Today’s vision of betterment is dogmatically materialistic. The interpretation of reality that progress equals economic development, and that people’s happiness would only be the result of better health, food, education, living conditions, etc., has consolidated itself to become the deciding factor in the direction of society. In the West, this relegated spirituality and religion to the realm of personal preference – each individual could hold whatever belief or relationship with transcendence that he wished, but society’s course would not be influenced. (This fragmentation is already problematic in itself, independent of the content of what is being fragmented.) Throughout the rest of the world, where the view that human nature is fundamentally spiritual is a common truth, the ideological imperialism of the West marginalized people’s deepest convictions – rather than challenged them directly. Faith became impotent to direct society, something that it had done for millenia prior.
The field of development was rooted in these underlying materialistic assumptions and values. Since the end of the World War II up to the present, global development efforts have been judged, by their own standards, a failure, often causing the opposite of their intended, well-intentioned, and idealistic goals – resulting in the widening of the gap between the rich and poor, the plunging into hopelessness of whole peoples, the desolation of vast geographic areas and ecosystems. Economic activities, rather than knowledge, assume the central role of social existence; while knowledge is reduced to information, and is valuable insomuch as it can aid economic growth.
Even diverse worldwide economic systems, different in their approaches and methods, still nonetheless held the same underlying assumption. Whether a state-controlled system, seeking to liberate the populous from struggle; or a system of competitism, invoking the “invisible hand” to create a prosperous society if each individual sought his own economic well-being; all yielded similar results: a host of personal and social pathologies, including anxieties, prejudice, apathy, breakdown of family life, ineffective educational systems, and consumer culture, just to start.
Economic growth is not the problem; it is essential, provided it is in the context of building a just and unified world civilization, having both a spiritual and material component. Materialism’s error was in the arbitrary attempts to divorce humanity’s physical development from its spiritual development. Both need to advance coherently.