Motivation – How good are my desires?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

motivationMotivation is about why you do things and why you are living in the way you are. What are you interested in? Buying some new clothes? Supporting your sports team? Eating your favourite meal? Anticipating an exciting trip abroad? We each want many things. I imagine your individual list will fill several pages – music, sports, cooking, teaching others, learning, watching movies—anything.

I would suggest that reading through it will help give a clue to your deeper motivation, what you want from life. Perhaps suggesting a sense of direction, helping you take stock of where you are up to, and representing what kind of person you are.

Digging a bit deeper it is possible to become more aware of your hopes and fears, your values and principles, and your inner desires. Such insights can help those people who feel frustrated in unfulfilling roles and who do not know what to do with their life: or who have just suffered a major change such as a divorce, an injury, or a redundancy and being now single instead of married, infirm instead of healthy, or unemployed instead of working, no longer feel they know who they really are.

Unconscious motivation

Sometimes what you really feel and desire is partly hidden from you. Psychologists have known about the unconscious process of rationalisation for a long time. Faced with hearing what others want for you and what they say you should want,  you may tend to come up with excuses for what you do about which you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. You can sometimes justify discreditable actions with plausible reasons, especially after the event. Who wouldn’t feel better seeing themselves as honest, decent, and fair-minded rather than recognising when they really do something out of self-interest and with petty emotion.

Listing your conscious desires is a good start. Yet, there are some more questions you can ask yourself to uncover what is good and bad about what you are currently wanting out of life.

Who you admire

This could be someone known to you personally or seen in the mass media. It is easier to pinpoint what you want for yourself when thinking about the qualities, desires, values and actions of someone who inspires you. Such a person will represent your feelings.

Having a deep sense of hurt that is mirrored in motivation

For example wanting to be loved if in childhood a mother’s love was never really felt. Wanting to be sparklingly fit and healthy if having been handicapped by a long illness or been derided in early life for being overweight. Or wanting recognition for one’s abilities if having been passed over for promotion or failing academically at school.

What you choose to have and do if life imposed no limits

Try to imagine not having any restrictions whatsoever. Absolutely no constraints of money and circumstances. No influence on you due to the attitudes of the people now in your life. You would have as much money as you wish. What would be your motivation in this fantasy? If there were absolutely no constraints on you, where would you like to live, how much money would you have, with what kind of person would you be spending time, and what would you be doing? This is a question about what you want for your ideal lifestyle. It can help you gain some insights in who you would truly want to be if there were no limits and no anxiety.

The spiritual nature of your motivation

In line with Emanuel Swedenborg ‘s philosophy there is the idea that whatever our motivation might be, there are four possible types of love which underlie it.  Each of these in itself is okay. For example it is okay to love yourself but in line with probably all spiritual writers he claims that a spiritual problem arises when the love of self or love of the world predominates.

Love of self

Not all conspicuous or bossy people are motivated by self-love. However, when a love of yourself dominates your motivation, then you will be thinking highly of yourself and want other people to do so too: you will be  likely to bring conversation round to yourself and your own affairs. If you do something good you will want everybody to know about it. And you will want to get your own way in things.

Love of the world

Swedenborg suggests that enjoying what is pleasurable such as good food, physical comfort, nice clothes and so on, is not bad in itself. The problem arises when a concern for your own ease and convenience dominates your motivation. If a love of the things of the world comes first then you will likely be preoccupied with money and tend to think how you can profit from this or that.

Love of others

When a love of others dominates your motivation then when you slip up some times and act in a harmful or unkind way, you will be sorry afterwards and try to make amends. Self-interest will not be the predominant thing in what you want: rather there will be a concern for those you come into contact with.

Love of what is good and true

If someone makes mistakes and fails in following their principles then they will suffer keen remorse: if religious the person will beg God for forgiveness. This shows a love of what is good and true. There is a love of other people in so far as you can seen a potential for something good and true in them.

