The Relationship between Religion and Spirituality

Wednesday 23 rd March 2022

Steve Innes introduced the evening with a brief reflection written by Count Leo Tolstoy : ‘Human Beings without Love’. As the current situation in Ukraine worsens daily, this reflection poses an irony. Written by the most famous of Russian authors it stresses the importance of human relationships, that in any language, culture or creed the interaction of humanity depends entirely upon the existence of and sharing in love :

Human Beings Without Love.

‘Men think there are circumstances in which one may deal with human beings without love; and there are no such circumstances. One may deal with things without love : one may cut down trees, make bricks, hammer iron – without love; but you cannot deal with men without it, just as one cannot deal with bees without being careful. If you deal carelessly with bees you will injure them, and will yourself be injured. And so with men. It cannot be otherwise, because natural love is the fundamental law of human life. It is true that a man cannot force another to love him, as he can force him to work for him; but it does not follow that a man may deal with men without love, especially to demand anything from them. If you feel no love, sit still,” Nekhludoff thought; “occupy yourself with things, with yourself, with anything you like, only not with men. You can only eat without injuring yourself when you feel inclined to eat, so you can only deal with men usefully when you love. Only let yourself deal with a man without love, as I did yesterday with my brother-in-law, and there are no limits to the suffering you will bring on yourself, as all my life proves. Yes, yes, it is so,” thought Nekhludoff; “it is good; yes, it is good,” he repeated, enjoying the freshness after the torturing heat, and conscious of having attained to the fullest clearness on a question that had long occupied him.’

Leo Tolstoy’Resurrection’ Chapter XL. The Fundamental Law of Human Life.

Following a moment’s pause, Steve Innes explained the theme of the evening : to consider the relationship between Religion and Spirituality. To narrow the scope of our consideration, we will listen to a brief section of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ aired on the 20 th February 2022. The historian Richard Firth-Godbehere is interviewed concerning his recently published book – A Human History of Emotion – How the way we feel built the world we know. Published by Fourth Estate (17 Feb. 2022) ISBN: 9780008393793.

Dr. Richard Firth-Godbehere PhD is one of the world’s leading experts on disgust and emotions. He is an independent researcher and consultant in the history, language, science and philosophy of emotions and an honorary research fellow at the centre for the history of the emotions, Queen Mary University of London. Richard’s first book, “A Human History of Emotion” (also known as “Homo Emoticus”) will soon be published in over a dozen languages in countries ranging from Japan to the USA, from Australia to Brazil.

Richard Firth-Godbehere is vegan and has a naturalistic world view. He describes himself as “firmly atheist”, having never heard a coherent description of the concept of God: “If it’s timeless it doesn’t exist anywhen, if it’s spaceless it doesn’t exist anywhere… so it doesn’t exist!”.

The radio piece demonstrates Richard Firth-Godbehere’s premise that many of the movements that shaped the history of the World including wars, philosophies, religions and politics were innovations first imagined in the emotions of their proponents.

Liz and Graeme from the Church of Scientology were the first to present a response. Graeme explained that although Scientology mostly supports the Humanist perspective, his reaction to the premise offered by Richard Firth-Godbehere was of disagreement. He felt it was simplistic and mistaken. He said that he regarded his own value system as mostly objective, compared to those who hold theist beliefs, but went on to recognise nevertheless a spiritual affinity in Scientology that can be compared to other faith expressions.

He went on to explain how the development of Spiritual awareness is a necessary basic ingredient for the health and well being of Humanity. Scientology contains solutions to the problems of living. It’s end result is increased awareness of Spiritual freedom for the individual and his / her realisation of the expression of basic decency, power and ability. Scientology uses the tool of The Emotional Tone Scale, devised by L.Ron Hubbard to plot an exact scale of the ascending and descending sequence of emotion. This was presented on screen illustrating the range of sentiment from ‘serenity of beingness’ (given the numerical value of +40. 0) to ‘total failure’ (-40. 0) Graeme described how knowing or interpreting a person’s tone or emotional, level offers a strategy for establishing an analysis of their condition. This in turn aids assistance for treating their condition, should it be required. The example of the personal experience of grief was cited and a support mechanism suggested which was based on an initial assessment of the person’s emotional tone. A short video was streamed, demonstrating the use of the Emotional Tone scale as a tool to assess and provide aid to those in need according to the level of their needs and raise them up the tone scale. The process is said to take the mystery out of human behaviour. Liz added that the Tone scale is also used to indicate the appropriate emotional level for those proposing to offer assistance. She quoted L.Ron Hubbard ‘The higher the individual is on the tone scale, the better the chance of obtaining the wherewith all of living a happier life and the healthier the body will be’

