Monday, 17 February 2014

Re-conceptualizing the nature and consequences of 'Eastern' impersonal religions in relation to the personal God of Christianity


What follows is an excerpt from the writing of a little known mystical author called William Arkle (he died in 2000). I know about him because he lived nearby when I was at school.

I never met him (except once, in passing) but my impression is that he was a genuine mystic who had some real insights of potential value to Christians - although the context he worked in was very New Age. He uses Christian language, but also other concepts which are not mainstream and may well be contradictory to scripture (e.g. reincarnation).

It is almost as if Arkle was trying to rediscover afresh and for himself Christianity (which he already knew), entirely non-scripturally from the certainties of personal mystical insight.

This is often a pride-full and power-seeking thing for someone to do - but not always; and in this instance I think Arkle was essentially sincere and non-egotistical; I think he was essentially humble and not proud.  And this is why he was able to have some genuine insights.


However, what results from his subjective, meditative process is - almost necessarily - idiosyncratic, eccentric, and partial - and therefore sometimes wrong and (more than usually) potentially misleading; and his whole metaphorical and symbolic structure is not presented as being literally true but as a personal expression of personal insights - as a report of how things look to him: thus it was presented by paintings, poetry and music as well as prose and teaching/ lectures.


Anyway, I came across a very interesting perspective in the context of Arkle's main short 'summary' work - Letter from a Father - which has the character of God trying to explain his purposes to us.

I will add bold emphasis to highlight the striking points. Excisions are marked ...


In the beginning before time was, your mother and I had a longing in our heart to share our values and the substance of our being with others who could rejoice and be glad about them as we are glad about them. So we considered how we could do this.

We realised that to make living beings directly and ready formed was one way, and to make the seeds of this, and plant them in a situation which would cause them to grow in their own way, as a gradual process, was another.

There were two things we had to bear in mind. We had to decide how important to us it was that these children were real and not remotely controlled puppets. And we had to decide how we could guide and teach them what we knew they would have to learn without them losing the position of judgement for themselves over the values which we already knew to be good. 

We ... would have to be careful not to dominate them too much or we would destroy their individual differences and the integrity of their reality. But we also understood that they would have to grow into a certain type of person if they were going to be able to understand what we had to show them and give to them.

And of course we realised that they would begin their growth as our children, but that what we really longed for was not that they should be our children, but that they should slowly mature and become our companions and friends.

For our longing was to share this undemanding gladness in other centres of being who were in harmony with us but who were truly independent individuals to us. We understood this relationship to be the most delightful, and one which was open to endless variations, and these variations seemed to us of the greatest value since they had an absolute creative context between them.

In order that your being should mature slowly and fully, we had to think of a way to bring experience to you which would awaken you without overwhelming you, and in the process of awakening you enable you all to become different in your individual ways. As you already know, the quality of wholehearted affection and the quality of integrity or stability were two of the qualities most important to understand. Knowledge, both factual and of qualities, was also a part of this. 

... the individuality of your own being was of the essence of the matter from the very beginning. You were the one who was eventually to become aware of your own uniqueness and individual value, and you were to learn to carry the responsibility that goes with this gift.

We, most of all, felt as our deepest and dearest wish, when the time came that you understood what it was that we had undertaken on your behalf, that you would be glad, and choose to take up this option we have offered to you as our most loving gift, and live together with us as your friends and helpers.

But, as you know, in the case of friendship, the relationship between the two sides must be one of perfect balance and understanding and has to be freely and spontaneously taken up and maintained.

Therefore our purpose was to bring you to a stage in your experience when you could understand what we were offering as friends, but we had to arrange for you to have an alternative open to you, for friendship and love cannot be thrust upon people or they cease to be real.

Now, if you will follow me carefully I will try to explain what the alternative was. If you have understood that our personal love and friendship was one way for you to take, then our impersonal eternal being was another way for you to take if you so chose

In both cases you would come to eternal life, as this was the basis of our gift, but if you did not notice or did not respond to our personal nature, then you must be in a position where you could respond to all the qualities that we hold to be valuable but which do not involve our own personal love or friendship, thus uniting with our impersonal aura or being, which is itself bathed in love. 


The striking idea I get from this is that the 'impersonal' religions we think of as 'Eastern' - Hinduism, Buddhism and the like - religions which lack a personal God - can be conceptualized from our Christian perspective as not so much wrong as incomplete

Or, they are religions deriving from the choice of accepting God as an eternal impersonal being; instead of accepting the offer of a relationship with God - in which God is a personage.


Thus God actually is a personage, who wants more than anything to have a loving (familial, friendly) relationship with us persons; but since a loving relationship must be chosen, there is an alternative (there must be an alternative); and the alternative (for benignly disposed people) is as good a God can contrive.

The alternative is one of us of choosing not to regard God as a person but instead choosing to regard God as an impersonal entity: an eternal force or tendency or influence. 

This is, in effect, to choose to regard God in terms of what he does, rather than what he is. 

Arkle's notion here is that this is, in fact, a path to 'salvation' - that is, a path to eternal life; but to an eternal life of a qualitatively different, and non-personal, kind. 


Perhaps I like this so much because it chimes with my idea that all religions are essentially honest about what they offer: all religions deliver on their promises. 

'Eastern' religions claim to deliver an impersonal kind of immortality, aspire to destruction or dissolving of the self and of attachments, regard reality as essentially im-personal and therefore regard personality as delusion, a drag, a trap. Life is suffering, consciousness is suffering - both to be escaped-from, as an ideal. 

Adherents of 'Eastern' religions want to dissolve or destroy their own personality, and do not want a personal God - and perhaps God gives them what they want; and does not give them what they do not want. 


Something similar was said about 'paganism' (and all other religions) by CS Lewis, that they were glimpses or partial forms of Christianity - but Arkle's idea is that the 'Eastern' impersonal path was actually provided by God, as an alternative and valid - albeit lower - form of salvation. 

The Eastern path is less than what God wants for us; but is nonetheless a gift from God to those who believe in God and in Goodness; but who choose not to accept the highest gift. These are not punished, but generously allowed to have what they most wish for. 


NOTE ADDED: Perhaps the reason that this idea resonated immediately with me, is that God the Father must (surely?) be at least as loving towards his children as I am to mine. On this basis, if the children of a loving God chose to decline or reject His offer of a continuing and developing personal relationship after death (and denied His fatherhood and/or personhood) I assume He would nonetheless certainly try to fix things so that His children might live after death in a relatively benign - albeit impersonal - kind of existence - in fact the best existence that they could be induced to choose. It is a sad fact that we children so often refuse to choose our Father's best offer.