Organised religion – beyond its sell by date

organised religionRegarding 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

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on16th May 2011CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags,, , , , ,, , , , ,, , , , ,, , , , , ,, ,  Leave a comment

What is truth and how can it help me?

what is truthIt is so easy to feel limited by the circumstances of life – lack of job opportunity, inadequate housing, illness, or relationship difficulties in one’s private life. Who hasn’t experienced one or more of these things? Or knows someone who does? If you feel burdened in this way, you will be less free to feel good about yourself and about the future, less free to make the effort to deal with problems, or less free to find contentment. You are likely to have negative ways of thinking and thus be vulnerable to what can be called the illusion of life. By this I mean being captured by fear of poverty, by anger with the job, by frustration with an ailing body, or by shame of past misdeeds. Perhaps there is a truth that illuminates negative thinking. If so what is truth? And how can it set us free from the illusions of life?

Geoff story

Geoff was getting weary. He worked long hours for a paltry wage as a care assistant at an old peoples home. His stiff joints and aching muscles were getting him down and occasionally he felt he might end up living in the home himself one day. He rode to work on his scooter through good and bad weather alike, dodging through the traffic and risking life and limb when sometimes surrounded by heavy transport vehicles. It would be easy for him to feel fed up fenced in by his situation. Yet he usually seemed to have a cheerful manner and rarely missed a day’s work. He appeared to get on well with the other staff, usually had a chat with the elderly residents and didn’t mind doing the dirty jobs like changing someone’s soiled clothes.

What is truth?

What was Geoff’s secret? The answer seems to be that he had cottoned on to the idea that there is a positive way of looking at things which frees us from oppressive feelings. As a result he stopped making up excuses, telling himself easy lies, and believing in nonsense. Instead he relied on a higher truth that lights up the darkness.

What is truth? It can take many forms. Here are a few examples. It can be seeing the opportunities all around for finding a sense of satisfaction. It can be an awareness of having an inner spirit that lasts for ever. Also it can be valuing the enriching knowledge one possesses. In addition it can be believing in a forgiving and accepting divine spirit that wipes the slate clean of our past misdemeanor. All these are possible answers to the question ‘What is truth?’

What is truth in relation to work?

One may be to all appearances in a dead-end job. But how does one know it will lead nowhere? The truth is every moment of our lives presents us with opportunity. It’s not so much what Geoff did but rather how he did it. He found that cleaning the toilet or making the tea if done with a willing spirit makes all the difference between feeling bored and feeling good. It’s a chance to feel you belong, to have a laugh, to make a new friend, to learn a bit more about the business, to feel someone’s appreciation of what you do: being useful even in doing an unpopular job that others would consider beneath them. Some jobs can bring their own satisfaction even if no-one but the individual receiving some benefit from you notices. Here then is part of the answer to what is truth.

What is truth in relation to our identity?

We each have a physical body. But how do we know that is all there is to us? There seems to be a growing interest these days in what is called the human aura. This is said to be like a coloured sheath that encloses the physical body, and which provide clues to the state of the individual’s health. A hidden anatomy is often understood to comprise seven or more centres of vital force, the chakras.

Geoff had a slightly different take on the idea of having a hidden anatomy. He was attracted to the idea that people who are in a heavenly state of mind grow young as to their personality. He believed in the idea that he had a spiritual body that will endure beyond the death of his tired out physical one. Having this positive idea seemed to release him from any fear of his future demise. Here is another answer to the question about what is truth.

What is truth in relation to wealth?

Some people are inwardly wealthy – having a wisdom that is not to do with cleverness or remembering lots of factual information. Some can suss out what others are up to, some can fathom deeper ideas behind what is written, some have a psychic sensitivity, some can plan with clear-headed judgment. Geoff was outwardly poor having not been well educated and not well read. But inwardly he did seem to have a rich stream of ideas to do with the important things in life. I believe that we too can be enriched by loving what is deeply true and humbly attributing such knowledge not to our own ability but rather to a higher source of truth.

What is truth in relation to healing?

