Anarchy on the streets? What can be learned from the August riots?

By David Hopkins

The riots which spread across England earlier this month stunned the world, writes Sue Farrow. TV news channels around the globe regaled their viewers with scenes of violence, arson and looting unprecedented on England’s streets.

For some, the events which began in the north London suburb of Tottenham, and spread to many other areas, were to prove devastating. Loved ones lost, serious injuries sustained, homes and businesses destroyed. In short, lives changed forever.

Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent a recurrence of behaviour which brought death, destruction and lawlessness of a kind never before seen in peacetime England?

David Hopkins, SNU minister and co-author of The Philosophy of Spiritualism and The Religion of Spiritualism, takes an in-depth look at those events from a Spiritualist perspective and asks the all-important question – what can be learned from them?

Graphic pictures on our screens: horror and fear on people’s faces; burning buildings; homes destroyed; smashed windows; people (mainly young) running off from looted stores with armfuls of clothes or struggling with TV sets or the latest electronic equipment; youths hurling stones and petrol-bombs; images of the use of guns by rioters; thousands of police in riot gear; claims and counterclaims; criticism of police, politicians, the young, the old, the media; courts handing down severe penalties; reasons, excuses, justifications; death, anger, revenge, pain and suffering – that was the perception of August 2011 in the UK.

These last few weeks are of real and immediate concern to most people. Any and every event is part of our life experience and also a learning opportunity. What can we learn from the recent events in some of our major cities?

Perhaps the first point to be made is that to encompass every individual and every event under one heading is short-sighted. Each individual case has to be considered on its own merits. Theft, we all agree, is wrong – yet would the mother who steals to feed her starving child be worthy of condemnation? So – no ‘black and white’ answers; the solutions will be in the area between simplistic concepts of right and wrong. Were these rioters/looters/protestors evil people (gang members, thieves, crooks), opportunists, easy-led, deprived, depraved, misguided, foolish, expressing (even if not in what most would say was the best way) real concerns about social welfare, modern life, a greedy society, law enforcement, segregation, intolerance, poverty and lack of respect?

Every one of those involved in any way is a spiritual being, whether or not each would accept that assertion. Every one is a creation of God.  Each is therefore an expression of the God-force – the ‘good force’. ‘Evil’ does not come into it – there is no such thing. If this God we talk about is the all-powerful and all-embracing being we claim to accept It to be, then there can be nothing outside or beyond It. Essentially, everything and everyone which exists, has existed or will exist, emanates from God/good. There is one Ultimate Power; there is no on-going battle between God and Devil: Good and Evil are points on the same scale.

Clearly the lives of participants in recent events have not panned out as was planned (by them or in the bigger scheme of things); we need to ask ‘why?’ Whilst Personal Responsibility is a right we demand and proclaim, it is a qualified concept. We cannot be held responsible for that over which we have limited or no control. I’m not getting into the issue of re-incarnation, karma and allied concepts, and how these might impact upon our topic.

These last six months – the ‘Arab Spring’ – have seen popular uprisings across several countries. Ordinary people have decided that ‘enough is enough’ and taken to the streets in their thousands to bring about revolution in their own countries and a complete transformation to the political and social map of North Africa and the Middle East. Even as I write, Libya seems to be on the brink of freedom after 42 years of dictatorship. Then there is Syria and what might follow the violent suppression of public opinion. Do events in the UK reflect to any extent the scenes our media have graphically shown us, proclaiming such events as ‘people power’?

There is so much violence, real and virtual, on our TV screens and in the ‘games’ the younger generation play, often for hours on end. Cloistered in their rooms, away from family and friends, their ‘reality’ is to see how many they can kill in the shortest time to gain the highest score. These ‘games of death’ are the yardsticks by which many young people measure success and enjoyment. Even our comedy has aggression and anger. Surely our media have a responsibility for what they present, be it news, fiction, ‘reality TV’, documentaries or anything else?

‘We are what we eat’ is an old adage. Yet what are we eating? Food that is not just ‘junk’ but actually harmful because of some of its ingredients.  Several years ago a well-known nutritionist worked in a prison with violent offenders; almost as soon as he had their diet changed there were great changes in their behaviour. We cannot dismiss this as ‘fad-ish’ – what goes into our bodies, through our mouths, our eyes and our ears, comes out in our attitudes and our behaviour.

The greed of bankers and politicians; corruption across the world; bribery that is often an accepted part of commercial activity; the gap between rich and poor getting larger – these are all elements in the backdrop of events in London and other cities.

What of sport, sometimes seen as a great leveller? Again, money dominates. One player is ‘sold’ for £10,000,000, another for £20,000,000 or more; wages of hundreds of thousands of pounds are paid – not per year but per week! Kicking a ball well or standing on a stage to sing may get you an income of millions a year, whilst a nurse or a teacher or refuse collector sees incomes held down or reduced though the bankers still get their enormous bonuses. Services for the elderly, the young, the sick, the disadvantaged get slashed and politicians talk of reducing taxes for the most wealthy. Prices rise from profiteering across the world and currency and commodity markets artificially push up costs.

All these form part of the background to the riots we have seen. No, they don’t excuse them, nor the damage and pain and destruction of life and property the participants have caused. We make moral judgements and demand tough sentences for these perpetrators yet others can spend thousands on lawyers and accountants to ‘avoid’ taxes and, even after the latest arrangements, still keep millions in their Swiss bank accounts. There is, clearly, ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark’.

The concept of the First Principle of Spiritualism – The Fatherhood of God –  has been shown to encompass all the rioters and protestors. Personal Responsibility is of great importance but has its limitations. Growing up where violence is the norm, where carrying a knife is accepted or even expected, where drugs control actions and decisions, where deprivation is the standard endured, then is it surprising that those are the values inculcated in the young? Yes, anyone has the potential to rise above such situations but it almost always needs a catalyst.

So what of the Principle of Brotherhood?  “Well, I’m only going to have the nice people as my brothers” doesn’t work. Every one of those rioters is our brother or sister and whilst we may not be our brother’s keeper, nonetheless we cannot wash our hands of him or her when the going gets difficult. We all bear a measure (larger or smaller) of responsibility in the background circumstances, the actions and the thinking of these despised individuals. The Seven Principles are not always easy to comprehend and certainly not always easy to follow when we really try to practise what we preach.

And what of Compensation and Retribution? Well, we are certainly hearing cries for retribution! Six times the normal rate of people held on remand; stiff (some would say harsh) sentences being handed out; lives blighted and not always through malice but sometimes simply by momentary stupidity.

And the Compensation? As with every tragedy, the higher human qualities manifest themselves. A father pleading for calm and sense just hours after the death of his son – who could say they were not moved by such dignity and compassion? People in their hundreds, many of them of the same generation as the rioters, coming together with brooms and elbow grease to clean and clear the streets in their cities – what more positive a response could there be? Every situation and event is a learning opportunity and August has certainly presented its fair share of such opportunities!

When the dust has settled, the anger dissipated, the pain numbed by the passing of time, will we individually and as a society have learned any positive lessons? Yes, I really do believe we will have. Our young people need to be challenged; would not ‘sentencing’ them to repair the homes and communities they have wrecked do more long-term good than locking them up? Even in tough economic times, there need to be priorities.  Developing opportunities for our young people to get together to play sports and other activities, to build and create and generally learn how to use their energy and vitality positively is essential. Maintaining youth workers and other social services is hardly false economy. Allowing decision-making to be shared with those affected and not just kept in the hands of those whose lives and circumstances may be limited but will not be devastated, will nurture a sense of responsibility and community.

Yes, I am a ‘glass half-full’ person. ‘Every man is my brother, every woman my sister, every child my child’ is not just a platitude; it must be the yardstick by which we live, accepting our own eternal nature and that of every living being.

Let us not brand a generation because of the actions of a very small minority. Perhaps August 2011 can be important as the beginning of a new chapter in British life, being the time when we start to re-evaluate our priorities and, in the words of John Lennon, ‘give peace a chance’.

Without entering the recent on-line discussion on ‘religion’ or ‘way of life’ (personally I don’t understand why Spiritualism cannot be both!) surely we all agree that Spiritualism should affect and influence every aspect of life, the ‘ordinary’ not just the so-called spiritual. If it doesn’t, then what point does it have? Spiritualism is not a one-day-a-week philosophy that deals only with my ‘spiritual’ nature. Spiritualist philosophy is reflected in my daily life, my politics, my morality, my values, my hopes, my ambitions – in everything.

Let us not damn these young people; let us roll up our sleeves and help them. Let us not condemn but offer the hand of friendship and companionship and be prepared to give wise counsel. Above all, let us not judge. ‘Unless we have worn their shoes…’ you know the rest.  In time each will judge him- or herself. Let us help them to learn from what they have done, decide not to make the same mistakes and then move on.

It’s called ‘Eternal Progression ’- and it is open to us all.

20 responses to “Anarchy on the streets? What can be learned from the August riots?

  1. Thomas Moger

    An excellent article and great credit to Mr Hopkins for tackling such a complex and important subject. So much has been said about the possible reasons for the dreadful rioting we saw earlier this month, but little has been said (well, I have read little) about our spiritual responsibility to show compassion, understanding and an inclusive attitude to those who were involved in the events of early August. The article is a timely reminder to live our beliefs, even when it is difficult and challenging.

  2. Peter Raggett

    In the west we are cursed with the dominance of the absurd belief of atonement and divine forgiveness of Christianity on the one hand for believers, and rampant materialism on the other for non believers who reject the absurdity of the major organised religions. Both are leading to disaster.

    In the east Islam dominates with the same flawed belief in divine forgiveness and competes with materialism with the same consequences.

    The personal responsibility taught by Spiritualism, Buddhism and Hinduism which should influence peoples actions for good does not get a look in. Result, mayhem in the streets and head scratching in Parliament. Those in charge of the country just don’t get it.

    • Annie Hollings

      You make a very valid point in your last paragraph Peter. Western society is dominated at conscious and unconscious levels by the doctrine of vicarious atonement. Tell the priest you’re sorry and he’ll tell you you’re forgiven. Presumably on the “forgive 70 times 7” theology, that cycle of “I’m sorry” and “You’re forgiven” can continue uninterrupted for a lifetime. And all is well, because someone else (so the doctrine runs) has carried the can for your sins – the complete antithesis of personal responsibility.

  3. I think it would be a marvellous idea if those athletes who competed in the 1948 Olympic Games, and who are still valid, were to lead the parade at the opening of next year’s Olympics.

    Those Games saw the coming together of the world’s nations in peaceful endeavour after the bloodiest of cruel wars in the history of humanity. Its significance then was of great importance, for all the athletes taking part had just lived through that fearful conflict, as had all those who watched.

    With today’s rush of the lemmings towards the ocean of financial gain, it might serve as a useful reminder that in those days there was no money involved, and the athletes who competed did so in the name of values for which the effort of accomplishment was its own reward.

    Something to reflect on for those of today’s youth whose energies we have recently seen mindlessly spent on destruction, seemingly for gain but in reality for lack of direction and the stabilising framework of intelligent discipline.

  4. thanks for reminding us that we are all connected. We are all responsible for the society we live in, and must work toward equality, fairness, and compassion. I was distressed to see what happened in the UK with the riots. There is another way. This past week in Canada has seen an outpouring of love and willingness to work for change, prompted by the death of Jack Layton, leader of New Democrats, Royal Opposition Leader in Parliament. Visit the New Democrat site and look up the State Funeral for Jack Layton. Be inspired by his manifesto for social democracy. Believe, and work for change. We can make our country and our world a better place.

  5. Lesley Harris

    There is lots of worthy stuff and good ideas in all the above, and yes by all means let us use the riots as a call to come together and try to reform society. But try telling Holocaust victims, or victims of Radovan Karadzic, or the families of victims of serial killers, or people with learning difficulties who are driven to suicide because the police won’t defend them against their tormentors, that evil does not exist. It does. It always has. It always will, in all the forms described in the previous posts. It has to be recognised that sometimes there are no extenuating circumstances for evil doers. If you look at history, it is a constant battle between good and evil, and sometimes you have to kick evil in the teeth to defeat it, and then take the wider holistic approach to try to prevent it happening again. One of the main jobs of a rightly applied religion or a philosophy of life is to deliver us from evil, in its widest sense.

    • Lesley’s comment on David’s excellent article raises an issue that other comments do not. Specifically, she maintains that evil exists. She also asserts that evil must be ‘kicked in the teeth’ in order to ‘defeat’ it. I would like to ask Lesley what she means by this. I assume she is referring to punishment of one kind or another.
      My own view is that every individual is on some level capable of good, by virtue of their inborn connection to the divine.This does not of course excuse behaviour which harms and damages others. It means only that the spark of divinity in each and every one of us must surely be susceptible to spiritual nourishment in some form.
      Members of my own family suffered grievously at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic. Their actions were undeniably appalling and lacking in any known definition of morality. But would I describe them as evil people? No, I would label them as zealots and fanatics who were utterly misguided, obsessional and blinded in their extreme, uncompromising nationalism.
      As a spiritualist I cannot subscribe to the concept of absolute evil. To do so would be to deny our most vital principle – that of eternal progression open to all. It would be to say that there are those who are simply beyond any form of help and guidance, even the divine.
      These are just my own views, but I would be very interested to read the opinions of others.

    • The recent Horizon programme ‘ Are You Good or Evil’ may have some relevance to this comment.
      It was mostly to do with psychopathy and the genetic and other markers for this.
      One of the researchers underwent the various tests to find out where he was on the scale, and was surprised to find he had every marker for psychopathy, he of course was not a murderer or otherwise a nasty character. His conclusion was that his particularly happy childhood had headed off his psychopathic potential. So to a large degree nurture can overcome inherited nature.
      Also of interest was the fact that many high flyers have psychopathic markers, but this seeming disadvantage has been channelled into more productive areas.
      Around 30% of us are estimated to be born with this potential for evil, but few if any go down the path to becoming so, and a lot depends on our environment and what we make of ourselves.
      Not every one has all the markers so this potential can be lesser or greater accordingly.

