The Spiritual Man

by Eugene Halliday

The spiritual man is in danger in many ways, but most of all he is today in danger of losing his belief in his own freedom of choice. He is surrounded by organisations which aim to suppress the very idea of freedom. And not least among these enemies of freedom are those groups of thinkers who believe that freedom is a myth, that human beings are only complex machines, that choice is an illusion produced by a brain that itself is but a machine that cannot help throwing up, amongst its other products, errors of thought, amongst which the idea of freedom is declared to be one. 

But it is not only external organisations and groups that are the enemies of freedom. There are also inner enemies, of which two are chief; preference for pleasure over pain, and inertia. 

Inertia is defined as the tendency for any kind of action to continue unless acted upon by some external force which can change the mode of action. All fixed habit-patterns come under the heading of inertia, and we all know how hard to break are long standing habits. 

Preference for pleasure over pain seems at first glance to be a good thing, but if we look at it a little more closely we can see that this preference can, under certain circumstances, lead to trouble. Any fish caught on the hook by the bait that concealed it can serve as a lesson for us. The world is full of “hook situations” carefully concealed by bait of various kinds. Here is another occasion for anxiety. We are offered things in attractive wrappers, which, when the wrapper is off, prove themselves of no use to us, and sometimes might do us harm. 

And pain itself, or the threat of it, may be merely a way of intimidating the unthinking person. In the ancient world figures of great monsters were carved and set up at the city gates, or at the entrances to tombs filled with precious things, with gold and jewels. These monsters inspired fear in the minds of unenlightened beholders, and so kept safe the tombs’ treasures. Some of these monsters, witnessed by our ancestors, have left traces or imprints of themselves in our minds, still strong enough to charge some of our dreams with anxiety and fear. 

Somehow, if we are to conquer anxiety, we must re-evaluate our ideas about pleasure and pain and what they may mean in any given situation. We must teach ourselves to distinguish between “hook” situations covered with pleasure-giving bait, and the situations in which real happiness is possible. And we must learn to distinguish false “monsters” of stone or fabricated frightening ideas, from really dangerous beings who might have power to do us real harm. “Fear not those who can harm the body, but after that have no more that they can do; but fear those who can harm the soul.”  

We know how the physical body can be harmed; by breaking its bones, cutting, crushing or bruising its tissues and organs, or by poisoning it, etc. How can we harm the soul? 

A soul may be harmed by the destruction of its belief in its essential spirituality, for this spirituality is its freedom. To undermine a soul’s confidence in its spiritual origin is to cast doubt upon the whole meaning of its existence. Any idea that, once inserted into the human mind, can destroy the soul’s faith in its own eternality, its divine origin, has put into that soul the most unprofitable of all anxieties and fears; the fear that perhaps God and Truth and Eternal Life and Universal Love are mere fictions of a badly put-together mechanical brain, itself but an accidental falling into temporary relation of a merely material aggregate of atomic particles, senseless and destined at some point in time and space for disintegration.