For some, the high level of spiritual openness has been a trend and is a mark of our current Western cultural landscape. But for others, and understandably so, the tides of that openness seem to ebb and flow. The sense of spiritual openness is partly why in this article by Dr. Andrew Skilton, a Senior Research Fellow at Kings College in London asks the question, “Why is Buddhism so Hip?” Briefly, here are three thoughts that could summarize his article.
Established Religion is Old
Buddhism is hip because it offers a seemingly freer experience from what some have grown up with. Skilter uses words like “…passive and stuffy…” or that some people are looking for “…freedom from stifling conformity…”. (see: http://bbc.in/1mIapeT). Further he says, “…established religion has diminished as a source for authoritative guidance about how to live and what to live for…”. It means that some are seeing Buddhism as an alternative to the established religions they feel like are not allowing them live fully.
People are Thinking Differently
There are three things that seem to draw people to Buddhism says Skilter. First, “the absence of elaborate hierarchies or involvement in politics…”. Many in today’s culture are fighting for equality and thus established religions use of hierarchy and power no longer fits the bill. Second, “…people seek out a form of spirituality that is compatible with their non-religious beliefs…”. It would seem from this statement that those attracted to Buddhism for this reason are searching for ways to be at peace with themselves and the world. Third, Skilter says that the majority of familiar religions have a beginning and an end (“…a finite timeline…”) whereas Buddhism is “cyclical” and that some find that cyclical understanding of the world “more compatible” with the way they think.
I Don’t Need God
Part of many people’s experience in growing up in traditional religious settings is shame theology. Thus, for Skilter, it makes sense that people would turn to Buddhism because it is “not dependent on a deity”. Generally, we do not like feeling bad about ourselves and we certainly do not like being in a place where we can be judged or held accountable for our actions. In this, the author writes, “Buddhism offers seemingly practical ways of developing wisdom and compassion, free from guilt and obligation”. Furthermore, it seems that those attracted to Buddhism for this reason are soul searching to be a better version of themselves for themselves and for the world. Largely, it simply seems that those who are doing this soul searching “like the idea of being in control and taking responsibility for their lives that can come with this”.
In closing, it should be noted that those who are rejecting established or traditional religion in the West because it is old, or that people are thinking differently and do not need God, are exploring Buddhism in a rather “idealized light” without looking into its history.
What do you think? Are established religions losing their influence in today’s cultural landscape in the West because it is viewed as old, no longer fits our worldview, and because people do not need God?