Religion. The word has a different meaning for anyone you ask, even those who ascribe to the same faith or sect. It is a very personal thing that links many communities as well as entire nations and regions. As a neutral concept, it often falls on different sides of the good/evil equation based almost solely on the expression and participation of it’s very human members. The difference in meaning comes from a difference in interpretation. As one of the foundational underpinnings of society and history, it is a living concept that takes on a life of its own beyond that of the component parts.
All of that being said, many who find themselves dissatisfied with religion are turning more towards a neutral and very personal spirituality. These new spiritualists have a connection with the Divine similar in nature to the tribal mindset where each pathway was accepted as valid. This is not a new idea, universalism (small u) in one form or another has been in existence for millennia. Acceptance of a polytheist model arose out of the early tribal forms of universalism as local divinities were added to the roster or family of regional gods.
In the United States and many developed countries, this universalism is not only accepted legally the Rule of Law protects it. The freedom of religion in the US is now and has been a very contentious right. Does this mean I have the freedom to practice whatever religion I choose, even if considered made up by others? Do I have the freedom FROM religion as espoused in combination with the Separation of Church and State? More importantly to some, who will enforce this freedom.
We have hit a moment in America, one of the zeitgeists that will define how the future rolls out. We have struggled long and hard with the idea that ANY religion is valid, even those that fly in the face of our long held Protestant ethics. Wiccan, Buddhist, Humanism, etc. have all had a very rough set of birthing pains in America, such that now there are defined conflicts between the various sects and religions even as the set of freedoms grows.
At issue though is less WHAT religion is valid but more of WHO can have a religion. Recent court cases that have gone through the American Supreme Court have started a significant debate regarding corporate rights. With the advent of Citizens United years ago, political rights were given over to conglomerate entities (i.e. businesses). Now, some say, religious rights have been given to these self-same conglomerate entities. Doomsday theorists ask where it will stop, citing dystopian literature that points to businesses not only as autonomous nations but also as national citizens.
Religion, much like government, can be a force of good when used as such. It is unfortunate that it is so often used as a force of oppression or division. While the religious or spiritual by no means have the corner of ethical behavior, it is hoped that the universal ethics of community, harmony, and peace will once again win out.