My Friend Mycroft, Part One: Spiritual Exploration

My Friend Mycroft, Part One: Spiritual Exploration

Mycroft_Holmes
Mycroft Holmes

Once upon a time, I had a forum friend who called himself Mycroft (a reference to Sherlock’s allegedly smarter older brother). He was an atheist (still is as far as I know) and we spent pleasurable hours discussing belief, certitude, faith, reason and other subjects of interest to both of us.

Well, at least I found the discourse pleasurable. I’m pretty sure Mycroft found it frustrating at times because I refused to “color inside the lines” of religion that he was accustomed to.

One day Mycroft asked me: “So, is there a specific religious way of exploring reality?”

What a fascinating question. Given the context in which it was set, Mycroft was asking how exploration and faith integrated or coexisted. Obviously, the definition of faith (or anything else) depends on what dictionary you use. The Oxford defines faith thusly:

1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something. 2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. 

• a system of religious belief 

  • a strongly held belief or theory 

The operative meaning of “apprehension” is to understand or grasp. There is nothing in the Oxford definition that restricts the faithful to believing something for which there is no proof, nor is the mechanism for “spiritual apprehension” defined.

I would say there are as many different ways of spiritual exploration as there are scientific ones. I’m not even sure I could state positively that scientific methods relied less on intuition than spiritual ones do. Science, after all, is the realm in which people like Einstein have “aha!” or “Eureka!” moments that catalyze their exploration of a particular aspect of reality. I think the difference between scientific and spiritual exploration lies, in part, in what sort of evidence the explorer accepts as valid.

After opining that faith through reason is not really faith at all, since faith must necessarily be blind to reason, Mycroft said: “So, if a believer concedes that he can’t hold some part of the belief system for true, he’s not a believer…”

How so, I asked. Why wouldn’t the response be (as in a scientific process) “I don’t know exactly how that works. Let’s keep exploring.”  I can accept as fact that God created the universe(s) (which Bahá’u’lláh describes metaphorically as “He said BE, and it was,”) yet say, I don’t know exactly what mechanisms went into that happening. That’s the province of science which is, according to the scriptures of my Faith, a tool for discovery that is as much a product of God’s operation as spirituality.

“Scientific knowledge is the highest attainment upon the human plane, for science is the discoverer of realities. It is of two kinds: material and spiritual. Material science is the investigation of natural phenomena; divine science is the discovery and realization of spiritual verities. The world of humanity must acquire both. A bird has two wings; it cannot fly with one. Material and spiritual science are the two wings of human uplift and attainment. Both are necessary…” — Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 138 (23 May 1912, Cambridge, MA) 

And again:

“The virtues of humanity are many but science is the most noble of them all. The distinction which man enjoys above and beyond the station of the animal is due to this paramount virtue. It is a bestowal of God; it is not material, it is divine. Science is an effulgence of the Sun of Reality, the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe, the means by which man finds a pathway to God”.—Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 112

Higgs, Baby!Yes, Abdu’l-Bahá actually said that—science is divine. Frankly, the dichotomy between science and religion and their respective processes of exploration seems artificial to me for I can also say, “I believe that love really can destroy hatred,” admit to not understanding the mechanism by which that occurs and resolve to explore it. That is not, perhaps, the province of science, but it’s still a worthy study. 

Looking at it another way, one can do rigorous, rational exploration of spiritual human reality or one can indulge in superstitious dogma. Likewise, one can do rigorous, rationally sound exploration of physical human reality or one can indulge in pseudo-scientific “beliefs”.

Next time: My friend Mycroft on Science as savior

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7 thoughts on “My Friend Mycroft, Part One: Spiritual Exploration

  1. Do you really believe that love can destroy hatred? Do you mean always, or just occasionally?

    If you mean always, you would be like my father, he was a pacifist and he believed that deep down all people are really basically good. My mom did not agree, and I agreed on this with my mom rather than my dad. So one day I was discussing Hitler and WWII with my father. He said if people had just shown enough love to Hitler, he would have been a nice guy, not killing people, not invading and conquering countries. I was amazed at that naivete. I should have told him that at the Munich conference in 1938, prime minister Chamberlain of Britain and Daladier, of France, showed plenty of love to Hitler, even gave him all Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, without asking the Czechoslovak government, and Hitler reciprocated that love, even promised he would have no further territorial demands. Well, we saw how that turned out. Later, Stalin showed love to Hitler, they signed the agreement to divide up Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe between them, and then later Hitler launched that invasion of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Stalin of course was a psychopath too, but still, the fact is he showed love to Hitler, even though he in reality did not love anyone.

    Pacifism is just a foolish idea, you can’t deal with psychopaths by pacifism and showing them love. The fact that the Baha’i faith recommends being a conscious objector, was a major reason why I decided that it is the wrong faith.

    1. Love can destroy hatred. I’ve experienced it first hand over and over in my life and seen it played out in the lives of others.

      How do you propose that hatred should cause hatred to cease? It can’t. It only perpetuates itself. Thus we see situations such as in Bosnia, Palestine, etc. We see the racism of the KKK that only fights back against reciprocal hatred from non-“whites”.

      I know of at least one instance in which a leader in the KKK got to know and became friends with a black man (they were godfathers to each other kids) and eventually left the organization. I have repeatedly turned enemies into friends by practicing the Golden Rule and treating the with kindness while they heaped abuse on me.

