Stephen Handley has contributed this little piece that will appeal to more spiritually-inclined readers:
What follows below are five steps to peace.
Firstly, I acknowledge that some of my old beliefs about God and about Life are no longer working.
Secondly, I acknowledge that there is something I do not understand about God and about Life, the understanding of which could change everything.
Thirdly, I am willing for new understandings of God and Life to now be brought forth, understandings that could produce a new way of life on this planet.
Fourthly, I am willing to explore and examine these new understandings and, if they align with my inner truth and knowing, to enlarge my belief systems to include them.
Finally, I am willing to live my life as a demonstration of my beliefs.
These steps are not original to me. They are dealt with, in great depth, in Neale Donald Walsch’s book “The New Revelations”. This is a small taste of what they involve in order to get you interested.
The first step is to acknowledge that your beliefs are not working. This is difficult for religious people to do. Almost everybody believes that other peoples’ beliefs are the problem. Very few will admit that our ideas are as much in need of change as anyone else’s.
In case you are wondering, I am not an Orthodox Jewish writer having a pop at Reform, or a Reform Jewish writer having a crack at Orthodoxy. Whatever version of Jewish belief we subscribe to, we all think that we are addressing our prayers to God. In a course of study that I’m currently attending on the nature of prayer itself, we began by reading the experience of Gwen Raverat (Charles Darwin’s grand-daughter) of prayer when she was a child. She used to pray for the death of her dancing mistress, or else for chocolate pudding for lunch, whilst acknowledging that it would have been unjust, to say the least, if those requests had been granted. We then went on to consider the following from Rabbi David Kimchi: “He who prays, pleads with God to judge him mercifully, and not pay attention to the many evil things he has done. The judgement should be that He leaves his sins behind and never recalls them again.”
Now if we see God as something like a big bloke up there somewhere, dishing out chocolate pudding, or merciful judgements, as He sees fit, and preserving the dancing mistress in life and not allowing her foot to slip, or else doing the opposite, on some criteria or other that we cannot understand, then we have problems. This affects all of us, including atheists, for two reasons. Firstly, those who do not believe in God do not hesitate to devise dualistic theologies around environmentalism, Middle Eastern politics, animal rights, MPs and their expenses, and so forth. Secondly, since religion is often blamed for people not getting on with each other, I enquired of a business contact of mine – a long-standing atheist and socialist – how many religious and political groupings to the left of New Labour there are in the U.K. He gave his estimate as between fifty and a hundred, most of which he described as “one man and his dog”. Sounds a bit like Protestant Christianity, doesn’t it? Or else like Jewish shtieblach.
We aren’t short of evidence that our ideas on life are not working. The newspapers are full of it. We have to recognise that it is our ideas that don’t work, no less than everybody else’s.
The second step is to be aware that there could be new developments in spirituality. Every day, there are new discoveries in science, computing, medicine, and so forth. However, in the field of spirituality, by which I mean the practical outworking of our beliefs in the process of getting on with one another, we are making do with ideas that are thousands of years old. As a result, life seems very much to be a mystery. To admit that we don’t understand everything, and that there is more to be discovered, is the beginning of the process of dispelling the mystery.