sake.

Swedenborg’s visionary experiences of a higher heavenly realm is filled with such angelic people who do not think or speak from self yet experience the sublime feelings of content, joy and peace.   The way such individuals vary is seen in terms of the quality of their useful functions rather than any sense of social class, stigma, or fame carried over from the world.  No concern about status there. Just an interest in allowing the divine life to flow through one’s being.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems