“Each set of religious abstractions is related, somehow, characterologically, to the person who made them; or: tell me your religion and you tell me what you are.”
Insights for the Age of Aquarius, Gina Cerminara
The fundamentalist wants “one world religion,” but it is not a dream of spiritual unity, tolerance, diversity of forms, and wide-minded inclusiveness. Rather, the fundamentalists would impose a standardized form, formula, and orthodoxy upon all. They would shape human ideas and emotions like statues from one mold. This is materialism masquerading as religion.
Reverence for the indefinable reality, for the transcendent will demonstrate freedom from idolatry. Intelligent faith in the higher life, apart from all orthodox constructions, will be the sign of redemption. Achievement will be active, strong, and without reliance on human creations. Not bibles, nor preachers, nor any outward thing is required. The crutches of yesterday are not needed. External supports will fall away, leaving the spirit free.
Take no refuge in religious facsimiles. Crowds invariably distort the truth, and there are more lesser gods than we can count. Singing of psalms is commonly prescribed for lesser gods—a path of minimum virtue. Better simply to think more and love more.
“Our blight is ideologies, they are the long-expected Antichrist!”
— Carl Jung, Columbia Dictionary of Quotations
What religion are you, he asks? How can I tell the truth when all the words have been debased. I am everything—I would be some of the best in everything. And I am nothing—I am none of the labels and none of the memories. If you’re free with words, I would admit of a firm label and the words will not really matter. Then, the symbols will not betray the meaning. Together then, we could look behind them.
“I am not a little exclusive I, but the great inclusive, allied I. It is the play of stellar electricity in my soul.”
— Frank Crane
In the garden, the child asks, “Where is God?” With omnipresence, we might find God behind that curtain of galaxies in the far depths of space, or in the gift of flowers? Where is God the child asks. Smiling mother touches the child’s forehead and answers, “Right here.”
Galaxies might look severe, yet It must be a fiery but gentle God that nurtures the aura of youth, for the muted radiance of the child is easy on the eyes. Still, galaxies can not be discounted. Isn’t God more intense than the brightest sun? Some imagine approaching the God of all things directly. and right now, yet even the distant center of our modest solar system gives us sunburn. And it’s not hard to picture that even a lesser angelic visitor may be more than our eyes can bear. It seems degrees of separation are required for our protection, and serious adaption to the advancing radiance. But even with the dangers of life, there remains the wonderful concept of a vast hierarchy of light, otherwise the gulf between man and deity would be impassable.
Let us consider the world of the “esoteric” or “spiritual science”—these suggests a wide diversity of things such as psychic phenomena, the supernatural, mysticism, meditation, tarot card reading, kabalistic obscurity, crystal balls, reincarnation, astral bodies, auras and chakaras, Eastern thought, metaphysics, and the occult. For some, the language may also call to mind witches and wizards, seances, a yogi in a mountain cave, magical charms, mysterious rites, and perhaps even some UFOs thrown in. And for some, the esoteric terms even associate with cults, satanic worship, or some TV show on the latest strange, weird, or bizarre phenomena. We might say that, the human scene, being what it is, people inevitably acquire a superficial picture; a caricature of whatever realities esoteric language is intended to point to. And among many people, a term like “esoteric” or “occult” conjures emotions most strange, while in this maze of language and concepts–usually but vaguely and poorly defined–wander the metaphysically oriented people of the world.
All this is not to belittle the truth underlying the language, but rather to help us realize more clearly the difficulties of discerning that truth. It helps to realize that excellent things are rare, and that for every true teacher, there are a thousand pretentious gurus. For every true psychic, there are a thousand pseudopsychics. For every prophetic visionary, thousands of false prophets walk the earth. And for every truly enlightened individual, there are thousands spiritual charlatans. And the matter is further complicated by the fact that we rarely have just obviously “false” communications but a cryptic blend of the true, and half-true, of false, and a partly false. There are a thousands of shades of partly true offered us from every direction.
And everywhere we find systems, gimmicks, offerings of pretty packages, of effortless cures and quick enlightenments, and even metaphysical versions of get-rich-quick schemes. And for every purely wrought axiom of wisdom, there are a thousand clichés and inferior versions.
It may also help us to realize that, at one extreme, everything becomes counterfeited and debased. Everything has false and glamorous versions. Everything has illusory and shadowy counterparts. So, on the surface, everywhere is scattered fool’s gold.
At the other extreme, in deeper spaces, is the clear gold light of wisdom. But between the extremes is a world of grays where things gradually shade toward the light. This is the world where our discrimination and insight are constantly tested. This is the world where we must learn to think and see ever more clearly. We live along a twilight path of human understanding, a world mixed of dark and light. Yet, along the way, we may more optimistically recall that shadows suggest the light that cast them.
