Review of The Sun and the Serpentine by Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller.
Some matters talked about in new age circles are attractive for those who have a sense that there is a mystery to life. Two examples of topics that resonate are ley lines and dowsing – and they come together in this book. But do ley lines exist and does dowsing work?
Ley lines are alleged alignments of such places as ancient monuments and megaliths, ridge-tops and water-fords. It is claimed that these lines have spiritual power and that their intersection points resonate a special psychic or mystical energy. Some people think they were selected in earlier times for the spiritual benefits and revelations bestowed by nature. Others however suggest finding straight lines that “connect” sites, should be put down to coincidence given the high density of historic and prehistoric places in Britain.
The authors are firmly in the first camp. They claim that ley lines do exist and that a general ley line runs right across southern Britain for 300 miles from the far west of Cornwall to a point on the east coast of Norfolk. It is called the St Michael’s line which takes in many historic places such as at Glastonbury, Avebury and Bury St Edmunds. It is claimed dowsing reveals two specific ley lines of enigmatic flows of energy meandering around its course.
To dowse is to search, with the aid of a simple hand held tool. For example this can consist of two rods simply and quickly made for example from a pair of metal coat hangers cut appropriately and bent into a right angle. What is sought is otherwise hidden from view or knowledge. Dowsing has been used to look for underground water, archaeological remains, cavities and tunnels, oil, and veins of mineral ore. It is also claimed to detect subtle energies that surround certain things.
Dowsing apparatus has no power of its own but merely amplifies slight movements of the hands. The subconscious mind may influence the body without the dowser consciously deciding to take action. Dowsers maintain that they are intuitively perceiving a mystical force through divination. Scientists are more likely to explain dowsing in terms of firstly physical cues that the dowser senses without realising it, secondly what the dowser expects to find, and thirdly what is probable given the specific situation.
For some people, reading this book may be an exasperating experience. There is little or no attempt to accommodate to the reader who might not share the authors’ instincts and intuitions. We get speculation often voiced as faith, theory presented as fact. This is not a book that addresses questions about the methods used. Nothing about the expectations of the dowsers. Could they have independently confirmed each others results without prior knowledge? We do not know. Neither does it address the level of statistical probability for ley lines and confidence one can place on the patterns found.
On the other hand perhaps we should take into account what has been called ‘the common feeling background’. The researches of philosopher and psychology teacher James Pratt have revealed a mild form of mystic experience which is the sense of the presence of a reality through other means than the ordinary perceptive processes or the reason. This feeling is said to be often overlooked although common place. The reason he gives is that those acquainted with it are frequently hesitant or ill prepared to describe it.
I can sympathise with the view that earth is a mother that gives us life and that industrialisation has progressively created a situation where humanity works against nature instead of with it. However, whilst realising our present way of understanding and treating the earth is wrong, I do wonder whether this talk of ley lines as an alignment of sacred sites and the earth as a living creature might just be a wishful expression of this realisation?
In his account of the spiritual dimension to life, Emanuel Swedenborg does not mention ley lines or dowsing but does writes that there is an energy that flows into the natural world via a hidden spiritual realm. According to this view, the earth is not alive in itself but receives a flow of energy originating from its divine creative source.
Swedenborg writes about how spiritual enlightenment is needed if we are to perceive reality clearly. We need to intuitively tap into the mystery of life because our physical senses cannot tell us all there is to know. At the same time we need to use our physical senses and thinking ability to confirm and understand what we intuitively perceive. In his spiritual philosophy he tries to write about his own deeper perceptions in a rational form as possible. At the same time he knows only too well that what is deeply true transcends even the rational degree of the mind.
So what to make of ley lines, dowsing and the book The Sun and the Serpent ? I still don’t know!
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Tabloid newspapers are popular. They love to be judgmental and cast blame. Yet we disapprove and adopt a very different ethos where telling right from wrong is seen to smack of being judgmental. In post-modern Britain, discrimination is out and tolerance is in. Anything goes these days as long as it doesn’t cause harm.
Corporate ethics telling right from wrong
On the other hand, over the last ten years or so there has been a big growth of corporate ethical statements and codes of practice. This may be all about gaining customer confidence. But is it not also a genuine attempt at seeking guidance for telling right from wrong in tricky commercial and professional decision making?