  6. If my understanding of Spiritualism is correct, then “good” and “evil” are labels we put on actions or people, perhaps as a way to avoid looking deeper into things. Every situation is an opportunity for learning and for growth, and every act of violence or theft has its own story, its own causes and consequences, which we are not privy to.

    How can you call someone an evil doer if in one moment of mindlessness they steal a televison, but the rest of their time is spent volunteering in a shelter for the homeless? If you start to label people with no thought of their individual circumstances then you risk becoming a part of a fixed belief system that offers no hope of growth or awareness.

    I rest content that no one can escape from being accountable for their actions, either in this world or the next, and I am very thankful that it’s not up to me to judge them. I’d rather work on fostering love and compassion for all life, it’s much more rewarding.

  7. Excellent article David, in the aftermath I placed some links to teh better newspaper articles whilst tpp many politicians seemed to be shouting for extreme action.

    What you have written is the type of material that should be coming out of Spiritualism in times such as these. It is what we say and promote which expresses the value of our philosophy. It is philosophy which must stand up not just the Mediumship.

  8. David Hopkins’ thoughtful article was very impressive in its coverage of the many different aspects of the recent riots, the background to them, and how the Spiritualist Movement’s Seven Principles could be applied to remedy the plight of the deprived young and not so young in England, rioters, looters, arsonists, and wielders of knives and guns. I wish it could be reprinted in one of the serious national newspapers. Also, I wonder if Spirit of PN has thought of asking one or more of the religious periodicals to comment on it? An outsider to Spiritualism myself, and from a Roman Catholic background, I wonder if (say) The Tablet or The Catholic Herald might be asked for views?

    Radio 4’s religious discussion programme (in seasons of six at a time on Monday afternoons, 4.30) is chaired always courteously and fair-mindedly by Ernie Rea. How about sending a copy of David Hopkins’ article to Mr Rea and asking him to bring together representatives in this country of various religious beliefs (and Mr Hopkins) to compare and contrast their suggestions on how to tackle the problems identified in Mr Hopkins’ article, each from his or her own ethical standpoint?

    Rightly or wrongly, I have the impression that the mass media have no idea that the Spiritualist Movement has (what seems to me) its own carefully-thought out code of ethics — or they prefer to regard Spiritualism as a convenient Aunt Sally, a handy target for cheap mockery.


  9. Mr David Hopkins’ point concerning the limitations of the principle of personal responsibility is crucial. He writes that ‘Personal Responsibility is of great importance but has its limitations. Growing up where violence is the norm, where carrying a knife is accepted or even expected, where drugs control actions and decisions, where deprivation is the standard endured, then is it surprising that those are the values inculcated in the young? Yes, anyone has the potential to rise above such situations but it almost always needs a catalyst.’
    In my view no philosophical principle or dogma can be absolute. It must always take account of circumstance. In the case quoted it is clear that where there has been little or no moral guidance, or education by example regarding right and wrong, available to an individual (particularly a child or young person), it is illogical and unrealistic to assume that such a person could imbibe those “virtues” from thin air. As David Hopkins says, a catalyst is needed in order to bring about a paradigm shift in mindset. Society in general and government in particular must rise to the challenge of educating (or re-educating?) those who through no fault of their own lack the tools to contemplate the effect of their actions on others.

  10. Giles Dawson

    David Hopkins article is commendable. We need much more Spiritualist comment on the huge range of issues facing 21st C society. It seems to me we are obsessed with messages from loved ones but care alarmingly little for the wider societal issues. I in no way mean to criticise those who are seeking urgent proof of their loved ones survival – that is an understandable concern following bereavement. I am talking about those of us who have had our proof and should now be turning our attention to the philosophical implications of the fact that we all live (and are all connected) eternally.

  11. I think the biggest problem that religion faces is ‘the problem of evil.’ If we define God, as Mr Hopkins does, as an ‘all-powerful and all-embracing being’ then it naturally raises a pivotal question: if God is all-powerful and all-embracing then why does He allow evil things to happen?

    Although one commentator has cited the Holocaust as a clear example of evil, which it is, I am still inclined to agree with Mr Hopkins and state that evil does not exist. However, this does not mean to say that evil action does not and cannot occur. Mr. Hopkins expressing the Augustinian notion that evil cannot originate from God, as it does not exist. Instead, evil occurs because of a privation of moral perfection. Augustine considers moral action to be determined by freewill, which is a psychological faculty of choice and volition. Indeed, freewill enables man to transcend the animal kingdom, as it transforms him into a morally responsible and self-determining agent. Augustine writes: what is so much in the power of the will than in the will itself. Consequently, as man has the freedom to choose how to act, the onus, in terms on moral responsibility, is on him.