“Everyone has in him something precious, that is in no one else! But this precious something in man is revealed to him only if he truly perceives his strongest feeling, his central wish, that in him which stirs his inmost being” (Martin Buber)

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

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

Posted on26th February 2014CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags,, , Leave a comment

Aid – Should charity begin at home?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

aidControversially, a petition signed by 100,000 people has called for some re-allocation of the UK’s foreign aid budget to help compensate the victims of British floods and improve flood defences. The annual £11bn budget is aimed at alleviating poverty and helping crisis-hit areas around the world. Similarly, grumbling voices in the right-wing media have criticised aid agencies such as Oxfam for caring too much about international poverty and ignoring poor people in the UK.

This attitude seems to be the opposite of a more common sentiment that argues that aid charities, associated with humanitarian disasters in the developing world, have no real business operating in the UK, where, it is sometimes suggested, “real” poverty doesn’t exist. In Venezuela in 1999, 30,000 were killed. The devastation in Bangladesh in 2004 was unspeakable, with the waters covering 60 per cent of the country and leaving roughly 30 million people homeless or stranded. The south-east Asian floods of 2011 killed 3,000 more, and wiped out the livelihoods of millions.

So, should charity begin at home? Should we first give aid to our own people before worrying about the rest of the world?

Aid needed close to home

Someone said:

“If you really want to make the world a better place, start by being giving aid to those in need right here in our city.”

In other words it is no good sending money to a foreign relief fund if you ignore the needs of the people sleeping rough on your own streets who need food banks.

Several international charities do provide aid in Britain.

The international charity Oxfam has had UK aid programmes for the past 20 years.

UNICEF focuses on the most disadvantaged children wherever they are to grow up safe happy and healthy. It works in 190 countries including with UK public services to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding and to strengthen mother baby and family relationships.

Save the Children works in more than 120 countries. It has worked in the UK since the 1930s when it set up nurseries in deprived areas of the country. It supports children living in the most severe poverty providing their families with household essentials, like a child’s bed, a family cooker or educational books and toys.

“If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” (Bob Hope)

Aid for social exclusion

The need for food and shelter is an obvious need that pulls at our heart strings and is found in many war-torn regions and third world countries. Aid charities are not going to be distributing emergency shipments of grain to people in the UK because by and large this is not how poverty is found here.

However, there are other forms of deprivation which are less easy to discern. Poverty looks different across the world but deprived communities all have a sense of social exclusion, a lack of voice, and a lack of opportunity to shape their own lives. In Britain there are many families who are not starving but are suffering with food and housing insecurity triggered by low pay, unemployment: they are slipping through the net of what some commentators have described as an increasingly threadbare social security system, where complications with benefits mean there are long delays.

Aid not creating dependency

A major worry many of us have about giving to the poor is creating a culture of dependency. Where is the incentive for trying to make personal progress out of poverty when one stands to lose the benefit of regular handouts? That is why genuine charity involves acting with good sense as well as love.

“Charity towards the neighbour is thought to consist in giving to the poor, helping a person in need, and doing good to everyone. But genuine charity involves acting circumspectly and with the end in view that good may result.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

Oxfam uses the principle of the “hand-up”, rather than the “permanent handout”. On a practical level it funds welfare advisers to guide often desperate food bank clients through the social security maze and offer them advice on managing debt and getting back to work.

Another sensible way forward might be to donate money for low-cost loans which can create a ‘can-do mentality’ on the part of recipients.

Aid as daily charitable behaviour

Giving to an aid charity is all well and good but is it not meaningless unless we also do good in the normal exercise of our everyday roles? That would mean acting with sincerity and honesty with concern for others rather than self-interest. Giving our time and efforts not for the sake of for the sake of reputation, honour and gain but rather for the sake of meeting the needs of those around us.

“Charity towards the neighbour is far wider in scope than helping the poor and needy. Charity towards the neighbour involves doing what is right in every task, and doing what is required in any official position.” (Swedenborg)

Central to this view is the notion that charity is all about giving of ourselves without seeking recompense for self-interest.

Unless charity starts at home, in this sense of an attitude of goodwill and integrity in our relationships, then I would argue that any donation of money for international aid is like giving a guilt-gift to a child to compensate for being an absent parent, or fulfilling an occasional social obligation without bothering to give any regular useful contact and input.

