The word “spiritual” has no useful meaning if it does not refer to a relation to a real spirit, something from a world not our own, something supernatural, something that or someone who tells us things we do not know, judges us for our failures, and gives us ideals to strive for and maybe help in reaching them. It’s not a useful word if it means a general inclination or shape of mind or emotional pattern or set of attitudes or collection of values. There is no reason to call any of these spiritual.
The author has a point but I'm disputing it, because to fall for that point is to fall directly into the trap logicians and Hitchens would have for us. That is that the moment you cite something un-empirical, you assert a falsity that can justify anything.
What we have is a national mood not to discriminate and it is discrimination that we are afraid of. You see, we are unable to achieve a national consensus on what proper discrimination is, what it entails and what is the right and proper way to go about it. We have given up on being selective and meritocratic in the social sphere.
Some months ago, but still this year, I think, I was watching a video over at Sippican Cottage. I have unsubscribed to Sippican, just to cut down on the volume of reading I do - nothing to do with the quality. In that video was a lot of strange dancing. It was Pop. And somehow I managed to discover the aesthetic of Pop and what it meant to thinking people at the time. The essence that I got of it was this: Pop was a new sensibility, an artistic movement which using particular techniques would lead to intellectual and ethical discovery among the masses. I'm thinking more of the sort of thing that might be approached by Peter Coyote, and not that sort of irony-drenched kitsch of Pop Art artists like Warhol or Lichtenstein. I'm talking about the song and dance of Godspell, the bright colors in the style of Marlo Thomas. I'm talking about a soft of highbrow content that eschews unnecessary sophistication and allusion to the classics. Such an art would be anti-elitist in fact, but not in purpose. This is a good idea, I think. But I also think it got overrun by the sophisticates who were able to make it into an anti-establishment but more importantly anti-intellectual exercise. It's very difficult to present old and useful wisdom outside of all of its previously established contexts. And I'm sure that when faced with that difficulty many would be Pop creators took shortcuts.
So it is my interpretation, incomplete as it stands, that what might have been excellent about Pop got discarded. As I think about it, the Pop world would ultimately have needed its guardians and its institutions and probably eschewed that to its own demise. I think that there was something excellent and extraordinary about Leroy Nieman and Peter Max. And perhaps the fact that they were both popularly commercialized by Burger King and 7Up respectively, added to the notion that they too would have to have some power structure behind them and such a notion could not stand. But these days, there are creative efforts bankrolled by commercialism that can certainly be considered artistic, yet there is no oeuvre aside from the excruciatingly ironic, self-defeatism that is now the predominant ethos of post-modernism. Even minimalism stands up well to the great emptiness of post-modernism.
I bring up the good Pop because it is in that I am sensing the last vestiges of Soul and its crossover. It stood for something specific, not just assimilation but integration: two-way assimilation, assimilation with a purpose and a moral backbone. And somehow all that purpose got lost in a kind of colorblind, ethics-blind, don't ask, don't tell, don't judge, don't respect, anything goes mentality. The hard work was eschewed because then people would have to accept the possibility of rational change outside of the social sensibilities they had inherited. All good art does that, and in the 70s Pop might have done so if it had survived. Instead it went towards a kind of abstract expressionism of the individual, a million of me in the Me Generation can't be wrong. Why? Because I'm not judgmental and I won't conform to any program that is. I'm all about self-fulfillment, went the logic. And if I can find happiness in myself then the evils of society can only rise so far. It's like we were all Born Free and if we could return to the wilds of humanity without all its banks, and armies and dogmas, the world would be a better place. But all of that is anti-social. A Me Generation is anti-social. It desperately searches for a soul-mate and the nirvana of two rather than the difficult work of making a democratic society function. A democratic society requires consensus, conformity, judgment and everyday discrimination. It requires thought and choice and moral reasoning and consequential decision-making. It requires that which Fred Friendly tried to inspire. And whether that was through the artistic traditions of Western Civilization or the challenges of Pop and Soul's crossover, it was something we all decided to be too lazy and self-centered to bother with. Is it any wonder everything we call 'art' is laced with irony? Is it any wonder our spirituality cannot be religious?
Whether you choose to believe in God or not, the matter of sustaining a civil society requires the same work at bottom, and it always requires a consistent sort of moral reasoning that entails discriminations on a daily basis. And it requires that the values which guide those discriminations are made public and clear. This is something our daily politics does not have. What we have are retrenchments and recriminations. It is as if we as a nation have forgotten how to be Americans - this thing we must be in the swirl of cultures, languages and traditions our popular culture digests and poops out.
This is the challenge that stands before any atheist or secularist that lashes out at organized religion. What public institutions do we have that has enough public credibility about it and moral discrimination within it to sustain an engaged population in those commitments required of a democratic society? It is not our politics. It is not our art. It is not our sports. It is not our schools.