What to believe – How do I decide?

what to believeIn deciding what to believe sooner or later you come up against something that is greater than yourself. Toddlers make every effort to get their own way but eventually have to submit to parental authority. Young people test their limits climbing mountains or visiting wild places until forced to acknowledge their helplessness in meeting the untamed forces of nature. And older individuals who contemplate the decline in their bodily powers are obliged to admit their lives are finite and end in physical death.

In considering what to believe many get the feeling that something or other greater themselves must be behind their existence. A hidden force that is responsible for everything that goes on in their lives. A higher power which gives meaning to everything that is, the world and what happens in it.

Is this the spirit of humanity? Is it mother nature herself? Is it what religious people call God? How can you know what it is? And for that matter how do you make your mind what to believe about what is true about a range of deeper issues in life—what happens after death, the ethics of warfare, abortion, and euthanasia, or understanding the meaning of innocent suffering. There are a range of answers available, some of which seem to be more attractive than others. But just how do you decide?

In my opinion just as the eye sees things around us so the inner eye can perceive the reality behind the appearance. And so it’s no good relying on information available to the bodily senses to answer the deeper questions. If you happen to agree with me on this, don’t ask materialist science to discover what is beyond nature. For we can be misled by our bodily senses into thinking that what they show us is all there is.

I’m sure all scientists would admit that their scientific instruments cannot directly measure the origin of beauty, kindness, honesty, or justice. In other words although we notice the forms of life we cannot directly see the essence of life; even though we see ethical behaviour in human conduct, we cannot see the source of goodness itself or truth itself.

As human beings we all have the ability to think in abstract ways about what to believe freed from the impulses of our appetites and emotions and thus largely removed from what has been called ‘the lower degree of the mind.’ Accordingly, we are capable of understanding the deeper aspects of life by drawing on abstract ideas such as those found from extra-sensory perception, found in sacred writing, or found about God, that we have learned from parents, teachers, books and friends.

However, it can be asked whether spiritual knowledge about such abstract concepts can result in any kind of deep belief? Whatever our memory for such things, are we not quite capable of having a sudden enthusiasm and rushing carelessly into an impulsive decision – that is if we lack a heartfelt care about considering the consequences. Mere learning about spiritual matters is limited if it is something in the memory and not also in the heart.

No, I would suggest what is needed is what spiritual writers often refer to as inner enlightenment. Light needs to be thrown on spiritual knowledge if it is to become really meaningful. This deeper form of illumination is perceiving what to believe about what is really true from within rather than seeing from without. Not relying on what someone tells you but being moved by an inner spirit of hunger and thirst for answers. One consequence of this would be that reliance on what is said authoritatively by philosophical, religious or spiritual experts can only be a stepping-stone to receiving an enlightened understanding.

So how do you know what to believe result from inner enlightenment?

The trouble is you can get taken up by enthusiasm for some dramatic social cause or other compelling human activity which you invest with all your energy and even turn into a life pursuit. The ideals they represent can feel like they have illuminated your life. But can I suggest that when the activity has limited intrinsic goodness or limited  rightness then it sooner or later will fail you especially if there is a hidden interest that motivates such as the desire for prestige, or social influence.

“Anyone at all who supposes that he has enlightenment is mistaken if he does not love to know truth for its own sake and for the sake of leading a good life.”
(E. Swedenborg, Heavenly Secrets, section 10551)

Nothing is as straightforward as we would like it to be. Deciding what to believe requires careful self-reflection.  I would like to suggest that the art of attending to your inner spirit is a process requiring considerable concentration. Spiritual exercises such as prayer, meditation and contemplation are needed to pry us away from ordinary desires and connect us with a deeper will and purpose.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on21st June 2012CategoriesEnlightenment, Meaning of lifeTags,, , , , , ,, , , , ,, , , , , Leave a comment

Despair – How to conjure up hope?

despairOn an off day, Stuart would privately think that life had little to offer him and he even sometimes felt that all he was doing was going through the motions of living. Money was tight, and in a time of recession there were poor prospects of job advancement. Although working as an estate agent, he had started to despair that he could do anything about finding any way of earning a living in a meaningful role in line with his youthful ideals.

Whatever he did wasn’t satisfying for very long and from time to time the feelings of hopelessness would return. He kept busy and this was his way of avoiding what he didn’t realize was a state of inner despair. He had been an idealist when younger, very keen to help bring about a world where the natural environment was protected, business people were honest, and social justice was the norm.

Now days he felt depressed whenever he read a newspaper or watched a newscast that clearly showed the opposite of his vision. He had switched from being very positive to very negative in his hopes. He was starting to feel like a failure and trapped by his situation, with a reducing willpower left for continuing the struggle with the disappointments of daily living.

How can someone like Stuart change this state of despair and find something to give hope and energy?

Despair resulting from lack of belief

There is nothing wrong with having a vision of a better world. Many of us like Stuart have imagined a human society uncorrupted by warfare and other social evils; or a natural environment with its beauty not exploited by greed; or a community of mutually supportive people with real concern for the public good, that gives everyone a sense of belonging and being included. Whatever idea of the future that excites us, it can serve to energise our best efforts.

I feel Stuarts’s problem however was that he had no deep belief to sustain his endurance when set-backs and adversity got in the way: nothing to hold on to that had the power to transform society: no spiritual framework of ideas to sustain his youthful vision, to give it credibility in the long run as an achievable objective, and to enable his wishes to survive a rational appraisal of what is possible. When there is nothing on which one can pin one’s hopes, then despair is likely to be the result.

If you despair, in what can you put your faith?

In other words, I am trying to argue that what is crucially needed is something beyond oneself, that transcends the material realm, and in which one can put one’s faith: an entity greater than oneself: that goes beyond the ‘little me’ with my petty concerns: that offers a timeless vision of life.

The way you think affects the way you feel. This is a psychological process known about by psychologists and used in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Consequently, it is key to examine whether the belief that sustains your hopes is a reasonable one. Stuart’s despair seems to come from his denial of any divine spark within and beyond humanity that could help us think further than self.

But how to be convinced? How to find a rational faith that could challenge the setbacks and illusions that destroy hope? The illusions of meaninglessness, alienation and self-condemnation?

Persuasive belief and despair

One answer comes from the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He writes about a limited type of belief that results from being persuaded by some ideology such as a political or religious teaching: often this is a belief of convenience so our attitudes unconsciously fit in with those of our family and friends. He claims that it is possible for such a belief to be  part of the thinking mind, but not also part of the feeling heart: if so he says it cannot endure. For example being persuaded that it is wrong to steal cannot transform a person from being a robber at heart unless there is a desire to be honest, so that thought and feeling are in harmony. Incongruity between head and heart accounts for the hypocrisy seen in some of the history of religion including Christianity. It can also account for lost hope and despair.

Swedenborg contrasts persuasive belief with a genuine faith in a higher power. He maintains real faith is to do with trust and confidence: it is knowing in your heart with an inner conviction for example that there is a divine providence behind the universe beyond all the ability of material science to observe. So just how can one find such an inner conviction that sustains hope? What do you do to be convinced deep down?

Despair or receiving confident hope through faith

Swedenborg’s answer is that such a faith is a spiritual gift – not something we can create for ourselves but rather something that we can receive: a gift only for those who are ready to receive it: who are willing to give something of themselves in order to receive.

But give what? Things that occur to me are:

  1. Giving an open mind to the possibility of a higher spiritual power that we can source to change things for the better,
  2. Giving the time to try to understand what this would mean,
  3. Giving our effort to try to lead a way of life in line with what we are persuaded is true.

If all this is correct then to find confidence in justice and peace, one needs to attempt to act  fairly with others. Likewise to have a deep trust in a creative force within the universe, one needs to oneself start nurturing the natural environment. Also to believe in the reality of the power of compassion, then one needs to begin practicing a caring attitude towards those with whom we come into contact. I believe this is the way to receive the gift of inner conviction.

Without confidence and conviction there can be no sustainable hope. Without hope there is despair.

“Give and you will receive”
“Search and you will find”
(Jesus Christ)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Belief

Belief

Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

John came:

Luke 1:77: “To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.”

Luke 17:20-21: “20Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation…21For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” “

John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John 4:14: “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

John 5:25: “.the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live….”John 5:28-29: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

John 5:39-40: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

John 6:40: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 6:47: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”

John 6:68: “But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” “

John 8:24: “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

John 12:47-48: “47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges himthe word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”

 

Despair – How to conjure up hope?

Despair – How to conjure up hope?

despairOn an off day, Stuart would privately think that life had little to offer him and he even sometimes felt that all he was doing was going through the motions of living. Money was tight, and in a time of recession there were poor prospects of job advancement. Although working as an estate agent, he had started to despair that he could do anything about finding any way of earning a living in a meaningful role in line with his youthful ideals.

Whatever he did wasn’t satisfying for very long and from time to time the feelings of hopelessness would return. He kept busy and this was his way of avoiding what he didn’t realize was a state of inner despair. He had been an idealist when younger, very keen to help bring about a world where the natural environment was protected, business people were honest, and social justice was the norm.

Now days he felt depressed whenever he read a newspaper or watched a newscast that clearly showed the opposite of his vision. He had switched from being very positive to very negative in his hopes. He was starting to feel like a failure and trapped by his situation, with a reducing willpower left for continuing the struggle with the disappointments of daily living.

How can someone like Stuart change this state of despair and find something to give hope and energy?

Despair resulting from lack of belief

There is nothing wrong with having a vision of a better world. Many of us like Stuart have imagined a human society uncorrupted by warfare and other social evils; or a natural environment with its beauty not exploited by greed; or a community of mutually supportive people with real concern for the public good, that gives everyone a sense of belonging and being included. Whatever idea of the future that excites us, it can serve to energise our best efforts and sustain our endurance when set-backs and adversity get in the way.

I feel Stuarts’s problem however was that he had nothing to believe in that had the power to transform society: no spiritual framework of ideas to sustain his youthful vision, to give it credibility in the long run as an achievable objective, to enable his wishes to survive a rational appraisal of what is possible. When there is nothing on which one can pin one’s hopes, then despair is likely to be the result.

If you despair, in what can you put your faith?

In other words, I am trying to argue that what is crucially needed is something beyond oneself, that transcends the material realm, and in which one can put one’s faith: an entity greater than oneself: that goes beyond the ‘little me’ with my petty concerns: that both offers a timeless vision of life.

The way you think affects the way you feel – a psychological process used in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Consequently, it is key to examine whether the belief that sustains your hopes is a reasonable one? Stuart’s despair seems to come from his disbelief in any divine spark within and beyond humanity that can help us think further than self.

But how to be convinced? How to find a rational faith that could challenge the setbacks and illusions that destroy hope? The illusions of meaninglessness, alienation and self-condemnation?

Persuasive belief and despair

One answer comes from the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. He writes about a limited type of belief that results from being persuaded by some ideology such as a political or religious teaching: often this is a belief of convenience so our attitudes unconsciously fit in with those of our family and friends. He claims that such a belief may be part of the thinking mind, but not also part of the feeling heart: if so he says it cannot endure. For example being persuaded that it is wrong to steal cannot transform a person from being a robber at heart unless there is a desire to be honest – unless thought and feeling are in harmony. Incongruity between head and heart accounts for the hypocrisy seen in some of the history of religion including Christianity. It can also account for lost hope and despair.

Swedenborg contrasts persuasive belief with a genuine faith in a higher power. He maintains real faith is to do with trust and confidence: it is knowing in your heart with an inner conviction for example that there is a divine providence behind the universe beyond all the ability of material science to observe. So just how can one find such an inner conviction that sustains hope? What do you do to be convinced deep down?

Despair or receiving confident hope through faith

His answer is that such a faith is a spiritual gift – not something we can create for ourselves but rather something that we can receive: a gift only for those who are ready to receive it: who are willing to give something of themselves in order to receive.

But give what? Things that occur to me are:

  1. Giving an open mind to the possibility of a higher spiritual power that we can source to change things for the better,
  2. Giving the time to try to understand what this would mean,
  3. Giving our effort to try to lead a way of life in line with what we are persuaded is true.

If all this is correct then to find confidence in justice and peace, one needs to start behaving fairly with others. Likewise to have a deep trust in a creative force within the universe, one needs to oneself start nurturing the natural environment. Also to believe in the reality of the power of compassion, then one needs to begin practicing a caring attitude towards those with whom we come into contact.

Without confidence and conviction there can be no sustainable hope. Without hope there is despair.

“Give and you will receive”
“Search and you will find”
(Jesus Christ)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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