Improving the World with New Religions or No Religion
Our country and the world need new religions or no religion. The teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna show us how to be happy and wise as individuals, but they are not concerned about improving the social, political, and ecological aspects of this world. If we cannot create religions that value bettering this world of time and space, then perhaps we need to become spiritual but not religious. We need religions that see all creation as sacred and interconnected.
The monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam focus on appeasing a personal God, who is believed to be infinitely loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing. They are religions that have a lot of outdated rules and pre-scientific beliefs that were progressively developed from a tribal society about 3,500 years ago.
Conservative Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was the second person in a trinity, that he was literally raised from the dead, and that he will someday return to establish his kingdom on earth after the violent cosmic battle of Armageddon when Satan is bound forever. Many of these theological beliefs were developed by the Church decades, even centuries, after the time that Jesus was said to have lived. Most Bible scholars who study the Bible scientifically--not just devotionally--do not literally accept these beliefs.
Influenced more by ideas rather than events, Hinduism and Buddhism are more non-historical religions that focus on the Perennial Philosophy that says at the core of our being there is spiritual state of boundless love, joy, and creativity that we can attain through meditation and other spiritual disciplines--after we transcend the ego with all of its self-centeredness, selfishness, and pride. However, in Eastern religions, the world of time, space, and causation is considered less real, even an illusion, in comparison to this exalted state of oneness--when one discovers the true Self or whatever one might call it. For example, Buddhists say there is no Self, but words or concepts cannot comprehend this mystical state of oneness, which is beyond thinking, beyond subject-object duality.
Yoga and Zen and mindfulness meditation may all be very popular right now, which is mostly a good thing, but where is the focus on responsible citizenship, ecology, and the present state of the world in the lives of these people when they focus so much of their time on their own inner states of consciousness? Yes, it's true, we cannot have outer peace if we don't have inner peace, but if the world is destroyed through a nuclear holocaust, through the stupidity of world leaders, meditation won't be very helpful at that point.
There is much good in the self-help movement. There are elements of truth in the teachings of the Law of Attraction, the New Thought movement, and Cognitive Therapy because our habitual thoughts create our character and ultimately our destiny, so it is important that we pay close attention to our daily self-talk and affirm that which can heal our psyche and relationships. However, what might be beneficial for particular individuals may not be good for the community or the planet. For example, some people don't have any qualms about using mind control techniques to accumulate extravagant material wealth. What we must realize instead is that the highest expression of individual achievement is that which promotes the common good.
It is good that there are now an increasing number of seminars, teachers, and books that delve into the subjects of anti-aging, holistic health, alternative medicine, metaphysics, near-death experiences, and the science of consciousness. But, alas, where are the discussions and concerns in the lives of these people about the fact that our leaders are giving tax breaks to the super rich and cutting programs for the needy? Where are the discussions and concerns that about 54 percent of our nation's discretionary budget each year is spent on the military ?
We are creating our own catastrophic demise if enough people do not awaken--not just spiritually, but politically too. Do people just think "being spiritual" will take care of all the world's social, political, and ecological problems, or do they think that such exorbitant military spending is necessary for our security, or do they just feel helpless and hopeless about changing government?
In the Bible being worldly, or of the world, implies being under the influence of Satan which causes us to have lustful craving for everything we see and false pride in our achievements and possessions. Lustful cravings and pride are also discouraged in Eastern thought, but they are considered to be Maya, or an illusion, not the true reality. In Eastern thought, the allurements and attractions of the world create attachments which cover or disguise the Absolute Reality, Truth, or Self.
With meditation, we can learn to stop identifying with or detach from these allurements and attractions that ultimately create suffering or dissatisfaction with life. In Eastern philosophy evil exists not because of Satan, but because of misguided choices in this life or a previous lifetime. The central teaching in yoga philosophy is that our true nature is divine, but we are unaware of this divinity because we falsely identify with our body, mind, and the objects of the world.
In Buddhism, contrary to popular belief, the suppression of all desires is not encouraged. Desires (for food, sex, peace, and knowledge, for example) are part of life. However, when those desires are tainted by craving and grasping, that is when they cause suffering. Moreover, people swayed by the dominant culture in our society are enticed by a materialistic worldview and lifestyle that do not create genuine happiness or peace in the world.
Jesus taught that we should renounce worldliness. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, and that the kingdom of heaven is within you. Yoga's transpersonal psychology can lead us to an expanded consciousness when the firm identity that we struggled so long to build up is dismantled piece by piece. But though these teachings may be important for our spiritual growth, they do not focus on improving the world or building better communities, and that is how our new religions must be different.
Mohandas Gandhi was a Hindu. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist, and Dorothy Day was a Catholic, yet they integrated their religions with compassionate political action. The earth is being devastated, and we have a responsibility to be wise stewards of it. If peace on earth can become our highest priority, it will become a reality.
We can garner meaning from paradoxical spiritual principles such as "to gain freedom in the world, we have to renounce our attachments to the world," and "we must deny ourselves in order to find ourselves." The emphasis on compassion and sacrifice is found in all the major world religions. Thus, we can take the best from all the major world religions, but in our new religions we must fully understand history and science; we must make sustainable plans for future generations; we must deeply care about the people who will live here in this world when we are gone.