Thursday, 15 September 2016

Who is This Blog For?

I have often thought that the writings on this blog might be seen as too influenced by so called New Age ideas for most Christians, and too Christian for many people interested in New Age forms of spirituality. (Incidentally, is the idea of the New Age now old fashioned?). In the same way, they could be regarded as too influenced by Eastern spirituality by regular Christians and too focused on Christ by those of a Hindu or Buddhist persuasion. So who am I writing for?

What I hope is that there are enough people like me who might have searched in various places for spiritual understanding, as those of the last few generations have had the opportunity to do, and then come back to Christianity, though in a somewhat unorthodox form, viewing it differently than if they had never left it. The Christianity of my childhood was largely an external thing. God was presented as out there, and the idea that he was within never really got a serious look in. It was beneath the surface if you looked but it was never brought out and explored in any depth. Nor were there any religious instructors, or so it seemed, capable of doing this. Investigation of Eastern mysticism and various forms of alternative spirituality, including Western esotericism, helped give people an insight into the sense of immanence; the reality that God is not just the transcendent and seemingly remote Creator but also exists within us as our very self, and, through proper spiritual practice, we can access something of this reality. Many people have made that journey over the past fifty years or so. Through meditation and other ways a substantial number of people from all faiths and none have explored the idea that within the human being there is a deep connection to divine truth and, by going beyond conventional identification with the mind/self, we can enter into a living communion with the one life that pervades all manifested being.

But the idea of God Immanent needs to be balanced by the understanding that God is also the Creator who exists independently of (though not separately from) us. So we can be one with God but we are never hierarchically equivalent to him. He remains transcendent, or as Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, 'Having pervaded this whole universe with a fragment of myself, I remain'. Without a full sense of this our spiritual search can easily descend into a subtle form of narcissism and, even if it avoids that pitfall, it remains incomplete as, I believe, the understanding of Buddhists and others who do not acknowledge God, and deny the possibility of a relationship with him, does. For God presents himself to us in two ways and to know him properly and correspond to him correctly we must understand and fully honour them both. In one sense he is impersonal or, if you prefer, transpersonal, being, but in another he is personal (if he weren't I'd like to know how we could be), and his purpose is that we come to know him in his personal form, having a relationship of love, and do not just rest satisfied with the frankly static existence that is pure being when it is separated from becoming. We grow and grow, everlastingly so, and he does too, through us. This is the true goal of existence. Not to abandon becoming for being but to combine the two in full and joyful awareness. And only in this way can we really become truly spiritual both in our understanding and in our person, our character.

But there is more and this has to do with Christ. For Christ is not just a righteous teacher or enlightened soul in the Hindu or Buddhist sense. He is the Son of God come to this Earth to offer salvation to those who would accept it. That is traditional Christian teaching but what does it mean exactly? First of all, the Son of God? Sometimes this is revised nowadays and interpreted to mean that he is a human being who has realised his oneness with God. We are all sons of God in this sense. He just knows it. I think that's true but it by no means covers everything that Christ is. In a way I don't fully comprehend but intuitively see as true Christ is the archetype of this, the divine pattern which we can copy but only because he is there to enable us to do that. An exemplar and a template. So our sonship, which does exist, is only able to be activated through and because of his. He is what you might call the Universal Son of God, the Cosmic Christ, the only begotten Son in whose spiritual life we can partake and so become like him. But without him our sonship could never take full effect. He is the central fire through contact with which we, when we have made ourselves combustible by conforming ourselves to truth, can catch flame ourselves.

At one time I might have not properly appreciated this and gone along with the common modern belief that Christ was a forerunner and simply someone who had realised his divine nature ahead (well ahead!) of the majority. But this belief, while perhaps reasonable to the modern way of looking at things, no longer seems tenable to me. It may be that those who distinguish between the man Jesus and the spiritual being Christ, who overshadowed Jesus, are correct, and in that case this spiritual being would be the divine prototype or Logos in that he embodies the spiritual principle that is the Son of God. And Jesus the man would perhaps be the first of the human race to attain Christ consciousness. But that only pushes the sense of Christ as the only begotten Son of God back a bit. It does not alter the reality that Christ is the Son of God who must be born in us before we too can become proper sons (and daughters, of course) of God.