    Moreover, Augustine argues that as God created the world out of nothing He has complete control over His creation. As such, something can only limit God if He chooses to create something that will limit Him. Secondly, as ‘God created man in His own image’ (Gen 1:27), and God is good then it follows that evil cannot be a positive force in the world as it is contrary to God’s nature. Instead, Augustine considers freewill to be innately good, he writes: ‘a will by which we seek to live rightly and honorably.’ Despite this, God bestowed freewill upon humanity to preserve man’s freedom. Therefore, although freewill is innately good because it comes from God, one’s actions can be either good or evil. However, this also implies that God cannot intervene in matters of moral action, as to do so would deprive man of his freedom.
    That being said, Augustine defines evil as a ‘privation of some feature in a being which he ought to possess fully. Privation occurs because when an evil act is committed by man it changes man’s nature.

    The principle of ‘Personal Responsibility’ alludes to the Augustinian notion of freewill. The presence of freewill becomes more explicit when one considers it in conjunction with the Principle, ‘Compensation and Retribution Hereafter For All the Good and Evil Deeds Done On Earth,’ which creates a correlation between one’s actions and one’s post-mortem experience. Therefore, implicit within the notion of ‘Personal Responsibility’ is the notion of ‘freedom of action,’ especially if one’s actions directly affect the ‘sphere’ one enters upon death.

    However, it is the nature of the responsibility attached to freewill, which differentiates the Catholic and Spiritualist worldview. Undoubtedly, in both teachings the onus of responsibility rests on the individual. Nevertheless, in Catholicism the reason one must confess and repent is because sin is contrary to God’s nature, which therefore displeases Him. The act of confession is therefore to ‘ [acknowledge] and praise … the holiness of God and … his mercy towards sinful [men].’

    Conversely, Spiritualists believe that God has a nonjudgmental role. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes: ‘when you die it is on your own spiritual development at that moment that you take your place in the next world.’ Spiritualism therefore places emphasis on the Augustinian notion that sin changes man’s nature and deprives it of goodness, rather than sin being displeasing to God. Harry Boddington, a noted Spiritualist, alludes to this by stating that one’s mental state ‘carries it owner to scenes and conditions’ in the afterlife.

    it therefore appears that the Catholic considers his admittance into ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ as a reflection of his relationship with God: he has either earned the grace of God or not. However, for the Spiritualist, his place in the ‘spirit world’ is a reflection of his own divine nature and the ‘goodness’ of his soul, which is achieved through the nature of his actions.

  12. Sorry Andrew I got lost in the theological aspects of your argument in relation to the original piece by David. I understand that you are addressing the concept of evil. However there are many strands of both Christianity and of other Great Religions in which this idea must be placed into context rather than just the Augustinian and Catholic traditions.

    In my opinion the problem with including these in a debate about Spiritualism is that it drags Spiritualism too close to the precipice that is called Theology or mans interpretation of Religion.

    What i liked about David’s article is that it went away from theology into using our philosophy in a practical way, to contrast with modern events. Thereby suggesting a way it could become live and relevant to the world. Like david, as a Spiritualist I believe evil like hell is man made, a construct of our physical life and the personality we become.

    I do not believe, in my heart, that the World needs another Church and Minister based religion, which by nature may then risk becoming another Theocracy, to replace the existing Christianity. It does, however, need a live and vibrant philosophy related to modern life which can be driven by the underpinning of great evidential Mediumship.


  13. In the first instance, I was not actually replying to the article itself, but a comment left on another thread. I was merely trying to explain the origins of David’s argument. If one says that Spiritualist teachings have not been influenced by Christianity, and in particular Catholicism, which monopolised the religious landscape for some 1600 years in England, then one is either naive or misinformed. Furthermore, every single Christian sect, which is the majority religion in the UK, is based on Catholic teachings. This must be so because these sects broke away from Catholicism during the Reformation. Indeed, nearly all of the values which is upheld within our society – the notions of guilt, justice, charity, compassion, equality and family – are Catholic ideals.

    Secondly, although we categorise all of our teachings under the term ‘Spiritualist Philosophy,’ as Spiritualists, we have to acknowledge that if we apply the definition of philosophy correctly, then many aspects of our teaching do not fall into the category of ‘philosophy’ at all, and should be termed ‘Spiritualist Theology.’ I think it is safe to use Bertrand Russell’s definition of philosophy as his work, The History of Western Philosophy, is the only comprehensive work that has never been challenged to date, including his definition.

    Bertrand Russell defines philosophy as the intermediate between Science and Theology. Philosophy must therefore attempt to answer questions that cannot be proven (if they could be proven they would be categorised as Science), whilst adopting a rational, scientific approach as the cornerstone of its argument. In philosophy this term is taken broadly to include aspects of logic, reason and experience.