Geoff had not lived an untarnished life. There were a few things he had done in the past about which he had been ashamed. But now he felt all that had been put to one side. He no longer thought about those careless moments when he had drifted off the right path he had been following. For him the truth is that there is an intangible sense of being accepted – a healing force within the universe.

What is truth? – a conclusion

I believe that to be conscious of the sort of things that were true for Geoff is to be in touch with our true self: an inner state of mind capable of receiving the presence of the divine spirit as it enlightens our thoughts with compassion freeing us from the traps of daily living.

“Infinite love is the only truth. Everything else is illusion.” (David Icke)

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

Posted on25th November 2014CategoriesEnlightenment, Latest post, Meaning of lifeTags, , , , , , ,,

Beliefs – Why do people differ so much?

beliefsWe seem to be surrounded by so much tension and conflict in the world today. With all the prejudice, discrimination and violence associated with strongly held beliefs, it would be nice to work out why people disagree so much. So what causes us to each believe certain things and be sniffy about opposing ideas?

I imagine we pickup ideas from all around us. Beliefs that have seeped through from current and past thinking in politics, philosophy, religion and so on. I’m sure I am influenced by my family upbringing, the traditions of my culture, the mass media and books I watch and read, what my teachers told me, and what newspapers I choose to read.

In a multicultural society where a pluralistic mentality has influenced our individual consciousness, it is quite difficult if not impossible to disentangle the effects of all these factors.

Beliefs affected by tough and tender mindedness

A first specific reason I can offer for our differing beliefs is to do with what some psychologists have supposed regarding ‘tough’ or ‘tender’ mindedness. The idea here is that we all differ in our social attitudes and values partly according to something which underlies our political leanings. For example a tough-minded conservative perspective on fairness means people should get what they deserve based on the amount of effort they have put in. What is fair from a tender-minded liberal point of view, is sharing resources equally and caring for people who are vulnerable.

Liberals are commonly said to value individualism and democratic participation as these are seen by them as conducive to progressive innovation. On the other hand conservatives tend to emphasise loyalty and authority which they see as helpful for maintaining a stable society. You can guess which side tolerate open-ended questions as opposed to wanting structure and clear answers.

So where does this tough minded-tender minded factor come from? Apparently, individual differences in personality are a leading candidate. Using data compiled from nearly 20,000 respondents, researcher Dana Carney and colleagues at Columbia University found that two common personality traits reliably differentiated individuals with liberal or conservative identifications. Liberals reported greater openness to new experience whereas conservatives reported higher conscientiousness. This means that liberals (at least in their own estimation) see themselves as more creative, flexible, tolerant of ambiguity, and open to new ideas and experiences. Conservatives see themselves as more persistent, orderly, moralistic and methodical.

Religious beliefs and other world-views

Is not an important cause of difference in social attitude to do with religion? If you come from a particular tradition – faith or secular – I reckon this will probably have an important bearing on the way you think about ethical and related matters; regarding the meaning of life, one’s final destiny, human suffering, the paranormal and so on. Here is then a second reason for differing beliefs.

Those we strongly disagree with may not be immoral but be simply individuals applying similar values to our own in different ways. If this were true then some of the conflict one finds between those of opposing views might subside. For example one conservative religious mind-set is be a good steward of the earth, to protect God’s creation – a view that is quite compatible with the green energy and conservation liberal policies.

I would suggest that those people, who acknowledge a higher consciousness beyond their ordinary awareness of life, are more likely to try to meditate deeply. Similarly, those theists, who happen to believe in a compassionate rather than a punitive deity, are more likely to engage in regular conversational prayer with their God. I imagine that those people who believe in an afterlife and also believe in the human capacity for inner free-will – as opposed to having a fatalistic attitude – would try to live life now as they mean to carry on doing to eternity. Finally I can point to those who believe in the golden rule of ‘doing to others as you would wish others to do to you’ as consequently playing fair by other people even if it is possible to get away with deception without being found out.

Beliefs that can be enlightened

Spiritual theory talks of enlightenment. And this points to a third reason why people differ in their beliefs. In other words even if understanding is limited, what is known has the capacity to hold a higher truth within it. According to this view we can distinguish between what might be called surface beliefs and deeper intuition. What is true for you depends on your individual level of enlightenment – the degree of illuminating light thrown on to what you know. Without such deeper perception one may be stuck in illusion.

One example of this relates to the belief in God as someone who rewards good and punishes bad behaviour. This is how divine justice appears to a simple-minded individual like a child. But look deeper and I would suggest one can find a more enlightened view of the matter in terms of positive and negative spiritual consequences that we bring on ourselves because a spiritual state is inherent in all what we do.

Beliefs in illusions and appearances

Some ideas about the universe have been shown to be illusory but other theories although a huge improvement can only ever be an approximation of what is really true. Scientists want the truth about nature but they can only come up with theories which continually change in the light of new evidence.

Similarly spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, wrote about personally relevant beliefs such as ethical and spiritual beliefs. He maintained that one never discovers what is really true: all insights are only appearances of genuine reality – adapted to different perception inherent in human circumstances.

Our individual conception of what is true is given to us according to what we are able to grasp. Given the huge range of the human condition and individual enlightenment, no wonder people believe different things.

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

Will it turn out all right?

worryWill it turn out alright? This question repeats itself in my mind on many occasions and levels. Will my children be alright? Will the next event I facilitate go OK? What might go wrong!

I could go on at length on this track and do habitually get stuck in this grove of projecting my fears onto the future.

It’s very depleting, energetically, and does no good at all; I feel like a hamster on a treadmill. Things are out of my control and the whole worrying bit is pointless.  When I am in more rational moments and less stressed I can see that this is so.

One of the tools I use is to ask myself ‘does it really matter?’ In the great scheme of things does it really matter if things don’t go the way I want them to or turn out different from what I intended. At times I get hung up on the little things and forget the bigger picture.

With hindsight I recognise that when things go pear-shaped it is often a huge learning opportunity. When I wasn’t employed in a job that I had trained for it set me free to explore other possibilities and work in a different way. Often what I was stressing about never actually happened – all that wasted energy worrying!

Another tool I have come to use and remember is to be in the moment. If I’m focused on the future (or past for that matter) I’m never actually living in the moment. Very young children have a wonderful way of just being in the moment – in watching the attention of a little child placing toy bricks in a bag and taking them out again I see this played out. All the child’s focus is on what is happening in the now. How often do we adults give ourselves to the moment like this? I guess that a painter or other creative person does get lost in the energy of creating – in self-forgetfulness.

Life is for living not frittering it away in placing one’s attention in past or future. Each moment is precious and pregnant with opportunity.

However by far the greatest tool is to remind oneself that Divine Love is constant and has its focus on bringing goodness and happiness to each person whatever their circumstances. When I view things from ego this doesn’t seem to be the case when things don’t go my way or what I think is right doesn’t occur. To let that go and trust in the Divine plan that I cannot see may seem impossible and foolhardy if viewed from a worldly or superficial mindset. To love what is the highest good for all brings me into alignment and may be acceptance that difficult times are part of the way forward.

All this reminds me of the prayer below….

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Furthermore this quote from Swedenborg highlights the importance of trust in the Divine ……

There are many currents in people’s lives. One current is stronger and at the same time gentler than the rest, though this may seem like a paradox. It is the stream of Divine providence. Sometimes the quest for the spiritual life isn’t so much a matter of a tenacious search or struggle to change, but rather a letting go. Simply acknowledging and accepting that God is leading and that we are following can change us.                                                  ( Way of Wisdom)

 

Copyright 2013 Helen Brown

Nurturing the Soul blog

Posted on13th July 2013CategoriesEnlightenmentTags, ,, , , ,,Leave a comment

 

 

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

Conviction or doubt about spiritual ideas?

conviction or doubtGeneral ideas about what is true about life come from all around us — family, the mass media, books. These concepts have often seeped through from current and past thinking for example from politics, philosophy and religion. We respond with either conviction or doubt or somewhere in between.

We absorb such ideas because we tend to be interested in making sense of our lives, why we are here, where we come from, and where we are going, not to mention fathoming the reality of suffering, misfortune, and chaos that we find all around us.

But life goes on and we are obliged to make the best fist of it using what values and principles we have learned about and accept.