Where does that leave those sincere spiritual people who, whether because of birth or cultural tradition or for whatever reason, do not accept this premise? I must stress sincere because I think that those who actively reject Christ are leaving themselves open to the other fellow. But naturally there are other valid spiritual paths. God provides access to himself by various means. Ultimately, though, these must coincide with the inner truth of Christ (I do not say the outer form of Christianity) to be successful, and I have no doubt that the most open channel to spiritual truth, the one that best and most clearly reveals divine reality, is through the person of Christ. You might call him the fact of which others are the image or the symbol. They can be very true and accurate images or symbols but he is the fact.

Which brings us to salvation. What is that?  To understand this we have to come to terms with the idea of the Fall. That is, human beings in the distant past lost their connection to God, probably unconscious or automatic at the time, and began to follow the path of their own selves. This cut them off from the rest of life and locked them in their own minds which may have had certain benefits but also brought about the disastrous alienation we know today. Salvation is the return to God and this, it seems, was only made possible in the fullest extent by the incarnation of Jesus. To save us from the downward spiral into materialism and spiritual darkness, to save us from ourselves in fact, we have to recognise the reality of Jesus. This means recognise the reality of what he, in the universal sense, is or, better put, recognise him as reality. I don't think a mental acknowledgement of this is sufficient. I think the heart must open to accept Christ within itself and this is the second birth. It is the turning away from self and back towards God and that is salvation. When we have accepted Christ as reality (or a spiritual equivalent which carries something of his inner nature and being) then we are saved but that is a beginning not an end. The acceptance of Christ must be the first step that leads to the transformation into Christ and this, I believe, is what most forms of Christianity have either not emphasised enough or missed out altogether. It is why so many people have found Christianity lacking and looked elsewhere for spiritual sustenance.

So we need first of all to see the truth in Christ and see Christ as the truth. But then we need to become that truth ourselves and this is what the spiritual path is meant to accomplish. Most Christians (real ones, that is) have taken the first step but that really is just the first step and there is a good long journey to go on after that to transform an ordinary human being into a fully conscious son or daughter of God. I would like to think I am writing for people who are making that journey, as I hope I am doing myself, people who understand that Christ came not only to save souls and turn them back to the light but to show them the way to transform their very being into that light.


Bruce Charlton said...

@WIlliam - yes, this is what is required.

I personally wold love to have a simpler way of discussing and describing the vital importance of Christ which did not require metaphysical specificity; but I don't really have one.

I think that a Christian is one who regards Christ as having a central and vital role in human life and destiny - but the *specific* details of why this is, who Christ was/ is and of what nature, and how the difference he made was made... such matters seem to be beyond our power to explain - or at least to agree-upon.

The first serious wrong turn made by historic Christianity was to start hunting for and persecuting 'heresies' concerning the nature of Christ (Christology) - (eg the crushing of Arianism, the exile of Monophysitism into the Oriental Orthodox churches such as the Coptic) -- that stuff I regard as a shame and a disaster in multiple ways (deeply un-Christian, in particular), and is what we need to avoid.

I think this implies a clear but simple and firm basic answer to what is a Christian, and maximum tolerance for the many different detailed ideas of what 'being a Christian' means in practice in this mortal life.

William Wildblood said...

I'm in two minds about heresy, particularly in the early church when it may have been that they had to establish a doctrine and prevent the anything goes mentality we have today. Of course, persecution was wrong but truth has to be defended from assault by falsehood. In a way that's what you're doing so well on your blog! But then in the eyes of the church you and I would both be heretics so for me it's a tricky question. Let there be sincere debate in good faith where the object is to find what is true. You will never get full agreement but everyone might learn from the exchange. That's for now though. In the early days of Christianity I think that an orthodox doctrine was probably essential and the civilisation that arose from Christianity might not have done without a central body of agreed truth which would serve as its firm foundation.

Perhaps it all boils down to what the heretical views actually are.