A disease is spreading across the country that has the potential to become a worldwide epidemic. The disease is called "affluenza," and the overriding symptom is a desire to buy and consume all kinds of goods and products, which in turn gives a sense of temporary contentment. Like an addiction, each purchase is a "fix" to soothe an insatiable desire for pleasure. The thrill doesn't last very long. So the next purchase is made to satisfy the threshold once again, and this cycle simply repeats itself. Collectively, this behavior may be great for the economy, but the result is a disaster for the human soul, because no amount of external goods can provide or sustain a sense of inner peace. The irony is that even though almost everyone knows this, we keep on shopping anyway, hoping that something will ultimately fill the spiritual void.
It is interesting to note that some people, known as the "cultural creatives," not only shop for material goods, they also shop around for ideologies to help govern their lives. People are no longer satisfied with answers derived from conventional wisdom to various issues in their lives. In an age of the Genome Project, cloning, planetary travel, and molecular microchips, humankind is taking on responsibilities that were once thought the domain of God, and the old wine skins cannot contain the new wine. As a result, people feel a deep-seated hunger to know more than the existing paradigms can possibly tell them. The term that describes this search for truth is spiritual hunger: the drive that answers the call to adventure. When stress is thrown into the equation, the hunger pangs become more noticeable, and thus the search intensifies. As such, people are seeking wisdom from sources that were inconceivable a generation or two ago, most notably from the Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism. The Internet has certainly speeded up the process. Moreover, as the pressure of stress increases, so do the pangs of spiritual hunger.
In times of crises, people of every generation and every culture have been known to seek help from a divine source. In the past, they took spiritual refuge in their religious traditions. Although many still do, today many more seem disenchanted with standard religious practices, either for moral reasons or because these don't seem to provide answers to the problems looming on humanity's horizon. An article titled "Choosing My Religion" cites: "In 1958, for example, only 1 in 25 Americans had left the religious denomination of their upbringing. Today, more than one in three have left or switched. Most still believe in God, but now they are looking for a personal spiritual practice. According to a recent survey from the McArthur Foundation, seven out of ten Americans say they are religious and consider spirituality to be an important part of their lives. But about half attend religious services less than once a month or never."
In what is being called by some the postdenominational age, many people feel only a distant loyalty to their particular religious upbringing. Instead, they are seeking a host of sacred traditions, blending various practices to form their own spiritual paths. There are Catholics who practice Buddhist meditation, Jews who participate in Native American sweat lodges, and Methodists and Mormons who participate in Sufi dancing. Even hell has gotten a makeover, as the biblical conception of the most dreaded place in the universe moves from a literal to a figurative interpretation. Once it was described as eternal flames of death, but the Vatican now describes hell as being much like stress: "a state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God." Many people who claim to have already been to hell (on earth, that is), as well as those who have come close, are seeking a better understanding of God on a more intimate level.
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