By Ravi Logan
There are four basic psychological orientations that are found to lie behind humanity’s various philosophies: dogma-centered, matter-centered, self-centered, and spirit-centered. Many religious philosophies are dogma-centered. Materialist philosophies are matter-centered. Philosophies that stress self-interest and personal enjoyment and accumulation are self-centered. And philosophies that treat the world as sacred, that acknowledge wholeness, and that value inner realization are spiritual-centered.
“While materialism has limited ability to meet human needs, humanity cannot afford to reject material development for an otherworldly approach to life.”
In the present world, we find nations or societies which are guided by dogma-centered, by matter-centered, and by self-centered philosophies. Dogma-centered philosophies prevail where religious fundamentalism is the characteristic outlook of a society. Matter-centered philosophy prevailed in communist societies, but now holds sway only in North Korea and perhaps Cuba. And self-centered philosophy prevails in capitalist countries.
Nowhere is there a society guided by spiritual-centered philosophy. Spiritual-centered philosophies exist, of course, but they do not provide the core values nor guide the social outlook of any modern nation. However, there is rapidly growing interest in spirituality. And this shift toward a spiritual orientation to life is having impact on political philosophy. This impact can be seen, to one extent or another, in the ideas of deep ecologists, ecofeminists, liberation theologists, bioregionalists, ecological postmodernists, economic decentralists, indigenous peoples movements, visionary futurists, and others.
Spirituality and Human Development
Any philosophy that aims to guide social development must promote the needs of people — and this includes their spiritual needs. A society that fails to support peoples’ spiritual aspirations will stifle human development. Suppression of spiritual aspirations not only harms individuals whose spiritual needs are denied, but harms society as a whole. For spiritual development nurtures valuable human qualities such as compassion, altruism, cooperation, sacrifice, mental balance, joy, and love. Where these spiritual qualities abound, exploitation, inequity, and repression do not afflict society, and the movement of strong and free individuals toward a collective ideal gets natural expression.
Spirituality dissolves alienation and nurtures connectedness with other people, other living beings, and the larger creation. Out of this awareness come cardinal values that express respect and concern for the welfare of all life. These are values that foster collective prosperity, expansion, and freedom in society; and that promote a balanced relationship with the created world.
Spirituality and Religion
Sectarian religious beliefs tend to create divisions within humanity, justify the oppression of one group by another, and allow the plundering of the natural world. These effects occur when religious doctrines lack rationality and constrict the natural expansion of the human mind. Such religious dogmas impede individual and collective development.
Religious dogma and spirituality are not the same, and to reject spirituality by confusing it with religious dogma is a mistake. This mistake limited Marxism’s ability to have a more humanistic effect on society. Marx was certainly justified in objecting to the harmful effects of certain religious beliefs, but he failed to recognize the vitalizing effects of spirituality. Due to this, Marx’s social vision degenerated to the brutal materialism of communism.
Spirituality and Materialism
Materialism, as is now recognized by many, has failed both as a philosophical outlook and as a way of life. Materialism has not brought deep fulfillment to human beings, even to those who lavish in material abundance.
While materialism has limited ability to meet human needs, humanity cannot afford to reject material development for an otherworldly approach to life, as occurred in medieval religious culture, or for a world-denying idealism, such as impeded the material progress of South Asia.
But neither can humanity equate material progress with personal fulfillment. For, as many now recognize, making the accumulation of physical wealth the central goal of our collective dream has brought destruction of natural environments, disruption of local communities, evisceration of traditional cultures, and the exploitation of workers and consumers.
What is needed instead is an holistic approach to socioeconomic development which fully provides for our physical needs while, at the same time, nurtures the development of our subtler capacities — and that does this in a manner that promotes the welfare of all, and that is not destructive towards nature.
A New Philosophy for a New Era
Today’s dominant political ideologies cannot accomplish this. They are too immersed in either dogma or materialism to grow beyond their limitations. A new, spiritually-based approach to socioeconomic development must be adopted. Should this not occur, intensifying imbalance and unsustainability will cause human society to face dead-endings.
The Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) meets humanity’s need for a post-materialist, spiritual-based social philosophy. It is a social philosophy grounded in expanded humanism, in love, and in hope. It is a philosophy whose time has come.
Ravi Logan is the Director of the PROUT Institute (www.proutinstitute.org) and author of PROUT: A Solution-Oriented Paradigm of Development.