We are in a transition phase – between the spiritual as we knew it, and what it is becoming. The ‘facts’ have not changed. What has changed, and is changing, is how we talk about and describe those ‘facts’. We are moving from narratives, myths, and metaphors to data-driven observations and theories. The former is rooted in history and tradition, the latter in rational scientific inquiry.
Like any transition, it is impossible to draw a line in the sands of time and declare a beginning. The emergence of deism in the 17th is a key feature of the transition. That led to the easy option of atheism and then materialism. Both opposed theism, albeit in crude ways. Nevertheless, the assertion of reasoned inquiry over dogma and theology was an important step.
For many the false dichotomy between religion and science created an irreconcilable polarity between the two, epitomised by Stephen Jay Gould’s assertion that they were “nonoverlapping magisteria”.
In my view what does not overlap is the way we think and talk about either. The genuine religious experience is objectively valid, so it is amenable to scientific examination. That doesn’t mean that such examination is done as well as it could be. As scientific methods evolve, we are discovering more. Perhaps best example is the brain research done with meditators.
Over the past few decades, the ardent materialism of the past has stepped aside and allowed a more sensitive inquiry into matters spiritual. There is a quiet revolution underway. It is, in fact, a huge change that seems to be upon us without much comment. That’s probably because not a lot of people are looking at the overall change.
The essential animistic nature of reality is being affirmed by rational inquirers while it remains rejected by materialist and theists.
In this essay I am not going to attempt a comprehensive survey of the changes. I have become aware that I am in that transition phase on a personal level – and I think many folks are. I want to reflect on elements of my experience in the hope it might stimulate the reader to look at their own journey.
Away from religion as we know it
In the west Christianity has been steadily declining in influence over the past century. Some commentators cite the first World War as the time when that slippery slope tilted sharply down. The church allied itself to the crown to induce so many young men to shed their blood on the brutal battlegrounds in France. Spiritism became popular as many sought contact with their dead kin – and many of their dead kin sought contact with them. The church did not, however, support contact with the dead. Experience trumped dogma.
The decline in engagement with the faith has continued. Atheism has been growing and degrees of confidence in the existence of God has been declining. This is true in European countries. Elsewhere, in Asia, Africa and South America Christianity remains strong or is growing. There are complex reasons for this.
What does not appear to have been assessed is whether a professed atheist is also a materialist. This is a pity because the two are not the same. Of course, a materialist is an atheist, but an atheist is not necessarily a materialist. Atheists, in any case come in a variety of forms. In short, no simple binary applies.
These days there is a smorgasbord of alternatives to Christianity for the disaffected, but still keen on finding a belief system. There is a growing group described as Spiritual But Not Religion (SBNR) and Spiritual But Not Affiliated (SBNA). This group has abandoned mainstream religion for mostly DIY alternatives.
Abandonment of a mainstream faith does not mean an abandonment of the spiritual impulse.
But what is religion?
Religion has become a dirty word. For me it has meant the shared and collective response to existential awareness of being in an animate reality. For others it an organised and controlling body of theologies, dogma, sanctions, and rewards imposed upon a community. It is intimately linked with politics and social control. It is frequently hypocritical and corrupt.
Here I will accept the latter definition.
What is God?
Among the religious there are degrees of confidence in the proposition that God exists. Christianity asserts that God is the creator of the universe, and one can have personal relationship with him – as a member of a group or an individual.
Deism more or less asserts that the divine is real, but beyond the Christian definition and not amenable to direct concrete personal apprehension. This is closer to the mystical sense that the divine is incomprehensible.
In effect the god of the monotheists is a residue of polytheism – when a creator god was a named part of a hierarchy of divine agents. The transition from polytheism to monotheism in the Old Testament was a fraught business. Back then it had the function of uniting a people under a common theology.
The usual interpretation of the Christian God will be used here, contrasted by the ‘divine’ (neither knowable nor describable).
These days there is talk among serious thinkers and scientists about the idea that consciousness may underpin all reality. This is closer to the idea of the All, or the One of some mystical traditions – the divine as fundamental, not made, with no beginning or end, and the source of all. Calling this God is just confusing. It’s a term best surrendered.
But notions of non-material beings of great scale are claimed – gods? In a sense – but only a confusing one for now.
The fundamental pervasive consciousness of being, ‘the One’ is vast beyond comprehension. Intelligent agents function as beings ‘of the One’, not ‘as the One’.
In a very real sense, the God of Christianity fits into this group – if he exists, which is doubtful on the evidence.
The faithful, possessing only that erroneous conflation of their God with ‘the One’, engage in persistent errors of misattribution. All communication and revelation come from God Almighty. It cannot be any other way. All else is evil.