Simon is a member of the Baháʼí faith. His first observation referred to the statement of Richard Firth- Godbehere- ‘I’ve yet to meet anyone who has taken on their faith due to a great idea’. Simon was unable to agree with this sentiment. The reason he became a Baháʼí was because of undeniable evidence rather than feelings. Baháʼísm maintains all faiths are one and that all revelation has come via important personalities connected with each faith expression : the different manifestations of God, that have appeared through the ages ; Christ, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses and laterly Baháʼu’lláh the founder of the Baháʼí faith were sent by God. These ‘Spiritual Einsteins’ inspired by God – (whatever God is). Progressively God through religion is revealed through these characters and therefore the message of revelation has gradually evolved through the ages. The most recent message of Baháʼu’lláh is about unity, it is time for the World to unite. Simon considers this as a sensible process, especially as we hear what is happening in the World today. It makes sense that we are all one. We might look different and sound different but inevitably we have to unite – we have to be one. An important principle of Baháʼísm is the independent investigation of of truth. Acceptance of Baháʼísm or any other prophetic manifestation should be explored. God has given us a brain with which to do so. If a religious text or idea does not stand up to scrutiny it should be rejected as superstition. The sense of this is true and I have to believe it. For example Baháʼí writings forbid the use of alcohol. Simon has resisted the use of alcohol throughout the last twenty years. It is not as if he doesn’t miss having a drink but he feels that is the right thing to do. He has faith that Baháʼísm indicates the right way. He considers that this is not driven by feeling but by logical process. He also regards the sacrifice of those founding figures of the Baháʼí faith, some 20, 000 Martyrs who were persecuted in the Middle East in the Nineteenth Century to play an important part in in his conviction. We are able to perceive the World changing all around us. Not so long ago tribes of peoples migrated and came to live as family units. These settled into village communities. This process continues – we now talk about nationhood with Empires that emerge, we see the World becoming one. Through continuing prophesy, we are provided with further manifestations of God. Baháʼísm was founded in 1844 at the same time as the great disappointment when prophesy in the Book of Daniel chapters 7 and 8 was left unfulfilled. Many in the Christian World believed Christ would return at that time. This became a factor in the advancement of a number of religious expressions at this time – a topic for further discussion at another time. For faithful Baháʼí‘s, God’s Kingdom is manifest in the World, ‘like a Thief in the Night’ Matthew 24 : 43 It is come and gone and most of humanity is unaware of it nevertheless we can see the effects of god’s presence. The is a definite change in the world taking place An effect that is demonstrated in evidence rather than feelings. In conclusion Simon reiterated that all faiths are one, we may look different and act differently have different rituals, costumes and prayers, but in essence all faiths say the same thing because they come from the same source which is God – ‘and again I can see the logic of that which is not based upon feeling but logic and inevitability – to my mind it is anyway’. Thank you for listening.

John practises Buddhism according to the Nichiren tradition. He began by asserting his disagreement with Richard Firth-Godbehere, author of The Human History of Emotions. He did submit that feelings and emotions are closely associated with the expression of faith, however Buddhism tends to reflect on faith and understandings, that does not dismiss either of these elements or give any precedence to either. He felt that Buddhism promotes emotional and intellectual development, they go hand in hand. The practical exercise of chanting of mantras and meditation activates and motivates the will, the study of Buddhist doctrine stimulates comprehension. ‘They are like the two wheels of a cart, they work together and you can’t have one without the other’. John emphasised that he is not denying the important influence of emotions in faith. In fact he spoke of his own emotional response as an important issue in his initial attraction to Buddhism. He accepted the argument of Richard Firth-Godbehere when describing the variety of Buddhist denominations and conventions and how faiths change and evolve. However there was an impression of a nihilistic interpretation attributed to the origin of Buddhism, given in the broadcast interview. It seems dismissive of the relevance of the emotional element, either pretending it is not present or that it was abandoned completely, which is contrary to the practise of Nichiren Buddhism. This does not apply only to the contemporary Buddhist following. Buddhism which spans over 2, 500 years of history originated in India. Nichiren Buddhism comes from medieval Japan. It developed the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha – Siddartha Gautama who began to teach of his experience of enlightenment. This Prince, born to privilege, discovered the Middle Way after rejecting his high born status in order to embrace: poverty and suffering. His witness to the sickness; old age; suffering and death which he encountered, led to his insight and mission. Thus it is difficult to assess his emotional state and the extent to which this exposure to human afflictions, led to his conversion and adoption of a new way of life. Narratives indicate emotive behaviour in his youth, when a swan is shot with an arrow by Devadatta, Siddhartha’s cousin. He claims the right to provide care and eventual freedom for the injured swan in an appeal to the King. This took place before his life altering awareness became actual. His feelings may have been raw and affective, alternatively they could have been refined and reflective. John suggested they would most probably have been a cocktail of feelings. After embarking on the Middle way he was to become aware of the true nature of reality, when the idea of interdependent origination, where everything only exists in relation to everything else. Nothing exists separately or in another unchanging form forever. Thus is described the connection of everything. In a sense that is what he became as he realised the suffering we all experience which arises when we are unable to realise truth. It is a delusion based on an ignorance of that truth. When we see ourselves as separate entities and unchanging, we create more suffering than we need. This in addition to the inevitable processes of life in which we grow old and die. Once enlightened Siddartha wasn’t sure whether he should teach others about this. After time elapsed, he made a firm commitment to offer his newly acquired wisdom to others based upon pure compassion – compassion for the suffering of all people which is how the Buddha-Dharma or Way to Enlightenment became a faith that we practise today. John was happy to conclude at this point.

Martin is the Director of the All Faiths Network. He began by suggesting that Richard Firth-Godbehere’s premise is reductive, it seems to limit the idea that emotion arising from religious experience is of a negative quality and opposed to a logical approach to life. Martin acknowledged that his opinion is contingent only upon the recorded interview, to which he listened, he added that he is unable to base his observations on additional information about the author or his writings. He did stress that it is important to appreciate that emotion is involved with religion to some extent, as it is in all of our lives. People express the whole gamut of emotions in following a religious way of life. Emotions are a relevant component, but he specified that there should be a distinction made concerning levels of emotion. ‘I would argue that there are levels of emotion – there is what you might call selfless love and there are lower levels which are motivated by fear, anger or hate, which correspond to some of the issues pointed out by Graeme and Liz earlier’. Martin offered two expressions to differentiate what he considers are examples lower and higher levels of emotion : there is the terrorist motivated by hate and the figure of Gandhi who acts out of compassion and love for humanity – these examples are what he described as ‘manifestations of what might be considered religions which showed different ways altogether. All great religious leaders and texts are in essence built upon positive and constructive emotions and motivations. He went on to explain that it is for this reason that he doesn’t subscribe to the notion that religions are often the cause of war. Certainly religion does tend to be manipulated by leaders when motivated by anger and hate or as a tool to exercise power in the corruption of the religious tenets of peace and love. Emotions are not inherently illogical, at the higher level they can be extremely logical, although at the lower level they are subject to more instinctual behaviour. Richard Firth Godbehere’s definition of emotion tends to be unhelpful in applying the concept of emotion to a wider interpretation of emotion. Another element for consideration is what is meant by spirituality. Martin proposed that Spirit implies something that exists: which is beyond the confines of a body. Different religions apply different angles to this. Appropriate language can describe a body that has spirit or is spirit, in other expressions it is not until a body dies that it lives as a spirit in some way until the day of reckoning. In other modes a body can be reborn repeatedly. There are many different variations on this with some aspects common to them all, such as the idea that spirit is something more than the body that has existence beyond the demise of the body. The main body of World religions recognise that one is a spirit being and life on earth and anywhere else, is best served by compassion and care for the other’s peace and to provide fellowship among humanity. It seems that this is entirely logical. It is a sample of high emotion that cannot be explained as an entity in or of itself or motivated solely as a human dynamic. It cannot be explained as just a complex set of chemical reactions. There can be no evidence that the myriad of computations of everyday living and loving, is simply the result of existential being. Martin expressed the conviction : ’I am a spiritual being and this perception is thousands of years old. Spirit is rational and can be equated to the highest levels of emotion’. Martin realises that his ideas can be disputed by people who think that they are purely the product of the human will. On the contrary selflessness, love peace, fellowship and the host of emotional demeanours that demonstrate the common thread present in all religions and outlines the relationship between spirituality and religion.

