January 22, 2006

Looking for something exotic, something exciting in a religion?

On the occasion of Britney Spears having her son anointed at a Hindu temple, The Times of India asks why Americans are so taken with Indian religion:
Hazra of the Art of Living. "Distances between people are decreasing, but without the sensitisation to other cultures, a different level of estrangement arises. America has the largest number of lonely people.They feel the need to reach out, and it has a certain amount of awkwardness to it. When the Beatles came to Maharishi, it was a fad, a form of escapism. Today, it is more need-driven and more serious."

And it's this kind of easy-to-digest spirituality that the West prefers. Says sociologist Nandini Sardesai, "By and large, people in the West prefer sermonisers, like Maharishi Yogi, Deepak Chopra and others who put forth spirituality in an attractive package. They sometimes prefer to hear it rather than read for themselves. All the spiritual leaders, Buddha, Christ or the Prophet Mohammed, have been from the East. That tells us something."

People like Britney who are liberal women are looking for a religion that's all-inclusive. There are people who want something new, something vibrant. Indians have been inculcated with it but for foreigners, it's exciting."

Theatre person Gary Richardson adds, "Religion in America has been taken over by a lot of ultra conservative people. A lot of Western people are not finding the answers that they are looking for.
Is looking for religion outside your own culture more suspect, more discreditable then sticking with the religion of the culture you happen to have been born into? If you think it is, then what do you think religion is? Is there some notion that it is easier to adopt a foreign religion? But why? There are easier and harder forms of every religion. You may criticize people for taking the easy path -- and we instinctively assume that's what any pop star is doing -- but there is some difficulty to leaving home in search of religion. Are we critical because we think these foreign religion seekers are only looking for an exotic thrill? But to seek God inherently involves moving beyond your mundane surroundings.

22 comments:

PatCA said...

"All the spiritual leaders, Buddha, Christ or the Prophet Mohammed, have been from the East. That tells us something."

Well, yes, maybe, or we just don't know what other spiritual leaders existed because their religions died out or were overwhelmed by the older more established cultures, which were from the East, to our knowledge.

Religion is a big subject. I know lots of lapsed Catholics who turn to even more stringent religions, but I think it's part of the process of coming to terms with your past rather than a simple conclusion that religions exotic to one's own culture are better.

HaloJonesFan said...

Mostly, I think it's that Western religions (including Islam) are very serious. Even the New Testament has little room for feel-good faith. Eastern religions, on the other hand, are more along the lines of "do, like, whatever, man." It's not difficult to be religious in an Eastern sense, because one of the primary aspects of Eastern religion is that we are inherently religious--you don't have to do anything special or difficult to commune with God, you just have to exist.

Ricardo said...

As we age, we want our religions to age well with us. To give us a certain richness of experience, as we become more skilled at understanding the spiritual world around us. But many western religions have been going in a capitalistic direction, rather than a spiritual. A friend of mine (when I asked her why she was going to non-traditional services) once said: "I go where I am fed." Which pretty much sums up the "why" in why people keep searching for something which corresponds with what they already hold in their hearts. Or maybe Newsweek (or was it Time?) was right some time ago, when they wrote that spirituality is really biochemistry in our brain, and that we're programmed from birth to recognize things which will help to align our biochemistry in the right way. And until we find that thing, we keep looking.

AlaskaJack said...

Ricardo, if religious belief is really a matter of biochemistry in our brain, is the belief that there is something called "biochemistry" also a matter of biochemistry in our brain?

chuck b. said...

1) The suburban Jesus mega-churches all over the USA are just as sermonizing and attractively packaged as Deepak Chopra.

2) Raise your hand if you think Britney's child's Hindu annointment is "need-driven and serious".

3) "A religion that's all inclusive." Please.

MikeTheLibrarian said...

I think part of it boils down to the fact that religions are more interesting when they come from far away. People don't want to go down the street to become enlightened, they want to have to travel to some mountain top and learn from people who dress in strange clothes and eat unusual food. Or at least, they want to read books about people who have done so, and try to gain enlightenment from that. Same with philosophy, really.

P. Froward said...

Only a knucklehead can kid himself that the Lutherans down the street have somehow transcended your humanity and risen to a higher plane of being. It's much easier to kid yourself about people in exotic-looking robes who live far away.

P. Froward said...

Correction: "transcended their humanity".

MikeTheLibrarian said...

The whole Cyrill Hoskins/Tusday Rampa Lobsang Third Eye thing is a good example of this.

Ron said...

Theirs is a Modern Love: Federline gets the bindi...

Pat Patterson said...

It's the cool colored robes and the free sex. What, the second one is not true.

gt said...

One trend I've predicted that hasn't panned out: the apostle Thomas went to India, and there are some 10 million christian indians from that line, where they are about as popular as untouchables. Somebody could make a mint pushing an indian version of christianity.
--
all the great teachers come from the east... joe smith, george fox, st patrick, mary baker eddy, black elk...
- arbitrary aardvark

lindsey said...

I'm not sure being from ancient Israel counts as being from the East. It sounds like "East" is defined as everywhere 'not Europe'.

AllenS said...

Well, if Buddha doesn't work out for her, she has enough money to become a Scientologist. Then she can start thinking she is smarter than everyone else.

Word verification: noxoy

Statement from someone Jewish, who is not happy.

Murph said...

Being avant-garde is a full time job. Ms. Spears having her child ‘blessed’ by some exotic religion should be seen for what it is in Hollywood – a fashion statement not a religious experience. The trendy in-crowd types reject conventional American religions because of the stereotyping of ordinary church goers as knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing barely literate morons who took their mothers to the prom and married little sister.

