Faith at a Glance - Spiritualism
Spiritualism at a glance
Modern Spiritualism can include a very wide range of beliefs and world-views. Those who follow it are united in believing that communication with spirits is possible.
Modern Spiritualism at a glance
Spiritualists communicate with the spirits of people who have physically died. Such communication is thought to be beneficial to the dead and the living.
Spiritualists are those who believe in a continued future existence, and that people who have passed on into the spirit-world can and do communicate with us.
Spiritualists' National Union
Spirits are said to communicate through people with special skills, called mediums. In the 19th Century communication was said to have occured at an event called a séance but in the 21st Century most communication is said to take place either in a public demonstration of mediumship at a Spiritualist church service or in a private sitting with a medium. Communication can be verbal, such as messages; or physical manifestations, such as tapping.
The validity of Spiritualism has always been controversial, partly because of the negative image that fraudulent people have given of communications from the 'other side'.
...fraud on the part of the professors of a religion is not enough to discredit entirely the religion itself (for in that case hardly any creed would be immune)
Mgr. R. H. Benson, Spiritualism, 1916
Is Spiritualism a religion?
Spiritualism is different from the the world's major and minor religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc) because it's recent, it doesn't have a global presence, it doesn't have a body of theology. However it is a new religious movement with rituals, doctrinal components, a belief in a transcendent realm, and it has an experiential dimension, elements that many other religions also have.
Modern Spiritualism sees itself as entirely rational, with no element of the supernatural. For Spiritualists, this is what distinguishes their beliefs from the concept of life after death found in many other faiths.
The movement began in the USA in the middle of the 19th Century.
It is said to be the eighth largest religion in Britain and has a network of groups across the country. The total of SNU-affiliated and associated bodies in the UK is 360, broken down into 348 affiliated bodies and 12 associated bodies.
Those who follow it are united in believing that communication with spirits is possible; but beyond this central idea Modern Spiritualism can include a very wide range of beliefs and world-views.
Spiritualism doesn't tell you what you should believe or how you should interpret religious philosophy. We have no books that must be followed, we have no preachers whose word must be obeyed.
Spiritualists' National Union
Key ideas of Spiritualism
Spiritualists generally believe the following:
- Souls survive bodily death and live in a spirit world - Spiritualists say that every human soul survives the death of the body and enters a spirit-world that surrounds and interpenetrates the material world.
- These souls can communicate with the material world - Spiritualists say that communication is possible between the material world and the spirit-world under the right conditions - usually through a medium.
- Spirit beings are little changed from their earlier selves - Spiritualists say that those in the spirit-world are much the same as they were in the material world, although without any physical deficiencies.
- Spirit beings are interested in people in the material world - Spiritualists say that those in the spirit world are aware of and interested in the lives of those they have temporarily left behind in the material world.
The core philosophy of Spiritualism is described in The Seven Priniciples.
Spiritualism: Religion or Science?
Spiritualists sometimes refer to Spiritualism as a Religion, a Philosophy and a Science. They regard their religion as based on universal truths:
Spiritualism is a common sense religion, one of knowing and living. We accept all truths and endeavour to prove their validity. Truths are found in nature, in other religions, in writings, in science, in philosophy, in Divine Law and are received through spirit communication.
National Association of Spiritualist Churches of the USA
Many Spiritualists teach that Spiritualism is based on natural, scientific laws and does not involve the supernatural. They say that difference between their faith and other religions is that most religions are based on belief while Spiritualism is based on demonstrated evidence that there is life after death.
Some writers think this scientific emphasis dates from the early days of Spiritualism. Inspired perhaps by the then recent discoveries of invisible forces such as electricity and magnetism, Spiritualism may have been 'an attempt by nineteenth-century Americans to establish empirical grounds for religious belief amid the growing cultural authority of science'.
Ethical implications of Spiritualism
Spiritualists teach that communication from the Spirit-world not only shows that life continues after physical death, but that human beings in the Spirit-world remain morally responsible for good and bad deeds committed in the material world.
They believe that growing awareness that even death does not free a person from the consequences of their bad acts will lead people to behave better in this present life.
They also believe that the information received from the spirit world should be sufficient to remove the fear of death.
Criticism of Spiritualism: fraud
Spiritualism has been strongly criticised because there have been many cases in which 'spiritual manifestations' have been shown to be deliberately faked. But Spiritualists retort that this doesn't show that spiritualism is itself untrue. As G K Chesterton put it:
No conceivable number of false mediums affects the probability of the existence of real mediums one way or the other. This is surely obvious enough. No conceivable number of forged bank-notes can disprove the existence of the Bank of England.
G K Chesterton, Skepticism and Spiritualism, Illustrated London News, 1906