THE CHURCHES AND THE PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY
Posted on 06 November 2018, 17:14
Immediately after the Second World War, in 1946, Aldous Huxley published a much praised book, The Perennial Philosophy, where he attempted to describe what was in common between the world’s great religions. It is perhaps an oversimplification, but words of St Paul give us the gist of this wisdom: “In (God) we live and move and have our being.” Those words are central to the teaching of Jesus, especially as presented in the Gospel of St John. They are also central to the teaching of St Stephen the Martyr, and that, I think, is good reason to trust his spiritual counsel. The Perennial Philosophy would include selflessness, love, service, non-judgment, sharing, and humility. The Christian churches usually try to teach and promote all this, but the problem often is that they add other things, alien to that philosophy.
Notwithstanding, there is nothing to replace what they provide. Small private groups led by self-proclaimed gurus can be of help to individuals, but they do not provide a credible world-view accessible to young and old at varying stages of emotional and spiritual development.
The members of most churches are not slaves to whatever is seen as the official teaching, and take what they can from church worship, and leave the rest. This is especially true of the Anglican church, which is a state church designed to welcome into its fold people of varying beliefs and stages of development. Sometimes sinners (and aren’t we all?) feel sage and loved. And sometimes unfortunately not. With all their failings churches do provide a place where every body can feel safe and loved, and to experience their oneness in Spirit. I deally this is the case, but as churches are human institutions they often fall short.
For those unaware of spirit, the churches at the very least provide buildings that witness to a spiritual dimension. The churches also are organisations that endure over many centuries, that preserve priceless treasure wisdom, poetry, traditions that enable many people of all ages and backgrounds to commune with each other and the Universal Spirit. They pass on the spiritual testimonies of our spiritual ancestors down the ages. Then can truly reveal the Cosmic Christ as the Light of the World. They do much communality service, and inspire closer international relations. At their best, churches can be a light to the world, acknowledging, regardless of religion or colour, that we are children of God. At their worst they can disseminate legalism, disunity, hatred and war, denying the universal love of Spirit.
As an Anglican priest of 65 years standing I am for ever thannkful for fellow church members who have nurtured me in my spiritual path..
Notwithstanding all this, I am not blind to the ways that the churches can be destructive. Naturally the churches embrace leaders and followers who are not uniformly developed in Spirit, and this has always been the case. When theories are seen as Gospel and denied by others, then the love that should bind us together evaporates, and we have dissension and schism, and the churches fail to bear witness to the universal Christ
Churches functionas schools in spirituality and we need to acknowledge that each of us as we grow from being a young child to a mature adult, grow through various stages of moral moral development.
At first the young child may only refrain from stealing a cookie if Mummy is watching, Laterin childhood a young person may have absorbed the idea that “stealing Mummy’s cookies is wrong, or that lying is wrong, but they will probably not be able to say WHY an action is wrong. As we grow toward adulthood, we begin to get it, that a thing is wrong because it harms other people, and diminishes mutual trust.. This is why some churches are stuck in judgment of others, and in legalism.
Jesus quoted the Jewish creed in Deuteronomy “The Lord your God is One, and you must love that God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your strength, and you must love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus added the words, “With all your mind.” He added, “On theses two commands depend all the Law and the Prophets” Everything else is to be evaluated in the light of loving God and neighbour. Jesus also taught us to be humble, not to judge another, that sin is falling away from this love, this knowledge that we are part of this God. We are always forgiven our sin, when we return to this God of love. That us because we are participants in this God.
The Gospel of John is thoroughly in line with this simple teaching. So is the teaching of St Stephen the Martyr. Where Stephen varies, is his acceptance of reincarnation. Many Christians accepted this, as also did the Jewish Essene’s. It was only at a church council under the Empress Theodora that it was voted that reincarnation was not a Christian belief.
It was suggested to me that I should write on how much the teaching of Stephen the Martyr corresponded with church teaching. As can be seen from the above, the answer is not simple
The teaching of Stephen, and the Perennial Philosophy is consistent with the picture of reality that is painted by Quantum physics. This core teaching of Christianity to consistent with the core teaching of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Judaism.
As an Anglican priest I am thankful for all the wonderful experiences of Christ that I have been blessed with. But as an Anglican priest I also cringe at how church members have taken hard lines based on short excerpts from that library of books called The Bible. They find words condemning gays. “It is Scriptural,” they say, “it is part of Christianity to take a hard line on this matter. Yet they don’t find instructions to stone disobedient children, sanctioning slavery, or forbidding women to speak in church, “Scriptural”. Such selective quoting can shipwreck Jesus’ gospel of love.
The Stephen experience and the accompanying synchronicities was leading us to become more aware that we were participants in God, that being the goal of all the world religions, He helped us often far from perfect questioners to greater communion with God, and greater clarity about what it means to be a child of God,
Unfortunately Christian churches often do not give much space for meditation, contemplation and listening. In the absence of this we have communal prayer, inspirational stories from the Bible, and often good hymns to help people on their way, People are encouraged to pray and to lead virtuous lives, caring for others. Worshipping together and sharing Holy Communion leas us in the right direction. Friendship and lookinig after the bereaved and the unfortunate, also helps us on the way.
Let me conclude with further thoughts on Aldous Huxley. He was famous for the way he described the highest elements of the great world religions, and showed them to be very similar. He began his book, The Perennial Philsophy, with these words:
“The metaphysic that recognises a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being — the thing is immemorial and universal.”
There is a level of reality beyond physical senses, that brings the events of the physical world into being. All comes into being by the “Word”, Plato’s Ideal world brings the physical into existence.
The soul is part of the Divine reality, we are “children of God”. God is Love, “In God we live and move and have our being.”
Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.