Steve Innes posed the following interpretation which is not necessarily based on his own personal beliefs. Richard Firth Godbehere is a confirmed atheist he would say that never having never heard a coherent description of the concept of god: “If it’s timeless it doesn’t exist anywhen, if it’s spaceless it doesn’t exist anywhere… so it doesn’t exist!”. Is it possible to presume that a subjective spiritual feeling or emotion based upon faith, is a logical expression? If I say I believe in the existence of God but cannot prove that existence in time or space, how that be a logical statement. Simon responded with one perspective – He said if you take a table you can’t necessarily say who or what the carpenter is that made the table but it doesn’t disprove the existence of a carpenter. The thing created can’t necessarily comprehend the creator. Steve Innes agreed but pointed out that in the negotiation between the fashioner and the thing fashioned there is a modicom of cooperation. In order to recognise its own being the table has to appreciate its creator’s being, at least using the same mode of communication. Steve Innes went on to point up the fact that he couldn’t agree entirely with Richard Firth Godbehere. ‘He would say that creation is just a process of neurological, psychological and sociological conditions, whereas I believe in a Creator.’ However, it is possible to come to terms with the important role that the emotional expression plays in living out the spirituality of one’s faith. In Christianity Jesus died. He was a charismatic personality who built up a considerable following of loyal devotees who saw in him a meaning beyond his and their existence. He comes to a judgment and death sentence. In their loss his friends experienced considerable emotional turmoil. They had experienced the importance of his close presence and their spiritual response to what God had done in their lives through him, sparked off what led to his continued presence among them – they proclaimed that Jesus is risen. When I go to Church on Easter Sunday, I engage in the story and the ceremony associated with the Easter Liturgy and I’m overcome by a spiritual emotion by which I become part of the story and able to recognise the presence of the Risen Christ in my personal life. I can’t point to Jesus and say there he is or provide incontrovertible evidence of the resurrection, – there is no such evidence. However my spiritual emotional reaction appears as a kind of logical consequence. I can appreciate the way spiritual emotion is an important element in faith expression or religion. The problem arises when you attempt to scientifically analyse the whole phenomenon.

Graeme commented that any consideration of the idea of God does appear beyond explanation. There is always going to be a distinction between the realms of the spiritual and the physical, until of course they are perceived to diverge, more occasionally than we might think. Some people of faith describe how they have lived before and are able to go from life to life, their spirit passing from one to the other. They talk about life in the hereafter and their existence as a soul existing in it – one couldn’t say that from a materialistic viewpoint. Religious experience has to be subjective and spoken of in those terms. It is not as if it could be used to persuade a Humanist or Materialist, they wouldn’t be able to see it. Liz added, that it is important to remember that such information is personal one doesn’t have to prove it’s truth. It would be the same if you volunteered to help someone, the reasoning doesn’t need to be explained.

In responding to the idea of connecting the spiritual and the physical world, Steve explained that Roman Catholic Christians recite the Creed – a statement of faith. The Creed is developed out of a process whereby Christianity became centred on Rome, the initial capital of the Christian World. Roman Law played its part in composing the creed, a legalistic statement of what Christians are required to believe. This is retained in a number of Christian denominations as part of their worship today. He made the point that, ‘Wherever I recite the Creed, in the back of my mind I am considering the reservations I have about the things I am saying’. What Richard Firth-Godbehere outlines as the rules, regulations, theology and dogma play an important part in in Christianity. For me his idea that emotions came first do ring true.

