lite took a hit recently in the small suburban town of Wilsonville, Oregon
where hundreds of religion lite followers were accustomed to gather for
regular worship. The hit came in the announcement of a
$20 million debt that has crushed the lite out of the Living Enrichment
Center (LEC), for years a popular gathering place for New Age followers
and other lost, searching souls.
One particularly burdened soul (to the tune of $600,000 owed by the LEC)
expressed his disappointment with the LEC to the media by saying that
he’d never been a believer in organized religion, so the failure
of the New Age congregation was especially disappointing. By now it has
no doubt occurred to him and others that a little organization can be
a good thing.
But perhaps that’s too easy. Oregon is, after all, also the eye
of the West Coast storm of controversy for the hyper-organized Catholic
Church’s sex abuse cases.
What is it with religion
not just Oregon. In a New York Times column David Brooks wrote recently
about “soft core spirituality,” or “religion that’s
all about you.” In his column Brooks cites author Christopher Lasch
who wrote in “The Culture of Narcissism,” about a mentality
he describes as “an anti-religion that tries to liberate people
from the idea that they should submit to a higher authority, so they can
focus more obsessively on their own emotional needs.”
The Clinton era/baby boomer-inspired politics of feeling have morphed
into religion by feeling, education by feeling, government by feeling.
The whole of Oregon seems to rely more on feeling than structure, more
on personalities than principle.
Not coincidentally, Oregon is home base to international terror groups,
domestic terror groups (of which you may read more in this issue), anarchists,
and a panoply of touchy-feely organizations.
Strong institutions are frowned upon, strict processes are thought too
restrictive. Oregonians love to boast about their individual free-spirited
natures. Translate that, for many at least, to mean, “Leave me alone—your
institutions have no meaning for me unless I feel that they do.”
result? County governments where commissioners defy the rule of law because
they feel it is wrong, a school system that eliminates standardized grades
because it’s better to know how teachers feel children are performing,
a governor who takes his advice from backroom advisors rather than the
elected legislature because he feels more simpatico with their views,
and a public who flocks to quasi-spiritual gatherings because centuries-old
religious institutions make them feel cramped.
Well, institutions do have their cracks and flaws but most have stood
the test of time and stand as demonstrations of the combined wisdom of
centuries of good men and good judgment. When cracks appear, better to
repair them than turn away from them.
individuals, and their feelings—as some very unhappy Oregonians
are discovering—can and will fail us too. And when they do, if there’s
no institution to turn to, there is no recourse at all. None.
Fly by night spiritual leaders may take our money, and yes priests or
pastors may fail us too. But in which case will we have an institution
to whom we can bring our appeal for justice?
Commissioners may break the law to suit themselves and backroom insiders
may get the big breaks and big jobs from government. But will we have
a working judicial institution to protect us?
It’s a simple lesson. Individuals with all their human flaws often
fail. The results can be catastrophic. Given this, Oregonians, right now,
have some hard work in front of them repairing and restoring our institutions.
In the long run they are all that stand between us and deceit, between
us and corruption, between us and totalitarianism.
BrainstormNW - April 2004