30 November 2008

Is the Revolution Green or Spiritual?

No serious survey of our economic reality can challenge the fact that the current crisis has laid to rest the myth that our financial institutions are sound. In a recent article, David Korten explains that “The financial meltdown pulled away the curtain to reveal a corrupt system that runs on speculation, the stripping of corporate assets, predatory lending, and asset bubbles like the real estate and dot-com ‘booms.’” When articles of real value are created as by-products of the quest for speculative gain, you know the system is poorly designed.

Two of my favorite proponents of change, Thomas Friedman and David Korten, are leading advocates for a green revolution that will align our economy with human needs and the natural environment. Of course, I agree with this perspective. And although many of the critical problems we currently face will be resolved by setting in motion the changes they suggest, we cannot overlook the fact that their proposal leaves the most entrenched and damaging element of the story told by the gurus of economic witchcraft unquestioned: the framework remains within a world view that can be accurately described as dogmatic materialism. This framework wants us to believe on the one hand that a process of trial and error aimed at social re-engineering will eventually lead humanity to material prosperity and on the other hand that any mention of spirituality (or worse religion) in this process will only deviate the search and postpone the desired outcome.

Rejecting the consumer culture,"today's inheritor by default of materialism's gospel of human betterment", and attracted by the spiritual terminology and principles that tout harmony and unity as fundamental to human prosperity, the green revolution has attracted many of our leading minds to its cause. An increasing number of people turn their efforts towards it and set hopes on it as a panacea that will somehow bring both material and spiritual prosperity.

Far from being a signal of a maturing humanity, this trend rather clearly shows how people have failed to learn the fundamental lesson that the global effort towards social and economic development has taught us: "The fate of what the world has learned to call social and economic development has left no doubt that not even the most idealistic motives can correct materialism's fundamental flaws. ... Fifty years later, while acknowledging the impressive benefits development has brought, the enterprise must be adjudged, by its own standards, a disheartening failure. Far from narrowing the gap between the well-being of the small segment of the human family who enjoy the benefits of modernity and the condition of the vast populations mired in hopeless want, the collective effort that began with such high hopes has seen the gap widen into an abyss."

Harmony and unity are, of course, spiritual principles, and although they are beautifully exemplified in the earth's natural processes, their source lies beyond the earth. Establishing an intimate connection with the source inspires people to exemplify these same principles by transcending their current condition for one which is inherently spiritual in nature. This spiritual condition is found in every human being in a state of potentiality that awaits development as a seed yearns for the nutritious soil, sun and water in just the right proportion.

Material development is a fundamental aspect of true prosperity, and thus should be vigorously pursued. Dogmatic materialism, however, by defining this search in purely material terms and imposing a fear of sounding naive upon any challenger, has succeeded in alienating or at least confusing the great majority of the human population for whom religion is still the main guiding force in their lives.

As many traditional religions ever less clearly reflect the noble truths in their original writings, the frustration for those who want to pattern their lives by these traditions grows daily. On the one hand, little truth can be found in social and economic development as it is currently conceived because it does not allow people to incorporate spiritual truths, while at the same time the social and moral guidance people relentlessly search for in traditional faiths are mired in dogmas and, well, traditions and thus the little guidance offered has become increasingly irrelevant. Growing numbers of the world's people find themselves alone rowing in a sea of religious confusion.

Proponents of the green revolution point to this situation and rightly name it for what it is: a deviation in our search for prosperity, a veil that motivates some to search beyond religion for meaning and others to sink into the dogmas and traditions in hopes of finding some acceptance and tranquility.

Critical to this exploration, as explained in the following paragraph, is the fact that religion when properly conceived can offer and has done so throughout history, what a green revolution can never provide:

Throughout history, the primary agents of spiritual development have been the great religions. For the majority of the earth's people, the scriptures of each of these systems of belief have served, in Bahá’u’lláh's words, as 'the City of God', a source of a knowledge that totally embraces consciousness, one so compelling as to endow the sincere with 'a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind'. A vast literature, to which all religious cultures have contributed, records the experience of transcendence reported by generations of seekers. Down the millennia, the lives of those who responded to intimations of the Divine have inspired breathtaking achievements in music, architecture, and the other arts, endlessly replicating the soul's experience for millions of their fellow believers. No other force in existence has been able to elicit from people comparable qualities of heroism, self-sacrifice and self-discipline. At the social level, the resulting moral principles have repeatedly translated themselves into universal codes of law, regulating and elevating human relationships. Viewed in perspective, the major religions emerge as the primary driving forces of the civilizing process. To argue otherwise is surely to ignore the evidence of history.


All quotes taken from "One Common Faith", written by the Baha'i World Centre and published in 2005.

In a future post, I will attempt to explore the question that naturally comes to mind upon reading this last paragraph:

"Why, then, does this immensely rich heritage not serve as the central stage for today's
reawakening of spiritual quest?"

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