The question arises: Is it better to have conviction or doubt about your ideas? Conviction helps you put ideas into practice with commitment. Having doubt about ideas other people believe in can be useful given the complexities of life.

Problems with conviction or doubt

One problem in forming set beliefs is that of believing something for reasons other than to do with the truth. This might be wanting to fit in with the attitudes of friends, unease in going against what your parents told you to think as a child, and even fear of expressing a religious doubt in case this is construed as blasphemy.

Some argue that rushing into belief about something also means your understanding cannot easily be broadened and what you hold to be true cannot be qualified in any way. So they say exposing yourself to opposing ideas obliges you to think and ponder over whether your ideas are indeed true, and to gather reasons in support of them.

Having doubts can be unsettling especially if they challenge previous life choices such as vocation or marriage. The trouble with seeing every side of an issue is you can get stuck. A humorist once commented on someone who belonged to a liberal religion which celebrated doubt. This person arrived at the pearly gates of heaven only to find a signpost pointing in one direction to God, and in the other direction towards a discussion of God. He took the latter path. In other words he preferred to talk the talk rather than walk the walk of his religion.

Conviction or doubt in relation to luck 

When something bad happens we might wonder why. One spiritual idea, is that good-fortune is a reward for acting rightly while bad luck is punishment for being bad. You tend to make this assumption when you find yourself asking ‘Why me, what have I done to deserve this?’

The idea that God punishes or rewards is an example of what I believe is an ‘appearance of truth’.

“Appearances of truth are given, to everyone according to (their) ability to grasp them; and these appearances are acknowledged as truths because they have the capacity to hold Divine things within them.” (Swedenborg, Heavenly Secrets section 3387)

England football manger Glenn Hoddle believed a person’s disability was a punishment for bad actions performed in a past life by that individual. And as a result of public outcry against this belief he was dismissed.

So what might a truer insight be? Clearly, we are all capable of bringing about our own suffering. Just keep drinking beer all day, or gambling away your savings. But often we suffer misfortune through no fault of our own. In the biblical book of Job we find someone who suffers great misfortune despite being innocent. He came to realize that good fortune and misfortune afflict the good and bad alike.

My suggestion is innocent suffering is permitted because it obliges us all to learn how to use our freedom of choice to respond to it e.g. with indifference or compassion. If this is true then it shows how a particular spiritual belief can be a temporary stepping stone to further insight.

Conviction or doubt about sacred myths

Is another example of an appearance of the truth found in sacred myth? I think so. Because they are myths, like parables, can’t they be seen on different levels depending on what people can grasp?

I offer this example. Doubting the idea of three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one God, opens up the mind to (what is to my way of thinking at least) a more rational understanding. A truer idea being these are three symbolic aspects of the one divine God – heart of creative love, head of human wisdom and hands of powerful activity.

Conviction or doubt in relation to enlightenment

For Swedenborg, the search for truth is crucial for deeper insight. Illumination of our ideas to develop conviction or doubt is seen by him as a spiritual gift which can only be received when the individual is in the genuine love of truth for the sake of truth and who humbly tries to live according to his or her lights. This is how we gain faith. In other words conviction is a feeling that can only come from inner enlightenment.

“Those with a genuine affection for truth, that is, those who desire to know truths to put them to good use and for the sake of the life they ought to lead, … when they receive (enlightenment) …their hearts rejoice.” (Swedenborg, Heavenly Secrets section 8993)

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

Posted on9th June 2012CategoriesEnlightenment, Meaning of lifeTags, , , , , , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Does it matter what I believe?

Does it matter what I believeThese days we have world-wide communication over the internet and through television. I, like many more of us, live in a multi-cultural society – having some sort of contact with people whose forebears originate from other continents. In other words I can see or hear most of the world’s spiritual beliefs either in the home, on the street. With so many different cultural ideas, I do wonder does it matter what I believe?

As a result of this variation people can ‘pick and mix’ different ideas about life that might seem sensible. At the same time I am aware there is a growing ethos of not discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.

Does it matter what I believe about life?