    Spiritualism deems the phenomenon produced through mediumship as its science and rational. Therefore only aspects of our teachings that can be proven directly through mediumship can be deemed to be philosophical, in the strictest sense of the word. As such, anything which goes beyond what mediumship can directly prove must, by definition, be considered Theological. If one therefore reads David’s article, many of the points discussed are actually theological in nature. For instance, our First Principle ‘The Fatherhood of God’ is actually a theological concept. Although mediumship proves that consciousness and intelligence survives physical death, it does not, strictly speaking, prove the existence of God. What’s more, the very term ‘Fatherhood of God’ is Catholic in origin, and Augustine himself describes the relationship between God and man as Father and child in his’ Confessions.’

    Moreover, although many of the controls, through trance mediumship, acknowledge a God, they also acknowledge that they have never experienced God. You only have to read ‘Spirit Teachings’ by Stainton Moses, or Silver Birch to discover this fact. Our First principle, in the strictest sense of the word, cannot be considered to be philosophical, as it is by its very nature theological, as mediumship has not directly proven the existence of God, only a Spirit World.

    Consequently, to criticise an argument based on the fact it leads our ‘philosophy’ “too close to the precipice that is called Theology or mans interpretation of Religion,” appears absurd because aspects of our teachings are theological in nature. Moreover, if we class ourself as a free-thinking religion, our very teachings are open to man’s interpretation.

    The readers argument alludes to the notion that Spiritualist philosophy comes directly from the spirit world, and it doesn’t. The very nature of mental mediumship, regardless of how good the medium is, results in part of the information being coloured by the mediums own mind: prejudices, religion beliefs (which in the main would have been Christian) and experiences. Furthermore, one also has to acknowledge that some information obtained through physical phenomena, which has become part of mainstream Spiritualist teachings, may have been copied down incorrectly, mis-interpretated by the sitters, taken out of context, or completely misunderstood. We cannot be arrogant enough to believe that none of our teachings have been altered, or that interpolation has not occurred.

    Whilst one may think that my comments are trivialising or intellectualising Spiritualism, which takes away from its practical application, if one is to critically engage with Spiritualist teachings then it cannot be considered in either a purely practical or purely intellectual way. Instead, a balanced approach needs to be adopted. However, to suggest that all aspects of theology are invalid, or that theological writing is not inspired from the spirit world, is ridiculous. What is to say that Augustine, or any of the early Church Fathers, were not inspired by the spirit world whilst writing their works. For instance, it appears obvious to me that Augustine’s notion of ‘Freewill’ and the Spiritualist notion of ‘Personal Responsibility’ is one and the same thing. indeed, the only difference is that Spiritualists consider an evil action to change the nature of oneself, whilst the Catholics consider it to change their relationship with God. As such, if one does not point out these differences it does not inform people of the differences between the teachings of Spiritualism and other world religions, which is important if one is to understand the very nature of Spiritualism itself.

    Spiritualism teachings are not original. Our notion of God and the soul is Platonic in nature; our notion of personal responsibility is Augustinian in nature, and so on. The only difference between Spiritualism and other world religions is that the BASIS of our religion is founded on evidence, and not faith, which is a radical and monumental difference. However, this does not translate to the conception that our teachings are purely philosophical becuase they are not. unfortunately our teaching have always spilled over into ‘the precipice that is called Theology.’

  14. Peter Raggett


    I think your posting highlights what a number of people feel is wrong with the SNU. The existing seven principles lend themselves too much to yet another supernatural monotheistic type religion. They are too goddy and traditional religion orientated. If the SNU had adopted the alternative principles suggested by Arthur Findlay it would lend itself to a more scientific based philosophy. His suggestion was.

    1 The Universe is governed by mind, commonly called God. All we have sensed, do sense or will sense is Mind expressing itself in some form or another.
    2 The existence and identity of the individual continues after the change called death.
    3 Communication, under suitable conditions, takes place between us here on Earth and the inhabitants of Etheria (spirit), into which we shall pass at death.
    4 Our conduct must be guided by the golden rule first proclaimed by Confucius, of doing to others what we would wish to be done to ourselves.
    5 Each individual is their own saviour, and we cannot look to someone else to bear our sins and suffer for our mistakes.
    6 Each individual reaps as s/he sows, and we make our happiness or unhappiness just as we harmonise with our surroundings. Each one gravitates naturally to the place in Etheria (spirit) in harmony with his or her desires, as there desires are gratified more easily than here on earth.
    7 The path of progress is never closed, and there is no known end to the advancement of the individual.

    If these principles had been adopted then the comparisons you make with the Abrahamic religions would not be so easy to make.

    You mention Silver Birch. While he would have been using the language and tone of generally accepted belief of the times regarding creation, he did say. “The Great Spirit is infinite, and you are parts of the Great Spirit.” This would fit with Arthur Findlay’s principles.