Take heart then that the Powers that be thought so well of us as to lay upon our path such difficult circumstances. Our own powers are equal to the challenge, if not today, then surely tomorrow, and we have an infinity of tomorrows.
Let us bring out of the dense fabric of human thought some clear ideas, set them upon a pedestal, elevated, striking, luminous—suitable objects for reflection. The light of them is beautiful and, in one way, simple, yielding to us by interior radiance that vision of clarity we so deeply need for the difficult journey.
I’ve never been a great lover of forms, that is most made by man’s mind. Not religions, philosophies, and psychologies, nor even much that passes as arts and sciences. There is a hidden meaning in all of them, and this I love. Yet the ways these take through human agencies and arts often fails to resonate. There are, thankfully, beautiful exceptions yet excellent things remain rare.
The forms of nature are different–these I love. A crystal, a rainbow, faces, skies and clouds, or scintillating dance of light on water–these argue well in speaking direct to the soul.
That said, if I am with a religionist I may find something there to love. If with a philosopher, I may find some light behind. Often though I find in voice or eye some gleam or note that reads better than philosophy or religion. Perhaps it is that we are in essence better than our playthings.
Saints of actual virtue, without bureaucracy or churches, shine bright in life and death. But people like to roundup numerous human intercessors and are fond of titles and royal attire. It’s advantageous for church leaders to create saints, the better to awe followers, the better to consolidate power, the better to give each one the desired personal object of devotion. But why must objects of devotion be the province churches and conventional religions? Do not objects of devotion surround us at every turn of life? And why should the modes of reverence be prescribed by ancient scribes and conclaves of old men? Saint makers, power brokers, strategists, bureaucrats—how will pure devotion flourish under the weight of such medieval inheritance?
The memory of some glows unrealistically white in death. Well good for reverence and good for optimism, but especially good if we could simply love the good without so much devoted whiteness of perception, and without intercession of plastic priesthoods. Let all good works be approved without layers of ceremony and the collective judgments of old men.
Whatever is good beneath robes is nourished from within. I bow before it. But how many royal layers does it take to suffocate a good man? We can survive the surround of old stones, but heavy walls of thought and emotions shut out most of the light.
We love the beautiful, but remnants of the beautiful are overlaid with ages of human error, and worldly saint makers compete with sanity and simplicity. The half-deceptions, the old dirges, the crazy human mix suffocates slowly–we learn sleepwalking with just enough real magic to keep us circling. Churches bind with nets of ancient magic, and the sins of the devoted are washed imaginatively white– for a price. The magic is neither black nor white, which suits the lazy, sleepy median. Ugliness woven with threads of truth serves millions, and remains a distinctly human concoction.
And to those who have subjugated women for ages, to those whose minds run in stagnant theological rivulets, to medieval theologians and politicians—to these I say the church of stone and worldly power is dead. Service lives, and virtue lives, but its needs are simple and unconfined. But the spider web of theology does not serve and is dead; control by fear is dead; materialism and stones and worldly power is dead; half-truth is dead. Let the last clamors of prejudice depart into silence.
I expect in death that saints have a ceiling of stars and sky yet I cannot but think that love of old stones dies. Certainly it pales next to the grand canyons of earth or any of the billion lights in the deep sky. It surely pales next to the greater canyons cut by curving walls of stars. I think stardom and the star-dome takes on new perspective in the light of death, and I cannot think a single great soul approves being named a saint.
Our ordinary sense of time and space appears closely related to brain consciousness, our sense of time being different in dream or vision where we’re more separate from the physical body. Usually, what we’re conscious of in the brain is mostly confined to a narrow part of the present life with little or no vision of distant past or future. People sharply divide time into past, present, future, and often with compression into a dense material now of “eat drink and be merry.” There is usually no prophetic sense, no sense of timelessness, no consciousness of the vast sweep of evolution to disturb the illusion of the material “now.”
There is practical benefit in the sense of timelessness. For instance, the great majority of things we ordinary time-bound types get angry about are as nothing when viewed from sufficient spiritual altitude. It reminds me of the story of a great soul who repeatedly struck a match only to have it blown out by the wind. His friend noticed his extraordinary calm in the midst of this and asked:
“Don’t you ever get impatient?”
“Why should I?,” he answered, “I have eternity in front of me.”
