Sunday, 17 June 2018

Mere Christians

If there were patrons of this blog, in the sense of guiding lights, they might well be C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien with an honourable mention, particularly in Bruce Charlton's case, of Owen Barfield. The stories of Lewis and Tolkien were an inspiration to us when growing up, as they have been to countless others in a world starved of spirituality and real imagination. In my case I know, and in the case of my co-conspirators here I suspect, they were a real lifeline to something beyond the mundane, and their power has not diminished with age or familiarity. My opinion of Lewis and Tolkien, expressed here, has not changed. In fact, the more time goes by, the more respect I have for them and their extraordinary achievements, all the greater for being made against the flow of contemporary thought.

Now, it is interesting to note that all three of these men were Christians but they were different sorts of Christians. Tolkien was Catholic, Lewis was Anglican and Barfield, while a follower of the anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner, was certainly orientated to the full reality of Christ. Funnily enough, this is reflected in the three of us in that (as far as I know since we haven't actually met) John Fitzgerald was born and raised Catholic, Bruce Charlton is a Christian who leans towards Mormon theology, and I was raised in the Church of England and now don't have any official affiliation but am definitely Christian in that I acknowledge Jesus Christ as supreme Lord and Saviour. Some may regard a Christian universalism of this sort as a weakness but I see it as a potential strength insofar as it can actually enable one to go more deeply into the vastness of spiritual truth. I have argued about this many times and don't want to go into it here. Suffice it to say that it is neither the much and justly derided pick and mix version of religion nor is it an 'anything goes' attitude. The fullest truth is in Christ but official Christianity does not contain everything of Christ. It is, of course, quite enough for salvation (if observed properly) but it does not exhaust the wholeness of truth. Moreover, there are solid grounds for thinking that the Christianity of the past, based predominantly on faith, is no longer adequate and that we now need to seek a more direct insight into the nature of things. This does not deny the past but moves it forward, and I will go into it a little more further on in the post.

Anyway, the point is that the three of us involved in this blog are all Christian but differ in externals, and probably in some beliefs as well, just like the Inklings mentioned above. Obviously I am not comparing us to them but it might be fair to say that we are standing on their shoulders and trying to follow in their footsteps if you'll forgive the rather clumsy mixed metaphors there. Quite frankly, the world is in such a sorry spiritual state at the moment that it is time for anyone who can to put his or her hands to the pumps. We write for those who see the disastrous spiritual condition of the modern world and often feel isolated or that there is nothing that can be done about it. We write to support such people and, at the same time, ourselves since it is a truism that getting stuff down on paper helps the writer himself to understand it better. That's true in my case certainly. The world can be a very lonely place for anyone who sees through its falseness and knows that what it calls good is often anything but. I think of people like that, among whom I number myself, as exiles, and exiles who are often not even sure if their dreams of home are real. One of the purposes of this blog is to affirm, categorically and without ambiguity, that these dreams are not fantasies or wishful thinking but solid and real intuitions of truth.

As I say, all three of us here value the Christianity of the past but at the same time believe that, as it stands, it is no longer enough for the future. Times change, consciousness evolves and we are not the same now as we were in the Middle Ages. The roots of our religion remain the same but there needs to be new growth from those roots. We are now called upon to realise some of the inner truths of religion directly and for ourselves. This is not a matter of redesigning the basic picture but of making it more real by adding depth and perspective, maybe even some extra dimensions that will bring it to greater life. The fundamental truths are the same but we should now be going more deeply into them. Imagine that truth can be represented by a tree. We start off with a crude drawing of a straight line, the trunk, and a few more lines sticking out above that, the branches. As time passes we can develop that and fill in more detail. The trunk becomes more recognisably a trunk with bark and so on; the branches grow and sprout leaves. We add colour, perspective and maybe some fruit and flowers. Eventually the picture becomes real. We start to climb.

