In the first post I discussed the idea that when the Bible refers to human “spirit”, what its talking about is self-aware consciousness, which is a level of consciousness that differentiates humans from all other animals. “…and the dust [the body] returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Genesis spoke of God creating man “from the dust of the ground”, and then giving him the “breath of life.” This breath wasn’t air into the lungs, all animals breathe but only man got this gift. In the story in Genesis, what this breath gave man was the only thing that truly differentiates us from other animals: self-aware conscious intelligence.
The second post talked about how our conscious minds create “schemas”, or mental maps of the world as we perceive it, and it is these schemas that determine what events and experiences mean to us, and therefore how we react to them. Schemas reflect our “core beliefs” about the world, and these can be changed or replaced. Christianity’s emphasis on belief, “believe and you will be saved”, is an ancient means of replacing an unhealthy schema (in Biblical terminology, “sin”) with one that by-passes ego by surrendering the schema’s maladaptive behaviors and defenses to God.
In the third post I discussed the two primary authorities that have held dominion over humanity for as far back as we have historical records: the church and the state. These two forces have often worked together, but since the Enlightenment and the introduction of secular democracies, especially in the Western world, spirituality has been liberated from state control and has blossomed as a direct result. As stated elsewhere, the Christianity that sent Crusaders to the Middle East, supported slavery, and gave us the term “Inquisition” no longer exists precisely because Christianity is no longer a tool of the state.
And with that liberation, our concept of God himself has been freed from the chains of human authority. He is, finally, a personal God. One who loves and does not condemn, one whose only request of us is that we love others with the same selfless love with which he loves us.
Christianity has a wide variety of practitioners, and the heart and soul for most of us is found in Jesus’ summary, or revision, or depending on your outlook, his complete overhaul of religious and spiritual belief found in Matthew 22:36-40 (“what is the most important commandment?”) and again as part of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-28:
An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Love is the heart of the Christian message. Selfless love, which is a recognition of Christ or Christ potential in everyone, the way Christ sees each of us. Our belief in the Christ is actually an act of will, or an act of intent, that establishes a bond between who you are here in physical reality, i.e. your conscious mind, and the broader reality that goes beyond the physical.
So I’ll wrap the “Spirit of Consciousness” posts with this:
Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am”. My twist on this would be, “I think, therefore there is consciousness capable of thought.” As far as I know Descartes didn’t dig deeper to wonder whether the human brain actually creates this consciousness that is aware of itself, or instead contains it, or acts as a receiver or a receptacle for it in some way.
Various traditions refer to the “whole self” or a larger self that includes this portion of the self that is experiencing existence in physical reality, but is not limited to what our physical senses perceive. This view is also held by some Christians but it is not part of mainstream Christian tradition. This earthly-existence sense of self is what is now more commonly referred to as our “ego”, and liberating the self from the ego to become who you truly are is the theme of every religion including Christianity.
What this boils down to is a progression of spiritual growth, which goes hand in hand with personal maturity. What does it mean to grow or mature in a personal, social, or spiritual sense? Maturity is a process of transcendence from embeddedness in a particular situation or perspective to a place where one can see it objectively. A child maturing to adulthood is transcending embeddedness in his family to a place where he can now relate to his family in ways that were impossible while growing up within that family system. To mature is to undergo a process in which the individual grants increasing autonomy to others and accepts increasing independence of thought, action and personal responsibility in oneself.
The human ego can be thought of as that part of us that keeps us embedded in physical reality. To transcend ego does not mean to lose touch with reality any more than transcending childhood makes you lose your parents. To the contrary, as a child you are subject to your parents, you have to obey, it is only when you transcend childhood, and become an independent adult of your own, that you can begin to have a relationship with them as an independent adult.
Humanity’s relationship with Spirit over the last 100,000+ years, especially the development of human civilization during the last 10,000 years, has clear parallels to the growth and maturity of the individual. Both of these perspectives, the long-term historical and the here-and-now personal, follow similar patterns of development. This series of posts was aimed at getting a glimpse of the individual. I’m still sorting out the societal, but my notes thus far follow very similar themes.