Aid as a means of spiritual enlightenment

Helping those we know, and whose lives interact with our own in our daily life, is important. But that perhaps should only be the start.

“Charity begins at home, but should not end there.” (Thomas Fuller)

Regular giving to aid others in need has been a common spiritual discipline and found in several religious traditions. The Christian tradition of tithing, optionally pledging a portion of personal income for donation to charity, has analogies in the obligatory charitable traditions of Sunni Islam (Zakat), Judaism (Tzedakah) and Hinduism (Dana).

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

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

Posted on13th February 2014CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags , , ,,  Leave a comment

Temptation – Giving in to it – So what?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

temptationWho hasn’t at one time or another felt cross with him or herself for acting on some urge of the moment, giving in to temptation to do something which was enjoyed at the time but which later causes regret?

Perhaps it was overeating and now you are fearful of looking fat and becoming unhealthy: or maybe it was spending money you could not afford on a whim buying something not really needed and now you are concerned about paying off the credit card: or perhaps it was verbally lashing out at someone who angered you at the time and now you fear losing the benefits of the relationship.

Actions like these may bother you but the chances are you will be quick to forget all about such things. and any sense of embarrassment and even guilt will be short lived. Many people are probably like this. It is not that they are bad or stupid. It is simply that they saw they had been tempted to behave against their own interests. They do not consider that succumbing to the impulse of the moment would lead to any long-term serious consequences.

And perhaps they are right. So what is so bad about giving way to temptation? Why should anyone feel guilty about going against the social rules that are expected to be followed?

Temptation and social conformity

You might be tempted to harm the person who bothers you, but a society in which everyone gave in to the temptation to hurt those who made them angry, would quickly devolve into chaos. Therefore social roles are developed.

Psychologists have tested how people behave with and without being watched. It is clear that when they think they can get away with it, many will succumb to temptation to pinch things they fancy (for example from hotels), exaggerate their expenses claims, and even fabricate the contents of their CV’s.

Some people thus only follow rules because it seems to be in their interests to do so. If they believe other people are not following the rules or that other people won’t know if they break them, then they are also likely to break rules. Their conscience is one of social conformity rather than high principle.

Temptation and genuine conscience

Many spiritual writers have written that human problems can arise when one lacks a firm foundation of values. Without ethical principles you may be tempted to live a life in which “anything goes,” or be unable to discern what is right and wrong in any given situation.

A well-known moral principle is the golden rule that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself — that is with patience, tolerance, trust, and respect. This is not just for the sake of getting back what you give but rather as a spiritual principle in itself. Another example is that of conserving nature and protecting it from unsustainable exploitation not just as a way of protecting our resources but also as a way of recognising something which is valued for itself.

Let us return to the examples given at the beginning about eating, spending money and lashing out. The impulse to eat too much tests one’s inner contentment with the inflow of the spirit rather than attachment to bodily pleasure.

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”   (Jesus Christ)

Likewise attractive advertising of luxury goods also tests a commitment to prioritising money for what is useful: and being provoked to anger tests the ethic of forgiveness.

Consequences of spiritual temptation

A moral consciousness gives you the option of deliberately doing wrong. Having the power of rational and ethical discrimination gives you the responsibility to make the right choices.

Who doesn’t give in to temptation sometimes? Doing so can leave you feeling dissatisfied, guilty or empty because it might be suggested that you have distanced yourself a little from the spirit of goodness that had been inspiring and uplifting your life. I suspect even people of faith who have had a deep trust in their Lord, can find themselves losing confidence when circumstances are tough, becoming anxious about the future or the past, and being tempted with negative attitudes or selfish thoughts. Their faith is indeed being tested.

One idea of religion I like is that of a forgiving God who is always willing to give us another chance.

Victory in temptation

My view of spiritual growth is that it is a gradual process and that for a long time perhaps to a lessening extent your worldly orientated and self-centred habits of thought still attract you. See here for what John Odhner has written about what the new Testament describes as a conflict between the “old man” and the “new man.”  The spiritual teaching is that the more you turn away from what in your heart you know is wrong, then the more you will be transformed into a better character.

“Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.” (William Butler Yeats)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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

Posted on6th November 2013CategoriesEthics, Private Ethics Leave a comment

Where is the harm in watching porn?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Watching pornIt is sometimes argued that watching porn helps some adults with a low libido become more sexually aroused, and also that with some people it reduces anxiety and even adds spice and novelty to their sex life with their partner. However, such ideas perhaps need to be treated with caution, given the wide continuum of what is nowadays considered as porn: from the soft porn of striptease to the hard porn of brutal violent sex.

Today, with a few clicks on the internet, a lot of watching porn is possible for free in the form of photos and videos. Many social conservatives see watching porn as an inherent social evil. But can there be any harm in watching porn as sexual entertainment?

Children watching porn

Children find it easy to access porn: age of first exposure is getting younger as they  learn to browse the internet. One concern is that the innocence of childhood is taken away prematurely by watching porn with its arousing sexual scenes.

Another concern is about what the individual child learns to find erotic. You see something, and it stays with you. You can never erase it from memory. The question is asked whether patterns of early sexual arousal might tend to stick for life? Can scenes that children are exposed to affect the way they see themselves in later sexual roles? Does it lead them to believe they should behave in this way in order to social conform and be seen as cool.

The love ideology

A roving sexual appetite can be regarded as a natural ‘wired’ state of particularly the male mind. Watching porn is clearly a natural pleasure. Porn tends to be created from a male perspective and so the men have only one thing on their minds, and the women are there solely to satisfy the men’s needs. Does this not make men more prone to see women as sex objects? Women are regularly portrayed as ready, willing, and able to do whatever the man might choose. Teenage boys accept this more or less uncritically. This means no thought is given to the sexual pleasure of the female partner.  Women can also be drawn into porn where it indulges and adds to their own sexual fantasies.

A concern about people watching porn without the emotional involvement of the sexual partners, is that one sees sex not as a wonderful expression of love but as a natural pleasure divorced from its spiritual dimension. Swedish sex researchers Lofgren-Martenson, L. and S. S.A. Mansson found that most teenage girls embrace what the researchers call “the love ideology” — the idea that love legitimates sex. These teenage girls disapproved of porn because it represents sex without the emotional involvement of a loving relationship.

Watching porn may “facilitate orgasm but it can also leave the individual feeling empty and disconnected afterwards.” (clinical psychologist, Leon F. Seltzer).

According to spiritual philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg, if a man grows spiritually there is a change in his male attitude. As he forms an exclusive relationship with a woman, love of sex is transformed into love of one of the sex. Mature love means concern for the pleasure of the partner as well as one’s own. In this way the erotic delight of both is increased.

Swedenborg maintains that as adults we all have an innocence to us — the innocent child in us — and once sullied it is damaging to our spiritual health. Those watching hard core porn seem to require more and more extreme scenes to arouse and satisfy their erotic desire. They are becoming sex addicts. Has not the sex addict a lessened ability to forge a deeper union with someone else?

The mature sexual relationship

Swedenborg writes that a spiritual attitude is a deep desire for a one to one relationship. It involves not wanting to hurt your partner by having sexual activity outside the partnership or by fantasizing about such behaviour.

In his book Conjugial Love he maintains that a person’s love and respect for a lasting partnership, can become more and more purified. He also says that purification takes place to the extent that people stay away from what is impure. There was no widespread pornography when he wrote in the eighteenth century but he said this impurity includes not only infidelity and loose sexual conduct but also things like smutty thoughts about someone. The more “chaste” our thoughts and intentions are, the more we are led by the Spirit towards happiness in an enduring relationship. In other words impure sexual thoughts are perversions of the chaste attitude of conjugial love.

Conclusion

The internet is revealing that life is more fascinating than we had ever imagined. However, it also seems it is uglier in the real world than many of us realised.

