What does it mean to “actually practice” a religion?
Well, we can first make a distinction between simply identifying with a faith and being involved in one or more of its rituals/behaviors. There are obviously many people who identify as religious but do not practice regularly, in fact I’d go as far as to say this is the majority attitude in Western developed nations. The reason why is probably largely down to the difference in living standards and basic cultural ideas about what it is to be successful and a good member of the herd and so on. In developed nations, the background rate of abject suffering is significantly lower than in, say, the Middle East or in India, it is more hidden from view in places like asylums, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities; and so most people are in some minor way in a similar position to the Buddha in his early life, cut off from direct experience of extreme suffering. People are less likely to reflect on the existential concerns of life if those concerns are out of the public eye, and even more so if those who are suffering are seen by the culture as unsuccessful or in some way lacking in the “right stuff”.
Then there’s also the standard of living, which allows people temporary material pleasures at a more constant rate than ever before. In the modern West it’s trivial to purchase almost any of the objects of our desire, we can even get them shipped to us at our home address, free of hassle.
This easy access to pleasure and the associated displacement of pain and suffering creates a situation of mindless consumption and avoidance of reflection. The human person becomes a necessary component of a vast machine, turning the wheels of production and keeping such lofty abstractions as “the economy” afloat. In this lifestyle, there is little space for the metaphysical, the spiritual, the religious; it simply is not needed for the vast majority of people because they believe they have found some lasting pleasure or happiness in the constant exchange of money, symbols for wealth, for products, wealth itself and yet funnily also symbols for wealth.
This is quite apparently a zero sum game for two reasons, one, because the human nervous system quickly habituates itself to any new stimulus and becomes disinterested in it, and two, because what we are hoping the products will do cannot come from objects, it can only come from subjects.
Perhaps then we can say that this form of behaviour is a ritual act, performed under the superstition that the act and associated thought process will bring salvation from suffering, a religion. Modern capitalism, the consumerist society, is a dangerous religious cult that trucks only in abstraction, the suggestion of what material can do for you as an ego as opposed to enjoyment in the material for it’s own sake. Their gods are money, success and status, the “free market”, “the economy” and so on.
So perhaps one could say that the vast majority of people in the modern day practice a religion, just not one we automatically see as one. And perhaps this can explain the movement away from more traditional religious practice, perhaps people, as they did with the faiths of old, genuinely believe they will find release from suffering through the consumption of abstraction
p.s: Timer published post. Have a wonderful weekend. I’ll reply to your comments on weekend.