Having recently watched yet another programme on The Turin Shroud, I am prompted to wonder what all these experts think they are up to. Why does it matter? This is a length of cloth which may – or may not – have been in actual contact with the body of Christ. Amazing! – But so what?
I have had the same problem in holy places – Canterbury, Bethlehem, Lindisfarne and Lastingham, for example. I stand and wait for the revelation to kick in, but usually nothing happens.
In the Middle Ages, of course, it must have been much easier to experience holy magic. Pilgrims might travel across the country for a glimpse of some blessed shrine. Trading in holy relics was presumably a profitable enterprise. To possess some saintly toe-nail must have been comfort indeed. Where, then, has all the magic gone?
We still have our places of pilgrimage. When I make my way to the British Library to see again the Lindisfarne Gospels it is with more than simple interest. I marvel at the craftsmanship and devotion that went into its making – the work of one man, so they say. Some of these early manuscripts do reveal a sense of the magical: you only have to
look at some of the marginal grotesques to feel a kind of respect for the supernatural.
But holy ‘things’ are different – just bits. Theirs was the power of association: has it now
all drained away? Like TheHouse that Jack Built, how far back can we trace the holiness before it becomes so diluted that it can no longer be felt at all? This is the leaf, That fell
from the tree, That produced the timber, That formed the loom, That wove the cloth, That made the shroud, That lay on the body of Christ.
I don’t want to dismiss these things. It just seems that, these days, our values have changed, which is perhaps a pity, since, I suppose that attempts to forge bridges between heaven and earth is what religion is all about. Superstition may not be nonsense, after all. I suspect that a sneaking taste for lucky charms is more widespread than we think.
Myself, I would love to have St.Cuthbert’s little finger on my key-ring. There is a story, however, that many years after his burial, at his elevation, it was discovered that the body had miraculously survived intact – no decay, and no holy bones on offer.
TheBible, of course, retains its pre-eminence as no ordinary book – still in demand –
Christianity’s greatest treasure – respected by church-goers and others – available in almost every bookshop in the land. Still used, I think, in courts of law. Dare I suggest that this high regard has little to do with the popularity of its reading matter? It is treasured for its holiness.
It may be that holiness can not be made by human hands: it can not be manufactured. Perhaps we now begin to realise that the ‘spiritual’ informs and infuses the ‘natural’:
it doesn’t work the other way round. So if the scientists succeed in uncovering all the secrets of the Turin Shroud, they may also succeed in destroying its magic.
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
Christianity has not cornered the market on love. God’s love permeates all religions.
When Jesus came on earth He embodied love in a way that can transform anyone who follows the Way He taught.
Here are a selection of quotations that remind us of the love that is central to Jesus’ teaching and also show that this theme is found in other world religions.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
–1 John 4: 7-8 “
Of how great importance it is to have a just (or proper) idea of God may appear from the consideration that the idea of God forms the inmost of thought with all who have any religion.”
–Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom 13
“Love is the mystery of divine revelations! Love is the effulgent manifestation! Love is the spiritual fulfillment! Love is the light of the Kingdom! Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit inspired into the human spirit! Love is the cause of the manifestation of the Truth (God) in the phenomenal world! Love is the necessary tie proceeding from the realities of things through divine creation!”
–`Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of `Abdu’l-Bahá v3
“[Allah] is the Forgiving and Loving.”
“Jehovah God is Love itself and Wisdom itself, or Good itself and Truth itself.”
–Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion 3
“Be fearless and pure; never waver in your determination or your dedication to the spiritual life. Give freely. Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving, and full of the desire to serve….Learn to be detached and to take joy in renunciation. Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all. Cultivate vigor, patience, will, purity; avoid malice and pride. Then, you will achieve your destiny.”
“O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
“Where love is, there God is also.”
“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness. The important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”
Selection from True Christian Religion ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
The Word was with God, and God was the Word. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:1, 4).
By “God” here the Divine love is meant, and by “the Word” the Divine wisdom; and strictly speaking “life” means the Divine wisdom, and the life strictly is the light that goes forth from the sun of the spiritual world, in the midst of which sun is Jehovah God.