Why not ask the lawmakers to ensure that internet feeds are porn-free unless adults, who are free to choose for themselves, specifically request it. Sign in rather than sign out. It might be argued that the internet is uncontrollable. But Iceland’s government are hoping to do something. Perhaps where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/

Posted on7th March 2013CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags, , , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

How to become a better person?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

better personNot 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

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

 

Posted on13th July 2012CategoriesPrivate EthicsTags, ,, , , , ,, , , , , , ,, , ,  Leave a comment

Social responsibility – Importance of religion?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

We are each conscious of our own sensations, thoughts and feelings. My thoughts are my own thoughts and yours are yours. Having this sense of individual consciousness we each feel separate from others. I live from and for myself and you live from and for yourself. It has been suggested that this sense of individuality naturally results in self-orientation, and a consequent risk of falling into an illusion of self-sufficiency. The argument goes that the trouble with relying on oneself is this can result in egoism and a lack of social responsibility. But is this true?

Lack of social responsibility

I’m reminded of a story about a young man who left his family and friends to travel abroad alone. He asked his father for what he felt he deserved and thought he could be happy spending this money only on himself. He used up all his cash wasting it on trivia, mistakenly assuming this would make him happy.

He made himself destitute and suffered hardship. Only then did he realise his mistake in assuming one can be independent of other people in one’s life. He took this lesson on the chin and went home with his tail between his legs. Those familiar with the Gospels will recognise this parable about repentance and forgiveness. But is it not also about the need for community and a sense of social responsibility?

Personal rights and social responsibility

The young man in the story insisted on what he regarded as his rights and only later realised he had duties of social responsibility. This insight is echoed in the words of an American President.

social responsibility” We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defence.” (Barack Obama)

Difficulty exercising social responsibility

Obama’s sentiments are those with which most of us can readily agree. But how do we put them into action?

Many non-religious people see the importance of altruism and mutual interdependence rather than egoism and selfishness. Many atheists and agnostics value compassion and forgiveness.

“Be kind to people on the way up – you’ll meet them again on your way down.” (Jimmy Durante)

Nevertheless putting such principles into practice can be very hard. It is one thing to be interested in others and their needs when one can benefit oneself from any formed relationship. It is another thing to be genuinely caring when there is no chance of meeting someone again and no chance of getting anything back for oneself.

Religion and social responsibility

Being a member of many types of group such as one’s family, offers a sense of identity and encourages conformity to ethical conduct. This is also true for example for sports, professional, and political groups: I’m thinking of the ethics of sportsmanship and professional confidentiality. However, it might be argued that none of these groups provide the feeling of belonging & social responsibility one can gain through membership of a religious group. Such an association can provide its members with a notion of eternal group membership, and promote the highest principles of integrity and compassion.

Arguably it is religion – through its provision of community support and moral teachings –  that has the best claim to encourage us to learn about genuine care for others. It is Christian scripture that talks about ‘love to the neighbour’. And this idea of ‘neighbour’ is taken as more than the person who happens to reside next door. We are invited to sympathetically consider the needs not just of a person with whom we have daily contact but also those of our  community, country and for that matter the whole human race.

Religious groups provide a distinctive world-view. They do this through fostering transcendent experience linked to moral education & encouragement for forgiveness, self-control and service to others. I have been to several Christian churches which I have felt have succeeded to a large extent in fostering an atmosphere of friendly care and social responsibility. It doesn’t always happen, and small congregational  numbers can greatly reduce a church’s community presence. However, when a congregation is spiritually alive and strong, it is able to address the needs of lonely individuals as well those needing comfort and relief from distress.   It also offers hope in a God who is the source of love.

Conclusion about social responsibility

All good people, whatever their beliefs are united because there is an infinite creative force for all that is humane in the world. I believe this force is the underlying God of Love and Wisdom at work in the world who inspires mutual help and the spirit of care.

We all can have a connection with this Divine Humanity through connecting well with other people.

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy

Author Heart, Head & Hands

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/2015/09/social-responsibility-religion/

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/

Posted on3rd September 2015CategoriesEthics, Ethics & Politics, Latest postTags, , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Violence: How to respond to it ethically?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

violenceThroughout history human beings have been fighting, maiming and killing each other. If you wish to think about an ethical response to violence then the Viking invasion of Britain over 1000 years ago is as relevant a period in history as any for consideration.

For their story is one of pillage and slaughter, destruction and extortion. The country was devastated. The raiders were cruel and treacherous. Should the response to this terror have been one of violence?

