Tuesday, November 15, 2011

AN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS HERITAGE: SOUL, GOD AND NATURE ..April 12, 2009


INTRODUCTION: This essay spins from conversation with Edward Fudge regarding my religious roots in what is  called  the American 'Restoration Movement.' This  'back to the Bible desiring  to restore the 'original church' movement is the origins of present day 'Disciples Of Christ' , 'Independent Christian Church', and ' non-instrumental Church of Christ.' If you are not interested in this topic the larger part of the essay is my attempt to describe and explain the present day spiritual/psychological disposition of America regarding such areas of Soul, Spirit and the Human-God relationship.
Hi Edward. I appreciate the explanation you give regarding this difference between Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. That distinction had not been clear to me. I wonder if Stone or his followers were conscious of that difference or not? If so was he bothered that Campbell may have had little confidence in a living and active Spirit? If so how might he have justified, if he did, joining forces. Perhaps such things can never be known. A Christian Church that was a part of the  James O'Kelley branch of the Restoration Movement which did not join in with the Campbells is the 'Christian Church' that later became a part of the Congregational-Christian Church in the early 20th century and a part of the UCC in 1957. So my original roots from the Restoration Movement  are a significant part of the United Church of Christ's history and formation.  The UCC  forming, in my view, reflects the early  spirit of the Restoration Movement in its strong desire to establish unity above private interpretation of the Bible... or as they said, 'In matters of faith -unity, in matters of opinion- freedom and in all things- love.'  An historic gathering  of the  Campbell-Stone branches of this Restoration Movement happened at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801. It is referred to as the Cane Ridge Revival Camp Meeting.

Edward, you use the word 'humanistic' to describe Campbell's seeming total reliance on intellect and will minus confidence in God's Spirit as being a part of a not well balanced religious perspective. I think your assessment of Campbell is correct and that emphasis gave birth to the extreme legalism that has been so much a part of the movement he greatly influenced. So many  interpretations  and 'essential'  rules became the basis of what became very typical church 'splits' in the more conservative parts of the movement.  That attitude I think is similar to what Paul is often referring to when he speaks of the 'flesh.' It is the source of dangerous human pride whose confidence is in the conscious ego's  reasoning power  and the practical belief that is all there is to one's human psyche or inner life. It is certainly an attitude that is common in early America  both in the secular and religious realms  and not just in our Restoration Movement. Though this is a very extreme example you have identified in Alexander Campbell.

Most people who call themselves humanists, I think, would likely also consider the above a narrow view of what we humans are within. Many humanists would agree that humans also have a Spirit aspect to their inner self that is beyond intellect and will. Even an atheistic humanist might not fall victim to the problem you describe Campbell, and so many others, having in various degrees. Of course some humanists, even though not religious, today would view humans in a way similar to Campbell.... all head, intellect and will.  He was different in that he turned that intellect on to a quite literal and mechanical view of the Holy Bible. So I think you are correct to apply the word to Campbell.

I could be called a humanist in the sense that I believe that Humans and God are not best understood as being naturally split off from each other, of God -Human needing to be considered a dualism . Of where God making God's self known to the Human means God intruding or somehow invading into the inner life and mind of the human against his or her nature(which God created)in some way that is not natural to the human. I think that a human can become profoundly conscious of being connected and included in God without any natural law being suspended or changed. This, I want to stress, can be an experience of both miracle and ecstasy equivalent to any supernatural story in or out of the Bible. In one way my unusual experiences in 1985 'seemed' to be an invasion into my mind from outside(I think it seemed more that way by concerned others  than to me) but with time I was able to reach the firm conclusion that the experience was in total harmony with my own nature so not supernatural. I take it as a time(s) where I became extremely aware of the inter relationship of the human self and the Sacred. It was an experience of both 'miracle and ecstasy' and was completely natural. Thus I became more my true self than I was before. I was not changed against some part of myself. I was not intruded upon by God but God became far more perceived through whatever the natural laws of the soul and Spirit are. Those laws do not set aside any other natural laws in order to operate. God and the human exist in a harmony and in my belief have a mutual  need of each other. I believe God becomes more complete and at harmony with God's self each time a human becomes more complete. Sadly, sometimes this process is  of necessity one of the mutual suffering of both God and human. There are times in natural human history when that harmony is more fully experienced, known, perceived very directly and with all of one's senses and mind. Such are times that humans call miracle and ecstasy. I believe it was Tillich who said something like, 'Ecstasy is the miracle of the inner life and miracle is the ecstasy of outer reality.' That makes very good sense to me as I relate it to August 85.

