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The belief in spiritual warfare: some complexities for 2010

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Stomp

Stomp: follow777 / Milan Klusacek

This article also appears at Earthpages.org

When one hears the term ‘spiritual warfare’ images of uncompromising religious fundamentalists and TV preachers may come to mind.

The idea of battling demons is nothing new. Hindus have been familiar with it for centuries. As have Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Jews, Moslems, Shamans and Amerindians, among others.

However, not all persons see spiritual warfare in the same way. One historical example is found with the prominent Hindu philosopher, Sankara (c. 700 – 750 CE).

Put simply, Sankara characterizes the Buddha as an evil avatar–that is, a demon in the flesh. For Sankara all Buddhist distinctions between good and evil deities are misguided.

A similar problem arises when we compare Christian and Hindu spiritualities. For some Christians the entire pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses are demonic; meanwhile Hinduism itself distinguishes among helpful, harmful and sort of trickster-like deities that may seem ethically ambiguous to some.

Confusing? Yeah, a little. At least, it can be if all we have to rely on is a pile of books or Wikipedia.

This kind of riddle is probably insolvable through reading alone. Arguably we have to experience how different spiritual pathways make us feel–and not just think or, even worse, uncritically adopt a politically correct position.

I’ve developed my own criteria to discern what’s right and not so right for me. It’s not a rigid checklist but an ongoing investigation, subject to change according to my experience and reflection. And perhaps everyone who cares about spirituality should develop their own criteria.

Another interesting wrinkle within the idea of spiritual warfare is found in the psychiatric perspective.

Psychiatry is a more or less unified worldview as to what’s right and wrong with people’s heads and their related behavior. The science of psychiatry has developed dramatically over the past few decades and enjoys a high degree of ideological influence, legitimacy and power, these powers differing somewhat according to local policies and laws.

Anti-psychiatry figures usually point out that homosexuality was a disorder in the 1960s and early 70s before the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified it as a mental disorder in 1973.

One can view this fact negatively or positively. Anti-psychiatry figures tend to uphold it as alleged evidence that psychiatry is a sham. Meanwhile, supporters of psychiatry argue that science is always changing and evolving. And the fact that the APA made this positive change is evidence of its scientific credibility.

I tend to embrace the latter view, hoping that psychiatry will continue to grow and recognize not only spiritualities linked to major, established religions but also to those prayerful wildflowers, if you will, who are healthy, beautiful and doing good works but not adhering to any major religious group.

We need pioneers of the spirit who can see through all the varnish, hoopla and hypocrisy of organized religion. Otherwise there might not be any significant spiritual evolution for mankind.

With this in mind, the other day I saw a PBS article about an alleged psychiatric emergency in India. Something about the article struck me as incomplete but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

  • Psychiatric Demands Jump as India Battles Mental Illness | PBS NewsHour | Dec. 29, 2009 | PBS: http://bit.ly/8wBbKb

Read and decide for yourself if perhaps the article is a bit hegemonic about the (implied) wonders of 21st century medical science and its associated worldview.

I just wanted to spell out some of the complexities around the oft misunderstood notion of spiritual warfare. There’s no unanimous agreement. For some, gods are demons while others say those very demons are gods.

And atheists might write off the whole gamut of religious deities as some kind of man-made security blanket or possibly hallucinations to be fixed with psychotropic medication, no matter how harmful the short or long term side effects of those medications may be.

This much said, I’d like to direct the reader to the article, Spiritual Warfare Study: Truth Cries Out. Please recall that Earthapages is about dialogue. This piece represents just one perspective among many in this largely unsolved yet important area of debate.

–MC

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Author: Earthpages.org

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