    What people commonly call god is our collective consciousness and is internal, not external. Jesus is reported to have said that the kingdom of god is within but the Abrahamic religions seem to largely ignore this. The Abrahamic religions portray their god as an external egocentric vengeful emperor like being, so are not compatible with Findlay’s ideas which sadly do not seem to have been adopted by the organisation that occupies the building he bequeathed to them.

  15. Peter, the difference between the ‘Fatherhood of God’ and the ‘The Universe is governed by mind, commonly called God,’ is, in my opinion, a matter of semantics. The existence of the Spirit World does not prove that the Universe is governed by mind; it just proves that the Spirit World exists. The word govern suggests: to control the actions or behavior of something.

    After having given this significant thought, any argument I can think of that tries to explain how mind can control the behaviour of the universe, using mediumship as the cornerstone of its argument, results in me having to make jumps in thought that fall outside of what mediumship can directly prove. As such, using the definition of philosophy, which I have already provided, results in the same sorts of problems occurring. However, if you can come up with an argument on how mind governs the universe, using premises that are entirely based on what mediumship can prove, then please let me know, as I would like to discuss this with you further.

    My point is a simple one; it is impossible for one living within a Western society to not take on board Christian ideas. In fact I have just scanned through Findlay’s principles and I can identify many Christian concepts within them. For instance:

    1) ‘Each individual reaps as s/he sows.’ This idea is taken directly from a quote from, 2 Corinthians 9:6: ‘Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’

    2) ‘Our conduct must be guided by the golden rule first proclaimed by Confucius, of doing to others what we would wish to be done to ourselves.’ Although Confucius comes before Christ, it is obviously a central theme within Christianity. This is because this idea was not only propounded by Confucius, but also Pittacus and Thales, in Greece. Anybody, who has any understanding of Religious History, will tell you that aspects of Greek philosophy were assimilated into Christian teachings, hence why this has also formed the backbone of our justice system. He may have cited Confucius rather than Thales to try and align his ideas with Eastern rather than Western philosophy and Christianity, but the fact is that Thales propounded this notion first, as he was born some 100 years before. However, I do not know enough about chinese philosophy to know if its practical application was any different from the Greeks. However, I do suspect that there will be similarities in its application to politics etc.

    This point alone shows us that religious traditions are merely amplifications of what goes on before, and therefore one must acknowledge that certain aspects of Christianity are undoubtedly, and unavoidably, going to be engrained within Spiritualist teachings.

    3) Each one gravitates naturally to the place in Etheria (spirit) in harmony with his or her desires, as there desires are gratified more easily than here on earth. This idea of desires within one’s soul are definitely Platonic in nature. Again, this idea was also assimilated by Christianity (Jesus’ temptations within the desert attempts to explain this notion.)

    My point is that even Atheists are still upholding Christian values because Christian values underpin our justice system, our family ideals etc. etc. I think it is therefore important to understand where the origins of our teachings lie, and admit that they are influenced by ideas that have gone before. However, the key is to then identify those fundamental differences between our teachings, as it is these differences which make Spiritualism unique. From my study, Spiritualism differs from any other teaching in three ways:

    1) the basis of our teachings are based on evidence and not faith, thus making us a rational religion

    2) the notion of personal responsibility; our actions change the nature of our own soul, and not our relationship to God. Our actions have a direct consequence upon our condition in the afterlife.

    3) Continual spiritual progression, which implies the notion of universal salvation.

    These points are already implicit within the seven principles as we know them. However, to say that Findlay’s principles are less ‘Goddy’ baffles me, as he uses certain Biblical imagery throughout his principles as well; Reap and sow being a major example of this. It is therefore very easy to also find the origins of Findlay’s principles to be enshrouded in Christian imagery and language. Indeed, the only differences are that the ones that I have already outlined above, and these are also implicit within the Seven Principles

    Anybody that does try to completely secularise, or claim that Spiritualism is completely distinct from, and uninfluenced by, other world religions, will run into problems; EVERY value, moral code, ethical framework and philosophical system upholds certain values that the Abrahamic faiths propound. But we also have to acknowledge that they too have these same debates about how to interpret and present their religions as well.

  16. I will reenter teh debate about this when I have time but I sense that maybe we should be holding this on a different thread. I think this is a very worthwhile discussion but has little to do with anarchy on the streets and the practical application of Spiritualism in modern life. As Andrew himself said “In the first instance, I was not actually replying to the article itself, but a comment left on another thread.”

    It is interesting that teh debate is focusing purely on a UK based version of teh principles. Now when you look at the way the principles developed the earliest forms were in America. I dug about a fair amount on this and an early version of teh information I found can be seen here

    I have an awful lot more about this available now as the development of the Principles of Spiritualism and the way they came into existence is a topic I enjoy following. Indeed many Spiritualists rejected totally teh adoption of any Principles because they felt it would create a new Church.

