My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Can spirituality transform our world?

Ursula King poses this question in a paper of that title published in the very first issue of the brand new and rather good Journal for the Study of Spirituality.
In a nutshell she concludes that spiritualities do indeed offer a vision of hope and human flourishing, but that in practical terms we need spiritual education at all levels and to all ages, alongside a global spiritual awakening, to realize an effective spiritual transformation. We need, she says, a spiritual revolution, something dear to my own heart as readers of my blogs and book will know!
At an individual level I would say we need a spiritual re- awakening. Surely we used to be spiritual beings before many of us became unduly influenced by the advance of materialism and scientific reductionism and the accompanying cynicism about religion and spirituality. In this materialistic and consumerist world many of us have lost the ability to connect with the spirit within us, to transcend the material elements of our lives. If only we can rediscover the spiritual essence of our beings. We then need to connect that spiritual element across all boundaries of space and time, to realize that we are not mere individuals, but we are all part of a deeply interconnected, social mind, with huge potential significance for our future.
But that begs a question. What is spirituality?
It is almost impossible to define, but significantly in that same Journal John Swinton, Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care in the School of Divinity at the University of Aberdeen, draws our attention to the idea of spirituality being best thought of as something that is missing in our lives. It is true that very often people will reflect that they feel something is missing in what they do, but they have difficulty articulating what that something is. So they change jobs, go away for a while, buy more consumer goods, and never find that elusive quality they seek. They continue to feel dissatisfied but don’t really know why.
If spirituality has something to do with our search for meaning, purpose, love, some kind of a God, then we are saying that something profoundly important is too often not being adequately addressed. Our challenge, Swinton writes, is to “learn what it means to treat people as human beings.”
That is clearly of fundamental importance, as Swinton points out, when we are thinking about healthcare and the treatment of patients or about the way we run our businesses and commerce, where people can become nothing more than “economic units.” I’ve written about this elsewhere in my book Healing this Wounded Earth
But I take this a step further. To learn how to treat other people as human beings, then, strange as it may sound, I think we actually have to learn to be human beings ourselves! By that I mean that we need to raise our own spiritual awareness, be compassionate to ourselves, love ourselves, first, be “happy” in our own bodies. How can we bring love and compassion and spirituality and a total sense of worth into any workplace or life if we do not have those qualities in ourselves?

And furthermore I believe we are challenged to bring that undefined spiritual quality into everything we do – not only in our workplace, but in our communities, in our creativity, in our faiths, in our relationships, so that our work and whole way of life reflects that love and compassion and spirit and can become a healing influence for others. Because there is no doubt that the alternatives can be harmful. The Jesuit priest, Thomas Merton, tells us that our hatred of ourselves is more dangerous than our hatred of others, because we project our own evil onto others and we do not see it in ourselves. “If you love peace,” he wrote, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, “then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, [Merton’s italics] not in another.” It is easy to see how our self -hatred could for example be reflected in those nasty computer and video games that are now so freely available and are almost certainly a harmful influence to our children and indeed many adults. But someone, indeed a whole production team, brought such items to the market place, made them freely available to one and all.

Those who create such horror for the retail trade seem to be allowing their own wounds to crush them. They need their own healing. But they also have a responsibility for the potential negative effects of their work; for the harm it possibly inflicts on the minds of others. We know that people who are subjected to too much gratuitous violence put up a barrier of defense and they become desensitized, a process sometimes known as ‘psychic numbing’. (This is significant when we consider the behavior of our soldiers, for example, trained to kill, but who have to live a different life back in the “real” world.) It is not hard to see that the longer-term effects of such violence on the general behavior and indeed future of the human race could be far reaching. I wrote more about this over on my Ripples of Hope Blog very recently.

More spiritual education to enhance the world’s level of spiritual literacy would surely begin to address issues such as these. But how do we start? Some things we can all do. We can introduce our children to beautiful art in our national galleries, we can show them more of the awesome wonders of nature in our museums, we can celebrate with them the wealth of religious traditions around them, we can nurture the innate spiritual qualities within them. And we can nurture our own spiritual needs at the same time! But we do need the support of a spiritually driven education. Because we know that children are born naturally empathic and spiritual, thanks to the work of David Hay and Rebecca Nye, for example. It is our subsequent education system that crushes these qualities, beats them out of our children. And we have a generation or more of parents who went through the same spirit-crushing system!
How many of us are teachers, school governors, or otherwise involved with children in some way? We can all play an important role.

By tapping into the natural spirituality of our young and nurturing it throughout their education, I hope we can start to build a better world. I would hope that children so educated would be less inclined to squander valuable time on video “nasties,” or violent films, for example, and will be steered towards a more spiritual and healing life, a much more satisfying life, that will influence all those around them, in an ever widening aura of spiritual consciousness. Or is this a pipe dream? I don’t think so. I hope not!

This leads into plenty of other topics to write about! What do current consciousness studies tell us about the possibility of a global spiritual awareness? What are the differences between religion and spirituality, how do they interrelate? Do they overlap, or does one encompass the other? If spirituality is a necessary component of all religions why is this not a unifying force between them? What do we understand about the evolution of consciousness and spirituality? Given that we can steer our own evolution by our actions or inactions, and are conscious that we can do this, how can we steer the world towards a better future, whatever we mean by that?
I shall muse on these by the swimming pool today!


  1. I think we lost spirituality at the dawn of the renaissance. Not because people aren't spiritual, but because the church accentuated the negative about people and humanism accentuated the positive.

    The church told us we were all vile sinners and needed to be controlled. Humanists told us we were worthwhile individuals.

    It's interesting that Christ, although acknowledging our sinful nature, never condemned people but tried to promote the good in each of those he caem across.

  2. Isn't that why a return to a more spiritually based education is so important? Children are naturally spiritual - I observe it at the primary school level - but it's not nurtured. Then again what do we mean by spiritual? I like the simplistic "something missing" idea - a level of consciousness perhaps? One day I shall attempt to bring together all the ideas on what spirituality means! Meanwhile our church nurtures spirituality with Taize services for example.