Faiths need broad approach to seeking truth
A striking feature of contemporary religion in America is the megachurch. "Mega" means large. They are mainly conservative Protestant Christian movements with memberships in the thousands. They are often televised, showing large modern structures and rousing gospel music. They frequently emphasize healing and prosperity together with a gospel of salvation in the afterlife. Some preachers also involve themselves in the political arena. Appealing to individuals, their mass character gives a sense of belonging to a winning group.
Over against this phenomenon, there are metachurches or metareligious movements. "Meta" is a Greek prefix meaning after, beyond or about. They attempt to get to the religion beyond religion, beyond the display and doctrinaire character of the megachurches. Claiming to be spiritual in contrast to traditional religion, they appeal to a more intellectual audience in contrast to the megachurches appeal to the general working or business person.
Megachurches are generally literalistic in interpreting the Bible, while the metareligions are more symbolic and philosophical, drawing teaching from a variety of sources, often Asian. They often stress self-help approaches to personal growth and problems.
America is a very diverse population where many people profess no religion at all. Facing major decisions concerning the future of our nation, we must appreciate even more the religious freedom and diversity that are distinctive of our society. There is no one path to spiritual truth and no one tradition that captures the essence of our national character.
While megachurches often place limits on the source of spirituality, metareligions offer wide perspectives and encourage personal search for truth where the search is more important than the discovery. The poles of American religion are like yin and yang, complementary aspects of contemporary religion with a spectrum of movements and institutions.
Traditional religions remain active, though with less appeal than the mega and meta movements. Although they generally offer the same insights and values, familiarity and conservative styles could obscure their continuing and significant contributions as stable communities. They represent the families that many have left.
In evaluating the many movements and traditions that present their claims, it is essential to discover how adequate a teaching is to deal with the multitude of questions that arise every day. Does a religion bring people together, transcending national, class, racial, gender and gender identification distinctions? Does it enhance personal life with meaning and depth of self-understanding and the human condition? Does it offer values and insights that encourage social participation? Does the teaching enable a person to confront differing social and religious views with respect for those who are different? How does it regard alternative belief systems? How does it relate religious faith and science? These are a few of the basic questions seekers must investigate when exploring and adopting a religious view.
Living in a globalized world, we must work to create an environment where love, compassion, peace, justice and community can be realized. The many approaches to spiritual understanding, like a symphony, can share and contribute to discovering solutions for our many pressing problems.