OMG! Musings on Belief

People are living longer: Fact. People are spending more time being active post-retirement: Fact. People are thinking for themselves: Not necessarily.

The questionable nature of democracy in the current climate of globalisation, with capitalism being seemingly defined in numerous different ways to suit different ends (usually involving finance) – all this is taking its toll on real people. What also seems to be common amongst current practice, is the distancing of any kind of affiliation to spirituality from political pragmatism. Society seems scared of offending anybody. Or is it that there can never be a full reconsiliation between political ideals in the modern world and spiritual ideals like fairness, justice and respect?

In the course of my research, I am unearthing some remarkable pathways for consideration. One of these is that which has the potential to affect all of our lives, yet we are perhaps most reluctant to discuss it: Belief and all it entials (aka Religion). This does not stop the academic, scientific and cultural worlds from exploring it though.

What is significant about the arena today is that members of the community are not as isolated as they might once have been because of the way that communication has developed over the past two decades. The ability to tap into somebody else’s ideas is now easier than ever, and the web is becoming an on-going repository of thoughts, ideals and opinions as well as simply just a place to shop. Let me offer two examples: Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales – two individuals whose contribution to society will be documented to death in the future once the true impact of what they have developed beocmes apparent. They publish, and they stand up for the rights to publish. They do not always see eye to eye, but are singing fromt he same (open source) hymnsheet. The result has been an explosion in the relaisation that anyone can share information. Some would see this as a purely good thing, but others don’t. Why? because theire status is threatened by the encouragement of people to think propoerly for themselves for once.

Reconciliation of traditional ideals and modern practices has always been an issue – take Thomas More, who could not achieve his utopia in life without crossing swords with higher (earthly) powers. But, what is different about today is that change has occured so rapidly, suddenly communities are, indeed, able to develop themselves, free of any chains, loose or otherwise, with clear conscienses because God(s) have less kick than before.

This is not a total rejection of a higher power, but perhaps a reflection on the fact that people now can view existence and the world in different ways. Helped along by tragedies both natural such as Tsunamies and human-made such as terrorism and genocide, people seem to have awakened to their abilities to question their own belief systems and, therefore, their motivations.

Journalism is a very powerful weapon – it is news and opinion bearing media in both the broadsheet and the red-top world, buoyed by the fact that individuals are now expressing excitement, dismay, frustration, admiration, disappointment, affiliation etc via social media – the ability to publish being in their own handbags and pockets. Ironically, much low-quality, yet equally influencial journalism is based upon the informal rantings assimilated from the Web 2.0 platforms freely available. Assange and Wales are representative of the new industrialists who are infiltrating our lives in a way that we won’t really be able to turn back in our perosnal lives.

It is not that it is all bad, but that we must control our optomism. One thinker and author who would agree is surely Alain de Botton, who has been asked on more than one occasion, surely, whether he could be pope of an religion-free church. His doctrine is scriptureless, based upon the elements of life which fill us with fear, wonder and excitement. He does not want to destroy the temples – indeed, these are things to savour and appreciate. He is easily readable, a family man, seemingly normal and a good speaker. He likes to take the bones of religious fervour to buld a new body – once for each individual, disgarding the controling facets that limit humans so much. His thoughts are gaining attention even in religious communities, if only for the fact that some of them actually make sense.

De Botton flies the aetheist flag, as, indeed do both Assange and Wales. There has been a gathering storm of humanist feelings recently, reflecting a critcism of the way the world works in general, of appaling atrocities, of empty rhetoric and a need to validate life’s experiences through more reasoned fact rather than blind faith. OK, so there have always been protagonists, let us not forget some important influences on education also such as: Einstein, Sartre, Russell, Popper and Dewey, but what people found out about their thoughts was either read or heard if they had access to the literature or lectures. Today, so much is available, if one fancies a bit of existential thought, or share-dealing, all one has to do is click. It is this immediacy of information, leaving the individual to have editorial control, which means I am not surpirsed that the founders of the largest shared encyclopedia and most controversial open publication facility dare not believe in a god. These two are pragmatic influences who have come to the fore, from totally new sources into the public consciousness.

Other atheists are more dismissive of religion with their own leanings: Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet continue to promote deeper thinking on how successfully God and Science can co-exist, and, indeed, if they need to. Christopher Hitchens’ death drew much interest and has now meant that, like Michel Foucault, his ouevre can be torn apart and examined in minute detail without a response from the creator. The popularisation of a more godless society may even have been helped by respected figures associated with humanist leanings such as Umberto Echo and A. C. Grayling along with those associated with more popular culture such as comedian Stewart Lee and authors Lemony Snicket and Terry Pratchett.

Collectively, I suppose I am musing upon the fact that as established religion seems to be waning as a regular touchstone for people, notables such as these are having a profound effect on what people feel and desire. One only has to consider the recent arguments over whether council chambers should pray before meetings. At one time there would have been public outrage at the whole idea, but today, many people perhaps agree. John Lennon sang about “nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too” in Imagine. It strikes a chord still, especially since we now can see what is going on so much more readily. We can even assess how much our countries ignore, for the sake of allowing instability in certain parts of the world.

Older adults, and the older adults of tomorrow are subject to cultural influences, just as anyone. The post-retirement part of life is now being regarded as a chance for more active life, with periods of 30 years not being ruled out. God’s waiting room will be empty for a while, if, indeed, it exisits at all. We are, perhaps, becoming enlightened ourselves.