Friday, August 26, 2005
There is this upwelling. There is this delicious rebellion. It is not yet loud and it is not yet conventional and it is certainly not yet dominating the national political dialogue and it is not yet making the headlines and maybe it never will and this is probably a good thing.
But it's happening. I have seen it. Maybe you have, too. I am, in fact, a part of it. Maybe you are, too. And lo, it is righteous and delicious and good.
It is this: Whole happy unfettered slews of people, young and old and in between, both genders and all genders and those who have yet to figure out just which gender they are, they are dancing to their own cosmic tune and blaspheming against the quo of status and taking divine matters into their own tingling and luminous hands because, goddammit, it's the right thing to do.
This is what's happening: Millions are defying what many think is the religious norm, giggling in the general direction of all those silly apocalyptic "Left Behind" books and rolling their eyes at the "intelligent design" nontheory and ignoring the syrupy chants rising from all those creepy megachurches across the land -- and they are, instead, defining religion and spirituality for themselves, against all odds and against all baffled militant true believers and against the president's very own bewildered-monkey stare. Imagine.
Oh sure, they've been doing it for years. Decades. Centuries. Spiritual self-determination among the intelligent and the educated and the independent- minded in this country is nothing new -- hell, it was the impetus for the Aquarian '60s, the happy drug of the '70s, the mantra of the New Age '80s, the sacrum tattoo of the '90s, the whale song of the '00s. It is, of course, one of the founding tenets of this nation, one apparently long forgotten and/or beaten into a bloody pulp by the neocon right. But still it flourishes.
But something feels different now. There is this palpable sea change. There is this deep simmering electrical pulse. There is the return of the divine feminine, the flip of the cosmic coin, what the mystics and the seers call the Great Awakening, happening within the next decade or so (for those who are ready). Or maybe it's just a giant and wise recoil away from bogus notions of a warmongering homophobic paternalistic God. Whatever.
I have seen it at the radiant retreats of Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), the world-famous Hindu guru and "hugging saint" who has literally touched the lives of tens of millions of followers. I have seen it at Burning Man (and I will see it there again, next week), where more than 30,000 glittered and cosmically dusted revelers gather every year to celebrate the rather obvious idea that "god" is nothing more than a raw hot energy that permeates all things at all times in all places and it is meant to be shared like a long slow tongue-kiss across all genders and locations and hairstyles.
I have seen it at yoga retreats and Wicca gatherings and in all related offshoots, Druidism and pantheism and animism, etc. I've heard it in the talks of modern gurus and nontraditional pastors and felt it in our deep cultural fascination with mystical powers and dream energies and supernatural phenomena, and it is perhaps most visible in the Religion & Spirituality aisle of your bookstore, the most explosive section of the publishing market, $2 billion worth just a few years ago alone, countless thousands of titles shooting up like flowers and very few having to do with how to kneel in abject guilt- addled faith to a solitary sullen disapproving deity and instead almost every single one having to do with how to take some sort of larger view -- or rather, a deeper, inner view, profoundly personal and free of typical religious dogma and churchy groupthink and send us your money now so the pastor can make his Lear payments.
I have seen it, furthermore, in the latest Newsweek cover story, where poll after poll and piece after piece reveal how many Americans are changing the rules, mixing it up, increasingly seeking ways to have very private, one- on-one connections with some sort of divine source -- decidedly not a domineering God, not a collective blind faith, not a white-robed all-powerful deity who stares down from a gilded throne and judges all they do and frowns at anal sex and sweaty dancing and female nipples under threat of fiery spanking punishment.
Millions are doing it, especially the young. They are shucking "religion" and taking up "spirituality." They are mixing Buddhist meditation with nontraditional Catholicism, eco-friendliness with Jesus, racial tolerance with Allah, ancient mysticism with Judaism, divine sex with Hinduism -- with an overarching sense that there is far more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in most organized religion's meager philosophies. It sounds good because it is.
So then, why not mix and match? Why not let spirit evolve as you evolve? Why not casually defy, say, the new and hard-line Pope Benedict XVI, who recently declared it very, very wrong to customize religion to suit one's personal wiring, one's perspective on the world? This is, essentially, the modern rule: If it's cultural and it's individualistic and the pope scolds against it, you know it must be juicy and right.
After all, "true" religion is, perhaps more than anything else, supposed to be empowering, is it not? Of course it is. They all say so. It's in all the brochures. My lovely recovering-Harvard-scholar significant other and I discuss it all the time and she's even written a book for youngish women, all about reconnecting to self and igniting that divine nonreligious spark ("The Red Book," coming this spring from Jossey-Bass, shameless plug), and we both agree that this empowerment idea is the major attraction of religion as well as its most fatal shortcoming.
Because here's the catch, here's what they won't tell you in Sunday school: Religion is supposed to be so goddamn empowering that it could very well empower you right out of the very belief system that's doing the empowering. It should catapult you back into yourself, whole and gleaming and so reconnected to your higher self (which is, of course, God, in miniature) that you don't even need religion anymore. Possible? Crazy, I know.
Look. Religion is not the answer, the law, the inflexible iron rod of pious justice. It is, rather, a hint, a nudge, a suggestion, a possibility for exploration meant to be sifted through for clues to the Mystery and maybe some great techniques for sitting quietly and shutting the hell up for a minute and listening to your breath so you can better touch the stars.
So then, let us celebrate. Let us champion the new non-ideologies, acknowledge the need to be reminded that despite all the militant fundamentalists who stab at the nation's soul and despite a warmongering president whose own unhappy God tells him to bomb foreign lands and despite the prevailing ethos of black/white, red/blue, Christian/sodomite, boxers/briefs we are, in fact and by and large, far more spiritually exploratory than we've ever been before.
In other words, it would appear, as far as the divine is concerned, that we are opening rather than closing, inventing rather than devolving, experimenting and thrusting and whispering new secrets to the moon rather than quivering in the corner, afraid of our own divine shadows, slouching toward death, unaware that our cosmic shoes are untied. Can I get an amen? Or maybe an om?
Mark Morford's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays on sfgate.com and in Datebook. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.