Strawcat (strawcat) wrote,

Spirituality and Society at Crossroads

As society became increasingly liberalized, technological, and compartmentalized in its functions, there developed a growing chasm between the shrinking domain of religion, and the secular. This development is widely championed as an indicator of social progress, reminiscent of Enlightenment-era attitudes. In some ways, particular reforms and assurances may have been necessary to organize and maintain a more complex, interconnected and multicultural world. Separation of Church and State purports to prevent the political process from being co-opted by narrow, dogmatic interests and the same thing could be said about attempts to preserve the integrity of scientific methodology.

Still, in other ways, secular interests have co-opted many societal arenas and functions that were once holistically-centered and integrated with spiritual values, by foisting paradigms of further compartmentalization and modes of atomistic and reductionistic thinking, especially upon marginalized and traditional peoples. In the guise of "foreign aid", technologies are exported that promise greater wealth (at least in the sense that wealth is defined within the mindsets of the exporters), but instead destabilize local systems that are sustainable and replace them with unsustainable systems that increase dependence and subservience to developed nations. In Bali, for instance, a highly complex agricultural system that had operated for at least a millennium was intricately connected to the traditional water-based religion, where the distribution of the limited water available was controlled by priests through rituals attuned to water and pest cycles, which facilitated cooperation among farmers and allowed for the optimal function of the whole system. When the Green Revolution came to Bali, social capital, such as trust and cooperation, was eroded away in the interest of monetary profit, which depended upon competition and pushing the role of the priests to the sidelines. Productivity gradually fell each year, despite the imported crops being specially engineered for high yields, as water and nutrient cycles were controlled in ways that ignored traditional ecological wisdom. The old rituals still continued, but remained divorced from their integrated and practical significance. It was ultimately the emphasis on a purely secularized, technological approach at the expense of the previously integrated units that led the failure of the Green Revolution and the disenfranchisement of local populations in this region, who eventually wished to return to the old way of life.

In many societies, health, healing and spirituality were intimately connected. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being were of unified concern and often treated together by the same experts. As we came to conceive of the body as a machine separated from, if not devoid of soul, major advancements in medicine promoted the proliferation of much data, information and knowledge which both resulted in numerous specializations and compartments required to organize and advance the complexity of this knowledge within each sub-field. The mind, now often treated as an epiphenomenon of brain function though conceptually severed from the whole of being, could also be delved into by specialists who could be further classified depending on the emphasis of their approach. The reductionistic models of "chemical imbalance" promoted by pharmaceutical industries in characterizing and treating common 'neuroses' like anxiety and depression fail to account for the social, environmental, and more holistically-situated factors often involved, nor can it account for the the sharp rises in these ailments that are more likely to be intertwined with the kind of alienation that has resulted from the broader fragmentary scheme. More broadly, the issue is exacerbated when psychiatrists attempt to treat problems codified into little conceptual boxes packaged strictly as psychological disorders but are often actually broader than the narrow confines of their field permit. Problems brought to psychiatrists frequently have existential or spiritual dimensions that the secular practitioner is seldom willing or able to delve into. The same dilemma must also confront the physician from time to time when the reality of death and dying suddenly sinks in after patients are steeped in a culture of death-denial throughout the course of their lives. Now we see a doctor for our bodily ills, a psychiatrist for our mental ills, a councilor for our emotional ills, and a spiritual adviser or chaplain for our spiritual ills with few opportunities to address, let alone trace the interconnections between our broken fragments of self, that were originally closer to being an indivisible whole.

And so too has our society shattered into divisive fragments that are often needlessly at odds with each other. Today, when we conceive of what the religious and the secular mean for each one of us, when we are asked about our beliefs and values, it is often framed as a mutually exclusive choice, in which we must place ourselves in one diametrically opposed camp or the other. As the secular camp gains dominance and the religious camp starts to wane in many parts of the world, increasing scrutiny and skepticism are shed on those who would side with the religious camp. It is seen as a way of life that is of little practical significance and written off as irrational. And given that the reach of spiritual influence and discourse is often limited to semi-private happenings of this or that church or temple, whose rituals are sometimes divorced from their original context and viewed as "empty" as the post-Green Revolution rituals in Bali must have seemed, it is no surprise that religion, by the secular, is seen as pointless folly. And as a backlash reaction, some of the religious grow more fundamental, more persistent and dogmatic within this polarized arena of confrontation, fueled by the fears of losing more ground. Edicts and ancient guides for prudent living are taken to literal extremes to the point of having moral jurisdiction in the lives of non-believers and more moderate practitioners, and when met with resistance, force their way into politics in spite of purported church-and-state separation. This furthers the polarization and widens the chasm, setting in motion a positive feedback loop. Ultimately, the decoupling of the spiritual with the mundane has created a schizophrenic breakdown in the collective consciousness of society, leading to manifestations of self-delusion, cognitive dissonance and ultimately alienation within individuals who identify with both the religious or the secular camp.
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