Tim recounted how he was taught not to use the Bible as an explanation of how creation occurred but why it occurred. It tells him why he is here and what is one’s purpose in Creation. Ultimately it demonstrates that faith is all about relationships; restored, reconciled and enabling us to be complete. As such it is impossible to divorce emotion and feelings from faith. All religious experience is about relationships that cannot exclude feelings and emotions. For Tim the evidence for the Resurrection is compelling. He finds it difficult to know if the desire to be convinced is the foremost part of his journey of faith or whether it pushed him into being able to say ‘I can take that step into what can be seen as an irrational step, but he feels there is an element of intellect required to take that step of faith. At the same time he agreed that the Creed doesn’t sit as well with him as it did when he first embarked on his journey of faith. It is important to recognise that there is nothing wrong with the emotion of love, we are called to uphold and defend it in every way, it is the expression that all religions value above all others. We are at our most joyful when we love others and saved in our relationship with God by the love we express to other people. In a practical sense, which is not just a romantic fashion, but our real desire to see God in others.

Steve agreed, adding ‘You can’t legislate for love of for a relationship between one country and another within a corporate existence. We are bound to recognise that ‘I am my brother’s keeper’ whether we like it or not.

Irma described herself as a Charismatic Christian, she agreed with the previous sentiments, that for Christians a relationship with Christ is all important and thereby their relations with all humanity. There is no need to prove the truth of faith or its expression. Love is important in many different ways and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is all that is needed.

Ash asked a question about the tone scale outlined by Graeme and Liz. He questioned how, if he was at the bottom of the scale, he could move up the scale. Graeme explained that it would require a process of sincere care and attention provided through a process known as auditing or counselling This is a close listening attention which assists movement gradually from one stage to the next moving very gradually. One phase at a time to another, all the time improving the tone scale level. The auditor is steered to address the mental and physical needs that help to unburden the individual. L. Ron Hubbard discovered this method in applying assistance to those in need. There are a number of strategies employed in the process, it could be through offering a listening ear or it could be enabling a person to reconnect with the environment. For those in grief it might be that a person is encouraged to meet and be with other people. Liz added that there is no fixed period of time allotted to any of these processes on the basis that all are individuals and take the time they need.

Ash explained that as a Hindu he is not so dependent on a relationship with the Hindu deities, but does express a deep devotion to his mother who died when he was four years old and with whom he has a lasting relationship. In order to be assured of his good intentions and behaviour he always checks with his mother. ‘When it comes to being a nice person, being upstanding and a gentleman I always check with my mother to see whether she would be proud of me for what I am doing – she is the one who helps, supports and guides me’.

Steve directed a question to Graeme particularly, but said this question could apply to all faiths. Since Graeme mentioned the notion of Spiritual Freedom, how is Spiritual Freedom applied?. We all yearn and strive for freedom. In the context of worship it can be the place where we are least free. Put into the right situation, prayer, worship and religious practise is undertaken as a personal and freely determined process in faith. You could argue that any compulsion in worship, actually negates its purpose. Compulsive worship prevents it from being worship. Steve admitted that as a teacher there were issues which still cause problems for his conscience. He posed the circumstance when all members of a school come together in order to worship. No one is allowed to opt out of the whole school assembly. There were youngsters who didn’t subscribe to any religious expression and couldn’t see the point of it. When we talk of Spiritual freedom do we really understand what it means ? John responded by voicing his agreement with the sentiment of the focus of the discussion. He wanted to assert how pertinent the concept of Spiritual Freedom is to Buddhism. In his enlightenment the Buddha is liberated from ultimate suffering and the consequence is that negative emotions are transformed. Greed is transformed into generosity, hate becomes compassion and agitation patience. Spiritual Freedom is liberation from one’s suffering which then leads to the liberation of others.

Tim mentioned a Lent Course he is reading which contains a powerful message showing how Jesus complained when the religious leaders of his time valued worship above justice. Tim stressed how important it is to insist that justice is always placed at the heart of life. He saw the definition of hypocrisy on the part of those who ask people to follow a way and leave justice behind.

Thanks were offered to all who took part and especially those who contributed to the evening. Suggestions for future topics and themes welcome.

The next event involves Crawley Community Action. Ash invited all to attend the next event on Thursday 28 th April 2022 7. 30 p.m. – Connecting my Faith to Health & Wellbeing.

Join the zoom meeting : Meeting ID: 873 6006 0995 | Passcode: 266060

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