Plea for Rational Spiritualism – 1987 Presidential Address

By way of background, this presidential address was written at a time when there was some criticism and negativity towards the Spiritualists National Union (SNU) from the Greater World Christian Spiritualists and where the committee of some SNU churches were trying to make them Christian Spiritualist.  As President of the SNU, Gordon used his address at the SNU Annual General Meeting to address these issues.


Below is the text of the Presidential Address given by Gordon Higginson to the delegates at the SNU Annual Conference:

“There is a great deal being said just now concerning toleration for different religious viewpoints within the Spiritualist movement.  I believe whole-heartedly in toleration of all religious viewpoints, not only in Spiritualism, but in the whole field of religious thought throughout the world.

In the first place I am certain that all religions are necessary, and that Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Non-conformity, Salvation Army, all play their part in bringing spiritual foods to different types of people in various stages of spiritual development.

I think, for instance, that Roman Catholicism is the correct form of religion for certain types of mind.

In regard to Spiritualism, I hold that it is the most advanced, up-to-date and realistic type of religion to meet the New Age which is now dawning.  It is up-to-date because it has a scientific foundation and its principles recognise natural law as the only sound basis for philosophical conceptions and religious ethics.

I can recall when I was a twelve year old boy-medium leaving a Spiritualist meeting to find abuse of the vilest kind hurled at one and, on occasions, missiles of a more materialistic kind.  These were exciting days, when the fight for one’s principles was essentially realistic, and when self-control, sacrifice, dedication and enthusiasm were the requirements of the apostles of Spiritualism.  Such times weeded out the weaklings and made the bank of faithful Spiritualists strong, united and tenacious in their loyalty to the spirit world.  Those days have now gone and whilst they had their advantages, we must not regret their going.  Today the mass of people in Great Britain are passively accepting our position whilst those who positively support us constitute a growing band.

Our pioneers fought a long arduous battle, making tremendous sacrifices, to win for us the religious freedom Spiritualists enjoy today. This battle was fought by dedicated and loyal ‘Union’ Spiritualists armed with the rational teachings embodied in our Seven Principles, who refused any compromise and doctrine or method of propagation with older, outmoded and unproven dogmas. These inspired men and women placed this torch in our hands and we must honour that trust.

There is, however, a tendency among some of our churches, to aim at the incorporation of Spiritualistic facts into the structure of Christian tradition and the formation of an apologetic type of hybrid Christianity-cum-Spiritualism, which in my opinion is destructive of the best elements in both.

At the founding of the National Federation of Spiritualists (later known as the Spiritualists’ National Union) held in the Co-operative Hall, Ardwick, Manchester on July 6th, 1890, Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten, the founder, spoke the following words:

“The time has come for a greater unanimity of opinion concerning the fundamental basis of our philosophy, so that the terms Spiritualism and Spiritualists may be associated with an accepted and definite significance.  Hold fast to the grand and glorious ship of immortality and beware, oh, beware lest you be led astray or turned aside from these divine truths, and the duties you owe to God, the angels and humanity”.

Ninety-seven years on we can read those words with special interest, having regard to the present controversy over Christian and Rational Spiritualism.

History affords a valuable parallel.  The Christianity of the first three centuries was clear of the modern creeds and dogmas and was conducted largely upon the lines of present-day Spiritualism.  It grew by virtue of its attachment to the spirit world through its recently-arisen leader, Jesus of Nazareth.

It was when Constantine came to the throne and dictated policy that the Church departed from the practices of the early days.  There can be no doubt that the so-called conversion of Constantine to Christianity was a political pose dictated by policy.  There is little doubt that Constantine, who was a shrewd and clever statesman despite his cruel and immoral nature, was struck by the sacrifice and sincerity of the new movement, Christianity, and, finding himself powerless to prevent its growth, took it under his care to be used as a tool in his hands.  Then ensued a series of Councils in which an endeavour was made to placate the various religions and philosophies by grafting the salient features of each on to the new and vigorous growth.

If my reading of the history of Christianity is correct, that was the motive and purpose of the conversion of Constantine.  It led to the securing of a measure of religious peace within the empire by the establishment of a polyglot religion which would embrace the vast majority of his subjects.  In a measure it succeeded, but it also adulterated the simple practices of the early Christians and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth with a mass of unworthy and utterly irrelevant dogmas which in the course of centuries, brought about all the horrors of the Inquisitions and the terrible religious persecutions which devastated Europe.

From the days of Constantine, Christianity has been defined, regulated and propagated by scheming statesmen and priests, instead of reliance being placed upon guidance from the unseen world.  From those days too, Jesus became a god to be worshipped instead of a brother to be followed and the world is the poorer for it.  The Christianity of Jesus died just then and the world has been floundering in a morass of disputing creeds ever since.  It must ever be so, where principle is sacrificed to policy.

There is a tendency among the SNU churches today to repeat the process, to adulterate the simple teachings of the spirit people with the more impressive if magnificent creeds and dogmas of a dying outworn theological system.  The SNU do not feel disposed to encourage any whittling away or adulteration of its principles merely to placate these people who have imbibed large doses of state-administered medieval theology.

