…Little I’d ever teach a son, but hitting, shooting, war, hunting, all the arts of hurting…

Wilfred Owen – A Terre

My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

Thomas Paine – Rights of Man

Watching the distressing events in Mumbai, I wonder at what point a spiritual path embraces the ‘arts of hurting’ and why? The blurring between the spiritual and the political, between ideology and religion is a complex and potentially alarming issue.

For myself, I am pleased to live in a secular society that gives me the freedom to follow the spiritual path of my choice. I feel comfortable with the notion that there are many paths to God, and uncomfortable with the marrying of state and faith. Having said this, I also recognise that my own personal politics help to shape the way I view my spirituality and vice versa; they are interwoven. For instance, my understanding of our current climate crisis and economic problems is that they are rooted in the dominant ideology of the west (i.e. free market Capitalism); I am uncomfortable with the way Democracy and Capitalism are lumped together as if inseparable; my politics are liberal and green, and as such feed into my Pagan spiritual path very easily (as I understand it). However, I am also aware that, despite my misgivings, I am a part of the problem, benefiting from the troubling ideology that is shaping my culture’s identity. Because of all this, the world appears a complex and paradoxical place, all the old certainties having become inadequate anchors. There is much in my spirituality that I feel the world could benefit from, but I have no desire to evangelise, feeling that a sharing of ideas is more productive than a wholesale take-over bid. Fundamentalism frightens me.

Perhaps the world has always been a choppy sea, and we rudderless. It is easy to see how tempting it is to yearn for solid ground; fundamentalist beliefs – whether religious or political – suggest that we are in control; we might assume that such rigid certainties are a magical shield against our deepest fears of social or personal disintegration. There is a comforting simplicity in fundamentalism: no grey areas to complicate decision making; no troubling pluralism to challenge our sense of self, our sense of rightness.  Taken to its extreme, it makes killing easier and justifiable. Maiming and murdering in the name of God or ideology is not a modern phenomenon.   

It is not only the senseless taking of innocent life to assert an ideological or religious stance that disturbs me. The radicalisation of young Muslim men has exploited the glorification of martyrdom as its prime weapon; shadowy (and presumably older) characters persuading and training a generation of young men to sacrifice their lives, whilst maintaining their own. This sounds depressingly familiar; history is full of old men sending the young to violent ends. It appears to me an abominable distortion to take youth, with all its associated idealism and anger at social injustice, and twist it into an instrument of death, when it should be a vehicle for hope and transformation.  And yet, of all the potential young men and women who might be radicalised, not all are. So what is happening here? Why do some succumb to darker interpretations of their faith? Behind the wider, complex and often baffling political, social and religious dynamics lie the equally complex and baffling psyches of individuals. When the personal collides with the political, there is always the danger that unresolved personal issues become grafted onto collective problems; the lines blur between our own inner pain and societal anguish; what appears to be a political battle might actually be a personal one externalised. Add all this to the fear of an uncertain and ever changing world and things get truly disturbing and murky.

I feel so extraordinarily inadequate in my grasp of what a solution might be; I am not even sure I understand the causes clearly. It is a poor truism to say that it is a tragic and deeply worrying situation that we face. My own stumbling thoughts urge me to strive for an embracing of the uncertainty that grips our world at present. Rigidly trying to uphold the status quo because we are afraid of what change might demand of us, can lead to yet more fundamentalist thinking. Humanity has to resist trying to find safety in unbending certainty. No one is safe in a fundamentalist world, no matter what the dominant ideology or religion; when there is no room for difference we are all at threat. We have to stay open and willing to find solutions that bring understanding and healing; surely this is a great part of what a spiritual journey should be about? Our spiritual paths are a tool to gain access to Spirit/God; we should not confuse them with Spirit itself. If we allow our search for God, or justice for that matter, to divide us or cause pain and havoc, then that search will have diminished our humanity, and when that happens, we are truly lost. Tom Paine’s quote–although he wouldn’t have had much truck with the search for the Divine- is a sentiment worth working towards.






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