The Dalai Lama has recently published a new book in which he argues for a religion-free ethical life. That's a conversation many have been having lately, but it's a little unusual coming from one of the most recognizable spiritual leaders of our time. It's called, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, I haven't read but snippets and reviews yet, but it looks worthy of a read, if simply because of the content and the author. He essentially is arguing that in this age of globalized, digitized living with culture clash a part of virtually everyones life it might be time to look for a way forward, an ethical way forward that is, in his words, an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally accessible to those with faith and those without; a secular ethics. here are echoes of so many people and ideas here--my first thoughts ran to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote a short piece on religionless Christianity whilst in prison awaiting execution for his part in an attempt on Hitler's life.
In one review I read by Louis Sahagun for the Los Angeles Times, he wrote that "a metaphor the Dalai Lama likes to use goes like this: The difference between ethics and religion is like the difference between water and tea. Ethics without religious content is water, a critical requirement for health and survival. Ethics grounded in religion is tea, a nutritious and aromatic blend of water, tea leaves, spices, sugar and, in Tibet, a pinch of salt. "But however the tea is prepared, the primary ingredient is always water," he says. "While we can live without tea, we can't live without water. Likewise, we are born free of religion, but we are not born free of the need for compassion...(a concern for the welfare of others) when combined with reflection on our personal experiences and coupled with simple common sense, can, I believe, offer a strong case for the benefits of cultivating basic human values that does not rely on religious principles or faith at all. And I welcome this."
This is an idea that I fond myself moving to increasingly. In fact, my closest theological partners (Pete Rollins, Kester Brewin, Christian McCabe) all echo similar thoughts and pathways in their thinking, writing, practices. I have been feeling for sometime, that while the disappearance of traditional religion is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future, it's role in society and culture is shifting yet again. The past five hundred years, since the Protestant Reformation have seen religious impulses track with the emergence of modernity and take on a flavour particular to those times.
Since the 1960s and particularly as postmodern philiosophy gained influence, new trends and dynamics began to appear, along with cracks in religion's armour, or if not armour, then it's efficacy within society. Now we have moved into a post-postmodern age, defined with new digital textuality and the other changes that preceded, aligned and shaped our new world, it makes sense that religion underway a new shift--that shift doesn't bode well for those hoping for a healthy renaissance of 'what was' we aren't going back, I'll put money on that (Gingrichs' $10 or Romney's $10k!). This is why for me there are no theological grids (on any part of the theological spectrum) which have emerged before and up to the late 1990s that can adequately meet the current condition--they were all formed in a different world--nor do traditional approaches to the challenges of globality such as ecumenism or comparative religious studies, don't have much a chance either--time to look forward not back in my mind--get our heads out of the teacup and start swimming in the water, maybe we'll get somewhere--I like what the DL is saying.
The wedding I attended was quite an elaborate affair to say the least, themed tastefully down to the last detail. One component, a nod perhaps to the effects of globalization was a rather obnoxious DJ who played unedited versions of extremely dirty hip-hop songs at deafening volumes. He also hosted a little bit of a family talent show, where a number of family members demonstrated their singing and dancing (and in one uncle's case--fire-juggling) abilites. The bridal party, made up mostly of Western friend's of the bride ahd rehearsed a Bollywood style number which went down very well. So in honour of that performance I present a classic Bollywood moment from the 1960s...
A very interesting article in the most recent Vanity Fair by Kurt Anderson about cultural stagnancy. His argument is that American culture has plateaued and that nothing much has changed in the past 20 years--Madonna has morphed into Lady Gaga etc. and overall things have remained on a constant. He comments that, "Maybe this is the way that western civilisation declines, not with a bang but with a long, slow nostalgic whimper.”
This article comes on the heels of the much touted Simon Reynolds book, Retromania, which argues that we can define the past decade or two as the remix age where everything old is new again--something I wrote about in my doctoral dissertation as that idea pertained to religion, Christianity in particular.
Anderson's article contrasts with a Guardian piece by Jonathan Jones this past weekend. Jones cites Anderson and contrasts his essay with his own view on the difference between the two cultures in the current moment.
Time magazine named the 'Protester' as it's 'person' of the year, and now "We are the 99%" has been named quote of the year. 2011 will surely go down as the year of protests--from the Arab Spring to the Occupy everywhere movement. A lot of column inches have been and will continue to be given to the events of this year--a year that seems to be shaping up to have some significance on so many levels.
Perhaps the most interesting thing I have come across related to the Occupy movements is found at Cowbird, the latest venture from ace digital story-teller, Jonathan Harris, whose works continues to amaze. His new program is an invitation to tell audio-visual personal stories and link them to larger human stories--this is what they did with Occupy. It is not so much analysis as it is a visual sense of the event.