It seems that governments and their policies come in waves. Actions and decisions come… and then the backlash follows. We see the religionization of war, politics, and nationalism through history when our understandings were less evolved. The resurgence of this religionization in modern times is backlash from secularism. It is a way to turn the tide and perhaps turn the clock back to another time. It is a round-about way to inject religious morals into public policy while keeping secularisms essentials intact. After all, secularism dictates the separation of church and state. It dictates the separation of organizations, not ideals.
Government officials bring their ideals into office with them. This is inevitable. People don’t live in a vacuum and they cannot be expected to check religious beliefs at the door when going to work. One’s beliefs, intentionally or unintentionally, will make their way into decisions. For government officials, these decisions effect all of us. There is no clean division as secularism often implies. To act more fairly and more mindfully, we must leave behind the unrealistic ideal of the ‘the vacuum’. We need to find a way to think and act that preserves our faith without requiring everyone to concede to it. Then both faith and the freedom of all can thrive.
New Agers often move through various faith traditions and spiritual groups as they feed and grow their own spirituality. But other may find themselves journeying from one tradition to the next in times of growth of disgruntlement. Whether the journey is your way of spiritual expression or only something temporary until you find a place to settle, here are a few things to consider:
The only way to know a tradition or philosophy ‘fits’ you, is to ‘try it on’. Be prepared to participate, get your feet wet. Put judgments and reservations aside (within reason, don’t harm yourself or others).
To be a spiritual seeker (temporary or permanent), one must be tolerant, respectful, and tactful. You will come across things you may not like or may not agree with, but nasty interactions will not further your journey.
Normal is relative. What may seem strange to you may make perfect sense to someone else. Try walking in someone else’s shoes. A bit of objectivity could be of help here.
Accept that the beliefs and practices of the groups and organizations you visit may not be your cup of tea. That’s okay! It takes all kinds for the world to go around, and you are just a different kind. Keep searching!
Have fun! Don’t take things too seriously. You will find yourself in awkward situations or flat out laughable ones. Roll with the punches. It’s all just part of the journey.
Interfaith efforts and New Age practices utilize much of the same subject matter. Both exist to explore various religious traditions. New Agers do so largely to enrich their own spiritual life. Those involved in the interfaith movement explore faith traditions other than their own to make connections across religious boundaries, facilitate understanding, and promote peace. The main point where these philosophies differ is how strictly they maintain boundaries between different faith traditions. “[Interfaith organizations] recognize the distinctiveness of world religions and see in their variety an enrichment of the human spirit” (Braybrooke in Kirkwood, 221). But New Age followers often blend religious beliefs and practices to create an intricate spirituality that may be shared among followers or be completely unique to a single person.
There is nothing wrong with either way these movements address religious categories. New Age blending provides an immense amount of inspiration and allows for creativity. The danger being the formation of an over-simplistic homogenized spirituality. However, I am confident that the complex traditions New Age draws from will provide items to discuss and ponder for eons preventing blended spiritualities from becoming too simplistic. The fear of homogenization I think is misplaced. If you have ever been in a room of New Agers, you know none have the same views, beliefs, or practices. Without firm categories or labels, it may be difficult to tell who has different inclinations, but these varying inclinations will exist all the same.
Interfaith activities seek to explore religions while upholding firm categories and labels to differentiate the traditions. The effort to preserve religious traditions is noble, but we must not forget that no matter how hard one tries, they can never be preserved completely. After all, the world religions do not exist in a vacuum. The world religions are not ‘pure’. They are fluid and have changed greatly across time due to the influence of war, geography, politics, and popular culture. We cannot, nor should we aim to, suddenly freeze our religions now. As the interfaith movement explores religion with boundaries intact, the natural progression is to allow such exploration without the necessity of categories. Eventually the understanding and peace it sought to create will manifest into something entirely new.
Kirkwood, Peter. The Quiet Revolution: The emergence of interfaith consciousness. Sydney, NSW: ABC Books. 2007.
In recent weeks, America has been hearing a lot about hate. In this run, hate has been centered around race. Both the supremacists spewing hate and the protesters toting tolerance often use religious themes to support their cause. Religion certainly plays a role in hate and anti-hate rhetoric, but what role does hate have in religion?
Most religions and great schools of thought have some type of long distance goal or reward. Whether it be salvation, nirvana, or enlightenment there is reason to do ‘good’. Somehow it seems like we are closer to the reward when we tell ourselves we’re making more progress than others. Is it just human nature to one-up each other? Since I would like to think it is human nature to help one another, I will offer a different answer: our fixation with opposites and dichotomies. Us humans tend to use duality in our sense of logic: If we are going to get to the ‘good’ place, that means someone must fail or go to the ‘bad’ place. This very human notion has made its way into the great faith traditions and given the false notion of hate in religion.