Christ is the living embodiment of truth. When he said "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" that is what he meant. He does not teach truth like any other spiritual teacher. He is truth. Therefore, opening oneself up to him as a person is all that is required to bring one to the fullness of eternal life. But we can only receive as much of him as our own spiritual unfoldment allows. We are vessels waiting to be filled. Once we remove the cork of ego we can be filled but only with as much spiritual light (spiritual wine is light not liquid) as we are able to take. That is why anyone at any level of spiritual development can turn to Christ and be fulfilled spiritually. Nevertheless, the more spiritually aware we are ourselves, the more we can gain. A saint and an ordinary person can both go to heaven but the saint will be able to get more out of it because he can respond to it at deeper levels. At the same time, the ordinary person will be completed in his way too, and maybe, I don't doubt, develop further so that he can eventually get to where the saint is now.

I am a Christian but I am not an exclusivist. I think that some people from other religions can be closer to Christ than nominal Christians, even many nominal Christians, if they live by the highest truths in their religions. They may be following Christ even if they don't know it for, after all, Christ is not just the historical person. He is also the spiritual reality that is stamped on our hearts and which we have to learn to respond to and then become like. Some people may not give this reality the name of Christ but, if they follow it faithfully, then they are serving him. 

This doesn't mean that all religions are equally efficacious. Some express Christ better than others and, of course, he is to be found revealed in Christianity while in other religions, if he is there, he is veiled. But the Incarnation spread a new spiritual force throughout the entire world, and this could be sensed and picked up by individuals or cultures not necessarily Christian and expressed in various ways. The outer form would not be Christian but the inner inspiration might be. Christ is universal. He is the only saviour but it is my belief that he can operate through religions that do not bear his name in addition to the ones that do. That being said, it should be obvious that he can operate best and most effectively where he is most acknowledged.

What saves us? Well, first of all, what are we being saved from? I think we are being saved from identification with matter. This means that we are being saved from identification with our own little selves. Sin is born of this identification. If we associate ourselves with our material being we are trapped in matter. Our material being is not just our body. It is also the self-centred mind and 'my' feelings that I regard as me. If they are happy, I am. If they're not then I am not. But this is all part of the self-enclosed personality. Salvation is liberation from this personality into the broader world of divine truth which is the God-centred world. Now, God is a Person. In fact, he is the Person, the Divine Archetype from which our personhood is derived. Recognition of this truth is salvation. It is release from the little self into the greater Self. That does not mean the little self is abandoned or destroyed. Rather it is transformed by its union with its Parent and it is transformed into something rather like that Parent.

What this means is that real salvation demands something more than simple belief though that is an essential beginning. It demands love. So, to answer my question of the previous paragraph, I would say that what saves us is love, love of God. This is not an emotional feeling but a deep recognition of God within one's heart. It is only this love that can take us out of ourselves, and that is what we must be saved from. You might argue that we are saved by faith not love. I don't disagree but in that case I would differentiate true faith from mere belief. Real faith in God necessarily means love of God. If you don't have this love of God then your faith is probably intellectual only. You need to work on it to deepen it but then that applies to all of us.

I don't think that those who are not saved in this way go to hell. Some particularly rebellious souls may find themselves in something corresponding to hell after their death in this world. This will be a reflection of their own state of consciousness. Hell is separation from God and, if that is what you want, no doubt that is what you will get. But most neither too good nor too bad people will probably find themselves in a world that is a continuation of this one, though non-physical in nature. They are not saved, that is to say, saved from matter, and they carry on in an environment that, again, is an externalisation of their own consciousness. God has given them what they want, or what they think they want, but they might also have the chance to want something more as Lewis depicts in his short novel The Great Divorce in which dwellers in hell are sometimes given the chance of a trip to higher worlds and the opportunity to change if they are willing. Who can know for sure but a God of love would presumably want to give his erring children, at least those who might still awaken, the chance to mend their ways and reorient their minds. Whether they do or not is up to them.