As fire forms light so does the Divine love form life. In fire there are two properties, burning and shining; from its burning property heat proceeds, and from its shining property, light.
There are two like properties in love, one to which the burning property of fire corresponds, which is a something that inmostly affects the will of man, and another to which the shining property of fire corresponds, which is a something that inmostly affects the understanding of man. This is the source of man’s love and intelligence
From the sun of the spiritual world a heat goes forth that in its essence is love, and a light that in its essence is wisdom. These two flow into all things and each thing in the universe, andinmostly affect them, and with men these flow into their will and their understanding, for these two were created to be receptacles of influx – the will a receptacle of love, and the understanding a receptacle of wisdom. Thus it is manifest that the life of man dwells in his understanding, and is such as his wisdom is; and that it is modified by the love of the will.
We also read in John: As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son also to have life in Himself(5:26)
which means that just as the Divine Itself, which was from eternity, has life in itself, so the Human, which He took on in time, has life in itself.
Life in itself is the very and only life, from which all angels and men have life.
This can be seen by human reason from the light that goes forth from the sun of the natural world, in that this light is not creatable, but that forms for receiving it have been created.
For example, the eyes are forms for receiving this light, and light flowing in from the sun is what makes them to see. The same is true of life which (as has been said) is the light that goes forth from the sun of the spiritual world, in that it is not creatable, but flows in unceasingly, and as it illuminates it also vivifies man’s understanding.
So in consequence, as sight and life and wisdom are one, wisdom is not creatable, neither is faith, nor truth, nor love, nor charity, nor good; but forms for receiving these have been created; and these forms are human and angelic minds. Therefore let everyone beware of persuading himself that he lives from himself, or that he is wise, believes, loves, perceives truth, and wills and does good, from himself. For so far as anyone is so persuaded he casts his mind down from heaven to earth, and from being spiritual becomes natural, sensual, and corporeal; for he shuts up the higher regions of his mind, and thus makes himself blind in regard to every thing relating to God, heaven, and the church; and then all that he happens to think, reason, and say about these things is done in darkness and consequently in foolishness; while at the same time he adopts a confidence that it all belongs to wisdom. For when the higher regions of the mind, where the true light of life resides, are closed up, the region of the mind below these opens, into which the light of the world only is admitted; and when this light is separated from the light of the higher regions it is a delusive light, in which what is false seems true and what is true seems false, and reasoning from what is false appears to be wisdom, and from what is true to be folly. Then man believes himself to be endowed with the keen vision of an eagle, although he sees what belongs to wisdom no better than a bat sees in the light of day.
Quantum physics is weird. To begin to understand it, you have to set aside everything you thought you knew about space and time and develop complex, abstract models of a universe in which the tiniest divisions of matter exist in constantly changing states and where the normal rules of action at a distance don’t apply . . .
Oh, wait. That’s Emanuel Swedenborg.
Spiritual concepts have nothing to do with space. They have to do solely with state, state being an attribute of love, life, wisdom, desires, and the delights they provide—in general, an attribute of what is good and true. A truly spiritual concept of these realities has nothing in common with space. . . .
However, since angels and spirits see with their eyes the way we do on earth, and since objects can be seen only in space, there does seem to be space in the spiritual world where angels and spirits are, space like ours on earth. Still, it is not space but an appearance of space. It is not fixed and invariant like ours. It can be lengthened, shortened, changed and altered; and since it cannot be defined by measurement, we here cannot grasp it with an earthly concept, but only with a spiritual one. Spiritual concepts are no different when they apply to spatial distances than when they apply to “distances” of what is good and “distances” of what is true, which are agreements and likenesses as to state. (Divine Love and Wisdom §7; see also Heaven and Hell §§154–55)
Swedenborg emphasizes that space in the spiritual world is nothing like ours: he describes angels traveling over huge distances in an instant to reach someone who is thinking about them, communities of angels who are bound together by similarities in their states of love and wisdom, and surroundings that change in response to people’s thoughts and emotions. During the eighteenth century, when Isaac Newton’s laws of physics were still brand new, this must have been hard to imagine. Today, quantum physics is giving us new ways to think about the universe that have interesting parallels to what Swedenborg described.