Distinguishing right from wrong in personal choices
In your private life, you are faced with numerous dilemmas – emotional, financial, domestic – and it can be hard to know what is the right thing to do. Some of these decisions have profound implications for the quality of one’s own as well as other people’s lives. To allow a sexual relationship to start, to communicate private information about a friend, to prioritise career over family or the other way around, not to mention the tricky issues of telling right from wrong in relation to abortion, divorce and voting at elections.
Many people do not think in terms of morality yet they feel that decisions should be made on the basis of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Those, who deny there are any personal rights and wrongs, nevertheless, emphasise the ideals of love, holism, and self-improvement. And even criminals usually acknowledge their crime is wrong deserving punishment if they are caught.
So the question remains just how does one know what really is right and wrong?
Do values determine the way we tell right from wrong?
Although some people might think that a moral or ethical code is simple, it is often a complex definition based upon underlying values. What is right or wrong in a specific situation is one thing, but one’s values identify what should be judged as good or bad. These personal and cultural ethics may reflect religious doctrines, political ideologies, aesthetic theories, or just social norms. They guide what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable, and constructive.
Some dress-codes may simply be conforming to social etiquette but yet reflect something that is valued. Wearing the colours of your sports team alongside your fellow supporters is what one’s mates do to express raw tribalism but it is also expressing the value of communal belonging.
Is telling right from wrong just a matter of social convention
Some social scientists argue that what is convention / custom /social fashion can be the determining factor in deciding what is right. They say there is no correct definition of right behaviour, and that what is morally right or wrong can only be judged with respect to particular socio-historical contexts. Doing one’s duty, and fulfilling one’s obligations may reflect a higher value but it might just be conforming to the notion that it is right if in your culture, society says it is right.
Yet some values appear to run deeper than others and have a more universal meaning and thus can be seen as spiritual. Wearing dark clothes at a funeral in many cultures expresses the value of respect for the emotional needs of the bereaved and the dignity and solemnity of the occasion.
Can spiritual values guide right from wrong
Another example of a spiritual value is the ‘golden rule’ that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. This ethic of reciprocity was present in certain forms across the ancient world and can be found in all the world’s major religious traditions. For example the Buddha made this principle one of the cornerstones of his ethics and loving the neighbour is central to Christ’s message.
Strangely this principle of reciprocity is also seen as the cornerstone of a scientific theory that denies any moral truth. Many evolutionary biologists say its function is typically to ensure a reliable supply of essential resources, especially for animals living in a habitat where food quantity or quality fluctuates unpredictably. Reciprocity is shared, for example by all mammals living in complex social groups (e.g., wolves, coyotes, elephants, dolphins, rats, chimpanzees).
Learning right from wrong in childhood
A particular moral code may be fallacious but everyone has to start somewhere in the growth of understanding about how to live life. People can believe in the moral precepts associated with their religious upbringing. They may believe it is right if God says it is right. After all the kind of moral rules contained in religion prohibit murder, adultery, theft and false witness. These precepts are incorporated into the civil law-code in all the countries of the world because without them no society could hold together. Other people take their lead from the views of respected political leaders, parents and friends.
However usually, after absorbing the views of those whom are admired, the individual begins to consider and reflect for him or herself about right and wrong. And this means choosing what underlying things about life are the most important. What should rule one’s decisions – lifestyle considerations that represent one’s idea of the good life?, aesthetic values?, social standards?, economic ethics?, political ideals? or spiritual principles? Where do you get your own moral judgments from?
Enlightened understanding and telling right from wrong
Often words limit the perception of truth, which is beyond words. It is entirely possible for an individual to be a genuine seeker after truth, gradually building up his or her own spiritual philosophy with enlightenment from within. This means perceiving what is right inwardly from the light of the spirit of truth that is with them and not just taking on board the views of others.
According to Swedenborg, enlightenment comes to those who have a love of what is really true wherever that leads them. We need to use our rational faculties and the knowledge we gain from others but most of all we need to sense and learn to rely on the divine spirit of truth within the human soul.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Not everybody wants to be a better person and develop along what can be our hectic journey of life. My cat doesn’t. She’s quite content with the stage she has reached in her life — as long as I feed and stroke her on a daily basis. Nor do those human beings who are uninterested in moral values, want to improve their character. You may be different.
