Today's Spiritual Crisis

The relations between the spirit and society

Posted Jul 04, 2017

I was asked to participate in a dialogue about today’s spiritual crisis. It was a small gathering called together by leaders of a Vedic meditative tradition, of which I am not part, held at New York’s Centre for Social Innovation.

Everyone agreed that there is a spiritual crisis. But what are the underlying causes? What can be done about it? Is there a special role for a spiritual discipline?

When I was asked to participate in this day-long conclave, I decided for the moment to leave aside political, social and economic considerations, all of which are critical, and focus on the theme of the convocation. This was a special challenge for me, as my worldview stems from a tradition of social activism.

In my opening comments, I said that President Kennedy’s call to “Not ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” influenced the course I have taken since joining the Peace Corps in 1965,

I avoided defining what I meant by ‘spiritual,’ other than to say that I thought that the inner and the outer selves constitute a whole self and that moral and spiritual components are necessary aspects for a meaningful life. 

Here are the comments I prepared for the gathering. Each thought is meant to lead to further reflection and analysis. 

There is a —

Moral crisis when there is no objective standard for truth-telling

Moral crisis when success is more important than character

Moral crisis when because of their positions we look to celebrities and business people for wisdom

Moral crisis when we believe we are more important than others

Moral crisis when we believe we are less important than others

Moral crisis when we believe we can flourish alone, without others

Moral crisis when we are separated from others

Moral crisis when our individuality is crushed by others

Moral crisis when we turn a blind eye to justice

Moral crisis when we ignore freedom, responsibility and decency

We can begin to heal when we acknowledge that—

Our spiritual and material lives are bound up with others

Our lives are best lived when we have ties that liberate our spirits

Our lives are best lived when we act so as to bring out the best in others and thereby in ourselves

Our spiritual selves are best found in relation to others that set them and us free

The moral and spiritual are twins that are separated at the peril of each.

The liberation of the self takes place as one person amongst other persons

We become our unique, spiritual selves when we engage with others in creating a caring and just world

As expressed by Felix Adler, the founder of the Ethical Culture Movement more than one hundred years ago: “It is only face to face with the god enthroned in the innermost shrine of the other that the god hidden in me will consent to appear.”