On June 28th 1950, the Two Worlds Spiritualist weekly newspaper, printed a very important and enlightening letter from Miss Moyes to a similar controversy which was taking place between Rational Spiritualism and Christian Spiritualism.

As Miss Moyes explained in the letter, she was the Founder of The Greater World Christian Spiritualist League, so anything she stated was bound to be authoritative and representing ‘Greater World’ opinion and teaching.

Miss Moyes in the letter denies that the Greater World Christian Spiritualist League was a break-away from the Spiritualists’ National Union, as it was started (her own words) “by three women – my mother, my sister and myself as medium.  At that time (1920) we knew nothing whatever about Spiritualism. Our contact with the spirit world was unexpected, and certainly not sought by us.  We had never read a book on Spiritualism, nor had we attended a Spiritualist Church or circle.”

Miss Moyes admits that she had not heard about Spiritualism, she was a devout Christian, so she naturally added psychic phenomena to her orthodox faith which thousands of other Christians have done, and continue to do so today.  But we must not forget that Greater World Spiritualism does not represent the Rational Spiritualism which was established by the pioneers of our movement, but orthodox Christianity, with very little modification, plus survivalism.

Nevertheless, in the sphere of Spiritualistic thought, it must be realised that many come into the movement in varying stages of spiritual and mental development.  Some come from the Roman Church, some from the English Protestant Church, as Miss Moyes did, and some are atheists.  Therefore their spiritual emancipation may take considerable time before they can approach the Rational Spiritualism which has been the tradition of the SNU and the pioneers of the nineteenth century since Andrew Jackson Davis wrote the Harmonial Philosophy.

Our movement must therefore also include various kinds of Spiritualist organisations, such as The Spiritualists’ National Union, The Greater World Christian Spiritualist League, The Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, and the College of Psychic and Spiritual Studies, and there should be both toleration and co-operation between these various bodies.

Such toleration and co-operation does not mean, however, that if one sect believes in one philosophy, it must propagate from its platform all the others.  Otherwise Spiritualists and enquirers alike will not appreciate the difference between one point of view and another, and confused organisations will result.

Let each sect proclaim its point of view and attract the type of person for whom that particular teaching is most suitable.  If one organisation, for instance, upholds the principle of Personal Responsibility it should not at the same time preach the dogma of vicarious atonement for their sins, which is diametrically opposed to it.

As a broad movement, however, there can be harmony throughout by tolerant recognition of our differences and united action at a district or national level against our common enemies.

I must emphasise to Conference that the SNU will never, and I repeat never, relinquish its responsibilities as Trustees where SNU churches are in sole trust to the Union, to allow them to be turned into Christian Spiritualist churches.  We will never break faith with our past workers who gave their all to ensure the safe keeping of their Churches within the SNU.  That will not be done.

The question I must now ask you all is this: Is Spiritualism today sufficiently religious enough?  For me it is not, and I can number amongst my friends many who also feel as I do.  I want something more than just the demonstration and manifestation of the continuity of life.   If that be the be-all and end-all of Spiritualism, then it forfeits all claims to be a substitute for orthodox religion.

W. T. Stead once said something to the effect that Spiritualism ought to, and must, make him more spiritual – failing that, it failed altogether.  We all know what he meant: that it must make him a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better citizen and a more caring person.

Therefore Spiritualism, if it is to take its place as a leading force in the world, must lead us to be more caring, to be more ‘religious’.  I suggest that Spiritualism, as at present preached and expounded by its members, does not impress the world as a movement, to make men better husbands, fathers and citizens, and as a result, more pleasing to our Father God and the Spirit World.

But true Spiritualism is not merely a phenomena movement to arouse the wonder seeking faculty of mankind, but a religion that seeks to improve the soul, mind and spiritual condition of your being.  Whenever the light of this truth shines, it cannot fail to dispel much of the gloom that surrounds the souls of men and women, because it substitute hope in the place of despair, truth in the place of error, and does away with all ridiculous theories and absurdities, respecting the future life state by supplying indisputable facts from absolutely authoritative sources.  If, then, the claims of Spiritualism tend towards effecting such noble purposes as these, must it not consequently reduce the wretched conditions of misery and fear which millions of people are living under at the present time?

Must it not also illuminate the darkness that sometimes hangs about a home, when a loving relative or friend has passed away, when the bereaved mourners know that the spirit is near, and may still frequently occupy the apparently vacant chair?   This thought is demonstrated daily in thousands of homes where Spiritualism exists

Yes this is the work of Spiritualism.  Day by day, it is gaining ground, one-by-one the homes of mankind are receiving the glad tidings of spiritual truth, whilst there are millions already convinced, making their own homes the Temple of God, having for their religion no creed, no dogma, but the glorious principle of doing good.

Source: Psychic News July 18, 1987


1 thought on “Plea for Rational Spiritualism – 1987 Presidential Address”

  1. Thank you so much for this most precious material Martin I’m making a special file to keep it !!!

    What an inspirational and amazing man

    With my love and gratitude
    Dec 31 2018 🖼

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