      It takes time, of course. So, patience is necessary. When Abdu’l-Bahá was living in Akka, he took it upon himself to care for an old Muslim man whose own family found his disease so loathsome that they abandoned him. Abdu’l-Bahá visited him, bathed him, fed him, changed and cleaned his clothing and bed clothes. Through it all, the man cursed him (for Bahá’ís were considered apostate Muslims) and spat upon him. The Master kept tending this man for 24 years. Finally, the old man relented and realized that this Bahá’í was the person who loved him best in the world and learned to love Abdu’l-Bahá in turn.

      I think part of the problem here is that when I say love or Abdu’l-Bahá says it, you interpret it differently. Stalin did not love Hitler or show him love. His manipulation was political and materialist, not love. Still, the principle can work itself out between nations. For example, I am very happy to see the US in talks with Iran, because you cannot turn an enemy into a friend without dialogue and without understanding what motivates them.

      Again, the Bahá’í Faith does NOT teach that we should be conscientious objectors. We are not pacifists. We teach peace. There’s a difference.

      1. Of course sometimes love can destroy hatred, in case the hating person has some conscience and compassion. But if he is a psychopath, like Hitler or Stalin, if we show love to such a person, he will just take advantage of us. So love cannot always destroy hatred.
        Concerning conscientious objection, I have read in the book The Babi and Baha’i Religions, by Peter Smith, published in 1987, this: “The policy laid down by Shoghi Effendi during the 1930s was that as Baha’is were obedient to governments and were not absolute pacifists they should accept enlistment, but apply, where possible, for non-combatant status, regardless of whether this exposed them to any physical danger. Where non-combatant status was not available, Baha’is were bidden to obey the instructions of their governments, although in the last analysis, ‘it is for each believer, under pain of his own conscience, to determine for himself what his actions should be’. By these standards, whilst voluntary enlistment was unacceptable, the Baha’is clearly distanced themselves from any perceived pacifist orientation.” This is on page 147 of his book. Obviously this policy would grant an advantage to any country that does not have non-combatant status.
        So is this outdated now? Are Baha’is allowed by the Baha’i Faith to submit to draft and fight, in a country that does recognize non-combatant status, like the US? And are Baha’is also allowed to enlist in the armed forces voluntarily?

  2. Hi Tom:

    What if Hitler and Stalin were pacifists! Wouldn’t that have been great!

    The Baha’i view is that of course you have to have police forces, and of course there would be mechanisms to counteract aggression by a government in a just and peaceful world. If you are a shepherd, you have to protect your sheep – to not do so is to shirk your responsibility. But you do so most effectively by eliminating the causes of violence and conflict – by creating the conditions that tend people towards peace. Baha’u’llah says the greatest and most powerful way to do this is by creating unity, eliminating hatred between people and peoples.

    There is a saying – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In many cases, love is not so bad as an ounce of prevention.

    Stephen

    1. Hi Stephen,
      of course if Hitler or Stalin were pacifists, they would not have been able to become leaders of Germany or Soviet Union. If they became pacifist after coming to power, then some country like Japan would have decided to invade and occupy Soviet Union or Germany, since the countries would have been forbidden to defend themselves by their pacifist dictators. Such a dictator would not last long in power, anyway.
      Of course if one day the world is a worldwide federation of states, then any warfare can be quite easily suppressed. But before that happens, countries have to be well armed, to be able to defend themselves, and defend friendly countries, from attacks. So if a country does not have draft, like the US no longer has, then the citizens should be encouraged by any religion etc., to volunteer for military service.

  3. If your interested in understanding the connections between science and religion, and the connections between Christianity and Hinduism I invite you to read The Phantom Philosopher/wsstanley. I studied eastern religions because I started having dreams of being in battle when I was four years old. I realized I was seeing the end of my last life and realized reincarnation did exist. So if my consciousness could travel from one life to another then I must be just a small portion of a greater consciousness. To find that, was my goal.

    1. The Bahá’í Writings connect not just Christianity and Hinduism, but all revealed religion. In a nutshell, Bahá’u’lláh taught that all of what we humans perceive as different faiths are one faith, progressively revealed according to our capacity to understand.

      To respond to your comment about reincarnation—I once explored a belief in reincarnation because of three signal “visions” (I use the term advisedly) I had as a young woman in which I died. But they were three different deaths in different times as different people. Twice as a woman, once as a man. I was dealing with the death three years earlier of my father and these very real experiences were vastly helpful. But there were things about the idea of reincarnation or the traveling of consciousness, as you put it, that made no sense to me. I found passages in the Bahá’í writings that suggested to me that what I had experienced was a perfect communication between my spirit and the spirits of three souls who had had these experiences in life.

      I posted comments about this in response to another question Tom asked. In short, what the Bahá’í scriptures say is that when one is in a susceptible frame of mind—in meditation, in a dreaming state, etc—one can touch on souls that have passed to the next phase of life. In another connection, they speak of the communication enjoyed by souls who are free of the physical world as being so perfect as to make our communication here seem like the yapping of animals. When I considered that I had touched on souls who imparted to me their experiences so perfectly it was as if I had lived it myself, it made complete sense to me and with none of the irreconcilable issues I found in current doctrines of reincarnation.

      I note, though, that this is also a manifestation of the reality that we are, as you say, a small portion of a greater consciousness. A consciousness that, as Krishna has said, pervades and supports the entire universe, but which does not rest in it.

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