American society has moved away from rigorous, structured religious doctrine in an attempt to “make everyone happy.” America emerged as the melting pot, welcoming immigrants from every faith and walk of life. American society is an amalgam of all these faiths and cultures. To respect or identify with the salient points of each religion, we created the hybrid of Spirituality.
American society has also developed a very me-centered mentality. Often this involves taking rather low-level, narcissistic, self-centered feelings and impulses, and relabeling them with high-level, post-conventional, world-centric — even holy — names.
The harder you could feel, emote, and express your ego with real immediate feelings, the more spiritual you are thought to be. This attitude can be seen in the views of our society, such as: live and let live; anything goes, everyone should find their path. It can also be seen in our political landscape as we take prayer out of our schools, burn the American flag, and refuse to say, “In God We Trust.”
Many aspects of eastern religions are incorporated into Spirituality, such as yoga and meditation. Often people who consider themselves spiritual rather than religious follow the rituals of religions such as funerals and weddings and attach sacredness to objects or concepts such as nature. Spirituality attempts to maintain its hold on the sacred while reconciling advances in technology and science. As our society advances scientifically, many of the mysteries of the past are revealed. What was once thought of as evil spirits that attacked infants we now understand to be bacteria that we can vaccinate against.
People who still maintain a close connection to organized religious doctrine are seen as less than enlightened — perhaps even racists or sexist, or unappreciative of cultural differences. Spirituality attempts to correct these defaults by fusing different aspects of eastern and western traditions. Nothing needs to be removed from your spiritual path (except, perhaps, any claims for exclusivity); all that is required is adding or supplementing information generated by continuing scientific developments.
I’m not sure this fusing of traditions will have a positive effect on international relations, as other cultures could perceive our “appreciation” or fusion as a profanation of their sacred rituals. I think it often fits the old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” When trying to pick apart religions and only take the parts that appeal to us, perhaps some of the content is lost.
There will not be fewer civil and international conflicts as societies move away from organized religion. While religion has undoubtedly provided the motivation, the justification, and the world view for numerous disputes over the centuries, it certainly is not the only cause for violence or conflict: Purely secular reasons and ideologies, for example, ethnic separatism, have inspired and motivated a number of conflicts.
Religion does not ordinarily lead to violence. That happens only with the coalescence of a peculiar set of circumstances — political, social, and ideological — when faith becomes fused with violent expressions of social aspirations, personal pride, and movements for political change. Societies will still have conflicts over economics, status, and scarcity of resources. If religion becomes less important to a society, another justification will be found that can be fused with humanity’s violent disposition. However, I don’t believe that religion will disappear from the landscape as a vitally important aspect of most societies. Therefore it will still be used as motivation for conflict and violence, even if it goes unrecognized.
This article was originally published in January 2020.