Spiritual Capitalism

By Darren Main
“The Church needs to do a reality check.” according to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Ireland.  This following  the landslide vote legalizing marriage equality in  his country.  And while I share his view about the need for a “reality check”, we arrive at that conclusion from very different places.
His view has more to do with messaging.  That the church simply needs to work harder to get their message out—in this case, the message being,  “homosexuality is sinful”.  My view, however has to do with something I call spiritual capitalism.    
Just as one can choose to shop at Safeway, Walmart or Whole Foods for their groceries,  people in most western countries can now shop for their spirituality through venus that speak to their unique needs— or develop a deeply personal and private understanding of what it means to live a more contemplative life.
Certainly if people agree with more conservative views about women, homosexuality, reproductive choice and stem-cell research, there are church pews waiting to be filled—in many churches you may have a whole pew to yourself.  But gone are the days when people need to make the false choice between exploring the spiritual and accepting the dogma espoused by any one church or denomination. It is easier than ever for people to choose a spiritual path—be that a traditional format such as Catholicism, Protestantism or Judaism, or a less traditional format such as a meditation, yoga or Tai Chi.
The problem that many churches face is that people, in huge numbers, simply don’t agree with them anymore.  I don’t believe, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin does, that people are failing to get the message.  I believe they are looking at the world through new eyes and rethinking many of the teachings which were once considered sacrosanct   They have gay son’s, lesbian friends and transgender coworkers.  Many have seen the wisdom in ending a bad marriage or in making mindful choices about procreation.  They have seen that many of the teachings that were once accepted without question no longer ring true in their hearts.
Personally, I hope there is a reality check and that it comes sooner rather than later.    I believe traditional churches could be a force for great healing and change in a world that is very much in need.  But I also know that dogma can be a lot like cement—easy to form in the beginning, but often requiring the blunt force of a sledge hammer to remove.   
On the surface, the vote in Ireland may seem to be about a singular issue—same-sex marriage.  But I see this as something much bigger and the religious leaders of the world would be wise to pay attention.  This is not about marketing your product more effectively.  It is about meeting the changing spiritual needs of the people.  Because if you fail to meet those needs,  people will look elsewhere—in fact, they already are.