Thursday, 12 May 2016

Christianity and Immanence

One of the reasons that religion is at a low ebb in the modern Western world is that Christianity at some point lost a sense of the immanence of God. It lost the sense of spirit, leaving the divine as a remote, transcendent being far removed from this Earth. As a result Christianity came to be seen by many as a religion of dry theory and restrictive morality. Indeed, in many respects that's exactly what it became. At the same time, for people in the West nature lost the sacred quality it had had in pagan religions and was emptied of meaning because Christians, always sensitive to the problems of pantheism, did not sufficiently appreciate that, while nature is not sacred in itself, it can be regarded as such insofar as it is God's creation and imbued with his being. Then, of course, came the scientific revolution which finished what that process had begun and stripped the natural world of any remaining mystique.

So Christians lost sight of the universal spirit in nature and in themselves, and saw God as only out there. They created a radical duality between man and God with little possibility of bridging that gap, certainly not in this world. This left the field open for pretenders to the spiritual throne from Romanticism in the 19th century (also a reaction against the darkening of the imagination by science and the destruction of nature by the industrial revolution) to the various New Age religions in the 20th. But these lacked the moral centre that Christianity provided and, worse, tended to see the spiritual path as the deification of fallen or natural man rather than the sanctification of the risen soul in God. They sought the spiritual by bringing the divine down to Man instead of going the correct way of raising Man up to the divine.

This leaves people in the West with a problem. They can remain Christians, but with a religion that has lost much of its spiritual fire. They can take to Eastern religions, but I have never seen any real evidence that these work for modern Westerners. Or they can just adopt the materialistic sophistries of the day, which is what the majority of people do since most people follow the crowd in these matters. None of these options are very satisfactory though some are worse than others, of course. So what to do?

Human consciousness in the main has evolved to the point at which individuals have to make their own decisions. I said above that most people follow the crowd in terms of a world view and so they do just as they did in the past when most were Christians, ostensibly so at least, but those who are serious about finding a spiritual path now have to work out for themselves how to go about it. To be sure, one can just join a religion and go along with its practices and beliefs, fitting them neatly into worldly life just as it is lived by everybody else and not letting them make any real difference to who or what you are other than in a vague and generalised way. But if you are truly serious about trying to discover the reality of the spiritual world and coordinate yourself to that then you must find a way that corresponds to the deepest yearnings you have inside you, though always making sure that you are following universal spiritual truths rather than wishful thinking. That's not necessarily easy but I believe that if you use the image of Christ as a yardstick and submit any spiritual approach to that then you will not go far wrong.

For Christ is the spiritual template. He is the true image of the divine, not necessarily the only one but, I would suggest, the truest one. So for the contemporary Western person the spiritual path does still require taking Christ as the ideal and exemplar. Now I don't think that means you have to become a Christian in the conventional sense. I feel that all forms of Christianity today are diminished and lacking in inspirational and transformative power. Christianity simply doesn't have the spiritual force it once did. If you don't feel that, that's fine, but if, like me, you do then don't make the mistake of forgoing Christ simply because Christianity might often have become too enmeshed in the snares of this world and concerned with ideas, both religious and social, that did not seem so important to Christ when he walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Go back to his teachings as recorded in the Gospels and, most importantly, try to awaken the light of Christ within yourself. Christ must be born in you before you can even begin to think of yourself as anything other than spiritually asleep, and that truth is the same yesterday, today and forever.

You might wonder what I actually mean when I say that Christ must be born in you. Am I speaking purely symbolically and referring to something you could just as easily call Brahman or the Buddha nature or do I literally mean a connection to the real Christ? A bit of both really. I see Christ as the true personification, the real face, of an inner spiritual reality that has been intuited by great spiritual figures of the past but was not fully revealed until 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Once the revelation has been made, that is what we should focus on and incline ourselves to though this does not mean that those who, for whatever reason, don't do this but are still faithful to the inner truth of which Jesus Christ is the embodiment will be penalised. I would never say that only Christians can come to God for that would be to mistake the letter for the spirit. However I do think that Christ is the inner truth behind the highest and best of all religions and the spiritual gateway through which all must eventually past if they wish to gain eternal life. He is the divine prototype.