Perhaps you have a vague uneasy feeling that you could be a better person – if only you knew how. Not necessarily because you want people to think well of you but because you would like to live a decent life, becoming more patient, tolerant, kind, fair-minded or whatever. Many people are interested in making spiritual progress.
Becoming a better person through therapy
Much of psychotherapy and personal growth coaching is about strengthening the ego, integrating the self, correcting one’s self-image, building self-confidence, the establishing of realistic goals and so on. However, some therapists tend to believe that self-insight into our hang-ups or personal problems is sufficient for personal healing. And those that don’t actually believe this tend not to report their efforts to tackle the clients’ volition. It is as if new ways of thinking are sufficient for changes in behaviour.
But is this true? Does personal improvement come just from enlightened understanding? Is there really no need for a change of heart in facing a new direction? No need also for effort to change one’s ways?
Becoming a better person through self-discipline
Can I suggest the idea that personal improvement involves the effort of self-discipline. Self-discipline over what we think, say and do.
“Thoughts become words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character. And character becomes your destiny.” (Unknown author)
In any trip to the shop there is a price to pay for anything we want to take home. But my point of view is that in becoming a better person it is not so much the wallet or purse that we need to produce but rather the cost of letting go of an attitude that has been with us for perhaps a long time, something that has almost become second nature. One can’t have one’s cake and eat it. So how can you expect to become more patient and tolerant whilst continuing to indulge in impatience or intolerance?
Likewise does not learning self-restraint and moderation mean forgoing excess? If so, every desirable quality has its opposite that needs to be acknowledged as something that needs to die within the individual.
Perhaps this is why Old Testament injunctions regarding religious laws have been often couched in terms of what not to do. Don’t do this and don’t do that. In other words, you can’t do what is good unless you stop doing what is bad.
The world from biblical times on has had people who have acted selfishly or dangerously. So the Bible and the criminal law is expressed in terms of what not to do. Don’t steal, don’t act fraudulently, don’t murder and so on.
Becoming a better person through affirmations
Yet not everyone behaves badly. My plea is that instead of assuming we have what Christianity has traditionally called our ‘original sin’, we might see ourselves as innocent until our individual actions consistently prove us guilty.
Those adopting this stance practice affirmations. They say :
“I am not the impatience/intolerance/closed-mindedness/unkindness etc that I sometimes feel. I disown such traits. They need no longer cling to me.
Instead I can take on board patience/tolerance/open-mindedness/kindness etc.”
“I can learn to identify myself with good traits and as I practice them they will become ingrained into my makeup.”
Of course, saying affirmations is one thing, but following through a commitment to change can be quite another. The conscious decision to change can be viewed as a bridge between acknowledgement and action. If no action ensues then there probably has been no real decision at all but only a flirting with decision.
Becoming a better person through determination
This raises the interesting question about how genuine are our intentions. How real is our decision? The existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom has pointed out that Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godott clearly illustrates a lack of resolve. The characters think, plan, procrastinate. The play ends with this sequence
Vladimir: Shall we go?
Estragon: Let’s go.
[Stage directions: No one moves]
Becoming a better person through trust in a higher power.
Sometimes the going can be very hard. However much you try to change your ways you may fail. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous recognise this and try to put their trust in what they call ‘a higher power’ many of whom think of as God. Religious faith means just this surrender to something beyond ourselves. For example Christians are taught to try to surrender themselves to the work of the Spirit of God working within them. It is said that without the gift of the Holy Spirit of God they cannot acquire better characteristics.
Those outside organised religion who have a similar approach often are more comfortable referring to this Spirit as the Divine Within without which they are powerless to effect change in their lives.
In my opinion the huge problem with both groups is the erroneous way this insight is sometimes applied. As if belief in a higher power absolves our responsibility for self-discipline and self-control. I trust that active co-operation with what I see as the Divine Spirit can transform my character. This is my challenge. It involves my heart and hands as well as my head.
There are many who declare that man is saved through faith, or as they say, if he merely has faith…Faith however is not mere thought …. thought does not save anyone. (Swedenborg: Heavenly secrets section 9363)
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
When you hear the word enlightenment, you might picture exotic scenes of monks meditating on a mountaintop or a wise spiritual teacher offering gems of insight. Enlightenment isn’t something that we often associate with Christian spirituality, but Emanuel Swedenborg uses that very term throughout his writings to refer to receiving insight from God.