No wonder then that we have a pluralistic mentality that has infused our social consciousness and a spreading attitude that there is more than one world-view or way of thinking that leads to everlasting happiness.

Less and less people these days identify with any one system of belief and fewer affiliate themselves to any one organised religion. I suspect quite a few others ask my question  – Does it matter what I believe? What is seen as narrow-minded dogmatism is out. There is a realisation that no-one knows it all and that we all get some things wrong from time to time.

So we even hear the attitude that it doesn’t matter what you actually believe as long as it suits you and you find it helpful.

Does it matter what I believe less than what I feel?

Many psychodynamic counsellors assume that their clients’ emotional life is primary in defining who they really are and that what counts in whether therapy is successful is their feeling of self-acceptance and self-responsibility. According to this view the sort of person one becomes is determined more by how one feels about things than how one thinks; one’s concerns and sympathies rather than one’s ideas and beliefs. So, the question ‘Does it matter what I believe’ becomes less important.

Certain sanctimonious characters portrayed in Dickens’ novels come to mind. Uriah Heep clerk of Mr Wickfield’s believes in his humbleness – and is continually boasting of it! Heep’s writhing and scheming, and his cold, clammy nature, makes one’s skin crawl in David Copperfield. Readers see through such hypocritical behaviour and judge a character by his or her inner feelings and desires rather than by what they say they believe.

Does it matter what I believe about right conduct?

But another school of counselling takes a very different line. The extent to which thinking affects behaviour is central to cognitive therapy. Here what you do is thought to be affected by your beliefs. Challenge unrealistic beliefs and you can change the problematic feelings they give rise to. If you believe in honesty, fairness, and generosity then you may try to improve your behaviour to act according to these principles.

So perhaps what you think and believe does matter after all. There does seem to be a huge variety of beliefs around; ideas concerning the meaning of life, one’s final destiny, human suffering, and so on.

Dr Roger Walsh

Does it matter what I believe about the perennial philosophy?

Despite this apparent divergence of beliefs, however, a well-known scholar Roger Walsh, has pointed out there are actually 4 basic spiritual beliefs that have endured across centuries and are found in all the world’s main religious traditions. These have come to be known as the ‘perennial philosophy’. These are belief in :

1.      Two realms of reality – a realm of physical objects and a realm of  consciousness or spirit, not limited by space or time.

2.      A divine spark within us usually said to be inseparable from the source and  foundation of all reality

3.      The improvement one’s spiritual nature as the greatest aim of one’s human existence.

4.      Our ability to recognise these claims testing them against our
direct experience.

Some people may believe in none of these assertions. They may think they have no religious beliefs: but isn’t that in itself a belief? Many people seem to be attracted to similar ideas without putting their thoughts into words. They have intuitions but no clear thinking to clarify their perceptions.

Does it matter what I believe about the spiritual?

Students of human development have said that we need to learn about civil and ethical ideas before deciding which ones to conform to or rebel against. Likewise I would like to claim that most of us learn some spiritual ideas – for example those of the ‘perennial philosophy’ that Walsh has written about. Ideas such as that of a consciousness of spirit that goes beyond time and space, a ‘golden rule’ of doing to others as we would wish them to do to us and the concept of a divine source.

Believing in civil and ethical standards enables you to behave well. Perhaps in the same way acknowledging the spiritual dimension enables you to find a new personal orientation in life’s journey.

Unless you acknowledge a divine source why else would you try to meditate deeply or pray? Without a belief in an eternal life why else would you try to live life now as you mean to carry on doing? Without belief in a ‘golden rule’ why else would you play fair by others even if you could get away with deception?

Without believing what is ethically right, how could we recognise the wrong-things we get up to, our bad actions that we hide from others?

So what’s the answer? Does it matter what I believe? I’m still not sure. However I suspect the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Yes, in that my beliefs can guide my life — what I do, how I do it and how confident I can be I am on the right tracks. But no in the sense that in the end it is not what I think and believe that will save me from unhappiness but rather the feelings I have towards others and whether I love to live my life according to my lights.

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

Posted on29th January 2012CategoriesEnlightenment, Meaning of lifeTags, , , , , , , , , , ,, , ,