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The Spirit

June 9, 2009

Unlike the rest of the world much of the West had lost a sense of the spirit world until recently. Is there a god or God? Are there more gods than one? Is there an Evil One or Satan? Are there demons? Is there a Holy Spirit? Even assuming that there are “spirits” how close are they to our everyday world. 

Since our earliest childhoods we have been schooled in ways of thinking that do not allow for religion, God, gods or spirits. As I recall we were never taught why the Pilgrims came to the New World only that they did- boring. I am not trying to suggest that we should return to the past when Christianity was institutionalized in our schools.  But I wonder if we have overreacted to the mistakes and abuses of our past. As a result of removing all religious study from the classroom we have effectively favored only one way of knowing. Is it a problem that our modern, objective, scientific way of thinking does not allow room for anything that cannot be empirically known through the senses? Can this a good thing? 

There was a short time when those who wielded power, namely the church,  seemed able to resist the challenge of science and hold fast to ideas that are now ridiculous to us in our day. Fortunately, science has since flourished and enabled us to extricate ourselves from the mire of unknowing superstition. Now we KNOW! But do we?

I am thinking that this modern scientific mindset shares more in common with the uninformed flat earth thinking of our past than we realize. What if there is knowledge that is rounder, fuller and more true than what scientific enquiry alone can ever give us?  Consider love between two people or the love of a family. We know something about the physical science of attraction, of sex, but can science ever delve into the heart of two soulmates or  a mother as she gazes into the eyes of her nursing baby daughter? The great blessings of education, science and technology have alleviated unimaginable suffering and are in that sense supportive of things like faith, hope and love. But does this way of knowing actually produce such knowing as faith, hope and love?  Can science explain promise making and keeping without reducing it to theories of social Darwinism (i.e. self preservation or survival of the species, etc.)?  Can scientific discovery eliminate evil from our world? Unfortunately, the history of the twentieth century leaves no doubt as to the answer. Our knowledge of how the physical world works seems to intensify rather than eradicate evil; to make  it easier for the powerful to gather more power to themselves at the expense of the poor and dispossessed; easier for states to wage wars and kill their enemies; easier for small fringe groups to terrorize whole populations. 

Just as the state has successfully removed religious ways of knowing from public education, so much of the church in the West has eliminated God the “Spirit” from its life. I think the two are related. But things are rapidly changing;  religion, spirituality, God, gods are coming back and with a vengence. There is now more religion and spirituality in the West than ever before and it includes people with different skin color, different language, different faith and orientation to life.  Within the fasted growing parts of the church there is a “Spirit” emphasis. These are the churches who have not forgotten their first love. Their God is redeeming, transforming, creating and they are all about their “Father’s business.”  There are other churches who have organized themselves around the maintenance of buildings and organazational structures. The grounds and buildings are almost always immaculate, records are neat, worship is ordered. No one can be critical of such commendable things but what are they if unsullied by the messy chaos of sinners being transformed and babes in the faith blundering their way toward spiritual maturity?

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