The decline of religion in the West
The precise etymology of the word religion is debatable, but most definitions indicate a common belief system of sorts, or a binding force between humanity and an ideal, or mystic, element. Religion brings people together under a common viewpoint of how we should live and interact.
It could be argued that since the collapse of Christianity’s power and authority in the West, that science, futurism, and even atheism have become religions in their own right – defended with the same zeal, and the same lack of respect for other viewpoints that has sadly come to characterise for so many what religion is all about.
Modern Homo Sapiens has been around for at least fifty thousand years. In the past thousand years the pace of technological change has far outstripped our physiological ability to adapt. Religions too, that once bound people together, have proven the incompleteness or in-correctness of their teachings by holding on to dogma that has clearly been disproved by scientific advance.
The advance of democracy and individualism in the West has in many cases put paid to corrupt priesthoods and other authorities who traditionally viewed society as the means rather than the end to their purpose. The West is now a spiritually confused region, and is in danger of succumbing to destruction through greed, anger and foolishness. Dominated for centuries by Monotheistic religious dogma, and now bearing witness to the worst kind of atrocities carried out in the name of these same religions, the vast majority of westerners harbour an incredible reluctance to engage in any organised spiritual path.
This reaction is perhaps understandable, but it presents a problem for a society that is currently governed by the selfish desire to accumulate wealth above all else.
Daisaku Ikeda has said,
Many today regard any kind of belief – and religious faith in particular – as somehow in opposition to reason or at the very least as a sort of paralysis of the faculty of reason. There are indeed fanatical religions in which faith opposes reason. But it is an erroneous leap of logic to assume on this basis and without any evidence that all religions are so. That itself is irrational and can be characterised as a kind of blind faith in its own right.
A greater spiritual truth
A growing number of people in the West are beginning to realise there is a greater spiritual truth at work than the arbitrary decisions of a single supreme being.
To attribute anything that goes well in life to god, and to attribute anything that goes badly to the failings of mankind (or worse, an external devil), is anathema and only serves to reinforce the notion that mankind is inherently doomed to suffer until he is saved by god or his representatives (an external force). I believe this is childish. The notion that hell and heaven are mystical realms apart from this world, and that you can only gain entry to heaven through simply repenting your sins, is also naive (and dangerous).
The notion that without god there is no reason for human morality to exist is to deny the beauty and complexity of the human heart. The human heart, driven by our buddhahood, has the power for infinite compassion, courage, and wisdom – this is the heart of Nichiren Buddhism.
Nichiren Buddhism is experiencing a period of growth in the UK. Perhaps this is because people naturally look for answers to the questions raised by the human experience. Science, of course, can fulfill many of our queries regarding the physical world, but it fails to provide any real practical guidance on how to cope with everyday life – how to make sense of how we feel, and how we interact with others, both on the level of the individual, and also between societies and cultures.
Arnold Toynbee, noted English historian said of religion,
By religion I mean an attitude to life that enables people to cope with the difficulty of being human by spiritually satisfying answers to the fundamental questions about the mystery of the universe and of man’s role in it and by giving practical precepts for living in the universe. Each time a people has lost faith in its religion, its civilisation has succumbed to domestic social disintegration and to foreign military attack. The civilisation that has fallen as a result of the loss of faith has then been replaced by a new civilisation inspired by a different religion.
Buddhism is a growing influence in the West because it offers a new perspective (new for the west) that has been assessed based purely on whether its teachings ease or create more suffering. There is no higher purpose in human endeavour than to bringing an end to suffering, and promoting genuine human happiness. The Lotus Sutra as taught by Nichiren Daishonin is the supreme teaching that fits the people and the time of the twenty first century.
Practitioners of the Daishonin’s Buddhism continue to practice because they experience the real evidence or proof of its correctness in their daily lives. Through manifesting the timeless wisdom, compassion and courage of the Buddha, people the world over are beginning to form connections of the heart in multiple layers that shift the focus of society towards peace and human happiness.
The civilisation that is falling as a result of the loss of faith in failed doctrines must be replaced by a new civilisation inspired by a different religion – one built on compassion for all living beings, and the environment in which they exist.