Take the principle of quantum entanglement, for example:
Entanglement occurs when two quantum particles interact with each other so that their quantum states become interdependent. If the first particle is in state A, say, then the other must be in state B, and vice versa.
Until a measurement is made of one of the particles, its state is undetermined: it can be regarded as being in both states A and B simultaneously, known as a superposition. The act of measuring ‘collapses’ this superposition into just one of the possible states.
But if the particles are entangled, then this measurement also determines the state of the other particle—even if they have become separated by a vast distance. The effect of the measurement is transmitted instantaneously to the other particle, through what Albert Einstein skeptically called ‘spooky action at a distance’. 
In other words, if two particles are entangled, they function together as a single system. An action taken to affect one will also affect the other, no matter how far away they are. You could visualize this on a larger scale by imagining a pair of dice: if the dice were entangled in the same way that particles can become entangled, then when rolled simultaneously they would always turn up matching numbers, even if one die was on the opposite side of the planet from the other.
Entanglement between particles can happen as a result of almost any type of interaction, as long as they are close enough to affect each other. The effect can be almost unmeasurably brief (for example, when produced in a lab, as described in the article referenced above) or it could last indefinitely.
Compare this to the way that Swedenborg describes interaction between souls in the afterlife:
All motion in the spiritual world is the effect of changes of inner states, to the point that motion is nothing but change of state. . . .
This being the nature of motion, we can see that drawing near is likeness of inner state and moving away is dissimilarity. This is why the people who are nearby are the ones in a similar state and the ones who are far away are in dissimilar states. It is why space in heaven is nothing but the outward states that correspond to the inner ones.
This is also why in the spiritual world one individual is present to another if only that presence is intensely desired. This is because one person sees another in thought in this way and identifies with that individual’s state. Conversely, one person moves away from another to the extent that there is any sense of reluctance; and since all reluctance comes from an opposition of affections and disagreement of thoughts, there can be many people appearing together in one place as long as they agree, but as soon as they disagree, they vanish. (Heaven and Hell §§192–94)
In Swedenborg’s case, the interaction between two souls is a thought or feeling—an emotional or spiritual state that can either draw individuals closer or drive them apart. This works not only for individuals, as described above, but for communities of angels in heaven, who are bound together by similarities in the things they love (Heaven and Hell §§41–44). And, like quantum particles, two individuals can align either briefly or indefinitely, depending on their internal qualities.
Of course, the similarity isn’t perfect; as far as scientists know today, quantum entanglement can’t be used to move objects or information through space. But the idea of two objects being so aligned that they can affect each other regardless of the distance between them is one that has a powerful resonance in Swedenborg’s thought.
If we use quantum entanglement as a model, we see love as the glue that connects people together. In fact, in many places, Swedenborg observes that love is life itself (for example, the very first sentence of Divine Love and Wisdom). If that’s true, then when people share a common love, they share a common life—a common existence that stretches from this world to the next.
There’s one more very intriguing way in which quantum entanglement parallels Swedenborg’s thought. When building mathematical models of the universe based on quantum theory, researchers have found that entanglement is necessary to the existence of, well, everything:
Mark Van Raamsdonk, a string theorist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, likens the holographic concept [of the structure of the universe] to a two-dimensional computer chip that contains the code for creating the three-dimensional virtual world of a video game. We live within that 3-D game space. . . .
In 2010 Van Raamsdonk proposed a thought experiment to demonstrate the critical role of entanglement in the formation of space-time, pondering what would happen if one cut the memory chip in two and then removed the entanglement between qubits [quantum bits of information] in opposite halves. He found that space-time begins to tear itself apart, in much the same way that stretching a wad of gum by both ends yields a pinched-looking point in the center as the two halves move farther apart. Continuing to split that memory chip into smaller and smaller pieces unravels space-time until only tiny individual fragments remain that have no connection to one another. “If you take away the entanglement, your space-time just falls apart,” said Van Raamsdonk. 
