Friday, April 8, 2011

The immorality of escapism disguised as spirituality

(First published on the old blog on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 at 4:22 am. Republished with a minor revision for clarity)

Let’s face it. We’re in a bit of a pickle, us humans, what with imminent environmental catastrophe and a major extinction event of our making just revving itself up, and an exponentially increasing divide between the very few rich and the rest of us leading to the collapse of effective governance which can only culminate in a collapse of civilization.

If all those words are a few syllables too long, they can be summarized as: life sucks. It sucks for a lot of humans (and plenty of nonhumans) and no one not living in a bunker need look far to see the suffering. How many of us know someone who is unemployed or on the verge of unemployment? Who has lost their home, or is on the verge of losing their home? Who is living on the streets? Who can’t afford sufficient food or medical care? I suspect that most of us who haven’t isolated ourselves in caves (or in gated communities) can answer yes to most of these questions.

In the face of such suffering, what is the duty of a spiritual individual?

The Golden Rule is as universal a value as one can find, more universal than, say, the belief in Gods or angels, or the practices of prayer or meditation. If I were thrown out onto the streets by thieves who wanted my home, I would certainly act in my defense. In light of the Golden Rule, what then ought I to do about things like this? The world’s spiritual traditions are nearly unanimous: the duty of a spiritual individual is to act to alleviate suffering, based on the principle that the welfare of others is my welfare, the crises of others my crises, the suffering of others my suffering.

In light of this universal imperative, garbage of the sort I recently read at is simply obscene:

Stop trying to change others (people, systems, governments, organizations, policies, procedures, etc) and focus on the one person you can change. YOU! You have the ability to go inside your own self, your heart center, and change the program. The only thing you need to do is CHOOSE to do so. You can stop fighting yourself and choose to let go, let go of the fail safe belief pattern. We can promise you that it is SAFE to do so!

That’s not spirituality. That’s not profundity. That’s cowardice.

A genuine spiritual commitment is a commitment to what is spirit, to what is true, to what is right, to love writ large. It is not a commitment to private bliss — indeed, what private bliss actually exists can’t be gotten at without renunciation of the petty ego, and so can’t be found without paradoxically renouncing the pursuit of private bliss. Such a commitment, such a renunciation, far from creating a conflict-free la la world, compels deeply spiritual people to create conflict. The Reverend Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were two individuals of extraordinary spiritual depth. They did not retreat into themselves to find their own exclusive salvation, though it would certainly have been easier to do so. Instead, in the face of great injustice, they stirred up trouble with the aim of alleviating the suffering they had witnessed.

We need spiritual inspiration to get us through the crises of now and the coming years. We need a Gandhi, a King. I do not know where we will find our inspired spiritual leaders. But I know where we won’t find them, and that’s anywhere where the nonsense that we should not remedy injustice, but instead wrap ourselves up in an egotistical search for individual salvation, is prattled.

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