The same on-line article that quoted Dr. Rao, above, mentioned a Gallup poll that revealed 50% of people are talking about faith at work during an average day.
What many of us have longed for is finally happening. For centuries, mystics in caves have regaled their disciples with truths that are now showing up in mainstream society, often showcased in magazines and films. Growing numbers of celebrities are eschewing material riches for down-to-earth values and spiritual aspirations (for instance, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, helms a value based company and lives in a trailer).
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People who would never consider themselves particularly religious and who don’t attend church regularly are comfortable describing themselves as “spiritual,” and they are proud of the difference.
“The category “Spiritual But Not Religious” has become a growing and popular trend in western culture. It is a catchy and cool way of saying “hey man, I’m totally in to Spirit and God Stuff—but I could do without all the dogma, rules and stuffy church things.” 2
Modern life for those awakening to spiritual matters is less about conforming to doctrine and more about taking responsibility to express those qualities associated with the divine—by whatever name and however conceived. It’s a simple idea—to be of benefit to society—and the ultimate example of that is God! God, by definition, is wholly concerned with creation. It’s absurd to image a narcissistic God, only occupied with His or Her own wellbeing. What would happen to the universe if the creative power that sustains it became self-absorbed to the point of cosmic negligence? As any sort of legitimate concern, it’s a non-starter.
Another aspect to this trend is to move away from imposed values, ie. dogma, towards being true to one’s own values. Traditional values embedded in organized religion, have precipitated centuries of bloody conflict (Catholics vs Protestants, etc.) but individually held spiritual values are fundamentally less confrontative. What led to conflict en masse now invites collaboration between individuals who are increasingly interdependent. We need each other, and we need each other to be ourselves, not carbon copies all believing the same and behaving the same.
There’s a successful precedent for this: nature! The diversity of the natural world is beyond measure, yet the harmony is awe-inspiring. Yes, there is conflict in nature, but it is easily managed within a synergistic system where every life form is free to be itself and adapts to survive (and thrive).
We humans, by contrast, are slow to respond and adapt. The phenomenon of climate change is a sad but compelling example. Let’s get real, who cares about the cause? Maybe human activity has accelerated temperature rise (the verifiable data seems to prove that) but maybe not. That’s not the most important point. The facts are clear: it’s hotter, weather patterns are increasingly unpredictable, and violently so. The reasons for that are less important than the facts. Should we sit on our hands and debate or take action? Can the urgency of the situation inspire us to overlook our differences and cooperate?
When conceptual differences shuffle out of the way and we respect each other for our individual authenticity—not expecting others to come around to our way of thinking and behaving—then we can leverage the unique gifts we all bring and, together, contribute to benefits for society.
Perhaps that is one clear way of measuring the success of the new spirituality, the degree to which those involved are contributing. Otherwise, one can reasonably suspect that self-centeredness has simply taken up a new language.
What it means to be spiritual rather than religious comes down to daily behavior, well described by the phrase “walking your talk.” Hypocrisy, of course, is a hallmark of religious conflict. For instance, the 60’s satirist Tom Lehrer introduced his song National Brotherhood Week with this pithy comment: “There are some people who do not love their fellow man and I hate people like that!” You can find his song on YouTube at
The real distinction we are describing is between believing and being. Those who have been persecuted over the ages—Gandhi, Jesus, Joan of Arc, etc.—were all “be-ers.” And they invited others to “be,” not just do. “Be the change you wish to see,” Gandhi said, and this is exactly what he meant. We can have our different beliefs, just as we wear different clothes, but does that really matter? How do we treat each other?
In an increasingly black and white world, where polarization pits minorities against each other, the trend towards authentic spirituality underscores that this is an amazing time to be alive and contributing to the revolution that is quietly under way.
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