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Dispatches from America - December 2009
By:The Reverend John E. Otey, NST CM

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
Albert Einstein 1879-1955: Science, Philosophy and Religion (1941)

There are many issues that divide the general population into warring camps led by opinion leaders who often use the ancient Roman military strategy of divide et imperia, commonly known as divide and conquer, as a means to achieve their ends. The old admonishment to not discuss things either political or religious pertains to common society; however, when surrounded amongst like-minded Spiritualists, the topic of religion should not be taboo.

In last month’s “Dispatches from America” the concept of the triune nature of man was discussed, as was modern Spiritualism itself possessing a triune nature having scientific, philosophical, and religious components and aspects. One might think that last month’s piece would be relatively safe and the concept of Spiritualism being a religion would be immune from criticism. I received a critical note from the list operator of what was perhaps the largest spiritualist mailing list hosted by an internet service provider shortly after posting last month’s piece. In that note the list op mentioned the previously heated discussions regarding Spiritualism’s religious nature and stated, “I think it is important to remember that not all spiritualists use spiritualism as a 'religion' and do now (sic) want to be associated with religion.” I was further directed to the front page of the group’s website which reads in part, “Whether you regard Spiritualism as a religion or whether you are a pure Spiritualist without any 'religious' aspects to it, all are welcome here, everyone is entitled to their own way of experiencing and viewing Spiritualism and tolerance to others' differing views is of the essence. This is a worldwide list. Discussion of religion & politics is not encouraged here, but anything to do with life after death, survival, consciousness and the spirit body is heartily welcomed!” Perhaps the one statement that deserves special note is that of “pure” Spiritualism being devoid of any “religious” aspect. This month’s Dispatches from America will ask the question, “Is Spiritualism a religion?”

To determine if Spiritualism is a religion it becomes necessary to define the term “religion”. Dictionary.com provides several good working definitions of the term and from the list provided two denotations will be examined to help determine if indeed Spiritualism is a religion.

“A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” The world’s major religions address to some extent the involvement of a super-human agency in the creation of the universe, and this super-human agency is often ascribed anthropomorphic qualities. In more common terms, if God created man in his own image, God must look like man. Spiritualists, at least those associated with the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC), conceive of God as Infinite Intelligence summarily devoid of any “humanity”, without gender or physical form. This creative infinite source is responsible for the heavens and the earth and is the creative force for all creation from the limitless expanse of the universe down to the smallest sub-atomic quark. All creation is imbued with the small spark of the Divine which binds all creation to the creator.

Each NSAC Spiritualist church holds a Sunday devotional service, and some are open throughout the week providing additional services to their members and guests. These devotional services, quite similar to those conducted by churches affiliated with the Spiritualist National Union (SNU), are not remarkably different than services offered by denominational Christian churches so much so that one of my fellow members at the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, Ms. Patricia Walters, refers to the call to service as “Catholic Calisthenics” in which we sit and stand and sing, and sit and stand and pray, and sit and stand and sing, etc. The one notable difference that separates us from our devotional brethren is our emphasis placed on spiritual healing and our sacred demonstration of mediumship. These two facets are the jewels in the crown of Spiritualism. The first principle in the NSAC nine-point Declaration of Principles reads, “We believe in Infinite Intelligence” and those principles are read aloud each week in the approximately 82 NSAC churches across the United States. This Declaration of Principles, similar to the SNU’s Seven Principles, constitutes our de facto moral code governing the conduct of human affairs and is our best attempt at establishing principles that, if followed by the adherent, can lead to a better life in harmony with the creator. Spiritualists generally do not ascribe to the concept of sin, especially when originality is considered, but find little harm in comporting themselves not only in accordance with the nine principles but also with the spirit and intent of other complimentary moral codes such as the Ten Commandments. Given the first part of the definition provided above it would seem that Spiritualism does qualify as a religion. The second bit to the definition will be added below.

“A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.” As mentioned above, the NSAC and the SNU, as well as various like-minded Spiritualist organisations, profess and adhere to a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices which would be some statement or declaration of principles. Perhaps the overarching fundamental set of beliefs is in the continuity of life and the immortality of man’s soul. There is no death, and there are no dead. Is that concept familiar to you? You’ve probably heard that said at your local Spiritualist church, or found it written throughout the pages of your favourite Spiritualist publication “Psychic World”.

The second bit of this definition, concerning number of persons, may be a bit sticky depending on your point of view. The website www.religioustolerance.org presents the following religious adherence statistics based on world population: Christianity – 32%; Islam – 19%; Hinduism – 13%; No religion – 12%; Buddhism – 6%; Atheists – 2%, New Religions – 2%, and a number of other religions garnering less than 1% of adherents, including Spiritism. Spiritualism itself does not register as a separate religious practice; however, the organisation does note that the “no religion” category includes “agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, secularists, etc.” Our numbers may be comingled there, with “new religions” or with “Spiritism”. The numbers would appear even bleaker when estimated NSAC membership is viewed as a percentage of the total United States population of 300,000,000 souls which yields a number even the calculator has a hard time deciphering, 6.6666666666666666666666666666667e-6! One might argue that purely based on the small number of adherents that Spiritualism would be disqualified from being a religion; however, we are not merely engaged in a numbers game!

The old axiom that figures lie and liars figure might pertain. What the statistics don’t address, and cannot possibly show through any empirical analysis, is how many of the self-professed adherents to other religions also attend Spiritualist churches and centres with some regularity. It is not uncommon in the UK, perhaps less so in the US, for someone to attend a denominational service during the morning and a Spiritualist service in the afternoon. Both large governing bodies on each side of the Atlantic have rules in place which forbid membership in more than one church or centre. The NSAC prohibits simultaneous membership in a denominational religion and Spiritualism. For example, one cannot be a member of an Episcopalian church and an NSAC Spiritualist church. Unfortunately, this all or nothing proposition in this correspondent’s opinion has outlived its usefulness. Many people retain membership in Christian churches out of a sense of familial obligation, others because of familiarity, and they will retain their membership, yet they seek and yearn for more.

What possible harm would ensue if we offered those seekers an opportunity to retain their denominational membership while simultaneously joining a Spiritualist church or centre? While discussing needed reform the time is ripe to allow a Spiritualist to hold dual memberships in Spiritualist churches, and in other Spiritualist organisations. What harm would obtain for a member of an NSAC affiliated church having membership in a SNU affiliated church? Is the reason that the Declaration of Principles and the Seven Principles aren’t exactly the same, or does it devolve into a rice bowl issue? With more members come more dues collected by the church or centre which ensures their economic well-being. Given that Spiritualism does have a specific fundamental set of beliefs generally agreed to by a number of persons, albeit small but select, Spiritualism qualifies as a religion.

Choose if you will to celebrate the “impure” religious component of Spiritualism, or choose to be a “purist”. The choice is yours to make. The reader should bear in mind the words of Herr Doktor Professor Einstein. When one combines science with religion, and adds a liberal helping of philosophy, the end result is Spiritualism.