Monday, 23 January 2017

Modern Religion

I wrote 'Meeting the Masters' seven years ago and inevitably there are some things I would express a little differently if I wrote it today. The account of my experiences with the Masters themselves, which is the main point of the book, would remain the same, of course. It was as it was. But I would put some of the more metaphysical speculations slightly differently or with a different emphasis. The main one concerns the nature of God where I would now stress his personal aspect over the so called impersonal, see here. When I wrote the book my intellectual position was that I was trying to reconcile all spiritual approaches in a kind of higher unity, but I think (and hope) my real feelings kept peeping through. I mean by this that my instincts are fundamentally Christian even though I have always been drawn to Eastern mysticism as well not to mention Western esotericism and many other spiritual traditions too, most of which have something to offer. Often one can supplement another by filling in gaps that the other might have. But I would still go along with G.K. Chesterton when he wrote that paganism was the greatest thing but Christianity was greater. It really does include more of reality and it can't be absorbed into a general 'spirituality' without something absolutely essential being lost. That doesn't mean that other religions might not have elements in them that Christians can learn from, but I still believe that the vision of truth presented by Christ is the highest there is. And I also believe that his appearance in the world changed something radically. It really was the Incarnation of the Word and did redeem mankind and nature or, at least, make the redemption of mankind and nature now possible.

When writing the book I was trying to appeal to a wide variety of spiritual seekers while knowing that many people nowadays in the West look everywhere but to Christianity perhaps because its familiarity means they neglect its profundity. So I was hoping to incorporate bits of Christianity while taking a more general approach overall. Incidentally, I should say that the Masters themselves gave no theological teaching as such. They assumed the reality of God but left me to work out the details myself, presumably because their purpose is to enable their disciples to develop their inner insight and intuition themselves. As far as I was concerned they contented themselves with practical spiritual training.

Anyhow, with that out of the way, what I want to comment on here is the remark made by the Masters in response to a question of mine about Michael Lord (their medium, or python as I like to think of it) and his attachment to the Catholic Church. He had been a Benedictine monk in the 1950s and, though he had left the monastery, citing as one reason that he did not want to become a priest which apparently he would have had to have done in that order, he still had a strong feeling for the church. At the time I was rather against conventional religion which I viewed as focusing only on the outer aspects of spirituality. I still tend to that belief though, with the greater tolerance that comes with age, I can now see that it is by no means necessarily so. But even so, from my perspective, Christianity (some branches more than others) does seem to have lost some of its inner spiritual light over the centuries, and that is especially so in the 20th century.

Here is the passage in question.
I asked the Master if it was wrong of me to try to ease Michael away from the Catholic Church and he replied that he had told me before to trust my instinct. He said that the Catholic Church, like any outward form of religion, was good for souls on a certain level but it was time to lead Michael away from it into a new and higher understanding of life.  He told me not to be intolerant but to do this with love and patience.

My comment on this passage was as follows:
'The remarks about the Catholic Church relate to discussions Michael and I had been having about organised religion and its place in the mystical life. Although not born a Catholic, Michael had converted in order to become a monk in the Benedictine order and he retained a soft spot for that way of life even though he had abandoned it because he found it restricting. But he still tended to idealise religion and overlook its faults whereas I was more inclined to view as it was, and as it was now rather than as it might have been in the past in a possibly purer form. Although he had turned away from it himself, Michael still considered that organised religion continued to have a role to play in modern spirituality, but I thought that one needed to go beyond it and that it would bind its members as much as it would release them. I did occasionally go to church with Michael and could respond to the ritual and traditional element, but my feeling was that Catholicism, or certain aspects of it at least, tended to crush the human spirit with its authoritarian dogmas and conviction that it alone offered a path to salvation.'

These are the remarks of someone who was reacting against a modern form of religion that, in his opinion, had lost touch with its roots and focused more on the letter than the spirit, and they should be taken in that light. I think the distinction between salvation and theosis is helpful here. If we wish to do what is necessary to qualify for simple admittance to the heavenly kingdom then the outer observances of religion should be enough, though obviously our inner life and motivations should not contradict these. However this is just a beginning. For those who would not just believe in Christ but who actively seek to become as he is, more is required. My feeling at the time was that Michael was limiting himself by adherence to an outer form of truth and consequently not opening himself up sufficiently to the inner reality behind it, a not uncommon phenomenon. The Masters confirmed that to the extent that they said that following an outward form of religion was a step that needed to be gone beyond. However they were not saying that it could not be gone beyond in the context of a religion only that there was a new and higher understanding of life to be found once one had gone beyond outer things. Quite clearly that can be done within a religious context and in the past practically always was. But the 20th century is unusual in that it was a time of spiritual decay so sometimes the inner path could be pursued more easily outside of the context of religion.

But the point is that our adherence to a religion must be more than an external thing and should never be allowed to limit our conception of truth. True religion is an inner thing and the lamp should never be mistaken for the light. At the same time, as I mentioned in the book, few of us are sufficiently deeply spiritually rooted to be able to do without religious support and direction of some kind. The last 150 years have seen far too many people wandering off the spiritual straight and narrow because they thought they had found a 'new and higher understanding of life' but were actually straying into paths of illusion and self-deception.

It's a delicate balancing act, this one between proper authority and personal vision, but it's one we must get right if we are to progress and become truly spiritual ourselves. We should not reject either but give to each its proper due in the overall scheme of things.

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