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This article actually criticises a characteristic of Quakerism: mysticism. However, the criticisms (like earlier criticisms of pacifism) are made in the context of our own practice of mysticism (See Hearing from God) and our own practice of liberalism.

There is a collection of philosophies today (universalism, humanism, New Age philosophy, and mysticism) which are appealing in their refreshing liberation from religious dogma. There is so much that is true in them.

Mystics are people whose emphasis is on religious experience. They include great diversity in culture, rituals, and other doctrines, but something they seem to have in common is their inability to relate to traditional religion... in particular, to religious dogma. We have a similar problem.

There is so much about religion that bothers us, and we have often spoken of religion in a negative light, contrasting it with "spirituality". Our belief in sincerity as the ultimate test of virtue has often attracted us to the spirituality of people who fall into the universalist, humanist, New Age, mystical grouping.

But we must report that we have found all of the sins of religion amongst the mystics as well. What I am about to say about mysticism may have some relevance to the rest (i.e. to universalism, humanism, and New Age philosophy) as well.

The problem with dogmatic statements made by traditional religions is that, by nature, they are not subject to scrutiny. If one wishes to question a dogma, one is accused of rebelling against the supposed spiritual "mystery" associated with it. For ourselves, all this talk about "mystery" is little more than sanctified bullshit. Because it has gone unexamined, often for centuries, people have been led to believe that it has great power. They have often been manipulated into fighting and killing one another over beliefs that have no basis in fact.

But a similar problem exists when a mystic refuses to submit to objective evidence of his or her own failure to achieve certain goals. We are, for example, told that mystics are into renunciation and service in a way that is more humble and more unselfish than that of the religionists. But when evidence is shown that mystics are being just as selfish, proud, and demanding, all of this is denied on the grounds that one is deceived by the objective delusion. Mystical goodness, we are told, is, above all, happening inside one's own head and heart. They say that concern for outward contradictions come only from opponents who wish to make goodness into a competition. Dare we say that this too sounds like sanctified bullshit?

After all, the mystics continue to live in a real world. They continue to argue for the need to be practical, to look after possessions, to labour for wages, to feed and clothe themselves. So as long as they are going to recognise the existence of such objects as houses, cars, food, and clothes, there need to be guidelines on how to relate to these things. I believe that the truth lies in a philosophy which recognises the legitimacy of both the subjective and the objective. When we open ourselves up to that, then distinctions between good, bad, and better become important, as do distinctions between the Creator and his/her creation. I believe that the primacy of the teachings of Jesus also become provable. Jesus was a mystic, in that he experienced God intimately. He and the Father were one. But he also formulated rules for renunciation and service which would make his mystical experiences more than delusions about his own spirituality.

He called on his followers to forsake all that they owned, to give to the poor, to cease working for the food that perishes, and to begin working for God and love. He promised rewards in heaven, but he also promised that God would provide the basic needs of those who would do such things right now, in this life. Our experience of modern day mystics is that they object to all of this... to any need to measure renunciation in terms of actually forsaking personal wealth and giving it to the poor, to any need to cease working for material rewards, to any reference to a God who is above and superior to his followers, and to any need for eternal rewards or punishments. The end result is that the vast majority of professing mystics continue to live their lives much like the Pharisees of old, giving only token service and only token renunciation.

But what of personal experience? Does it play a role in faith? Certainly! The Christian teaching is that a superior and exterior Creator God has deemed to send his holy spirit to live in the hearts of those who submit themselves to him. Through the teachings of Jesus, we become infused with that spirit. Our "connect-edness" is not with inanimate pieces of timber and stone, but with the one who created all those sticks and stones. Our "connectedness", then, ceases to be the materialistic worship of creation, and becomes the far more spiritual worship of the invisible Creator of all that we see and touch and feel. (Romans 1:21-25)

We come to understand that even the universe is finite by comparison to the Creator of it all. Time and space are limited; but eternity is something much bigger, and something of which we can become a part, through faith in the Creator and his revelation through his Son, Jesus. We do not accept this blindly or dogmatically, but we accept it because it works, because Jesus has spoken to us both inwardly and outwardly. Subjectively and objectively we see the truth in what he said, and it brings reason and purpose to our existence.

He shows us that our selfish quest for survival, which has led to so much human suffering, is but a counterfeit of a greater quest for an eternal survival, which is part of the divine plan. And it includes a form of renunciation which is more or less a trade of the material and temporal for the spiritual and eternal. (Matthew 16:24-26) While virtue may be its own reward, there is an eternal reward as well which awaits those who learn to lay down their lives for others. And above all, we can say that all of this "works". It can be experienced emotionally, but it can also be evidenced rationally... if only people would take seriously the teachings of Jesus.

We, as Jesus Christians have done so, and we find that the teachings of Jesus and the indwelling of his spirit which results from faith in those teachings are both personally satisfying and rationally workable in solving the problems of the world around us. We call on others to participate in this great Solution as well.

(See also Universalism, Pros and Cons.)

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