In last night’s Channel 4 documentary for the Revelations series, Richard Alwyn ventured into the world of Spiritualist Churches, and more specifically, one in Walthamstow.
His mission was to observe and perhaps offer judgement about Spiritualism, and from the outset, it was clear he was approaching the subject with an open mind but perhaps a leaning towards needing to be convinced.
Spiritualism is basically about the belief in an afterlife and communicating with the spirits of the dead, and it’s something that tends to evoke strong feeling in both camps, that of the believer and the non-believer. And there were plenty of both in last night’s film.
Alwyn met with many members of the church for the film, including a GP, a tree surgeon and the church’s Vice President, Keith Hudson, who was subjected to a pretty unpleasant grilling from a local publican on the subject of Spiritualism. The pub owner was clearly a non-believer and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion, the main text of it being that he thought Keith should be committed.
And to be fair, whilst I myself do believe in an afterlife, Keith had some pretty extreme things to say about himself and Spiritualism in general. He talked about his forehead bulging with the presence of his “third eye” and how he has three spirit guides, all of exotic and ancient descent. He also claimed to have visited the “other side” and attempted to tell the irate publican that the children he and his wife had had in fact chose them to be their parents.
Difficult to swallow? Perhaps, but the fact is, the majority of religions are based on faith, on something unseen and unheard; the whole point is believing without proof. However, in Spiritualism, which isn’t, strictly speaking, a religion, the entire point of it is the proof. Alwyn himself experienced firsthand the proof factor in that the GP, who was taking tentative steps into the community of the Spiritualist church, gave Alwyn in-depth details about his own grandfather. He did so because Alwyn’s grandfather had communicated with the Doctor and he passed on the thoughts and feelings that came to him when he was with Alwyn. It was something that clearly shocked Alwyn and he, like many of us who know we’ve had messages from loved ones who’ve died, was completely taken aback by it.
He also told us that he’d partaken of a “healing” session at the church, during which his chronic back pain had gone, seemingly for good. Yet despite these two apparently proof laden events, he was still unconvinced of the validity of an afterlife and the abilities of those who are able to tap into it. He was also suspicious and cautious about the organised meetings of like-minded people that form the Spiritualist movement.
The publican I mentioned earlier, and, I suspect, Alwyn himself – though less vociferously – were of the general opinion that Spiritualism is at best a haven for crackpots and at worst, something which gives false hope to grieving people. However, as Alwyn also pointed out in the film, nobody from a Spiritualist church comes knocking on your door, trying to get you to buy into it. Nor does it ask that you take anything on faith, so the question that I asked myself during the film was, would that publican hav e given a Church of England follower such a grilling and publicly denounced him/her as a harmless loon? Probably not. So why did he seem so angry and hostile when it came to Spiritualism?
I think the answer is fear, of the unknown and his own mortality. But that said, Christianity tells us that we must accept that Jesus rose from the grave and carried out acts of healing as well as other sundry miracles, and we’re meant to just believe that it was so. Therefore, why are so many people so sceptical and openly hostile about something which can prove what it’s saying to be true?
And again, as Alwyn said in the film, “What can possibly be wrong with a belief that comforts a grieving widow?”
If you missed it, you can catch it again on 4oD here, and as it was a very thought provoking and often poignant film, I’d highly recommend that you do.