GOD IS NOT DEAD
BUT HE'S CLEARLY NOT WELL
In Response To:
"Tales from the Road"
"For some time now, probably since the late sixties, those with their spiritual antennae well tuned have been aware that something new is going on in the realm of the spirit."
How nice and how neat it is that all religions, and all peoples should experience the same kinds of spiritual changes everywhere and at the same time. How orderly. How Catholic. Especially the issuance of new spiritual marching orders from the top down. This eliminates the unsettling possibility that individuals might have their own spiritual lives, independent of any church, and without the permission of any theologian.
You're denying the very basis of all spirituality: The individual spirit itself. Each of us, I think (I can't cite anyone else's opinion to back it up --well, I could, but it would just be another opinion) follows his or her own path in life, spiritual and material. The idea that we are somehow marching in lockstep, spiritually, and only on specific orders from above, is absurd, and repulsive. As if we were all mere extensions, or some kind of extrusions of an all-devouring All-soul.
The best any historian, theologian, or Messiah, for that matter, can hope to do is recognize what is happening around him, or her, and try to understand it. A leader is just a guy who runs to the head of the crowd, and tries to appear to be choosing its' direction, when he is only divining it. Whatever spiritual "leaders" have said or done over the millenia, the vast majority of the people have gone about their business, following a kind of common-sense morality, referencing the official and folk mythologies, and continuing to wonder what it all means.
The real moments of spiritual awakening and enlightenment are entirely personal, and unique to each individual, even, to each moment in each individual's life. They don't appear in any history or philosophy. They are not mapped or graphed, sanctified or canonized. But they are the only source of human spirituality. And if those on top never have them, they can not even pretend to understand them.
True enlightenment is unattainable, except fleetingly, in this life. Who is even claimed to have ever attained it? Almost no one, only the greatest among us, and then only near death. The rest of us get only the briefest glimpses of the ineffable. And none of us understands it. Nor were we meant to. The best we can hope for is a kind of second-hand understanding, that enables us to live slightly less insane lives: The sneaking suspicion that there is a greater good, and we'd all better work for it.
It's almost funny to see the Fundies battling the Enlightenment. Most people have never heard of it. Fundamentalism's real battle is against public education, another kind of enlightenment altogether. The kids in high school may never have heard of Voltaire, and the full professors at Princeton may never hear of those kids. But, somewhere in between, a lowly public school teacher has gotten the word, somehow, and passed it on. Those kids may never actually read much Shakespeare, but they understand "to thine own self be true." Voila, another victory for the philosophes.
Hardly anybody knew who Voltaire was, in his own time. Yeah sure, a Duke or two did, and his fellow rationalists. But the Jacques Sixpaques? Non. They had their own philosophy, their own way of doing things. The same way stolid, sullen, solid peasants had done things since the very first seed was planted. "Enfin, il faut cultiver notre jardin." It took Voltaire all his life to get around that.
The difference between today and Voltaire's time lies in the ability to penetrate consciousness by distant, automatic, artificial means. Even a hundred years ago, Gutenberg meant nothing to most of the world. They still couldn't read. But we've jumped over that, now. They don't have to read. There are movies, radio, TV, the Internet, cell phones, you name it. And persuasion is as much a science as an art. There is tremendous potential there, for good or ill. Hitler proved it. The innate good sense, the base spirituality of the average Joe or Joanna can now be subverted, perverted, diverted to evil ends, by politicians, preachers, demagogues of all sorts, en masse, by remote control, with the push of a button. Can be? Is.
Far from there being an Awakening, or any more enlightenment, there is a darkening, an anaesthesization of the human conscience. Fat and happy with supersized fries, sucking on the boob tube, Joe & Joanna are dozing away western civilization. They wake up woozy, their heads full of lies and distortions, and not just at election time. There's a constant bombardment of the Acquisitory Lobe, the hindbrain, and whatever you call that chakra around your crotch. Since it all comes wrapped in factoids, like butterfly shrimp in bacon (I'm hungry), Joe & Joanna think they know something. They may even think that, at long last, they believe something. But it's all a mile wide and an inch deep. There is no real spirituality, any more.
"The world had sped up, the population was mobile and the other traditions became interesting rather than threatening."
Hunh? Tell that to the Indians & the Pakistanis. The Arabs and the Israelis. The Christians and the Muslims, in Africa. The "Secularists" and the Fundamentalists in America. The very THOUGHT of "the Other" sends some of these folks into paroxysms of violence. No, I'm afraid that, for most people, religion is a tribal thing, and the call to prayer is a call to battle, today. It would be nice if we could all sit down to tea, like chummy ecumenical clerics, and have a nice chat about our differences, perhaps a nice bit of crumpet? But, somewhere in the night, a black church is burning. An A-10 Warthog is strafing a mosque in Fallujah at the behest of a Born-Again. A Jew is being beheaded by a Muslim. And a Muslim boy is being shot to death with "rubber" bullets in Hebron.
If the personal connection to the ineffable is not present, there is madness where religiousity should be. It is a disconnected line, yet full of chatter. They hear voices. And the voices say HATE, not LOVE. The inability to connect to an inner sanity, and peace, the lack of all interest in connecting with ANY "other," the refusal to recognize the sacredness of other lives (real ones, not "preborn"), leads directly to mass chaos, war, and destruction. And it is being led from the top, by people who lay claim to spirituality, though they possess none.
Pardon me if I prefer to cultivate my own garden. I don't trust the produce of yours, or anyone else's. I don't know if it's hemlock or parsley you're growing. How would I? The walls between our little gardens are insurmountable, impenetrable, endless. The good news is, we'll understand it better, in the sweet by-and-by. If there is one. Which, franchement, Je doute. In the meantime, I'll take my epiphanies where I can find them. Straight, no chaser.
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