Before concluding let me return to the theme of this post. Mere Christians. I believe that Christianity needs to evolve. From being a communal religion with a central authority, it needs to move into something in which every man must learn to become his own authority though within the general framework of Christianity. When I say that I know alarm bells will instantly go off. People will point to heresies and illusions and false trails and deceptions and so on, and they will be right. These are all the very real risks of the approach I have just outlined. But, if we are to grow spiritually, we need to make the truths of the spiritual life our own, and this means following the inner path. That path will be individual for each one of us. It must be if it is to be ours. But that does not mean that it will be individualistic. It must be individual but it must also be grounded in truth. The former without the latter leads to the heresies of which we have seen many examples throughout history but especially in the 20th century. The individuality required is that of the soul, the inner spiritual self, not the outer personality, the material separate self. Therefore to be individual in this proper sense requires a genuine spiritual sensibility. But that sensibility has to be grounded in Christ. If it turns away from Christ it becomes severed from its roots and this is where the heresies and spiritual falsehoods come from. We can only discover our true self when we look for it in Christ.

The Christianity of the past was that of Peter. But there is a deeper Christianity, one which has always been there but was only followed by a few. Now the time has come when many more people must discover this more mystical Christianity which is that of the apostle John. The religion of authority and obedience is to be superseded by one of love, vision and intuitive insight but, and it's a big but, you cannot move on to this new religion unless and until you have fully absorbed the lessons of the old which are not dismissed but built on. If you try to construct the new without basing it on the foundation of the old your edifice will collapse as so many have over the last hundred years. They responded to the inspiration of the new light dawning on the horizon but they did so from the perspective of the unreconstructed lower self and sought to eat the fruits without tending the roots.  Those who reject tradition will have to relearn it before they can advance beyond it.


John Fitzgerald said...

That's a profound and inspirational Credo, William. What a statement of intent! It will resound like a mighty bell - telling the spiritual time, as it were - through all the worlds. The Russian writer Nicholas Berdyaev had a good deal to say in his books about these matters. 'From the tragic problem of Christianity' he writes in The Marning of the Creative Act, 'there can be only one way out - the religious acceptance of the truth that the religious meaning of life and being is not wholly a matter of redemption from sin, that life and being have positive, creative purposes ... Salvation from sin, from perdition, is not the final purpose of religious life: salvation is always 'from' something and life should be 'for' something. Many things unecessary for salvation are needed for the very purpose for which salvation is necessary - for the creative upsurge of being. Man's chief end is not to be saved but to mount up, creatively.'

John Fitzgerald said...

'The Meaning (not 'Marning') of the Creative Act' I should say!

William Wildblood said...

You've very kind, John. Thank you! You know, I hadn't thought of it as a credo but I suppose it is. Yes, to focus too much on sin emphasises the negative and the purpose of religion is, of course, entirely positive. At the same time, perhaps Berdyaev was writing during a period when our sinfulness was over-emphasised. You might say we have the opposite problem nowadays.

edwin said...

William, So much contained here, not least of which is the idea of the individuality of the soul, as opposed to that of the personality. The non-duality teachings of the East try to negate the individuality of the personality, but leave us in an amorphous consciousness which is supposed to be blissful but which is really inconceivable because we have to be present, as individuals, to experience anything. We are created not simply through Christ, but in Christ. In some way, we express the Divine personality in a unique way. To discover that, to bring that into clarity by taking away all that obscures it, seems to be the purpose of our incarnation. Michelangelo said that he searched for the marble that contained the statue then took away all that enclosed it so that it could be seen. Perhaps this is what is meant by Christ taking away the sin of the world: He is removing the stone that entraps our true image, shaping us into the perfect expression of Himself we are created to become. Thank you for your efforts. I know these things are not easy to express. We who read your blog appreciate your diligent attempts to bring light into the present darkness.

William Wildblood said...

Like you, Edwin, I have been very interested in Indian spirituality, but I never felt the circle was quite complete and the longing of my heart was not satisfied by it as it is by Christ. I do think individuality is not only important but actually the whole point of creation and any spiritual path which neglects this is missing something vital. The distinction between the ego and the individual is crucial. To say that because something can go wrong it is wrong in itself is missing the point. You don't heal the patient by killing him!

Thanks for your appreciation. I appreciate that and always find your comments illuminating.

seriouslypleasedropit said...

One of the tragedies of knowing whom to read is that you start to find yourself echoing: "So, uh, this is really good."

You have done well to articulate the idea without slacking from vigilance against heresy. Well done.