Religion 102: Toward a New Spiritual Discipline

We’re a degenerate society, America, that is, profane and impolite, licentious and unlicensed, democratic and debauched. We’ve lost our way as a society, a nation, and a culture, for what reasons being debatable.  What’s worse: having made our deal with the Devil we now dismiss those religions that haven’t, as though our degenerate society is somehow superior.  We’re drunken, drug-addled, sex-craving, and proud of it! This is how we measure our manliness, and increasingly: our womanliness…

Starlets repeatedly score fashionista points for how much skin they’re willing to show, as if titillation were talent. Paragons of virtue we are no longer. Is this the best we can do as a race of people? Much of this is in the name of ‘freedom’, of course, which is understandable, given our traditions, but some of it also tries to pass for spirituality, which I object to. Early Christians used to torture themselves mercilessly to show their love of Jesus and God, you know, quite the opposite of nude selfies at the Grand Canyon…

Now I’m not advocating a return to the self-flagellation of a previous era, but a little rigor would be good IMHO. Discipline is the key concept here and can take many forms: conceptual, physical, personal and emotional. From the viewpoint of religion and philosophy, personal discipline might be the most important. To be a spiritual person on a spiritual path takes discipline. Control yourself. There is no shortcut. Practice. Meditate. Study. Don’t talk bad about people.  Don’t flip off city buses in crosstown traffic (oops!).

Conceptual discipline is subtler, and more nuanced, but not necessarily any easier. Posting quotes by Eckhart Tolle and Thich Nhat Hanh can only go so far and accomplish so much. In order not to be silly superstition, religion should welcome the contributions of science, not stand at odds with them. ‘New Age’ spirituality is as guilty of this as fundamentalist Christianity, or Islam, or Buddhism. Google ‘Earth Energy’ and you’re more likely to get the address for a marijuana dispensary than any recent reports on the latest measurements of ‘earth energy’ emanating from the earth’s poles.

It’s a lovely metaphor, true, and the earth does have a magnetic field, of course, but there simply isn’t much proof of anything more than that. There simply is no evidence that our planet is a living breathing organism—sentient being—in the same sense that we are. Yet New Age spirituality evokes it constantly.  The mantra ‘we are all one’ does not necessarily mean a whole lot, either. That’s too easy, and simply not accurate by Buddhism—to which it’s usually attributed. Ditto the ‘Eternal Now’ that gets so much play in the popular ‘transformational’ press.

These are analogies and metaphors, quite nicely, but seldom subjected to scientific rigor. But we don’t really want facts and figures, now, do we? We want words that make us feel good: fuzzy physics and cozy chemistry, bozo biology and lazy linguistics. There’s no case for predestination, for example, but it makes you feel good, doesn’t it, at least sometimes, the idea that everything has already been ‘written’? Religion is supposed to make you feel good, and it does that by correctly predicting the future.  Easyyyy….

If it’s wrong then you simply back-fill the logic later, retrofit the narrative. Boop! Now it’s right!  It’s also said that Buddhism accepts no accidents nor mistakes… and that may well be, but we’ll never know for sure. Some things simply can’t be proven scientifically.  Now this is not the same as predestination, but still it feels good anyway, and you can never prove it, regardless…

…and that’s good, that we–the mind–can adapt to constantly changing situations and somehow manage to adjust the narrative accordingly.

But religion needs to be more than motivational speech. It must improve our lives as well. If I die without improving someone else’s life along the way, then I have failed spiritually. If I improved one person’s life, then it’s a tie, a wash, a draw, since I am only one person myself, and someone likely helped me along the way, too, if not many. But if I have improved the lives of two people, then I have had a net positive effect on the material world, and then, and only then, can I truly rest in peace. We are all one, after all… 🙂

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