And so we come back to the theme of this post which is the truth that was lost by Christianity, or maybe just never properly acknowledged, that we are all sons and daughters of the Most High put on this Earth to become more godlike. To be sure, we are all sinners but we are also gods in the making. Yes, we all err in following our own self-centred wills instead of God's but within us there is a spark of the divine fire, and once we become aware of this and fan that spark into a flame through proper spiritual practice then we will do greater things than Jesus ever did. He himself has told us so.


Kirk Forlatt said...

But what is "proper spiritual practice," my friend?

I was once heavily invested and involved in organized Christianity. After decades of blindly accepting so many things that make me cringe in remembering them, I could no longer stay in a leadership position, and finally couldn't stay in a congregation, either.

I feel relieved to be free of the shackles of what I once knew, but sometimes I miss those shackles, because they were boundaries, you see. And boundaries can sometimes feel like safety.

Out here, without the boundaries, I don't know what proper spiritual practice is.

William Wildblood said...

Ah, that's the important question, isn't it? I think there are many strands to 'proper spiritual practice' but, going from what my teachers said, the most important things are prayer and meditation, as in speaking to God as Friend and Father and clearing the mind of worldly thoughts so that you can enter more deeply into the stillness and silence where God's presence can be felt. Then, in a similar way, remembering the Creator. This sounds very simple but the idea is to try to keep the presence of God before you at all times and in all situations. And that requires a lot of work and paying attention to yourself.

There are other practices, such as living from moment to moment rather than being caught up in a time based existence when you are never actually living in the present, and seeking to be humble but, at the same time, a full individual not swayed by worldly ideologies especially now when these are so corrupting, but these are the principal things I think. Just trying to be centred in God and live simply from the heart.

Your experiences seem to echo some of what was in the post in that you found the external form of Christianity unhelpful, even suffocating after a while, but I know what you mean about boundaries and having some external structure and guidance. Sometimes though we just have to plough our own course and look for guidance within through the above mentioned prayer and meditation. That's maybe a harder but more spiritually creative way in the long run. I find visualising Jesus in imagination and making a connection through that to be very helpful in determining what I should be doing or how I should be reacting.

And reading is helpful too because it gives our mind, always wanting to stray, something to focus on and get a hold of.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Another satisfying meditation.

Before I was a Christian, one of the things that kept me away was the fact that it did not seem to address what felt my most urgent problem - the alienation you describe above, the sense of being cut off from the world, the world being dead - and consciousness so transient and vulnerable that it hardly seemed to matter.

What I didn't realize was that without the Christian frame, then any attempt to relieve alienation is merely a 'therapy' (or perhaps just a distraction, or a loss of awareness) and does not provide any real, objective meaning, and no purpose at all (beyond the needs of the day).

"I don't think that means you have to become a Christian in the conventional sense." This is very important - to many potential Christians are held back by their belief that they *must* choose a denomination - when they should simply become a Christian, by themselves and straight away - and then see what happens. I think most people will be best served by joining a church IF a suitable one can be found - but there are some, such as ou and I, who are better unaffiliated (at least here and now, although who knows about the future).

William Wildblood said...

Yes, that's the difficulty, Bruce. We need a spiritual approach that combines the sense of God within with the idea of the transcendent Creator. I see people fall down by over-emphasising one or the other of these but Christ (almost uniquely) in his person and teachings seems to capture the two to perfection. Christianity perhaps could but it doesn't at the moment if it ever has done.

David Balfour said...

So look within (for the small God) AND look without(for the big one)! But dont neglect either side of the coin?! Eastern and Western approaches finally harmonised?

David Balfour said...

We had an inner god with a small g and much grow towards being like God with a capital G. Never the same in status or intrinsic identity but the same in kind. Part of thw same divine family.

William Wildblood said...

I think that is right. We are, and will remain, created beings but at the same time there is an element within us that is uncreated and of God himself. Our task is to become one with this, to marry the created and the uncreated and make a new being.

David Balfour said...

Incidentally, my apologies for the dreadful spelling mistakes. My phone seems to have a feature that deliberately writes the wrong word just to confuse me. I tend to only notice if I proof read later and by then it's normally too late :-)

William Wildblood said...

Don't worry. I do that all the time myself!