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ANTECEDENTS OF MODERN SPIRITUALISM
HE fundamental principle of spiritualism is that
human beings survive bodily death, and that occasionally, under conditions not yet fully understood, we can communicate with those who have gone before. This belief is not new, but it has been obscured, and needs to be re-emphasised if it is true. Religion, in the West at least, has always included the doctrine of personal survival, and has been friendly or tolerant towards communication of a sort-e.g. prayers to saints and help from them, and the popular belief in angels, ghosts, and what not; but, latterly in particular, official Religion has not put any after-death teaching in the forefront of its scheme.
This is comprehensible enough, for the orthodox scheme had become incredible. From the intellectual side, science had undermined it at two places: first, by its establishment of continuity and gradation in nature, suggesting similar continuity and gradation in supernature, instead of a sudden jump to everlasting bliss or a sudden plunge to everlasting woe; second, by its application—in that determined truth-search which is itself religious—of higher standards of evidence, more rigorous tests, to historical records. And the result of this latter process was, that the miraculous element in the Bible, not being supported by things generally observed to happen now, fell into discredit. Even the oldest Gospel was not written until many years after the events described, and we have none of the originals, our oldest MSS. dating from several centuries later. Consequently, according to modern standards, the evidence for Christ's appearances after His death-and if Christ be not risen, then is Christian faith vain—was seen to be far from coercive. Indeed, some writers denied even the "historicity” of Jesus; though this school can hardly be said to have included any first-class name. But doubt as to the reality of the after-death appearances and other miracles became widespread.
On the moral side also, the orthodox scheme was discredited. The idea of an endless hell of unspeakable torment as punishment for the sins of a few years, or even for erroneous theological opinions, began to shock the developed moral sense. It was not just. Still less was it reconcilable with belief in a loving Father. Attempts were made to excuse God by saying that He had given free will to man, and that the latter could be “saved” if he liked; but (1) if God gave man free will, He is ultimately responsible, for He need not have given it; (2) a man cannot believe “if he likes”; belief is not entirely under the control of the will—it is a state of mind resulting from the interplay of mind with
its surroundings. In order, then, to retain a God who can be loved and worshipped, without the rather comic expedient of limiting His power or His goodness, the modern mind abandons everlasting punishment.
Thus the march of events brought forces to bear from the sides of both intellect and morals against orthodox after-life creeds. The Churches accordingly began to leave the question alone and to concern themselves with other matters, in which they have done useful work. They provide good sermons, helpful on the moral side and often spiritually stimulating; they also provide music, and serve as foci for many activities which are socially beneficial. But the loss of definite belief in personal survival has weakened the Churches' appeal. Lest a layman's opinion be disallowed, hear what a preacher and princinal of a theological college has to say on this point:
Among the reasons for the decay of the influence of the Christian pulpit during the past generation, one is undoubtedly the fact that the doctrine of immortality has so largely lost its place at the heart of the Christian message. Preachers nowadays do not concern themselves so much with what happens after death as with what happens to us here and now. The pains of Hell, the bliss of Heaven, the penalties and rewards which await us in the unseen have largely disappeared from amongst the incentives and warnings of the religious life, nor have any others taken their place. Life is dealt with as though it found its sanctions, rewards, and punishments within the circle of our earthly experiences, and needed no future life to round off its incompleteness, and bring its tremendous issues to fruition."
* Faith and Immortality, by Dr. E. Griffith-Jones. Preface, p. vii.
And as to the belief in general, as distinguished from the beliefs of preachers, the same writer says:
I am not sure, indeed, that it would be wrong to say that it can now be best described as a vague hope rather than as a confident faith of moral urgency and spiritual stimulus. 1 The thought of another existence beyond the grave has receded from the foreground of consciousness in the case of religious people as well.2
Spiritualism, however, brought a true revival. It was found that things happened-actual facts amenable to scientific investigation—which required or at least justified a belief in the continued existence and agency of discarnate human beings. Communications seemed to come from them regarding their state, and these communications harmonised well with modern requirements. Naturally, therefore, these discoveries seemed to provide a basis something like the root facts of Christianity. Christ brought life and immortality to light by rising from the dead and appearing to and communicating with His followers. These first believers were honest men who had not been sophisticated to the extent of disbelieving the unusual; men who trusted their senses and believed their report as we do in ordinary affairs. So with the early spiritualists. They found facts which indicated survival. They brought life and immortality to light once more; not by one unique instance, but by multitudes of in
* Faith and Immortality, by Dr. E. Griffith-Jones, p. 22. *Ibid., pp. 25-6. Hymns are sung about our future state, "asleep within the tomb"-waiting for a dubious resurrection, and we are exhorted to "work, for the night is coming." Not much healthy belief there.