When Swedenborg talks about being enlightened, in a sense he’s being very literal: he describes a spiritual world that exists in parallel to our own, where God is the sun that radiates love and wisdom the way that the sun in nature radiates heat and light. In the spiritual world, God’s light is pure wisdom, and anyone who receives it can “see” in a whole new way:
I have often been allowed to perceive that the light that illumines the mind is a true light, quite different from the light that we call natural light. I have also been allowed to see it. I have been gradually elevated into that light inwardly, and as I was raised up, my discernment was enlightened to the extent that I could grasp what I had been unable to grasp before, ultimately things that could in no way be comprehended by thought from a natural light. At times I have resented the fact that they were incomprehensible [in natural light] when they were so clearly and plainly perceived in the heavenly light. (Heaven and Hell#130)
As the above passage suggests, Swedenborg sees enlightenment not as an event (as some other traditions portray it) but rather as a state of perception that can come or go. For example, in the stories of his experiences in the spiritual world, he sometimes describes people who are confronted with a mystery praying for insight and being enlightened—sometimes actually having light sent to them from above—so they could understand the answer.
But he also describes enlightenment as something that people can experience here on earth, especially while reading scripture:
There is a spiritual perspective, of which few people know anything at all, a perspective that inflows in the case of people who have a longing for truth and tells them inwardly whether what they are hearing or reading is true or not. When we are reading the Word with enlightenment from the Lord, we have this perspective. Having enlightenment is nothing more nor less than having a perception and therefore an inner acknowledgement that this or that statement is true. Isaiah calls such people “taught by Jehovah” (Isaiah 54:13; see also John 6:45) . . . (Faith #5)
In the above passage, Swedenborg gives the first prerequisite for enlightenment: The person has to have a “longing for truth.” They have to really want to understand the nature of spiritual reality. If God chooses to grant this, then a new perspective will flow into them, and they can use that perspective to gain a new understanding of what they’re reading—and ultimately, of life itself. Swedenborg adds that people who approach this process with genuine faith may not even realize that they’ve been enlightened.
Once a person gains this spiritual perspective, Swedenborg continues, it starts to snowball:
The first task [of those who seek enlightenment when they read the Word] is to put together a body of teaching for themselves from the literal meaning of the Word. That is how they light a lamp in order to go further. Once they have put together a body of teaching and lit the lamp, they see the Word in the light of that lamp.
However, people who have not put together a body of teaching for themselves first look to see whether the theological perspective offered by others and generally accepted does in fact agree with the Word; and they accept what agrees and dissent from what does not. That is how they form their body of teaching, and through their body of teaching, their faith.
This [enlightenment] happens, though, only for people who are able to contemplate things without being distracted by professional responsibilities in this world. If they love truths because they are true and put them to use in their lives, they have enlightenment from the Lord, and other people whose lives are to any degree guided by truths can learn from them. (Sacred Scripture #59)
Behind this growing enlightenment are spiritual processes that Swedenborg describes at length in his writings. All human beings, he says, have an inner self and an outer self. The outer self is the part of our mind that controls our everyday life: it thinks, it talks, it acts. The inner self is the part of us that connects to the spiritual world, and it is also the part that receives the light of wisdom. The more light flows into us, the more we can understand spiritual mysteries. (For a more technical explanation of how this works in Swedenborg’s own words, see this footnote.)
So while Swedenborg depicts enlightenment as something that can happen temporarily, as described above, he also describes a state that we can achieve permanently when we grow as spiritual people, a process he calls regeneration.
To sum up, Swedenborg describes three important elements in achieving spiritual growth and, ultimately, enlightenment:
First, enlightenment begins with the desire to understand spiritual truth and the faith that God can and will provide that understanding.
Second, enlightenment is most likely to happen when we not only love truth, but put it to work in our life. For example, if your inner enlightenment tells you that you should be more forgiving, and you make a conscious effort to let go of a grudge you’ve held for a long time, then you make that wisdom part of yourself, and open yourself up to greater light.
Third, our intentions are important. If we only want to achieve understanding to improve our social status, impress others, or make money, then ultimately, Swedenborg says, we will fail.
