The final form of the politics of religious experience I want to mention is what I think of as ‘spiritual one-up-manship’. It can be seen in the way that, what was originally a small Jewish sect, became a major world religion with its own New Testament. Also, in the way that Mohammed was the last of the prophets, or in the way that Joseph Smith restored the true gospel or the way Swedenborg was given the correct interpretation of the Bible. In the meeting hall at the Brahma Kumaris meditation and retreat centre at Nuneham House, Oxfordshire, hangs an interesting painting. It shows a tree with its roots in the earth and its branches in the heavens. It’s title is ‘The Tree of Humanity’ and each lateral branch represents a major religious tradition. At its roots sits Brahma Baba, the founder of the Brahma Kumaris and his followers. This is probably just an innocent attempt to convey the unity of different world faiths but the positions of the founders and leaders of the Brahma Kumaris on the tree should be noted.
Self-reflection is therefore important in the politics of religious experience. Everyone, must stand somewhere to make their observations, whether this be on the shoulders of our spiritual leaders or the ivory towers of our academics. Therefore, we need to be aware of the tendency for spiritual one-up-manship, or as Jorge Ferrer (2002) calls it, ‘spiritual narcissism’, influencing our models and understanding.
‘To the well organised mind,
death is but the next great adventure.’
Originally published in two parts in De Numine, No. 54 & 55, pp5-8.
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