It is time to let it go
Christianity established itself as an immensely powerful, but flawed, instrument of political, social, intellectual, and moral evolution for around at least 1200 years. It is tempting to be just flat out down on Christianity, citing a laundry list of crimes as proof it did no good. But that would be to deny history.
Western civilisation’s virtues are substantially courtesy of Christianity. That is not to say that Christianity is creator of those virtues – just the conduit.
As the faith cemented as social force it supplemented the essence of the Christian mystical message with a moral ‘get out of jail free’ card – the Old Testament. This is poorly explored in my view.
This is Matthew 12: 28-31 – One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Wikipedia notes – Most Christian denominations view these two commandments as, together, forming the core of the Christian religion. The second passage is considered to be a form of the Golden Rule.
From a mystical perspective this core value might be the foundation of a faith, but the presence of so many alternative sources of guidance meant it could be side-stepped without much trouble.
In fact, I have found few Christians able to quote ‘the greatest commandment’. One evangelical Christian I knew left his heavily highlighted Bible after he quit the faith. Matthew 12:28-31 was not among the highlighted passages.
I doubt if Christianity could have spread through Europe without the Old Testament. But in so doing it also carried the potent influence of the mystical ideals. This is the problem with history. Nothing is as simple as it looks.
So, it is obvious that our culture is sloughing off the Old Testament trappings of the faith – which is essentially the theology, dogma, power structures and hierarchies.
The surprising persistence of Love
Love is a focal theme in what is the Future Spirituality. If anything has transferred from Christianity it is this. It does not, however embrace the personality cult of Jesus – just that one simple theme.
Love per se is not a mystical affair. It is an attitude of mind and spirit. The Buddhists call it compassion. There is some hair-splitting as to whether Love and Compassion are the same, or Love is a step up. Personally, I think that is a pointless distinction.
The sad thing is that Christianity has so ill-served the theme of Love it is an awkward conversation topic these days. Yet it has endured the sleights of the faith’s hypocrisy and persists.
The new spirituality applies the term without sentimentality – as a fundamental human attribute needed in our spiritual evolution.
This is a much-vexed word for the obvious reason that it can be claimed with no foundation other than ardent belief. Hence it is mostly a garble of theology, dogma, and moralising.
Revelation is, obviously, what is ‘revealed’ to an individual via some form of communication with a non-material agent. To the faithful this must be God, directly or via an angel, or a saint. If what is communicated is unwelcome for any reason the source must be demonic.
While we don’t use the term these days, there are revelatory communications in abundance – usually described as ‘channelling’. Channelling can be pure bunk or immensely valuable – if you know how to tell the difference. Another source is direct experience from out of body encounters with non-physical beings.
Revelation has been a constant companion to humanity for a very long time. Because it can be evidence-free it can be a source of misinformation masquerading as truth. Lies are intentionally told by the agents influencing the channel. When done ineptly what is conveyed can be distorted beyond value – no more than projected self-delusions. When done competently it is an entirely different affair. Just not everything that comes from the ‘other side’ is true or good.
I am suffering through Thomas Campbell’s second audiobook in his My Big Toe series at the moment. There is one more to go. Groan. The print version is only one volume (2007).
Campbell is espousing a Theory of Everything (TOE). His source is out of body experiences. The content is very good, which is why I will endure to the end of the 3rd audiobook. It is a mixture of ideas drawn from tech, science, and psychology blended with a singular insight drawn from engagement with non-material beings.
A lot of the content is surprisingly familiar to me. Maybe this is because I read Monroe first. It is fascinating to find it put together in this manner. So far, I have come across nothing that suggests to me that there is any fakery. In fact, Campbell appears to be delivering on his promise of a TOE in a compelling and sophisticated way.
I spent a few years researching ‘communicated’ teachings, including doing style and content analyses. Campbell’s work isn’t ‘communicated’ in the way that term is applied to channeled material. His content comes from his own OOBEs and the agents he met – so it has the same essential attribute of not having come from a material source. Campbell is ticking all the boxes so far.
What I don’t enjoy is Campbell’s style. Maybe it serves other readers who have little or zero exposure to these ideas well. But being put off good content because of style is being a bit petty in my view. I am keen to get into audiobook #3.
Campbell was one of the originals with the Monroe institute. I recently revisited Monroe’s Journeys Out of the Body (1971), and his Far Journeys (1895). I then listened to Ultimate Journey (1995).
I like Monroe at lot. He is methodical and rational to a high degree. Shortly after reading Journeys Out of the Body I had my own brief but utterly compelling OOBE.
A few years ago, I discovered Frank DeMarco. Frank is also associated with the Monroe Institute. He produced several books with Rita Warren, who later died (2008) and became the source of information from ‘the other side’ in company with several non-physical agents known as The Guys Upstairs (TGU) who were introduced in the first couple of books.
