Has Something Gone Wrong With Spirituality?

By the Very Reverend Dr Panayiotis Bouras - Metropolitan Chancellor of the Holy Metropolis of New Zealand

"I've got no axe to grind with spirituality," William told the interviewer. "Spirituality gave me a lot, gave me hope and direction, and I was doing OK. But I think the world's changed. It's a lot rougher out there now. And spirituality is behind the times. It just doesn't give me the answers I need anymore. And I know a lot of people who feel the same way!"

Could William be right? He joins the growing number of people around the world who no longer believe in spirituality. And his compelling reasoning has become a contemporary cliche. The world is experiencing its most brutal century in history. Symptoms of social decay increasingly invade and threaten our lives.

Especially Orthodox Spiritual followers face a membership crisis that is without historical parallel. What happened? Are we outmoded? These and other questions are frankly addressed in this challenging and factual account of the decline of spiritual influence in society.

However, unless a vital principle that has largely fallen into disfavour and disuse is first called up and reaffirmed, this information may be too unpalatable for many to digest.

In his recent release, The Death of Satan, author Andrew Delbanco refers to the disappearing "language of evil" and the process of "unmaking evil." Until recently, societies operated with very clear ideas on "moral evil." Today we are likelier to use euphemisms like "behavioural problem" or "personality disorder". Delbanco describes these as notions "in which the concept of responsibility has disappeared and the human being is reconceived as a component with a stipulated function. If it fails to perform properly, it is subject to repair or disposal; but there is no real sense of blame involved.... We think in terms of adjusting the faulty part or, if it is too far gone, of putting it away."

The concepts of good and bad behaviour, right and wrong conduct and personal responsibility have taken such a beating over the last few decades that people have few or no guidelines for checking, judging or directing their behaviour. Words like ethics, morals, sin and evil have almost disappeared from everyday usage.

"The repertoire of evil has never been richer. Yet never have our responses been so weak.... Evil tends to recede into the background hum of modern life.... We cannot readily see the perpetrator.... So the work of the devil is everywhere, but no one knows where to find him.... We feel something that our culture no longer gives us the vocabulary to express," Delbanco writes.

The consequences have been devastating for both society and Church. It is not that evil itself has disappeared or changed for the better - evidence abounds of evil or destructive behaviour running unchecked in society, and it is as difficult to face as it has always been. Yet everyone wants to live in a society in which evil can be defined and defeated.

Or do they?
For the past century, mankind has played the unwitting guinea pig in a deliberate, worldwide "social engineering" experiment that was conceived in hell. This experiment included an assault on the essential spiritual and moral strongholds of society. It could not proceed while man could clearly conceive of, express and deal with evil. It lies insidiously behind our current social disintegration. And it is the epitome of evil, masked by the most social of outward appearances.

In the film, The Silence of the Lambs, Officer Starling is addressed by the murderer cannibalistic psychiatrist, Lecter. "Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can't reduce me to a set of influences. You've given up good and evil for behaviourism, Officer Starling. You've got everybody in moral dignity pants - nothing is ever anybody's fault. Look at me, Officer Sterling. Can you stand to say I'm evil?"

Unless enough courageous individuals are able to see and identify the source, the widespread decay around us may be no less than mankind's swan song. It is for this reason that I urge you to see beyond the set up psychological paraphernalia.

Until recently, it was Church which provided man with the moral and spiritual markers necessary for him to create and maintain civilisations of which we could be proud. Church provides the inspiration needed for a life of higher meaning and purpose. In this crisis, it falls upon spirituality to take the decisive steps. Church must take this responsibility for the sake of its own survival and for the survival of mankind.