Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. ‒ James 1:27
With all the hubbub surrounding the resignation and replacement of the pope, it seems like a good time to revisit a theme I've covered here briefly before, namely, the purpose and role of religion as seen by spiritualists and those friends who have communicated with us from the other side of that boundary we call death.
While I'm generally not one given to quoting the Bible, the verse above, disregarded by many in organized religion, seems to be pertinent to a discussion about the role of religion and it's a definition with which I heartily agree. Note that there is no mention in the verse of rituals or ceremonies, nothing about being cleansed of sin, nothing about sacrifice, the Eucharist or baptism, no requirement that one should hold certain beliefs, and absolutely no reference to a pope or any ecclesiastical structure whatsoever. Religion in this definition is confined to service and the individual pursuit of virtue (or building of character). In our verse, caring for widows and orphans is a metaphor for all types of service rendered to others.
It should be noted here that over the past 160 years of modern spiritualism this simple outlook on religion has consistently been the message from the other side. Spirit in message after message has repeatedly stressed the personal quest for truth and righteousness and downplayed the role of ceremony and all activities and doctrines associated with organized religion. Service to others is seen by spirit as the single most effective means of assuring one's spiritual growth. In other words, religion is conduct and nothing more as noted by scientist and clergyman George Henslow in The Religion of the Spirit World (1920).
In his voluminous writings on history spiritualist author Arthur Findlay shows how this "natural religion" as he calls it was corrupted over the centuries by both ignorance and deliberate manipulation from the priestly class. Rites and dogmas were added until nowadays almost everyone equates religion with these formal institutional-based practices and beliefs. The whole story is interestingly told in Findlay's 2,000-page masterwork The Psychic Stream (1939).
Put another way, scholar Karen Armstrong says that religion isn't about adherence to doctrines as literal truth ‒ it's about living one's life a certain way from hour to hour and day to day. And the remarkable spirit guide Silver Birch said, "Religion is living in a way that brings you closer to the Great Spirit. Religion is when the Great Spirit is expressed in your actions. Religion is service."
Spiritualism and New Thought have both taught that before each action there always is thought. The thought of unenlightened minds is usually rooted in self-service and only with spiritual growth does one emerge from this selfish frame of mind. Ignorant and undisciplined people who have not yet begun to look beyond self generally do what is wrong with wrong actions, according to Findlay, being those which "upset the harmony and aspirations of life." (Note the absence of the word "sin!")
"Wrong-doing comes from unbalanced and undeveloped minds, and, in its final analysis, can be reduced to selfishness, to the consideration of only our own wishes and the ignoring of those with whom we come in contact," Findlay elaborated in his two-volume history of the world, The Curse of Ignorance (Vol. 1, Chapter XI). "...The finer or enlightened mind could not find peace and harmony if others suffered from actions produced by its thoughts. The enlightened mind is so telepathically in touch with the minds of other people that it is upset if it produces disharmony in other minds. As the mind develops it becomes ever more sensitive to the thoughts of others, and adjusts itself to prevent the disharmony which leads to quarrels and unhappiness."
History, Findlay says, is the story of unfolding minds. Over much of mankind's past undeveloped minds constituted the majority of the population but during the past few centuries steady progress has been made and now there is less cruelty while efforts to help the less fortunate are abundant.
Our institutional religious dogmas and traditions, however, are products of an age when cruelty was the norm and ignorance reigned supreme. In assessing the impact of Christianity on the world's people, Findlay asks, "What, then, was the ethical standard of instruction in those days [when Christianity was being formed], and how exactly did the people look upon life? They had their own crude ideas of right and wrong, just as a savage has, but they had no incentive to strive for something better, as they were taught and believed that their wickedness had been forgiven by God, because 'By the righteousness of one [Jesus] the free gift [of salvation] came upon all men... so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.' (Romans 5: 18) This being so, they had no reason to worry over their shortcomings."
This outlook, of course, persisted from the fall of the Roman Empire right up to the Renaissance and is still being promoted by many within organized Christianity. Nowadays parishioners are exhorted to secure their salvation primarily by endorsing certain beliefs followed by regular church attendance, tithing, baptism, partaking of the Eucharist, and any number of other things espoused by various denominations. And, oh, you should also clean up your act along the way but, don't worry, do these things the church asks and you're saved and won't go to eternal punishment in hell. Those who distance themselves from the church are looked upon with suspicion because, the preacher says, how can anybody be truly "good" outside of the "body of Christ" (code name for the so-called universal church)?
That's a lot of baggage wrapped up in religious clothes and, according to our verse at the top of this post, entirely unnecessary baggage at that. Since its emergence 160 years ago, modern spiritualism has attempted to lead people back to the important but simple foundations of living: Practice the Golden Rule, serve one another, love in abundance, and recognize who you really are ‒ a self-conscious manifestation of the Universal Life Force that is destined to live forever. That realization alone (which is proven over and over again through spirit communications) automatically alters one's behavior away from selfishness and toward a full, rich and loving relationship with All Life.
So, don't hold your breath that the new pope or any other leader in organized religion will usher in our New Age ‒ that task is just not one that has been assigned to any religious institution. Instead, look to enlightened science and to the prompting from within for the transformations we are longing for. As science edges closer and closer to discovery of spirit and as mankind as a collective realizes who he/she really is, then the resolve will be there to change our own world for the better. Then will our New Age truly be here.