Wednesday 3 April 2024

The Fruit of Religion but not its Obligations

 The title comes from a quote by George Gallup Jr, son of the founder of the famous polling organisation, who wrote that "Americans want the fruit of religion but not its obligations".  Nowadays this pithy aphorism can be extended to include many spiritual seekers in the West who have transferred a basic consumerism from the material to the spiritual sphere. Such people would say they are no longer satisfied with an external religion but seek inner experience and that is undoubtedly true. They do seek answers to the existential questions life poses, but, at the same time, they can be spiritual pleasure seekers who are looking for spiritual possessions, whether that be in the fields of mind, power, consciousness or personality augmentation.

There is a stage in the development of the soul when one moves from acceptance of authority to the desire to experience something of the spiritual world for oneself. This is a good and necessary progression but it has its traps, chief of which is that it is the worldly ego that is seeking this for its own ends. It is as though the caterpillar wants to be able to fly but won't let go of its caterpillarness. The ego wants the gifts of God but wants them for itself. Theoretically, it may understand this is impossible because it is mysticism 101 to say that the ego is what bars the way to God, but still it is very difficult to separate egotistical desire from sincere aspiration and to be honest about what really motivates us. Is it love of God or desire for his gifts? 

It is precisely to separate the two that the lives of so many of the saints are filled with suffering and spiritual darkness when God withdraws completely from them. It is interesting to read that the writings of St Thérèse of Lisieux, in some respects the patron saint of Victorian sentimentality or the French version thereof, were altered before publication to reflect a more saccharine ideal of piety. In fact, she experienced many spiritual trials and even the loss of faith which are related in her Story of a Soul. She speaks of travelling through a dark tunnel from which she had not come out, and feeling that she lived in a country covered by a thick fog while longing for the beautiful land that was her true home. "When I sing of the happiness of heaven" she writes, "I feel no joy in this. I sing simply what I want to believe." But then she goes on to say with a wisdom that belies her youth that she understands why God did not send this trial until he knew she was capable of bearing it. She realises that her suffering is God's greatest gift to her because it is preparing her soul for heaven. She is renouncing the fruit of religion to accept its obligations.

The word obligations is perhaps not the best as it implies duty borne for no particular reason. Actually, it is the so-called obligations which strip all egotism and even self-reliance from the soul and make it fit to receive divine grace. There is no real fruit without the obligations and those who look for spiritual gifts without being joyfully prepared to make spiritual sacrifices, the main one being the sacrifice of self, may encounter their own soul but they will not know God, and the two are not the same despite the popular esoteric fiction that maintains they are.


Ron Tomlinson said...

>There is a solution but we will never take it. The solution is to return to tradition and the soul of Christianity.

I want to agree however given that traditional Christianity seems to have failed what would prevent it from failing a second time -- is there a missing ingredient?

William Wildblood said...

I think you meant this for the How to Save the West post. Anyway, I didn't mean traditional Christianity which is why I phrased it as tradition and the soul of Christianity. The missing ingredient is internalising the teachings of Christ and not relying so much on external authority. It requires the development of the mystical sense though keeping that checked and balanced by the best of traditional teaching and wisdom.