The content of DeMarco’s books is challenging on an intellectual and an emotional level. It is rigorous and coherent and demanding. No comforting homilies to be found. The best of DeMarco’s book may be a matter of taste. I like Its All One World (2019), Awakening From the 3D World (2017) and The Spere and the Hologram (2010).
For the sake of balance here, I must acknowledge that DeMarco also published Afterlife Conversations with Hemmingway (2012) which has awful reviews on Amazon. From what I can see few readers seem to accept the validity of the idea, or the content. They may or may not be right. I haven’t read the book or Hemmingway, so I can offer no opinion. DeMarco is a novelist and there is a chance the exercise was ill-advised and flawed. In any kind of ‘communicated’ writing the risk of personal distortion is real. It is a vulnerable art, the more so if personal investment creeps in. I was firmly told I was no good at it many years ago – my ego got in the way. I can see that DeMarco’s personal attachment to Hemmingway could have coloured what he wrote – but whether it did or not I do not know. I mention this only to affirm perfectly competent actors can still screw up – and that conveying ‘communicated’ ideas is no easy business.
In my earlier inquiry into ‘communicated’ content I discovered Stewart Edward White. White was a prolific novelist who wrote between 1900 and 1947. White and his wife, Betty, produced 2 early books on communicated material (1925 and 1928).
Between 1939 and 1947 they produced 7 more books of communicated work. The two most important books were The Betty Book (1939) and The Unobstructed Universe (1940). I have not read the others. Both books are rigorously rational and intellectually and emotionally challenging. Like DeMarco’s work we are introduced to assisting agents – the Invisibles.
What is interesting about Campbell, Monroe, DeMarco and White is they are not evidently religious, and all have a rigorous rational intellectual approach, with a scientific bent in the case of Campbell and Monroe. None conveyed any interest in spirituality or mysticism as a belief system. White clearly had an interest in communicated teachings and Monroe, Campbell and DeMarco were all connected with the Monroe Institute (est. 1974), which was set up as a research body.
A new canon?
Taken together these authors articulate a series of highly coherent ideas that convey precepts already cemented in spiritual traditions, but in a language that is distinctly modern, secular, and rational.
There are no exhortations to belief, expectations of faith. The content is conveyed with confidence. The reader can do with it what they will.
None set up a movement. I don’t call the Monroe Institute a movement. Apart from book sales none appear to have profited from their content. To be fair, I have really drilled down into Campbell. I just don’t expect his content would induce a fan base to form – at least not one that wasn’t nerdy.
The contents of these books open up a novel take on human spirituality in that it is laid out in a disciplined rational and secular fashion.
They are by no means the only sources. These are just the ones that spoke to me most powerfully. Readers may be aware of others.
The truths that form the foundation of human spirituality have not been transformed. If anything, they have been given greater depth and complexity. What had changed is the manner of thought – a full transition out of mythos, metaphor and narrative into structured and reasoned reportage and analysis.
Is it a journey worth taking?
Most spiritual seekers remain anchored in mythos, metaphor and narrative – the old ways. Stepping away will be neither easy nor comfortable.
If there is any anxiety about the unfamiliar style and content, it can be easy to find an excuse not to continue.
I didn’t get into this material intentionally. I was quite happy swaddled in the old ways, while also being discontented. I discovered White because I was researching a problem, not because I was yearning for something new – well, not consciously at least.
My first-hand encounter with ‘channeling’ convinced me there was something to it, but only after many months of critical evaluation. I had the opportunity to have conversations with a non-physical agent for several years. At one stage, after being expelled from several occult groups for not being subservient, I asked what was going on. I was told that wasn’t my path. I can see now why that is the case. I couldn’t at the time.
My issue with the occult groups was a lack of intellectual rigour. I found the same complaint when I got involved in Wicca. The rituals and the lore were just not enough. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the rituals. In fact, I loved them. I left these ways for something other – nothing I could define – just a hankering.
Now I see there always an alternative – when I was ready to grasp it. But that awareness dawned on me slowly and painfully. I was heading in the right direction all the time like a man feeling his way in thick fog. Now that fog is thinning.
Is it worth the effort and the risk? That’s a personal choice.
Western culture has been shrugging off mythos, metaphor, and narrative in favour of reason and science for centuries. Reason freed from the conceits and dogmas of materialism has brought many back to the spiritual, and has this led to hybrid movements being formed. We have seen this early on with Theosophy and Wicca. Affirmation of the reality of the spiritual dimension has led to an attempt to revive and reform the old ways. The Gold Dawn is a good example. Theosophy, the Gold Dawn and Wicca were movements that attracted the well-educated as they struggled to find an alternative to Christianity.
But that hybridization is transitional, and as we move forward those old transitional ways and styles will be less and less useful – and new ones will be developed.
For some there is an opportunity to take a bold step and sever connection with how things used to be thought of and done. They may become pioneers in the next steps of this transitional phase.
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