Posted by: smstrouse | December 23, 2016

Shift Happens: The Dying Gasps of Nationalism

shift-happens-1000x437Shhh. Don’t tell He Who Shall Not Be Named and all his ilk: something is happening. There’s a paradigm shift in process, and while it may appear that the forces of xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, antiSemitism, and Islamaphobia have won the day, they are really the dying gasps of the old order. I don’t mean to downplay the misery these people can and will cause. But I also believe that there is a larger movement at work.

The Interspirit Alliance and others, such as Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord in their book, The Coming Interspiritual Age,  envision “the emergence of a new axial age, reconciling destructive tensions that have plagued the human family and awakening a transformed new era of enlightened understanding.” They not only agree with Brother Wayne Teasdale’s characterization of interspirituality as the religion of the third millennium, they predict that humankind is about to enter into a new age of interdependence among the people of the world.

interspirualageNow before you dismiss this movement as too “New Age-y” or simply a remnant of the 60’s Age of Aquarius, know that this prediction is actually based on social theory. Teasdale and others who consider themselves interspiritual pioneers would have us look back to a major paradigm shift in human consciousness called the Axial Age and consider that we are now in the first stages of a second such shift. Theologian Hans Küng goes so far as to call it a Macro-Paradigm-Shift, in which humanity is coming to understand the world and human responsibility in global, not local terms. This shift is the impetus for working together for the betterment of the world.

But first, a word about what came even before this First Axial Age. Human culture was primarily tribal. Being part of the tribe meant not only knowing one’s identity, but also having protection from other tribes. The lives of pre-axial people were intimately connected to the life cycles of nature and to the cosmos. Harmony in the relationship between human beings and the natural world was expressed in myth and ritual. However, this harmony extended only to members of one’s own tribe. Other tribes were considered “other” and usually with hostility.

Then from about 800 BCE to 100 CE (the date range varies among historians) a new way ofaustralian-gr-poster-gif-html thinking emerged from the eastern Mediterranean to China. Tribal cultures were faced with the rise of urban life. They had to develop ethical systems that could transcend the rules of the various tribes. Consider the phenomenon of the Golden Rule, which is expressed throughout religions, philosophy and ethical systems. This idea that we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves emerged during the First Axial Age, which ushered in a radically new form of consciousness. The great religions of the world are the product of the Axial Period. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Judaism all took shape in their classical forms during this period; and Judaism provided the base for the later emergence of Christianity and Islam.

And now, we stand poised to enter  the New Axial Age. What’s the difference? Here are some of the main characteristics of the emerging paradigm:

  1. It’s global. Humanity is seen as a single tribe and this one tribe is interconnected with the total cosmos.
  1. It’s an age of dialogue, not monologue. Instead of talking only with those like us, we meet with people of differing convictions, not as opponent, but in order to listen, share and learn from one another.
  1. It will be characterized by a deep commitment to environmental justice, including a shift from an exclusively anthropocentric view to one which sees humanity in interdependent relationship with all other life forms and with the Earth itself.
  1. It will involve a redefinition of religion. Many of the answers given in the past do not address questions being asked today. Just as Christianity moved from a Jewish way of thinking into one of Greek philosophy (which produced the ‘substance’ language of the Nicene Creed), we are now moving into a new way of reflecting on theological matters. Interspiritual pioneers, such as Teasdale, Johnson and Ord believe that interspirituality is the form that it will take.

Does this sound anything like what He Who Shall Not Be Named and his ilk represent? Hardly. However, paradigm shifts happen whether we want them to or not. As a person of faith, I believe in the continual unfolding of “all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, admirable, virtuous and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). I’m putting my money on the indefatigable Spirit of Divine Creativity.

In the  meantime, our work is cut out for us. We must do everything we can to resist the forces of the gasping, grasping, dying paradigm. But do not lose heart.

Remember: shift happens!



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