Religion Approach to Theistic Science
Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?
Some thoughts on 'Spirituality'.
Those of an older generation may remember a
radio programme called Twenty Questions in which a panel had to guess
some object, or person in twenty questions. If it wasn't animal, vegetable or
mineral, and you couldn't eat it, then it was abstract.
I once attended a conference on Faith in
Healing. Speaker after speaker talked about spirituality, yet an
exact definition was never offered. We all felt what it was, but could not
explain it. So I want to talk about an abstraction
It may be helpful to start at the other end of
the spectrum. When someone says, "Oh, he is so unspiritual!", we would have a
fair idea that the person concerned was rather materialistic in outlook. He
would regard as real whatever his five senses could see, touch and feel. We
would imagine a rather sensuous person.
Yet, there are things, which are quite real to
us, which nevertheless have to be placed under the 'abstract' label. One of the
most frequent cries of protest from children is, "It's not fair!" But what is
'fair', or fairness? You certainly can't eat it and it is neither, mineral,
vegetable or animal. But if it is merely abstract, then why does it hurt so
Some things touch our inner world, yet are quite
unseen, untouchable and cannot be defined by scientific measurement. Let us
How 'big' is my love? Since it seems to fill me
from top to toe, is my love not as large as the love of someone who is a good
foot taller than I am? This can't be so, because my love overflows and reaches
towards others even if they live on the other side of the world.
My love makes me feel better about the world I
live in: it is powerful, yet it defies all measurement. The only thing I can do
is to recognise it by its effects. Recently a friend told me that his son
had fallen in love and he can now communicate in sentences, instead of by
growling "Hmm" and "Haarh".
Now that is a wonderful transformation! When he
was turned in on himself, he found the world around him, and the people
in it, well, almost contemptible. But loving someone other than himself caused a
change. Could it be that love, unselfish love, lies at the very heart of
spirituality? Could we wish for a better origin to spirituality? And do we not
recognise it spontaneously and without any difficulty in some loving, caring and
... a person's life
Swedenborg. the 18th century scientist,
philosopher and theologian wrote the following: Love is the life of man, and
such as the love is, such is the whole person. (1)
Thus, he maintained, the key to a person's
essential nature lies in his love, and not simply in his thoughts as Descartes
suggested in his, "I think, therefore I am. " But a person who only loves
himself is self-centred, inward looking. He can only find interest in whatever
contributes to his own welfare, pleasure, or possessions. "Such as the love is,
such is the person."
Jesus Christ taught that we should learn to love
others and turn away from the self-seeking and diminishing circle of life: I
give you a new commandment, to love one another. By this you mil be known to be
my disciples, by loving one another. (John 13:34,35)
And indeed, we do meet some people who are
loving and caring, and we sense their spirituality shining from their eyes and
faces and their 'body language'.
But when a person's love finds its chief delight
in purely material things, or in dominating others, their spirituality will be
quickly depleted and replaced with what we sometimes call 'animal magnetism'.
This dangerous energy seeks to control and overpower others. People who had
attended the rallies of the Nazi Party confess that they found Hitler
electrifying and magnetic and by this he was able to attract them to his cause.
But, no marks for spirituality! Jesus Christ also attracted people, but was
often misunderstood, because his teaching did not appeal to human selfishness.
Many in fact recognised that his doctrine would topple their empires of power
and domination. In that sense, Jesus was a far more radical revolutionary than
the politicians and empire builders of this world.
Love in It's essence.
When I first read the following definitions of
love, I was so impressed that I looked up all sorts of dictionaries to see how
they explained love. How unsatisfactory they seemed!
The first essential is to love others than
oneself. (2) In selfless love we find a new energy, which connects us with
the Divine source that is inexhaustible. It is surely one of the wonders and
miracles of love, that it brings in new life which pushes back the boundaries of
what is possible.
The words, 'others than oneself' are important.
They mean that true love goes out to others for their sake. It is not a
self-seeking love, which can often be very generous, provided it fulfils its
The second essential is concerned with
seeking the happiness of others, but again, for their sake alone. A nurse
who is really concerned for the welfare of her patient often has to be selfless
and step beyond the bounds of mere duty. She will put the patient first. And
sometimes, a very small kindness, will be felt by the recipient as real love and
surely be part of the healing process.
The third essential of love is to desire to
be close to those it loves. By this we are to understand that in love, there
is true freedom, since there can be no compulsion. It is not a question of,
"I'll love you, if you love me!" that is a childish love and in the adult - a
selfish love. It is not true love, but rather an expression of insecurity and
fear. Its worst manifestation is seen in the terrible executions of dissidents
(real or imagined), by the tyrants of history. One could only survive in
absolute obedience to the leader and his doctrine.
True love does not demand servility, but always
leaves the loved one in freedom. Not even theologians could comprehend this
clearly, and have often taught the dreadful vengeance of a frustrated and angry
Forced love is no love at all.
We may acquire spirituality by contemplating the
sayings of Jesus:
This is my commandment, that you love one
another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay
down his life for his friends. John 15.12-13
What does it mean, "to lay down one's
life for one's friends"? This is not only a heroic sacrifice in some crisis -
though such an act is not excluded - but also the change from a self-centred
life, which is where we all start, to one that is centred on others.
Swedenborg had a very practical approach to
theological and moral questions. He suggests that the best and the easiest way
to love our neighbour is to do so through one's employment for which we have
been trained, and in which, moreover, we are engaged daily and constantly.
It seems such a simple solution, but on
consideration, our occupations do provide us with the greatest opportunity to
serve and love others. Have you ever had the experience of getting a really good
plumber or carpenter to work in your house? Skilled, tidy and honest? Did he not
restore your faith in human nature?
Some professions lend themselves more easily to
showing love - one can think of teachers, the nursing and medical workers. But
in one sense we are always dependent when we place ourselves in the hands of
others: the shop assistant, the banker, the butcher, the postman, the driver.
Along with their skills and services these fellow-workers may be offering us
their love. On that level our transactions become purely spiritual, far, far
beyond the possibility of being evaluated in purely financial terms.
Money alone, cannot bring us true reward for
what we do for each other. When we are offering our love, we are in fact
offering our life, and our services then exist on a higher plane of
consciousness and being. Such a transaction proceeds from the very core of our
being: from our love where our spirituality lies hidden.
(1) E. Swedenborg (1763) The Divine Love and Wisdom, paragraph
47. English translation from Latin 1969. The Swedenborg Society. London.
(2) E. Swedenborg (1770) The True Christian Religion, paragraph 43.
English translation from Latin by John Chadwick 1988. The Swedenborg Society.
(to be) reproduced with permission from
OUTLOOK (ISSN 0969-1049 INCORPORATING
THE SWEDENBORG MOVEMENT NEWSLETTER) No.47, 2003.