Religions have played a key role in human history, especially in its earlier periods of evolution. They probably sourced the first ethical guidelines as our ancestors started living in groups and started rubbing edges with other groups of different origin and race.
As they passed from a collection of magical practices to more evolved forms of ritual and creed, they slowly – oh, so very slowly – enabled their members to evolve from a less narrowly tribal vision of the world to an inkling of the brotherhood of all mankind. Our definition of religion is very simple, i.e a community-based set of beliefs, rituals and practices based on the belief of some higher power.
A growing discontent with religion
However, with the birth of cities and the first nation states, religion also became more and more identified with the powers that be, with the dominant sovereign, to whom were often ascribed divine qualities. Male clergy gave an essential patriarchal flavour to the nascent theologies and practices, a patriarchal vision which culminated in judaism, christianity and islam. More and more, religion started being used as a support for state policies and wars. This was particularly marked in the case of Christianity. In the conquest of the Americas, it is estimated that anything up from 60 million indigenous peoples were exterminated with the blessing of the Church. Millions were reduced to slavery and there were intense debates in the Christian churches as to whether Africans had a soul.
At the same time, religion also produced some of the most evolved souls in history such as Moses, Jesus, Rumi (a Sufi poet and mystic) and also groups which were spiritually far ahead of their times, such as the Quakers who have always been pioneers in social reform since the inception of their movement.
However, in the West at least (but growingly now in other parts of the world), with the advent of the consumer society, ever higher levels of education and numerous other factors such as the very widespread practice of psychotherapy, not to mention in the past 20 years the extremely rapid spread of personal development books and workshops and internet, religious practice has fallen steeply, and many churches are fighting for their very survival.
Above all, a growing number of people are realizing that spirituality (that one can define as a personal search for meaning, guidance and a relation to a transcendent reality), is not necessarily linked to religion, and that they can perfectly well be on a deeply meaningful spiritual quest without any need for the latter. This ‘lay spirituality’ is more and more widespread, and one notices an immense increase in the search for meaningful forms of spiritual practice parallel to the decline of the churches. The majority of deeply spiritual people I have met in recent years belong to no organised religion.
The value of spiritual community
However, there is one aspect of religion that many individual seekers on the spiritual path miss deeply, and that is the powerful bonding effect of a spiritual community. This explains that more and more spiritual seekers are creating new forms of non-invasive ways of coming together and supporting each other. For a few years I have belonged to a blessing circle where we meet twice a month to bless people and world problems and politicians, etc. We have no ritual apart from lighting a candle at the beginning of each session. Each session is run by a member in turn
The most important aspects of the new spirituality
Among some of the salient traits of what I feel is emerging as the new world spirituality, I would mention the following:
Walk your talk: because religion was so often totally dissociated from everyday life and behaviour, with the dramatic results one knows, the search today is for consistency, for coherence, as the key requirement of this new spirituality.
Heal yourself: this is the logical consequence of the above-mentioned imperative – striving towards a world that works for all, nature and the planet included. There is an incredible urgency in this requirement and we are all requested to invest ourselves in this task. This magazine, as always, offers you a great array of tools for self-improvement to prepare for this task.
A bonding with like-minded individuals and groups: this is happening at top speed with the internet.
The acknowledgment of the essentially divine nature of each individual: despite all outward appearances to the contrary.
Awareness of universal Love as the ground of being and the ultimate aim towards which evolution per se is converging.
Let us consciously unite in this most urgent task of all: healing ourselves and healing our planet, remembering, as Edmund Burke once stated, that there is no greater error than doing nothing because we believe we can only do a little.
© 2013 by Pierre Pradervand,