I have been watching the fluctuations in world religions with quite some interest for the past eight years or so. I have amused myself with watching the trends in mass religious beliefs and in the change in strength of certain leading religions. Of these Christianity is the most interesting and the most flexible – it is fairly easy to understand why Christianity had to clear its positions in Europe and America and moved to Africa and Asia to spread the word of the one and only God. For one Christianity has been too closely linked to politics, power, money, and death, frankly – for hundreds of years. Africa and Asia do not have this history of religious persecution. Christianity also made the mistake of leaving the experience of the divine to the religious elite (priests), who would then tell the word of God to the every-day Christians. This elitism is not present in all religions and could be one of the major reasons why the public would prefer to follow a religion where they can find God on their own and in themselves – whether through prayer, meditation, practice or experiment.
If we take the fall of Christianity in Europe, and to a lesser extent in America, as granted – then the reason for the spread of other religions and the rise in interest in spirituality, magic and mysticism becomes crystal-clear. Christianity has left a vacuum in people’s minds and hearts, which needs to be filled. The basic questions that science, logic and materialism have no answers for are still in need of an answer, an answer that other religions and belief-systems are willing to offer. As I mentioned in a different article, after-life – which was guaranteed and accounted for by the Christian faith, and lost in atheism, may be the reason for the renewed fear of death in the West and subsequent mass hysteria and over-excitement with terrorism. Security has been given more weight than it deserves, thus creating an unhealthy imbalance. Materialistic society in total fear of its end, or of the end of its individual members, is the scariest of societies, because it is prepared to do anything for its survival. America, anyone?
It comes to me as no surprise that now, when Christianity is at its lowest in Europe, the mainstream culture gets bombarded by magazines, tv shows and books that seek to raise the interest in spirituality and mysticism. The succes of the Da Vinci Code may also be traced to this development. This is no rise of a newer age movement, this seems to go deeper and touch on nerves that were left alone by new age, or even the 60s.
And which of these new religions that take over the bastions that were previously controlled by Christianity is the fastest growing? The picture may give some clues – yes, it is Buddhism. Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in America and Europe and has been so for a couple of years. It has numerous temptations for the Western mind – it is immaterial, it explains a functional model of stoicism, and it preaches for individual experience of the divine. The three aims of Zen are:
- Developing concentration of the mind
- Satori-awakening, enlightenment
- Personalization of satori
In other words this particular path teaches one how to use his mind more effectively, it will show him a way to enlightenment – satori, and it will show him how to incorporate that feeling into his personality and everyday life. Could Christianity ever claim to offer the same?
And yet Zen is not a religion as such – it is a Way. It is the role of a religion to explain anything and everything – including the meaning and relevance of mystical experiences, but a Way simply shows you where to step and how to do it without hurting yourself. That is one of the reasons why Zen may be relevant to people who are otherwise of a different religious doctrine.
Even though I wrote this article with Christianity and Buddhism in mind, I do not wish to influence anyone to think that those two religions are the only ones worth looking at. For one I wish that my knowledge of Sufism was more thorough, this short quote may explain why:
We Sufis recognize the essential unity of all world religions. We are Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Zoroastrians and Baha’is. Every path leads to the center. — Nick Sagan, Edenborn