Skeptical Theism New Essays On The Great Reviews & Guide

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson has a very interesting piece this week on what he calls of Western liberalism — in which low birth rates slow growth and create a pressing need for new immigrants, which in turn feeds xenophobia and leads to a decline in support for the welfare state, which leads to stratification, further discontent and an authoritarian turn, which presumably slows growth further, etc., etc., until liberalism goes kaput. It’s an argument that dovetails with , but not surprisingly I think it’s limited somewhat by Thompson’s own assumptions, which I’ll push back against gently here.

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What the real experts in the field of New Testament scholarship and first century history agree on, and a short commentary on the currently popular phenomenon of conjectural skepticism.

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Now, if long natural experience has made wise the man, these objects lose their power to attract, and the first tendency then is to cease from effort; but that would mean stagnation. When the objects of the world are becoming a little less valuable than they were, then is the time to look for some new motive, and the motive to action for the spiritual life is, first, to perform action because it is duty, and not in order to gain the personal reward that it may bring. Let me take the case of a man of the world and a spiritual man, and see what it needs to turn one into the other. I take one in which you will not question that he is a man of the world, a man who is making some enormous fortune, who puts before himself as the one object of life money, to be rich. It is a common thing. Now, for a moment, pause on the life of the man who has determined to be rich. Everything is subordinated to that one aim. He must be master of his body, for if that body is his master he will waste with every week and month the money that he has gathered by struggle; he will waste in luxury for the pleasing of the body the money that he ought to grip, in order that he may win more. And so the first thing that a man must do is to master the body, to teach it to endure hardness, to learn to bear frugality, to learn to bear hardship even; not to think whether he wants to sleep, if by traveling all night a contract can be gained; not to stop to ask whether he shall rest if, by going to some party at midnight, he can make a friend who will enable him to gain more money by his influence. Over and over again in the struggle for gold the man must be master of this outer body that he wears, until it has no voice in determining his line of activity - it yields itself obedient servant to the dominant will, to the compelling brain. That is the first thing he learns - conquest of the body.

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These alternations of happiness and depression are primarily manifestations of that law of periodicity, or law of rhythm, which guides the universe. Night and day alternate in the physical life of man as do happiness and depression in his emotional life. As the ebb and flow in the ocean, so are the ebb and flow in human feelings. There are tides in the human heart as in the affairs of men and as in the sea. Joy follows sorrow and sorrow follows joy, as surely as death follows birth and birth death. That this is so is not only a theory of a law, but it is also a fact to which witness is borne by all who have gained experience in the spiritual life. In the famous it is said that comfort and sorrow thus alternate, and “this is nothing new nor strange unto them that have experience in the way of God; for the great saints and ancient prophets had oftentimes experience of such kind of vicissitudes. …If great saints were so dealt with, we that are weak and poor ought not to despair if we be sometimes hot and sometimes cold. … I never found any so religious and devout, that he had not sometimes a withdrawing of grace or felt not some decrease of zeal” (Bk. II. ix. 4, 5, 7.). This alternation of states being recognised as the result of a general law, a special manifestation of a universal principle, it becomes possible for us to utilise this knowledge both as a warning and an encouragement. We may be passing through a period of great spiritual illumination, when all seems to be easy of accomplishment, when the glow of devotion sheds its glory over life, and when the peace of sure insight is ours. Such a condition is often one of considerable danger, its very happiness lulling us into a careless security, and forcing into growth any remaining germs of the lower nature. At such moments the recalling of past periods of gloom is often useful, so that happiness may not become elation, nor enjoyment lead to attachment to pleasure; balancing the present joy by the memory of past trouble and the calm prevision of trouble yet to come, we reach equilibrium and find a middle point of rest; we can then gain all the advantages that accrue from seizing a favourable opportunity for progress without risking a slip backwards from premature triumph. When the night comes down and all the life has ebbed away, when we find ourselves cold and indifferent, caring for nothing that had erst attracted us, then, knowing the law, we can quietly say: “This also will pass in its turn, light and life must come back, and the old love will again glow warmly forth.” We refuse to be unduly depressed in the gloom, as we refused to be unduly elated in the light; we balance one experience against the other, removing the thorn of present pain by the memory of past joy and the foretaste of joy in the future; we learn in happiness to remember sorrow and in sorrow to remember happiness, till neither the one nor the other can shake the steady foothold of the soul. Thus we begin to rise above the lower stages of consciousness in which we are flung from one extreme to the other, and to gain the equilibrium which is called yoga. Thus the existence of the law becomes to us not a theory but a conviction, and we gradually learn something of the peace of the Self.

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We may now understand how sorrow ariseth. A soul seeks beauty, and finds a beautiful form; it unites itself to the form, rejoices over it; the form perishes and a void is left. A soul seeks love, and it finds a lovable form; it unites itself to the form and joys in it; the form perishes and the heart lies desolate. And this is the experience in its least sorrowful shape; far more grievous is the sad satiety of possession, the wearied relinquishment of a prize so hardly won. Disillusion treading on the heels of disillusion, and yet ever fresh illusion and ever renewed disgust.

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For mind you, on this Path of Devotion there is no help given to the individual as individual; it is only given to him by the Great Ones beyond him if in his turn he passes it on to others. His claim to be helped is that he is always helping, and that therefore a gift to him as individual is a gift that in very truth is given to every one that needs. And then as his eyes become clearer, and he recognises these many grades of Spiritual Intelligences, he will realise that there are some of them embodied around him; and by recognising those that are embodied around him but are greater than himself, he will be able to climb upward step by step until he will see the yet greater Ones beyond these; and then having reached Them, the greater, that are still beyond. For in this path of spiritual progress by way of devotion, every step opens up new horizons, and every clearing of the spiritual vision makes it pierce more deeply into that intensity of Light in which the highest Spiritual Intelligences are shrouded from the eyes of the flesh and of the intellect. And so the Soul who is in him, the Soul of the devotee, will gladly recognise all human excellence around him, will love and admire that excellence wherever he finds it ; he will, in fact, to use a word which many scoff at - he will be a hero-worshipper, not as seeing no fault in those whom he admires, but as seeing most the good in them and loving that, and letting the recognition of the good overbear the criticism of the fault: loving and serving them for what they are to man, and throwing the mantle of charity over the faults which they may commit in their service. And as he sees and recognises this in those around him, he will come into touch with higher Disciples than those, who move most commonly in the world of men - those who have reached a little farther, those who have seen a little deeper. Spirits that are gradually burning up all ignorance and all selfishness, and who are in direct touch with Those Whom we call the Great Masters, the members of the great White Lodge; and then he will love and serve them if opportunity should offer, love and serve them to the utmost of his ability, knowing that all such service purifies himself as well as helps the world, and makes him more and more a channel for the energies which he desires to spread amongst those with less vision than himself. And then, after a while, through these into touch with the Masters Themselves, with those highest and mightiest embodiments of Humanity, high above us in Their spiritual purity, in Their spiritual wisdom, in Their perfect selflessness, high as though They were Gods in comparison with the lower Humanity, because every sheath in Them is translucent, and the Light of the Spirit shines through unchecked; not differing from men in Their essence, but differing from men in Their evolution. For the sheaths in us shroud the Light within us, while the sheaths with Them are pure, and the unsullied light shines through unchecked; and They it is who will help and guide and teach, when man has risen to Their Feet by this Path of Devotion that I have spoken of; and the touch with Them is the going forward on the Path of Spiritual Know­ledge, for without this devotion the further heights may not be won.