“Only through sentiment and caring may enlightenment be achieve.”
Perhaps you caught that, perhaps not, it is a completely fake quote I thought up. This is a simple representation of what has occurred in the West, the stellar philosophical content found in Eastern thought and the deeply rooted traditions of Christianity, reduced to a sappy line easily found on a Hallmark card. Maybe it started with the New Age fad, the liberal’s quest for entropy, or plain capitalism making a buck, probably all three are to blame. In reaction to orthodox religions and dogma, there has been the rise of the exact opposite, the spirituality of the saccharine. This can be found at the local ‘Wiccan candle shop’ or the nearby Unitarian Universalist Church. There is no shortage of the “spiritual not religious” crowd. There are three characteristics I find most evident and worth discussing. I do not expect an end to this trend any time soon, if anything it will continue to spread.
1) Universalism: There is a deep confusion that has arisen with multiculturalism and ethnic acknowledgement. People praise diversity while simultaneously attempting to negate diversity. If one acknowledges the differences between Group A and Group B, one will be chastised for prejudice. When multiculturalism is spoken of, what is really being advocated is the superficial details of the culture, not the actual inherent cultural values. Homogenized diversity is what is actually being advocated. This may sound contradictory and of course it is. We must all hold hands as universal spirit, one humanity, a monoculture, which is implicitly inclusive of everyone thus diversity. Universalism is a naive hope and a destructive ideal. By no means do I suggest xenophobia or ‘purity’, which are obsolete toxic relics that have no foothold in today’s world. Rather if we truly wish to appreciate and respect diversity then it cannot be under the homogenizing guise of universalism. The beauty and richness of the world lies in differentiation. One culture is different from the next culture, and attempting to combine the two into a universalist monoculture is dismissing the cultures altogether for the sake of a zealous goal. Culture A and Culture B are defined by what differentiates them from one another, friendly relations can persist without homogenization. I do not propose cultural relativism, but I do propose cultural acknowledgment. The relevance of this is that all religions are not the same, all spiritual experiences are not the same, all religions are not compatible with one another. Perennialism expresses best by stating that although religions are part of the whole, they still maintain differentiation. András László put it succinctly in stating, “The wisdom of non-differentiation is superior to the wisdom of differentiation, but it could not be achieved without the wisdom of differentiation. Therefore the wisdom of differentiation should precede the wisdom of non-differentiation.” The trend of today is to deny differentiation for the sake of a universalized humanity, a monoculture, a one religion of love, while feigning an acknowledgment of diversity.
2) Feebleness: Weeping sentimentalism, sappiness, false sense of togetherness, in praise of being weak, these have become trademark features of the “aware”. The more empathetic, the more ‘bleeding heart’, this has been twisted into a sign of being spiritually aware. Shallow emotions have been rationalized into religious value. No doubt it is the pursuit of an emotional high or sentimental comfort among others of like heart. Whether it be in megachurches or vain activism. There has been an inversion in that weakness is regarded as strength and strength as weakness. The warrior of yesterday is replaced with the pacifist of today. Nietzsche spoke of slave morality displacing master morality beginning with Judaism and Christianity. The values of the persecuted and downtrodden became the prevalent system. Today’s trend of pseudo-spiritual humanism is the latest reincarnation of the slave morality. The saccharine has displaced the assertive. The saccharine sickly are those whom frame themselves as emotionally weak, in need of constant validation and a warm heart, whom are slighted by the least offense and unkind word, yet perceive this as being ‘spiritually aware and awakened’, even holding authority.
The Buddha was no weeping sentimentalist. His compassion was intended for the ending of suffering ie cycle of life and death, not the tearful weeping of those less fortunate. His non-harm is because harm is implicitly attachment. The saccharine sickly have taken the rather stoic Buddhist teachings and reduced them to masturbatory cheerfulness and Oprah Winfrey self-help. Whether it be the Buddha, the Brahmin caste, or Plato’s Philosopher Kings, these were paragons that had risen above sense of self, above sentimentalism, above validation, they were a far cry from the sickly feeble whom huddle together licking wounds and singing songs about universal love and happiness.
3) Fear of the Ugly: War, famine, violence, disease, cruelty, these are horrible aspects of existence that no one wants to endure. If it can be avoided, better to do so. As ugly and horrific as it is, these aspects of existence are as much a part of existence as fertility, abundance, love, and peace. Hurricanes exist alongside rainbows. This is not to advocate a naturalistic fallacy, only that we must be honest about the whole of existence. Tragedy, pessimism, sobriety have become ‘secular sins’ which dare not be committed. One must maintain eternal optimism, cheerful friendliness, and a smiling face. Since Sophocles the tragic has been acted out and made into art, not to avoid and avert from, but to accept and see the powerful affirmation that it is. Life as we know it would not be living if it did not contain the tragic. Even the horrors of war which are not to be taken lightly, also should not be demonized. If there are no alternative solutions, and conflict is inevitable, then it is an authentic duty and role to protect ones loved ones and people. The Norse understood this well, to die in battle was the most sacred death, to die defending ones people. The pivotal detail is the decision to go to war, which we see in current times has not been made near prudently enough. The ugly, the savage, the unpleasant and unpleasurable must be accepted as part of the whole of existence. Aries existed as much as Demeter, Set existed as much as Ra, by neglecting the less pleasant aspect of the universe in favor of the more pleasant is malnourished, incomplete. The saccharine sickly are not only malnourished, they are stricken with dystrophy. Needless and unnecessary pain is ignorance, but meaningful pain and tragedy should not be condemned or skirted.
There is much more to be said, and not enough can be said on the subject. The glorification of the weak and demonization of the strong is a vein in culture that reaches throughout. My attempt above is only that, an attempt. Expressing ones thoughts verbally and clearly on such an abstract topic is difficult. This is a start if nothing else.