Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A spirit named Truth

“The Spirits' Book”, first published in 1857, is the main scripture of Kardecism, a Spiritualist or Spiritist religion founded by the Frenchman Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail (1804-1869). The spirits told Rivail that he had been a Druid named Allan Kardec in a previous life, and he became famous under this pseudonym. For some reason, Kardecism or Kardecismo eventually became stronger in Brazil than in France, where it also influenced some Afro-Brazilian religions. I suppose the Brazilian intellectual scene was “pro-French” during this period, as August Comte's Positivism also became popular there (including the Positivist Church) and Brazil's national motto is Positivist. But back to main frame…

“The Spirits' Book” claims to be a revelation from the spirit-world through a number of mediums. The book is written in question-and-answer format, with Kardec asking the questions and the spirits (or mediums) providing more or less intelligible responses. Kardec has also appended lengthy exegeses of the spirits' message. The spirits are those of important personages, such as John the Evangelist, Augustine, Socrates, Plato, “Franklin” (Benjamin Franklin?) or Swedenborg. A spirit named Truth is also involved in the communications. Apparently, it was Truth who revealed Kardec's true background as a Druid.

Somewhat surprisingly, “The Spirits' Book” turns out to be monotheist. Pantheism is explicitly rejected and likened to materialism. God is all-knowing, all-god, eternal, just and so on. He is the creator of both the spirit-world and the material world. Of these two, the spirit-world is the highest. While God is the creator, the cosmos is nevertheless eternal rather than created in time, since God is dynamic and constantly active. New spirits are created all the time. The universe is also infinite.

Kardec treats the universe as real, not as a mayic illusion. The spirits are real individualities who evolve through time. At “birth”, the spirits are innocent and lack knowledge. They incarnate in matter in order to perfect themselves through trials and sufferings. In this way, they gradually progress towards angelic perfection. The spirits choose their earthly lives, including lives filled with hardship and injustice. Kardec believed in reincarnation and karma (although he never uses the latter term). Spirits cannot degenerate, and Kardec therefore denies the existence of demons in the traditional sense. A demon is simply a spirit stuck on a low level of development. In time, the demon will also progress. Logically, this entails the denial of Satan's existence. Heaven and Hell are spiritual states, while Purgatory is really identical to our physical incarnation. Jesus is the highest ethical role model for man, given him by God, and a perfect embodiment of the law of love. However, since Jesus often taught in parables, his message has been misunderstood and distorted. Therefore, a new revelation is necessary to clarify things.

There is an obvious tension in “The Spirits' Book” between belief in karma and a liberal political perspective. The same tension is also common in New Age thinking. Kardec supports gender equality, abolitionism, social equality and (of course) freedom of worship. Wars are said to be caused by our animalistic natures and will disappear at a future stage of evolution. Eventually, an earthly paradise will be established. Sometimes, the contradiction between progressivism and karmic retribution is almost comic, as when Kardec (or the spirits) suggest that a rich man guilty of exploiting the poor will be severely punished…by being reborn as poor and exploited!

“The Spirits' Book” suggests that the entire universe is teeming with life, in both worlds. One can therefore be reincarnated on other planets. Within our solar system, Earth is one of the least evolved worlds (although Mars is even lower), while Jupiter is the highest. No physical beings live on the sun. Rather, the sun is the gathering-place for highly developed spirit-beings.

There are interesting parallels between Kardec's message and Theosophy, New Age, UFO cults and (of course) standard Spiritualism. During the 19th century, the latter vehemently rejected reincarnation, however. Although written more than 150 years ago, the message of Truth, Plato and Franklin sounds strangely familiar!

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