I ran across another interesting article the other day. And it underlines one of the issues that I have with what I perceive (perhaps wrongly) as one of the mainstays of the mind/body/spirit movement (and the issue being the result of what I think is some lazy spiritual thinking). Or perhaps it is just one of the mainstays of the New Age movement—which I sometimes lump in with the field of mind/body/spirit, I’m not sure (I’m not sure the distinction is even important).
In any event, apparently New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has just come out with a new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. And Charles Lewis interviewed him for the National Post. I haven’t read that book—but I am going to. It sounds very provocative.
There is much said in that interview that is worth thinking about, but the following question and response are what twigged my interest a couple of days ago:
Q: A chapter in Bad Religion is called “The God Within.” You describe it as a movement whose practitioners, like Oprah, stress that feeling good and self-actualization is the most important goal in life. It is also the furthest thing from orthodox Christianity. What is the problem with this kind of spirituality?
A: It’s the idea that you need to encounter God primarily within yourself and the highest form of your self may be actually identical to God. Elizabeth Gilbert popularized this in her book Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. So the only God that matters is the one you encounter within and you don’t have to consider other authorities, you don’t have to listen to a church and you don’t have to test your own experiences against scripture, religious authority, dogma and tradition. But it’s very tempting to listen to the voice within and assume that it’s God when really it’s your ego or libido.
You can read the complete interview here.
I run into this kind of thinking a lot—-not his—but the idea that God might be identical to the highest form of ourselves. As if this is as far as we need to go—just to look inward. And Douthat is right—the people that a lot of us are listening to for our spiritual guidance these days are saying this. And I have a problem with it—actually several problems—but two will do for now.
At its simplest, I am coming at this from the point of view that I think these positions are the result of lazy thinking. As Douthat suggests, to get to these positions in your thought process you don’t have to study, examine, and think about the centuries of religious theology that have preceded us. We just have to use a bit of tortured pseudo-science, say the words “quantum physics” a few times, and we seem to very quickly get to the point where we can say that our consciousness is actually part of a universal consciousness, which is actually part of (or even is) what some of us refer to as “God” (or some simile thereof)—and then leave it at that. And actually, this may be right. Perhaps this is true. But I just don’t trust the conclusions. For the most part, and actually except where I see this suggestion in one form or another in established traditional religions (oh, horrors), I don’t see the kind of rigorous analysis and debate that these issues deserve. I just see fairly superficial arguments written in books that, in my opinion, are clearly published for their commercial value only—in other words, pandering to the need for easy solutions that you don’t have to think about too hard.
And secondly (and the last point for now), in my opinion these positions are a conceited and ego-driven approach to spirituality. It is all about “me”. And this from the very group that is constantly writing and preaching to us about the evils of our ego. I think Douthat’s statement that:
…..But it’s very tempting to listen to the voice within and assume that it’s God when really it’s your ego or libido…..
is spot on—and is actually the crux of my own criticism. I just don’t believe things are as simple as some of these New Age prophets would have us believe. I don’t think we can legitimately get beyond the mysticism and faith aspects of Christian (and other religious) belief, because I actually doubt that our minds are capable of grasping the real truth. We just don’t have that mental capacity.
I will remind you again of the thrust of my earlier post It Is A Jungle Out There!. As far as I can see, there is much good coming out of the field of mind/body/spirit. But you absolutely need to exercise your own judgment and make your own, informed, decisions!
I’ll keep you posted.