By INBAR PREISS
A man walks into the bar, orders a drink, sits down with his mates and grumbles about the weather or politics. They discuss sports, the drop of the Euro exchange rates, or why male dogs piss with their leg up. The daily topics of conversation are pointed outwards – people shy away from openly speaking about their inner world.
In our liberal Western society, we’re progressive. Innovative. Rational. We are enlightened by science and technology. Our education encourages us to expand the mind, enrichen our knowledge and ripen our intellect. What remains is a brilliantly productive and emotionally crippled population. The Age of Enlightenment pushed aside the role of religion and left us in a new secular society. What I notice is that once you start “opening up” about your inner world, a shield of ego rises. People tend to become self-conscious and abashed, regressing into a pubescent insecurity.
Religion and spirituality are guidelines to handling our feelings, emotions and difficult situations – things we have privatized to only include our most trusted companions with. Our society claims to be open, tolerant, and respect individual choices, yet subtly denounces religious practices as backward. “Not many people know I’m a practicing Catholic,” Irene, a Catholic, says. “They are surprised and give me alienated looks when I tell them I go to church, so I just stopped talking about it. I’m not hiding anything, but I avoid saying it – I’d rather keep it to myself than be judged.” The secular majority in my social circles tyrannizes those practicing their religion. In a religious discussion, the atheist will politely ask you to stop thrusting your religion down their throat. The emotionally and spiritually deprived education narrows our genuine acceptance of religion in others and ourselves.
“Our education encourages us to expand the mind, enrichen our knowledge and ripen our intellect. What remains is a brilliantly productive and emotionally crippled population.”
There are societies in which religion and spirituality are woven into the social fabric. In Thailand, males are expected to shave their heads – even eyebrows sometimes – pull on an orange robe, embrace their alms bowl and devote at least three months of their lives to being a monk. This often takes place in a man’s young adulthood. Men who do not adhere to this tradition are shunned and are considered disrespectful. Peter, having lived in Thailand all of his life, tells me this tradition is a testament to how ingrained Buddhist culture is in Thai society. “It’s not even on a religious level,” he reflects, “I wouldn’t consider the average Thai to be particularly religious; it’s just a way of life.”
Peter has different thoughts about Holland. “People here are dry, bland and stiff,” he says apologetically. “It’s hard to bond on an emotional level. The Thai are a lot more expressive and supportive, even to strangers. Buddhism guides their life. People think more about spiritual things like energies and karma, making them humble, consoling and appreciating. There’s an underlying belief that everything will get better. People connect on a deeper level – they understand the flow of things in life, how we’re all essentially going through the same things, so they’re compassionate towards everyone.”
A systematic neglect of a fundamental human need is perpetuated in atheist societies – the need to explore our hearts and express our feelings. Not that all God-soaked societies provide such a successful lifestyle. Yet, we must reform our acceptance of religion or spirituality to provide for us what it is we need to feel complete with ourselves and with others. The balance between rationality and emotion needs to be reached. After all how could we achieve fulfillment with the soul lagging so far behind the mind?