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Stepping On Sacred Ground

Over the centuries, though, Western civilization has become so intoxicated by dominance that we no longer honor communion between the rational and irrational aspects of life. Paleolithic cultures apparently were tamed by tribes that demoted goddess worship and elevated sky gods. Male gods gradually reigned supreme. As fertility lost its mystery the imbalance between male and female increased, and nature became desacralized. In their book The Myth of the Goddess, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford assert that, for the past 4,000 years, the feminine principle, "which manifests itself in mythological history as 'the goddess' and in cultural history as the values placed upon spontaneity, feeling, instinct, and intuition," has been lost as a valid expression of the sanctity and unity of life.

Whether or not you accept their conclusions about the Paleolithic past, it is certainly true that the earth is no longer experienced as a living being. We have flattened our forests, overfished our seas, eradicated species and ecosystems. It is no coincidence that the original meaning of pollution was the profaning of that which is sacred.

Can modern religion be brought back down to earth, its patriarchal hierarchy rebalanced? The effort is already under way. Sixty-one percent of Americans think priests should be allowed to marry (see "Unfaithful," page 44). Sixty percent believe women should be allowed to become priests. Balanced spirituality can provide vision in times of crisis by placating the ego and pulling for both strength and humility. In my own life, when repeatedly faced with the grave illness and subsequent death of those closest to me, I've found faith the most sustainable, healing resource. Personally, I'm grateful when I find faith in something larger than myself. This gratitude, I've noticed, generates optimism.

Let's chalk up the last few centuries to rational, or lateral, development. Now it's time to admit that we still don't fundamentally comprehend or control the world. We can reconnect vertically -- face doubt, mystery, and awe -- without losing the insights of the Enlightenment.

None of us really knows the source of the life pulse. Many of us speculate. Some of us embrace the intuitive basis of our speculations; others of us hold firmly to all that is quantifiable, and therefore reasonable. But all systems of belief or disbelief, including science, have suprarational foundations. Science posits that humans can only make progress based upon revealed, objective, repeatable truths. This is a respectable faith. But when it is used uncritically as the only model for improvement, it leads to social engineering programs that can have either pathetic or disastrous results.

In the future, belief systems will have to become increasingly interdependent. I'm not advocating a blend of everything that is easy and appetizing. The integrity of each faith is part of each one's particular appeal. But quiet conversations about convergences might help believers and skeptics alike deepen their compassion.

As we enter the 21st century, it becomes harder not to recognize the commonality of the human condition. Our societies are fragmenting as we continue to hyper-focus on personal consumption. Lip service has replaced real service. How much longer can we afford to ignore the mutual responsibilities we bear for the health of our symbiotic web?

Precisely because I feel that enlightened faith can help nurture our common future, I am a devout believer in the separation of church and state. The government's prime role in this regard should be to protect freedom of religion. The freer we are to forge our own faiths, the more vital these beliefs are likely to be.

Nietzsche could not conceive the extent to which religion could be a source of human empowerment. And Marx did not recognize that our desire to connect with a transcendent power runs even deeper than our drive for economic satisfaction. Each of us seeks. How we honor each other's search will tell the tale of the next millennium.

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