Leaving any mention of Christ out of Christmas – as both the Taoiseach and the President did in their seasonal addresses – may be considered politically correct, rude (it is his birthday, after all) or simply in keeping with the perceived secular mood of the country.
It also raises the question of what we’re using to fill that God-shaped gap. Sadly, the answer, in many cases, seems to be a whole load of cheap new age rubbish, dressed up as an accessible alternative to the demands and denials of old- school religion.
While it may go down a lot more easily, this is the spiritual equivalent of candyfloss: unbearably sweet, devoid of substance and guaranteed to make anyone with a functioning brain feel sick after a couple of bites.
The dark days of the new year, when so many of us are haunted by obscure desires for self-improvement, are peak season for the purveyors of alternative religion.
It seems impossible to avoid the new age guru Deepak Chopra, popping up to talk about his bio-sensors, or claiming to be “on a visitor’s pass to planet Earth”.
We are told that there is no better time than early January to nurture your chi. Now is the perfect moment for a life-altering spiritual detox, or a consciousness cleanse, perhaps at a specially designed – and, of course, costly – retreat.
It will “fuel your soul”, eliminate “toxic energy” and “release the true natural radiance of your inner being”. (I’m not making this up.)
Zip up your chakras
Zip up your chakras
Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone when you’re purging your claggy metaphysical detritus.
Why not enlist the help of the universe to get rid of negative vibrations?
Call on your angels and assorted spirit guides to assist you. And don’t forget to zip up your chakras, when you’re done.
(Still not making it up.)
It is highly dangerous to leave them open: negative energy can get in and play ballyhoo with your prana.
To close your chakras, simply envisage a large zipper at the base chakra and pull it up to your third eye. The next time you want some inner healing, just unzip and off you go.
If these ramshackle ideas were practised by some marginal sect, it would be easy to wave them off along their own weird way. But the scary thing is that such beliefs – or pick’n’mix variations on them: a nice bit of Buddhism here, a pinch of Hindu mysticism there, and I’ll definitely have one of those archangels, they’re so pretty – are now commonplace.
Chopra, who believes that pain in the body can begin to be healed simply by focusing your awareness on it (“if you have happy thoughts, then you make happy molecules”), is the go-to guru of choice in otherwise respectable publications, hailed by Time magazine as one of its top hundred heroes and icons of the 20th century.
There’s barely a town in Ireland that doesn’t have an angel therapist, dedicated to putting you in touch with your own winged messengers, who can solve anything from birth trauma to getting a parking place outside Tesco.
Yoga devotees – almost always female, I’m sorry to say – sit cross-legged in class, inhaling incense and mouthing long, vacuous chants about universal peace in bastardised Sanskrit. Oh shanti shanti!
The reason this bogus spirituality-lite appeals so much, particularly to the vulnerable or the ignorant, is that it offers the blissful parts of religious experience without any of the personal effort or rigour.
It usually comes packaged with a rather convenient kind of narcissism in which, as long as you are true to yourself, you are deemed to be a good and authentic person. And, because it’s essentially meaningless, and therefore unobjectionable, it fits in nicely with all your existing views, beliefs and prejudices. It’s religion with all the trouble taken out.
But this – the sheer, sappy stupidity – is precisely what makes it so offensive.
Traditional Christianity, far from the crude and remarkably obtuse caricature of it put forward by Richard Dawkins, offered intellectual depth and a complex form of internal consistency, in spite of its failings.
At least the old spirituality asked something of you, and appealed to both the heart and mind.
And at least you didn’t have to go on a special retreat, costing hundreds of pounds – with optional extra bowel cleanse – in order to find it.