Do you know the worst accusation made against us? (By “us,” I mean those of us who are part of this new holistic, open-minded, open-hearted spirituality.) It is that we don’t have any morals.
This accusation is crazy, because if there is one thing that I do know about us, it is that we come from the heart, know right from wrong and do our best to practice love in action.
I first became aware of this accusation almost twenty years ago when I found myself representing new age spirituality in interfaith circles and on the media. I remember so clearly a journalist saying, “No one will take your lot seriously until you give the appearance of having a clear set of values.”
This was also what I heard from clergy when I worked in St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London. “You people have no historical foundation, no heritage of ethics. You’re just after personal experience. You never engage with real world problems and injustice.”
I was stung by these accusations. I also did not have an articulate answer. I remember two occasions when I spluttered incoherently to defend us. This was embarrassing. Lack of clarity on a live broadcast with millions listening is not enjoyable.
As a result I began to rehearse a speech that might not only defend us, but also be a strong assertion of our values. I now know that speech by heart. Before I give it, I come home to my center and settle in my heart. I then speak it clearly:
“I absolutely refute your accusation that we have no morality. We embrace and support the core ethics of all the major religions, but instead of setting them up against each other in competition, we plait them together to make an even stronger statement of our values. These core ethics include: Do not kill; do not thieve; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; and so on. More than that, we integrate into this traditional morality, the values of environmentalism and sustainability, so that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren inhabit a healthy and harmonious Earth. And more than that too, we also integrate the values of contemporary psychology which fully understands that for human beings to develop fully and not become dangers to society, they need love, affection, support and respect. We entwine these all together for a strong and dynamic morality that is founded in the best of all that has gone before.”
A crucial issue
Knowing our values is a crucial issue because for many people the major importance of religion and spirituality is that they tell us what is right and what is wrong. This is what believers of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism expect – clear guidance about how they should live their lives. Do not kill. Do not lie. Do not commit adultery. “By their acts shall ye know them.”
But, say our detractors, modern spirituality is caught up in personal growth and the spiritual supermarket. In the jargon of post-modernism, we are lost in relativism – and have no moral core. These accusations are not true. As I wrote above, we have a very sure morality. So why do we appear to have no morality? Why don’t people know we have values? In my opinion, it is because we lack confidence. The reality is that most of us are living moral and good lives, but we don’t have the confidence to say so.
The accusation against many religious people is that they don’t walk their talk. In my experience, the people inside holistic spirituality – us lot – we do walk our talk. We have the opposite problem. We don’t talk our walk.
We do not seem able to assert our beliefs and values to people who may disagree with us. Whatever the reason for our collective low self-esteem (if that’s the right description) we need to get over it and begin to feel some pride. This is not the middle ages. We won’t get burnt.
One thing that we know for certain about the evolution of humanity is that when people disagree yet talk together, good things can happen. Being an engaged participant, sometimes passionate, in the discussion is what builds bridges and heals conflict. Silence, especially nervous silence, does not help.
We need to join in the great moral debates of our age. In general, we need to assert our opinions.
When the women’s, gay and anti-racism movements began, they understood the importance of raising consciousness about what it meant to be a woman, a gay or a person of color. Low self-esteem – the result of continual prejudice and suppression – was replaced by pride and confidence in their community, their human rights and their value.
I am beginning to think that we too need to move in that direction.
Our approach is profoundly valuable, but I know too many people who are spiritual and holistic but are unable to speak confidently with their colleagues and families. Again – we have the walk. But not the talk.
I do not have any answers here but I do have a strong instinct that we need to raise our consciousness about these issues – and fully appreciate that we are good, generous and moral beings.