Swedenborg says something very similar about the spiritual universe:
If you look at the created universe with an eye to its design, it is so full of wisdom from love that you might say everything taken all together is wisdom itself. There are things without measure in such a pattern, both sequential and simultaneous, that taken all together they constitute a single entity. This is the only reason they can be held together and sustained forever. (Divine Love and Wisdom §29)
Bringing these two ideas together gives us a new way to think about loving others: If there was no love connecting us as individuals, connecting individuals into communities, and connecting communities into a larger and larger whole, then our spiritual universe would fall apart. Loving everybody might seem like a difficult goal, but loving the people closest to you just might be the first step in the process of bringing all of creation a little bit closer together.
Many people sense that there is a deeper aspect of reality. A spiritual force behind the universe.
To my mind this divine level of what is real is pure love and the source of all that explains the meaning of life. It is wisely working away in our hearts and minds. This is the infinite and eternal God of religion, beyond gender, beyond the bounds of space and time, and beyond our full comprehension.
Christ as God
According to much western world religion, this mighty spiritual force is manifest as the Christ within the human soul who inspires our feelings and thoughts with his altruistic love and higher intelligence. A new way of expressing this is as follows. We are an image of Christ’s divine humanity who like us has heart, head and hands – although in his case it is a heart of compassion, a head of wisdom and hands of power.
This is the Christ with whom we can pray and relate to on a personal footing; the divine that flows into our conscience to guide us towards the ethical and moral life. Of ourselves we do not have the ability to inspire and illuminate our lives. But cooperating with the Christ within we can find the divine life as if it were our own.
Intervention of God
Many people can accept that there is no dark side to God and that human suffering and what is evil is caused by some human beings turning away from the values of mutual care and instead focusing exclusively on self-orientation. In my view the Divine is all-loving, all-knowing and whilst present everywhere is beyond time and place. It respects our freedom to decide for ourselves what kind of life we want to lead and so does not intrude to control human affairs.
This deity does not stop suffering, and like loving parents does allow us, the offspring, to learn the lessons of life the hard way whilst at the same time it counter-balances what is bad by providing what is good. Parents continue to provide for and support their children throughout their difficulties and misfortunes. When God does this for all of us, it is called the work of loving providence.
I would say that Divine life flows invisibly into the world to offset disease with healing, temper hate with love, and moderate despair with inspiration. This is done in relation to the smallest detail of life and so despite how things appear, nothing actually happens by chance. If the work of providence were obvious then we would not be free to believe or disbelieve in the divine as the spiritual origin of our lives.
According to this view, God is concerned with long-term goals not short-lived happiness. Only in retrospect can we hope to see the way traumas and suffering has functioned as growth points in our spiritual learning.
Evidence for God
One cannot prove the existence of God which is invisible. But there is evidence to support the Divine nature. Unless God were revealed, humanity would only have a dim awareness that the divine within comes from a higher power creating all that is good. And so I would say that God is manifest as the Christ of history. Also facets of the divine are shown both in the world of nature and in the sacred scriptures of the world’s religions.
Nature is said to be red in tooth and claw. But it also shows a positive side. There is beauty as well as ugliness in plant life, affection as well as cruelty in the animal kingdom, and safety as well as danger on land and sea. What is good in nature symbolically shows the qualities of the divine in our thoughts and feelings. What is bad mirrors the corrupting influence of humanity’s self-orientation.
The Divine is widely acknowledged as revealed in sacred writings of especially inspired individuals. Beneath the various authentic religious traditions and customs there is a common core of spiritual teaching. This is not surprising if they have a common source. What is revealed is what all religions teach i.e. :-
Human beings experience two realms of reality, the world of physical objects and the world of spirit, the latter being the realm of consciousness.
We have a centre of transcendent awareness and are able to relate intimately to the divine spark, which is the foundation of all reality.
Realising our spiritual nature is the highest goal and greatest good of human existence.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems