Following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and according to Christian teaching, “the Christ”···, belief in the resurrection of the dead became the great proclamation and witness of the Christian Church and the principal doctrine concerning “life after death”, certainly in the Western world. As we shall see in future postings briefly outlining the principal religions of the world, belief in a continuance and “afterlife” of some form figures prominently.
In Asian culture generally, there continues to exist a strong belief in the continuance and progress of the spirits of the dead (not in many ways dissimilar to a prevalent belief in ghosts held by some members of Western societies). Not infrequently, the graves and tombstones of the dead are ornately decorated or adorned with gifts which, so it is believed, will bring reward in the form of continued security and good fortune. Indeed (and as we shall see in a future blog) such beliefs lie at the very heart of the religion of Buddhism, in which the dead continue to play an important and integral part in everyday life.
In other certain West African societies, belief in ancestral ghosts plays a key protective role; past – present – future. Members of such societies will approach local priests and similar functionaries, with offers of payment in order to make contact with ancestral spirits who, so it is believed, are able to protect their property and belongings. Indeed, it is known for certain properties and estates to prominently display notices to the effect that that they are private and protected in this way. In yet other societies, behaviour is clearly being shaped by teaching (which in reality, takes the form of a veiled threat) to the effect that unacceptable and antisocial behaviour could well bring about possession by spirits.
So much then for this brief reference to the impact of spiritual beliefs/teachings, on our perceptions of death and beyond. What about belief in spirituality in the here and now? This brings us to the important relationship (and as we shall see) distinction that needs to be made explicit between spirituality and religion. Clearly (and as we shall increasingly come to see over the course of future blogs, the major religions of the world do aim to both practice and teach spiritual reality and sensitivity, together with a strong continuing sense of its presence and impact in the “here and now”. However – and as we shall also come increasingly to perceive in many people who are by no means deeply religious, they do nevertheless possess a strong sense of spiritual reality and worth.
Let me attempt to express it in another and very personal way. Over the course of my lifetime to date – in fact from quite early childhood on – I have as an individual come increasingly to find a steadily unfolding and unfailing fascination with and gratitude for the dawning emergence and awareness of some kind and form of overarching and altogether grander purpose than, that is, is to be perceived in ‘run-of-the mill’ everyday living. Yet although all of this goes well beyond the immediate self (in the sense of transcending one’s everyday thoughts, emotions, deeds and interests) those same thoughts, emotions, activities, seem ever to be integral and abidingly central to it. This awareness has led me more and more intensively and increasingly to search out whatever form of meaning may lie (as I far as I can perceive it) outwith, above and beyond the daily flow of what one might refer to as the “normal, common and daily round of life”.
Multifarious instances and occurrences – perhaps a happening here, an event there; a disappointment or frustration somewhere else along the way; the occasional success and more frequent failures; the sorrow and grief of the life-shattering loss of a loved one – all seem to call forth and, as well as to ‘darken’ and obscure, over time to promote and prosper a deeper, more meaningful ‘thesis’ by way of account and explanation. How often in the course of ordinary everyday life do we hear those around and about us dismissively (as often it seems to me) regard such events as coincidence, chance, luck, or some form of entirely random event?