Categorized | Religion

Activism and modern “spirituality”

Posted on 22 June 2011 by Wm. van Nostrand

It is a known fact that there are many causes that are quite popular among the liberal bourgeoisie, who, in reality, have little understanding of the causes they are supporting.  In March of 2009, this especially came to be seen in Berekley, a city known for its liberal political views.  During that period, protesters gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the an uprising against the policies of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet.  However wrong and anti-traditional the Cultural Revolution was, there was another visual oddity worthy of mention and criticism.  According to some local residents, prayer flags began to show up, scattered around this college town, clearly visible in public spaces.

To the supposedly culturally and socially aware, such a sight may not be strange or troubling in the least. Yet, if one examines the situation from an authentically honest vantage point, then there does seem to be something slightly problematic with such a display, for liberals have long sought to attach the Christian faith in the public sphere.  On the other end of the political spectrum, those in America who call themselves conservatives would certainly have been outraged had they been symbols of the Islamic faith.  After all, have not entire court cases been fought over the constitutionality of crèche scenes and crosses in public areas? If someone had put up a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary like the ones seen in many countries of Latin America, or displayed a banner with the shahada, would these selectively “tolerant” individuals really think it so benign? Was this not a public sidewalk? And lastly, don’t practicioners of monotheism have a right not to be confronted by the talismanic gilded idols of Tibetan Buddhism?

This is not a denigration of the Tibetans, nor of their religion.  However, the very same people who have attempted to eliminate traces of monotheism now have no problem showing a more “spiritual” side by displaying the relics of an ancient religion.  To add to the irony, many such people cannot tell the meaning or function of such relics. They wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a bodhisattva or buddha, the differences between the Sakya, Kagyu or Gelug sects, or how many levels there are in the bardo plain.  They just like the flags.  It gives them a false sense of self-confidence that they are socially aware, and care for others.  It’s “good karma”.  It is a symbol of their solidarity with the oppressed “colored” Tibetan people, and so on and so forth.  The Tibetans, though perhaps worthy of support from those who support self-determination seem to be getting quite a bit of support from people who never understood much about Tibetan history or religion in the politics.

In the modern world, where standardization is the norm, members of society are over-socialized.  This means that they are only marginally capable of adopting broadly acceptable principles, and applying such principles ad absurdum in order to accuse others of violating those principles.  Therefore, while supporting the “non-white” Tibetans is considered acceptable by the media or by pseudo-academics, supporting the right of Afrikaners to live in peace in South Africa, or supporting the right of the Palestinian people to preserve their ethnic rights is not acceptable, and hence the average American does not support it.

In a society which operates as a secular theocracy, the undifferentiated man is therefore able to use activism as an act of piety which helps him to repress his failure in the religious world.  However, unlike religion proper their social activism only engages in pathetic, narcissistic, and deluded attempts for selfish ends which ignore all current realities.  Social activism becomes their new form of spirituality and religion, and their priests become the evangelists of liberalism, who in their cult-like zeal, attempt to play the role of dilantette pseudo-intellectuals; prayers are replaced by catchy slogans, and morality is replaced by vague principles of secular democracy, liberalism, and egalitariansm.

Another manifestation of the corrupt pseudo-religion of liberalism

Such is the religious consciousness of so-called “modern man”: He is driven by a sense of rebellion and self-hatred to believe in the faith of his ancestors, and at the same time afraid that consigning all religion to the realm of superstition might offend others.  He thus picks and chooses, as if he were a glutton sitting at a buffet table.  From Christianity, he picks the phrase, “thou shalt not judge,” from neo-Paganism a respect from the environment, and from Buddhism a sense of nihilistic abandonment from pressing moral issues.  Tibetan Buddhism, to them, feels like a “good superstition,” because the progressive “modern man” might say, “The Dalai Lama doesn’t tell me what I can and can’t eat, or whom I can and can’t sleep.  The Dalai Lama is a man of peace, diversity and openmindedness,” or perhaps, “The Dalai Lama makes me feel good about myself.”

For G. K. Chesterton, a Christian apologist of the early 20th century, it is not possible to reconcile the primitive orthopraxy of idol worship with modernity, for if the ultimate answer is God, then the image of an anthropomorphic pantheon does disservice to man by leaving questions unanswered.  This is one of the great ironies of the well-meaning white liberal who has fallen into a multicultural daydream with the Tibetan culture: if the flag-waving crypto-pagans of Berekley are closed off to any sort of religious belief, what precisely are they doing in their quasireligious exercise?  Chesterton states that at the heart of man and his senses, is a desire to “sacramental idea” that makes itself felt throughout human existence.  The prayer flags become this new sacramental idea.

What we have in the Berkeley prayer flag display does a disservice both to the revealed faiths and to that which is noble in pagan religions. Who can know if the people displaying them remember the Christian faith of their ancestors, or a time when it was the message of Christ that gave the universe a sense of purpose and wonder? Like the nomadic consumer today, many modern souls go shopping for that wonder and purpose in other, more exotic, and more elite marketplaces, committing to nothing, and are ultimately left unfulfilled. That is because religious faith in any manifestation, requires a relationship that modern man finds himself less and less capable of maintaining.  In any form of religious devotion, whether it is Islam’s submission to Allah, the Christian veneration of saints, or Hinduism’s bhakti, one concedes to a higher power some sort of deference.  The “modern man,”  however, can only lament this desperate sense of inferiority and lack of self-confidence.

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One Response to “Activism and modern “spirituality””

  1. John Morgan says:

    Very well-written essay and I agree absolutely. It’s been fashionable for liberals to adopt “oppressed” cultures, beliefs and causes since the 1960s, but really, they’re just the opposite side of the same coin and are just as destructive to genuinely traditional culture and spirituality. Present-day liberalism is the same liberal-democratic philosophy, in slightly different form.


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