Our New Story — A “Life-Centric” Orientation
“…when the Plague struck Europe in 1347-1349. A third of Europe died.
Since at this time there was no explanation of this event in terms of germ
theory, the general conclusion was there was too great of an attachment to the
Earth. The great need was for spiritual detachment and absorption into the
Divine. This led to a more absolute commitment to salvation from the Earth
rather than to an integration with the Earth as a single sacred community.”
Thomas Berry ~ The Universe Story, p. 199
“How will we get to heaven?” That is, how will we be “saved”? If there is a single question that has characterized Christianity in our lifetime, this is probably it.
Evangelicals and Fundamentalists usually ask it in a form like this: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” In mainline congregations (both Protestant and Catholic), its more likely to be communicated within a creedal formula — something like: “Christ died to save [sinners like] us, so that we might have life….” (etc.).
But here’s the rub: for many people, “salvation” is not the central issue in their lives today. [Is it in yours?] For many — if not most of us — our preoccupation is about living (and thriving) in the here and now. At the practical level, it’s about making ends meet or finding the time to get things done. It’s about surviving on a day to day basis. And, if we happen to have a reasonable degree of mastery on survival, the next important issues relate to meaning and self-worth.
Despite this, the “salvation business” — getting to heaven or Nirvana or some other place “beyond the pale” —remains a central theme in today’s religious-spiritual realms. In fact, if we’re not ready to “go there”, New Thought/New Age suggests we bring it on through magical thinking processes like “The Law of Attraction”. Whether we go to “it” and draw “it” to us, “it” is all about being saved.
The late and great “Geologian” Thomas Berry (an explorer to bring God, humanity, and Nature back together) traced the emergence of “salvation theology” as the dominant theme in Christendom back to the time of the Black Plague. Berry explains that the Plague was such a catastrophic event and traumatic experience that people became totally preoccupied and oriented toward the next life — of getting to heaven, since Earth had become a living Hell.
Once established, preoccupation with salvation became entrenched in European thinking and their religious practices. And, even after the Plague had passed, the Church found it a profitable way of doing business — selling favors to the rich. Ultimately, this contributed to the Protestant Revolution — which changed church practices but not necessarily the prevailing emphasis on salvation.
Life was, of course, quite contingent and precarious in those times before the advent of modern sanitation, water purification, immunizations, and advances in medical treatments. We may forget, for example, that even in the late 19th century, about 1 in 10 Americans suffered (and quite likely died) from Tuberculosis. Coming into the 20th-century, average life expectancy for Americans at birth was about 45 years.
Uncertainty about if and when a person might be struck down by disease remained high. From this perspective, continued emphasis on “salvation theology” makes total sense.
But things have changed now. Sanitation and water purification have eliminated the conditions that caused many diseases. Immunization programs (like them or not) have virtually eradicated many deadly childhood diseases. And, modern medicine continues to bring forth increasingly effective treatment for other conditions.
Accordingly, in many ways death has lost its “sting” — today, for example average life expectancy at birth stands at about 78 years. Further, thanks to modern medicine, many formerly life-threatening conditions are now treatable, if not curable. As a general rule, most people remain pretty vital until the last few months of their life.
Ultimately, all of us are called to deal with our own mortality (i.e. as the old saying goes, “The only certainty in life are death and taxes…”). But it is usually not the focus of our day to day attention. Today, our preoccupation is much more with how to live — as opposed to how to transit St. Peter’s gate.
The problem is that for the most part spiritual and religious approaches haven’t caught up with the times. Instead of being oriented to the “here and now”, they remain principally centered on “the hereafter” — the promised land and how to get there.
As a result, many are “leaving the flock” (or never becoming a part of it). The fastest growing segment of the American religious scene are the “Nones”, those people who do not identify themselves as adherents of any particular denomination or order. They now represent about 1 in 4 of our population.
We perceive that the reason this group is growing so rapidly is that “traditional” religions are not meeting peoples’ interests and needs. That is “old time religion” is not being experienced as meaningful or relevant in helping people with the issues that are first and foremost in their lives.
Big Love’s response is to adopt a comprehensive, coherent, and wholistic approach — one not based on dogma or belief but on practice and experience. Rather than providing a “Silver Bullet” solution, Big Love encourages people to undertake a broad and balanced approach.
Big Love’s “Five Heartbeats” (Wisdom, Wholeness, Oneness, Co-Creation, and Nitty-Gritty), for example, is a way to “put your whole-self in — and shake it all about” …. to do the Hokey-Pokey of life and deal with the things that are most important in you life.
In other words, we propose a “Life-Centric” approach that leads to more fulfillment and greater happiness. It’s all about letting heaven touch earth — Right Here, Right Now. The more we are present in the here and now, the more the hereafter will take care of itself (and, when that becomes an issue, we can deal with it then!).
Olivia & Steve
It’s Your Turn!
What’s your experience of spirituality vis a vis “traditional religion(s)”? How does it work or not-work for you? In what ways has it informed your worldview in helpful and/or non-helpful ways? If you could “create” a religion of your own, what would its features be?
If you’re willing, please share your responses in the comment section under this blogpost as it appears on the Big Love Community Facebook page.
Big Love News:
The more we reflect on Big Love, the more inclined we are to “think bigly and boldly”. It just seems to us that the time has come to start moving things to a “new level” — whatever that might be (or unfold as).
The days of “business as usual” seem to have passed away. While these might be times that try our souls, perhaps it’s more important to ask (and start to answer) one of our favorite contemplations: “Is your life big enough for your soul?” Do you have any thoughts on this? Would you be willing to share them with the Big Love community?
If there are topics you’d like us to address, please send us an email from our “Contact Us” web page.