While I think such dichotomies in our world and our intellect can teach us much about balance and duality, it is important to remember this is a human trait. The divine as a whole is limitless. As is the potential for love in our world. As long as we continue to believe some must suffer for others to succeed, hate will have a place in religion, business, economics, and every facet of life. Rather than dichotomies we must become well versed in unity. Then hate will appear as the choice that it is instead of a fact of life.
Two people in my life have a significant fear of death and the possible lack of an afterlife. One of these people is not religious. She wishes she was religious and had faith in an afterlife, then death would not be so ‘scary’. The other person is looking for a religion that fits because he says he can’t face death without believing there is something more to come after. That would be just to ‘scary’. Their similar sentiments about fear of death and the comfort religion can provide in that area got me thinking about the functional role of religion and the role of fear in the creation of organized religion as we know it.
In ancient days, people experienced both death and mystical / spiritual experiences. They turned to the mystical for comfort and answers. There they found that the death they knew as a reality, may only be physical death. Fed by spiritual experiences they found hope that there may yet be an afterlife for the spiritual body. People of antiquity went on to create elaborate systems to explain how this could be so. In modern times, we talk about fear bullying followers within a faith organization. When this travesty occurs, we should be reminded that the first religions came into existence to dispel fear. Through history, cunning and power-hungry individuals took advantage of religion and the importance to its followers. Whenever one uses religion to feed fear rather than subdue it, something is wrong.
A criticism you often hear about the comforting function of religion, is that it exists for the weak to feel better about their circumstances. I don’t think finding comfort in the current and historical mystical experiences along with the system of meaning they are situated within is weak, but rather thoughtful and optimistic. Join the conversation: How do you view the role of fear in religion today and historically? How does fear serve to gain, keep, or drive away followers? Would you consider fear to be a key component in religion?
I feel that if extraterrestrials were to discover earth and observe us, they would conclude that our lives are centered around love. Or perhaps they would determine that a lack of love, or the quest for love is central to earthling life. It seems that any way you square love, we are always looking for it, growing it, despising it, or running from it.
Think about all the time we spend looking for ‘the one’ or painstakingly working through issues with the loved ones already in our life. Romance is a genre all its own in literature and film. Some would argue that the best songs of all time are love songs. Love permeates our lives as individuals and in the wider culture. Due to this fixation, love has become lucrative. Think about the amount of money spent and made off internet dating platforms and products that promise to make one irresistible to potential partners. A good deal of Western economies capitalize on ideals of love.
Love is also the overwhelming common denominator in religions and spiritual traditions. All of them discuss in some capacity how humans should regard the world, each other, and the divine through love (or lack thereof). Across the great traditions we find examples of conditional, temporary, eternal, and boundless love. It is a main subject in religious texts and practices. Love’s wide sweeping prevalence across all realms of life shows how important it is. However, the light in which it is depicted varies considerably.
Love can be a weakness to be manipulated, something to distort and pervert. It can fade and extinguish. It can grow and last. It can empower and strengthen. These are all realities of love. There are schools of thought and tactics to support each one. But in these times, I implore you to foster love that heals rather than hurts, and is steady rather than fleeting. So when extraterrestrials find their way to us, we can show them the beauty of earthling life.
An article in Crain’s Detroit Business touched on an interesting theory concerning falling rates in church attendance in Detroit. The source of this line of thought is Khari Brown, a sociology professor of Wayne State University. Brown argues that in addition to reasons such as the overall population reduction in Detroit and wide sweeping changes in our culture’s religiosity, churches’ involvement in conservative social issues may be turning parishioners away.
I find this an interesting factor that should be considered in regards to falling religious participation and any attempts at resurgence. With technology allowing us to create and consume information almost constantly, we are bombarded by opinion. Are centers of faith there to weigh in on social debates, or something more. More than ever people need a place to get in touch with something bigger than themselves, bigger than the social ills of our time, even bigger than humanity. The goal is not to escape this world, but connect with God or the divine in order to bring some divinity back to this world.
We don’t need another source to insist that its way is the ‘right’ way. Instead we need a place of quiet that allows people to cut out chatter and find connection with something greater. If centers of faith focused on providing experiences with the divine rather than commentating on current issues, then perhaps people would find their way back to the pews. The desire to remain current drives faith organizations to such social issues, but their roots in relationship with the divine cannot be forgotten in such endeavors.
Crain’s Detroit Business. “Religious groups hope Detroit’s rise helps them”, by Kirk Pinho. May 15-21, 2017.