Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The meaning of 'spiritual'

Spiritual is a dirty word among many serious Christians; yet it is necessary that the Christian revival I so much hope and work for be a spiritual Christian revival - or what I have termed 'Direct Christianity'.

The meaning of 'spiritual' as I use it here is not a matter of surface beliefs of a spiritual type; it is about metaphysical assumptions. I believe that mainstream Christianity, indeed official Christianity through much of its history, has shown a tendency towards abstraction that has been a factor in its demise - this needs changing, indeed such change is more than two centuries overdue.

(By needs I mean that this is the path of divine destiny, this change - which is a theosis - is what God wants from us; a vital part of what Jesus came to bring us.)

'The opposite of abstraction' (and what we need) has no generally-accepted or respectable name - it is something-like 'animism combined with anthropomorphism'... I mean the understanding that reality is alive, that nothing is 'dead' and everything is conscious (to some, usually limited, degree) - and also that everything is purposive; either having its own purpose (as Men do) or else a part-of something that is purposive (as a grain of sand, or a leaf of grass).

So to be spiritual is not to have certain specific beliefs about, say, spirits, ghosts, telepathy, meditative trances, communication with the dead or whatever; rather it is (or should be) the baseline and permeating conviction and (ideally) experience of Life, the Universe and Everything as alive, conscious, purposive and with everything in relationship with everything else.

The 'metaphysics' is our explicit description of such a reality - and in modernity we must have expicit descriptions, it is a necessity of our phase in order to move towards maturity of thinking - then the task is to make this metaphysics the baseline and permeation of our lives...


The work of Owen Barfield has made me aware of this matter; and how this correct understanding is blocked by unexamined metaphysical assumptions that are all-but universal in modernity; including among Christians - and it is this, as much as anything, which blocks the Christian awakening we so much need (as individuals - and by individuals as a society).

I mean that modernity assumes (without explicit awareness that this is an assumption, and could be changed) that everything is naturally dead - assumes the universe began as lifeless and devoid of consciousness; assumes that everything is essentially random or deterministically caused (hence has no purpose); assumes that isolation of consciousness is primary and that all relationships are a later development, and must be generated and sustained by communications...

Our modern mainstream Christian understanding of Genesis seems to validate this materialism - with God creating the dead stuff, plants and animals and with the first sign of consciousness (Men) coming at the end... Taken this way it is not all that different from the Big Bang cosmology and evolution by natural selection.


Yet before the making of the earth - there was spiritual awareness, consciousness, purposiveness, being... As pre-mortal spirits we inhabited a world of universal communication, universal relationships, universal meaning and purpose... And (as Barfield tells us) the movement was from this, and towards separation-off of individual consciousnesses (such as you and me) in order that our free will, our agency, be developed.

The new thing, the later thing, is free will and agency - communication and relation were the backdrop, taken for granted...

It is this baseline, background, implicit-in-everything animistic/ anthropomorphic understanding that is spiritual - and which we need to restore. 'Restore' because it is spontaneous and natural to us as young children, and seems to be the 'religion' of all the simplest nomadic tribal societies - but unconsicous, naive, unarticulated. But this time restore voluntarily, with explicit understanding, chosen because it is true.

Christianity ought not to be seen in opposition to this; but for much of history the developmental focus was on individual freedom; and the animistic aspect was neglected. Only from the late 1700s with the advent of Romanticism were we ready for the balance to swing back - but it did not happen.  Instead we got a pagan or atheistic spirituality and a Christianity based on impersonal abstractions that saw most of reality as 'dead', determined, random...

It needs to happen from now - Christianity needs to build on a different and animistic metaphysics. It is that which is intended by the term 'Spiritual' Christianity.


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