In a sense this is a silly way to express a juvenile form of anti-establishment/anti-Americanism without burning the flag or peeing on the Dean’s desk. It makes for great tabloid reading, reassures your peers that your truly one of them, and raises your stock with the far-left producers and directors who hire actors.

Movie executives wonder why so many of their ‘blockbuster’ wonders go bust – when you strive everyday to be out of step with your audience sooner or later they’ll quit waiting for you to grow up.

Murph

Balfegor said...

Mostly, I think it's that Western religions (including Islam) are very serious. Even the New Testament has little room for feel-good faith. Eastern religions, on the other hand, are more along the lines of "do, like, whatever, man."

That's what Eastern religions have become here in the US (by and large). But there's plenty of examples of Christianity that are the same -- there may be comparable examples of Islam of which I am not aware.

I think that rather than the foreign religion being more lax or permissive than the religions we grow up with, or even that the foreign religion is more "exotic," it is that the foreign religion, emerging out of a strange culture and an alien history, is stripped down to its ideals, for the new believer.

Here in the US, a largely Christian nation, we are all of us aware of the history of Christianity -- the forced conversions throughout the colonised world, the devastation of the religious wars of the 17th century, the witch-burnings, the crusades, the corruption and so on and so forth, and those who embrace Christianity do so under the shadow of those evils that have been worked in Christ's name.

People embracing Buddhism, on the other hand, often think of Buddhism as a quintessentially pacifist religion, whose practitioners wouldn't dare kill a fly. They may be dimly aware that certain varieties of Kung Fu were developed by Buddhist monks. They are probably unware -- or at least, do not think it significant -- that for many centuries, Buddhist monasteries fielded armies against the government. During the Heian era in Japan, for example, the Enryakuji monks (based near Kyoto) seem to have made a habit of sacking the capital. They're probably unaware of the stereotype -- widespread in those parts of the world touched by Buddhism -- of the corrupt, lecherous Buddhist priest. They're probably unaware of the varieties of Buddhism that grant nirvana at the end of your life if you just cry out for Buddha before you die (saying "Amitabha Buddha," if I recall correctly -- I think it's the Pure Land sect). They're probably unaware of the current of sexism that runs through the Buddhist canon -- in the Lotus Sutra, for example, before the dragon's daughter can attain enlightenment, she first has to become male.

Are these violences, faults, and hypocrisies all present in modern Buddhism? Not really, no more than Christianity's old vices are an integral part of modern Christianity. But for a foreign adopter of the religion, those old faults just don't spring readily to mind. They approach the foreign religion as though it stood apart from its long history. The old faults don't weigh it down.

And that's appealing, for some people. That's my guess, at least.

Meade said...

"But to seek God inherently involves moving beyond your mundane surroundings."

The core idea revealed to Escriva in that 1928 vision, and unfolded in subsequent stages of Opus Dei's development, was the sanctification of ordinary life by laypeople living the gospel and Church teaching in their fullness. This is why one of the leading symbols for Opus Dei is a simple cross within a circle — the symbolism betokens the sanctification of the world from within. The idea is that holiness, "being a saint," is not just the province of a few spiritual athletes, but is the universal destiny of every Christian. Holiness is not exclusively, or even principally, for priests and nuns. Further, holiness is not something to be achieved in the first place through prayer and spiritual discipline, but rather through the mundane details of everyday work. Holiness thus doesn't require a change in external circumstances, but a change in attitude, seeing everything anew in the light of one's supernatural destiny.

paulfrommpls said...

P. Froward -

Do you mean what you say about "only a knuckleahd can convince himself the Lutherans down the street have transcended their humanity" etc.?

I've known plenty of Lutherans down the street who have done that. I've known a couple of Lutheran ministers who have done that. The day-to-day kindnesses - the bendings-over-backward - mixed in with the day-to-day sinfulness, that kind of thing.

(I'm not a real hearty churchgoer, by the way. I'm a born-and-raised Lutheran now married to a small-twon Wisconsin farm female, whose family still goes to church. I go and take it all in. The Christmas eve service after 9-11, here's what they did: called all teh children up to the front, gave them all candles, gave us all candles, had them all lit, had the kids face the congregation , and we all sang 'Silent Nght.' I haven't stopped weepinh since. Corny? Oh yea, verily. I love corny.)

meade just captured it too, some of the same stuff.

paulfrommpls said...

"There no place like home," incidentally.

You'd think Hollywood types would remember that occasionally.

Elizabeth said...

Murph, that might explain some other celebrity's avant-garde weirdness, but not Britney's. Her home town is fully populated by those knuckledragging mouthbreathers, and you can't go anywhere in that part of Louisiana without being confronted by enormous outdoor sculptures (made from pipe, I think) of Calvary--three big crosses. Just south of Kentwood is Tickfaw, where the Virgin has made her appearance in a bathroom window.

As for anti-patriotism, recall what Britney has to say about the war, and Bush: he's our president, and we should support anything he does.

I'm afraid Britney's motives are far less complex, and have very little subtext.

jinnmabe said...

As to the commenter who mentioned Lutherans and transcending their humanity: I agree and believe it is much easier to think of some strange foreign entity as being "spiritual" and holding the secret to the mysteries of life or whatever than Good Ol' Pastor Williams, whom I've seen in the supermarket buying cheese and toilet paper, for Heaven's sake, just like any schlub off the street. The old line that familiarity breeds contempt has special meaning in the religious context.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.