THE NEW RELIGION:
There was a time when religion dealt with the salvation of the soul. However, today’s Western world does not believe in the soul. It does not believe in, quite literally, the heart of the matter. It even believes that hearts are only physical organs, which can be transplanted from one body to another. This world is a secularized world. It has quite lost the sense of spiritual values of the Christian Tradition and discarded it as part of the dead past. This modern Western ‘religion’, increasingly a Universal ‘religion’, believes rather in the salvation of the body.
Consequently, it has raised up two institutions which look to the salvation of the body, at one and the same time both materialistic and puritanical, two sides of the same coin: the Supermarket and the Gymnasium.
The Cathedrals of Consumption of material goods are the shopping malls and centres built all over the world. However, they operate whole dioceses of parish churches, the local supermarkets. These diocesan networks of Cathedrals and parish churches, dedicated to the consumer god, belong to various national (and increasingly international) denominations.
Having parked on the immense Cathedral plazas, the faithful can enter these temples of consumption. Amid soothing muzak hymns glorifying human passions and fresh, air-conditioned purity, consumers process along the 'aisles', led like flocks of sheep towards wherever they are intended to spend the most. There they see in wondrous abundance the products of the affluent society, five loaves and two fishes miraculously multiplied every day. (Many of the products they buy contain dangerous chemicals, or addictive amounts of sugar, fat and salt. This has in turn spawned a whole new 'health food' industry, for which they pay even more. But don't tell them). Then, they faithfully queue at communion rail checkouts, where they have the privilege of paying for taking communion of the consumer dream of 'comfort food'. In the shoppers’ heaven, in fact the retailers’ paradise and strangely close to hell, thousands of products apparently give individual choice. In fact, however, the choice is limited to what the mass market requires.
food' for the stomach, hygiene products for the mouth, hair and skin,
clothes for the body and ‘consumer’ electronics for the mind
are all available. And for those of a more literary frame of mind, the
Temples of Consumption also have a plethora of parish magazines and self-improvement
books. Here, advice from the high priests of the new religion, 'lifestyle
gurus', instructs true, if gullible, believers on how to live their lives
in the Promised Land of milk and honey, improve their diets and 'body
images', keeping them both fashionable and healthy. In such magazines,
those who bind their freedom to the products of the Earth can also bind
their fate to the stars by reading their ‘horoscopes’. The
only ones to be excommunicated by all the denominations from this freedom,
and also fate, are those without money.
Having gorged themselves on the products of the Cathedrals and parish churches of modern times, consumers have grown unhealthy, even perhaps obese. Therefore, they will need to turn from 'consumer products' to 'consumer services', in other Sanctuaries. These are the Monasteries of our time, the gymnasia and fitness centres, where they can ‘work out’, concentrating on their ‘look’. Here, they will be able to follow more intense programmes, daily cycles of services, performing the cult of fitness.
Shamed into confessing to their ‘fitness fathers’ (‘personal trainers’), customers can purge themselves of the excesses of their sins, destress themselves of their stresses and detox themselves of their toxins. In the temples of fitness, he will be able to ‘bodybuild’, and she will be able to ‘slim’ (the antidote to consumption) and so ‘feel better’. Punishing their bodies with the penances of this new Puritanism, they will be rewarded with the paradise of ‘energy drinks’, ‘fitness foods’, saunas, massages, suntans, therapies, hair-dos, manicures, lotions of body milk and words of honey. This cult of the body is unisex, indeed it has led, disturbingly, to the masculinization of women and femininization of men. (We are all 'equal' now). For those who are still dissatisfied with their 'body image', there is the more radical possibility of ‘cosmetic surgery’. This involves having poison injected into the face, silicon inserted, slices of flesh cut away and pulled taut. Here the whole body can be remodelled and he or she will become ‘a new person’. Eternal youth is here!
Wonder of wonders, all of this can be taken home. Outside the gym, he or she can go jogging for their ‘well-being’. (Please disregard the news that the fifty-seven year-old woman jogging in the park has just died of cardiac arrest and the forty year-old man who went to the fitness centre died of a heart attack just after leaving). What are they running after? Perfection, of course. At home, those in search of 'spirituality’, the healing of 'body, mind and spirit', can do feng-shui and gaze at crystals. Following all the modern superstitions, they can then relax amid lighted candles and incense perfumes, the ultimate hymn of praise to their own human body and mind. Even those who do none of the above can relax in front of screens and watch sports, the four-yearly 'Games' known as the Olympics, revived some 100 years ago after being forgotten by Christians who had, rightly, considered them to be pagan. If not this, then they can follow any number of ‘events’, ‘races’, ‘competitions’ and ‘contests’, regional, national and international, in the media.
By the way, don’t spoil it all by mentioning steroids, drugs and the number of ex-sportsmen and women who die in their forties and fifties, because they abused their bodies in their youth.
What we face today is not the breakdown of Christian culture, but the catastrophic results of secular culture. The latter has failed to feed man’s inner, spiritual and moral needs, because in denying that they even exist, it has created a spiritual vacuum. The new religion is the religion of individualism, of ‘choice’, of personal flattery, of self-worship. In self worship, we are all 'saved'. The besetting sin of the new religion is therefore lack of self-worship - 'low self-esteem', which is punished by anorexia, bulimia and self-mutilation. In the new religion, the faithful are conditioned to feed the bubbles of their egoism, expressing it in their consumer choices. However, all these 'choices' are illusory, for they are manipulated by advertising and social conditioning and do not feed the soul. Only a religion which feeds the soul is worthy of the name and modern secular religion is not that. For the secular religion of the body ends in death, merely feeding and toning the corpses of the future.
The new religion, only the ghost of real religion, haunts the grave of dead faith and lost hope. As for the religion of the soul, it does not end at all, but continues in living faith and hope into 'life more abundant' and onwards, ever onwards, into life eternal.
Glory to Thee, O God, glory to Thee!