Spirituality: WTF???December 12, 2012
The name of this blog (spirituality is no excuse) side steps many of the questions about spirituality itself. The main focus is on the way spirituality is used as a cloak for scamming and killing for fun and profit.
I’m an atheist; and I see no reason to believe in any spirit world or subtle energies or precognition or esp; but this is not strictly speaking a “skeptic blog”. Partly that’s because I lack the science background to investigate topics with the thoroughness and fairness good skeptic sites undertake. But mostly it’s because I was, for some reason, just totally outraged and unspeakably infuriated and sickened by the deaths caused by James Ray. I have felt like I belong, at least socially, to what could be called the international “spiritual community” for most of my adult life, and my atheist perspective is as much a product of my subjective inquiries through meditation as it is my reading of science.
I guess that’s why Ray’s crimes pissed me off so much. Seeing the photos of the people he killed reminded so much of people I know and love, and could easily have wound up getting themselves drawn into his racket. And it makes me painfully aware of how exposed many of my friends are to quackery, emotional, sexual and financial exploitation, and believing ideas that are not designed to serve their best interests. I want to do something to stop people spreading these ideas, and to encourage people to start thinking a bit more critically about the exploitive and dangerous spiritual culture that has developed in recent decades.
Many people get the feeling that something’s wrong with it all, but don’t quite know where or how to start criticizing it. Once you know how to do it, it looks easy, but for those who have lived mostly in the warm and (seemingly) protective cocoon of the New Age, the intellectual skills involved seem strange and cold. Sometimes it’s genuine curiosity and concern for the truth that makes them pick up that cold spanner on a frosty morning and start unscrewing things. Often it’s pain that has raised the bar for belief, and made them want to check out if this stuff is really true.
Whatever the case, initial discovery that one particular set of New Age teachings is bullshit, is often followed by the discovery that a second set of New Age teachings is also baloney. At this point, I notice, some people like to scurry back to the cocoon. Others keep on tugging at the loose strands and eventually notice that the whole fabric of New Age culture is indeed cut from the same cloth and it just keeps on unraveling.
So, what’s left after all that unraveling?
I think that some of it was wrapped around some things of real value, like for example alternative medicine makes good use of relaxation and positive fantasies to induce desirable physiological changes. Such techniques are (or should be) used where possible by mainstream medicine. There’s certainly nothing mysterious about them, but it could be argued that having been wrapped in woo clothing, they are now more widely accepted and their worth more clearly recognized. It’s also conceivable that we might stumble on new ways of using them that might not have been discovered had they not been used in a woo setting.
The term “spirituality” might also have some value, beyond its use as a label for cultural beliefs and practices. I could imagine it being a useful “placeholder” for subjective experiences which we can’t really pin down, but are nevertheless too important not to talk about somehow. Or maybe not.
Comments are open!