Remarkably, the kind of enlightenment we individually enjoy depends on the desire we have for truth, and the desire we have for truth depends on how good a life we live. That is why people who have no desire for truth on its own account, only as a means to achieve success, receive no light at all when they read the Word. They only confirm themselves in their theology, whatever its teachings are like, whether they merely distort the truth . . . or go so far as to oppose it. . . . Such people seek not the kingdom of God but the world, not faith but fame, not heavenly but only earthly riches [Matthew 6:33; Matthew 6:19–20]. If they happen to be struck with a lust for learning truth from the Word, they keep discovering falsity rather than truth, and eventually, grounds for denying all truth. (Secrets of Heaven #7012; see also Secrets of Heaven #10330:2-3).
But for those who do succeed in cultivating inner wisdom, Swedenborg describes the end result as a state of “quiet” when all struggle ceases—remarkably similar to the way that Buddhists, for example, describe achieving enlightenment (Secrets of Heaven #5221; see also Secrets of Heaven #87 on the final stage of regeneration). Could there be more common ground than we think between different traditions of enlightenment? You decide!
Divine Love and Wisdom #256: While earthly-minded people cannot think about this wisdom the way angels do, they can still grasp it mentally if their minds are raised into the level of light that angels enjoy. Our minds can actually be raised that far and enlightened accordingly. However, this enlightenment of our earthly minds does not happen by distinct levels. There is instead a gradual increase, and in keeping with that increase, our minds are enlightened from within, with the light of the two higher levels.
We can understand how this happens by perceiving that for vertical levels, one is above the others, with the earthly level, the terminal one, acting like an inclusive membrane for the two higher levels. As the earthly level is raised toward a higher level, then, the higher activates that outer earthly level from within and enlightens it. The enlightenment is actually happening because of the light of the higher levels from within, but it is received gradually by the earthly level that envelops and surrounds them, with greater clarity and purity as it ascends. That is, the earthly level is enlightened from within, from the light of the higher, distinct levels; but on the earthly level itself, it happens gradually.
We can see from this that as long as we are in this world and are therefore focused on the earthly level, we cannot be raised into wisdom itself, the way it is for angels. We can be raised only into a higher light at the boundary of angels and receive enlightenment from their light, which flows into us from within and illumines us.
I cannot describe this any more clearly. It is better understood through its effects [described in the following section, #257].
Secrets of Heaven #5208:1–2 (commentary on a Bible passage that refers to someone awakening from sleep; Swedenborg says this refers to a person becoming enlightened): Enlightenment here means general enlightenment coming from spiritual heavenliness and therefore from inside. Enlightenment that originates or flows from inside is vague and general when shed on a lower level [of our inner self]. Yet it gradually becomes less general and eventually specific as truth based on goodness is instilled on the lower level. Every bit of truth based on goodness shines and illuminates. . . .
Our spiritual and natural levels, or our inner depths and outer surface, are brought into correspondence in just this way. First we acquire truth. Then that truth is apparently banished, so to speak, although it is not really banished but only hidden. Next our lower levels are enlightened in a general way by our higher levels, or our outer surface by our inner depths. Under that illumination, truth is restored in its proper pattern. As a result, all individual truths on that level become an image of their general truth and correspond to it.
While I have never been an atheist, if I had not come across the unique concepts of theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, I would have rejected all official systems of belief. I certainly would have rejected, and still do, all ideas by the traditional Christian Church that faith trumps enlightenment.
There is something wrong when millions upon millions of hungry and curious neurons occupying the human brain are asked to have “faith” and “belief” at the expense of knowledge and rationality.
What really makes my neurons cringe is the doctrinal idea that God is “three Persons” and that Jesus ransomed His life to appease the wrath of His Father. Such doctrinal notions implore us to suspend all reasoning and blindly believe that by some kind of divine hocus-pocus (called a divine mystery) Jesus magically took all our sins and guilt to the cross with Him, and by dying on the cross, put the Father into the right mood and loving frame of mind to again be interested in human salvation.
Besides this scenario making Jehovah God look temperamental and subject to moods, I am at a loss as to how anyone’s bad behavior can be transferred and credited to Jesus, or how the Father can then credit us back with righteousness. This is “voodoo” redemption and implies that Christians are spared from living a life according to the Commandments.
