Monday 17 June 2019

Seeking the Spiritual from the Secular

A number of my recent posts have been about the negative aspects of the modern world. You might think this is due to my age (things were better in the past, grumble, grumble, etc), and I can't be sure that doesn't enter into it somewhere. But the main reason is because the world really is further removed from God and spiritual truth than it ever has been. It's not just down to the nostalgia of someone in his 60s who looks at the past through rosy-tinted spectacles (I certainly don't do that), but reflects the dramatic spiritual decline of the last few decades. If you don't see this decline then you don't understand what the spiritual is. Arguments that point to improvements over this period miss the point. Outer improvements just mask inner deterioration.

When I first decided to spend my life seeking the truth behind religion I didn't pay much attention to the external world. I knew it was materialistic and that was that. I wasn't interested in it. What I didn't realise was how much the world then was still living off its spiritual inheritance. But, as time has gone by, that inheritance is almost spent and the world, even the secular, materialistic world, has changed fundamentally. Therefore I have felt the need to talk about that instead of remaining in my cosy spiritual bubble. The world used to be unspiritual in a passive way. Now, it is actively unspiritual. It was a place that just ignored spiritual reality but still functioned more or less naturally. Now it seems not only to have abandoned God but Nature too, and this has consequences when people begin to take an interest in spirituality. It powerfully affects their approach to it because they are not just starting off from a position of neutrality but one of opposition, and they generally don't realise this so take all their prejudices with them. The spiritual is often seen through the lens of the material or the political or the social or whatever it may be, something that has previously arisen from a purely secular ideology, even an anti-God ideology.

No-one can take to the spiritual path properly who does not start off that journey with a deep and sincere repentance. If we are to know God in any way at all we must acknowledge what a sorry and unholy thing we are without him. We must see that completely and it must leave us with a strong sense of unworthiness. This is not self-hatred but an honest recognition of reality. Without God we are nothing. With him we can become almost anything. But what do we find in spiritual circles now? Many people who seek spirituality do so without repentance. They want to add spirituality to their existing self without seeing that it is the existing self that is the barrier to spirituality. What is required is not just an intellectual appreciation. It must be foundational, reaching right down to the roots of what you are. It's no good becoming a spiritual seeker if you are just pursuing some kind of satisfaction or reward. You must have a profound sense of your own sinfulness but that is hard in the modern world because the modern world does not, for the most part, acknowledge sin except for secular sins, sins against political correctness, and these are transitory things, reflecting temporary attitudes. But sins against God, against truth, against nature, against your true self, spiritual sins, sins that are sins at all times and in all places? Not so much. However, without realising that you have sinned in this way you might as well not bother with the spiritual path. Knowing that you have so sinned is the beginning of repentance.

Just the beginning though. Repentance means you renounce your past self. You do not act from the self in the attempt to become spiritual. You refuse it. This is a lengthy process and means that repentance is not a one-off decision. It must be constantly renewed and it is renewed through purification which is the essential requirement of any real spirituality. To neglect the need for purification means you are a spiritual dilettante.

Purification is cleansing the soul of worldliness. It means seeing the world not in its own light but in the light of God, and it demands a complete reorientation of the mind and its motivations. Do not think that believing in spiritual things means you are a spiritual person. You can only qualify for that description when the prince of this world comes and finds nothing in you. And who would dare claim that? Not me.


edwin said...

Very insightful. I often did not realize when working with various people in "spiritual" circles through the years how radically different our orientations were. Moral purification for many was not a consideration, so rooted were they in the "I'm OK, you're OK" mindset. And whatever spirituality they sought became a subset of a larger ideology in which everything was framed: a humanist notion of equality conceived in material terms, i.e. the Left. This mindset has taken over what remains of the mainstream churches, from the Catholic Church down to most every Protestant sect, and it informs the various New Age and Vedantin and buddhists groups here in the U.S. A teacher of Vedanta whom I greatly admired became obsessed with Trump, whom he regarded as a threat to his real fundamental beliefs. I saw how subordinate all else, including Vedanta, was for him and for many others. Repentance is a somewhat narrow translation of metanoia, which means a change of mind, a basic reorientation that establishes a new hierarchy of values, with Christ at the center and the summit and everywhere in between. Many fear, perhaps rightfully so, becoming obsessed with our sins. But we cannot aspire to that which is nobler and more beautiful unless we realize our distance from it and the road we have to travel to reach it.

William Wildblood said...

Metanoia is a better word in that it implies something more radical than repentance which could be misconstrued as just saying sorry.

And yes, people can become too focused on their sins and, especially, the sins of others forgetting God's love and mercy but the fact of the matter is sin is deeply rooted and ubiquitous and what most separates us from God and the real.

edwin said...

Yes. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I might note that the word hamartia - sin - really means missing the mark, falling shy of the target. Chesterton once observed that the trouble with the world now is not that the vices have run wild but that the virtues have run wild, become loosed from the supernatural truths to which they should be anchored. Liberalism is essentially Christian charity severed from the Creator and run amok in an anthropocentric world. Fraternal charity becomes tolerance for every sort of deviant and destructive behavior, and God's universal love becomes equality in the crudest material terms, often enforced by law. And virtue becomes not a personal transformation but a blame game in which we vilify all who do not conform to our notions of tolerance and equality. Ironically, the egalitarians assume a superior position and look down on the hoi polloi who lack their enlightenment. All pigs are equal but some are more equal than others.

Bruce Charlton said...

@edwin - I agree that was how things were until a few decades ago - but "tolerance for every sort of deviant and destructive behavior" became promotion of devialnt and destructive behaviour, rathionalised on the basis that even to categorise behaviour as D&D is to be prejudiced against it.

And if that behaviour is Not acknowledged as D&D and yet people persist in behaving on the basis that D&D is inferior to virtue, then Society 'must' step-in to restore the 'equality' of D&D with natural virtue, by favouring D&D. Hence all the official comapigns and laws in favour of D&D, celebrating and rewarding D&D.

Likewise with equality - which (in practice) means sameness. Men and women are officially equal = the same; but in reality they are different. The fact that they are different but 'must' be regarded as the same, leads to an ever increasing set of laws and procedures designed both to prevent the acknowledgement of differences, and to 'rebalance' the consequences of differences in the direction of 'equality'.

It is not coherent, but that doesn't matter to the advocates because their intention is evil, hence destructive and negative of the Good. Thus tolerance and equality become a convenient excuse for attacking, and ultimately inverting, the Good (the hallmark of demonic activity).

edwin said...

Bruce: you are right, of course, and I expect we have only seen the beginning of this demonic attack. We will soon doubtless witness the championing in the media of pedophilia, bestiality, incest and who knows what other forms of perversion. Steiner once said that we would have an opportunity in mid-20th century for a significant spiritual advancement, but if we did not take it, that same impulse would manifest at the beginning of the 21st century into an acceptance and celebration of sexual perversion. It seems that sex and spirituality are linked and our attitude to the former indicates our attitude to the latter. People now fear to be called prudish and Victorian and no public figure will call homosexuality perverse and sinful, not even the Pope. Malcolm Muggerige once said that sex is the mysticism of materialism - a phrase that resonates today.