Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Loss of the Sacred?

"In our spiritually impoverished culture...the sacred dimension has largely disappeared, and few of us know what it is to be touched by the numinous."

So writes Anthony Stevens in his book on dreams, Private Myths. He's concerned with Jungian psychology with its interest in the spiritual implications of rituals, myths, and stories that reveal enduring truths about human life.

I question his glib, overstated assertion with its suggestion that the world of the author (British secular culture of the 1990s) is typical of the reader's experience in the West. Religion has declined among many thinking people, yet the quest for the sacred, often taking place outside the bounds of established religion, makes ours a spiritually diverse culture, which is often at loggerheads with scientific materialism.

Stevens says the church is moribund, its symbols beyond reviving. This sounds like Eliot's Waste Land of 1922, which led the poet to religious affirmation in his later Christian poetry.

Stevens' very topic and his discussion of eternal dimensions of what he calls the soul--typical of many in the New Age movement and other widely-read writers who cull the best from various religious traditions (Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra come to mind)--would belie his point.

Religion may on the decline, with many people today in Western society attending services out of habit or not at all, but, as my audience for Thomas Merton and silence indicate, spirituality and the search for the sacred in everyday life is alive and well for those who know where to look.

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