It also suggests that God is glorified in the same way men wish to be glorified—by being served rather than serving, since good works play no part in our redemption.
Jesus was not a ransom for an angry Father-God. If this were so, then Jesus would not have started a ministry and gone to great lengths to share new teachings. While on earth, what Jesus did ransom was His human inclination to exercise command and dominate others. Instead, He choose to wash the feet of the seemingly unworthy. This self-induced humbling action is how God was glorified. The Lord attained greatness through humility rather than through a show of force or might.
“It shall not be so among you; but whosoever would be great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28, Mark 10:44,45)
The Lord took human sin upon Himself by coming into the world and acquiring an imperfect physical body through a human female and real human ovum. In this way, He acquired humankind’s defects and hereditary inclinations towards evil. During the Lord’s life on earth He was given the medium through which He could be influenced by and defeat evil, until He succeeded in perfecting His human nature and uniting it with His divine nature (which was Jehovah). Jesus was Jehovah, and became the Alpha and Omega.
This process of the Lord uniting his human nature with His divine spirit, or Jehovah, was one of perfect humility (exinanition) that reached its ultimate intensity on the cross where the human flesh cried out to be spared from this indignity and be treated specially. Instead of coming down from the cross and showing His true power, he fought to stay on the cross. He brought His flesh under the complete control of the divine will. He showed His ultimate power that divine truth ruled over the selfish and anxious impulses of human flesh.
There is nothing more contrary to heavenly love than the love of self. Therefore, what was ransomed by the Lord’s life on earth was the human compulsion to be served by others for the sake of self and demand obedience.
If the Lord had come off the cross and taken full control, He would have compelled humankind to worship Him. Only humans compel others and force them into submission.
But coercion is not the strategy of God’s Infinite wisdom.
Love is God’s strategy. This includes His first Advent and Second Coming.
Those who have a faith-based worldview believe that God created the manifest universe. In fact, John 1:1-3 informs us that everything in the created world has its origins in the Holy Word.
If we contemplate John’s words rationally, rather than simply as a faith requirement, Scripture seems to be implying that the structure of the universe is patterned after the structure of God’s revealed wisdom.
Many physicists now believe that we live in a multi-dimensional or multi-leveled universe. As you move up this hierarchical ontological ladder, things are not only becoming more fundamental, they are becoming more abstract, expanded, non-local and non-physical.
In my upcoming book, Proving God, I argue that God’s Holy Word—which existed from eternity, was sent down from heaven, where its message found embodiment in the terrestrial words of human language. This divine order was the template for the multi-dimensional structure of the universe. Scientists call this order top-down causality.
Few theologians have considered the fact that if God’s Word came down from heaven, its original dynamics could not have been worldly, terrestrial, or physical. In other words, Scripture, on its most fundamental level, could not have described spatial qualities or physical events.
Heaven is certainly a non-spatial and non-physical realm. Therefore, for the Holy Word to exist in such a rarefied pre-space realm, before creation, it must have contained more abstract, expanded narratives with non-physical meanings. In fact, these higher meanings could ONLY treat of things referring to God’s holy qualities and the holy qualities of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.
In the same way that energy and process can transition downwards into forms of stabilized matter, God’s Holy Word is a multi-dimensional document by which its primal sacred meaning descends into the constraints of time, space and matter, and its message takes on the appearance of a book containing literal history.
Reversing this top-down divine process through the human mind’s ability of symbolic abstraction while reading Scripture is what leads to spiritual enlightenment.
In other words, in the same way that matter and energy become more dynamic as the constraints of physical law are removed in higher levels of activity, the meanings of the stories in Scripture also become more dynamic when the constraints of the literal meanings of its words are removed.
That God intended for us to distill higher levels of meaning from the Holy Word is evidenced by the fact that Jesus spoke in parables only!
The Book of Revelation informs us that we will see the Lord in all His glory when He returns in the midst of clouds. If we remove the constraints of the literal meaning of the words “coming with the clouds” to its higher, psycho-spiritual equivalent, we will understand something deeper. Clouds symbolize mental obscurity. God’s “return” will involve His breaking through our mental obscurity and doctrinal fog by revealing these higher levels of meaning to the human race.
