I am not happy!!
I am not happy! I am waiting and I am apprehensive. I am not looking forward to the near future.
Have you ever pondered upon the marriage of society and spirituality? It is no good pretending that such a relationship doesn’t exist even though I can almost hear the cry of ‘Why bring God into everything?’ It seems obvious to me that whenever there is a fundamental change in one you can see a similar deep change taking place in the other. The link between the two is profound and can be seen through eyes of money and power. Let me look at a couple of examples.
Renaissance and Reformation
During the 1960’s I was taught by my history teachers that the Renaissance came before the Reformation. That was the straightforward presentation and a fact of life. The teaching went along the lines that as the traders and artisans began to better themselves then education began to be the norm for those classes rather than just the prerogative of the religious and some aristocrats, for in order to make more money and better their trade then their businesses had to improve. Better relations had to be fostered in surrounding towns to increase their market chances, both to buy and to sell. Better understanding of investments had to be gained and this implemented over the years for family prosperity and status to increase, and the best investment possible was to educate the next generation.
The trouble was that with the increase in learning, a corresponding yearning for yet more came with the package. It was a growing spiral of acquisition that grew into greed and power. A growing awareness of how to get things done linked with the survivalist’s motivation to better the family’s influence meant the status quo was questioned. Authority, both secular and religious, could not escape from the challenge of the times, and although the secular was initially more easily swayed or prevailed upon, the religious was under threat as well – and usually money, wealth and land got caught up in the focus. It was discovered that the religious leaders were just as avaricious as the gentry, and so their spiritual power base was rocked. Education had paved the way for individual interpretation of the teachings of Jesus, and when the religious leaders were found wanting, the Reformation was inevitable. At least that was the gist of what was handed to me.
I just wonder how much the motivation to change the status quo came from a religious awakening anyhow rather than just a challenge of authority and from greed. Although power and money are very seductive I cannot see that every Reformer’s motivation was purely at that level. With the growing awareness of the way the world worked, through direct experience and not just by education, came the realisation of how carnal most leaders of the times were – especially those of a religious persuasion. I give many a Reformer the benefit of the doubt and accept that their impetus to change was a desire to see a more spiritual application or working out in the everyday scheme of things, their understanding of God’s Will for their world. From this spirituality point of view it follows that the social world had to change as a matter of course.
So was it the chicken or the egg? And it didn’t stop there! Once the great reform was underway, the logical extension of this was the birth of the Puritan Movement and the growing unrest with the Old World order. Some things could not be contained, so the great adventure of setting up a New World order across the Atlantic Ocean began with the Pilgrim Fathers, and from that came the birth pangs of the new nation of America – mainly starting with religious puritan type communities. Here was such a huge change taking place across the globe that held ramifications for succeeding generations down through the centuries, lasting to this present day and age.
That is all very well as far as history is concerned, but more importantly from my point of view is how all of that affected the ordinary man and woman. From the comfort of hindsight, especially of a few hundred years or so, the unfolding drama of the time is both understandable and inevitable. People just had to go with the flow. History was unstoppable. But I cannot see it being that simple for those actually caught up in the currents of those times.
I am sure that the ordinary person went in fear and trembling about their daily business. Who but an extremist or masochist would want to draw attention to themselves from the politically correct brigade of the day? The consequences in those times put ‘Health and safety’ in perspective. Your very life could be on the line – let alone your livelihood if you said the wrong thing or made the wrong choice. Yet the average person had to deal with all of this even if they could see both sides of the argument and didn’t want to totally side with either? I am sure they didn’t want to live in ‘exciting times’. No doubt all they wanted to do was to know where their next meal was coming from and save up for their old age requirements. Little chance of that!
Whichever way round it was, both the Renaissance and Reformation provoked great social change; great change of spiritual expression in new religious frameworks; and notice that money and power were there at the heart of the matter. No matter what Christ’s teachings said, greed and the puritan work ethic was – and is, alive and strong.
A more intense example of this in the UK is the time of the Industrial Revolution, for the social order of the day was rife with strife. Inequality, social injustice, poverty, disease, prostitution, hunger, murder was the common lot. If ever there was a time desirous of change it was then. It was the perfect setting for revolution or religion, but instead of communism a new religious wave swept across the country as the Nonconformists received a new lease of life. Faith in Jesus meant a new order to things. No cheating was allowed and a high moral stance was adopted. A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work was a slogan of the times – that same work ethic being expressed by the nonconformists of Methodism, the Quakers and the Baptists. Mutual Insurance and Investment companies grew out of helping one another. Fortunes were made by such nonconformists as McAdam, Sainsbury, Rank and Cadbury. There was the move to abolish slavery, end child labour – especially working in the mines, the emancipation of women, evangelise the world on the back of imperial exploration and many, many new and exciting inventions stemming from that spiritual awakening. The Kingdom of God had to be built as a physical reality, until that vision was shattered by the First World War!
Perhaps the ordinary person felt they had more power and choice in Victorian times. There are many examples of people finding a personal vision and pursuing it through to some kind of conclusion, and I am not thinking especially of the Clapham sect members, the Oxford Movement adherents or such individuals as Isambard Kingdom Brunnel and the like, but the many earnest and committed people who saw possibilities to better their lot, set modest goals in life and worked hard to achieve them. I am sure that, once again, it was the ordinary folk who probably desired nothing more than a quiet and prosperous life that tried to keep their heads down and not be noticed by the authorities of pulpit or preacher, imperialist statesman, entrepreneur or land owner, making the best of their lot. They had to weather the storms of change, no matter what leanings or opinions they quietly harboured.
I suggest that whenever there has been the need to express an emerging spirituality in some form or other because the existing expression was moribund then there has been the foundation of a new movement for change in society. Or to put it the other way round, whenever the ills of society have provoked such unrest that they demand a fundamental change, then the strength to carry this out has been found in a new religious expression – we have a chicken and an egg situation.
And what of today?
I believe the West has lost its soul.
I see daily evidence of growing social unrest or disease. Respect for each other’s property, ideas, religion and even life itself, is dimming with each passing year. Dissatisfaction with government, sleaze, corrupt officials, apathy in elections and abrogation in leadership is exposed in growing abundance. Criminality is more likely the norm than the exception. We are even being advised NOT to help our neighbour, particularly those under attack as murder and knife attack are daily occurrences. On a wider scale there is genocide, famine, natural disasters, global warming, shortage of fuel, terrorism, and mounting economic fragility. And in all this the traditional churches are deafeningly silent.
I believe the traditional Christian expression is bewildered by its navel gazing. Debate on Homosexuality and Women Bishops take precedence over concern for a world that is tired and spiritually bankrupt. I believe that the stage is being set for great changes once again.
Nature abhors a vacuum and I see that vacuum in the lack of spirituality in the Western world of today. New Age philosophies are being tried and generally found wanting or lacking cohesive authority. Old religious ideas are being revamped, but with a more militant stance. There is a rise of Christian Evangelism as well as a more militant Islam, but I do not think that any of these truly answers the growing quest for spiritual peace and understanding by the vast majority. There is a desperation for someone to do something or say something that will truly help.
Change is in the air. Change – great change is inevitable. You do not have to be a scholar of Nostradamus or biblical prophecy to see this coming, yet I believe a New Messiah or great political saviour is being desperately sought by many. I do not want to see such a figure for rather than see a saviour I would tend to see a herald of that change, and all the implications inherent in that role.
There is growing social unrest amid a climate of vulnerability, there is a desperately seeking a spiritual something, and these two together spell trouble. I am worried for my children and their children. Once again I am sure that the average person will find themselves caught up in things beyond their control, pawns to the power struggles of avaricious politicians and company conglomerates. It is always the extremist who calls the shots, who dictates the policy or politically correct line, who clamours for blood and examples of those who speak against them. We are living in a time when political correctness and religious intolerance battle things out. The tolerant are forgotten, the respectful trodden underfoot, and money still speaks the loudest. It is always the moderate or ordinary folk who bear the brunt of change.
I think of myself as an ordinary person. I am not happy! I am waiting and I am apprehensive. I am not looking forward to the near future.