I am reading an excellent book at Steven’s suggestion: Selling Spirituality: The silent takeover of religion, by Jeremy Carrette and Richard King.
The book makes many interesting arguments (and I am only one chapter in so far!), such as pointing out that whilst religion is commonly criticised (in the west) as Marx’s ‘opiate of the masses’, there has (until recently at least) been relatively little criticism of the ideological institutions and practices of forms of corporate capitalism which present secular ideologies and regimes of thought-control. As well as giving a useful overview of topics such as neoliberalism, colonialism and corporate capitalism for unfamiliar readers, the book presents a persuasive argument that recent forms of western ‘spirituality’ tend to strip out the radical, ethical and social aspects of the religions they are drawn from, and are then sold as consumer products.
I found the following list of features particularly useful. Carrette and King suggest that contemporary forms of spirituality can be categorised in terms of the degree of accommodation or resistance they exhibit to each of these features (and thus each could be conceived as a spectrum). Perhaps advocates of various versions of mindfulness and mindfulness therapies could do well to reflect upon where they are located on each of these features and the implications of that.
‘1. Atomisation: the individualisation of responsibility with no consideration of society.
2. Self-interest: an ethic of self-interest that sees profit as the primary motivation for human action.
3. Corporatism: placing corporate (not community) success above welfare and job security of employees.
4. Utilitarianism: treating others as means rather than ends (e.g. seeing humans as consumers to be persuaded, other businesses as competitors to be overcome, or employees as resources to be used).
5. Consumerism: the promotion of unrestrained desire-fulfilment as the key to happiness.
6. Quietism: tacit or overt acceptance of the inevitability of social injustice rather than a wish to overcome it.
7. Political myopia: a claim to political neutrality – the refusal to see the political dimensions of ‘spirituality’.
8. Thought-control/accommodationism: use of psych-physical techniques, described in terms of ‘personal development’, that seek to pacify feelings of anxiety and disquiet at the individual level rather than seeking to challenge the social, political and economic inequalities that cause such distress.’
Carrette, J. & King, R. (2005). Selling Spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. London: Routledge. p.21