    One of the important things about the thread I haev given a link to is it gives some idea of how Andrew Jackson Davis influenced American Spiritualism. This can clearly be seen through the words of his 1851 Declaration of Independence for the Harmonial Brotherhood. In the principles stated therein we see the beginnings of our own versions especially of what are now the USA’s 9 Principles.

    We believe in Infinite Intelligence.

    We believe that the phenomena of Nature, both physical and spiritual, are the expression of Infinite Intelligence.

    We affirm that a correct understanding of such expression and living in accordance therewith, constitute true religion.

    We affirm that the existence and personal identity of the individual continue after the change called death.

    We affirm that communication with the so-called dead is a fact, scientifically proven by the phenomena of Spiritualism.

    We believe that the highest morality is contained in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    We affirm the moral responsibility of individuals, and that we make our own happiness or unhappiness as we obey or disobey Nature’s physical and spiritual laws.

    We affirm that the doorway to reformation is never closed against any soul here or hereafter.

    We affirm that the precepts of Prophecy and Healing are Divine attributes proven through Mediumship.

    Once again we see the removal of the Fathergood of God, as Andrew says it may be playing “semantics” but of course AJ Davis was a follower of Swedenborg’s New Church, maybe a spring off from Christianity but far removed from the Catholic tradition. Indeed it was the free flowing Religous ideas of New York States “Burned Over District”, which saw the creation of the Mormon Church, 7th Day Adventists and Christian Scientists, which provided the fertile ground for Spiritualism to take root.

    Obviously I agree with Andrew that we are, by dictionary definition, a Religion because we cannot prove the existence of God. However what I do not want us to become is like a traditional Religion where the Council of Ministers, or a Philosophy Committee instruct us in the Minutiae of what we should think and do. Yes we need to preserve the religion (small r), Philosophy, Truth ( which means much work to improve Mediumship) and we need to bring back the word Science by re engaging with Research. That means we cannot add freely whatever new ideas come along but we must be open enough to test them.


  17. Peter Raggett

    You raise some interesting points. I agree Christianity has influenced virtually every way of thinking in the western world because it was all pervasive. It therefore follows that people would naturally use some of its terminology when formulating their opinions about new discoveries relating to survival. It cannot be denied.

    Findlay, in his book The Curse of Ignorance, said that it was necessary to tear down the old citadel in order to construct something better in its place. That’s why he was so scathing of Christianity. He described the revelation religions as a curse and set about intellectually destroying them along with their idea of a supernatural deity.

    Although coming from a strict Christian background which would have influenced his thoughts and vocabulary, Findlay was ahead of his time in his thinking but in order to keep his audience on side he would have been mindful of not being too radical in his language as to alienate people. He was most definitely for the scientific approach. Its very likely that he was aware of the thoughts of the physicist Max Plank who said.

    “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” The Observer (January 25th, 1931)

    I never intended to suggest that mediumship alone could give us all the answers, though theoretically I suppose it should be able to. There are many sources of information such as NDEs, OBEs, regression therapy, REM therapy etc.

    Mind, or consciousness, at its most basic is the ability to understand, retain and process information. If you delve into the world of quantum physics (the very basic principles in my case!) you will find that a number of physicists are agreeing that consciousness is the fundamental reality and are producing credible theories, although they are facing fierce opposition from the traditional materialists. They have reached similar conclusions to some Spiritualists but by a totally different route. Some scientists are saying the universe is just information or like a big thought or dream. There is nothing solid there, only probabilities. Prof Hagelin calls it pure abstraction.

    Just like Silver Birch said (and some physicists using different language) Spirit [or consciousness/mind] is master and matter the servant. Have a look at these videos featuring the nuclear physicist John Hagelin regarding consciousness. Incidentally he acknowledges that some of the principals go right back to the Hindu Vedas, many thousands of years before Christianity was even conceived. I think Spiritualist thought also agrees with many of these principals not because they copied them but because they are derived from the same source, altered states of consciousness.

    If Spiritualism had adopted Findlay’s principles it would have laid the foundation for science and progress rather than religion and stagnation.

    Many of us feel that Spiritualism should have gone down the scientific path rather than the religious path and indeed scientists are gradually taking over control when it comes to research of the paranormal and survival. Scientists such as Tom Campbell, John Hagelin, Fred Alan Wolfe, Dean Radin, Gary Schwartz, Rupert Sheldrake and scientific establishments like the Windbridge Institute are investigating the paranormal and altered states of consciousness totally devoid of any hint of religion or the supernatural. I think only Schwartz and the Windbridge Institute use mediums.

    One final thought. An important feature you omitted that makes Spiritualism very distinct from the major organised religions is that its revelations have never been used to organise persecution or harm of any one, and as far as I know, are totally incapable of being interpreted in a violent way. Heresy and blasphemy simply do not exist.

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