Material or spirit?

A question and a starting point

One of the most interesting ideas that has been thrown up by professional academics re-examining historical sources in the light of contradictory archaeological evidence is that ancient writings were not produced to be ‘history’ as we now define it (which we hope future generations will consider as factual and objective, given the limitations of the data available to us). Instead, they should be viewed as ‘stories’, which may contain valuable clues to the past but reveal more about the beliefs and prejudices of the time they were written and the message the author was seeking to convey to their audience about how they should behave in what was then the ‘present’. I am sure that there is plenty of evidence that we still are doing the same thing now, even when we are trying to be objective and factual. One persons ‘truth’ is another’s ‘fake news’. However, it is possible to accept the limitations of this uncertainty and just do our best to produce the best story that we can in our present, recognising that none of us can see the whole picture. This is particularly true when we probe the biggest questions using the methods of scientific or spiritual enquiry. Perhaps what we see as alternatives are both true and untrue?

The title I have used for this paper reflects an argument that has been used to turn science and religion (including, in this definition, all forms of spiritual investigation) into competing ideologies. Although the world around us seems solid and we can view larger and more impressive bodies in space around us, the more we have investigated what matter is made of and tried to make sense of what has been observed (especially through the workings of quantum mechanics) the less substantial our material universe seems. Therefore, we need an innovative approach that accepts that maybe there is not a distinction between material and spirit and that perhaps we have been looking at the world and the problem from the wrong direction.

I have been aware of a spiritual dimension to life for as long as I can remember, certainly before I could read or had become influenced by religious concepts and structures. I do not think that any text, ancient or modern, will open the doors of understanding for all individuals but I realise that people who take texts literally will not like that suggestion. Despite my reservations, I have found that reading and reflecting (or meditating or praying, if you prefer those words instead) can help and this is why I have put together the collection of papers listed and linked to the ‘Eternal’ page of this web site.

The paper ‘No Death’ describes a notable and dramatic incident that provoked my desire to understand what happened and what it means but I am very aware that no human explanation has, or probably can, succeed. During my exploration, I have felt a ‘oneness’ with and love for all creation that defies description and a peace that really does ‘pass all understanding’. Negatively, I have also experienced physical and mental pain, as well as anger and frustration. I do not think that either set of experiences happened because I was good or bad in the human sense. Therefore, I have concluded that you cannot control human existence using the power of the human mind and body or by following spiritual guidance without understanding. However, having felt that you are part of a greater whole and that you cannot ever be separated from that reality does make it easier to cope with reversals and be grateful for what makes you happy. It also makes you want others to know pleasure and contentment and to encourage everyone to make the journey of inquiry. All that is required is openness to see creation as neither material nor spirit and more than the sum of human perception.

Paul Newman
June 2017