“Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it.”Statistics indicate that “Spiritual but not religious” may be America’s fastest growing faith category. People clearly hunger to experience closeness to something beyond themselves; but our society distrusts convention, tradition, and our shared heritage. Thus many people cast about for any attempt to make meaning in their lives. Yet I fear many trust something tragically artificial.
For some, scientific developments forbid them to accept religious dogma. As the late Richard Feynman pointed out, the essence of scientific thought is doubt; we jettison certainty, and seek to reduce doubt to the smallest possible fragment. Therefore we can believe nothing without question. The scientific mind tests everything, even itself.
But this great hypothesis seldom describes real life. Many people understand science so poorly that skillful hucksters pitching the lingo make us believe the opposite of empirical reason. David Che, fo instance, asks us not only to believe him without question in Total Law of Attraction, he requires us to trust theories disproved over a century ago. This isn’t just unscientific, it’s dangerous.
The Law of Attraction enjoys faddish popularity based on quasi-scientific theories that “like attracts like.” Rhonda Byrne, who popularized the idea, claims our ideas draw commensurate consequences through magnetic attraction. But rudimentary physics says that magnetic poles don’t work that way. In magnetism, opposites attract, so to gain wealth, I should wail and lament my poverty.
Che pushes this obtuseness even further. For instance, his hypothesis requires us to believe in the luminiferous aether. Che says: “Although science will say it’s been proven no such Ether exists, you’ll have to put aside that notion and firmly believe it to be true.” This naked appeal to ignorance characterizes not only Che’s book, but this avenue of belief. Che trusts ideas which contradict testable external reality.
Similarly, Banzai Vitale correlates metaphysics with science in The Burning Spirit. His long, rambling memoir proclaims its author understands higher reality than the rest of us. He spins yarns, drops bromides, and regales us with travelogues, all of which promulgate a system of belief based on agreeing that everything which enters his head must be transcendent inspiration.
Vitale’s rambling, undifferentiated anecdotes represent complete relaxation of judgment. He confirms nothing; neither facts nor logic sway his steps. Every life experience, every journal entry, and every Ecstasy trip merits our time. In short, Vitale sanctifies himself and his life experiences. He seeks out spirituality with no foundation, and becomes the very sinner Isaiah decries above.
Whenever spiritual seekers approach a religion or philosophy, they ask: how should I live? The universe gives me this one life, so how do I live it in a way that makes meaning? Such diverse seekers as Thomas Merton and Friedrich Nietzsche answer that question in ways that change society. David Che and Banzai Vitale answer that question by ducking it and aggrandizing themselves.
Perhaps go-go technological people can’t afford to change their lives. The great religious traditions that bolster society have threatened people, derailed their life plans, and forced them to deny themselves. From the classics to modern writers like Shane Claiborne and Rabbi Heschel, those who found spirituality couldn’t remain on the same path. But modern spirituality sanctifies self-service.
Which makes Ryuho Okawa a modern icon. Having published over 500 books in Japanese, his Happy Science movement (there’s that pesky “science” again) are now making inroads in the West. The Next Great Awakening, weighing barely 100 pages, introduces several important ideas. And most of them appear plagiarized from X-Files scripts.
Like the biblical prophets, Okawa claims to have a direct line to God, and thus communicates divine will. But his story offers little hope or direction. His story of spirits creating life elsewhere, seeding Earth, and driving our destiny comes whole from countless prior science fiction storylines. But maybe that’s the point. Okawa doesn’t have to tell us how to live; his narrative lets us continue unimpeded
Maybe that’s the lesson of the “spiritual but not religious” movement. Religion requires us to change. It requires us to live for someone besides ourselves. Modern, self-infatuated society can’t accept that. So we find ways to sanctify ourselves, right where we are.
“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?”