Pacifism and violence

In Western religion, Jesus Christ’s injunction to “love thy enemy” and his asking for forgiveness for his crucifiers “for they know not what they do” have been interpreted as calling for pacifism. For example George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, utterly rejected war as being incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. Doing no harm is also a core philosophy in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism.

King Ethelred I of Wessex inclined to a religious view that held that faith and prayer were prime agencies by which the invader would be overcome.

Another response of the English was to buy off the Vikings with money rather than continue the armed struggle. This practice of paying a ‘tribute’ was common by local inhabitants throughout Europe where the Vikings had used violence to invade foreign lands.

However it seems that these payments encouraged further threat of violence and further extortion so that over 100 tonnes of silver were eventually shipped back to Scandinavia from England. And so another response was to stand and fight. This tough attitude is expressed in Kipling’s verse.

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!”
(Rudyard Kipling)

Alfred’s military action

Ethelred’s younger brother Alfred, although also devout, laid the emphasis upon policy and arms. At the battle of Ashdown, Alfred led his forces boldly against the army of the enemy and the fight was long and hard until at last the invaders gave way and fled. If the West Saxons had been beaten at this battle, all England would have sunk into uncivilised anarchy.

Many battles with the Vikings were lost. However, a second crucial battle later took place at Eddington: on this everything was at stake. For several hours the men on each side fought with sword and axe and many were killed. Eventually the Vikings fled only to be surrounded. They were hungry cold and fearful and Alfred had them in his power. He could have slaughtered them to a man.

Ethical limits to violence

But even if you are a non-pacifist are there not important ethical limits on how one should use violence? The way Americans waged war in Vietnam in the 1960s has been criticized. Their express desire was to ‘incapacitate’ as many civilians as possible and by so doing put intolerable pressure on hospital and health facilities. Rather than bury her, it takes time, resources and energy to attend to a 12-year-old Vietnamese child with napalm burns all over her body.

Many have questioned, too, the ethics of the huge bombing raids of the Second World War, when British and American bombers rained down fire and destruction on millions of German women and children, and also the use of atomic bombs in Japan.

Today the problem is even greater, as nuclear, biological and chemical warfare are capable of eliminating not just combatants but the entire human race.

Some guidance from a ethical perspective is provided by a Christian writer of the 13th century, St Thomas Aquinas, in his idea of a ‘just war’. He laid down certain conditions. His view was that violence should only be used where peace and justice is restored afterwards and where the war must be the last resort. In addition he said there must be proportionality in the way war is fought. For example innocent civilians should not be killed: only enough force may be used to achieve goals, not more.

Emanuel Swedenborg on violence

The 18th-century spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg suggested that wars which are intended to protect one’s country are not necessarily contrary to the notion of ‘loving one’s enemy’. To him it depended on the purpose for which the violence is undertaken. For example he maintained it is unethical to use violence in order to seek glory for the sake of glory, for this springs from a love of self that rules all motivation. Likewise the use of force is said to be unethical where there is a vicious disposition of mind where soldiers even after a battle want to “terrorise the … defenceless and in their fury murder and rob them.”

Alfred in victory

After the battle of Eddington, instead of taking revenge on the foe, Alfred took the longer view and in a time of much uneasiness and disturbance he prioritised a hoped for peace so that all might live together with reasonable relations rather than mutual hostility. So, on grounds of humanity, instead of destroying the opposition fighters he worked towards dividing the land between the two sides. The anarchic conditions of the times were likely to continue to produce murders and physical injuries and so later he negotiated a truce with the invading forces defining a political boundary dividing Mercia from Wessex. Nothing would stop the Danes from killing and robbing the English and vice versa and so he got agreement between the two sides about a system of equal financial compensation should any lives be lost as a way of creating a disincentive for violence.

He applied a version of the Golden Rule. Instead of “do to others as you would that they should do to you”, he adopted the less ambitious principle, “what you will that other men should not do to you, that do you not to other men”: this law of Alfred continually amplified by his successors became the common law of the country.

No wonder he was called Alfred the Great. He was both a great warrior and a great forger of peace.

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

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

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/

Posted on5th February 2014CategoriesEthics, Ethics & PoliticsTags,, , , ,  Leave a comment