Saturday, February 4, 2012

Stumbling Towards Enlightenment

Belief systems are like languages. If you grow up learning only one language it is not until you start to learn another language that you realize that your original language is not "the one true way of communicating." If you were raised in some religions you may never see people who practice other religions as anything but "heathens".  Religions which do not accept a variety of beliefs may splinter into sub-groups (for example, the many varieties of Christianity and Buddhism).

My parents did not attend church.  When I was sent to stay with my paternal Grandmother for a few weeks one summer she tried to remedy my lack of religious upbringing by enrolling me in two Vacation Bible Schools - one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  I really wanted to participate in one activity, but I was told that I was not qualified because "you haven't been baptized." This was one of the first times I came to realize that, innocent as I was, I could be considered a heathen because I had not participated in a particular religious ceremony.

Since then I have continued to seek a faith I could believe in. I read religious documents, attended a variety of religious services, and even sang in a church choir for a while.  I always got turned off when I heard the inevitable sermon "You who are here will be saved - those others are godless heathens and will go to Hell." I disagreed and continue to disagree. Surely God wouldn't punish someone because they had been raised in a different religion and didn't know any better?

"He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

     by Emily Dickinson

Looking beyond traditional, established religion to see what "New Age" spirituality offered led me to further discoveries. Thence to the discovery of the growing commodification of religion and spirituality. Here, Michael York explains it much better than I can. I was especially struck by his phrase "The New Age is modified upon, and is an outgrowth of, liberal Western capitalism." That is, the fact that Hollywood is marketing New Age spirituality is not an accident.  The New Age movement is "a blend of pagan religions, Eastern philosophies, and occult-psychic phenomena" {York, 1995:34}. The accusation of liberal Western capitalism comes because New Age "borrows" or "steals" ideas and practices from many religions and then capitalizes on this borrowed product. Eckhardt Tolle, for example, mixes taoism with some Buddhist beliefs and practices (see this article in Psychology Today), "New Age Shamans" appropriate Amerindian and other indigenous' practices such as sweat lodges and dream catchers. (Lynn Andrews is a particularly bad example of someone who has stolen Amerindian ideas for her own gain.  I am not linking to her website. I shredded her first book after reading it, it was so dishonest. This fraud offers a four-year course in how to be a shaman for only $4,120 per year.). "New Age" energy healers use the concepts of "chakras" and "meridians" from other cultures.

So are we getting the best of all religions by this cutting and pasting, or will we just end up with a mishmash?

Meanwhile, the search continues. My favorite t-shirt says "Seeking Enlightenment".

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