Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Faith in Consumerism/Technology Replaced Faith in God

A friend of mine said once that whenever anyone walked through the doors of our Buddhist temple, it was because they were suffering and they were seeking a path to end their suffering.  That is probably a statement that can be made of all religions.  

In the past, when true faith in God was high, most people looked to religion to ease their insecurity and if not end their suffering, at least give them faith that there was some larger reason for their suffering.  Belief in God trumped everything else. “The Lord works in mysterious ways”; if we mere mortals can’t understand why, it’s not in our place to ask.  Even when people were in dire circumstances or tragedy struck, their faith in God was not questioned, indeed could not be questioned because to question it would have left them bereft of spiritual support, alone and unprotected; instead their faith provided them with comfort.

Enter the modern age of capitalism and consumerism.  Just as Darwin’s theory of evolution was taking root in the public mind, creating fissures in the bedrock of faith in the Bible and in God (the Scopes Monkey trial was in 1925), and the scope of the terrors of WWI raised questions anew about God’s mysterious way, there rose in our midst a new preacher, the ad agencies who promised happiness and security through the acquisition of goods and wealth.  Shaken in their beliefs, people were open to a new way to end their suffering, a new faith, and thus were an easy target for the siren call of consumerism.

And so for most of the 20th century, although surveys in the U.S. consistently reported that the vast majority of people stated they believed in God, religious service attendance declined as did membership.  People were giving lip-service to a belief in God, most likely as a result of peer pressure, the desire to belong to the group.  Their actions spoke otherwise.

But although the masses bought in to consumerism and its promise of happiness, people found themselves still feeling insecure and alone.  Small wonder!  And so during the last decade or so, the siren call of the new technology and social media found an avid audience.  If you observe people on the street, in restaurants, in any public setting, it would appear that most people have been fully taken in by the illusion of connectedness, of multitudes of friends, that the new technology provides.  Their faith in this illusion is so strong because it seems directly to answer their deepest longing.  Indeed the only word to describe their constant attachment to their electronics is “addiction.”   How sad.

At about the same time, though, a slight change in this shift of allegiance away from God could be observed.  Some people, mainly among the young, were feeling the effects of having no spiritual support.  They had grown up in an era in which they were not exposed to true faith.  So, unlike their parents, their faith wasn’t shaken, it never existed; there was just emptiness.  While they didn’t reject consumerism and technology, they were looking for something deeper to end their suffering and insecurity.

On the Protestant stage, numerous mega-churches … orthodox in the sense of preaching the inviolability of the Bible as the word of God … began preaching that God wants you to be rich.  That together with their emotional enticements … being born again and having a “personal relationship with Christ” … and “relevant” formatting resulted in soaring membership and attendance.  An odd marriage of convenience.

On the Jewish front, there has also been a large increase in the Orthodox community, both the more liberal Modern Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox.  Without, however, the accommodation to modern culture seen in the Protestant mega-churches. 

But these changes in the Protestant and Jewish communities are small blips in the overall decline in religiosity as measured by attendance and membership.  The false idols of Consumerism/Technology still hold the greatest sway in our modern culture.  And so the vast majority of people, bereft of any sense of their spirituality, are left feeling alone and insecure behind a facade of connectedness at the same time as their ability to find some security through consuming, illusory though it may be, is impacted by falling real wages.

One can only hope that another false idol doesn’t appear on the scene to lead a weakened people astray and that instead a true source of spirituality, accessible to modern man, makes its presence felt and awakens people to their true self … to the God, Buddha, Higher Power, or whatever one calls it within them.