The process of revealing these higher meanings is happening right now in the world. These higher meanings will shake things up for both scientists and theologians. The Second Coming is going to be an earth-shaking paradigm change.
Regarding the UK, it is said the pews are empty because going to church is no longer in fashion. But examining church attendance figures for many years, it can be readily seen that the decline of organised religion is not just a recent matter but actually a long-lasting social trend that has gathered pace over many decades.
The World Values Survey, which is claimed to be the most reliable survey of beliefs across the globe, suggests that there has been a substantial cultural change. William Bloom writing in The Complete Encyclopedia of Mind Body Spirit reports that in modernised and free societies, where people have access to diverse views, up to seventy per cent of the population has moved away from a single faith tradition. Many seem to be acknowledging a spiritual dimension to life without affiliating with organised religion.
Why has organised religion become unpopular?
Everyone knows about the sexual abuses by some priests overlooked by the Roman Catholic church, the religious divide and bigotry in Northern Ireland, and the racial prejudice found among many religious fundamentalists. But more generally, religious believers have often been seen as not being particularly spiritual people. Some have been seen to show narrow-minded intolerance, to have a self-righteous awareness of their own virtues, to try to appear ‘better than others’, to find fault in a judgmental way, or to hypocritically live below professed standards of conduct.
‘If you don’t believe in Jesus as your Saviour then you will not be saved,’ has been the orthodox Christian message. The spiritual dimension seems to be absent from a tradition that is so openly discriminatory and which relies only on the intellect rather than also the behaviour of a person to determine one’s destiny.
The notion of three gods in one still lurks within Christian liturgy. To put it crudely, the traditional idea that has been put about is that one god sacrificed his life to appease the wrath of one of the others. People these days are just no longer willing to believe something that makes no sense to them. How can they be expected to believe in a punitive god of love? Or of a god where one creative source is divided into three divine persons?
Need for dogmas and hypocrisy to die within organised religion
Just as an established perspective in science needs to be criticised and its limitations fully recognised before a paradigm shift can take hold, so perhaps only when mistaken dogmatic religious views die out, can a more enlightened understanding flourish. Maybe only when hypocrisy has died and belief is authentic to the character of the believer, will what believers say be heard. Only when believers stop being so ready to see fault in others can they start looking for the good in them. Only when a believer stops blaming others can he or she have a chance to learn tolerance of their frailty.
Spirituality despite decline of organised religion
Yet despite the decline of organized religion there’s no getting away from it, the notion of a deeper spiritual reality is a highly personal perception. It cannot be proved by science yet for many is a divine spiritual healing force deep within the human soul.
According to Wikipedia, “Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of their being; or the deepest values and meanings by which people live.” “Spiritual practices …develop an individual’s inner life; such practices often lead to an experience of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm…”
The right kind of organised religion might appeal
Daniel Bateson, who completed doctoral studies in both theology and psychology, described the ‘quest orientation’ as characterised by complexity, doubt, and tentativeness. Here we find a spiritual kind of person with an open-ended, responsive dialogue with existential questions raised by the contradictions and tragedies of life.
In his book The Spirituality Revolution, David Tacey compared a conventional to a deeper approach to religion. He wrote that the latter is a spiritual approach which is “based on personal experience, tolerant towards difference, compassionate towards those who make different life choices, and relatively free of ideological fanaticism.”
According to psychologist Gordon Allport, the beliefs of many people who have an intrinsic religious orientation are what really lie behind their whole approach to life. Their private prayers carry much meaning and personal emotion. These surely are spiritual people.
Emanual Swedenborg’s idea of a new spiritual age for organised religion
Swedenborg’s view is that under divine providence when organised religion becomes hypocritical and full of irrational notions then that religion is allowed to die away. Hypocrisy will otherwise block what is holy and sacred. What is false will distort what is true. Only after the old organised religion dies can a new religiosity take hold. He says we now are at the dawn of such a new age. For him there is a new illumination in the world which he thinks of as new wine. This is in line with the parable given in Matthew chapter 9 about new wine that cannot be poured into old bottles without the wine being spoiled. We need new bottles to contain the new wine.
Nor must we put the new wine of spiritual truth into the old maxims of moral expediency and worldly prudence; but we must put our new principles into their only suitable receptacles – honesty, integrity, and sincerity.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems