It seems like every year the news media presents us with shocking disclosures about political leaders, actors, athletes, and members of the clergy getting caught in scandal. These are often people of great accomplishments. Even great leaders, who have started important movements throughout history and whose personal sacrifices have benefited humankind, have succumbed to various personal indiscretions.
How is this possible? How can these transgressions happen, especially when many such individuals often expound noble behavior? They clearly have a sense of right and wrong.
The problem is not civility or morality. It is one’s spirituality. Misconduct is not simply a “slip” or a temporary mental state of bad judgment. It is the rejection of the concept of sin.
Many dynamic individuals may understand that certain behavior is immoral and loudly condemn such behavior as going against the public good. But if these things are not seen as sins, they remain soldering in the heart and are merely kept hidden from the world for the sake of reputation.
This is why Scripture warns us to “clean the inside of the cup” (Matthew 23:26). If something is not viewed as a sin, the inside of the cup remains as it is.
What is not usually taken into account is that humans have an inner and an outer reality. Humans are both physical and spiritual beings. But these two realities of our life can be completely separated from each other. We can be outwardly good but inwardly challenged. This leads to hypocrisy.
This inner deceit has led to a faulty reasoning of modernity which has adopted the life-slogan and inner conviction that, “something is wrong only if you get caught.” But how is it that such individuals can do great things for humanity and gain our deepest respect and praise?
Great things can be, and indeed are, accomplished by those who do not inspect their inner reality. In fact, they are often more motivated to accomplish great things which can benefit others than those of a more humble animus. The reason is quite simple. Such individuals are inwardly driven by the powerful principle of self-love and have pride from the glory of their own self-intelligence. So, in order to succeed and gain proper recognition, they push themselves more than others to accomplish great things.
The Lord God often makes wise use of those who are intoxicated by the power of self-love. For instance, various ego-centered individuals have been quite successful in spreading the Holy Word throughout the world by their immoderate passion for quoting scripture and speaking about God from the pulpit.
The problem is that while such individuals can be of real value to others, they shoot themselves in the foot. The spiritual world (heaven and hell) consists of the inner realities of people. That can be either a comforting or scary thought.
It is wrong to think we screw up because “to be human is to err.” We get our humanness from God and increase it through following spiritual tenets and the Commandments. God is always focused on our inner realities.
Do you think the concepts of “sin” and “evil” have relevancy in our post-modern world, or are they simply archaic terms used by the unenlightened?
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
For over thirty years I worked as a psychological therapist in the British National Health Service. I helped patients start to manage and deal with their mental health problems. The service expected me to discharge each case as soon as possible so I could see the next patient on the long public waiting list. Following treatment, the individual received no further active professional help. All I did were follow-ups to check on progress.
Many who had finished therapy had successfully started to better deal with past traumatic experiences, long-term negative situations, and current stressful difficulties. They had become free of their worst symptoms of mental ill-health.
However, despite their improvements, I believed many of the discharged patients would have benefited from further help. The condition of mental health is not just the absence of mental health problems.
Mental health is usually seen as a state of subjective well-being. A satisfactory adjustment to personal circumstances and a resilience in facing life’s demands. Some definitions also include personal competence, a balance of autonomy and dependence, and reaching one’s potentials. In other words ‘the capacity to work and to love’ as said by Sigmund Freud.
Actually, recent research by Julie Exline, at Western Reserve University, has found that people who more fully embrace struggles with fundamental beliefs and values report better mental health than those who don’t. She identified this in spiritual terms.
“Regular spiritual avoidance can make it difficult to identify, work toward or experience the qualities that lend a sense of purpose to life” (Julie Exline)
In other words, help is needed for people fearful of confronting the tensions and conflicts brought on by existential concerns—the “big questions” of life.
However, in mental health circles at the time I was working, there was still an attitude of negativity or indifference towards spirituality and religion. I am pleased that in more recent times this is slowly changing. There is now much more openness and positive attention given. Hence psychotherapists, at least in North America, are now encouraged to be more active in stimulating patients, if they wish, to explore the spiritual dimension in their lives.
But do the words ‘mental’ and ‘spiritual’ mean different things? Are ‘mental health’ and ‘spiritual health’ not the same? Does spirituality really add an extra dimension?
Transpersonal psychologist Steve Taylor studies:
“Experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos”. (R. Walsh, and F. Vaughan)
Taylor has written about an inner suffering of the mind he calls ‘psychological discord’. It is when we have a sense of loneliness, foreboding, dissatisfaction, boredom. I would say you don’t have to have a mental-health problem to experience this emptiness within yourself.
Effects of psychological discord
As a result of this inner disharmony, we want to be taken out of ourselves, to compensate for our dissatisfaction and discord. We seek to defend our fragile ego and build it up. So we react angrily to anyone causing us offence. Or we might put a lot of energy into acquiring material things, social status, power or fame.
We want to latch our attention on to something external to our own discord. So we are also prone to frequently use electronic gadgets to engage in unnecessary activity such as accessing social media, games, television. We spend this time in a passive state where there is no real challenge and we don’t have to engage our deeper nature.
Also we fall into daydreaming or rumination about the past or future rather than being mindful of the present moment. Part of our minds are elsewhere rather than being alive to opportunities for living life to the full. Often we aren’t even properly present to the people we meet throughout the day. Not giving our full attention when we talk to them.
Cause of psychological discord
Taylor says that this state of inner disharmony and discord is normal. We need to learn to inwardly grow as people to transcend it. He attributes it to what he calls a common condition of ‘humania’. This is defined as one of isolation, and incompleteness inherent in our superficial sense of self-hood. He contrasts this sense of ‘I’ with a different state of consciousness he calls the ‘witnessing self’ which is more fundamental.
This concept of ‘humania’ is not so very different from the concept of ‘proprium’ written about by the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. For him, this is the non-spiritual awareness we have of being a separate, self-contained individual with a mind and body of our own quite apart from other people, the world around us and our divine Source.
“By proprium no one understands anything else than that he lives from himself, and consequently thinks and wills from himself.”(Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Instead of operating at the level of lower ego or propium, people, have traditionally understood spiritual health to refer to a higher consciousness of ennobling thoughts. It is to do with contentment and peacefulness. Experiencing generosity and a joy of doing good service for others, living ethically, and rising above the natural desires and attachments of the material plane.
Scholars interpret most of the sacred writings of the world’s great religions as referring to an enlightened understanding of life and liberation from wayward motives. Many writers refer to spiritual health as death of an old ‘false self’ and uncovering of one’s ‘true Self’.
Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems