Spiritual growth is not an exercise in group thinking. It is very much an individual exercise. It involves God speaking a personalized message to one person’s heart and that heart responding to that personalized message in his or her own way. This begs the question of whether all messages received through one’s mind are from God, or if some evolve from our own ego or personal delusions. Schizophrenics hear messages too, but these are generally understood to be delusions. Egocentric messages will be about self as an entity separate and apart from God and his creation. Such messages will promote the ego by elevating the recipient in wisdom and mission, not for personal growth, but as a means to advance God’s will. In other words any message that makes me God’s instrument is a false message, because God needs no instruments. I can speak about my understanding, but no one is required to hear me. Additionally, all false messages will fail the test of “love”.
Because spiritual understanding is so personalized, one individual may reach an understanding or a point of enlightenment which that person cannot transmit or transfer directly to another person, no matter how hard they may try. The message or understanding in these cases is dependent on all of the life experiences which precede the new enlightenment and also on the all the sequence of thoughts that led up to this new understanding with all its attendant emotional impact. Since no man follows the same path in this respect, it is impossible to bring another one along the same path that you have traveled. Your mutual contact and the knowledge or understanding that association engenders becomes a point on the other individual’s knowledge path, but the effect of that interaction of individuals has a much different impact on the two individuals involved. An increase of interaction between two or more individuals will increase the possibility of nearer congruence of growth paths, but still individual paths will diverge because most thought will be independent of that of the other individuals involved. Thoughts flow on constantly and not just in a group setting.
In traditional religion, group thinking is promoted. Religion or spirituality has become compartmentalized in our society, i.e. reserved for a particular time and place. We are encouraged to think about religious matters while in church, but such thinking is not truly encouraged in the everyday setting. If all are to believe the same, then individual, personalized evaluation and thought can only be counterproductive. Individuals, acting in their own separate minds, may ultimately reach the same conclusions but along widely different thought paths with a lot of intermediate confusion and even conflict along the way. Group thinking is much better served by a religion which limits that thinking to a very narrow setting, marked by the tutelage of the clergy.
If spiritual growth is so personalized, what place is there for the spiritual assembly or the “church service”, so called. Does all that coming together actually stymie growth or can it be good for us? That, of course, depends on the atmosphere and activities promoted in these assemblies. To the extent that people are encouraged to focus outside their normal secular world and to discuss their innermost spiritual issues with one another, the assembly can be a great forum for growth. We can learn from one another, not so much from regurgitating knowledge from one mind to another but rather by mutually stimulating related thought chains which cause everyone to grow individually. The very act of coming together to think positively about the whole notion of spiritual reality can be helpful. Lastly, I think that the support of a spiritual group encourages the participants in dealing with all the various life issues. My conclusion is that assemblies have there place, but a bad environment which instills fear, suppresses honest inquiry, and works to achieve rote learning will actually retard or eliminate growth.