What We Should Really Fear, Hate, and Resist
Life and Principle
I feel I should keep reminding readers of this site that these essays arise chiefly out of my own meditation upon, and speculation about, factors which I consider particularly significant in the Economy of Life. They should therefore be approached with a healthy degree of scepticism. Although I suggest some hypotheses which seem to me to have great explanatory power and provide a fruitful ground for exploratory personal economic action, my main object is to encourage you to frame and reflect upon your own questions in whatever form they may be presented in your personal experience and construct your own personal philosophy in the Light of your findings.
My principal hypothesis is that your 'personality' is a unique manifestation arising from the temporary association of an immortal Universal Spirit with a discrete mortal physical body. This compound personality is the vehicle through which the Spirit is able to act in and upon a world of matter which is presented as a continually changing set of relationships among an infinite number of infinitely varied entities.
I have elsewhere suggested that 'Love is that property of the Spirit which enables us to experience the essential Unity of all that exists and to respect every other creature we encounter as we respect ourselves. Love is what enables us to be truly objective and to accept every other creature, organic and inorganic, as a unique embodiment of the One. Love is what encourages us to expand our consciousness ever further so that we may exhibit greater understanding and intelligence in our interactions with each other and our common environment'.
Seen in that Light, Love is a necessary force of attraction that gives rise to a range of emotions which are conducive to the realisation of our Oneness with everything that constitutes our environment. And let us not forget that emotions are what prompt us to act, to do things, to make changes in ourselves or in our environment.
In this essay, I shall try to explore some of the consequences of adopting the hypothesis that Fear is a necessary force of aversion that gives rise to a range of emotions which are conducive to the preservation of the physical body and thus of the Union with the body through which the Spirit extends its experience of, and influence upon, the world of matter. In this respect, Fear is to Love as the brakes of a car are to the accelerator.
The Spirit, as such, has no reason to fear anything in the long term. As the driver of the vehicle, it values its attachment to the body only for the spiritual growth that bodily experience makes possible. Fear is provided as a counter-force to enable the compound personality to strike an optimum balance in action between satisfying Love's hunger for new experience and concern for the maintenance of the machinery through which the experience is provided. It also has the task of discouraging actions which would be harmful to other entities or to the environment in general.
Although there are few, if any, words in English that adequately convey the meaning and implications of Love, there are many words that suggest Fear. Agitation, alarm, anxiety, apprehension, concern, dread, panic, terror, trepidation, stress, and worry all imply in various degrees a desire to avoid something that is thought or imagined to present some sort of threat to the continued well-being of the personality. The very richness of the vocabulary suggests that Fear features prominently in all our lives. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Fear, inappropriately induced or directed, is what in some circumstances gives rise to unpleasant emotions such as the anger and resentment which account for much of the violence in human society.
Society is made up of individual persons. It is as persons that we experience. It is only as a person that each of us can strike a just balance of prudence between abject cowardice (leading to complete dependence on others) and foolhardiness (leading to our becoming a nuisance to ourselves and others). Striking a balance requires Courage. It is only to the extent that each of us is courageous that we can contribute to the well-being of our communities. Courage is not the absence of fear: it is readiness to confront Fear objectively in whatever guise it presents itself, and to treat each occurrence on its merits.
Genuine Fear is a necessary aid to self-preservation and must be accorded the respect it deserves. But our undisciplined and insufficiently critical imaginations sometimes give rise to 'vague fears and horrible imaginings' which have no rational basis and which give rise to what we might call 'demotions' because they can not only impel us to act inappropriately but inhibit us from acting at all. These irrational fears can not only make life a misery for ourselves but also weigh heavily on the other people who have to shoulder the share of the communal burden which our exaggerated fear prevents us from carrying. In seeking to be objective, therefore, it may be helpful to attempt an analysis of the broad types of Fear which commonly occur and distinguish between those fears which are rational and appropriate and those which are irrational (and therefore inappropriate).
To begin with, it will be helpful to define two main categories of Fear Personal Fear and Institutional Fear. The first arises within the individual; the second is spread by a form of contagion or osmosis through our various communities and society at large.
It is natural and healthy to seek to avoid or counter any obvious threat to our physical or mental well-being or that of other valued members of our communities. We are therefore entirely justified in being alert for signs that we know from experience may be harbingers of premature death, wanton destruction, or gratuitous damage whether mental or physical. Pain is simply a sign that all is not well with the personality, and the healthy response is not to disregard it but rather to seek to identify the cause and commence appropriate remedial action to remove the cause rather than to muffle the symptom. Viewed in that Light, pain is our friend and we should learn to become more tolerant of it and patient with it until we have understood the message it is trying to convey. We can then concentrate on making whatever changes may be necessary to restore the harmonious co-operation of mind and body; when the cure is effected, the pain will cease.
Our entire lives consist of change. All improvement is change. It should be obvious that if we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, then some changes are desirable and should be welcomed. We would therefore do well to adopt a fundamentally optimistic attitude to life in the expectation that many changes are likely to be seen as beneficial when their broad implications are understood. Changes which at first sight seem to threaten our supposed welfare almost invariably disguise incentives and opportunities to develop our personalities and make them better servants of the Spirit.
Some changes are inevitable and predictable. There is no point in fearing the inevitable because there is nothing we can do to avert it. Natural phenomena such as ageing and death must be expected and accepted. They are our common lot. There is good reason to suppose that the 'fear' of death is more likely to be partly apprehension of the pain that may accompany some of the phenomena that eventually make the body uninhabitable and partly a feeling of regret which naturally accompanies a realisation of missed opportunities. The rational reaction to the inevitable is to use it as a spur to bring about whatever changes we feel desirable while our current bodies are still available and serviceable.
However, many of us are prone to imagining adverse changes which may never happen. It would be well for us to refrain from indulging in such idle day-dreams (day-mares?). We could instead focus our imaginations on identifying things in the 'real' world which we could change for the better by taking appropriate action and on devising ways and means of bringing about those changes we conceive would be beneficial for ourselves and for our communities. It seems to be common experience that if we want to make spiritual progress, sufficient real problems will arise to keep us occupied without our having to conjure up imaginary ones. Yet it seems, paradoxically, that such conjuring is one form of magic at which many of us are too adept for our own good.
This is a special case of the fear of change, but it is so prevalent that it deserves a paragraph or two to itself.
Changes in family or community circumstances (such as a child leaving home or the death of a friend or a pet) may be confidently anticipated. The virtual disappearance of the 'steady job' and the rapid world-wide political and economic changes which are brought to our notice almost instantly by global communications media are forcing us to see long-term physical and financial security as the illusions they always were.
There are two main strategies that may be adopted in an attempt to cope with such uncertain circumstances. The most common is to endeavour to take out some form of material "insurance" in its most general sense including not only the purchase of some promise of financial compensation in the event of a specific loss but also the accumulation of money, negotiable assets, and stores of goods against the possibility of a "rainy day". This strategy seems to me to have three serious disadvantages. The first disadvantage is that the more one accumulates, the more one has to lose and the greater the fear (and the actual risk) of loss because it deprives other people of their 'fair share'. The second, and more serious, disadvantage is that it is ineffective in restoring immaterial losses such as a lost friendship or in curing a physical or psychological disability. The third, and most serious, disadvantage is that it tends to focus the attention on the material aspects of the economy of life to the exclusion of the spiritual purposes the material is intended to serve. Taken to extremes, this fosters a self-centred 'ghetto' mentality which inhibits social intercourse and precludes experience of the joys which arise only from the better realisation of the One Spirit shared by all of humanity.
The less common, though more effective, strategy arises from learning to trust the operation of the Cosmos just as the infant trusts and relies upon parental provision. The infant has no choice in the matter; and I suggest it is healthy to appreciate that neither does the adult. To be alive in a physical body is ipso facto to be at risk. It seems to me that the most liberating decision we can make in life is to take it on trust. It will then be apparent that the extent of the risk to which we are exposed is merely the extent of the curtailment of our present opportunity to gain spiritual expertise through practice.
I imagine most people will agree that we should try to avoid becoming over-dependent upon any thing or relationship whose continuity is uncertain. This becomes easier as we become more aware that the only thing of whose continuity we can be certain is the spiritual essence which is what animates our bodies, which we share with the rest of Creation, and without which our bodies are valueless and our relationships are pointless.
In that Light, the obvious practical strategy for dealing with fear is to increase the number and depth of our inter-relationships to the greatest extent permitted by our physical circumstances. There is good reason to believe that the greatest pleasure and benefit Life has to offer arises from co-operating with other people in a Spirit of mutual help and comfort.
At the root of most of our fears may be the suspicion that should certain circumstances arise, we shall not be able to cope with them. If harboured without being directly confronted, this suspicion tends to be reflected as a dread of anything unfamiliar and a reluctance to expose ourselves to any new experience. This, of course, inhibits any possibility of spiritual growth.
So let's recognise that the suspicion is lurking somewhere in our consciousness, let's go in search of it and, when we have pinned it down, let's question it. How does it express itself? Is it not the case that it invariably points to some perceived lack of personal ability or refers us to 'what other people may think' or tries a combination of both? In response to both of these tactics, it is helpful to remember at all times that, deep down, other people are just like ourselves.
If you are confronted with a problem you can't solve by yourself, remember that, like yourself, most other people are usually more than willing to exhibit any personal skills in which they take pride. So ask them for help! When you get it, you will have more confidence in your ability to get help when you need it and you will have presented somebody else with the inestimable gift of an opportunity to serve. All you need is the courage to ask.
If you are concerned about what other people may think, remember again that deep down they are just the same as you only they may not know it. Why should you care if people mock your outward appearance or mannerisms? If you have a talent for making people laugh at you, why not indulge it and give other people some temporary respite from their own fears? Remember that the traditional Court Jester was really a philosopher whose spiritual messages were disguised under a cloak of fancy dress, jokes, and apparently foolish antics. If your outward appearance and behaviour amuse other people, so much the better as long as your objective is not to be superficially admired or venerated but to give expression to what lies concealed beneath the outward exterior. The way you live your life will then convey a sense of underlying spiritual purpose in subtle ways to other people, often without their being consciously aware of it.
It may be helpful to bear in mind that as long as your actions are Spiritually motivated, people probably don't think about you nearly as much or as badly as you imagine they do. You should find much encouragement in the essay about Mark Eklund by Sister Helen P. Mrosia.
If none of the foregoing paragraphs seems to help you, it may be because your concern about what other people think of you outweighs your concern about who or what you really are. Perhaps you should consider whether your shyness may not be a form of inverted snobbery or false pride, and that what you are really afraid of is letting your mask slip in public. Reflect that there is no more reason why other people should find an empty, if highly decorated, shell of a human being more fascinating than any other work of art. Once you have found your real Self inside your material shell, your concern about what other people think will diminish and you will be able to concentrate instead on what you want to become.
Action produces change. All our actions have consequences for ourselves and quite possibly, because of our inter-connectedness, for others. So it is perfectly healthy for us to consider the possible consequences before we act and to refrain from acting if we can foresee unacceptably harmful consequences.
I suggest, furthermore, that the consequences for other people should be given priority over those which are likely to affect only ourselves. Whether we like them or not, personal consequences are learning experiences which we can use to improve our living skills: and the more painful they are, the greater the beneficial effect they are likely to have. But I cannot think it appropriate for us to impose experiences upon other people over the age of, say, twenty-one, unless and until they invite us to do so or otherwise signify their agreement to what we propose.
It is also relevant that our appreciation of the likely consequences of our actions may be inaccurate or incomplete because of our limited knowledge and understanding. Genuine consideration for others makes us more aware of our own relative ignorance, helps us to be humble, and restrains us from carelessly indulging in high-handed egotistical actions which may have far-reaching consequences beyond our ken.
I can now hear you remarking that adopting such an attitude would in extreme cases result in our doing very little during our lives: and I agree. But it might be no bad thing. For one thing, doing a very little good without any harm may be better than doing much good which is accompanied by even greater harm.
The history of mystical experience shows that by mutual co-operation it is possible for all human beings to do much good work on a large scale without any downside. Although the human personality as such can have only a very limited intellectual understanding of the workings of the Cosmos, the Spirit which animates the personality is an unseparated segment of the Ultimate Source. It can therefore provide guidance which enables the person who is attuned with his or her Spirit to act appropriately in any and all circumstances.
I suggest, therefore, that a world containing a higher proportion of people like Mother Theresa to mobilise in small groups the voluntary contributions of the vast numbers of well-disposed people in the world could work entirely beneficial miracles on a global scale. Voluntary action is performed by individuals who accept personal responsibility for what they do. They can limit the range of their operations in space and time to whatever is appropriate to their known circumstances, and tailor their actions to the known requirements arising from these circumstances. Within their appropriate radius of action, individuals can do a great deal of good by mutual co-operation while guarding against unintended harm by refraining from imposing their solutions to perceived problems on other individuals who may have different perceptions or prefer different solutions. Please don't let your modesty about what you can do mislead you into thinking that it is not worth doing. All contributions, no matter how small they might seem to the material side of your personality, are gratefully received by the Spirit.
All courage is personal. The ultimate source of Courage is the Spirit. Having once accepted that my body and personality exist only to serve an immortal Spirit which animates not only myself but all human beings, Fear can be seen in its proper context and I shall find it easier to act appropriately in all circumstances. This explains why, in some extreme circumstances, service to the Spirit may make it appropriate for me to 'lay down my life for my friends'.
On a personal level, Fear is a helpful, indeed necessary, force. But like all forces, it can be misused. I have no hesitation in asserting that the most inhibiting and damaging misuse of Fear is its perversion by third parties to subject individual persons to psychological pressure to acquiesce in actions or lifestyles which are detrimental to the Spirit.
This process is all the more insidious when it is rooted (or presented as being rooted) in the best of motives care and concern for others. It starts with the loving parent who, when the child has begun to grow and test its own capabilities, is always expressing anxiety, exhorting the child to 'be careful', and listing a whole catalogue of things 'not to do for your own safety'. No wonder some children either grow up as nervous wrecks or fail to 'grow up' at all! There is little point in having a strong well-formed body if the Spirit which animates it has been starved since birth of the 'risky' experiences which are necessary for the formation of an energetic, confident personality.
In the sort of materialistic society which undue care for the safety of the body inevitably produces, there is an over-supply of immature adults of whom unscrupulous individuals and organisations can take advantage to achieve their own materialistic ends. Generating anxiety neurosis is a wonderful way of creating demand for "leadership", tranquillisers, gurus, and other distractions, tangible and intangible. The ever-increasing flood of commercial and political advertisements in which 'health', 'safety', 'protection', 'security', 'assurance' and 'reassurance' are key words reveal the extent to which marketing people and spin-doctors have succeeded in extending the debilitating tentacles of the dependency culture throughout Western society. By emphasising the doubtful benefits of the 'convenience' afforded by 'economies of scale' and 'specialised know-how', people are easily lulled into supposing that all their more irksome needs can be met and their fears allayed by 'well-trained highly-qualified professionals' who bear all the strain leaving them 'free to enjoy their ever-increasing leisure'.
So perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether we really enjoy living in a society in which the services of paid professionals and specialists have virtually replaced the loving care with which we used to look after each other. Have our communities really benefited from the withdrawal of local 'authority' to ever-more-remote, impersonal, and dictatorial centralised governments? Does the intrusion into our formerly private lives by armies of social workers, health 'visitors', inspectors, and taxation enforcers really enhance our personal freedom or does it merely encroach upon the domain of the Spirit? Is there really nothing we can do for ourselves and our neighbours to discourage vandalism, burglary, and mugging in our communities without ourselves falling foul of the law? Are paid employment with compulsory taxation, or State handouts financed by such taxation, really the only alternatives left open to human beings who wish to make a positive contribution to their communities? Is there not something incongruous about our allowing ourselves to be treated as if we were less capable of looking after ourselves than the fowls of the air or the beasts of the field?
The Spirit will not be stifled lightly. People with too much idle time on their hands are not usually very happy about it and they cast around for meaningful ways of using the time. Only the Spirit is capable of seeking out and identifying satisfying employment that endows life with meaning and enables individuals to value themselves.
The material costs of maintaining the elaborate infrastructure of multinational corporations and welfare states are enormous, growing, and mostly hidden from the view of the people who ultimately have to bear them. The costs in spiritual ennui and personal frustration, though less tangible, are even more significant. This can already be sensed in the reactions of ordinary people to the deluge of legislation and pettifogging regulation imposed by politicians and bureaucrats at the service of materialist interests.
When the law becomes oppressive rather than retributive, people rebel. If they have no means of changing the law to restore some degree of natural justice, they will ignore it. When they ignore it, they become outlaws. When they become outlaws, they are liable to become criminals. Criminals are liable to become terrorists. There are already enough of these lurking in society to make it clear that a steady supply of creature comforts, televised entertainment, and the Internet do not constitute sufficient distractions for everybody with a thirst for something more satisfying. Bread and circuses are no longer enough to seduce discerning people from pursuing the life of the Spirit.
You can believe what you like. The world of relativity in which we live can never furnish any conclusive logical proof that one belief is right and another wrong. The only reliable criterion by which to assess the value of a belief is whether or not acting upon it leads to a personal feeling of satisfaction and gratitude.
In these essays, I am adopting the hypothesis that the purpose of human life is to explore to the maximum extent possible the creative potential of a Spirit which is common to all of creation, including mankind. If this assumption is taken as a working hypothesis, it follows that the purpose will be better served the more individuals adopt the belief and the more enthusiastically each individual lives an exploratory life.
The obvious prodigality of Nature in which only a tiny proportion of embryos reach maturity makes it obvious, at least to me, that mere bodies are not ends in themselves. The apparent waste is, however, amply justified in the rich variety of forms and adaptations which have evolved through ages of struggle for life on the part of the individual specimens concerned. There have been vastly more failures than successes, but without the recurring miracle on an infinite scale of birth, life, struggle, pain, and death on the part of many individuals of many generations of creatures of ever-increasing complexity, either human beings would not exist or the theory of evolution would be untenable. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson, put it:
The great danger for our increasingly timid and security-obsessed society is not that the many lack the courage to dare and fail; it is that the the few are actively discouraged from daring.
It therefore seems to me that what we have to fear most as individuals are attempts by other individuals, whether out of timidity or ignorance, to stifle our individual creativity and frustrate us in our attempts to follow our personal interpretations of the requirements of the Spirit.
I am writing this during a weekend in which three children were fire-bombed to death in Northern Ireland merely because their mother is, or is supposed to be, a Roman Catholic. It is a healthy sign that such occurrences evoke a spontaneous emotion of horror and revulsion in the breasts of members of the public at large. Yet history recounts many instances of such atrocities, often officially sanctioned and carried out with due process of law; and I suspect that they aroused far less horror and revulsion in days when people in general were much more familiar and comfortable with death than we generally are today.
It may, or may not, be only coincidence that the Irish fire-bombing took place during a weekend when a certain section of the (Protestant) Orange Order was steadfastly opposing the "forces of law and order" which were blocking off part of the traditional route of an annual parade. Someone (I think a politician or churchman) was quoted in the news as saying 'Surely life is more important than principle'.
It seems to me that this gives a clue to the fundamental reason for the malaise in our materialistic Western society in which it is almost universally accepted that life has arisen "accidentally" from a purely fortuitous organisation of matter. Hence we confuse the principle of life with its sensible manifestations. Nature offers plenty of evidence that the principle of life is quite distinct from the material forms in which we are able to discern its presence. If we were more discerning, we might eventually realise that the principle of life is immanent throughout the Universe.
Hence the individual "life" is emphatically not more important than the principle of life. It is the principle of life that justifies every sacrifice, including the sacrifice of individual "lives". It is surprising that people who profess themselves to be "Christians" should so readily lose sight of what their founder insisted on time and again, e.g.: "I am the bread of life" [John, 6:48.] and "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly" [John, 10:10].
Another aspect of the the problem is that we all too often mistake prejudice for principle. That is what the members of the Orange Order seem to me to be doing. They are doubly in error in intruding the evidence of their prejudice into a street whose predominantly Roman Catholic inhabitants prefer a different prejudice, thus gratuitously inviting resentment and conflict.
So I invite readers to consider that there is one principle that over-rides every other: the principle that the Universe, including all mankind, is animated by One and the Same Spirit of Life which produces all sensible forms, and that its defining attribute is Love. Therefore, we have no reason to fear anything that may arise in our personal or institutional lives, no matter how long or short they may be in terms of years. The brief presence in human bodies of the souls of the three Irish boys shall have served a benevolent purpose if its wanton curtailment has contributed to a willingness on the part of one sect to become more tolerant of the prejudices of another.
It seems to me that what we really do have to fear from institutions of all kinds, but particularly governments, is their tendency to stifle individual actions and expressions of views that run counter to the prejudices of their members and doctrinaire supporters. I suggest that the most serious threat to individual freedom and the cause of much needless anxiety and frustration is widespread acceptance of the timid and fallacious prejudice that 'individual life is more important than principle'.
It is perfectly natural for us to hate impositions which run counter to the prompting of the Spirit. It is perfectly natural for us to resist the activities of the agents of such impositions. However, remembering that these agents are animated by the same Spirit as ourselves, we must distinguish between the agents and their actions. While resisting their efforts to the utmost degree, we must simultaneously try to "forgive them, for they know not what they are doing". [Luke, 23:34]. Hatred should be directed at actions, not at persons.
I hope in due course to expand on this theme in the section of the site devoted to worldly affairs. In the meantime, I would simply urge readers to trust the operation of the Cosmos; to place themselves at the service of the immortal Spirit; to be confident in their own Spirit-centred personalities; and to resist both unwarranted intrusions into their private lives and arbitrary restrictions upon their natural activities.