But our sense of the infinite is often not strong enough to release us from bad habits and unhappy reactions to people and circumstances. Moreover, even our spiritual aspirations add fuel to fires of our problems. Whether from spiritual aspirations or more material motives, the relativistic part of us is imbued with a sense of urgency and dissatisfaction with things as they are. We feel “There is no time to lose.” But there is or can be, at the same time, a more serene self, undisturbed by unfolding events; it is self touched by the timeless. In one of his poems Robert Browning writes, “God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” Many mystics down the ages have voiced a similar impression. The mystic says, “Time does not exist,” and we have all the time in the world; the practical self deals with urgent issues. We have one aspect of truth in timeless terms and another aspect in the practical relativistic world of time.
Overemphasis on the relative or the timeless yields different pathologies, but health must be in balance. After repeated attempts we are impatient when the match fails to light. It is because we ourselves are not on fire with the realization of the infinite. If we live too much in the urgency of the moment we fail, yet if we are divorced from practical labor and responsibility we also fail. So it seems we must coordinate heaven and earth, the transcendental and the practical–perhaps then to strike a golden mean, to act rightly in the world while in continuity with the infinite.
In ancient times, when servitors of dim instincts fought for survival, truths were no more than the fearsome laws of the jungle. Then tribal truths groped forward as magical spirits, good and bad. Then darkest instincts grayed toward mythic spirits, dragons, goddesses, and a host of red conquers. It may not seem now that truth could be red, but it was an advance over dark terror of the jungle, with glimmers of common fire, of protection and exchange.
Group truths became a fear-infused sense of right and wrong with imposition of laws and rules. Teachers came–quickly forgotten and mostly ignored–their impress shadow-shifted to religious Towers of Babel. Stolen fire heated the iron gray cauldrons of fear, desire, and power. The tattered remnants of the Great, mixed with the ancient blacks and grays, cheapened a truth-brew to feed the absolute soldiers.
Religious fanatics practiced their cruel trade and huge crowds of partly right people strained under the spell of pseudo-truths. A small number discovered thought and tried, with small success, to engender mass education. The gods of thought gave birth to science, and the truths of science generated more gods. Philosophers, theologians, and technicians made yet more gods and truths, with much metal in the earth and sky, and dry abstractions in the place of the heart. But the mind had exercise in these, and some with a stronger “I” stood apart.
Gradually, the truth of “I” moved toward “we,” and the green of earth began to warm the heart. More people noticed that truth could be stated in the plural, and relativity slowly dawned in the mind. The many were still fighting over absolute truth, but here and there on the planet comparative light study was shinning. From this something momentous emerged, a veritable tear in the illusory web of space and time. Thought leaped toward a vision of unification embracing both the relative and absolute, toward transcendence that includes and appreciates all that has gone before. Thought leaped toward realization of the value of all the halting steps, of all the little truths, of all the instinctual groping toward light. And illumined thought leaped up toward the cosmic, toward the vistas of stars and Space. Slowly then, there dawns a new ego-free perspective. The emerging sense of unity begins to respond to the absolute without the need to patent it as exclusive property of a particular school of thought or faith.
Let’s rotate the concept of faith, looking at it from various sides.
“Faith is verification by the heart.”
“Faith is the beast.”
— A. C. Swinburne
“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
As with so many things, a key to clearer understanding is found in the relation of words and meanings. Most do not think much about it, but consciousness of this relation is of major importance. The essence of the word/meaning relation is this: Meanings are in people, not in words. Words are like arrows pointing to something, and often we wrongly assume that we know what that something is and whether it’s a real thing or not. In this, we often have a false and egotistic “faith” in our own ability to understand what is in the minds and hearts of people. Certainly the surface of religion and “faith” is a tragedy of the first magnitude. Yet, everything has hidden facets. So, in the deeper sense, faith may be visualized as knowledge that is half in shadow and half in light.
We are here in a spiral, in the arm of one of many galaxies, in the flow of galaxies without number, here in the Infinite… We are here in small houses, countless buildings of a small humanity; our humanity that, through bad faith and bounded histories has hidden itself from the slow and luminous transmutation that must lead us from dim faith to radiant knowledge.
People use the word “faith” to cover a multitude of intellectual and emotional sins—dishonesty, fear, lack of commonsense, and justification of childish concepts. It is known that the hierarchies of humans bolster their power by encouraging ignorant faith. In the lower sense, faith leads to worship of man-created images and acceptance of unfounded authority based on fear, self-interest, and unthinking desperation to escape the surrounding chaos. People look up with dim faith and try to build religions out of God but mostly build them out of themselves. They look up and sense only a tiny part of a picture, adding their halting often-discordant colorings to everything.