This is in some contrast to your, and prevailing Christian, view that God and human are so different that God's interaction with humans must have the element of supernatural. To have to impose the idea of supernatural onto reality means that the connection between humans and God is 'not natural' to their beings, natural to the very nature of God , humans and creation. That describes, to me, a God that is far from that 'in which one lives and moves and has their very being'. It describes a God who is in most ways and times 'very far away'. But nothing could be more natural than that 'in which we live and move and have our being.' I believe that God and humans are totally involved and interrelated in the most natural way imaginable, not in some way that has to be beyond or different or additional than the natural. God and humans are not the same but they are not so separate that one has to add 'supernatural' to one's view of reality in order to account for how the Sacred makes itself fully known to the human. 'Natural' of course should be just as astonishing in itself as anything supernatural could be. We are just used to and easily take for granted the natural. Plus we simply have not yet experienced everything that is natural, especially the natural wonders of Soul and Spirit becoming more conscious. The process of that happening more and more, Paul speaks of as the natural transitions from 'glory to glory.' We nearly despise or deprecate the natural by insisting on the supernatural. By claiming the supernatural we rather snub our nose at that which is 'only natural'. That is a mistake and is an attitude that can only split us off to some extent from our own and the divine nature. It is to 'cut off our nose to spite our face' I think the saying goes.

This does not mean that humans are generally very aware of their connection and relation to the Sacred. But that becomes the purpose of life, to enter into as full a consciousness as possible of that inner connection. If this does not involve anything beyond what is natural to the human mind and psyche then it implies that the best approach to coming to a fuller awareness of the Sacred and thus to move toward spiritual and natural maturity is to become more fully aware of one's self. This awareness is of one's natural body, one's natural environment and most certainly of one's natural inner life or mind, heart, or the all encompassing word psyche (whose original meaning is soul). The implication is that if one is not very seriously observing(Latin meaning of religion) one's inner life, one's psyche or soul he/she will not be as likely to find the totally natural connection and relationship that they have to the Sacred.

Someone like Campbell or anyone primarily 'walking by flesh alone' will not even consider that there is an inner Spirit or soul to long to consciously experience. The most elemental and obvious activity of such a focus would be listening intentionally to one's nightly or daily dreams. This is the most direct way that our inner self seeks our conscious attention. Thus this is the most obvious avenue by which the Sacred seeks entrance to human consciousness. (If Campbell had included this kind of new information that one needed for spiritual health than we might be thinking of him today as a spiritual giant rather than expressing some disappointment in our 'founding father.') This description of Human and God was 'naturally' experienced by most primitive people and is still emphasized in all historic sacred volumes, though its practice is very out of vogue in Western secular and religious cultures. Where dreams are not considered particularly important than neither is Soul or Spirit or ultimately God considered very important. This is an indictment of many people, both ones claiming religion and those claiming unbelief. When so approaching life a person by the Latin definition is not really religious at all.

The whole of western culture for the past 300 years, except for some religious people and some who are influenced by some forms of psychology, has been very much like Campbell, very one sided emphasizing intellect, will and science as the ultimate path to a full and healthy humanity. That is changing as the results, limitations and disappointments in that one-sidedness are beginning to be experienced. It seems to me that religious communities are nearly as lost from the Spirit as secular ones in the present historical situation. But it seems there is a very strong restlessness in both kinds of communities(most of us are a part of both). This may be a growing sense that many people are having that 'there is more to this life' or 'we are missing some important piece of the puzzle'. 'The mind boggling immorality in government and Wall Street'. This along with growing dissatisfaction with both organized religion and with political ideologies. I think this is very much the emotional, psychological and religious climate of America right now. It seems to me that the nation and world is ripe for some kind of very significant step in the spiritual evolutionary history of God and Humans. This will be some kind of increase in mass consciousness of the inter relationship of the Human and God. It may be some sudden change that will be in the news or it may be that we will look back and see how different we are from before and that we hardly realized the change was happening. But change it will be, and my hope is for the much better.

P.S. I do not intend my perception of Alexander Campbell's one sided bent toward the intellectual or the 'flesh' as a judgment of him. Who of us in our Western culture escapes this kind of mindset? We likely have all spent much time there. But being aware of the problem is the beginning of becoming less one sided and more balanced in our inner/spiritual dispositions. Jim Hibbett

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